Ten Years of Complete Victory!

Dandelion Iron Cover - February2016This is the last of my meditations on ten years of writing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Next week, on the RMFW blog, I’m going to be posting “TEN YEARS OF LESSONS ON WRITING. So, yeah. But this is where I go through my successes.

I talked about failures yesterday, and I was kind of vague because I didn’t want to linger there. I’ve lingered there long enough. And I will change my thinking. I have to. So, here are my very real, very epic successes. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones.

Let me say that again, for me, to change my thinking. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones. And if I take that one step further…if I don’t see my little successes as complete victories, I won’t see my big successes in that light either.

So. Here is a list of my complete victories!

  1. I only have three unfinished projects. Every other book I’ve started I’ve finished. This is huge. This is amazing. This is epic. And even more? I’ve edited most of those projects, and I’m not huge on that whole editing thing. I’ve written well over a dozen books in the past ten years. Every book is a victory as grand as blowing up the Death Star. All three times.
  2. I have over a hundred rejections. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not very many. For me? For someone with my level of fear and self-loathing? It is an epic victory. It is Pelennor Fields. It truly is.
  3. I have had four editors choose to spend their life’s minutes on my books. I say the publishing industry has ignored me. That is NOT true. Four people, with death looming, chose me to work on. This is amazing. Out of all the writers writing, me. These are four victories rolled up into mine.
  4. I have three published books. I have three ISBNs.
  5. I was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Gold Contest in their very competitive young adult category.
  6. My daughter and I were reading one of the books I’d written for her together. We were going slow. One day, she came to me, ashamed, because she couldn’t wait for us to read it together. She had to find out how the story ended. This, my friend, is a victory. My daughters don’t automatically love my books. And for her to be so swept into the story she had to read it, well, if that’s not enough for me…what ever will be? The praise and adulation of strangers? Huh.
  7. At a first chapter workshop in Big Sur, a woman was reading the first chapter of The Never Prayer. She started to cry. She looked up at me and I saw such a depth of emotion there, I started to cry too. It’s been said authors live on the tears of their readers. That should keep me going for the duration.
  8. I auditioned and was chosen to be a part of a critique group of highly decorated authors: Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond. This was huge! Huge!
  9. I won a horror short story contest online for a story called “Deep Woods, True Story”. It was my first win of any sort of writing contest where I wasn’t involved in the voting!
  10. I was invited to be the Emcee at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference three years in a row. Again, I can’t tell you how much of a huge deal this was. I got to rub shoulders with Bonnie Hagan, M.B. Partlow, Chris Mandeville, Sue Mitchell, Jason Henry and a bunch of other wonderful people. I had a such a lovely time at the conference and I loved the audience. This was a big deal. It really was.
  11. The entire 2013 year was hard on me. February 2014, I got my first Kirkus Review for Long Live the Suicide King. It was glowing. I needed it. When I opened up the website to first read it, I squinted, looking for keywords in the sentences. If I saw bad words I was going to shut my eyes completely. If I saw good words, I’d read every one. and I did. It was glowing.
  12. Long Live the Suicide King was a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite Young Adult contest. And I got a five-star review, awesome, and it was great to be a part of that organization. I didn’t win, but I got a sticker to put on the front cover of the book!
  13. Long Live the Suicide King won the Building the Dream Young Adult contest. I am an award-winning author thanks to Kris Tualla, Deena Remiel, Morgan Kearns and the rest of the gang. Thanks for bringing me in.
  14. In July of 2014, Peter J. Wacks called me. We had just published our G.I. story, Post-Traumatic Stress Commander and it was number one in Kindle Worlds. I had an official Amazon bestseller.
  15. In the fall of 2015, I got a basket full of fan letters for Elizabeth’s Midnight. I answered them. Fan mail. How cool is that? While Elizabeth’s Midnight hasn’t performed well, it’s a book I love. And my parents liked it the best out of all my books. It’s a victory.
  16. Quincy J. Allen picked “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for The Best of the Penny Dread Tales published through WordFire Press. It’s one of his favorite stories. And that story really solidified my name in the local writer community in Colorado. I wasn’t just pretty, but I was talented too. That story really did well for me, and I love it so.
  17. Quincy J. Allen insisted several people nominate “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for a Hugo. So I am a Hugo-nominated author. Ha! I used that for a while.
  18. Getting into WordFire Press with The Juniper Wars series really felt like a victory. And not just one book, but six. Six books of what I love to write. The books of my heart. I was at a Superstars Writing Seminar and I mentioned I was at WordFire Press. Someone muttered, in awe, “Wow, you must be good.” Dang straight I am.
  19. One of my reviewers who read KILLDEER WINDS, the second book in The Juniper Wars series, said she ugly cried. Now, that, right there, is worth the price of admission.
  20. Ron Cree gave me one of the best reviews of my life for his review of The Never Prayer. When he read Dandelion Iron, the first book in the series, he said, and I quote, “Your other books were good, but this one, this one..”
  21. In 2015 I got a story in Hex Publishing’s Nightmare’s Unhinged. It was the story I’d won for the horror story contest. We decided on a different title. “Deep Woods.” I got to do a signing at the Tattered Cover with a bunch of other writers. It felt like the big time!
  22. I got a story in Hex Publishing’s noir anthology as well. At this point, the story is called “Shoe” and I love it.
  23. While working with Vivian Trask on the first two Juniper Wars books, she said that Cavatica Weller sounded like her when she was a sixteen-year-old Catholic girl. A total victory.
  24. My daughter just finished reading the third book in The Juniper Wars series. She texted to me, and I quote: OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD. I’M AT THE PART WHERE ….SPOILERS … AND I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK!  And there you have it.
  25. All the praise. All the tears. All the laughter of the people who have read my books. Every reader who finishes a book is a victory. I spent a lot of time writing books people couldn’t read.

