Post-novelisation depression

Via Thomas Shahan, CC license.

Disclaimer: Thanks to anyone who hasn’t been thanked. This article is not intended to guilt trip, or finger specifically. If you find it triggering you might want to surf elsewhere.
Clinical depression: there’s wretchedness, no doubt. It’s as random as banana. Doctors and authors writing about mindfulness track down how it can strike a physically and mentally healthy person, without even the decency to explain itself. It’s an especially rude and stupid ailment on an irrational course. One sector it seeks out for trolling is creatives, but thankfully there’s been a huge growth in writer’s guides that talk about well-being. Dorothea Brande’s Becoming A Writer is a good one, and I’m looking forward to starting Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which is on my wheelie table.

I spent the better part of October suffering from a type of clinical depression I’m choosing to call post-novelisation depression. A quick search tells me I’m far from a one-off, but I’d not seen the like referred to in any writer’s guides.

‘Oh, but it’s only natural you’d feel some burn-out after all the work you’ve put in’.

‘You shouldn’t feel bad. You’ve written a book, that’s a huge accomplishment’.

Both of those are fair and helpful comments, but let me be clear. I’m not talking about burnout, or a lack of time off, or the parts of the book that were weak – no, blaming myself? Too easy. Maybe it was the dull administrative tasks making up over half the job.  I was smart enough to combine promotion and recreation: in a podcast tour and at social events which make up the bulk of my sales. What I mean is a full-on inability to write, days not getting out of bed, feelings of worthlessness and self-harm. The best advice I got before publication was ‘manage your expectations’. So I researched, and found Man Booker finalists selling under 3,000 – in one case, 900 copies. That didn’t stop the overwhelming misplaced (yet un-uttered) frustration towards bookselllers, journalists, friends who might have supported me yet signalled no interest. Yes, I knew I had no right to expect anything, or did I? Random fucking bananas! After fifteen years making cool stuff, my first novel is a big deal. I thought of having myself sectioned and, professionally, I wanted to jack it all in. It didn’t/doesn’t feel like an illness, more a moment of clarity.

White Collar, c. 1940 – Linocuts by Giacomo G. Patri, Via Thomas Shahan, CC license.

I mentioned inability to write: not just the block, this was like a paralysis. Writing is therapy as well as my job. I attend the best writing group in East Belfast, maybe the city: but in October I went there like a zombie. I think things began looking up when I returned to reading The World in a Flash: How to Write Flash Fiction, by Calum Kerr. Kerr put me off by filling the book with exercises, but under the October low it was exactly the crutch I needed. The ethos in Kerr’s book is not just about honing flash fic, it’s about mentally equipping yourself to building story tiny piece by piece.
A moment of clarity: I felt a sheer overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want to do this again, something I genuinely believe right now. I don’t know if I’m healthy enough to manage writing for a living. That’s not weak to think like that. Kevin J. Anderson in Million Dollar Productivity makes the point that mechanics and grocers can’t afford to wait for their muse to strike, which is fair. He also goes on to say it’s entirely realistic to write five good books a year. Maybe I could. As I begin writing a new book full of my heart, I think I cannot cope with all the pain that comes after. Anderson and others advocate getting your team in: people beyond the shopkeepers to sell for you, agents, marketers and promoters. I think this is a necessity, but from where I sit it looks as hard as winning every single customer. So I ponder the future: is this post-novelisation depression, or a moment of clarity?
Other great books on writing I’ve indulged in recently include The Story Book by David Baboulene and Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology by Brandon Sanderson. You can check out my reviews of these on Goodreads, and there’s more information about my novel, Axel America, here.

Free Comic: The Beastly Box of Bumcrack!

beastly-box

Ooh…

Professor Kraken, Master of the Science of the Supernatural, narrates his study of the village of Bumcrack, where an eldritch box bombards him with adverts from some ethereal plane.

Beastly Box is by Terry Wiley, Lee Kennedy, Motodraconis, Selina Lock, Jay Eales, Lee Kennedy, Jeremy Day, Alan Rowell and yours truly.

