and, why I started this site and it’s so important to me that you finish your first book
We’ve all seen people say, “Well, if I can do this, anybody can do this.” My reaction is usually to roll my eyes and think, “What does that even mean?” How can I compare my abilities and life to you, a total freakin’ stranger?
Well, now it’s my turn to be that douche. If I can help even one person do it, you have no idea how happy that will make me. So here goes…Seriously, if I can write (and finish) books, so can you. And so you will have some idea why I say that, here’s the extremely edited, Reader’s Digest version of my story.
My shrink has been after me to write a memoir. It seems like a stupid idea. Memoirs should be touching, have a message, and be interesting. I don’t have the personality to be ‘touching,’ no message to send, and don’t feel like my life has been that interesting. I’ve spent the vast majority of it rolling with whatever wave was about to drown me. I’ve never had direction. The only constant through my entire life was wanting to be a writer. So, instead of a memoir, I’m just going to write a blog post about why I (finally!!) write and hope it compels someone else to do it too.
I was raised in one of those Fundamentalist Christian denominations that keep you hooked by maintaining a low level of terror and trying to pass it off as ‘hope’ and ‘God’s love.’ We stopped just short of handling snakes, and I’m pretty sure it was so we could have some other denomination to point to and say, “Us? Oh, no. Those people are the crazy ones.”
We weren’t allowed television or any other ‘worldly’ entertainment, so cheap, used paperbacks were the only thing that could ease the fear. I’d spend hours curled up on the floor behind my bed following Piers Anthony’s ogre around a magical and far too pun-heavy forest. When traveling to Asimov’s stars got to be too much, Austen would let me rest in the English countryside.
Books were my lifeline until a new ruling came down: I was no longer allowed to have books in the house. From then on, the only sanctioned reading was the Bible.
My world imploded—actually, my multiple worlds imploded. That also brought about the first time I ever intentionally lied to my parents. Most of my friends had hiding places for their Playboys and cigarettes. I squirreled away the Incarnations of Immortality and Apprentice Adept series.
In case you can’t tell, I loved Piers Anthony. I found out I wasn’t his biggest fan when I heard this This American Life story. But I was up there.
In high school, I fell in love with chemistry and physics—science and Fundamentalism don’t mix, so I started questioning our religion. Three months before graduation, Mom told me I could live at home until I graduated, but I wasn’t welcome after that. With my Ford Granada packed, I drove to my graduation and didn’t set foot inside my mother’s house until ten years later.
I went off to college on a small scholarship. My major was physics because I was almost ridiculously good at it. Unfortunately, my scholarship was too small and my other financial aid was minuscule. Even though I was homeless, my parent’s income still factored into how much help I could get. I had a menial full-time job, but with dorm, books, fees, and other things, I couldn’t afford to eat.
Most of my meals were from the occasional loaf of bread I could get my hands on and packets of Arby’s sauce I would steal from the Arby’s near campus. Run in for the bathroom; palm a handful on the way out… It was stealing, but I needed the calories.
During my first year of college, I almost starved, tried to commit suicide once, and was locked up in three psych wards. On top of everything, I was diagnosed with fast cycling bipolar disorder. Back then, the only medication they had for that was lithium. I hated it. I don’t even remember why I hated it, but I did. I stopped taking it after six months.
Having come from such a Fundamentalist background where I mental illness came from demon possession and was either a direct curse from God or a sign that I wasn’t important enough for him to protect, that diagnosis was a blow. But it was nothing to the next thing. I was realizing I was gay.
Looking back at my childhood, it’s stupidly obvious. But, I was so sheltered that I didn’t even know what “gay” was. All I knew then was that it fell somewhere in the top three sins and had something to do with old men who hid behind trees in parks and grabbed little boys.
I was a wreck. Not just any wreck though. I was a ten-car pileup on the interstate that got plowed into by a gasoline tanker, releasing an explosion that could be seen from space. Except it wasn’t.
It wasn’t seen by anyone, because I was alone.
The year was 1989; I was kicked out of college and the closet—right into the middle of the AIDS crisis. That’s when the deaths started.
My very first boyfriend died, and that set a pattern that’s followed me through my entire life.
As you might imagine for a crazy, uneducated, mess of a person, the jobs I had were crap for a few years. Then I eventually landed in an independent bookstore.
