The Day I Didn’t

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January 16th is my rebirthday. It’s the day I didn’t die.

But I’d meant to. It was planned.

I’ve blogged about this before, and I’ll blog about it every year because I think it’s important not to sweep mental health things under the tattered covers. Because when we don’t talk about things, people feel alone. People feel like they’re the only ones going through this, that it will never end, and then they become even more hopeless…

And then they make the kinds of plans I did.

“Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression.” source

What does depression look like? And, when you attach it to anxiety, that lovely beast that makes your pulse race, what then?

It’s knowing you’re not good enough. For anyone or anything. It’s the worry that comes with that knowledge; that you’re ruining other people’s lives by being in their space. It’s imposter syndrome. It’s thinking everyone would be better without you around. It’s the worry, the gut-wrenching certainty, that everything is going to go wrong at any second, and not only is it your fault, but you’re powerless to stop it.

It’s not wanting to go out but not wanting to be alone, it’s not wanting to be around people but not wanting to be left out, it’s not wanting to talk but needing desperately to tell someone that you’re breaking apart inside. It’s not having the words, but being full of all the wrong ones.

It’s the words, the vile, ugly, tar-slick words that fill your whole being, telling you you’re nothing, that you’re ugly, that you’re stupid. It’s behaviors that manifest while you try to stop the cycle, try to stop the words, try to stem the volcano of self-loathing. It’s self-destruction under a slow moving magma trail that buries you alive, stopping just long enough to let you breathe but never long enough to let you escape.

It’s different for everyone, and yet strangely similar for everyone too.

Where am I, five years on?

I have chronic depression and anxiety. There is solace in being able to state something so big, so simply. There is self-kindness in being able to say it honestly.

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t think about dying. When I don’t think, at least briefly, that my wife and family would be better off without me. That I’m a burden, a headache, an issue they don’t need. But there are days when I don’t think about it, and that’s progress. I can laugh, and be silly, and smile. I can email friends without thinking I’m bothering them, that they’d rather I go away.

And there are the other days. Like today. When the gray skies are a part of my soul, when I want to curl up on the couch and immerse myself in a silly movie so I can distract myself from the double-over-it-hurts-inside loathing that coats the essence of who I am.

It does get better

One thing I’ve learned is to be gentle with myself. I’m no longer as bad as I was, and I’ll probably never get that bad again, thanks to the fact that I understand my disorder now. I know that I can ride it out, that it will pass, as it always has in the past. I have to trust that my wife knows how to take care of herself, and she’ll do what she needs to do while I’m ‘away’. And I wait. And it passes, and I can breathe again. Yes, living with this condition is tough. But there are wonderful things in life I want to experience, and I can only do that if I stick around.

So, if you’re in a similar boat, remember this: you’re not alone. There are literally millions of other people who feel much the way we do. And it will pass. Hang in there. Reach out if you can. When you’re having a good day, think of things that help, so that you’re ready when the bad days hit. I use basic distraction like movies to help throw walls in front of my thoughts. This article has some good advice, too.

One thing is certain: the world is better with you in it. Really.

Staying focused

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Let’s start the new year talking about writing.

I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had that start with this: “I’ve got a great idea for a book…”

And then we head into ten minutes of  ‘and then K jumps into a lake, but then S has a breakdown, and J thinks he’s got fleas, and then the planet is overrun by rabid titmice, and the president decides to give it all up and go fishing…’ and I have no idea what the book is about, and the person with the great idea has even confused themselves.

A piece of editorial advice before you sit down to write: know what you’re writing.

Not in depth, perhaps. Writers work differently, and some like a good solid outline while others prefer a more meandering, let’s-see-what-happens path. Both work, if you have some sense of what you’re writing about.

For instance, if you’re writing a romance, (scoff as you will, it’s the largest selling genre in the world), you should know how a romance works. At what point the characters need to meet, at what point they should be building their relationship, at what point it should fall apart, and that as a romance, it needs to end with a happy-ever-after or a happy-for-now. (Love stories can end tragically, romances can not.)

You may not know how things will happen or what turning points there will be. That’s part of the fun of being a writer. But you should know what your crisis point will be, and how it will end. You should be able to tell me in a few easy paragraphs what your story is about as you’re trying to sell it to me on our ride up in the elevator (the elevator pitch).

