About three years ago, I began writing a story that would become my first published novel. At the time, I was writing only to amuse myself. I created this character whom I loved to torture.
I gave him a lot of problems that I had, and I gave him more problems than I had. I let him have some basic pleasures, but I also made him miserable and frustrated. I gave him intelligence, but I hampered him with so many other shortcomings. I gave him some allies, but I also gave him an array of antagonists (chief among them being himself).
As I sent Harland through the wringer and stymied him at nearly every turn, I did so knowing that he was going to have to be beaten down before he could grow. I stayed true to the adage that things had to get worse before they could get better.
Last night I found out that my book made it to Round 2 of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. My book and about 400 other books in the “General Fiction” category are still in the running for the grand prize. It’s not exactly what I would call “being shortlisted,” although I’m not sure how many entries there actually were. (The rules state that they accept up to 10,000 entries.) Nonetheless, the potential to win is exciting in terms of getting cash and increased exposure.
At the same time, having the book be recognized publicly is also weird because originally it was just a thing I felt compelled to do. It was me processing some demons through a surrogate. Good old literary therapy.
I think about the hours spent across three years writing, editing, proofing, recording, laying out, distributing, promoting, marketing, and tweeting. Even if you gave me an extra hour to try to tally it, I’m not sure I could offer a reliable estimate of my time investment. It feels like an awful lot. I think my wife would agree.
The thing is, as I sent Harland through the wringer, I was also sending myself through the wringer. I was creating this fictional nightmare world–albeit one with enough lowbrow jokes to keep my interest–and it took so much focus and dedication and passion and other highfalutin terms for things that don’t necessarily come naturally to me. The wish was that Harland was not going through all of the bullshit for nothing, and that neither was I.
It’s interesting that I can make the wish and do my best to fulfill it, but that I’m so reliant upon external forces for the wish to be fulfilled. Because no matter how satisfied I am with the work I’ve done, it will be so much better if the investment seems to pay off in terms of people reading and enjoying my work. And, of course, in terms of recouping some money invested in marketing and maybe even payment for my time invested. Sometimes writers actually make money, right?
The theory here is that I was creating my own nightmare as I created one for Harland; I gave myself a shit-ton of work to do. The end is nowhere in sight. And truth be told, I don’t particularly enjoy or excel at the marketing end of things. But even as I begin new works, I have to keep believing that the investment is worthwhile, that the hard hours I have put in will make selling each subsequent work easier and easier. I have to believe that my future self has my best interests in mind, whether or not Harland’s does.
I created a funny nightmare in my work, and I created a logistical nightmare in trying to get people to read the funny nightmare I wrote. Prosaic justice?