2011 in Review (or, Turn the Beat Around)

I was really inspired by Michele Lee’s post on her various victories and distractions of 2011, so you can see this as a kind of response. I thought it was time I reflected on 2011 as well.

Let’s just say the beginning of 2011 was bad. Really bad. I was in one of the worse places of my life. My mom had just had a double mastectomy and we were still reeling from the fact that she would need to be vigilant about looking out for signs of cancer metastasis. She couldn’t work, obviously, and I didn’t have a job. We needed money to cover living expenses and lingering bills. To add insult to injury, I had just walked away from a completely useless literary agent who didn’t sell a damned thing for me (despite being part of a well-respected boutique), had another agent interested in A Clockwork Vampire but who kept losing the manuscript in her inbox somehow (do not ask me now this is possible), and a mid-sized publisher who had actually accepted my steampunk romance-y book but was unable to submit a contract to me for some bizarre reason. Again, I can’t explain this reasoning. I had also sold The Company of Angels to a GBLT-friendly publisher, who, again, couldn’t seem to get a contract to me despite weeks passing and assurances that he was, indeed, “getting it into the mail”.

For the first time in my whole life, I realized that many professional people weren’t any more incompetent than I was, and I wasn’t even, technically, a pro. I had no fancy college degree. I was a college dropout with a lot of retail experience, but I knew I could run these businesses better than these folks.

And as a cherry on top of this bloody mess, I was wrestling with my own undying lover. My depression—my constant companion, in some ways my Significant Other. The bear that follows me around and hugs me deep inside his hot, angry, melty embrace and will not let me go, and will probably never let me go.

So yeah, things were bad. Not “jump off the fortieth floor” bad, but that’s the way my whole life has always been. Things have never been bad enough to push me to make some ridiculous decision, but just bad enough to hold me in place. It seems my whole life is a case of holding me in place until I feel like I’m going crazy with disappointment and expectations.

And I had no one to turn to. My mom was too ill to deal with my shit, my family could care less whether I was breathing or not, I had no actual significant other, I have friends but I cared about them too much to dump on them (and, anyway, they were dealing with their own shit) and the deities and I had become over-the-backyard-fence friends. That is, we see each other occasionally, and sometimes we talk, but only briefly and never about anything significant anymore. We like to keep things light and not rely on each other. That works for us. I asked them once why everyone in my family was dead or disconnected, and they didn’t know. We weren’t on the VIP list.

So believe it or not, it was a song that turned things around for me, bit by bit. I’d been a huge fan of Darkseed for years, and I’d always liked the song “Can’t Explain,” but finally it started taking on more meaning for me. I’ll post the lyrics here:

Shadow-veiled, passing years
I can’t see the sun
Where’s the land of friends?
Darkness conquers us
When the dawn of night begins
Deep beneath my chilling fears
Lives the ocean of my tears
I don’t understand the world
Bodies frozen, love stands still
As the sun was doomed

And I turn to look to you
There are no words I can use
I can’t explain the goings of the world
Dark and cold
I can’t explain misery
I can’t explain cruelty
I can’t explain the success of lying here
I turn away

Anger pounds, sorrow surrounds
I can’t stand this pain
Neverending emptiness
Everyday we look away
We are all alone

And I turn to look to you
There are no words I can use
I can’t explain the goings of the world
Dark and cold
I can’t explain misery
I can’t explain cruelty
I can’t explain the success of lying here
I turn away

I am sorry
I can’t explain
Cruelty
Misery

Anyway, as depressing as that may read, it emphasized a truth I was only finally beginning to understand. That, maybe, there simply is no explanation or pattern in why these bad things happen to us. Maybe there is no mind behind it all. No conspiracy. Maybe it’s just shit, and it happens, and you just need to get through it. And there is neither punishment nor reward in enduring it. Maybe getting through it doesn’t mean anything either, except for a little self-satisfaction that you overcame some shit and now you can be happy for a little while until the next shit storm happens.

That helped me, as well as the line, “I can’t explain the success of lying here.” Probably the songwriters meant the line to mean the success in lying about the truth, but I interpreted it differently. I read it as, “I can’t explain the success of remaining inactive.” In other words, setting fewer goals and caring less about your own progress, which actually helped me. I started feeling less pressure when I realized that the more goals you set, the higher your expectations for yourself, and the more you set yourself up for disappointment. So I wiped my goals. I cared less about succeeding, or doing anything but just living and getting through the next shit storm, and that helped a lot. It lifted a burden from my shoulders.

In some ways, the lack of hope became my one hope, as odd as that sounds.

It was a weird beginning of the year. I spent the beginning taking care of my mom, working on the new KHP merger, and trying to figure out all this shit in my head, and what I cared about anymore—if anything. There was no epiphany in any of this, like at the end of a holiday movie, and I think that was the exact point. No angel. No god. No guidance. No one. But then, there never has been for me.