Edited by Jay Eales and published by Factor Fiction Press, you can download Beastly Box by clicking on the image below.

beastly-box

20mb download

There’s plans forming for another of these sometime in January. If you’d like to hook up when I’m in London, Oxford or Brighton, make me a message.

The Weariness of the Unsolicited Project Manager

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My touches of depression generally come from recognisable causes (grief, stress, displacement), and completely unrecognisable causes (feeling completely shit despite major accomplishments). The latter was something we talked about in Nimlas Studio’s Mental Health in Fiction show, where the round-table was full of useful insight. Show’s two hours, bear in mind, but, wow.

The illness has seen me doing less press this month.  Ten years ago I lapped this stuff up and made sure to Mark McCann made time to interview me for Following the Nerd, which made for a thorough discussion of conspiracy theory, news and entertainment, and I was pleased with how that turned out.

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Also, a nice phone call from Caiman O’Shea, which found it’s way to Corncrake Arts Magazine.

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There’s also a second piece on the way from the Downbelow B5 Introcast, and an discussion of Mad Max 2 with Travis and Patrick of Reel Comics Heroes pod.

After a solid year working on Axel, I’ve felt I’ve lost the fresh-faced cogniscent speaker I was and am not always able to deliver as entertaining a presentation as I might have five years ago. Last week my health was failing and I’ve thought seriously about giving this career up.

On the other hand, I went out to the pub last night and a lot of people bought books, talked to me, embraced me and filmed a chat I was having with PJ Holden into an interview. Look at those lovely smiles.

So I probably won’t give up in hurry.

SF & F: Axel America and the News Election Race

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Everyone’s keen to talk to me about Axel America and Donald Trump. Huddled together neighbours at a car crash, gleefully hiding terror. Never mind the politics, glance at the news media: photo-fit and run. The novel is about communication sciences: propaganda and cyber-stalking, everyday rather than futurist. It has many of the elements of science-fiction: Manchurian Candidates, super-intelligent defence systems and Tesla technology in the first five chapters and more throughout. Then there’s the psychology/SF cross-over: a presently advanced world subjected to Axel’s delusionary perception of global pandemics and martial law, holographic waves, time travel, light and sound weapons. It’s a book on the border of the news and conspiracy theory, fused by recent advances in social media. Threaded through it are themes of order versus chaos, war and peace, authoritarianism versus free will. One question I get a lot is ‘how do you satirise the satirical?’, and I say it’s a challenge, and we chuckle. Rupert Murdoch, Kay Burley, Piers Morgan, Donald Trump, Alex Jones: how do you look at the dark human cartoon and study their projections? One answer is to go right past the fiction of SF and into Fantasy. The novel pulls on the strings of bible prophecy, distant Pangaea, mercenary assassins, secret caves and valuable artefacts and more fitting elements to frame these dark cartoons. They’re comfortably enjoying their lives which disrupt. The incoherent, or unacceptable, nature of these news media antagonists and their rules requires hacking: not from the choices they give us, but from every choice.

I’ve been invited as a last minute guest to Titancon in Belfast this weekend at the Wellington Park Hotel. There you can pick up a copy of Axel America and the U.S. Election Race from myself at the AGPublishings stall.

You can support bookstores in Belfast by purchasing it from No Alibis, The Thinking Cup, Comic Book Guys and Forbidden Planet International. Or in Dublin, from Sub City Comics or The Winding Stair. The book is also available on Kindle and Smashwords.

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Lisa Flavelle’s Morning Talk-In, Belfast 89FM.

We’ve had some good reviews in The Irish News, Authors Talk About It and Belfast 89FM, which you can find on the Axel America page, along with a round-table vid-cast I’m on, produced by Nimlas Studios, talking about mental health in fiction.

Cover artist Sean Duffield models Axel America.

Cover artist Sean Duffield models Axel America: oh, the pride!

The Axel America book launch freed people’s minds, and their bladders.

A Qabalah’s worth of photographs from the Axel America launch party, an eye-watering then blistering evening of love, unity and dissent and spectacular mucking about.

