Novel Month 2021: Here we go again

Hard to believe that another November is upon us. Seems like just yesterday we were fighting to regain our freedom from the tyrannical lockdowns and mask mandates, and now here we are…fighting to regain our freedom from the tyrannical lockdowns and vaccine mandates. The more things change, right?

The whole point of writing, at least for me, is supposed to be an escape. I don’t know about you, but I desperately need an escape right about now. With the fight for freedom, my continued failure at living up to the standard I set for myself, and now the rigors of an actual job, I want nothing more than to jump into any of my created worlds, because every single one of them is better than this one. Even the one from The Linear Cycle, with its magical zombies, would be more enjoyable.

You know the drill by now, surely. One month, 50,000 words. I can start at midnight on the 1st, and I have to hit the 50K mark before November ends. This will be my 11th attempt at the goal, and I’m hoping to reach it for the 10th straight year. As always, here’s what has come before:

  • 2012: Heirs of Divinity
  • 2013: Out of the Past
  • 2014: Before I Wake
  • 2015: The City and the Hill
  • 2016: Nocturne
  • 2017: The Soulstone Sorcerer
  • 2018: Seasons Change
  • 2019: Winds of Change
  • 2020: On the Stellar Sea

Heirs of Divinity was my first serious attempt at writing a novel, and it shows. In my interminable editing cycle, I’ve reread the whole thing a few times, and I’m struck by how rough it feels. That was definitely before I found my stride and my voice. I had always hoped I could go back and revise the text, because there really is a great story in there, but…I know I won’t live long enough for that.

Out of the Past didn’t even receive its name until almost 4 years after I wrote it. It was the original Otherworld story, and the only one of the first drafts that I kept. In other words, it started an obsession that is now 8 years old. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Before I Wake was a lot shorter, and it became my first published (okay, self-published) novel. I wrote it in the wake of my cousin’s death, which was my first true experience with catharsis. I truly love the story I created; it will forever hold a place in my heart.

The City and the Hill was the first of the “new” Otherworld novels, after I revamped the setting, the characters, and the very premise. Some parts of the old Otherworld #2 remain buried in there, not that anyone else would know where to look. And this is where the series began to click for me. Everything suddenly made sense.

Nocturne. What can I say about this one that I haven’t already? A few hours before I wrote this post last Monday, my brother showed me a picture he received from his online not-quite-girlfriend: her paperback copy of Nocturne. That was a rare ray of sunshine in this dark world. I still contend that this one was my best work as a whole, too. It hit all the right notes.

The Soulstone Sorcerer is, as I have said before, the book that nearly killed me. About 150,000 words, and I very nearly finished the whole thing in November. 2017 was just like that, though. At the time, I didn’t realize just what it was like to be depressed. All I knew was that I was writing, nothing else mattered, and I was perfectly fine with that.

Seasons Change represented a change for me, too. That was the first time I tried Nanowrimo while being in something approximating a relationship, as well as the first time I recorded my progress where other people were actually reading. It was fun. I made a couple of friends, neither of whom I even talk to anymore, but that’s okay. What came out of that November built a lot of the Otherworld story since, so it was worth it.

Winds of Change is almost like a rerun of the year before. This time, I wasn’t just in a long-distance relationship. No, I was in love. That shows very often in the text, because I couldn’t help myself. When I have positive feelings, they creep into my writing whether I want them there or not. I only wish they would come around more often.

On the Stellar Sea, the start of the second half for Orphans of the Stars, and the first time in years that I’d called an audible. I simply could not bring myself to write my original idea, Otherworld #20 (which became Laws of Man, which I finished a couple of weeks ago) in the conditions I had suffered under throughout 2020. The story was too real to be an escape. As this was the first time I’d be attempting Nanowrimo in the depths of true depression—nothing like what I thought back in 2017—I needed something that would take my mind off it all. So I turned to a bunch of kids.

That brings us to this year, 2021. For the fifth time in all, I’ll be doing an Otherworld story: #21, which I’ve titled Light to the Depths. For the first time since 2017, I’ll be writing without a muse, because part of my mental illness is that I have to throw away what little good there is in my life. For the first time ever, I’ll have to juggle a full-time job and the hobby that long filled my days.