I excelled. And why wouldn’t I? After all, I loved books, and I was still going to be a writer.
It wasn’t long until I was meeting with publisher reps and buying books for the store. Being able to put ‘trade book buyer’ on my resume opened a lot of doors when my friend called me and asked if I wanted to run away to Massachusetts. (I’m pretty sure she saved my life with that phone call)
I was a damned good book buyer and the sales numbers everywhere I went proved it. After a while, my resume actually looked impressive—Boston Museum of Science, MIT Coop, and a couple of well-respected and much loved local independents.
Unfortunately, I had been self-medicating my bipolar for years. Alcohol and anything I could get my hands on to keep me out of the depressions and as close to the mania as possible went in my mouth or up my nose. Some time around 2001, I was holding on by a thread—and it was fraying.
The same friend who talking me into moving to Massachusetts talked me into traveling the country with her. Our first stop was going to be a cabin in Maine for three months. GREAT! I could finally start writing!
I think I might have written a whole page in those three months. But, that didn’t stop moronic me from saying I was a writer for the next two years that she and I traveled the U.S.
I always dreaded when people would ask, “So, have you written anything I might have read?” Shame is a horrible thing to feel…
Eventually, I settled in Connecticut with a guy. All the time between coming out and 2005, there had been a string of serial monogamy. Boyfriends strewn in my wake from one end of the country to the other, many of them in graveyards. Either AIDS, suicide, or drugs had killed almost everyone I’d dated for a year or longer. I was the black widow.
I stayed with… I’ll just use people’s initials… JAS for two years. He didn’t want anything out of life. I didn’t mind that he didn’t work; I minded that he didn’t want to learn or do anything. I mean, hell, I was going to be a writer! Why couldn’t he have something he wanted? So I wouldn’t be a complete hypocrite (because, of course, I still wasn’t writing), I enrolled in the University of Phoenix to get a business degree. I know degrees from there have a reputation… but when you are a salaried manager working 50 hours a week on a random schedule, that’s about the only chance you have.
When I’d gotten to Connecticut, I’d taken a job as a mid-level manager at Borders. In 2007, JAS was pushing me to get married and the economic shit was hitting the fan at Borders’ corporate offices. They laid me off and JAS and I parted ways.
I came back to Boston, took a management position with Borders here, and rode that stupid company until its body stopped convulsing and we put it in the ground. It sucked so bad the last couple of years. By the time it finally went out of business, there wasn’t one of us who didn’t want to torch the place. A desperate company is NOT a pleasure to work for.
Swearing off bookstores forever and armed with just my Associates from the UoP, I ventured out into the corporate world. I thought of trying to get a Bachelors in business, but why the hell would I do that? I hadn’t learned anything new in the course work for the Associates and I was paying on an obnoxiously big student loan. Besides, I was going to be a writer! I went back to school for a writing degree.
I read every writing craft book on the market, listened to every writing podcast, and followed every writing blog. I had the mechanics down WAY before I ever put them to use.
I’d stopped drinking and stopped taking any drugs, except for my ever-present, beloved caffeine. Without the chemicals taking the edge off the bipolar symptoms, they became unbearable.
I worked in my office, worked on my course-work, and sat in constant shrink sessions. I still refused medication because there was no way I was going back on lithium. But, I tried so hard. Any coping mechanism I read about online or came to me in a mania—I used it. And, FINALLY, I was writing. It was all for class assignments, but after calling myself a writer for almost forty years and never having scratched out more than a few pages, it was a victory.
My shrink talked me into starting a writing group. I did… and after all these years, it’s still going strong and I depend on them like you wouldn’t believe. The group is so important to me.
Then, my company switched insurance plans and my shrink couldn’t see me anymore. That was okay! Everything was looking up! I had a writing degree, a writing group, and I was putting out a chapter every couple of weeks. And, the chapters were good.
It would almost seem more appropriate after all that to say, “And when I finally got around to it, I sucked.” But I didn’t. It even shocked me. I wrote all good and stuff!
But, without even the slightest bit of mental health help—which the counseling had been the absolute minimum—my life fell apart again. I couldn’t afford to live in Boston anymore, so I’d moved to Salem (awesome, quirky little city), and gone back to work for a bookstore. Barnes and Noble that time.
