THIS IS A QUESTION FOR FICTION WRITERS
I have been, since last November, in a position I had not been in in years, and which I neither like nor have coped with particularly well: not being able to write due to major illness and health problems.
Which is kind of ironic, since I’ve been out of commission as a scientist, my true and original career (though I planned to write in retirement, and DAMN! here I am at retirement age and technically retired from a job I was forced to abandon in 1989) for almost THIRTY years. A real shame after all those years in grad school battling to get a degree in a man’s field, Nuclear Engineering, and thirteen good years at major US science labs. But Life does things like that to you, and you roll with the punches, or don’t make it.
So, not to belabor the point, I’ve been out of commission for half a year almost; and now, due to the medications prescribed by my doctors, am facing the very real possibility that my brain will not come back to me, that the cognitive dysfunction which has been a result of the FIVE medications recommended for me to take (and which I’m fighting), and the still head-shaking INCREASE in exhaustion which I didn’t think could get worse.
Yes, I know we all get old and eventually die, and some don’t get to become old first, and there is dementia lurking on the horizon, but at my age, I felt I still had a number of usable years left – until now. Now, I hope I have years left, but I’m starting to get seriously worried about what has happened to my brain to make it even LESS usable.
Ten Early Warning Signs for losing your mind to dementia
This one particularly scares me because I store it years ago, AND I CAN’T REMEMBER – OR FIND VIA GOOGLE – WHERE I GOT IT.
The signs are the same in many places, so I am apologizing in advance to the person whose particular phrasing of them I’m going to show you (please let me know if you are that person, and what you want me to do):
- Memory loss for recent or new information – repeats self frequently
- Difficulty doing familiar, but difficult tasks – managing money, medications, driving
- Problems with word finding, mis-naming, or mis-understanding
- Getting confused about time or place – getting lost while driving, missing several appointments
- Worsening judgment – not thinking thing through like before
- Difficulty problem solving or reasoning
- Misplacing things – putting them in ‘odd places’
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Changes in typical personality
- Loss of initiation – withdraws from normal patterns of activities and interests
It doesn’t say in this list, or the one a an Alzheimer’s site, that the person’s AWARENESS of their own increasing problems is or isn’t a risk factor; my personal experience was the ability to hope that my people who had this problem were NOT scared and living in a hell of knowing their minds were going, when it was obvious to all of us – probably including THEM.
Since being put on cardiac drugs starting in February of this year, I have had EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE EARLY SIGNS HAPPEN TO ME. REPEATEDLY. Sometimes I’m very aware of it, and other times have had to have it pointed out to me that I was not thinking clearly.
I am aware of NOT being myself
It’s pretty obvious.
And when I haven’t been able to write fiction, the one thing I do which exercises my creative brain for a few hours on a good day (assuming all the incantations and spells have been laid, and the careful management of the physical body with rest, food, fasting, pain meds from before, and caffeine), and this started to go on and on and on, I’ve gotten pretty scared.
It’s subtle – NOT being yourself. It includes so many little things you can try to ignore, such as having literal trouble forming a word before you speak it…
So now, rather than bore you with my mental decline…
I would like to examine the title phenomenon: the one-book author.
Where is the place in the pantheon of writers for the person who chooses to or is forced to write but one book during their lifetime?
We have a bunch of famous ones, such as Margaret Mitchell and Anne Frank and Harper Lee (yes, in spite of the abomination of GSAW, which I refuse to blame her for).
In many of these cases, the process took a very long time. The reason for those is that the writer had to learn how to write, and if you have ever tried this little exercise, you know that the first thing you have to overcome is the sparkling story in your brain, compared with what you are able to set in permanent form when you try, especially the first time.
The authors may simply have not wished to do that process again. Or found more interesting and exciting things to do. Or ran up against the world and critics and the nether regions of fame, and decided strongly never to do that again.
Some of them were no longer with us when their one book was available for purchase. John Kennedy Toole (I believe he only has A Confederacy of Dunces out, with a Pulitzer in fiction to his memory) committed suicide; his mother stubbornly kept nagging editors until one published his novel.
How does this affect the READING PUBLIC?
That’s the part in curious about, and it may have changed in these days of self-publishing AND self-promoting.
Single novels written by indies MAY SINK WITHOUT A TRACE.