In the past decade, I’ve sometimes wondered how many times I could pull this off. Would this be the year that the streak ends? Would enough bad finally outweigh the good and stop me from reaching the finish line? Every year, though, I kept on going, and it’s brought me to this point, where I can, if all goes well, say in a month’s time that I have accomplished one of writing’s great feats 10 times in a row.

Unless something drastic happens for the better in the meantime, 10 might be the limit. I doubt I’ll have the heart for it next year. After that…well, I honestly don’t expect to be around for Nanowrimo 2023. So, if I have to go out, let me go out on top.

The dream dissolves

(Title is a song by Ayreon with one of the best guitar solos I have ever heard. Seriously, check it out.)

As I’ve written before, I often have some very interesting, very vivid dreams, and a few of those have affected me on the deepest level. Yesterday’s was one such.

At the start (at least of the portion I remember), I was sitting in the living room of my grandparents’ old trailer. My brother was in the adjacent kitchen, and I seem to recall that he was looking for something to cook—dreams being dreams, his actions were less important and less distinct than the center of focus.

That focus was my son, a boy just shy of his second birthday. His mother and I were estranged, and she lived in East Ridge, a town about 20 miles away, so I didn’t get to see him often. In fact, this was apparently the first chance in months I’d had to spend more than a few minutes with him.

After a little talking—he had just reached the age where he could start to speak more than a word or two at a time, and he’d recently learned the magic word to get adults to make a lot of mouth noises, “why?”—we went out. I can precisely date the dream’s setting to November 5, 2024, because I was going to vote, I wanted to take him with me, and I spent the ride to the polls (in my truck, another rarity in my dreams) rambling about the rampant, blatant fraud of the last presidential election.

We never got there, because I woke up sometime during a ride that seemed to go nowhere. But the memory stuck with me, and I think I know why: it’s a vision of a future close to what I wanted—the only major exception being the parental separation—one I now realize is out of my reach.

The timing just works. We’re 36 months away from Election Day 2024, Take away 9 months for a typical pregnancy, 21 for the boy’s age, and that leaves about half a year. So it’s theoretically possible that I could have a son at the appropriate age at the appropriate time.

It’s just everything else that’s the problem. I’m getting older, and I’m not even sure I’m physically capable of fathering a child. The only woman I’ve ever loved enough to want to try lives a lot more than 20 miles away; her biological clock is also ticking, assuming the mRNA shots haven’t left it flashing 12:00. The idea that we’d have a fair election in 2024 is laughable on its face. Whether I’d be alive to see it is something I’m starting to think even less likely.

But that’s why we have dreams. Like stories, they’re an escape, a chance to get a glimpse of another world. Where fantasy often shows us worlds that will never be, a dream can instead let us look at a world that could have been, if only things had turned out differently. They are, in some sense, roads not taken. Roads we never knew were there, whose signs we never saw. Paths we wanted to tread, but circumstance forced us to turn away.

Or I’m just searching for meaning where there is none. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Love letter

To all who love me,

I am sorry. I have caused pain. I shared my misery with you, caring little for the effect it had on you. I have, through my actions and inaction, been a burden to you. For that, I offer my sincerest apologies and ask your forgiveness.

Perhaps I don’t deserve that. It may be that the problems I created are too great, my transgressions against you too numerous, to ever be forgiven. The magnitude of my failure is not something I can measure, so I must place all of you in the position to judge as you see fit. In this, I ask nothing more than a fair trial, no matter the ultimate verdict.

In my defense, I will say that, at every faltering step of this journey, I chose what I thought to be the safest path for us all. The path of least resistance, sometimes, but always the path I believed held the least pain for everyone involved. My error, then, was one of measurement. What I thought to be hurtful instead proved a chance to learn, to grow, to experience, and I turned away. I hid from the pain like a child, rather than facing the opportunity like a man. I never claimed to be perfect, and this is one of my greatest imperfections. To err is human, as the saying goes, and I am only human.

You who love me do something that I feel I am no longer capable of doing. Time has worn me down. My thoughts have darkened, my world turned black. I accept this only because I know of no other way to live. All my attempts at changing, at rising from the hole in which I find myself, have ended in failure. If a future exists for me, a path that will lead me to at least a modicum of victory or indeed joy, I cannot find it alone. I need to be pointed in the right direction, spurred into motion, and probably even carried halfway. Otherwise, I would lack the strength and conviction, and this, above all, is my deepest shame.

