It’s been seventy-eight days since my last author blog post, and I don’t know how to begin. My thoughts are scattered, so please bear with me.

Reading on paper at Starbucks
Rereading on paper at Starbucks Store 20537

I haven’t had a significant daily word count since May 2. Since then, I’ve posted here about the depression I’ve fallen into, my struggles to pull myself out of it, no longer loving my book, and feeling disconnected with Orly. Most days since May 2, I haven’t even attempted to write. On July 3, I printed the seventeen chapters I had and decided to reread them on paper, hoping it would help me see my story in a new light and hopefully reengage with it. I didn’t make it through the rereading until yesterday, September 5.

But something did happen on August 29. That morning I could only get myself to read the first page of Chapter Sixteen, but I noticed I finally felt differently about it. It wasn’t a feeling of inspiration or reconnection as I hoped it would be—it was a feeling of distance. I was no longer hurting from it, and that felt familiar. It was as I had felt while writing Scribbling the Eternal.

For months I’ve been saying that I feel disconnected from Orly and feel lost because of it. And now I’m saying I feel a certain distance from her story and thereby feel closer to normal. It hasn’t been easy to reconcile how both could be true. But I know I’ve been hurting a lot while writing Scribbles of the Empress. I’ve felt isolated, lonely, self-destructive, and suicidal—all things that Orly is also feeling. With these shared feelings, how could we be disconnected?

There are depths of a depression so dark that you can only be there alone. Even those who can empathize, those who are also depressed, destructive, and suicidal, still have no place to be there with you. You’re so far gone that there, yours is yours alone. It was in that way I disconnected from her. In that way, I disconnected from everybody.

Making edits at the library
Making edits at the library

I am recovering from these depths. Maybe because of time. Maybe because of meds. Maybe because my shrink finally convinced me to try doing affirmations. In my resurfacing, I’m somehow establishing a division between myself and the book so that I don’t hurt so much that I can no longer write it. I love Orly, but we are not one. We cannot be so close that we destroy each other. We might destroy ourselves, but we should never destroy each other.

This is where I’m at right now. I don’t know if it will last or if I’m assessing things accurately and won’t come to different conclusions later. But I think I can move forward and write the next chapter. I will watch Orly go to Argentina, but I may not be able to go with her.

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Saturday evening, long after I stopped rereading chapters of my new book and feeling nothing, I began to think that what I need is something to stimulate me. I thought of getting drunk even though I don’t drink (since 2003). I toyed with the idea of drugs even though I haven’t done any since right after college. I thought of cutting even though I’ve resisted since 1995. I then thought that perhaps the problem is that since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go to theatre or ballet; both often offer moments that touch my heart.

Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara
Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara. This was one of the pieces I loved most. The photo doesn’t do it justice, the piece shimmers and the background is made up of so many colors.

I slept thirteen hours and when I woke at 10:30 a.m., I played Mozart’s Requiem, hoping for inspiration. Later, I drove up to Los Angeles to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit. I love his work and hoped seeing it in person would help me feel again. The exhibit was impressive as well as immense. I stared at some of the pieces for a long time, and sometimes I could feel my emotions trying to surface, but they never fully got there, even when I admired what I was looking at. I tried talking to Orly about some of the pieces, but it felt like I was trying too hard.

It was a long drive home because of the traffic and the disappointment. But it made me realize that maybe the problem isn’t the manuscript; the problem is me. I think my heart is asleep, and I won’t be able to feel what I had previously felt while rereading my chapters until it wakes up.

I put my copy of The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing on my desk to read today as it had moved me when I read it before.

Book Cover The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing
The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing

This post isn’t about Mozart or Nara not providing the stimulation I’m looking for. They’re amazing. Everyone knows that. As I said, the problem is me. I’m thinking it’s going to require an immersion into piles of beautiful art to get that alarm clock to go off. Mozart, Nara, Downing…the list will have to keep building until my heart wakes up or I think of something else. Maybe I need to adjust my meds. Maybe I need to travel. Maybe I need to fall in love. Whatever it is, I just hope I begin to feel something soon. Until I do, I don’t know if there is any point in me rereading.

Maybe I should just stop looking back at what I’ve written and just start writing again from where I left off.

I don’t know. I’m lost. I’m confused.

I see my shrink in a few hours. I doubt she’ll have the answer, but I think she’ll be happy that I’m trying and that my efforts don’t involve drinking, drugs, or razor blades.    