This is the story of Sue and Jeff, who both work at the local Co-op. When Sue sees Jeff talking to a strange creature in the frozen section one night, she realizes all isn’t as it seems. She’s drawn into a parallel world where her alter self is the evil queen trying to take over all the Co-ops in that world, and she must fight against herself to save everyone’s jobs and return the lacto-free milk to its proper place. In the end, she kills her parallel self and spends the rest of her life slipping between worlds, and Jeff becomes her faithful companion in both. It’s eighty-five thousand words and is similar in tone to Terry Pratchett. 

One paragraph. If you know that’s how the story works, then you know how to write it, because there shouldn’t be anything happening in that story framework that doesn’t have to do with the plot you’ve just outlined to me. If you suddenly cut away to the weird creatures and start telling me their story which only loosely has to do with Sue’s journey, why is it there? Whose story are you telling, and are you staying focused on that story?

So: stay focused. Know the story you’re telling so you don’t have to cut/rewrite huge chunks of it. Know your genre conventions so you don’t piss off your reader, who reads that genre because they know what to expect and they like what the genre has to offer.

Curtain call

2019 has had its curtain call. It’s been a year of political drama, of travel, of decisions. Of family and friendships both gained and lost.

We went to Italy three times, and to Texas, New Orleans, and Provincetown. And Spain. And Amsterdam. It’s been an amazing year of adventure.

And we’ve got some big plans in 2020, things that are equally scary and exciting. Less travel, for sure, but quality of life changes that mean we get to build something promising together. Something we’re both really passionate about. And how awesome is that?

I’m still dealing with crushing self-loathing and depression but I have more good days than bad. Overall, I’d say I hate myself most days but try to ignore it for the most part, like an errant mole or a tiny hole in the stitching of my favourite pants.

I’m lucky to have a wife who gets me and has yet to divorce my crazy self. I’m lucky to have loving, funny family. I’m lucky to get to do what I love. I’m lucky to have released two novels in 2019. I’m lucky to have a couple of really good friends.

I’m lucky to still be here.

And so, I say farewell to 2019, a year overflowing with great stuff, and I welcome 2020 and the big changes it will bring with it too. I hope it brings you all you hope for as well, and that we see the kinds of changes we’re hoping for on a global scale, too.

Some pics of our year:

Because you’re supposed to tell people you do this thing…

I hope you don’t mind terribly, but I’m going to do a little bit of end of year self-promotion. It’s not in my nature, and I always want to duck and hide when I have to do it, but being an author in a digital age means actually telling people you write stuff. (I’ll seriously stand at a book table at an event and not mention that I’m one of the authors.)

And since I set up this blog with the intention of talking about writing, among other stuff, I should probably talk about my writing, too. I’m only in the early stages of my next project, so I’m not quite ready to delve into that yet. But I should tell you about the other stuff floating around out there, especially as I released two novels this year.

(I’m not going to talk about my short stories, which you can find over on the books page. This is just the novels. Hope that’s okay.)

So. Here it is. I’ve published six books since I began in 2016. They all fall under the ‘speculative fiction’ label, meaning there’s aspects of fantasy/sci-fi/chaos in them without them falling directly into those categories because they’re mostly based on the world we know, they just have some fantastical elements in play. (Except for Changing Course, which is an actual sci-fi.) I write under the name Brey Willows, because I like having a pen name and I’ve published other stuff under my real name, mostly academic, so I like the separation. And Villasenor doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, unless you come from a region where the name is common.

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That’s me! Reading a book by my wife, of course.

Anyway.

Here is the link to all my books, and here they are below. If you read and like them, a review is always a lovely thing for an author. If you know of other people who might like them, telling them about my books would also be lovely. And books make lovely holiday gifts, too… Just sayin’.

Lovely, lovely.

Here they are, complete with blurbs and links.

ChangingCourse_finalChanging Course:

When a simple mission goes wrong, intergalactic space captain Jessa Arbelle nearly goes down with her ship.

Her escape pod lands on Indemnion, a planet known for its raw, raucous societies, and Jessa’s top priority is keeping the few survivors with her safe while finding a way back home. That’s when she meets mysterious scrounger Kylin Enderson, a useful and attractive distraction she can hardly afford with so much at stake.
Kylin resents Jessa’s silver spoon attitude, especially since Jessa has no idea what real life is like. Kylin has enough trouble keeping ahead of the creditors she owes for some of her more secretive undertakings, without having to help the beautiful captain who fell from the sky. But Kylin’s always been a sucker for a damsel in distress, and this time is no different.
When Kylin’s secret comes out, it puts their growing attraction, as well as Jessa’s life, in danger. Will everything come crashing down, or can they change course before it’s too late?