I’m sitting in the Salt Lake City airport, on my way home from a writer’s retreat where I won the coveted Edward M. Kovel Prize for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

I love airports. I live travel and adventure. I am so blessed to be on this quest to make it as a writer. That I get to do this, at all, is a miracle.

Travis Heermann interviewed me for his blog, and he asked which character in literature do I most resemble. Bilbo Baggins.

In the end, I’m Bilbo Baggins. Really, I wanted to stay in my hobbit hole, eat lots of donuts, and watch lots of TV. And suddenly, this adventure has been thrust upon me.

The dragon Smaug awaits in his mountain. I have many obstacles ahead, but I must slay the dragon. And the dragon isn’t the mean ol’ world of publishing, and it’s not bad book sales, and it’s not literary obscurity.

The dragon lives inside my head and I am the beast I must fight.

But I don’t think I can slay the dragon.

In the end, I think I must become the dragon and bathe the world in my fire.

Excuse Me, This is Hard to Talk About

Back in the day, man, I’d talk death and suicide and hopelessness all day long, without feeling a thing.  I actually ENJOYED it.

Now?  I feel icky.  Seriously.  I’ve been blogging about suicide, I’ve been talking about suicide, and it makes me feel icky because part of me doesn’t want to even bring it up.  I’ve changed.  I want to talk about how great Lynyrd Skynyrd is, or how cute kittens are, or puppies, or how I loved watching Star Wars when I was a kid.  I’d pour over my Star Wars memorabilia and it filled me with such excitement, such longing, such power.  For an eight-year-old boy, back in the day, Star Wars was magic.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still talk about death and suicide and hopelessness, but inside, it just feels wrong.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’m letting the world in on my secret, that I’ve had such a hard time with life—stupid, regular, boring, everyday, inane life.  Getting up, brushing my teeth, going to work, it all feels so hard.  I don’t want it to.  I want to celebrate life because it is so very, very short.  So very, very temporary.  But I forget.