I had dreams of brighter days, fantastic visions I wished to make real. Though I have caused you great pain, greater still is that which I have caused myself by letting those dreams die. If you still believe they can be resurrected, I beg your help in reviving them.

That, I would say, is my true purpose tonight. I have spoken and asked. Now, I beg and plead, as a humble penitent seeking some measure of absolution. My desire was always to give hope to the world. Yet, in so doing, I have kept none for myself, and I am now in need.

Some love me in the manner of family: as a brother, a son, a nephew, a cousin. For all of you, I am sorry that I have burdened you, that I have neglected to honor you and our family as you deserve.

Others love me as a friend, though never as many as I would have liked. For you, I am sorry that the bonds of friendship have, for too long, bound in only one direction.

One loves me in the romantic sense. For you, words are not enough to convey my apologies, and yet words are all we have. I could write a book whose pages were filled only with “I’m sorry” repeated ad nauseam, but that still would never be enough to cover all the mistakes I have made.

For everyone, I know what I have done. I recognize the negative factor I have become. My first, and thus far only, reaction to that recognition has been to retreat ever further. That is my one defense, my only escape. I realize how much pain it causes. I always have, but I also thought it was a lesser pain, that staying close would be worse for all of us. While one man cannot bear all these burdens, I felt that sharing them would drag us all under rather than give me the strength to overcome them.

I was wrong. I wish I had understood that sooner. Now, I fear it may be too late, so all I can do is reiterate my request. Forgive me, please, for all I have done.

Yours forever,


So here we are again. From the number standpoint, 38 has a few things going for it. The 38th parallel is the boundary between North and South Korea. There’s a gun and a band called .38 Special. 38 is the lowest jersey number not retired in any of the 4 major American sports, which makes one wonder why. The reverse is 83, meaning that everyone born in 1983, myself included, has this as a numerologically significant year.

To write this post, I had to look back at last year’s, and it has me thinking. Specifically, I’m thinking, “I really didn’t accomplish anything in the past 12 months, did I?”

That’s how I feel. If anything, I’ve regressed in a lot of areas. The therapy I tried hasn’t helped like I hoped it would. Politics got even worse, from the massive fraud in last year’s election to the continuing violations of basic human rights and a looming economic crisis, and this combination of factors has only increased my depression and anxiety. On the family front, my cousin was killed in a car wreck a few months back, and we only recently learned that he wasn’t driving—one of his so-called friends was, a 21-year-old addict on enough drugs to make Hunter Biden jealous. To top it off, if my relationship was on the rocks last year, it’s run aground now.

The one possible bright spot is my job. I’ve had that for six months, and it’s…strange to say the least. I wake up every weekday wondering if this is the day I get fired, then often spend the afternoon listening to my boss praise me for the work I’m doing. The pride I feel at building something is almost perfectly balanced by the fear that I’m not pulling my weight, or that I’ll be exposed as the impostor I know I must be. On the plus side, I am getting paid, but I’ve been so poor for so long that I honestly have no idea what, if anything, I should be spending that money on.

The job took away most of my free writing time. That’s no great loss, as my depression meant I was barely using it to begin with. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve written about 150,000 words. Go back to 2017, and that was a month’s worth of output. I’m still hoping to do Nanowrimo (it would be my 10th in a row), but this is going to be the hardest one by far.

I still hate what I’ve become. I still don’t hold out much hope for turning things around. My 38th year of life ends, and I wonder how many more I have. This last one has been a waste in every respect. I’d gladly take it back, but I can only believe that it would turn out exactly the same. Nothing I do seems to change anything for the better.

Some people wish for material things on their birthdays. Some instead treat their wishes as prayers. All I truly want, though, is…a reason to go on, I guess. And a reason to believe I should.

Bad at love

(Title is the Smith & Myers song, because every word of it is me. And because that album is better than the last 3 Shinedown albums combined.)

I’ve done a lot of writing over the past decade, and one of the hardest parts, I’ve found, is writing about relationships. Specifically, the beginning of one. Why? It’s simple, really: until about three years ago, I’d never experienced one for myself. “Write what you know,” the mantra goes, but characters getting together is such a natural part of a story—just as people getting together is a natural part of life—that even I couldn’t get away from it.