On Monday morning I’m on Belfast 89FM, an excellent grassroots station, and on NVTV’s Novel Ideas, the East Belfast/Shankill Extra, and Following the Nerd all within a few days.

So Axel is now out, on Kindle and Smashwords, and in print from Amazon. We’ve had positive support from book sellers, particularly ComicBookGuys who promoted us with a special offer, and Malachy at Forbidden Planet International, whipping up some readers. The Thinking Cup on the Lisburn Road will be doing an event with us before November 8th and David at No Alibis suggested we let him stock ten copies. That works for me. In Dublin, Rob Curley made good with a copy (we only had one!), as did the manager of The Winding Stair bookshop on Lower Ormond Quay. We hope we can travel to re-stock soon. A complete list of stockists are on the Axel America page of this blog. 

The week to launch had been another hard week poking press behemoths with a series of big sticks until deciding it wasn’t worth dying over. We were helped by reviews from Peter Duncan and John Robbins, and the spectacular promo made by Ashwani Thakur, which is probably better than my book. Thank you to everyone who came out for the loud and bright launch party and sat patiently while Richard and I babbled a load of ‘conspiracy theory’ tosh, which you applauded.

Off to the White House

black-box exterior

Or rather The Green Room…

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Of The Black Box, Belfast.

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That’s this Monday, just around from the Duke of York where I’ll be tasting beer after.

The books have arrived, big chunky things. Michael at Northern Visions TV assures me he’ll be getting through it before we shoot on Friday for two shows: Focal Point (news), and Novel Ideas. 

the call

Tomorrow, I’ll be in Dublin to talk to sellers, meet some pals and attend the launch of The Call, a new novel by Peadar Ó Guilín. He’ll be in Easons with Oisín McGann and a group of fans and pals. (Link: FB event) It’s published by Scholastic/Fickling and is a children’s book about child abduction (!) by the Sidhe faeries. [More about that on Publisher’s Weekly]

The Axel America Election Tour has begun, kicking off with the folks at Downbelow, a podcast about Babylon 5. A double episode on Secrets of the Soul (dismissed), and Day of the Dead (applauded). I took a while to warm, fighting the prevailing opinion on the first episode, but I was roundly welcomed and it put me in a good mood to start. (Thanks Ian for the on-air sale!)

Next day, the first of the email interviews with Pro Media Mag, and talking to Seemi about comics and the making of The Invisible Artist show. I really enjoyed this one and you can find it linked with the others on the Axel America page

The weekend began with a night out at Sector 13, a local group of ‘mature’ comics readers and cosplayers. I was picked up by Peter Duncan of great British comics blog Splank!, and we hooked up with social Laurence McKenna, Paddy Brown (soon appearing in Hawaiian shirts), the jovial Ryan Brown, the omnipresent stoic Bruce Logan, teller of tales Glenn Fabry and Ishtar, an author visiting Glenn from Brighton. It was a night of fine craic and welcoming faces and I’d recommend it for folks in the area. More setting up and more interviews. Writers Community is a local site with an interview. Alan asked me questions where I’ve gone into the mechanics and politics of the book, and given some advice on writing.

Old friend Ciaran Flanagan phoned me up on Sunday for a segment on the ComicCityCast and it was a delightful lapse into casual (but excitable) chat about the origins of the book and where it is now. On Monday, US blog Literary Links got in touch to ask about Axel’s showbiz links and the creative lifestyle.

Today, it’s more attempts to bribe journalists and bloggers with a free lunch, and some house tidying so when publisher Andrew arrives on Monday, he isn’t sleeping in a hammock of cobwebs. Keep an eye to @TheAxelAmerica – there’s things I’ll announce there that have blown our socks off.

Oh, just time to mention http://www.outsidergames.com/jennifer-wilde/Jennifer Wilde - Stephen Downey

Me old pal Stephen Downey is working on a game based off the beloved comic, created with Rob Curley and Maura McHugh. For those unfamiliar, Jennifer Wilde follows a French artist and Oscar’s ghost as they solve mysteries in London, Paris and New York.