Read in Denver Disclaimer

​I’ve been working on a love story. Inevitable, I suppose, because I’m really good at falling into it. It’s also an eensy bit ridiculous, because once I fall, I never really know what to do. Since the book’s release is only a few weeks out, and since it has (so far) been met with a ton of support and enthusiasm, I thought you might at least like to know where my fourth novel came from.

First, as I said, this is a story about love but it isn’t a PG one. There is swearing and awkwardness and the occasional sex because love is messy and intimate and frustrating. If you can’t handle the word “fuck”, this book won’t be for you.

Secondly, I’ve said that this love story, this book I’ve never planned on writing, is probably the most honest piece of fiction I’ve ever written. The idea came after I met someone that I thought, given the right time, place or circumstances, had all the potential in the world to be The One. Maybe not. I’m crazy and get attached way too easily and too intensely, but for a while, things were easy in a way I didn’t know they could be and I felt ways about myself that I had long forgotten I could feel.

It didn’t last, of course. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, unless Timing and Distance want to swing by and have a word. She and I are still friends, but we’re distant now, texting each other every once in a while instead of calling each other twice a day.

I wrote a letter that was supposed to act as closure. I have a hard time processing emotions, especially negative ones, and I tend to try and cut things off completely when I think I’m going to hit a dark place. The letter was a positive one. It was all my thoughts and feelings about this woman, about how grateful I was to have met her, and how much she had given back to me. How I would always be around, and that if I ever wrote of her, it would always be fondly. It was a letter I wanted to surprise her with. Tucked into a book for her to find on the plane, with the envelope labeled so that she would wait to read it once she had reached her destination.

And I thought, “Read in Denver”? That would make for a fucking GREAT title, and my mind ran with it and sort of developed this largely unrelated fictional outline.

That woman and I spent one last night together. I don’t want to say it was passionless; we stayed prim and proper but we were both overflowing with emotion. There was red velvet wine. Green apple sake. I had tried to make it a romantic thing, this last meeting between us, or at least something that would be remembered. Something that counted.

I didn’t get to sneak that letter into a book. It was Christmas, her visit, and she had become full up with gifts and purchases. So I pulled that letter out and I read it to her in person. She slid over into my arms while I did, and she fell asleep with her head on my chest and a smile on her face.

We got separated in the night, and I got pretty drunk on what was left of the sake, and I sat and I thought and I hurt and I watched the rise and fall of her chest and I knew that I would never forget it once she had walked out of my front door for the last time. In the morning we shared one last, long embrace and one last, final kiss.

I set about to write a book. Not for her. Not about her. Absolutely because of her, because of the things I felt about her, the things she made me feel about myself, and the way she reminded me how much I wanted to write.

But I found as I was writing it that she wasn’t the only person to inspire the novel. There’s a woman I counted as a muse, who was my best friend for two years and, when I had a bipolar breakdown, who dropped me from her life 200% and hasn’t spoken to me since. But she inspired me more than anyone. She was my best friend. And she said one of the most devastating things anyone has ever said to me, and that I ABSOLUTELY had to find a way to include: “You’re in love with love; you’re not in love with me.”

There’s also an artist from the south, another muse, an astonishing painter I met on Twitter who – in correspondence since – just struck all the right chords and followed all the same roads when it came to how I view love and life and art. She is a huge influence on Gabriella’s character.

In the end, Read in Denver is fictional. The characters are fictional. The plot is fictional. But there are things that are said, and scenes that happen, and relationships that exist that were said, and did happen, and do exist. Just about every character in the book has a soul formed from the existence of a real person. All these things mean the world to me, and if I’m going to write a story about love, I think it needs to be born out of the varying loves that I feel and have felt.

Will that mixture work? Is the book going to be earnest and genuine or will it come off overeager, sappy and forced? I have no idea. Maybe I’m a shitty writer with lofty ideas.

But don’t think of this book as any measure of autobiographical (it couldn’t possibly be fucking further than that), and don’t try to guess which parts are born of reality and which are from my weird brain. Just take it, please, as the story it is, and know 100% of it is born from the heart.

Read in Denver will (hopefully, fingers crossed, knock on wood) be on sale for the Kindle and Nook on August 15, 2016.

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The Time and the Thought

I don’t know how to use Tumblr, really. I go on, I follow some pages I like (usually art and poetry), and that’s about it. Most of my original stuttering is posted to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. A few nights back, I was browsing Tumblr, though, when someone simply asked people to message them what time it was and what we were thinking about. I was in a mood, so I obliged:

“It’s 1AM here. There is the remnant of a rum and coke in front of me and a filled reinforcement sitting just behind it, biding its time, waiting its turn.

