Sunday, December 22, 2013

Serendipity-Doo-Dah Days

By a stroke of wild luck I landed a temp gig that I’ll be working through the first week of January. Ironically, I’d wanted to spend this time talking about Christmas—yet I’m too busy working to fund Christmas to think about it much, let alone write about it. Just like everyone else slaving to make it happen.

Yeah, I know. Aside from the extra cash, it’s good to have that perspective if I’m planning on liberating Christmas for those of us in the 99% who could use some liberation ourselves. That book will be better for it. When I get around to it....

I love the physical component to the job (repeatedly lifting and unpacking boxes up to 50 lbs.) that makes me sleep like a proper cadaver when I come home. The only downside, if it can be called that, is that Saturdays and Sundays are my best chance to think and write. This Saturday is the Solstice, and my last, best chance of getting my office cleaned and decorated for the revels to come, limited as they will be with my work schedule.

As always, I’ll just have to do the best I can.

With ten days to go, I can safely declare 2013 as the Year to Beat. The ups were way up, and the downs at least gave me something to think about. In a sense, it started with my birthday in October 2012, when I decided I was too old to be suffering in a call center, or any other job that involved such chained-to-the-desk humiliation. My best bet was to take a chance on finishing and selling a zombie apocalypse trilogy. I had already finished one book in May. Why not write the first book of the trilogy, drop in the second, and move from there? 

So I finished my second book, the first in the proposed series—and thanks to James Robert Smith dropping a dime on me to the publisher, I got picked up by Severed Press. An editor there read the excerpts I’d published on this blog beginning in January and liked what he saw. So did several other people, who swelled the page hits here from single-digit views per week to...well, a little bit more. My stats are still a joke compared to the most obscure blog you know, but they’re better than they were. Look at the graph in the upper left hand corner of the screenshot:

The graph begins its precipitous rise with linking to my New Year’s Day post, “Old Dead Man’s New’s Year’s Sucking Eve.” The rise continues as I begin running excerpts from Bleeding Kansas that same month. (I removed most of the chapter-long excerpts after Severed Press bought the book in March.) The most prominent peaks are May, when I first cracked 1,000 hits per month, July (I don’t know what drove that one) and November, when I cracked 2,500. To get those kinds of numbers per day will be the challenge for 2014.

Near-total obscurity still beats total obscurity. I’ll work with it until I reach the next level. Which still won’t be enough, but minor Internet fame beats near-total obscurity, so I’ll work with that...when I come to it.

I have GOT to find a way to top this
bit of digital badassery!
I finished Bleeding Kansas on 25 May, and after exchanging proofed galleys and other assorted back-and-forth with the publisher, the book became available for download on 28 June, with the paperback available shortly after. One week later Luzifer-Verlag bought the German language rights. The cover for that edition, as seen in the graph above, turned out to be the fourth most popular post I’ve done for this blog.

It hasn’t been all champagne and kisses, though. I’d thought most people would relate to my protagonist Derek Grace’s anger at the contracted job market, being a professional thrown into the disposable wage-slave class, etc. I could not have been more wrong. It turns out there are a lot of people out there who believe if you just smile for Master, broadcast a positive attitude for Master, “take a job no one else wants,” et al., the Big Break will come. As Derek Grace observed of Tanner in Chapter 6, “for people like him, the Great Recession is an attitude problem.” 

I laugh now to see how uncomfortable I’d made most of the critics slagging my book in the Amazon reviews—in a couple of notable cases, I could tell these people knew I was describing hard truths about the job market, but felt compelled to denounce me by way of maintaining their own good fortunes. For all their vitriol it was nothing more than them knocking on wood while whistling past the graveyard, avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk and mumbling the correct lines to keep the demons outside the protective circle. Still, the bad reviews did hobble sales. 

