Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Boy with Manic Depression on His Sleeve

Over at Goodreads, I'm running a contest to give away three print copies of Watching People Burn. This is part of a transparently desperate attempt to drum up support for the book, which has everything going against it: it's a screenplay, not a novel, and it's smart. It's also not a heartwarming subject: it's about the greatest school tragedy in U.S. history, which no one knows about.

The book is also out on Kindle today. For the usual 99 cents, because I really, really just want people to read it. Someone. Anyone. Free to borrow / read for Amazon Prime members.

This whole lack of readers thing has gotten me quite depressed. I think all writers want their work to stand on its own, although they surely all recognize the importance of marketing. In my case, I happen to think Watching People Burn and The Slave Factory are pretty goddamned brilliant, and I'd like to think that I've got some credentials to say so: the whole, y'know, Ph.D. and having written hundreds of pages each year for 20 years. But the truth is that quality doesn't matter, if no one knows your product exists. And the other truth is that poorly-written vampire love stories sell a lot easier than, say, dissections of the psychology of the slave trade, or cinematic exegeses of horrific acts of domestic terrorism.

That leads me to this awful feeling, looking at my listings, on places like Amazon and Goodreads. Seriously, The Slave Factory and Watching People Burn? Those have to be among the two most somber titles imaginable. How much of an emotional masochist do you have to be, at least when it comes to art, to say, "Oh, shit, The Slave Factory? That's something I'd like to read more about!" In fact, I've started to look at those listings and laugh, thinking that they're telegraphing the author's severe manic depression.

It doesn't help that I know my upcoming novel, despite the ambiguous title Nira/Sussa, while profoundly ambitious, is pretty goddamn dark. Or that the novel after that, while actually much lighter, has a title that would feel right at home with those two apparently depressive ones.

That's not to say that these aren't towering works of literary prowess. I certainly think so, or I wouldn't be publishing them, much less using them to lead this venture into making my creative work available in a big way, after all these years of writing.

That's also not to say that these are really all that dark. Sure, there's plenty of darkness there. But like the best transgressive writers, like Vladimir Nabokov or Bret Easton Ellis, I see a lot of hope underneath even the darkest aspects of my stories.

They're filled with a palpable sense that this darkness is man-made. That it lies within all of us, yes. But that it's not God or fate that fills the world with suffering and terrorism and slavery: there's just humans, in particular circumstances, acting in ways that not only hurt others but in fact hurt ourselves. That are counter-productive and self-destructive. And that, because of this, we can change. Not eradicate, perhaps -- I'm no utopian hippie, pretending that peace and love are simple alternatives. They're not, and they're not in my stories. But this doesn't mean we can't untangle the knots that tie us together in exploitative and self-destructive ways. And seeing how those knots work is the first step to fixing them.

The few people who read this blog probably won't care about these things. I have written this only for me, at this frightening and unsettling moment, when my adult life and all my education and all my writing experience will either propel me to a place I can live with... or crash into some very hard realities that suggest a trajectory I'm not psychologically prepared to deal with. That's surely a binary point of view that doesn't reflect reality -- and I'm certainly not expecting overnight fame, I assure you. But when I see zero sales at 99 cents, despite strong reviews, I shudder, and the prospect of no one caring, of everything being for naught, begins to loom in a very real way. Such, I suppose, is part of the price of doing new and bold things.

And obviously, whatever happens, the novel after I'm through with my present work simply must be a Care Bears murder mystery. Preferably with a love plot and some Christian vampires, who kneel like Tebow before chowing down. Because that's what the Kindle bestsellers list wants, and it must be fed. ;)


Gravitygroove said...

A constant companion on the journey through the writer's abyss. The looming irritant, the grain of sand on your contact lens, If my writing is good and no one is around to hear it,

and something about a forest....

does it make me less manic depressive and cynical?

I may be paraphrasing.


(see you the 14th.)

Julian Darius said...

Yep, that's about the sum of it. There's the looming abyss, and it's black and it's huge, and it just swallows writing whole.

So glad you could make it to the WARREN ELLIS: CAPTURED GHOSTS showing. Let's get together for coffee and such before long.

Thanks for posting!