What am I thinking about? I’m thinking about how erratic my emotions are. How quickly and deeply I fall in love and when it fails, how harshly I hurt and how desperately I try to move on to the next person to make me feel valued and handsome and sexual and creative.

I’m thinking about a woman who was so sweet and so brilliant and so beautiful, and how something as seemingly trivial as distance has left a chasm between us now. It’s difficult to be intimate and then go back to being friends when whatever spark is between two people erupts into a full-blown electrocution.

I’m thinking about how I’m dissatisfied with my job and how I wish my writing paid the bills. How I wish someone important would take a chance on what I know is good, what thousands of people have enjoyed and what I have no idea how to market.

I’m thinking about love and isolation and how the snow glitters under the street light and how I wish I could battle the cold by pulling someone close into my ribs.

I’m thinking about life and death and how I’m terrified of both, and how the first is still so beautiful and the latter so definitive, and how they hold each other’s hand like strained but dedicated lovers.

I’m thinking I wish I had more people I could talk to that might understand. Instead, I have this dying rum and coke, and its twin I’ll murder after.”

The Six Year Shadow

I was 21 years old when I moved to Los Angeles and I believed I had the world at my fingertips. It didn’t matter that I moved down with a couple of friends with one unreliable car between us, or that none of us had jobs lined up or a place to live, that none of us knew anyone in a city of almost 4 million people, that none of us had a ton of money lined up. I believed I could work it out, and I did, for a lot longer than I had any right to. I had dreams of success, of being some kind of actor/writer phenom. Instead, I was taking $20-30 and using it buy two weeks worth of canned food from the dollar store.

I fell in love down there, deeply. I was too scared to say it first. She let it slip one night, sitting on a pool table in a bar whose name I can’t remember and we paused for a moment. I asked her if she meant it. She said she did, and maybe she lied or maybe she thought she did at the time, or maybe she really did, but whatever the case, that “Yeah” opened the floodgates for me. This woman took me in for the holidays. Both of my friends moved away and I was alone in L.A. with my job, my co-worker friends and this woman I adored.

We weren’t great for each other sometimes. We were perfect for each other other times. I didn’t realize at the time that I had emotional and mental issues that would roll through me like waves and because of that, I didn’t know how to prepare or cope with it. I got angry easily, spiteful, distrusting. I stressed and overthought everything. I was scared and far from home with hardly any money, no car, and the beautiful woman I was with that dudes often hit on right in front of me… I panicked.

And she wasn’t emotionally there all the time. I don’t think she would even understand how to deal with some of the things I was going through. I went into that relationship with a lot of baggage neither of us knew about and we handled it and communication with each other poorly a lot of the time. Goddammit if we didn’t stick up for and support each other a lot of the time, too. There was love there, but I wasn’t prepared to handle it properly.

I broke up with her to focus on me and fix my financial woes by coming back to Alaska for four months. I was trying to give us distance. What it did was hurt her and render our relationship unreconcilable. Because I was so desperate to fix things and get her back, I gradually lost my mind and found ways to sabotage everything. I lost my job, all of my money, I had to move from the place I lived, from the whole state. I lost a lot of close friends who, to this day, have not spoken to me since. And of course I lost her and her respect.

Deservedly. I committed a crime at work, unrelated to everyone and totally self-serving. I got caught, I admitted everything immediately, I paid back more than double the value of what I took, and I lost everything in return and I was fine with that. I own my mistakes. Whatever disorders I’m diagnosed with don’t give me a free pass to act like an asshole. Nobody was more pissed off or hated me for betraying their trust or throwing the life I was building away more than I hated myself.

So I moved to Seattle at the lowest point in my life I had ever been, and this one situation kept playing out in my mind. See, my girlfriend was going to college for social work, which is amazing and noble as all hell. College wasn’t in my future. I was a hair’s breadth away from going to Reno for a while, to be a History or an English teacher, but ultimately I wanted to MAKE IT. I was going to be a star, a famous actor or a famous poet or a famous novelist. And one night – I can’t recall if we were drunk, or arguing, or both – she told me that she didn’t believe that if I never went to college that I could ever be somebody. That I was basically destined to fail at life.

And I fucked my life up! Like, not even half a year after that, I lost my goddamn mind and I ruined everything I possibly could, doing things I would never normally do, acting in ways that would normally horrify me. I spent a year of literal blood, sweat and tears building up something great and with so much promise, and I shit on it.

