Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Depression Redux

I read a report a while ago that stated the three professions with the highest incidence of clinical depression were actors, musicians, and writers (guess how many of those jobs I've held).  I think it's pretty easy to see why.  We're always craving approval, we all get rejected more than most people, and it's something we deal with every day.  For writers, depression has a one-two punch because writing is something we can (usually) only do alone.  It's a solitary activity, one that enables us to escape into our imaginary worlds.  But then we have to come back.  There are bills to pay, rejections to catalogue, etc.  Granted, for some people, depression is simply that, a feeling of being down. But for me, it's a little different.  I have a disease, a chemical imbalance, if you will.  My body is hardwired to make me feel like crap most of the time, and that's just something I have to learn to deal with.  It isn't something my parents did (hi mom!), or something anyone else caused, it's me.  And that doesn't make the feelings any less real or make me more of a whiny little emo-guy than the next person.  In fact, most people who meet me don't even know.  So what does it do?  For those who've never felt depression, I'll attempt to describe it. I'm a writer, so I should at least give it a try, right?

Imagine waking up every day in pain, secure in the knowledge that everyone around you only tolerates you, and that the world would be better off if you weren't around to take oxygen away from someone else who needed it.  Imagine the constant feeling that you are worth less than shit and that nothing you do is going to change it.  You've damned your children by being their father.  You've damned your spouse for being just charming enough to get her to marry you before she found out what a loser you really are.  You look at your insurance policy and try like hell to figure out a way to die that doesn't look like suicide because the policy doesn't cover it.  Anyone who tries to help, you're sure they being patronizing, so you snap at them.  You lock yourself away in your room and stare all day at the computer screen wishing for words that won't come because you're too embroiled in self-loathing and hatred and shame for anything worthwhile to come out of your fingertips.

Welcome to my world, or at least what used to be my world.   And I don't mean I had days that felt like that.  I meant I woke up in that state every day.

Don't worry...This isn't a "feel-sorry-for-Scott" pity party.  I'm not looking for pity because, frankly, I don't need it.  And, no, this isn't a "how I found Jesus" story either.

See, that used to be me.  You wouldn't believe how many times I sat in a chair trying to figure out a way to die because I knew, just knew, that I was worth more dead than alive, and my own death would cut my family free from the curse that was living with me.

Now look at your life.  Do you think you could go through your life like that?  Do you think you could keep all the hate and bile bottled up inside you because the people you love don't deserve to have it spilled on them?  Sure, we all have bad days, but every God-damned day?

I've told the story a few times, of how I came out from under depression, but for those who haven't heard it, there are two people in my circle who literally saved my life:  My wife and my oldest daughter (the youngest wasn't around yet, but I know she would've done the same thing).

I won't beat this dead horse into the ground by going into the grim and gruesome details, but my I can say this:  Anna saved my life with a hug and a kiss, and my wife made me more happy with who I was.

So what's the point?  Simply this:  Depression is a problem.  it's not something that can be solved by binge-eating, violence, overcompensating, a kick in the pants, sex, or any other thing that uninformed people think.  I love it when people say "he just needs a kick in the ass/to get laid/chocolate/beer" to pull someone out of the throws of actual depression.  What the person needs is love and understanding, and, most importantly, help.

If you, or someone you know, is having trouble, get help.  Contact someone who knows how to help, and get to them on hot feet.  Please believe me, no matter how bad it feels, no matter how worthless you think you are, and no matter how bad things are going, there's hope.  There's always hope.  There has to be.

Remember that to live is an awfully big adventure.

Leave your comments and keep your head up.

By the way, this article was inspired by this article over on Cracked.com.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Goals, Wishes, and Dreams

We've all got goals, pie-in-the-sky wishes, and dreams for a better life.  All of us writers sit around and think about what would happen if we got "that" contract, the one that would set us up in Stephen-King-Style surroundings and make sure that none of our families or friends would ever have to work again.  We all dream of seeing the words "based on the novel by..." on the big movie screen.  Hell, some of us just dream of being able to exist comfortably by writing, and nothing more.  So, while I'm in a mood, I thought I might put down some goals, list a few dreams, and add a few wishes in there.  At the end, let me know what you think of my list, and maybe add a few of your own!  If you have a goal or wish for me, by all means submit it.  I'd be glad to add it to the pile.  Always... always working.

