My first rumination can be found at Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”
My second at Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions
Rumination Part 3-1 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1
Rumination Part 3-2 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2
Rumination Part 3-3 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class
Rumination Part 3-4 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 4 – Is your character POC or POM?
Ruminations Part 4 is Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore
Ruminations Part 5 is Ruminations Part 5 – Joseph Carrabis (was/could be/might have been) (Personal Pronouns in Fun and Earnest)
Ruminations Part 6 is Ruminations Part 6 – Professionalize this, Buddy
Early last month on a Saturday morning I lay in bed on my right side, covers over my head to keep the light out, curled up in a foetal ball, and discovered a deeper reason, and as yet unknown reason, I wanted to be a bestselling author for as long as I can remember.
I remembered reading Skylark Three. I’m not sure what triggered the memory, exactly. It came unbidden. A happenstance of the senses: the position, the pain, hiding under the covers. A forgotten spirit summoned by the incantation of the moment.
And now a warning: Hold on, dear Readers. We’re going for a ride. Best leave now if you have no interest.
Bestsellerhood, Part I
Back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, I was one of the top three trade technical authors in the world (according to my publishers).
Fun ride, that.
But I really wanted to be a bestselling fiction author. I mention my sister inadvertently set my course (My Sister Got Me Started) when I was somewhere between seven and ten years old. I had no idea what fiction was, science fiction was an unknown term, and so it went for most of the books and stories I read.
Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Chocky, anything by Verne, Wells, ancient mythologies, fairy tales, folklore, the Oz books, Edgar Rice Burroughs became my friend as did Tenn, Windham, Conan Doyle, Poe, Peake, Bradbury, Asimov, Blish, Smith, Pohl, Silverberg, Heinlein, Budrys, … I still have the books I bought through the Scholastic Readers Service (does that even exist anymore?).
In 2016, the first two-thirds of my life behind me, Susan and I closed down a company we’d run for some twenty-five years. Susan said we didn’t have to worry about money any more and she’d never seen me happier than when I wrote my (fiction) stories, “So please write your stories.”
One of the many reasons I love her, that.
My memories of writing were a polarity mix. My trade-technical writing was much in demand, my fiction was muchly rejected. I met Susan’s request with that mix in mind. I also knew the publishing world had changed greatly in thirty-plus years.
Bestsellerhood, Part II
Asked about my goals as an author, I answered with something like, “I want to be a bestselling author and have my work optioned for TV and film.” Interviewers pursuing deeper learned a higher goal; to constantly improve my work. There was a third goal, deeper still, that few ever got to.
Which was a good thing because I didn’t know it existed. Any who pursued further would have encountered resistance, and people resist when they’re protecting something.
I’ve had enough psych and neuro training to know this.
I’ve had enough psych and neuro training to know what’s protected is often hidden and unknown even to the person protecting it.
Funny how we can know something, have put it into practice working with others, but never put two and fourteen together to come up with 412 in one’s own life.
My first goal changed sometime in early 2019. I still answered blah-blah-blah publicly but privately I mentioned that I was neither comfortable nor happy with the changes in the publishing industry since my 1980s-1990’s bout with bestsellerhood. A friend and I talked regularly about the changes. I still worked at developing my craft and still sought bestsellerhood. But bestsellerhood didn’t mean the same thing it meant thirty-plus years ago. One of my trade-technicals had a initial print run of 90k copies and sold out the first day it was on the shelves. Today’s fiction bestsellers may have an initial print run of 20k copies and go to a second printing weeks if not months later with a complete publishing run lasting less than a year.
And did you notice that my primary and secondary goals switched position in the above?
Developing my craft gained importance. Bestsellerhood per se declined. I’m not willing to put the time into pursuing something when the game is so completely in the house’s favor, meaning the road to current bestsellerhood is more about product than art and scamming the system, and art is more important to me than product and/or scamming some system.
Sincere comments and reviews – both pro and con – mean more to me than much else. They always have and still do. Sincere comments and reviews are the ones people write because the book impacted them and they wanted to share that impact with others.
On 25 April 2021 I received an email from Gillie Hatton, editor and publisher of Sixth Element Press. All cards on the table, Sixth Element publishes the Harvey Duckman anthologies and my work appears in many of them, republished The Augmented Man when my original publisher bailed, has offered to publish Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires, not to mention showing an interest in my other projects.
I need to ask… and please say no if you don’t want to… but I’ve got an idea for a book (or article or series…) that I think I need to write but I can’t do it alone and I was wondering if you’d like to collaborate… it would be a very practical guide on how to handle being an indie author and cope with the ups and downs without giving up, and how to get some stability in life whilst still pushing that creative need to write, and understand why you need to get your work out there… so mental health and psychology issues (that I don’t have the answers to). It would need to have answers or at least be a guide on how to find a way to get there…
You’ll have to ask her to learn why she asked me.
We meet weekly to discuss the book. Currently we’ve created an outline, are writing chapters, the usual stuff, and we both recognized early on a lot of the book deals with bestsellerhood: what does it mean? Is it achievable? What’s involved?
Gillie’s request caused me to explore my bestsellerhood concept front and center, no longer as a now-and-again, back-of-mind meditation or curiosity.
Bestsellerhood Part III
I knew my concept of bestsellerhood was changing. I witnessed it daily. One element remained throughout; my sister’s awe and wonder when she told me about reading James Blish’s Mission to the Heart Stars for a high school book report.
Many of my readers tell me my stories evoke strong emotional responses in them. A large number tell me my work changes them; they finish a story and it stays with them long after the reading is done. My work makes them think and feel beyond the book in their hands.