So I’m in Seattle with almost nothing to my name. Starting from scratch again. Heartbroken, ashamed, self-loathing and again in a large city in which I knew four people. I felt hopeless, both in that I had no hope and that there was no hope for me to rise up from the ashes, or whatever. Then I took a trip up to Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby, and while I was up there, I met someone who would change my life.

When I returned to Seattle, I began to pursue writing seriously. I was going to write a novel and it was going to be good. It was going to sell. I was going to show my ex that I could be somebody on my own merit and that I, personally, didn’t need to spend $60,000 for someone to tell me how to string words together in an exciting fashion.

I wrote that motherfucker in six months. I’ve never worked harder and more consistently on something before or since, and when I self-published it, it got good reviews. People loved to read it. I pumped out new installments as fast as I could because people wanted to talk to me about. People were excited about it.

Cut to five years later. My books still sell here and there. They don’t pay my bills. They haven’t taken off. I work a job I hate to pay for a life I kind of shuffle through. I’m not where I want to be. My goals are still high. I’m not rich. My books aren’t on shelves. I don’t have a publishing deal. I can pack my life up into the same two suitcases I took with me to Los Angeles six years ago.

I never went to college and I haven’t – to my standards – become somebody.

Then I had a really, really weird day.

It started with me waking up from a nightmare, one of those hyper-realistic ones you could swear actually happened, where I was at some pool party  (complete with DJ, natch) and I ran into a woman I was deeply in love – I fall in love a lot; it’s a mess – and the guy she left me for when my grandfather passed. Now, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in at least a year, and she hadn’t been with him for even longer than that. The event had happened three years previous and she had left me with barely a word or a bat of the eye. Due to how realistic the dream was, though, I woke up feeling crushed all over again.

Two hours later, out of nowhere, she messages me. We have a conversation that started off tense because honestly, it gave me anxiety to even hear from her, but gradually it grew into an honest discussion about how hurt I was and what she was going through back then and it struck me that she basically did what I had done. And then she apologized profusely to me, the only thing I really needed to hear to finally, finally get closure and find solid ground with her again. We agreed distance was still probably best for the foreseeable future, but that if either of us needed someone to reach out to, we could always, now, again, finally, reach out to each other.

That was a weight, man. Three years of grief and hurt alleviated with an “I’m so sorry.”

And then two hours after that, my ex from Los Angeles messaged me. I haven’t spoken to her in five years, outside of a message about some stuff I left behind or a Happy Hanukkah. She tells me she’s thought long and hard about it, and would understand if I said no, but she wanted help writing something that would help her get into a college program she needed.

The first thing I thought was that it was fucking hilarious. Now my writing is good enough? Now you trust that I know enough about this thing I sort of assed myself into doing?

But I said “Absolutely. Of course I’ll help you.” I’m proud of her. I still have so much love and gratitude for the things she did for me and the great moments we did have. I want to do whatever I can to help her get where she wants to be. I had spent years trying to find a way to be friends with her again that I felt she would accept or that I deserved, so it meant a lot to me that she would reach out. We talked a little over Thanksgiving, because it was six years ago from then that I went to her home for the first time and met her family, and it was immediately after that we decided to date. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “We had so much fun.”

Yeah. We did.

I’ve been feeling a little heartbroken lately, so I’ve gone back to drinking a little too much and bleeding my emotions out a little too dramatically and clinging to someone I desperately wanted to work towards a potential future with, so yesterday morning, I woke up, still drunk from a bad Sunday night, and called that person and told them I wanted them to have a safe trip to Japan. She flew out today. I’m hoping that’ll keep me from texting her in the wee hours of the morning compliments she’s probably tired of hearing. We didn’t talk long, probably for the best, and she told me to try and get some more sleep before I had to go into work.

I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t coming to me, so in the fading haze of intoxication, I decided I finally, genuinely needed to be honest about something. I messaged my ex.

I told her about finally going in this year and being diagnosed with a few disorders that made me feel things erratically and severely and how for a long time, I had just assumed I would occasionally get fed up with things and I would lash out. I told her that six years ago, I fell in love with her and her family for what they gave me and that when she reached out to me, I didn’t do it out of a delusion that we’d get back together or out of infatuation, but because I still cared and wanted to help. But I wanted her to know something.

“If you never go to college, I don’t believe you’ll ever be somebody.” To hear that from someone whose opinion I cared so much about and whose affection and acceptance I craved more than anything during a time where I was broke and had nothing and hardly anyone else… it broke me. And when I didn’t go and when I fucked so many things up, I just kept telling myself, “Maybe she was right. Maybe I won’t be.”