  • Deadlands - I'd love to have it made into a movie.  I think my vision of the zombie apocalypse would work well on a cinematic level, and I'd even love to see the "SyFy Channel Presents Scott A. Johnson's DEADLANDS" on my television.  It could work!
  • Cane River:  A Ghost Story - One of my biggest regrets is that this book never got a chance to spread its wings and fly.  Cane River came out, literally, weeks before the publisher went belly-up, so there was no advertising, no promotion, nothing.  A few people read it, and most of them liked it.  So I think the goal here is to give it a decent run. 
  • Stanley Cooper - Ah, Stanley, my alter-ego.  I want to see VERMIN and PAGES done as movies.  I'm not saying I'd want to play the lead (after all, he is a stylized version of myself), but I'd love to see him on the big screen.  I think Stanley has a lot to offer the movie-going audience. 
  • Screenwriting - I'm already a screenwriter.  Really.  Part of that involves the super-duper-secret project I'm working on, but I've written several movies.  But I want to write more.  I want to be able to jump into a meeting with Warner Brothers and have them take me seriously. 
  • Respect - Okay, I know this is dumb and totally ego-serving, but I want a Stoker.  Awards don't mean anything, right?  Well, tough, because I still want one.  I'd love to win a Stoker, a Hugo, or any of the thousand other horror-related writing awards out there.  Why?  Because.  That's why.  It means something to me.  Do I need one to legitimatize myself as a writer?  Of course not.  But I'd love to be able to put "Award-Winning" next to my author by-line.  Plus, when you're like me and love to teach, universities tend to look more seriously at your resume if you've got something like that on it.  
  • MFA - That's right, I don't have one of these, and I'd like to have one.  Of course, I don't have the money or time, but I can dream, right?  Besides, what's the overall goal of college courses anyway?  To be able to learn to do something well enough to survive doing it, right?  Well, I don't really need an MFA because I seem to know what I'm doing.  But I want one, all the same.  
So that's my list of goals, dreams, wishes and wants.  Do you want to see Stanley Cooper come to life on the big screen?  Tell me.  Do you, too, wish to see your work on an award ballot?  Let me know!  What are your goals and dreams as a writer?  What do you think you need to do to reach those dreams?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Did I Misspeak? (Writing For Your Audience or Yourself)

(note:  This is not directed at anyone.  This came to mind after a crit session and made me think.)

In a previous entry, I postulated that you, as a writer, should write the story you want to read.  I still stand by that statement, to a point.  But now that I think about it, I do feel it deserves a little qualification.  See, what the statements means, to me, is if my story is to pull my readers in, it has to pull me in.  I am, after all, just an overgrown kid who loves horror.  So I want my readers to feel what I felt, to see what I saw, when I write something.

Of course, there's another side to the coin.  Isn't there always?  If you want to be a professional writer, you want to be published professionally.  You want your work to capture the imagination of not just the audience, but also the editor, agent, and publisher to whom you send it.  Sure, you want your story to be as visceral and engaging as humanly possible, but at the same time, you want it read, right?  So there comes a point where you have to step away from the original statement of "this is what I would want to read" and ask yourself "Is this something my audience would like to read?  Is this something that the editor/agent/publisher will read to the end and give a chance?"  It sounds a little mercenary, I know, and a little cynical, but the ugly truth is being a writer is a business, first and foremost.  Maybe not first, but it's right up there at the top of the list.  The point is, without readers, for whom are you writing?  If not for the readers, you don't have a job.  So we, as writers, may very well use all our learned craft and tricks to write a story that we'd love to read, but the truth is we're producing a product, something that we hope other people will want to read.  If you hand a story to an editor, publisher or agent that offends them so greatly that they refuse to read it, then you may as well have thrown that story in a hole.  Sure, someone else might publish it, but that first one now has a lasting impression of you.

So how do you tell?  How can you tell what's going to set an editor off?  Research.  Look at the titles that editor has already published.  Talk to the other writers who are represented by that agent.  If nothing else, write and ask.  There are few things worse than that awkward moment when you realize you've offended someone who, you hope, could help your career.  Imagine handing in a story in which you portray witches as every negative stereotype, only to learn that the editor who read it was a practicing wiccan who takes the bashing of her religion very seriously.  Or subbing a story in which the only way to survive is to eat live kittens, to a card-carrying member of PETA.  Or a story in which every female character is portrayed as inferior to men, bad drivers, and psychotic to a feminist who happens to be tired of all the gender-biased crap that gets heaped on her.

My opinion (and it is mine, for no one else wants it) is simply this:  I want to be read.  I want to be an author.  Therefore, I need readers.  An author without readers is like an actor without an audience.  What's the point?  So I guess, to a point, I write for the audience.  In my case, however, I am the audience.  It's easy to say "I write for myself," but without the readers, I have no job.  The readers plunk down their hard-earned money and time to read my work.  The least I can do is try to give them what they want.

Again, just my unsolicited $.02.