The continuation of the writing career, a pickup in merchandising, readers discovering the writer and reading their backlog – all of these things are necessary for all but the VERY LUCKY INDIE who catches the eye of someone in just the right position with just the right book.
Many of our successful overnight indie wonders are no more overnight than persistent: they have been writing – and publishing – longer than I have been writing, but fame just found them. A couple go viral each year: in one year it was Darcie Chan and The Mill River Recluse – which she sold 600k of at 0.99. I don’t know what she wrote before that (it was advertised as a debut novel); after that, she was picked up by a publisher, her prices were raised, and I don’t think the following two books did anything like the first in sales. I like her success (though would not want to be picked up by a traditional publisher without having the terms very carefully vetted); the books aren’t my style (they have, like WAY too many books nowadays, a REALLY NASTY SECRET in the past).
But aside from Chan, I haven’t seen a book sell two million copies like The Goldfinch, which was hyped and marketed by big pub (also, not a debut novel, IIRC).
There is a very good reason sometimes
When the first book is not as good as it could be.
Indies fictioneers don’t usually have the means to push that first book; reasonable indies expect their career to pay for itself, more or less, as they go. There’s no point to pushing a first one, if the writer can’t repeat the process in a reasonable period (write, publish, promote the hell out of).
And the most important reason is usually lack of knowledge. An indie, like myself, who spent 15 years writing a book, trying more to finish it properly than market before it’s finished, may have READ about marketing techniques, but has not MARKETED a real book yet, and there’s a huge conceptual and executional chasm between the cliffs.
So, what does that mean for indies like me?
If my career ended with To Be Continued at the end of Pride’s Children PURGATORY, because MY brain never returns capable of writing fiction, what happens to that book? What happens to the story, the ONLY one I want to write until it is finished.
I have been sitting at my desk for upwards of five hours daily since April 8 – with the result of a few notes.
The sad part: I had learned what parts of my ‘process’ could be sped up, and was actually doing quite well writing the second book, NETHERWORLD. Well started, completely planned, and in possession of a ratty old first draft and knowledge of my changed. My plan was to take less than a year to do the next book, another year for the third.
Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.
I’m a good Christian, and a realist: God know exactly what will happen to me, what I will choose in the future, when I will go Home to Him. I can’t change an iota of all that.
Sometimes in the past two months and a half, I would have been perfectly happy for Him to say, “Okay, pack your bags – you’re coming home!” It has been that bad. Many times.
Not my choice, but a realist says, “Yes, Lord,” and brings very little in those bags.
That would leave me with nothing else published, and an unfinished story – which I’m assuming would do the proverbial sinking, sitting on the Kindles of the few people who discovered it since late 2015 for a while – and mostly abandoned.
It hasn’t done that well since it came out – I have a hard time with various of the components.
Price is one – few people want to pay $8.99 for an indie ebook of 167K tightly woven words, regardless of the fact that it’s cheaper than two 80K $4.99 books, or three 55K $2.99 books, and they can get an eARC for free by just asking.
Cover is another – if I had $10 for each ‘change your cover’ suggestion, I’d have a nice little advertising budget.
People who expected a Romance are cutting that it is too long or too slow.
And most readers (mine do better than average) simply don’t review OR tell their friends OR gift a book they like. Sometimes I wonder if they’re feeling guilty that they got pulled in to such a thing about a disabled woman.
And, of course, the ads – have NOT hit my stride there.
So what will happen to PC? PC 1-and-only?
If this is it for me, or my brain, which are roughly equal in importance for me.
But mostly because there would be no more.
I think the famous ones like GWTW had a lot of push in their day FIRST, and then it slowly became apparent the author was not going to write a sequel.
The reason for this post:
Suppose all of that were true: no more of the trilogy, no more books by me, no more writing to push what I already have to justify having spent my entire FREE time during the past 17 years doing nothing else.
Would I care? Yes.
Would I feel I should have spent my time otherwise?
NOT ON YOUR LIFE.
I hope it doesn’t sink like a stone, but I still have it available next to my bed in the nursing home for as long as I’m alive, whether I can read it or not.
And if God gives me life, and a brain to live it with, I will keep going forward.
Otherwise, I’ll try to remember to write out a quick outline of the rest of the story, as my daughter has advised, for anyone curious. They can post it on PridesChildren.com when I’m not here any more.
Assuming I have enough brain to write it.
If you are kind, please pray the dementia is reversible.