And as I was typing this out to her, to let her know that one sentence has been this haunting, horrible weight on me for so long, something finally clicked in my head…

I’ve spent six years trying to be somebody because I thought she thought I couldn’t be, when I should have been doing it because I thought I could be. When I first moved down, I thought I could do anything. When it became increasingly difficult and I became increasingly emotional, I began to have doubts. When she said that to me, I stopped believing in myself entirely.

I was trying to prove her wrong these last years. I wasn’t trying to prove to myself that I was always right about what I was capable of.

She wrote back to me, aghast. She apologized profusely and told me she hoped I could forgive her words. “When I get angry, I try to hurt whoever I think is hurting me.” She told me she had never thought I was lesser, that she was proud of me when she found I had written books, and a few other complimentary things. “Why do you think I’d even consider you to read my personal statement? Because if anyone knew… it would be you.”

The world is yours if you want it. Not because someone said you can’t have it. I lost sight of that a long time ago, and I’ve felt like a shadow of myself since.

Fourteen hours later, I realized something else: I’ve been insecure about my writing because I feel like a fraud when I do it. Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, Thompson… they wrote about love, life, loss, lust, pain and so much else with authority. Love is this. Heartbreak is that. They wrote with conviction and years later, their quotes are passed around social media and hung up on walls and in offices because the things they wrote resonate with people.

But there was always something holding me back. I think it’s because when I posted it on Facebook, my friends would take the piss out of it. They would see me as being over emotional or narcissistic or dramatic. Who the fuck am I to put myself in the footsteps of those men? Who the fuck am I to know what life is supposed to be about? What it is? When people have known me for years, they’ve created an image of who I am, and I’m no authority on anything to them.

In the same way that someone who tells a few jokes every other week on a stage wouldn’t consider themselves a comedian, I felt like writing a few poems, a few introspective posts, it didn’t make me a writer.

But why not? I remember the fucking mountain of private messages I got after my post about having been raped. I remember the messages I got when I wrote about being suicidally depressed. The people who have shared my poems. The people who knew my family members and reached out to tell me what I wrote meant to them, or because it reminded them of their own families. I remember the messages from people who were dealing with loss, or heartbreak, or budding love.

You know what I remembered? Finally remembered? I’m not fucking writing for people who don’t see me as a writer. I’m writing to put how I see and feel things out there for people to know they aren’t alone in their feelings. I’m doing it to reach out to others the way the writing greats once reached and continue to reach out to me.

If nobody else will say it, I’m going to. I have a voice that I’ve kept hushed and shyly uttered for too long. And frankly? I’m not good at anything else, except for eating and occasionally sex if their standards are low, so I better get goddamn good at this.

I need to do this because I believe I can. And I’m starting to again.

The Story Man

I can’t recall the origin of the nickname. I think I may have pompously referred to myself as such in a rum-fueled haze of confidence, high on one of my rare book sales, and a few people clung to it. It’s a decent moniker, if only in it’s accuracy: I tell stories – it’s my passion, in fact – and I am a man. I tell stories about life and death, killers and thieves, flower girls and friendships. I write poetry for women who have never existed, telling a story about a romance that will never be.

Lately, I’ve been telling a lot of stories about myself. There’s a conceit in that, an assumptive arrogance that anything about my life or me is worth reading about. It’s a promise I feel I often break, when I write a thousand circuitous words or more about my feelings or my soul-searching that usually ends the same way it begins: that I am listless in life, confused about my purpose, and generally dissatisfied with my output in virtually every way.

Yet I can’t stop. If I tried, I think I’d go mad. Well, madder.

I’ve never seen a blank piece of paper I haven’t wanted to write on. Something about the emptiness of it, the void, screams out to me to be filled, and when I do, when I write, it’s not as simple as “the ink of my blood flowing” as this bucking beast that’s been slamming against the cage in my gut finally finds itself a refuge to cavort to its heart’s content.

Of the page itself, it appears not as a canvas, not quite, but a gate. A window to a multiverse, endless possibilities to pull from and when I find the one I want (something with science and fiction, perhaps, or a poem about homesickness, or an echo of my own heart), a flash comes from behind my eyes and a dageurreotype is left in the form of words.

The page is a lover, of sorts, one whose every inch I want to explore and tease and fill to the brim with passion. Sometimes the process is more aggressive. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I’m left on the edge of tears. The page listens, and I endeavor to explain.

