Yesterday my 89-year-old father went into the hospital. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and a heart no longer strong enough to keep his blood pressure up. Apparently yesterday he lost the ability, possibly only temporarily, to recognize my mother.
This is not a good time to lose my father. There is never a good time, but now my health is failing. I had to make deals with relatives to get someone to drive me up to Iowa for the annual visit to the family farm during the pandemic which is now spiraling out of control in Texas. My wife and I are both diabetics and at risk. If we accidentally take COVID 19 up to Iowa, I could wipe out all four of us. And I developed a cough and chest pain overnight. At least now I can make a case for getting a COVID test.
I know a post like this goes against the rules for a good blog post. It is entirely too personal and self-focused. But it is necessary sometimes to confess your fears before you confront them. I have had my father and mother in my life for the entirety of my 64 years. They have both lived good, long, and fruitful lives. And a time for passing comes to us all. I have been far luckier in holding back the night than the vast majority of people. But the only immortality we can ever hope to have is through passing on the small part of the universal story that belongs only to each of us individually. “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me (And at this moment… it is not) the universe is unfolding… as it should” – a paraphrase from Desiderata.
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.
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.
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.
The truth is… this pandemic will not be the end of the world even if it is the end of me.
The truth is… if we don’t learn some fundamental things about ourselves, the whole world won’t survive very long after the pandemic is over. We have only a few short years to get our environmental act straight.
The truth is… the people who are most in control of our world have far more than their reasonable share of the wealth and power in this world, and it is not fair and healthy for our society.
The truth is… too often it is the selfish, narcissistic people of the world who rise to the top, and they have no compassion or regard for the rest of us.
The truth is… we have to change things. And violence is not the most effective answer. But besides extraordinary acts of heroism and ultimate grace from unnoticed individuals, it may be the only answer we have left. The good things Obama tried were mostly shouted down and defeated by the corrupt and greedy among us. The power of the vote may have been completely undermined.
The truth is… wisdom only comes through time and hard experience. If you don’t face hardships, you will never learn how to deal with hardships. That is the gift we are being given by this pandemic.
The truth is… our leader at this moment is a criminal. He has stolen wealth from the American people and wrecked parts of the government that are essential to the American way of life as we have always known it. And in his incompetence, he has done things and failed to do things that have caused people’s deaths in this pandemic.
The truth is… Trump needs to be prosecuted and put in prison once we have removed him from office.
The truth is… if we don’t do something to solve these problems and fix these things, we don’t deserve to survive as a species.
The truth is… the Truth is sometimes a very hard thing to hear.
Amazingly, I am still not dead. Even though this invisible virus-monster is totally new to our species and we have zero resistance and no vaccination for it, I am in a position now that, with a lot of hard work and even more good luck, I can continue to survive and stay alive.
Of course, there are evil people out there that would love it if those inconvenient poor people would just die out (people like me who spent their lives doing useless stuff like educating the next couple of generations to be people who can read and write by being a teacher). Poor people cost rich people money.
One wealthy governor has kept his State full of beaches (that benefit economically from things like Spring Break and Easter weekend) fully open for business, thus infecting scores of people that go back to home States like Texas (where I live) to spread potential death to people whose cheap-o health insurance (like mine) won’t pay to save your life because that would cut into profits.
One wealthy President has down-played the seriousness of this pandemic up until now. He has been more concerned with suppressing knowledge of how bad it is going to be (because that could sour people in his base from re-electing him in November) rather than preparing in a way that would allow healthcare workers to adequately protect themselves as they treat waves of the infected and dying, and providing more respirators to save those whose infections are suffocating them (which he simply cannot do without limiting corporate profiteering by his super-rich CEO-type buddies).
Maybe those of us who survive this pandemic should see to it that the rich, evil dudes who made this so much harder to survive lose power and profits, and maybe even go to jail for a change.
I finished a possible cover for my work in progress, A Field Guide to Fauns. It is a book about re-forming families from tragedies and divorce. It is also about suicidal thoughts and depression. And it takes place in a nudist park where the family has a permanent trailer.
This book will definitely be about some of my own experiences with these things and issues. And I hope to distill a bit of high-quality wisdom from this brewing novel. After all, when it comes to depression and battling it, I have deep scars and burned-in notions of how you overcome them. It is ironic that I know so much about fighting depression and darkness, even though it was mostly about the depression of other people, not me.
I have come to know how to stitch families together out of used and discarded parts. Hopefully not creating a new monster. And again, it is ironic that I know this mostly from other families, not ours.
The book is flowing, practically writing itself. And that is always a sign of a big idea turning itself into a great novel. I look forward to finding out what happens in each and every next chapter… or, in this case, Canto.
For the last five and a half years I have been averaging more than 500 words every day. A rough conservative estimate of that means 17,112,000 words. If words were cocaine, I’d be dead five times over by now.
