This morning, I learned about a brilliant initiative called Hold On To The Light, spearheaded by SFF author Gail Z. Martin.
Beginning on September 20, hundreds of science fiction and fantasy authors began an online conversation across blogs and social media about mental illness, domestic violence, suicide, depression, PTSD, and related issues that are often extremely upsetting
and difficult to discuss for so many.
Over the past five years, I’ve opened up about my nearly 40-year battle with depression both on social media and at personal appearances. I sometimes discuss how depression has affected my writing and I never cease to be surprised at how willing others are to reveal their own struggles. My, times have changed. Society is finally opening up a dialogue about mental illness and that’s wonderful. The old stigmas are rapidly disintegrating.
My first novel, Testing the Prisoner, is a paranormal mystery that deals with the brutality of child abuse and the trauma that stays with the victims for the rest of their lives. This was intimately familiar territory, but that made it no less challenging to write. I had to confront my own pain, my own memories, my own struggles with a darkness that pushed me toward a desire to take my own life at least a half dozen times during my younger days and even a few times in recent years.
Still, I knew the story had to be told for a number of reasons. First, I wanted to let others who have been victims of child abuse to know that they are not alone. Secondly, and perhaps more selfishly, I wanted to turn the tables on a demon that has persistently robbed me of happiness and instead, use it as a storytelling tool to launch my writing career.
As for surviving depression, perhaps it was faith, willpower, or a hope for a brighter future that dissuaded me from any “permanent solutions” to my problem. Much of the credit should also be given to SFF fandom and my growing interest in writing. Watching Star Trek and seeing Star Wars at the tender age of six inspired me. Later, the media tie-in novels became a gateway to speculative fiction and hard SF in my teen years. I began reading Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Bradbury, and many others. Like many SF films and TV shows, books became my anti-depressant and while they were not an instant panacea, they helped pull me through countless dark and terrible times. They still do today.
Most importantly, the friendship and community that I found in SFF fandom has been the most enriching experience I could ask for. The best and most supportive friends in my life came from my three decades attending SF conventions such as Farpoint, Shore Leave, Balticon, and others.
More, I wouldn’t be published today were it not for the mentorship of august writers like Steven H. Wilson, Howard Weinstein, Michael Jan Friedman, Bob Greenberger, and Aaron Rosenberg, all of whom I met at the aforementioned cons. I am honored to call these chaps my friends, and in the case of Steve, Bob, and Aaron, my publishers!
If you are suffering from depression, I encourage you to reach out and find the help you so richly deserve. You are not alone. You have a right to happiness and health. You have a right to achieve your potential without being hagridden by a demon that wants to convince you of the lie that you’re inadequate, unworthy, or that life is not worth living. I beg you to find the light and hold on to it.
About Hold On To The Light
September/October are the months for Depression Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Bullying Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness, World Mental Health Day and Domestic Violence Awareness.
What’s our end game? We want to bring the issues, struggle and treatment out of the shadows and make it clear that no one is alone in the journey. We want to demonstrate fandom taking care of its own. And we want fandom to be a safe space for everyone.
The steering group behind #HoldOnTotheLight is made up of John Hartness, Jaym Gates, Jean Marie Ward, Emily Leverett, Mindy Mymudes and Gail Z. Martin.
How can you help? Share, retweet and engage with the blog posts and social media outreach about the campaign and by the participating authors to spread the word. Encourage the conventions you participate in to add or expand panels on mental wellness. Learn more about the issues, so you can be an educated participant in the discussion.
If you want to get even more hands-on, please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Together, we can #HoldOnToTheLight because #FandomTakesCareOfItsOwn.
You can find updates with links to author blog posts and updates about related news here, and on the HoldOnToTheLight Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/ and on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight (note the ‘we’)
Media: Contact Gail Z. Martin via www.AscendantKingdoms.com
Goodreads is kind enough to send a weekly email alerting me to recent blog posts from some of my writer friends. With my project load and generally frenetic schedule for the past four to five months, it’s been a struggle to maintain my own blog, let alone keep up with everyone else’s.
