Last year, as I was watching the run-up to the release of the Beatles Rock Band and the box sets of Beatles CDs, I remembered that, years ago, I had sold a story to an online fiction magazine about an alternate universe in which Yoko, not John, got the bullet. Although I remembered the story vaguely, I could not remember the name of the story--or, for that matter, the magazine to which I had sold it.
After a little digging, I found the trail. The story, called "Shot Rings Out," appeared early in 2002 in Ideomancer. It was, I think, the second story I ever sold--a little slipstream fantasy in which the Beatles were on a Ribfest tour with a different guitar player.
It was a nice beginning. I was working hard on my speculative fiction writing back in 2001 and 2002. I was starting to make a little name for myself. I'd been reviewed; I had "a fluid style reminiscent of William Gibson and Poppy Z. Brite if both had gone punky hipster." I sold stories in the U.S. and England and Australia. I felt a little like Kilgore Trout, Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction novelist whose work was always packed inside lurid covers. Here's a magazine in which one of my stories appeared. My story "My Huckleberry Friend" was the lead story in this magazine. The story did not feature either robots or fishing.
I was at the height of my writing prowess. And I was miserable.
I was trapped in a bad marriage. The loneliness was beginning to crush me. Writing was my only refuge. Writing science fiction let me create little worlds I could control: places where I was in charge of who lived and who died, who got happy and who stayed lonely and confused.
When I look back on those stories now, I remember how sad they were. Not that they were humorless. One of my favorite stories was about an intelligent gorilla who played for the Chicago Cubs; another was about an advertising man who had to get rid of his cloned surrogate because the damn thing kept having crises of conscience. But there was an overwhelming sadness in all of them, as if sadness were the true human condition.
Was I really that sad? Yes. So what happened?
I fell in love.
It's true. I fell in love, and it saved me, even while it ruined me as a writer of elegiac speculative fiction.
Suddenly, however, I could write love poems. I could express the wonder of being a man in his mid-forties encountering true love, perhaps for the first time ever.
Of course, as every working writer knows, the market for love poems is--well, perhaps you can sell them to greeting card companies if they're insipid enough. But I didn't care. I had an audience of one, and it was all I needed.
In the ensuing years, writing was always part of my life. I've always been a professional copywriter, so I've always written, almost every day. But I lost the desire to spin fictions out of my misery, because I simply wasn't miserable.
I'm still not miserable. I have a wonderful life. I remain convinced that I am one of those fortunate few who knows true love that lasts. In my infatuation, I used to tell My Beautiful Wife that I thought I was not only the luckiest man in the world, but the luckiest man in history.
I still believe that.
And I've chronicled some of what it felt like to be so unhappy, and to fall in love, as Frank Indiana. So It Was Cancer was a return to fiction writing after a long absence. It felt scary and liberating. And it is fiction. Even the parts that are emotionally true and resemble things that actually happened are filtered through a very flawed lens. The shit just didn't go down that way.
Now I'm writing again, but it's different. More balanced. Not so obsessive. But deeper--more emotionally resonant. I can risk exposing myself--my deepest fears, my darkest thoughts, my petty jealousies, all of me--because I know I am loved.
Love killed my writing career. Love has helped me find a new, deeper, richer writing voice. How lucky am I?