But writing is not the same as cocaine. The addiction to it has very different effects. I divide my daily writing into at least two parts. The daily blog is itself, more often than not, 500-plus words. So, by itself it can satisfy my daily word-count. And I devote at least 500 words every day to my novel work in progress. So, that means I have produced well over 17 million words in reality. Probably closer to 34 million than to 17. That, of course, is far less than Stephen King wrote in the same period of time, but it is also far more than the average person writes.
And one thing that such an overdose of verbiage does to a writer, is to make him or her a better writer.
I have produced nine novels, between 35,000 and 50,000 words each, in the time since I retired from teaching and began writing and self-publishing in earnest. I have gotten only five-star reviews on the novels that have been read and reviewed. Granted, nobody who read and hated my books hated them passionately enough to leave a scathing review, so the 5-star average is just due to laziness on the part of the reading public. But it is marginally evidence that my storytelling is good.
Another effect I have experienced from my writing addiction is that it has made me increasingly metaphorically naked. My illustrations for this post reveal a little bit of that. It is not only that I like to write in the nude when I can, but that I have used my stories to grapple with everything that was once a deep, dark secret buried in the depths of me. Being sexually assaulted as a child was something that for many years I could never admit even to myself. Struggles with loneliness, depression, and self-hatred are also something I had kept buried until I needed them to tell stories with.
I finally worked up the courage to send a gift copy of Snow Babies to the girl I grew up with whose name I used for the main character, Valerie Clarke. Valerie loved the book and became an advocate for me with both the Belmond and Rowan libraries. I even admitted that the part about Valerie being the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall, Iowa came from something the boys in our 5th and 6th grade classes at school all said about her. She told me she never knew we had said that back then. Ah, but that was probably an untruth too.
As addictions go, my addiction to fiction is probably a lot better thing to have than addictions to gambling, cocaine, wife-beating, or gummy bears. But it hasn’t made me any richer or healthier either. It has made me older, and possibly a little bit wiser.
There is lots of stuff to be down and blue and depressed about. The criminal president is going to be impeached, and then let off the hook. The climate is going to freeze us and boil us and deprive us of air. Wealthy bankers and insurance CEOs and billionaires have already deprived us of money and purchasing power. My health is poor. My heart may already be giving out. Not much to look forward to but a simple funeral where someone may cry while others will be glad I am gone.
But Batman is at the bus stop to stop boogeymen from arriving by bus. And Christmas is almost upon us, the season of fruitcakes and football in bowl games. And visions of sugarplums dance through their heads… and potential for gingerbread cookies and chocolate milk. So, put it all in a blender and drink it all down. Life is like fragments of fruitcake, drawing flies, but slaying any fly who takes a bite. It is toxic, but pretty. Soothing but sour. And only the colors, details, and arrangements ever change.
The link above is still capable of giving you a free copy of this e-book until midnight on Tuesday, November 12th, 2019. By all means, click on it and get yourself the free Kindle e-book.
I write this plea as my third free e-book promotion is half-way done. It is, as expected, failing miserably. As of this writing, the promotion using Facebook and Twitter has managed to give away six free books. And one of those is me grabbing a free e-book for my own free Kindle reader on my laptop. So, basically, I can’t give away copies of my own book for free.
But writing this book was not a matter of making myself famous or wealthy or even acknowledged as a good writer. Those are not the things I need. I wrote this story because I myself have been badly damaged by life. I was sexually assaulted by an older boy when I was ten. I had teenage bouts of depression that nearly made me end myself. My sex-life did not develop normally and led to chronic prostatitis and the precursor to “Priests’ disease”, a prostate gland the size of a grapefruit. Yes, it may ultimately end in prostate cancer. And then when I finally made a family for myself in my late middle years, I was besieged by depression again, this time not my own, but others in my family. So, in many ways, I have lived a sad life.
The novel itself is a means to self-healing and recording how I rebuilt myself using love, laughter, and artistry. The singing orphan boy wearing clown paint and singing only sad songs is a metaphor for me and my struggle. The clowns that haunt the main characters’ dreams are also a metaphor. I was always known as the laughing teacher, the one who joked around in class, and let laughing grow into a means of instruction in the English classroom. I used humor to make learning painless. I used it to take away many other kinds of pain as well. The book is about how a family can be healed by someone who has nothing, yet selflessly gives everything to make that family come together and be whole. It is a story, just as the introduction claims, about what love really means.
But the world is stacked against lying truth-tellers like me who make up stories only to heal themselves. Facebook stopped me from messaging everybody who is a Facebook friend whom I wanted to send the book link from Amazon. They called it spamming, which really means, “advertising something on Facebook without paying Facebook lots of money.” I discovered on Twitter that sending the link in DMs makes more of my followers stop following me than it makes followers click on the link to obtain a free book. Ah, disappointment again. At least I gave away three more books than I did on the last promotion.
So, this is like a blacklight, shining on my promotional inspiration. It only shows in ultraviolet the opposite of what I thought I would see. And it resigns me once again to be only ignored as a writer of novels. I suppose it is my proper place in life.