Partly due to this lack of experience, I’ve fallen into a bit of a pattern. The shy, smart, and often self-deprecating male character finds a woman who can look past, if not ignore entirely, the flaws he perceives. She loves him for who he is, not who he thinks himself to be, and his character growth follows a trajectory of being lifted out of his “down” mental state as he learns to accept her feelings. I did it with Alex and Aare in Otherworld, Asho and Deena in Hidden Hills, Lucas and Elyssa in the “Fallen” novella, and Anit and Lia in Shadows Before the Sun. Four times I’ve gone to that well, and it’s because that’s a trope that resonates very strongly with me.

There was supposed to be a fifth, however, a final iteration that would become the culmination, bringing the fantasy to the next level. A storybook moment for a character who had too long been without. That fifth pairing was to be Michael and Leslie.

I don’t think I’ve ever named her here before. I usually refer to her as “the woman I love” or some phrasing to that effect. And I’m breaking that habit this time not because I don’t love her anymore—I most certainly do—but simply out of authorial necessity. Writing something, even on a computer, makes it real. Publishing it, whether on a blog or in a book, fixes it in both the writer’s mind and the collective knowledge of society. I need that reality, that immutability, at this moment.

A few months ago, not long after I started my job, I was making plans again, plans for us. I hadn’t done that in nearly a year, for reasons that should be obvious. But things were looking up, and I believed they would keep going in that direction. I’d get my life back on track, the world would cooperate and regain some rationality, and we’d live happily ever after. I had planned to propose about a month from now, my head full of dreams about bringing my fiancĂ©e home to meet my family at Thanksgiving. Not long into next year would be the ultimate step, I had hoped.

That didn’t pan out. Instead, the world has slid deeper into tyranny while I’ve slid deeper into the most severe depression of my life. I’m not thinking about engagement rings or finding a place for us to live. I’m barely thinking about “us” at all. My days are filled with wondering just how much worse things are going to get, how many more places will bar me from entering for the crime of not wanting to be part of a genetic experiment, and how much more I can take before I finally reach the breaking point.

There are still things I want to accomplish in this life, and there remains within me a faint glimmer of hope that enough people will realize the truth before it’s too late.

I’d like to finish at least the Otherworld series, as well as Orphans of the Stars; the first is for my own peace of mind, while the second is the only story of mine that has actual fans. The rest of my bibliography I’m content with leaving behind, except that I really, really want to edit and release Heirs of Divinity. I’ve promised that one for years. But Nocturne doesn’t need a sequel. Hidden Hills was more of a thought experiment gone awry. The Occupation Trilogy? Why write it when I’m practically living it?

I also want to get my nonfiction book, The Prison of Ignorance, into publication. That’s only the first part of a larger scheme, though. It’s intended to be the introduction of technetism, my attempt at merging humanist philosophy with self-sufficiency, patriotism, and a love of knowledge. A kind of echo of the Enlightenment, in my opinion, and it really is something that no one else can do. Technetism, in my vision, has its own website, podcast, and social circle, among other things. It’s intended to be one pillar in the support structure I never had. If I can give that to the world—and, more importantly, if the world accepts such a gift—I’ll consider it a job well done.

Those are the only true goals I have left, and I calculate that I have about two years to complete them. That figure comes about from many factors. I’m not in the best physical shape, of course, and the next Chinese bioweapon might be something more dangerous than a bad flu with a 99.8% survival rate. Mentally, I’m very…unstable, to say the least. I’m a social outcast in a region where socializing largely comes in particular places I tend to shun.

Most of all, though, I’m not sure I can live with the shame of being a 40-year-old bachelor. Especially since being single at that point would be my own fault. I had it all, and I squandered every bit of it. I wasted my chances, my opportunities. At every turn, my own self-destructive behaviors stood in the way of happiness and a shot at a bright future in this darkening world.

Sometimes I wish I understood the minds of people who have faith, and now is one of those times. I come from a family of devout Christians, all of whom would tell me that no one is beyond forgiveness. But I don’t feel like I deserve to be forgiven for what I’ve done, for the shell of a man I’ve become and the effect that transformation has had on the people I love most.