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I’ve been reading this book on happiness. One of the things it mentioned was doing things for yourself. Intrinsic motivations instead of extrinsic ones. My psychologist (whom I discussed this with today) has been trying to get me to focus on this for months; I feel like I disappointed her when I told her that this book (which she pointed out wasn’t written by a psychologist) struck a chord with me. I think I understood what she was saying in the months before, but I think now something finally sunk in. When I think about book sales, number of downloads, reviews, email subscribers, social media followers, and needing a day job, I feel bad about myself. But today, while sitting in my car, drinking chai, I realized that if I stripped everything away but the books themselves, and just imagined myself sitting with them all alone, I’m already happy.

I’ve said before that when I look back at my work I always find things I’d like to rewrite, but on a whole, with Orly’s two books, I’m pleased with how they turned out and feel I accomplished what I wanted in writing them. And with Orly’s third book, I already feel happy with it, even though it’s not even half written, because I like how the story is building, where it is going, and where I believe it will end up. It’s when I’m not writing that I start thinking about external validations, like the ones I listed above. I have to learn to stop going there and instead run to that place where it’s just me and my books.

(For some reason, today, that imaginary place is red and barren, like what I remember of a Thomas Ligotti story I read so many years ago.)

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I haven’t posted here in over a month. My depression is still bad, but I’m trying. I only wrote 13 days this month, but 10 of those days happened in the last 12 days of December. I also had a December word count of 4,347 new words when my monthly goal is 6,000. I feel these things are significant and positive and hopefully a sign that I’m picking myself back up. I just emailed Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten to my beta readers. They haven’t received new Orly chapters since July 28. A lot of that was because of interrupting my progress with Orly to write and publish The Last Midnight, but in looking at my word count spreadsheet, more of it is the result of depression. But again, it looks like I might be picking myself back up.

Today is the last day of 2020. I know it’s been a bad year for most because of the pandemic, police violence, and our election being contested, but today I’m trying to see the small positives. I exchanged video messages with my best friend nearly every day. I imagined and published The Last Midnight. I learned that I enjoy working from home. And I’ve begun to gain the courage to retire from my day job early. I’m looking forward to 2021. I’m hoping the Covid-19 vaccine will help turn things around. I’m hoping I will finish writing Scribbles of the Empress so that I can publish it in early 2022. I’m hoping I will cope with my depression and anxiety well enough to remain productive.

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The Last Midnight Proof Copies
My Proof Copies

My proof copies of The Last Midnight arrived on November 24. I avoided looking at them until the next day, and when I did I purposely gave it little thought and pressed the button to publish. I didn’t want to think of fear and give in to indecision, so I just did it. The paperback became available while I was asleep last night. I’ve gone to bed by six p.m. for the past three nights, because my depression persists and I believe I’m still descending. Who knows how low the low will be. I turn to sleep because I don’t want to be part of reality. Because of the writing and publishing of The Last Midnight, I haven’t visited Scribbles of the Empress since September 8. I’ve talked to Orly a couple times though and rehearsed some of Rosanna’s dialogue in my head. But now that The Last Midnight is out, I should go back to Orly. I plan to open her manuscript after I post this. I hope reuniting with her might help my depression even if it ends up being, at best, a distraction. It would be nice though to feel inspired. That’s what I’ll hope for. Happy Thanksgiving.

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I haven’t written for fourteen days, but this was planned with my psychologist after the mental and emotional difficulties I had earlier this month. She thought it best that I take some time off to just rest and I thought it would be helpful to clear my head from the new book since I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. I’m hoping when I return to the manuscript and read it again, fresh eyes will show me what’s missing.

In the time I haven’t been writing I’ve been reading and making linocut prints. Linocuts are something I used to do years ago as form of therapy. I carved a new one today and inked it. I’d post it, but my psychologist wants me to consider not sharing them. She’s interested in seeing what it would be like for me to have something creative that I do just for me. The thought being that perhaps I was happier with my writing before I began to publish it, making it public, which led me to start caring about response, feedback, praise, and criticism.    

My two weeks off ends today, so I could start writing again tomorrow, but I don’t know if I will. I still have a lot on my mind. I miss Orly, but I don’t know that I’m recovered enough to struggle with her story.   

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In my last post I mentioned the anxiety attack I had while writing and my discussion in the therapy session that followed with my psychologist. We talked about it again this past Monday, largely because I was still experiencing a lot of anxiety that I felt was tied to the new book. She asked me if I could take a couple weeks off, perhaps as long as until July 17 when my fiscal closing will be complete at work. I thought it was a good suggestion, but I told her that I would feel bad if I didn’t write during the three day July 4 weekend. So we agreed that I wouldn’t write again until Friday, which meant taking only three days off: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. She suggested I do something for my well-being during my time off, and so on my daily walks during those three days, I tried to run a little too.

