The last two years have been the most tumultuous of times for me, though much of it has merely been in my head. Life hasn't been all that bad lately, though I've felt depressed and unfulfilled. So recently I started reflecting on my existence, and seeking to answer that ever-present question, why am I so miserable? The answer, as it turns out, is as simple as it is complex.
I am a writer.
The last two years, I haven't written anything. As my marriage began to fall apart, I lost interest in my fiction, and stopped writing altogether, but that's the one thing that truly empowers me. It is my God-given talent, one that I have viewed as both a blessing and a curse. I am a writer, and I cannot live without that distinction.
This answer should have come to me sooner, and maybe it did, but I ignored it. I wanted to escape my destiny, and forsake my gift. I blamed my "obsession" with writing for the destruction of my marriage, and then I found my free time depleted, having to raise 4 kids without a wife. So, I forgot myself, and abandoned the only thing that I ever wanted to be.
There were times in the past that I almost gave up on my writing. Back in 2006, I was ready to call it quits, but the next year rolled around and I got Virtual Wiles published (albeit by what turned out to be one of the world's worst publishing outfits). After that, I discovered "self-publishing," and released Prisoner of Time and The Rogue Investigations, which I still wish would sell more, as they're really fantastic works. Then The Guns of Mars made semi-finalist in the second Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, which led to its publication by Pill Hill Press a year later. Everything was on the up and up, and when Hall Brothers Entertainment asked me to write a full-length novel based on my Dwarf at High Noon short story, I was on top of my game, feeling I was finally on the brink of being a professional writer. I threw down West of the Warlock, and it impressed them so much that I was contracted to write 2 more books in the series, which I did.
Then, things slid downhill again.
First, Pill Hill Press closed up shop, leaving the Guns of Mars out of print. GOM hadn't sold that well, despite solid reviews, and PHP's closure put it to rest for a time (I later republished it under my own company, but little attention has been paid to it). I thank Jessy Marie Roberts for running Pill Hill Press and releasing the Guns of Mars, and I hope that someday she (and her husband, Alva Roberts) get back in the greater publishing industry, as they're both talented writers.
While that was a disappointing blow to my career, the worst had to be the subsequent closure of Hall Brothers Entertainment, less than a month later. Right before the second West of the Warlock novel, The Curse of Selwood, was due to be released, HBE shut down, and I found myself with nothing in print outside of my self-published books.
In response to these publishers closing, I fought back by starting my own small press, Martinus Publishing. The final impetus for my starting this press was the fact that I had a multi-author anthology in the works. With the success of West of the Warlock, I'd decided to expand a little, and came up with the idea of assembling and editing a "time travel anthology." My proofreading skills were quite good, and I had a vision, so I pitched the idea of this collection to the Hall Brothers, who were supportive and excited about it. I had half of the stories for TheTemporal Element accepted for publication when HBE closed shop, and rather than disappoint the contributors and abandon my project, I pressed forward under my own banner.
Becoming the editor of a small press had its rewards and its hardships. At first, it was all fun and exciting. I got to release stories from fellow authors that I really enjoyed, and I could release my own works under the auspices of a small publisher, rather than have them be blatantly self-published. Yet, it was so much fun that I overloaded myself. I came up with numerous anthology ideas and took in overwhelming numbers of submissions that took up much of my free time, leaving me little time for any writing of my own.
When I announced my plans to start Martinus Publishing, A.C. Hall gave me some great advice. He told me I could either be a great writer or a great editor, but it would be hard to be both. I knew he was right, but at the time I felt I had no choice. My books had largely been commercial flops, and with nothing left in print I felt that I had failed as a writer. I decided that I could serve better as an editor, and perhaps find success there.
A year went by, and Martinus Publishing had limited success with its first couple of anthologies. Overall, it was breaking even, and I felt satisfied, even as my writing continued to dwindle. I threw together a novel during National Novel Writing Month in November 2013, but after that it was all bits and pieces, and revisions to previous works. 3 years ago, that's the last time I truly wrote any significant fiction.
Spring of 2014 saw the release of Altered America, and it outperformed my wildest expectations. It was a hit for Martinus Publishing, until nitpickers and critics threw it negative reviews. I still consider it a success, even if it wasn't what half the reviewers wanted it to be.
From there, everything was a downward slide. Subsequent Martinus Publishing releases were met with poor sales, and as my personal life became more turbulent I found it difficult to keep up with my editing responsibilities, let alone get any writing done. By the time my marriage ended in early 2015, I was ready to give up. I would have shut down Martinus Publishing, but I refused to disappoint my fellow writers. I didn't want them to feel the way I felt when Pill Hill Press and Hall Brothers Entertainment closed. I didn't want to let them down, and see their dreams of publication diminished. And deep down, I knew I'd be sorry, too. I'd be admitting failure again, and affirming it by shutting up shop.
I'm just too stubborn to know when to quit.
This past year was difficult for me, as I struggled to find meaning to it all. People tend to say that my kids ought to be enough, that they are the purpose I should be living for. I feel guilty, sometimes ashamed, to say that that doesn't work for me. As much as I love my kids, and as much as I'll do anything for them, they just aren't enough to give my life meaning. I have been selfless and sacrificed so much lately that it has brought me to mental misery. I cannot go on denying myself.
A few days ago, I wrote a blog post, reflecting on my existence, and for the first time I felt alive again. After that, I wrote more, starting with some personal ruminations that may or may not see the light of day sometime, and then I began looking back over some of my past projects, seeking to rekindle the creative fires. At long last, I am creeping out of depression and feeling like I have a purpose again, that I can move forward and I have something to look forward to. For the first time in years, I have hope, and all it took was for me to wake up and realize the truth, a simple truth that I had abandoned.
I am a writer.
This isn't a choice for me, and it isn't some paltry dream. It is all that I am. When I don't write, I hurt. I fall into despair, and lose sight of everything. I stop caring, and nothing is interesting. When I am not writing, I am nothing and nobody. I am simply existing, and that is a very bad thing, indeed.
So, what does this revelation mean for the future? It means that I have to reset my priorities, and do what is right for me, something I haven't done in a long time. I need to find the time to write, and I need to find more ways to promote my published works. I have to try again, which is all anyone can ever do.
I can't promise I'll succeed, and I know when I have commercial flops and rejections that I'll hurt. Again and again I will hurt, but if I do not even try I'm already dead. I have to keep striving for the mark, because writing is my life, and if you're reading this, then you are giving my life meaning. Thank you for taking the time to read these words. I'll be writing more of them soon.
Here's hoping for a happy 2017 for all of us!