I do that with anecdotes. Stories. Tales.

I remember several years ago, a six-issue comic book mini-series came out called Taleweaver. It was a story about warring factions that had the addition of a protagonist who could change reality by writing what he wanted to happen in the form of a story. It was a concept that never had much sustainability, but I thought it was cool as hell anyway. And “taleweaver”. That sounds awesome. I could be a taleweaver.

The Story Man, though? That sounds so… well, I get two visuals out of it. On one hand, it feels ominous. The Story Man feels like a character ripped straight from King or Koontz. A mysterious figure with unclear intentions. Is he a monster? The last sword of God? A being of grayness, indifferent to the concept of morality? Stephen, if you write it, I will read it.

I also see, however, the old man at the beginning of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Though he becomes a major character further on in the book, we’re introduced to him as a traveling storyteller, scraping the floor with his chair as he takes his place by the fire in a quiet tavern. It’s he that sets the group on their adventure. He puts things in motion.

Do I do that? Lord, I kind of hope not. Here’s where I tell you not to take advice from someone who fucks up as often as I do.

And here’s where you realize if you listen to me, you’ve already taken my advice. Gotcha, sucker.

You know, part of me appreciates that the mistakes I’ve made, and the rash decisions and the ill-advised traveling, all of that has led to a number of stories. While I wouldn’t mind being rich and successful and having those upbeat kinds of memories to write about, the things I’ve done and gone through have allowed me to have a deeper – if still flawed – understanding of myself and the world and some of the people in it. I get the grime, I get the shattered windows and ripped photographs and discarded shoes. I also get the solitary rose growing through the cracks, the letter from a loved one fading from repeated readings, the stuffed animal sewn back together countless times.

I try to write my stories – fiction and nonfiction – so that they’re full of imagery and emotion. I want my readers to see what I see, to feel what I feel, so that they can understand me and maybe see a part of the world that might normally be hidden from them. I don’t know if I’m successful at that, but it also serves to get it out of me, get it onto the page I love, and trap it there.

If it stays in me too long, I get to thinking too much. Case in point, last night I stumbled across a picture of someone’s text post. It was a woman talking about how she was raising her daughter alone and how she would make something up about the father who left her behind. This got me thinking about my biological father, who left, and my adopted father who was unable to take care of me due to his own addictions.

I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’m going to do so again for a second. See, I came across Danny’s Song again. My adopted dad is a huge Kenny Loggins fan, and he loved this song (and I’m Alright, but that’s neither here nor there) in particular. I like the song, and Loggins, but it makes me think about what must have been going through his head in the 80s. In love and married to my mom, ready to raise and love me as his own. The idyllic life. And I think about how that all crashed and burned. How the marriage fell apart because of substance abuse and rampant blame. How he fled the state and I didn’t see him for two years or talk to him for a year and a half. How this perfect, picturesque family lifestyle has turned into being shut away in prison in different states and cutting almost all contact from his family and all contact from me.

Of course that leads me to my biological father, who couldn’t be bothered to even pay for the paternity test, so few fucks did he give about possibly having a son.

I am grateful for the grandfather I got, the one he raised as a third son and fourth child, though I shared no blood ties to him. I will always be grateful.

Even so, for as many years pass and as often as I tell myself and others, I still wind back around at dad and abandonment issues.

It’s sort of a weird topic to bring up in an article about being The Story Man (capital t, naturally), but I’ve been doing some soul-searching lately, and I haven’t been liking some of what I’m seeing.

Am I the man my grandfather wanted me to be? The one he felt was worth raising from the age of five even though he had put in his dues? Or was John right in running away from me before he could get to know me? Am I just a broken man like Rick who is set to have his idea of a happy family wrecked by my decisions and weakness?

I think about it a lot, because that feeling of duality drives me in a lot of different directions. The bulk of my stories seem to be rooted in the complex and very intense emotions that I’m absolutely convinced came from a loving but somewhat traumatic and confusing childhood.

Of those three options, I know which one I try most to be. I try to be a good guy. I try to build up and inspire others (the only way I know how, for the most part, being through stories), but I know specters of the other two haunt my life daily. I won’t even touch Terry, who I wrote about in Santa Wears a Black Hat, and who I learned a lot from – both good and bad – but whom I also spend far less time obsessing about.