“Falling down like he always does,” this post’s title song says. Indeed I am. And every time I fall, it’s a little harder to get back up.

All that was

(Title is a song by Ayreon that is more than just amazing: it actually fits my mood perfectly.)

It’s hard to think, harder still to act. Lately, the pressure has just been growing and growing, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any end in sight. I’ve come to the conclusion that the end of my journey is looming in the distance, coming ever closer with each passing day.

On some of those days, I’d almost welcome it. That’s how bad things are getting for me.

This isn’t only about depression. It’s not merely a reaction to the violations of human rights I, like billions around the world, have suffered in the past year and a half. No, this is a combination, a culmination, an amalgamation of everything that has happened in my nearly 38 years of life.

We are the product of our experiences. In my case, I’m the product of a world that never cared to care, and that world has worn me down. It has eroded my spirit almost to nothing, washed away my hopes and dreams in a torrent of tears, and drowned all but the strongest emotions. I’m not angry at the world anymore, because it’s nearly impossible for me to feel anger at this point. Instead, there’s just a numbness, an emptiness where such feelings used to be. So it goes for joy, desire, and self-worth, as well. I feel as if I’m nothing, but only because everything that makes me, well, me has been taken away.

I wanted to make the world a better place. To leave it in better shape than I found it, as the saying goes. Over the past few decades, I’ve had innumerable ideas on how best to do that, but the last few years have seen them coalesce around a few pillars.

One is my writing, whether fiction, opinion, or fact. I’ve written over 60 completed stories and worked on 2 nonfiction books, including one that has reached a finished draft. I’d like to do more, because there are still a lot of ideas I’ve never had time to get around to writing. I just don’t feel I’ll ever have time. (Honestly, that would be the case if I knew I would live forever. Such is the life of a dreamer.)

Second on the list is, for lack of a better term, making. I mean this in the “maker culture” sense of creating, DIY, and so on. I have a 3D printer, for example, and a CNC router has been on my wishlist for a year or more. Making things interests me, and I’ve constantly looked for ways to use that interest as a positive force. That has taken me to a lot of different places, researching things like post-apocalyptic prepping or sustainable architecture. Not because I believe in the necessity of such things, but because they overlap with an interest. So they clearly have some purpose, right?

Closely related to this is the software angle. Specifically, I’m a big proponent of decentralization on the internet. I support the so-called Indie Web, the fediverse, and various retro-style applications and protocols such as Gemini. These are things that will help the world, if only they can gain traction. Resistance to censorship is vital today, as anyone who has ever dared to express an unpopular opinion on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube can attest. Technologies like cryptocurrency are also sorely needed; that’s another road I wish I’d had time to explore.

All of it, however, comes back to one simple thing: freedom. I believe in freedom, in the inalienable human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness expressed in the founding documents of our nation and the Enlightenment from whence they came. No one should control my life but me. That’s my firm opinion, and it’s the closest thing to dogma you’ll ever hear out of me. The vast majority of my depression, I’ve found, comes from the knowledge that I have essentially zero control over my life. And we have a term for people who have no control over their lives: we call them slaves.

Every single one of my goals, then, boils down to emancipation. Liberation for myself, liberation for others. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion. The power to speak one’s mind without fear of censorship, whether government or corporate. The ability to defend oneself, including defending ourselves from our elected officials, if necessary. Autonomy of body, mind, and spirit. Freedom of association, to choose those people we would prefer to align ourselves with.

Having no power over my own life, I cannot begin to tackle the larger issue of giving others that same power. I’ve tried. I do what I can, but it just isn’t enough. One man can’t take on a million.

In such dire straits, some turn to faith, but that’s another thing I can’t do. Faith is anathema to me, whether it’s a traditional religion or the new cult of scientism. I have to know. Or, if I can’t know, then I have to know that something is knowable. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is trading one set of chains for another.

No, I really don’t have an easy out. I’m caught, imprisoned, stuck in a place I can’t escape. And it’s my nature to be an escapist. Thus, every waking moment is painful. I can’t be who I am, who I want to be, who I was meant to be. That’s the kind of denial that hurts on every level, and it has taken from me until I now have nothing left to give. It seems that all I have left to hope for is to go out in a blaze of glory, with a bang instead of a whimper.