SpinningTales coverSpinning Tales:

Maggie McShay wants a little magic in her life. Something more than the drab existence of going to work and coming home to a cat that barely tolerates her.

When she spontaneously replies to a want ad asking for someone to take care of a fairy tale cottage, it turns out magic wasn’t as far away as she thought. Maggie discovers she wasn’t who she thought she was either. Recalcitrant fairy tale shepherd and ladies’ woman Kody Wilk shows Maggie a world she knew nothing about…a world they need to save before the villains of the world’s fairy tales take over New York City.

It’s up to Maggie, her grumpy, shape-shifting cat, a dwarf hell-bent on finding romance, and Kody to set the fairy tale world to rights. The big bad wolf has nothing on Maggie McShay.

ChosenChosen:

Climate change moved faster than anyone anticipated, and the Earth, along with many of its inhabitants, is dying. When a military convoy arrives to pick up Devin Rossi and Karissa Decker, along with dozens of other bewildered people, the two have no idea they are part of a group selected by the government to be transported to a space station preparing for the colonization of another planet. They are members of the Chosen.

On their way to the military base, their convoy is attacked and Devin and Karissa learn the real reason behind their selection. Their attraction grows as they struggle to survive and wrestle with the decision to continue on to the base as part of the Chosen, which means leaving millions of others behind to die.

Will they face an uncertain future together, or will the cost be too high?

Furys Bridge 300 DPIFury’s Bridge (book 1 of the Afterlife, Inc series):

If you knew the gods worked from a building in Santa Monica, California, would it change you?

Avenging fury Alectho (Alec) Graves has been tasked with saving the world, when she isn’t out seeking justice for those innocents who suffer at the hands of evil-doers. If she fails in her mission, those she loves will cease to exist.

Selene Perkton is a philosophy professor in Los Angeles. She lives an ordinary, well scheduled life, and knows her place in it. When Alec appears, the world she thought she knew becomes a very different place.

Can Alec and Selene put aside their differences, or will the evil lurking in the shadows manage to pull them apart?

Furys Choice 300 DPIFury’s Choice (book 2 of the Afterlife, Inc series):

Fury Tisera Graves needs a break. She wants a normal life, but she can’t see a way out of Afterlife. When the gods begin running marketing campaigns in an effort to woo followers, she steps in to keep them in line, although she really just wants to get away from it all.

Playgirl philanthropist Kera Espinosa made a nearly fatal mistake, and now she’s trying to make up for it by doing good work around the world. She’s got no time for the gods, who don’t do nearly enough. And she’s still searching for the people who nearly destroyed her. When she finds them, she’s prepared to sacrifice it all to make them pay.

When it comes time for both women to choose, will they find love or destruction?

Fury's Death FRONTFury’s Death (book 3 of the Afterlife, Inc series):

Fun-loving fury Megara Graves is seriously tired of working so hard. With the world collapsing around her, she no longer has time for the hedonistic lifestyle she adores. When religion merges with politics and both gods and humans show their true colors, she wonders if it would be better to let the world burn itself to the ground.

Dani Morana, more commonly known as Death, is busy not just with people dying as usual, but with the deaths caused by Chaos as well. She’s been horribly lonely for a long time but knows no one could possibly love her for who she is. Overwhelmed when the world erupts in fear and violence, she needs someone to turn to.

Will Meg and Dani be able to find their way through the darkness enveloping the earth? Or will Death be the last one standing?

Where stories are born

We’re walking along the damp, shiny, puddle-laden streets of Venice, trying not to stumble or get hit by one of the trillions of umbrellas moving to and fro down the narrow walkways.

We stop at a shop window in an alley barely big enough to stand side by side, and we stare at a gorgeous steampunk owl perched on a stack of books. It’s a shop full of stunning, handmade chess sets, rugs and wall hangings in intricate designs of Venice in breath taking colours, and clocks and owls like the one in the window.

The owl was well outside our price range and luggage allowance. But Nic came home with a gorgeous black and silver filigree fountain pen.