So try as I might to be someone worth raising, someone worth being around, someone worth loving, I’m not always strong enough, I feel, to pull it off. Writing those thoughts out, the pain I’m feeling, the love I feel for beautiful things, my love of love, my longing for people that make me feel alive, my desire to strengthen connections with people and my anxiety that I did something wrong or am horribly deficient when that connection seems shaky… writing it out is the only way, the only *healthy* way I can keep my knees from buckling.

Sometimes that manifests itself in imaginary worlds, hard and beautiful and varyingly interesting places I’ll never be able to see; or characters who embody different aspects of myself. Sometimes it will be in fictional love letters, poetry that struggles to capture the romance I see and feel in the currents of the wind and the flight of autumn leaves, or whatever.

Sometimes it’s just me getting shit out. Telling stories, because stories are what I’m left with. The arrows in my quiver, the sword in my sheath, the A-4 KU Skyhawk on my aircraft carrier…. this metaphor got away from me.

I arrive in Montana on Saturday. I suspect I’ll have more stories pretty soon.

“To be alive
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”

-Gregory Orr

The Convergence Trilogy

Three and a half years and almost 512,000 words later, I’ve finally finished my first trilogy. Well, a trilogy in five parts, anyway.

I was living in Redmond, Washington at the time, deeply depressed and trying to come back from the worst time of my life. I wasn’t just broke, I was depressed. I had been fired from my job and narrowly avoided jail time because of some stupid, stupid choices. I lost half of my friends. I had to move out of state (California) and start over from scratch, sleeping on my friend’s couch. Things weren’t great.

I flew up to Alaska for a week to see my best friend’s baby son right after he was born and found myself out bar-hopping that weekend to say hey to people I wasn’t friends with in high school like things had changed after graduation. I found myself walking the streets by myself, mind clear and taking in the way the streetlights bounced off of the snow with the kind of focus only the truly, deeply lonely have.

It was February and it was cold, so I ducked into The Anchor, a now-closed sports bar, to warm up and maybe grab a drink. The dance floor was packed and clumps of friends hung on each other, taking pictures they could or would only share a fraction of, screeching at each other in decibels only be heard by dogs and drunk white girls.

I wanted a clump, too, but I was clumpless. Dejected, I decided maybe I’d be better off finding a drink somewhere else and started to turn away. Through the crowd came one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen and she headed straight for me. She embraced me and told me that she believed in me and that she thought I was a talented writer from the stuff I had put up on Myspace/Facebook.

Now let’s back up a second. The first time I had ever seen this woman was seven years prior to our bar conversation. I was a sophomore in high school and I was in my United States History class. It was towards the end of the year and she was graduating, so she poked her head through the window from outside to say goodbye to my teacher and I was immediately taken by her. I made it a mission to say hi to her the next time I saw her and introduce myself. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t another opportunity before the school year ended.

I would see her around town from time to time after that but I figured it would be weird to stop her out of nowhere just to say hi, me being this kid she’s never seen before. What would I say? How would I say it? I felt weird for even wanting to do it, honestly. But then a day came that she popped up as a mutual friend on MySpace and I said, “Fuck it” and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted.

I still didn’t say hello.

For over a year we were friends online, our only communication being my sending her a message for the holidays as I did to all of my friends, and her appreciative response.

So it surprised me that she would recognize me in person at The Anchor. It surprised me even more that she would take the time to come and say hello and that this relative stranger, one who I had admired and been intimidated by for years, would tell me that she believed in me, that she would tell me she felt my writing had promise. I was surprised she even paid attention.

I’m not big on God or fate or destiny, but I do like playing the long odds. I like the idea of luck, good and bad, of high and small percentages, of chance. I don’t know what the chances were of my being in town that week, deciding to go out, deciding to go downtown, deciding to duck into the same bar she was in at the same time she happened my way, for her to recognize me or choose the words she did, but I needed it bad. That one interaction changed things for me in a big way.

I went back to Washington a renewed and inspired man. She and I started a dialogue via email that would lead to our having a long, strong friendship. I started to write.

I dug out a few shoddy chapters I had written the summer before that had been inspired by a dream (not something that happens to me often, as it turns out). A lot of what I had already done was garbage, but there was some stuff worth salvaging there.

For the next six months, I hammered out Waypoint, my first novel and the first part of what would become the Convergence trilogy. The words came quickly and easily. I had developed some severe bronchitis around that time, too, so a large part of that could have been because of the codeine cough syrup I had been prescribed and was using semi-irresponsibly.

Along the way, I picked up a couple friends who volunteered and agreed to read and edit as I wrote (my friend Ben and his wife, Karina, who I didn’t know too well at the time, which actually worked out perfectly because she was very blunt about her opinions). At the end of those six months, Waypoint was finished and I found myself new problems to have: I was terrified to release it.

