Writing updates for April 2021

I have updated The Big List to reflect a couple of minor progress notes. One, I’ve officially named Otherworld #19 as Forever Faithful. (I still don’t have a title for #20, and I have it on hold for numerous reasons. It’s looking more and more like Adventures in the Otherworld might not come out until 2023!)

Second, I’ve begun writing Pitch Shift, the fourth Endless Forms novel. How I’m going to juggle that and a job that can end up full-time, I have no idea, but never let it be said that I did things the easy way.

A new chapter

I have battled depression and anxiety for a very long time, far longer than I’ve been writing about it here on PPC. Even before I understood what was wrong with me, I fought, and I have learned that it’s not a fight I can win alone.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been more adamant about finding ways to combat the demons in my head, and all my best strategies boil down to one simple task: get my life on track. I’m 37, and I very often feel like I’ve accomplished nothing in the past 20 years, that the entire 21st century, for me, has been a waste of time. I tried to start my own business, and it never really worked. I didn’t bother with dating until my 30s, because I figured it was just a waste of time; who would want somebody like me?

As I descended further and studied my condition more, I came to see how it was exacerbated by my perceived failures. I had dreams, much like anyone. I still have them, though they aren’t the same as they were when I was 18 or 25 or even 33. Now, thanks to the rigors of the past two years, the trials and tribulations I’ve endured, those dreams are more concrete and more…mundane. I want a life of my own. I want to get paid to create things. I want to be a husband and a father. That’s pretty much it.

For 30 months, I fought to drag myself towards any of those goals, with no progress whatsoever. In some cases, I feel I regressed, and that was both due to and contributing to my depression. Why? Because I was trying to do it alone. As I’ve stated on here before, when I’m in a depressed state, my natural reaction is to hide. If I’m going to be a disappointment, my thinking goes, let it just be for me.

And that line of thinking has taken me to the very edge on more than one occasion. Not a full month ago, I was at quite possibly the lowest point I’ve ever faced. I had given up on all three of those life goals, and I had made my peace with that. I was ready to abandon the eternal (and eternally disappointing) job search. I did abandon my relationship. And I was okay with it, because I didn’t think there was any point lying to myself or to those around me anymore. In the last week of March, I made a deal with myself. If I couldn’t get hired for something, somewhere, by the end of this month, I’d quit trying. I would try to find a way to explain to my beloved that it wasn’t her fault I failed her, and I would spend the rest of my life writing as many books as I could, while making preparations for an end that, I had planned, would come in the days before my 40th birthday, in 2023.

I am happy to report that this plan went out the window.

I had mentally prepared myself for the breakup text, but she contacted me the day before I’d planned to send it. Some of the things she said hurt because they came from the anger she felt at being ignored for almost a full month. Many more hurt because they showed me the pain I had caused her. Because of her, and the love she showed me even when I had none for myself, I resolved to try one more time.

I didn’t expect much when I applied for the job. It was yet another startup (something like a startup, at any rate) looking for a full-stack developer, yet another one of those “1-click easy apply” deals on Linkedin. Something I’d done literally a thousand times before, with 99% of those ignoring me or sending me a polite, yet still hurtful to my fragile psyche, rejection message. Sure, what little description of the job was there did fit my skills: HTML, CSS, PHP on the back end, some jQuery-based scripting for the front. In other words, what I’ve been doing for most the last decade for fun. But there were already 30 applicants, any one of whom might be better qualified. They would have degrees. They would have enterprise experience. They wouldn’t be insecure introverts who freeze up in an interview.

Somehow, I beat them all. I still don’t understand it, and I’m not completely out of the shock phase. I keep wondering when I’m going to wake up and find it was all a dream. I met the team—the rest of the team—on a video conference last Thursday, and the scariest part of that is how I didn’t feel completely out of place. I expected a group who would look at the shy man with the graying hair as someone they were merely tolerating. I instead found…people. Ordinary people who welcomed me in a way I’d never truly known before.

Parts of the arrangement continue to make me uncomfortable. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to perform under the pressure of a full-time development job where I have actual deadlines, not vague milestones or schedules I’ve set for myself, and actual responsibilities that go beyond “just get it done”. I know I’m the outlier in pretty much every aspect: they’re all animal-lovers and risk-takers and generally outgoing types, while I’m allergic to cats and not a big fan of dogs, and I’d rather stay home and read a book than go scuba diving.

I’m not a perfect fit, then. I likely never will be. But it doesn’t matter right now, because I’m there. I’m hired and accepted.

All along, I’ve told myself that I could get my life going if I could just take one good step forward. Now’s my chance to prove the truth of that statement.

Character portraits: Levi

Name: Levi Maclin
Series: Orphans of the Stars
Age: 15
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 194 lbs.
Hometown: Vancouver, BC, Canada

About the character

Levi is a high school student and total space freak. Living in the 24th century, he still knows more about one specific part of the 20th than most people alive today, because he reads everything about our era he can get his hands on, at least if it’s about the space race.

But there’s more to him than that. The oldest of three, he’s the perfect age to be the family babysitter, so he’s used to watching over Justin, age 11, and six-year-old Holly. He doesn’t mind, though. They’re not just siblings; they’re his friends, too.

At home in Vancouver, he sometimes gets a little lazy, especially in summer. He’d rather read or watch a movie than get out and play with other boys his age. School, in his opinion, is for learning more than socializing. That’s not to say he doesn’t have friends. He’s made a lot of them, in fact. Something about him just makes it easy to like him.

If anything can describe Levi Maclin, it’s that he’s a dreamer. He dreams of going into space, even if it’s nothing more than a simple lunar shuttle ride, something people in his time do every day. In his wildest dreams, he’s the captain of an interstellar ship, saving the galaxy and discovering new worlds for humans to colonize. Maybe even walking on the surface of those worlds, meeting aliens no human has ever laid eyes on.

Too bad only adults get to do all that, right?

Author’s thoughts

Levi shares my love of space. Indeed, that was the first bit of characterization I did for Orphans of the Stars. I chose him as the main character of the series before deciding on placing him as the prologue character for Innocence Reborn, and that comes solely because I wanted the captain of the “kids’ ship” to be a space nut like myself. It fits the setting, I think. Sure, people in his time have done a lot better with space than ours are willing to do, but that just gives him more imagination fuel.

Almost everything else about his character came from my initial vision for the series. I wanted something focused a little earlier than the typical young adult fiction: teens and preteens, for the most part. (In my head, I envisioned Orphans of the Stars as “The Expanse for kids”.) The main character, then, had to be one of the older ones, but not too old. I gave him siblings so he would have skin in the game, so to speak. Rescuing Holly became the main goal of the first novel as I was writing the prologue.

Levi isn’t exactly like me, though. He’s far more impulsive, for one thing. He doesn’t always think things through, while that’s something I pride myself on. He’s more sociable, as well, with that kind of magnetism I’d kill for. Being who he is, he doesn’t use that gift for ill, however; for some strange reason, I’ve avoided giving him anything close to a romantic interest, even though his preteen brother gets one! Maybe some part of me recognizes our similarities.

When I started the series in 2017, I didn’t see myself as commanding in the same way Levi is. Either I’ve changed, or writing him has helped me understand myself. Yes, I’m often ready to take charge (if people would just listen to me…), but I never felt that I could be a commander of anything. It didn’t fit me until a very special person helped me understand a part of my personality I’d overlooked.