It is getting harder and harder to climb the new day’s hill to get to the summit where I can reasonably get a good look at the road ahead. At almost-64, I can see the road ahead is far shorter and much darker than the highway stretching out behind me. It is not so much a matter of how much time I have spent on the road as it is a matter of the wear and tear the mileage has caused.
This weekend I had another depressing free-book promotion where, in five days, I only moved five books, one purchase, and four free books. I have made $0.45 as an author for the month of June.
I was recently given another bit of good advice from a successful author. He said that I shouldn’t be in such a rush to publish. He suggested taking more time with my writing. Hold on to it longer. Polish it and love it more. And now that I have reached sixteen books published on my author’s page, I have basically beaten the grim reaper in the question of whether or not he was ever going to silence me and my author’s voice. I can afford to live with the next one longer.
But the last one, A Field Guide to Fauns, practically wrote itself. It went fast from inspiration to publication simply because the writer in me was on fire and full of love and life and laughter that had to boil over into hot print exactly as quickly as it did. The additional writing time afforded me by the pandemic and quarantine didn’t hurt either. Once in print, my nudist friends loved it.
This next one has the potential to boil and brew and pop out of me in the same accelerated way as that last one did. Of course, it has been percolating inside my brain basically since the Summer of 1974. So, this is no rushed job. The Wizard in his Keep is a story of a man who tries to take the children of the sister of his childhood best friend to a place of safety when their parents are killed in a car wreck. But the only safe place he has to offer is in the world of his imagination. A world he has bizarrely made real. And that best friend comes searching for the children. And so does a predator who seeks to do them all grievous harm.
In many ways, it is a story already written.
So, I am rekindling the flame that keeps the story-pot boiling. And more of it is already cooking. And I am recovering from the cool winds of disappointment, as well as the dark stormclouds of the nearing future.
When I was in college, I met and fell in love with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. I also read, in close conjunction with that book and its sequels, Frank Herbert’s Dune series. I vowed then that I would combine these two different kinds of science fiction to write my own big-book epic. At that time it was called The Dream-Flood and it was basically the story of Astro-nut Robin (inspired by Robin Hood) and his band of Merry Mutant Space Freaks. It was a jumble of bad jokes and weird science and not worth keeping. But some of the characters I created managed to stow away in my stupid head to come back into my writing whenever the opportunity came.
When I became a public school teacher in South Texas, I fell deeply in love with game-mastering for Dungeons and Dragons games with high school boys who had once been in my middle school English classes. Of course, after three years of that, the Southern Baptists in town decided that D&D was Satanic and full of demons, so I had to stop that story-telling nonsense or be driven out of town. So, enough of that. I was not leaving teaching. I was also not stopping story-telling. I switched from playing with wizards and warriors to a game called Traveller from Game Designers Workshop. Spacemen and laser-rifles.
Games inevitably were subject to the whims and humors of the players. And the players were teenage boys of the mega-nerd variety. So, they would blow planets up for laughs. They would make jokes out of serious events and turn side adventures and subplots into the main story.
It was gold for science-fiction humor.
The result of all of this was that when I lost a teaching job and had an unplanned year off, I wrote the novel AeroQuest. It was a novelization of the basic story of that Traveller game. It was a terrible novel. But I got it published without paying a dime with a terrible publisher, the criminals at Publish America. Once that terrible contract expired, and I had become a better writer, I began rewriting and illustrating it to become five terrible novels.
As of yesterday, the first three of those five are now published.
I have done it. I have committed the reprehensible act of writing a third rewrite-book from the most terrible novel I ever wrote into a series of books that will turn your hair blue and make chickens everywhere fart rose petals. Wait! Can that actually happen? Of course it can. In science fiction, everything and anything is possible. So, I now include a whole mess of illustrations I have poured into the making of these three books.
I am used to complaining about the heat. More than one summer I have endured 100 days of 100-degree-plus heat. When I lived in deep South Texas in the town of Cotulla, one summer we averaged 104 degrees.