I also crawled into a clinic in Salem and begged for medication. Mental health drugs have come a long way since 1989. They put me on a drug that had been used to treat epilepsy. It took a few months of almost crippling nausea to get used to it, but eventually, the nausea went away, and way more importantly, the fast swings between depression and mania went away. Then they treated the ADHD that had been hiding behind the bipolar. That’s when I was able to stop, look at my life, and say “WTF?”
Barnes and Noble is showing the same panic-signs Borders did toward the end… and they are a nightmare to work for right now. I wasn’t happy with the decisions I’d made. But, at least I was writing—not a lot, but still writing.
Another suicide the year before had dropped the ever-dwindling number of ex’s down to two by the beginning of 2016. On the entire planet, there were only two people left who had ever told me they loved me. That’s saying a lot, because I was a very busy man for a lot of years.
Then, one day, I got a message on Facebook from BJV (initials only) in Texas. All it said was, “You were right.”
Being my lovely, smart-ass self, I responded, “Well, of course, honey. But, you’re going to need to narrow that down a bit.”
His next message sent me into a tailspin. “You were right. There is no god.”
Now, I’m an atheist. I fought long and hard to be able to and be comfortable with calling myself that. But, BJV? One of the sticking points in our relationship had been that I refused go to church with him. I never cared that he believed, but I wasn’t going to even act like I did. So, for him to send a message like that meant something was horribly wrong.
I grabbed my phone and tried to call him. No answer. I message him on Facebook. “Call me the second you get a chance!”
When I hadn’t heard from him two days later, I went to his Facebook page and his husband had switched it over to “In Memoriam.”
I was devastated. We had been each other’s back-up plan. When we got old and nobody else wanted us, we were going to marry, sit on the front porch, and yell at the neighborhood kids to shut the hell up and stay off our lawn. He hadn’t had an easy life and was easily in the top three of most awesome people on the planet.
I was down to one.
I called JAS in Connecticut and told him he was the last one. He was well aware of my Black Widow history and didn’t seem concerned that he was the end of the line. He assured me that he was in perfect health. He’d even started taking classes in psychology at the university down from his house. (Yeah, I had something to do with that) We laughed and chatted for about an hour. By the time we hung up, I was in much better spirits and jokingly said, “You’d better be careful out there—you’re the only proof I have left that somebody can love me.”
“Don’t worry, babe. I’ll gladly take that responsibility.”
That was our last conversation because a week and a half later his sister told me that he was dead.
I’d spent my whole life confronted by mortality and the concern had just become a low buzz somewhere in the back of my head. For the next week that concern was a three-ton weight.
I was writing a little more and had really improved my craft and style. Then I realized that was the only time I was happy. I HATED my job, I was in a city where I’d lived for three years and the only people who knew my name were the employees at Dunkin’ Donuts and the local independent bookstore. I was completely isolated, except for when I went to a place that was slowly killing my will to live. And, on that note, I’d just had a horrible reminder that I WAS GOING TO DIE.
The next week, a friend of mine from Boston called and said that he’d inherited a house on the beach in Hull and wanted me to move there with him. Now, he’s a really nice guy, when he’s not being a falling-down, alcoholic nightmare—but it was my out.
I stood up, said, “Fuck all ya’ll and everything else.” (You can take the boy out of Louisiana, but…) Packed up, moved to the beach, and wrote like a maniac.
Knowing that I needed to get things out as soon as possible, I wrote erotica. Roll your eyes if you want… but that’s some well-written and compelling smut!
I was a damned writer and when someone asked me if I’d written anything they might have read, I could proudly say, “Well, that depends on how perverted you are.”
When I got enough books out and enough money coming in to at least allow me to eat and pay a few bills, I switched my attention to other things that had been in the works. Releasing the first book under my real name had a much bigger impact on my psyche than any of the other twenty or so things I put out under other names. And, maybe more impact than anything I’d ever done in my life.
I self-publish because I know the traditional publishing industry and I’m a control freak and don’t have that kind of time. Also, I write pulp. I write the kind of stuff I used to love to read—worlds where the hero always wins no matter how many people fall around him. No matter how many times he’s shot, betrayed, crippled, and abandoned, he limps out the other side, ready to confront his past and fight for his future again in the next book.
If a traditional publisher ever loses their mind and takes an interest in me, fine. But, until then, I just want to write my stories. And in a lot of cases, whether it’s in space, on the mean streets of Boston, or in the deserts of the Wild West—my story.