extribulum

The Book That Saved My Life

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2014 at 10:00 am

NOTE: This post contains frank and in-depth discussion of depression and suicide. If these are likely to affect you negatively, you may wish to consider skipping this one.

About two weeks ago, souridealist on Tumblr asked me about the process of turning Animagus Winter, a made up book in a Harry Potter fanfic, into Nameless.

I scratched my head a little, because I honestly remembered almost nothing of the process, and then I realized that I had so little memory of it because depression can affect memory, and I was in the middle of a major depressive episode when I wrote Nameless. So I wrote about that, and I thought I’d archive it here for folks who don’t follow my tumblr.

For those of you who don’t have all the context on this, it goes like this: I wrote a fanfic, Cartographer’s Craft, in which there is an original character named Ellis Graveworthy, who, yes, the E.G. of Dead Isle stems from. He was a novelist who had written several books (you can read about them here if you don’t want to read 43 chapters of Harry Potter AU fanfic). One of those books, Animagus Winter, became the skeletal structure of my first original novel, Nameless.

There is some discussion of the process of writing Nameless in the afterword of the book, which you can read for free here. (If you like the book, consider buying a copy!) But how did Animagus Winter get to be Nameless?

Here’s the thing about Nameless: it literally saved my life. I probably would have killed myself if I hadn’t written it. I have clinical depression and that was certainly part of the headspace I was in at the time, but I was also going through a lot of external pressure: living at home with my parents (who are lovely people but dysfunctional to live with), in a Texas suburb, job hunting after grad school, and generally feeling like a failure. I couldn’t support myself, couldn’t help my parents as much as I felt I ought, and I felt like I had done no actual single concrete useful thing with my life. So I thought, I’m going to write this fucking book, and when it’s done at least I’ll have done something. I worked on it from ten to midnight, every night, and sometimes the promise of those two hours was all that got me through the rest of the day.I want to stress two things here:

1. If you have not “done anything” with your life you are not a failure. If you’re living with your parents or unemployed or both, you’re not a failure. It’s just that when you are in a major depressive episode, everything you are and do makes you think you’re a failure. You could be curing fucking cancer and think you’re a useless waste of oxygen; being an unemployed boomerang child just makes that feeling much, much worse.

2. I had friends, lovely friends who were helpful inasmuch as they could be considering I didn’t tell them I was dying inside. I was lucky to have a safe place to live and food to eat and the support, however difficult, of my parents. It’s just that when you’re in that deep, nobody else can pull you out because you won’t let them. So you have to climb out yourself. It sucks more than anything else in my life has ever sucked.

Back to our story.

Nameless had a lot of iterations. Changing over from transformative to original work is really hard. Not to say that fanfic is only for children, but seriously, moving from writing fanfic to writing a novel is like going through puberty. It’s hideous and awkward and you’re not really aware of how hideous and awkward it is until you’re on the other side. As a bonus, however, it will make you a better fanfic writer.

So, I wrote the first draft of Nameless following the basic structure I’d laid out for Animagus Winter; I just set it in a world where magic, as far as Christopher knew, didn’t exist. I polished it, rewrote some bits, and sent it to agents. I was still miserable, but at least I now had two irons in the fire — I was being rejected left and right for jobs, but I also was sending out this thing that I had made up out of my own brain, and getting a literary rejection letter made me feel less like a failure and more like Jack London. (I had seen Jack London’s case of rejection letters at his museum, as a younger man, and admired his guts in keeping them all around. I kept mine for a long time, but I’ve since thrown them out.)

But the reason it was getting rejected was, of course, that this book blew. It was terrible.

In the meantime, however, I had scraped together enough money (with a small loan from my parents) to get my ass to Chicago, where I got a job. It was terrible and abusive, but it was a job. Then I got another less terrible job, and I started to both come out of my depression and pull my life together. I mean, it wasn’t a perfect life, but it was mine and it was self-sustaining, so I stopped thinking about killing myself a lot.

Eventually, I got bored and dug Nameless out for no real other reason than I thought it might be fun to share it, since (rightly) nobody wanted to publish it. I was able to see how bad it was by then, so I rewrote it, then I posted it, and then I got this huge outpouring of critical commentary which eventually became the basic pedestal of the Extribulum process of crowdsourced peer review. I rewrote it again, a few times, and then self-published it, and it’s gone very well for me since.

So Nameless is the product of Animagus Winter, indisputably, but there were other factors at work — my wrestling with my own depression, which you can see a lot of in Lucas; my wrestling with my abilities as a writer, which are evident in the prose; my struggles to get to a place where I was self-sufficient financially and stable emotionally and balanced between the two, which you can see in the journey that Christopher took, pre-novel, from being this young urban power suit with a literal broken heart to being a small-town entrepreneur who has a specific, much-loved place in the life of Low Ferry.

That’s the story of Nameless, with the benefit of about seven years of hindsight.

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