What if it sucked? What if nobody liked it? What if they made fun of it? What if my friend from the bar was wrong about my writing? What if I was a fool for wanting to pursue writing as a career (this last question still plagues me)?

Ben and Karina insisted that I was wrong, that the book was good stuff, that it would all be fine. Gradually, I gave in. Tentatively, I self-published and released the book online. To my astonishment and relief, the general consensus has been that it is, in fact, a good book. The reception was so positive and the enthusiasm so high in regards to discussing the characters, the world they lived in, and the plot twisting through it, that I decided to split the second and third novels into two halves so I could get my readers more material faster.

Death Worth Living For came next, and it was around this time that I gained arguably my two biggest fans: a pair of traveling jewelry salespeople who would host a couple events a year at the jewelry store I worked in. They would read as they traveled, one of them speaking my words aloud while the other drove. When we saw each other, they would pelt me with questions about the characters and their motivations and actions. They would theorize what would happen next (often, they were wrong. Sometimes, they would give me an idea I hadn’t considered before).

I was most of the way through As the Earth Trembled Part One when my grandparents – for all intent and purpose my parents, as they had adopted and raised me since I was five – both passed away and the woman I loved left me for someone else.

I was able to finish and release that half of the book, but it took a long time for me to get my confidence, my inspiration and my wits back. Longer than I’d like to admit, but I was able to work through it eventually and yesterday I released As the Earth Trembled Part Two for the Kindle, finishing the Convergence trilogy (in five parts) once and for all.

Three and a half years. Over half a million words. I’ve sold almost three thousand copies of the books, which is not a lot, really, but I’ve paid a bill or two and bought a drink or ten with what I’ve made. I’ve accrued some four and five star reviews that I’m proud of, and though I got some separation anxiety regarding my characters as I finished up, it’s so rewarding to see other people, friends and strangers both, grow equally as invested in them.

If you, my faithful, wonderful readers, would like to check out the books yourselves, refer them to a friend who might like them, or get them for someone as a gift, here’s where you can find them:

For the Kindle:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

In paperback:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

For the Nook:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

And if you’ve read these books so far, if you’ve taken a chance on my work – whether you enjoyed it or not – or suggested them to friends or family, or even lent a copy to somebody: thank you so much. Your support means the absolute world to me. I may write to get the ideas out of my head, but it’s an audience that gives those ideas their first breath of life.

As for me, I’m on to the next one.

The Pro In Productivity

Recently, I had two separate friends ask me to lend an editing eye and input towards some letters they had written. I was flattered, because the contents of the letters were immensely personal, and they trusted me enough to reveal that side of them, and also because they trusted me enough to catch any kinds of errors or to suggest an alteration to better the flow when reading it.

One of my friends said jokingly, “Because you’re a professional writer”. When I say jokingly, I don’t mean flippant; she wasn’t being sarcastic. I meant it in the sense that it wasn’t as serious as, say, someone commissioning me to write a speech or a business proposal. She meant it in a light-hearted manner, but she meant it.

I immediately shot back with a “Hardly.” Anyone can self-publish a novel with enough time and patience. Anyone can market themselves or talk non-stop about the project they’re working on and how far along they are. Anybody can fire up a blog and talk about their sex lives and their drinking problems.

I wasn’t published through a traditional publisher. You couldn’t get my books at a bookstore. I have to work 40+ hours in a retail job to survive. I can’t say the word autograph without hating myself. These are not things a professional has to worry about.

She said to me, “If you have used the money you made from the sale of your work to pay a bill, then you’re a professional.”

That… that kind of made sense. I wasn’t ready to fully commit to that mindset, but it got me thinking.

I have a friend (who is also my current roommate) that I’ve known for a long, long time and who I often disagree with but whom I always listen to because he’s an intelligent man who has lived through a lot… he told me once that he wouldn’t consider me a writer – and I shouldn’t call myself a writer – until I actually had something published.

I can get that, to a degree. There are a lot of people who claim to be writers who never get around to the writing part. Others start but never finish. My friend’s point was that the desire to write and even the act of writing do not in themselves inherently make one a writer. I think that mentality also detracts from people who write every day in any number of ways. If someone writes poetry and posts it to their blog or their Tumblr instead of an anthology or a bound collection, that doesn’t make them not a poet. They might be a shitty poet, but they’ve got the idea down and the content is posted.