You see, ultimately, I’m all alone. And I could be sad about that, but what’s the point? My aloneness is not due to rejecting those around me, or because of some great sin or wrongdoing. It’s because there has never really been anyone there to begin with. How can one be truly alone when one has never been together? That’s a little like asking a man born blind if he misses colors.

Finally, at the beginning of the summer, I basically gave up on the idea of reaching any personal goals and picked up retail work at Home Depot to pay off our bills. The work was shit, frankly, and the backstabbing among the employees mind-boggling. I had never seen co-workers who hated each other so completely, but I carried on because of the universal reasoning—I needed the money. I was promoted to running about a third of the store withing the first two months. Unfortunately, this promotion did not come with a pay raise, which was effectively the straw that broke the financial camel’s back. Add to that my newly diagnosed degenerative arthritis in both knees (of which I was told two things—1. I was too young to have it, despite there being X-rays and imaging results to prove otherwise) and 2. There is no cure, so have a nice day)—and I was pushed toward the biggest decision I’d made up to this point in my life.

For the first time, I contemplated becoming a full-time writer with no financial backup. No retail job to run to in a bad spot. No safety net. It took me the whole month of June to decide on this, but at the end of it I went, “Why not?” I mean, why was I caring at this point? What was I afraid of? What was I trying to prove to myself or others?

I can’t explain the success of just lying here. So I’ll just lie here and let fate take its course.

So yeah, I went ahead with my plans, though I had some strict guidelines about writing everyday. And in the course of those next few months I managed to write the entire Sasha Strange Chronicles, of which I am very proud. I loved these characters, and for a while they were my whole world. They encompassed by childhood, the sweetest, happiest time of my life—the time before I had to worry about grown-up shit. At the end, I received some additional pushes toward my goal of self-sufficient author. The aforementioned agent finally turned down A Clockwork Vampire, which I thought was quite foolish on her part. Did I hate her? No, I don’t hate anyone, but I though it was a poor decision. I had a feeling the book would do well in the present literary climate. About that time, I also received some additional rejections for the book—Carina Press told me the book was no good (despite them putting out some pretty dreadful books and actually asking for a rewrite, which I did for the editor), Morgana Press told me it wasn’t dark enough for them, and then Angry Robot turned down the book at the last moment—Edwin and Eliza’s story had made it almost to the top of the heap, but I think my lack of a Times Bestselling title had something to do with that. And just like that, the umbilicus to all these publishers was cut.

Again, a burden lifted and I came to the realization that I really do not need these presses to be successful, that I would likely be making the same amount of money being published through them as I would be doing it all myself. I knew how to do covers, editing, marketing. I was not really gaining much going through this long, painful, time-consuming submission process. I then made the second big decision of the year—I would no longer submit to presses and editors I did not know. I would forsake agents, and make my own way. Alone, as always. You see, I’d always been my own captain. I can navigate the industry perfectly well on my own.

I decided to go forward with A Clockwork Vampire all on my own, following what I felt was a small but quickly growing marketing trend, and it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The Sasha Strange Chronicles did well during the summer, but A Clockwork Vampire blew even those out of the water, and as a result of royalties, I’ve been able to pay off bills and expenses and outfit my whole office with new equipment.

And my holiday wish even came through this year—my mom remains cancer-free.

I need to credit several people who were there to hear my bullshit and offer advice—or just listen and offer no advice, which is just as useful sometimes: My mom, Jerrod Balzer, S.D. Hintz and Louise Bohmer. Renowned editor John Skipp helped give me a boost of self-confidence when I needed it the most. He included me in the Demons anthology released by Black Dog and Leventhal earlier this year and asked for a brand new, original crime series from me. That helped validate my strengths as a writer, I have to admit. Because even if your book does well as a self-published project, you still have this nagging at the back of your skull that asks if you’re just getting pity purchases on your book. I also need to thank all the people who purchased my various books this year, followed me on Twitter and Facebook, or who just dropped me a good word for no reason at all. Maybe because they, too, were lonely and feeling forgotten.

And of course, I owe Darkseed for telling me to do nothing.

I’ve expanded my cover art and editorial services, and I’m hard at work on Book 2 of the Mrs. McGillicuddy Myteries. I’m writing it because that’s what I do, but also because…it’s fun. That’s important. The Clockwork Vampire universe represents a fun little sweet spot that doesn’t exist in the real world and never will because the real world just isn’t that cool. So I’m asking you to forget your financial problems, your relationship problems, your problem problems for a while and just come along with me and experience the fantastic in some other place where cybernetic vampires, shapeshifters and dirigibles are the norm. The stuff that gets me through all the shit of real life.

In 2012, I’m going to issue you a challenge. Lower your expectations. Have more fun. Cut the stress in your life. Live through the shit, as hard as it is sometimes.

Mostly, have fun.

Even if that means succeeding by just lying there inactive.

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3 thoughts on “2011 in Review (or, Turn the Beat Around)

  1. While it might sound gushy, posts like this (and the great information you share with others) is exactly why I admire you. 🙂

    If you ever need an ear, let me know anytime.

    Louise xox

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