Yesterday was Friday. I finally wrote again. I netted 713 new words, which was largely the first section of Chapter Seven. My anxiety was minimal, so maybe the three days off helped.

After my writing session, I watched YouTube for a little while. YouTube recommended a video to me about the final episode of The Sopranos. Last month, creator David Chase let it slip in an interview that Tony Soprano died in the final scene of the series. I hadn’t seen it that way. I felt the series ended with the message that Tony would forever have to be looking over his shoulder, but that he didn’t die there in that diner with his family. When I learned of the interview, I felt really hurt, and it told me how attached I was to his character. When I saw that video yesterday, which provided evidence that there was foreshadowing of his death throughout the final season, my heartache returned so sharply that I couldn’t sleep without taking an Ambien.

I woke up today wondering why I feel so strongly about this. After all, I thought I liked sad endings. My favorite films (Cinema Paradiso, Roman Holiday, The Lion in Winter, Before Midnight) all have endings that I find sad. In crime related shows like Scarface and Sons of Anarchy, I’m okay with the deaths of the protagonists. That left me wondering what was different about The Sopranos, and I think the answer is that I didn’t see Tony Soprano’s character arc as complete. I ended the series thinking life would go on, and that there was more to do. But the more I think about it, and the more I consider that video I saw yesterday, I’m seeing maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it was over. The show’s creator seemed to think so.

So what does someone like me do in this situation? I try to ignore it and remain in paradise.

I believe in my Black Wax Vampire Trilogy I’m writing sad endings. I considered it a success each time a reader told me they cried. I don’t know if I should feel differently about that now. I would want my readers to feel sadness that is bittersweet, like the feeling I get when I watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck say goodbye in silence at the end of Roman Holiday, but I wouldn’t want to hurt them like Tony Soprano’s death is hurting me right now.

Before I began writing Scribbles of the Empress, I sent a survey to my beta readers asking: Which character would it hurt the most to see die in the new book? Most of them said Orly. Berthold came in second. Although I’m into the Second Act, I still see two possible endings. If Orly dies, I hope I am able to give my readers the bittersweet sadness rather than the painful kind.

On another note, is it ironic that in my next session I’ll be talking to my therapist about The Sopranos?

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I’ve been writing pretty consistently which I’m both proud of and amazed by because I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety lately. On Monday I had an anxiety attack while writing. That’s very unusual. I had a video session with my psychologist later that day and we talked about it. At first I thought the anxiety stemmed from the feeling that the first four chapters were basically finished and that someday readers would be seeing them as they are. But the more we talked, I realized that beyond the stress of publicly sharing what I had written, a lot of my anxiety was actually about finishing the book because it’s the last in the trilogy. I realized I’m upset because I’m not ready to let go of Orly. And as Orly Bialek was inspired by Ashley Vargas, my illustrator who died at nineteen, I feel finishing this series is like letting go of her too. I feel like after I put this book out, I’ll have nothing left to give Ashley, and that hurts me because my distorted thinking interprets that as forgetting her. Therapy sessions are often not as long as they need to be, and I still haven’t worked this out. We’ll likely talk about it again on Monday. But I know the best thing I can do for myself is to keep going, to keep writing, even if it does mean eventually getting to the end. Hopefully by publication, I’ll be convinced either by my psychologist or by my friends that finishing doesn’t mean forgetting.

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It’s been nearly a month since I posted. I’ve been writing a lot and working with my psychologist on my feelings about my writing. I realized that when I focus on outcomes like being able to support myself from writing, I am unhappy. It’s when I’m actually writing and story building that I feel good. But even having realized that, it’s not easy to let go of the outcomes I’ve wanted for so long. I don’t even know if I should. (I said in my April 20 post that I never would.) I’m still processing it.

The Kirkus review for Scribbling the Eternal was released. I made a video where I read it and share my thoughts. You can view it here.

I wrote over a thousand words yesterday. That’s a lot for me. I’m approaching the end of Chapter Four, but it’s been a struggle. When I stepped away and went for a walk (wearing a mask), I realized that it’s not achieving the things I need it to, so I’m going to have to rewrite a lot of it, which will mean deleting sentences I spent so much time crafting. It’s often hard to make those deletions; I become too attached to phrases. I spend a lot of time trying to salvage them until I’m finally convinced that they just don’t work for the story, and that I need to let go of them.

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