I should have known. People who have their jobs, their (secure, unlooted) pensions, their set-ups are the only ones in a position to buy and read zombie apocalypse adventures. They don’t want their boats rocked. They don’t even want it pointed out that they’re in a boat, and always at risk of getting crushed by the giant yachts piloted by the Good People. People who would relate to my character are too busy working to keep that fake smile looking genuine and hustling for one more interview to worry with such fantasies.

It’s hard maintaining that most basic Positive Attitude (as opposed to the culturally sanctioned bright-eyed delusion) one needs to keep on keepin’ on when it looks like all you’re doing is rolling that same rock back up that same hill, and the thing that happens every time near the top will happen yet again. My first book was getting buried in hate and I had two more to write. 

I couldn’t think of writing anything else that might sell. On top of the usual bleed in savings both our vehicles needed work if they were to keep running. My “best bet” turned out to be a bummer after all.

So I became suicidally depressed towards the end of August. I’m not a celebrity so no one wants to know the details—reading about financially secure people talking about their fits of blues as if it takes genuine heroic effort for them to get through is galling to me as I have genuine threats to my family and myself to be depressed about—suffice it to say that my inability to leave the house during that hard week saved my life. Curiously, it never occurred to me to order a gun online and have it delivered. Good thing my brains and spirit were so broken I didn’t think of that, huh?

They weren’t so broken that I forgot I have people in my life who actually give more than two shits for me, even depend on me to keep them smiling and going through the motions in this vale of tears. I have yet to get past my own surprise at myself for not resenting these people for obligating me to live. It’s quite morbidly hilarious to consider that the unforgivably Bad Attitude my critics would condemn me to poverty for is so incomplete!

I couldn’t tell you how I came out of my depression. Like every abuse I’ve suffered in my life, large and small, I somehow outlasted it. My birthday, the one year anniversary of pissing off the temp agency and taking my Grand Chance, came and went. Halloween and Thanksgiving weren’t epics for the books, but they didn’t suck, either. Hell, I enjoyed them, which is the most anyone can ask.

So here we are, facing the Great Report Card for the Year that is Christmas. I’m still without a proper title for my third novel, which will be second novel in The Saga of the Dead Silencer. But I’m winding up Chapter 20 of 25. Severed Press wants to reissue Bleeding Kansas with another, snappier cover. They offered me the chance to write all the offending attitudes out, and I took it. (The old e-book has been pulled from Amazon; your last chance to read the controversial first edition is only available in paperback.) It’s all much more comfortably generic now, which is fine by me. I need to sell books. 

I’ve faced plenty of New Years with far less hope in my heart. I don’t have money, but I’ve got family, and that’s something most “successful” people will never know. My vegan wife brings plates of sausage and eggs right to my desk where I work. I don’t ask her to; I certainly don’t expect it. Would Kim do that for Kanye? Donald Trump would have to threaten to fire someone. Your average faceless hedge-fund managing parasite wouldn’t even know what I’m talking about.

This wonderfully serendipitous love in my life does require me, however tacitly, to make myself worthy of such unasked-for kindnesses. A small part of me insists I should resent this but the rest is too busy enjoying breakfast. My wife not only likes to cook for me, she’s damned good at it. Too bad, so sad, sucks to be you! Maybe you should try working a job no one else wants. Yeah, that’s the ticket...keep smiling, chumps! No one likes a sore loser! It’s all in the attitude! You make your own luck! Blah-blah-blah.

Doesn’t sound so good hearing it as it does saying it, does it?

For those of you with genuine good hearts whose joy isn’t contingent upon the failure and misery of unlucky others, I wish you the best Christmas money can’t buy. I’d say Happy New Year, too, but there are those of us for whom the year begins anew everyday. We know who we are. We’ll be there when the calendars get replaced, doing our best to top the one that just got tossed. 

We’ll take that cup o’ kindness, though, for days of auld lang syne. We only have so much time together. Let us take a moment to raise a glass to whom and what we have that makes it all worthwhile. Salud!

And then back to work.

UPDATE: I came up with the title for the second book in my zombie trilogy on New Year’s Eve. I’ll announce it on the Ides of January 2014.