The heat sits on you like a wool blanket that presses you down towards the surface of the frying pan. You almost wish you could set yourself completely free of clothing so that you could be as cool as possible, and at the same time get an all-over tan. (Or an all-over sunburn as the case always is with me.)
But this, of course, is Bible-belt Texas where the Baptists threaten you with eternal Hellfire if you even think about being naked.
And the heat makes for oppressive summer laziness, where you can’t seem to do anything but sit and sweat. Of course, when I was a kid, summer days were for chasing leopard frogs down on the banks of the Iowa river. Or watching the butterflies in Mrs. Stokes’ flower bed where petunias and daisies, and black-eyed Susans seemed to bloom all summer long. Or explore the Bingham Park Woods on my trusty-rusty bicycle, biking along the forest foot-paths. Nowadays, kids can sit in an airconditioned room and play video games from the time they wake up in the afternoon until four o’clock the next morning.
This summer hasn’t been quite as hot as some in the recent past. There has been rain off and on. But it is even more oppressive with the pandemic going on. And the George Floyd protests raging on as much here in Dallas as in any city. The heat and diabetes and poverty and the inability to get anything done that actually feels like progress have me depressed and moping and completely stifled… and using the word “and” too often.
It is even hard to write a blog post. My energy is gone. All I have done is dither on the WordPress site. But at least I have ticked off one more tick-box on the to-do list of a hot Texas day.
There are probably too many things on my mind today. My daughter is graduating from High School today at the Texas Motor Speedway. A graduation in cars going around a circle because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
My daughter the Princess is graduating today. That is probably what has my head swirling.
It is a fairly difficult thing to face a blank page every single day. I usually win in the battle to write something every day. But not always. Some days it is just too hard. Some days I am not well enough to make my stupid old brain spin up a spider-web of words. Some days the words are just Teufelsscheiße (poop coming out of the Devil in German).
But staring at a blank page today got me thinking about the process again, how the words come, where they come from, and why.
I just finished the most successful free-book promotion I have ever had. I gave away more books than ever before, and I gave some away every single day of the promotion. Some who downloaded the e-book even thanked me and told me they would read it. One even promised to read it right after he finished reading one of my other books.
Of course, you can see that this novel has nudist characters in it, and it is even set in a nudist park. So, naturally, the copies were mostly grabbed by members of the Twitter-nudist circle of friends and acquaintances I have on Twitter. But it is thrilling to know someone is actually going to read one, or even two of my books. I haven’t gotten enough of that feeling as an author. It is one of the main purposes of my writing, to have readers.
But this post is supposed to be about process, not publication. So, how did I come to write this thing? This nudist novel and this blog about writing it?
Well, like most real writers, I choose to write about what I know. And I am acquainted with naturism. I had a girlfriend once whose sister lived in a nudist apartment complex in Austin. I was inside that place a dozen times or so. I have also been to the nudist park north of Dallas. I have experience of nudists and at least some idea of what it is like to be one.
And the characters in the story are all based on real people. The main character is at least fifty percent me. The other fifty percent is a member of my family. The stepmom in the story is a combination of two former girlfriends. Her twin girls are partly based on my twin cousins (who have never been nudists) and on twin girls in my class in the 80’s (who lived naked at least once in a while, if not as much as the twins in the story).
But the critical themes in the story are not really about being a nudist. Naked is a metaphor for honesty, being able to hide nothing because you no longer wear the armor that you once used to hide from repressed memories of abuse. The main character, Devon, is battling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by a life full of abuse. And he learns to overcome these life-threatening things by being honest with others, especially by being honest with himself. A little bit of naked honesty turns out to be the key that unlocks his prison cell.
As I put words and stories and blog posts together, I invariably find myself writing about certain things over and over and over again. They are the things I wrestle with daily. I write to keep my mind active, and to keep my heart and soul alive.
It isn’t too much to expect to look at a blank page every day, and to find there the words that I need to say. It is daunting, but doable. And it gets easier with practice.