However, today I took the time to read the latest three posts from Kristen Lamb on her Warrior Writers blog. The first one caught my attention because it’s something that’s been on my mind for more than a few years: Is Facebook Dying? What’s Killing It? In her analysis, Kristen posits that when social media was new, it was FUN and people enjoyed connecting with one another. Further, most people maintained a friendly rapport, but then we became comfortable with this novel method for connecting (and in many cases reuniting) with others.
We all know that it doesn’t take much to ruin a good thing, and if the human race excels at one specific skill, it’s destroying almost everything we touch. Additionally, it only takes a few to ruin it for the majority.
Spend a just minutes on any social media platform and you’ll see what I mean—posts and comments replete with hatred, racism, threats, abuse, derisiveness, and good ol’ fashioned ignorance—especially during election years and most especially during this one. As the old adage goes, there ain’t nothing new under the sun. Humanity has always found a way to quickly turn every method of communication ever invented into a shit show.
In the case of social media, just as it was in the case of bulletin boards back in the 90’s, it’s easy to talk trash when you’re sitting at a keyboard, using your favorite movie, TV, or comic book character as an avatar and posting under a fictitious name.
With anonymity comes ersatz courage.
Here’s an episode from Harlan Ellison’s Watching from the early days of the Sci-Fi channel, when they actually knew how to spell “Sci Fi”. In this segment, Harlan discusses the appalling behavior of computer bulletin board users (remember those days?). Ignore the inane vampire novel ad in the middle of the episode.
Just goes to show, this behavior ain’t new, folks! Technology may change, but human behavior is a constant. Today, people continue their proud displays of disgusting ignorance on Facebook and Twitter (and other social media sites that I do not frequent and probably never will) with increasing fervor.
Kristen compares this adolescent stage of social media to the petulant and volatile demeanor of teenagers, something I’ve often pondered, considering how even allegedly mature adults conduct themselves like juvenile-goddamn-delinquents!
The question is, will social media ever mature beyond this? Probably not, and honestly, I don’t have time or patience for it.
Kristen concludes her post with a theory that Pokemon Go might actually be the next level of social media, and one that could kill Facebook—or at least deliver it a solid punch in the gut. One cannot argue that Pokemon Go is drawing people out of their houses and into the wild. It’s forcing people to interact face-to-face (y’all remember how to do that, right?), providing physical activity, and returning “social” to its original definition.
Now, I’m a child of the 70s and 80s. I don’t need an online game to get me outdoors. I love the outdoors. I love walking, I love fishing, I love the beach, I love state parks. Get me outside as often as possible! However, if Pokemon Go is what inspires the troglodytes to vacate their caves for a few hours, then I’m all for it because most people have a tendency to mind their manners when face-to-face than when face-to-screen.
Kristen follows up her post about the imminent demise of Facebook with Breaking Facebook Dependence–How to Create an Enduring Author Brand. In summary, Kristen explains that social media sites may come and go, but a good blog is forever. She encourages writers to post their thoughts and experiences on blogs rather than social media sites. Not only do blogs “offer an intimacy with authors second only to the books they write”, not only do they “make us leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner at what we do: writing”, but the reach of social media is limited and anything you post there is ephemeral. Most of it is invisible to search engines and it’s gone in a few days after all of your friends and contacts have “Liked” and commented on it and have moved onto the next 50 captivating posts-du-jour from their other social media friends.
Yet, blog entries, if properly titled and tagged, are searchable and will remain as long as the Internet. People can and will continue to find and/or stumble upon your blog posts years later and could potentially become subscribers or readers who purchase your books.
Now, please don’t take this as a string of excuses, but in addition to writing and editing, I work full time in the IT industry. When I come home, I often have a few hours of chores and errands to complete and possibly a 60-90 minute workout to destress and keep myself in shape before I can sit down to work on the current writing project. I’m often up until midnight, and no, I’m not waking up at 3:30 or 4AM to write when I already need to be up at 5AM for work. The only other activity that gets me out of bed that early is fishing.