The strange element of this is readers said similar things about my trade-technicals. My trade-technical audience read my books for 1) the technical competence and 2) my voice made them comfortable. More than one reader wrote reading my books was like sitting down with a friend and the two of you solving a problem together.
Now I tell people evoking strong reactions is my goal with my writing (definitely my fiction and note the complete goal shift). Positive or negative, doesn’t matter, but strong does. People tell me they become emotional reading my stories, lose track of time, place, sneak quick reads at work and during breaks, stay up late to finish.
Such anecdotes are gold me to. Gold and real estate. My story’s made a place for itself in their life. Yippee, I win. When people tell me they laughed, cried, raged, sorrowed, they are telling me my writing moved them. It made them feel. Think. Wonder. Breathe.
Three Emergency Surgeries later…
I underwent emergency surgeries to my left eye in early July. Partly because I’m older, partly because of the life I’ve led, partly because of the odd structure of my eyes, the surgeries and follow-ups were necessary to continue seeing out of the eye.
And like Viktor Frankl, I search for meaning.
These searches are elements of my longer, life-encompassing quest. I tell people “My goal is my journey, my path is my prize.” I expect life to change me. I expect my experiences to teach me. I intend to grow.
The surgeries and follow-ups were painful. Relatively routine for most people – a detached retina – except for the shape of my eyes and some childhood incidents.
And all the while I wondered what the detached retina, the surgeries, recoveries, and work stoppage, et cetera, were all about.
The Meaning of Emotional Memory
My father would beat me with an arm-length rubber hose almost daily until I left home around age 15. He often used just his hands. If I was particularly clumsy, it was the rubber hose. More momentum, I suppose. I was clumsy often because I was blind. Couldn’t see anything until I was five or so. Miss Graf, my kindergarten teacher, realized I was blind because I never looked where she pointed and often placed an open eye flush against whatever I was working on.
One night I tripped over an electric cord. My father came rushing up from the basement. He was fixing something for my mother. My sisters, seven and ten years older than me, lifted me and ran to my bedroom.
Not fast enough.
My clumsiness, my father’s frustration at a life that chained him to children he took no joy in and a wife who had no interest in him other than the paycheck he brought home, gathered together that night.
Talk about your perfect storms.
My sisters remember that night sixty years later. They remember cleaning my blood off the walls, hearing my bones crack, seeing my face swollen and pummeled, and my body twisted from the violence of his blows.
And putting me to bed.
Which also wasn’t safe for me. My mother sexually molested me from pre-school through early puberty. My sisters remember my mother going into my bedroom wearing nothing but a bra and underwear and not realizing the significance until years later.
But often, when my parents were through with me, I lay in bed, curled into a foetal position, usually on my right side, and hid under the covers.
Crying silently because I didn’t understand why any of this was happening to me.
And on that early Saturday morning at the beginning of last July, I remembered reaching out from the covers to my bookstand on the right of my childhood bed, finding Skylark Three, pulling it back under, and holding it.
Not reading, just holding.
Because in its pages and the pages of all the books I read, I was safe. The good people were rewarded, the bad people were punished, the people I met in those books loved each other, cared about each other, honored each other, helped each other, rejoiced in each others’ joys, shared in each others’ sorrows, protected each other, sacrificed for each other, worked together towards a common good, …
And never, never hurt each other.
And across the top of all the covers on all the books printed large in bright, bold colors Bestselling Author or Bestseller or Best….
And as I, early last July on a Saturday morn, lay in a foetal position on my right side recovering from multiple, painful eye surgeries, I realized the core reason I wanted to be a bestselling author for as long as I can remember; Bestselling authors made traumatized children feel safe, rewarded, loved, cared for, honored, helped, protected, …
If I could help one other child know someone cared, someone loved them, that somewhere there was someone who would protect them, that’s all that mattered.
There’s a scene in the original version of The Augmented Man in which Donaldson, who created The Augmented Men and now wants to help Nick Trailer, the novel’s protagonist and the last Augmented Man, find peace after everything he’s done and been done to him. I pulled it from the original to use in the sequel:
“…By the way, who did you use as developmental models when you were in the Tank? I think I know you, and nobody in your past of record could’ve served in that capacity.”
“I used people you probably never knew.”
Nick sat back in the seat and sighed. He gazed out the window but saw nothing, looking inward instead. “Frank Simpson, Aaron Penfold, Wireman, Ransom, Kinnison, Meris, Lesbee, Chocky…there are more of them than I can both imagine and remember.”
“When did you meet these people? After the war when you hid in the woods?”
“No. When I was a kid, reading books.”
Putting this blog post together, I realized I still bore shame over my early life. Not much and still a hint. And I never denied my life if asked directly. Two people did. One went white and the other hasn’t talked to me in years. I spent so many years learning to heal myself, studying in so many fields I became an undiplomaed expert in dozens of them. My psych and neuro professors told me I was one of the top ten people in the world on trauma recovery and repeatedly asked me to work with them helping others.
Much of what I learned was published. Much of what I learned I turned into tools and methods which are in use worldwide.
Scores of people tell me I’ve helped them work their way from pain to joy.
But I did it all for myself, not for anybody else.
(and happy to help)
Stop looking where you shouldn’t be looking.
So the meaning of the eye surgeries?
I realized their meaning while laying in bed.
Stop looking where you shouldn’t be looking.
What you think is your goal is only a small part of it.
Sure, it’d be nice to have multi-million dollar deals on my books. Sure, it’s great to have readers and fellow authors appreciate the time I put into my craft.
But letting one child know it’s safe? Some child, somewhere, know he or she is safe?
And they can get there, can be safe, be loved, be wanted, cared for, helped, protected? Helping one other child through their darkness?
That’s my reward.
And it’s enough.