Another reason why I don’t want to talk about suicide is that people have had friends, relatives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers kill themselves, and if I bring it up, I might hurt them.  I worry about that a lot.

A bigger fear is that part of me is afraid if I talk about suicide, I might give people the idea that it’s okay.  It’s not okay.  Not at all.  Suicide and okay don’t even live in the same country.  Like I’ve said before, suicide is a form of murder, the person kills themselves and kills a part of everyone around them.  It’s a nuclear bomb going off in a family.  And radiation poisons everyone long after the fact.

So I’m afraid that, by talking about it, I’m spreading suicidal cheer like a demented Johnny Appleseed.  That’s in the book, one of my favorite lines.

I keep thinking about what one of my characters says to the depressed JD, the hero of LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING.  She says, “You don’t get to talk about suicide without there being consequences.”

And she’s right.  I only hope that people who’ve had the dark thoughts, that me talking about it, that this book I wrote, might let them know they aren’t alone.  I’ve been suicidal.  I am not suicidal anymore.  In fact, most days, I kinda enjoy life.

There is hope.  We can change.  There is help.

One good thing about life?  Music?  When I hear a song, and that song hits me in just the right way, like Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”, it’s like a Star Wars moment.  For a minute, the world is magical, I feel powerful.  There is a mystery to this life thing, a profound mystery I’m going to chase, I’m going to experience, and that I love.

Life is sweet.

How to Fight Despair

I’m not going to get all dictionary on you guys.  The words I’m about to use, I’ll define by how I understand them.  I’m gonna get totally subjective.  You’ve been warned.

Despair, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behavior, you know what I’m talking about.  Life is a shit sandwich and every day is another bite.  In other words, despair.

I like despair.  I trust despair.  I firmly believe that the worst possible thing will happen and we’ll all be killed and die and be killed some more, or we’ll be crippled, wounded, hurting, in pain beyond endurance.  Yeah, despair is my buddy.  Hello darkness, my old friend…

My default position is despair.  I generally bypass sad and go straight for helpless, hopeless despair.

Do you know what I use to fight despair?  Well, not fight, really.  Any war I fight in my own mind, I always lose.  I can’t fight my despair.  Not a bit.  It’s like the tar baby, or the blob, when I hit it, despair grabs my fist and pulls me inside it.

Instead, my despair is like a huge clockwork structure of madness and sorrow.  But I have a screwdriver to dismantle it, and that tool is called gratitude.

I had a spiritual adviser who taught me about gratitude.  Let’s define gratitude as finding a hundred dollars in your coat pocket when the rent is due.  Or when you’ve lost your wallet, and someone has turned it into Lost and Found with all the cash tucked away.  Gratitude is that feeling of having been gifted.  Gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Thank God I didn’t get in that car accident this morning.  Thank God I didn’t send that scathing email.  Thank God.


So back a while ago, when I was trapped in my clock tower of despair, I called my spiritual adviser, and before you think it was some guru on a mountaintop, my adviser was a shower glass installer.  He had thick fingers, dead-skinned white knuckles, and dirt in the lines of his palm.  But he was my guide and he was very, very wise.

My heavy-glass guru listened while I complained about life, about my sad, mad sorrows, and he said, “Aaron, be grateful you’re not on fire.”
I stopped.  Yeah, I wasn’t on fire.  Right now, where I’m at, in this second, I am not on fire.  I’m not in great physical pain. I’m okay.  Generally, for every minute I’ve lived, I’ve been okay.  I’ve been relatively safe.

But I forget.  My mind races.  I regret the past and fear the future.  I forget to be grateful of the little things.

And it’s the little things that either kill us or destroy us.

For example, at Starbucks I get coffee with steamed soy.  It’s really good and only costs me $1.73.  In the early morning, when I sit down in my special spot on the back wall by the window, and it’s dark outside, I sip my coffee-soy goodness, and then I get to work writing.

Life is sweet.  Too bad I forget to be grateful for all the sweetness.