So I cannot always make the time to blog consistently. I do not blog “two to three times per week” as some experts recommend. I blog as often as I can. Look, if you asked me, “How would you like to use this next hour or two—make progress on your current writing project or write a blog post?” My answer will ALWAYS be “work on the current writing project”. EVERY TIME. It is far more important to me to finish the the next short story, the next scene, the next chapter in the novel, or to research something for a story, than it is to write a blog post.
While I agree with Kristen that blogging makes us write “leaner, meaner, faster, and cleaner”, so does short story writing, so does flash fiction writing, and so does a few rounds with an experienced editor over your novel.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all against blogging. After all, you’re reading this missive now. I blog as often as I can and I enjoy it. In fact, I’m writing this blog post over my lunch hour, when I had originally planned to start my next short story, because Kristen’s comments struck a chord.
My point? In order to maintain sanity as writers, we should prioritize our workload. This is nothing revelatory, you all know this. That doesn’t make it any less challening, though, does it? Or any less frustrating.
For example, over the winter, I finally outlined a science fiction novel that had seen minimal progress over the past five years, while I wrote and published other books and stories. Excited that I now had a fully developed plot, I wrote the first four chapters from January to April—then put the project aside as my publisher and I were prepping a new anthology to be released on August 1, but the pre-launch was scheduled for July at Shore Leave 38. It went very well and you can read about it here
Elsewhere in the Middle Eternity is the second installment in a speculative fiction anthology series that I created. I
am not only the editor, but the project manager as well which means I work with the writers and the artist to bring stories, cover art, and interior illustrations together. We financed the project through Kickstarter, so I had to record the video for that, write the blurb, and create the reward levels.
What’s more, it was spring, which always brings with it yard work and one or two home renovations and yes, spending time outdoors!
I didn’t completely put aside writing during all of this. For the past few years, I’d wanted to enter a story into the annual Rehoboth Beach Short Story contest sponsored by Cat and Mouse Press. Rehoboth Beach is a quaint coastal town in Delaware with the feel of an old neighborhood rather than a resort town. I consider it my second home—if only I could afford a house there! Well, this year, the contest’s theme matched a story that had been percolating in
the back of my mind for a year or more so I finally wrote it in April and submitted it in May. Winners will be annouced on August 1, the same day Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity will be released. Should be an interesting day so stay tuned!
During the month-long Kickstarter campaign in May, my blog was active with semi-weekly author interviews for our anthology, which generated spikes in donations. Since then, I’ve been promoting the book on my blog, of course, but I also heeded Kristen’s advice and began blogging about “high concept” topics like vacations, day trips, museum visits, and even this post about social media and, yes, blogging. At the moment, I have a fair number of followers, but I’m working to build my audience here.
Addtionally, July gave my wife and I a scare as a family member was rushed to the hospital for life threatening complications and again days later as a result of a severe infection.
After all that rambling, have you forgotten about the science fiction novel I was working on? Wouldn’t blame you if you did. Well, I didn’t forget about it and now that the dust is settling on the aforementioned projects and emergencies, I hope to get back to it again…in between editing stories for the third annual anthology to be published by my local writing group next year and the final two Microsoft exams I need to take to complete yet another IT certification.
If it ain’t one damn thing, it’s another…or two…or three…
I’m burned out again just from writing about everything that’s been burning me out all year! As such, it was refreshing to read Kristen’s latest post, Stress & Burnout—How to Get Your Creative Mojo Back, where she explains how and why your mind and body react to stress and what to do about it. I already practice some of the advice offered, such as freewriting. Don’t overthink it, just break away from your current project and write something different. For example, I did that back in June over another lunch hour, and then revisited the piece earlier this week. After some revisions, it resulted in a lovely vignette that will be my submission to the aforementioned writers group anthology.