All the same, I finished my first novel and self-published it through Amazon, and when I asked, frustrated, if that was good enough for me to call myself a writer, he shrugged and said, “Yep. Well done.”

So why, I wonder, do I feel vindicated by that, and yet when someone introduces me as their friend, a published writer, I hasten to correct with “self-published”. My books aren’t as professionally edited or as put together as books out of a big publishing house. They’re not available at the airport or even the Wal-Mart book bargain bin (did you know that’s a thing? It’s totally a thing).

But they are available for the Kindle and the Nook, and print-on-demand via Amazon. I have sold over 2,000 copies of my novels to people all across the United States, Canada, England and Ireland, to men and women from 18 years of age to 60, and received four and five stars across the board for my trouble. I’m no Best Seller. There are no blogs written about my books (beside my own, natch), but that’s something, isn’t it?

I reached out to another friend whose opinion I respect a lot and asked her opinion. She said, “It feels too important to call it a hobby. People pay money to read what you’ve slaved over. You’ve become a commodity, an item to satisfy a want or need. That’s professional.”

There’s a truth to that. If someone took oils to a canvas or pen to a paper, or piled up a bunch of trash that looks like two people kissing from the right angle, under the right light, or they fling paint at something (looking at you, Pollock), and someone purchases it to put in their home, you would call that creator an artist. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money (the term “starving artist” exists for a reason), but enough to help get by. Enough to pay a bill.

A lot of educators have a second job to help them get by, especially during the summer. I had an Advanced Placement European History teacher work at a supermarket while school was out, but I didn’t consider him a clerk. His focus, his passion, the thing he considered himself to be and spent most of his energy being was a teacher. He taught. He gave teachings to others and he got paid for it. I’m a writer. I write. I give the product of that writing to others, and I get paid for it, sometimes quite a bit.

There are a lot of published authors who take offense to the categorization of a self-published author as being in the same league as they are, or to be lumped in the same category, even. To be fair, like I said above, it is painfully easy to slap something together, draw up a cover (or don’t), write up a description of what it’s about (or don’t), set a price point and unleash it on the market via self-publication. This fucking sucks for me, because there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of books out there now to wade through. It’s easy to sink in and get lost amongst all of that, and the bulk of those works aren’t…very good…

Yet I don’t feel that the way the book is released should be an automatic detractor from its quality (even as, again, I am quick to correct people about my publication status). Hugh C. George’s Silo series, starting with Wool, is very good and got a lot of acclaim.

There are a lot of reasons to go the self-publication route, and just as many to go the (much harder) traditional route. I would honestly prefer the latter, but I haven’t been able to set aside the time and money to start really delving into agents and what publishing houses haven’t already turned me down. Self-publishing is quick, convenient and simple. It suits my needs, but only for now.

Still, the books sell. Not a lot, but they do. Does that make me professional? What doesn’t make me professional? Is it because I don’t have a degree in English? Is it because a recognizable name doesn’t circulate my books through stores?

More and more I’m starting to view self-publication as less like a loophole and more like a self-owned business. I own a copyright for the art I create. I profit off it and pay taxes on it. The quality of the work is dependent on how much time and effort I put into it, as is the case with a business.

I don’t know why I wrote this blog post. I’m certainly not trying to convince you that I’m the next great American novelist, deserving of acclaim and millions of dollars and a never-ending supply of high fives (though all of that would be nice). I would be content if you read my books and, if you liked them, told a friend. I think, though, that the words my friend said to me about what qualifies me as a “professional artist” gave me a lot to think about concerning the way I take the wind out of my own sails and downplay what I’ve accomplished.

I’m proud of my books. Why aren’t I proud of myself?

I am starting to take my writing schedule more seriously. I’m putting in 2,000 words or more a day, even after stressful shifts at my day job, even if it means staying up until six in the morning and getting four hours of sleep. I’m starting to feel less ashamed at being called a “self-published” anything as if that means I should be less respected as an artist when the basis of that respect depends on the work I crank out. It takes time, money and effort to find an agent and a traditional publisher. In the meantime, I’ve taken advantage of a process that allows my novels to get out there and be available to readers, and I’ve gained followers and, God bless, actual fans that will engage me on characters and motivations and scenes and the world I’ve created.

Am I fulfilled? Not really. Not entirely, I mean. I want writing to be my full time job. I want to write all day and have what I earn from that pay all of my bills, not just a phone bill or a storage unit bill. But am I a professional writer? Maybe, kinda. And that’s 200% more than I was before Waypoint went on sale. I could dig it.

Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.