Post-novelisation depression

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.

Blogging Axel America: Me and A Publisher

The week of the 16th May began with a meeting with Pieter Bell, an affable bar-fly of Belfast stores which stock comics. At the Enniskillen event under much lager, Piet had unmasked himself as an editorial bod and was keen to try out proofing the MS. Also from Enniskillen, an interview lining up with Andrew Gallagher for May 22nd. Initially, for guidance, but I couldn’t resist asking the purveyor of well composed sensationalist literature in neat smooth bound form would be interested in publishing Axel America. So, I push on with re-drafting. The daunting, dull task was tidying up the timeline which was a major challenge. I marked cut-off dates in the chapter listing and altered the temperature on a few details. Plot seeds and plants of different growths were uprooted and re-flowered and all other relevant small gardening metaphors. I shared the document link with Andrew and with Pieter on Wednesday, two more days to go.

Not in my notes was the fact a minor character disappeared from the final third of the book. He wasn’t essential to the plot but his character, like Axel, calls out for attention. Again, back to the chapter listing and marking up where he should be seen and what he’d be doing there. One final speed read over I see another characters doesn’t have traction to action demanded. Eventually, more spell and grammar, format and punctuation, (damn those commas wriggling into prohibited areas,) finally its done. 46k.

THe meet with Andrew Gallagher got off bumpy with my epileptic absences flaring up. On the plus side, Andrew is now a big fan of Absence: a comic about epilepsy. He dealt with it as a gent and both of us were so revved with lists of questions for one another that we made short work of the time. Andrew guided me through the process of publishing as he saw it, reeling out figures and processes with nary a glance at his laptop. A very productive day. I’d highly recommend would be authors to hire Andrew for a consultation. Having done a fair bit of self-publishing already I was able to bring enough to the table to compliment and enhance what Andrew has on offer.

So, I’m pleased to announce AG Publishings will be putting out Axel America, on September 5th.

And here’s a copy of Sean Duffield‘s mock up of the cover:

Axel America Finished Rough_Hi_Res_600dpi

Pretty cool eh? He’s been sending me bits and pieces of the finished version and it looks ace!

Axel is a patriot with questions. Torn between two loves: his family, and his one-man media crusade, news won’t be the only thing that’s breaking. Axel seeks to regain the love of his children and to cover the Presidential race. However the satanic forces he’s been warning about all his life come out from the shadows and are determined to pull him in.

20/04/2016: Blogging Axel America

Written back in April…

I’ve just laid down a chapter of Axel America, the final one, and wanted to share with you some thoughts and experiences on process. The novel’s an adaptation of my 2011-2012 comic book Hold the Phones, It’s Alex Jones. The comics were written through a series of story sessions with my best friend and longtime collaborator, Richard Barr and along the way attracted other co-conspirators: Benjamin Stone; Adam Lively; Geoffrey Wessel and Sean Duffield. We produced the comic over two ‘seasons’, and collected them behind a madly wonderful cover by Richard. Bleeding Cool covered the digital launch. That same night, Adam and I were drinking when we learned Jones had gone ballistic on Piers Morgan’s show. A Google image search for Alex Jones led with Richard’s cover for hours, and our main ebook seller, Myebook registered 15,000 previews. Sadly I later learned they were going through bankruptcy and we got nada cash. Further suckiness? Our collected comic just got too expensive to produce. (Though, the Kablam version looks great.)

Fast forward a few years. I’m writing prose shorts, about thirty to date, and gearing up for a book. I’ve a special one in mind, a favourite child if you will, but I wondered if it might be possible to ressurect Hold the Phones and put those stories out quickly as a novella. Well, there’s no such thing as a quick novella. Not a good one. I missed my own deadline by three months, but it’s happening. Richard was happy enough to let me run with what builds around the Co-Opted story he wrote, and which Adam drew. It’s about Alex nee Axel’s manipulation by a news network’s chosen Presidential candidate, and Axel’s children on the run. Adaptation can get pretty dull without new material so I crafted a Season 3 of stories that linked it all together, and introduced new characters. Axel insisted on seeing real enemies everywhere, so to give him a break and me a story, I should created a few. My own epic from the collection, ‘Global Agenda 2012,’ didn’t fit the feel of the novel, but I knew I wanted to include his fellow conspiracy theorists. Pretty soon they went from two chapter supporting characters to part of an ensemble.

Re-drafting: I’m quite happy to admit I’m good at this, but it’s laborious. In this case, it’s been the most fun I’ve had writing anything. I’ve laughed uproariously at my own jokes again and again and that’s not a bad sign. I made good time on the second novel draft, each chapter contained simply in a .txt. file. Richard saw about a third of the .doc and was keenly enthusiastic and critical. Fingers crossed, there’s a few back-lines to plant and a character to re-name as noted in my re-draft.txt. Also, two extra scenes to write because the piece needs them and Richard wants another go round, so we’re breaking those later in the week. Of the other authors from Hold the Phones, I could only bring back Sean Duffield (working on the cover), but there’s a strong sense the spirit of collaboration had something to do with how well this has turned out. Concerns? Getting it out before the November U.S. election; making a decision on publishing – once your first book is out, certain doors are closed. Overall? No disposable quickie, this book affirms why I chose to be an author. As a reader to another, you’ll love it.

Andy Luke, 20/04/2016

Gosh, that was only a month ago. I’m surprised how hard I’ve been working on it since then, and where it is now. I hope I can put out another of these this week. I’ve got news!