This was probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written. My apologies, but I hope I’ve directed you to some useful information on Kristen’s blog.
My trek to Shore Leave last weekend was much different from any previous year in that I arrived at the con directly from a marvelous week’s vacation in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Clear skies and sparse traffic made driving through the bucolic town of Denton, MD simply serene.
For a fisherman like me, traversing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was indeed a religious experience. Looking right and left, the view was blue straight to the horizons. Gorgeous.
Then I reached the 695 Beltway right at the beginning of rush hour. Let the road rage begin! Ugh. Nevertheless, I finally reached the Hunt Valley Wyndham Grand, checked-in, registered for the con, unloaded my car in the blistering heat, took a shower, and missed my 5PM discussion panel.
After dinner at Noodles & Company with friends Sharon and Cyndi Van Blarcom, Lance Woods, and Renfield, we met up with fellow scribe and Firebringer Press publisher, Steven H. Wilson, with whom I had spent the aforementioned week in Rehoboth Beach along with his family and several friends (click here to see vacation pics!).
Friday night at 10PM brought the traditional Meet the Pros book fair where all of the con’s writer guests gathered to sell and sign books. It also celebrated the release of two new books for Firebringer Press–Steven H. Wilson’s fourth novel, Sacrifice Play: A Tale from the Arbiter Chronicles, and Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity, the second installment in our speculative fiction anthology series. Seven of nine (pardon the obvious pun) anthology writers were on hand to sign copies including Daniel Patrick “Renfield” Corcoran, Michael Critzer, Susanna Reilly, Stuart Roth, Steven H. Wilson, Lance Woods, and myself. The night was so busy that it’s all a blur to me now and I did not have the time to take too many pics…
Special thanks to Ethan Wilson, Christian Wilson, Jessica Headlee, Jill Mardesich, Tim Marron, and Cheyenne-Autumn Christine Reilly for volunteering to shlep boxes of books from Steve’s car to Meet the Pros and then from there to my hotel room afterward!
Saturday and Sunday brought about a myriad of discussion panels on writing and publishing. My panel schedule was lighter than usual this year. On Saturday morning, I was a panelist on “The Whole Package” with Richard White, Glenn Hauman, Aaron Rosenberg, Mike McPhail, and Jim Johnson. We discussed all that goes into quality editing, layout, and cover art.
Afterwards, I made my way down to the lower lobby to meet actors Michael Forest and Barbara Bouchet who each guest-starred on episodes of classic Star Trek. They were both very friendly and I picked up an autographed photo from each of them.
While there, I was stopped by an attendee and asked to sign a Shore Leave trading card with my picture! I was honored, because after all, as Lucy Van Pelt said in the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Special, “How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on bubblegum cards?”
I then sat in on the Crazy 8 Press panel as several of the authors, including Peter David, Russ Colchamiro, and Michael Jan Friedman read excerpts from their latest books.
At 4PM, I had the pleasure of sitting in on John Noble’s talk in the ballroom. Mr. Noble is known for such shows and films as Fringe, Elementary, Lord of the Rings, and much more. He is an eloquent and engaging speaker.
The “Firebringer Press Presents” panel occurred at what has become its traditional timeslot, 5PM. Of course, this is opposite the con’s official autograph lines for the celebrities and the dinner hour which often results in the panelists outnumbering the audience. Nevertheless, it was a fun and lively discussion about current and future projects as well as our brand new aforementioned anthology, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity.
After the panel, a few of the anthology writers gathered in my room for a book signing party, including Steven H. Wilson, Stuart Roth, and Lance Woods. Once all of the Kickstarter books were signed, it was time to gather with friends for a delightful dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack.
Back at the hotel, it was another round of book signing with Susanna Reilly. We chatted for a few hours with Stuart and his wife, Maria, before turning in for the night.