And as we walked on down the street, I mentioned that I’d like to try my hand at steampunk one day, though I’d have a lot of research to do on the genre first.

Tangent…

We’d been discussing climate change throughout our trip and particularly in Venice, where they had truly terrible flooding a few weeks ago, far worse than the usual aqua alta. The Venicians seem to roll with it, but as you watch the water lap at the top steps of the docks and walk on table-bridges across the squares, you can see the inevitable happening before your eyes. And so all that unusual beauty leaves a bittersweet tang in your soul. I thought, more than once, that you never know when it will be the last time you see a place.

And, we’re back…

So, we’re walking along having this discussion about steampunk and how it still fits inside my genre niche, and Nic says, “what if the city itself is a steampunk element? Like, if it didn’t have to sink because they built stuff to make it rise each time the water rose?”

And that, my friends, is how stories are born. The wonderful ‘what if’ question that takes you on a journey. And now it’s whizzing through my head and I’m considering the population, the ultimate conflict, and who will save the day…

Being a writer is awesome, and being married to one rocks too. A few more pics below.

The waters receding in Piazza San Marco

What will this look like in fifty years when people can only see it by diving?

Cinnamon grateful

Homemade pumpkin cheesecake

My last post was on the first of November, about the behind the scenes creation of books. Today is the thirtieth, and I’m unsure what to say in only my second blog of the month.

It’s been a tough month in a lot of ways. Broken bones, illness, the black dog, exhaustion…we’re both crashing, and we don’t have time to do so.

But, on the other hand, we’ve had good reconnect time with friends, we’ve had great food, full workshops, new book ideas, and I’ve had a new book come out. That’s always exciting and nerve wracking.

I’ve had passing thoughts on blog topics, but then I don’t have (or find) the time and I forget the idea. Or I think of something and dismiss it as too personal or maudlin.

So I’m going to go a little bit cliche and tell you what I’m thankful for as the days grow shorter and the darkness encroaches.

I am grateful for:

  • My wife, who gets me
  • Words, which although sometimes elusive are always powerful
  • The fact that we both like to cook
  • Cinnamon, a perfect spice
  • New and old friends, and the ability to let them wander on and off my path with less anxiety in both directions
  • Books. All of them
  • My wife, who makes me laugh every day
  • For light days that arrive like the tide after the dark ones
  • Long, hot baths
  • Peanut butter in all its forms
  • My mom, who keeps managing to find her feet, time and again. She’s a survivor
  • Physical therapy to help my pickle finger
  • My wife, whose smile makes my heart ache
  • Teaching things I’m passionate about and seeing people’s excitement
  • Good reviews
  • New possibilities and the courage to take a leap of faith
  • Soft sheets
  • My wife, because she never gives up on me, even when it would be totally understandable

I hope you have some things you’re grateful for too, and I hope you have something or someone to help you head for the returning of the light in the distance.

See you soon…

Creation and nerd references

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How often have you, as a reader, thought about the world behind the book? The aspect of creation?

Do you enjoy meeting authors? How important is it to you that you have some inkling of who the author is behind the books you enjoy?

I think, in this world of voyeuristic, instant response social media, we’re far more in touch with authors than ever before. There used to be some mystique, some element of distance between book and author.

I gave a little squeal the other day when one of my favorite authors responded to a tweet I put out about her forthcoming tv series. I’ve never done that in my life. The one time I met Stella Duffy I started crying like Sheldon meeting Mark Hamil.

(Are you nerd enough to get that reference?)

Being on the other side of that fence is odd. When people tell you how much they enjoyed your book, when they show you the tattoo they got inspired by your characters…it’s quite surreal, truthfully. I tend to give the situation an awful lot of suspicious side-eye. Why are they saying these nice things? Are they just being kind? Do they feel obligated?

And then I sit in front of a blank screen, as I’m about to do tonight, to begin the next one, and the process begins again. Sweat details, write, flow, block, write, eat, coffee, write. Backtrack. Delete. Write, flow, plan, contemplate, block, eat, coffee, write.

Edit. Proof. Publish.

I love the process, and I’m learning how to be the public persona, I think. I wonder if any author ever feels totally comfortable in that space?

Anyway.

My sixth book comes out today. Changing Course is available through Bold Strokes Books, and available worldwide from other sites on the 15th.