Sunday morning saw me finally participating in Shore Leave’s Writers Breakfast in the Cinnamon Tree restaurant. Every year since becoming a writer guest, I committed to attending and every year I failed to do so. I sat with Stuart Roth and Shore Leave Co-Con Chair, Dr. Inge Heyer. Inge is a longtime friend who has been involved with Shore Leave as a magnificent writer liaison for many years.
By 11AM, I was in the autograph line for John Noble and Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica, Castle, Big Bang Theory). The lines moved quickly and both gentlemen were wonderful to meet and chat with. Afterward, I had about an hour to relax in the comfy chairs that line the hallway near the elevators. I was joined there by veteran writer Aaron Rosenberg. We chatted for about 30 minutes about writing, vacations, and life in general before it was time for my final panel of the con.
At 1PM, I joined Joshua Palmatier, Mike McPhail, and Michael Jan Friedman for “Building an Anthology”. We had no official moderator, but questions from our audience members guided the discussion, much of which was spent on the topic of how to use Kickstarter to fund anthologies.
Near the end of my day, I once again crossed paths with artist Todd Brugmans who created the artwork for several Farpoint program books as well as Heroic Park, the debut novel of Lance Woods. For Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary, Todd was commissioned to create cover art not only for Farpoint’s program book, but for Balticon and Shore Leave’s as well. Combined, the images create a triptych and I happened to have all three with me for Todd to autograph!
Alas, it was then time for me to say my goodbyes to every friend I could find in my final patrol of the hotel before beginning my voyage home. All told, it was yet another enjoyable, albeit frenetic, Shore Leave filled the typical cast of colorful characters.
As it stands now, this is where you can find me at Shore Leave 38 SF con, July 15-17 in Hunt Valley, MD. As usual with conventions, the schedule can often be fluid, so check back before the con for any changes.
5-6PM / Hunt Room: How to Survive Your First SF/Media Con. Tips, tricks, and best practices for getting through your first genre convention. Participants: Stephen Kozeniewski (moderator), Phil Giunta, Roberta Rogow, Jenifer Rosenberg, Mike McPhail, Susanna Reilly, Daniel Patrick Corcoran
10PM-Midnight: Meet the Pros. The traditional book fair in the lower level hallway outside the ballrooms. I will be one of seven authors present to launch our new anthology, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity!
12-1PM / Chase Room: The Whole Package. Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover! Find out what makes a good book visually, and what elements give the beginners away when they haven’t done their homework beforehand. Participants: Richard C. White (moderator), Glenn Hauman, Aaron Rosenberg, Jim Johnson, Mike McPhail, Phil Giunta
5-6PM / Chase Room: Firebringer Press Presents. A one-hour panel for Firebringer Press to discuss our new books launched at Shore Leave including Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity and Steven H. Wilson’s latest Arbiter Chronicles SF novel, Sacrifice Play. We’ll chat about future projects, and perhaps do a reading or two if time allows. Participants: Steven H. Wilson (moderator), Lance Woods, Phil Giunta, Michael Critzer, Daniel Patrick Corcoran, Susanna Reilly, Stuart Roth
1-2PM / Concierge Lounge: Building an Anthology. What are the steps and stages of developing an anthology project from concept to completion? Participants: Michael Jan Friedman (M), Phil Giunta, Joshua Palmatier, Mike McPhail, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jen Gunnels
I believe I speak for our entire cadre of writers when I say that we cannot wait for the upcoming launch of our new speculative fiction anthology, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity!
The blessed event will occur during the Meet the Pros book fair at Shore Leave 38 in Hunt Valley, MD on Friday, July 15. Many of the august writers involved have been attending Shore Leave for decades before earning their place as writer guests.
THANK YOU to all who supported the Kickstarter to finance this second installment in our Middle of Eternity series! We hope everyone will enjoy this latest selection of stories from burgeoning writers in the genres of SF, Fantasy, and the Paranormal including Daniel Patrick Corcoran, Michael Critzer, Melissa Carta Miller, Susanna Reilly, Stuart Roth, April Welles, Steven H. Wilson, Lance Woods, and yours truly!
More updates to follow!