Okay, so this is gonna be a weird one, replete with psychic spelunking and Jungian wrestling with if not the angel then something almost as uncanny. This may not be your cup of tea. That’s okay. I’m writing this for me more than anyone else. As all the other stuff that I write, it turns out. I mean, that’s a realization that I’ve put off having for some time, even if it’s been absolutely true since I started writing fiction nearly thirty years ago. I’m doing it for me. Only I hamstrung myself by worrying about success and selling (not even selling out because how can you sell what nobody wants to buy?) I’ve wrestled with that debilitating, crippling dilemma for too long.
So I’m doing my best to Alexander that motherfucker by just slicing it in two and walking away. Oh, all my income from writing... Yeah, this has been a non-profitable hobby for some time now. Don’t worry about that. If anything, this will increase my output because I’m no longer ripping my guts out because I’m not making the big connect. I’m lucky in that, I guess. I’d love to make money from it, but worrying about making money (among other things and I’ll get to that) was preventing me from doing the work. Mostly because I don’t have to sell books to do anything than pay for my book-making habit.
So instead of being free, I was trapped in a jail that I myself had made. Yeah, we all are, I know. Who else are we going to trust to be a jailer but ourselves? Ask the person who is yourself.
Still, writing for myself. Even when I was doing assisted writing, I ended up pushing things in ways that I thought were interesting, trying something new, not just telling the same story over and over. Sure, I know we’re always doing that, if you go out to a far enough macro level. I got that. But we don’t all live out there. Believe me, one of my favorite things to do is to over-analyze the work I’m consuming. It’s hard for me not to. I can only hope that the first time I get into a work, I don’t think about how it’s made or pick it apart. I want to fall into the work and be lost there. Doesn’t always happen. But I want that for the folks reading it, too. Even when I’m working with someone else. (And this isn’t a discussion of collaboration in comics.)
But I was still tied up in the whole “who’s ever gonna buy this” thing. Or worse yet, trying to modify my work to make it more salable, or to chase genre. Remember, the first ding note I got on a manuscript ended with “hey, do you have something in a whole ‘nuther genre because that’s what sells now” and no I didn’t. Then you start taking deep dives into what makes a genre a genre and subgenre and and so on and so forth. When you understand that it’s all dressing and worry less about the dressing, you do better. Or at least I do better. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re very invested in grimdark or steampunk or whatever periodizing term interests you. Okay, you be you. No skin off my nose. Just don’t expect me to argue online and generate some free clicks out of it. The Howling Pit hungers still. Hungers all the time.
Okay, so I’ve done this much psychic self-surgery. And I guess I’ve been doing it in public. Well, nobody made you read or charged you money for it, even asked for a tip jar donation. Honestly, all I’m in it for is to get people to read and buy my books. Humble, if not borderline pathetic.
Ah, there it is. The self-deprecating joke that masks self-loathing. You know, fake smile hides real pain. Yeah, there’s the incubus. Now there’s a traditional meaning of the word, which basically translates to weight, or duress. I’m gonna stretch it some and suggest that in my case it’s a self-inflicted duress. It’s a weight I’ve hauled out for my own pleasure and entertainment. It’s known by a number of names, self-sabotage, depression, anxiety, fear, and a hundred others. It’s not one thing, though Steven Pressfield referred to it as “resistance” in THE ART OF WAR. It’s a tranche of things, of feelings, neutral to negative to wholly self-destructive. Hence the name Tranches.
Tranches is my incubus. This is simply an effort to name and contain things. If you don’t have a name for something, how can you hope to apprehend it? Tranches isn’t a literal demon resting on my chest, though sometimes it’s felt like it. He, and yeah, I’m picking that deliberately, is a way for me to put my arms around a thing that’s very obviously a part of me but feels like an externality as well. When that bad feeling comes by, you know it, it’s a physical presence that isn’t just you. Not wholly you. Which is to say, not wholly me.
So, where does someone come up with a crazy idea like this? Couple of places. Let’s start with my long-held contention that the things I’m writing are for lack of a better word, coming from outside this reality-construct that we call me. Sure, it’s filtered through all kinds of personal experience and predilection and aesthetic choices. But that first thing, that’s from somewhere else. Maybe it’s a weird thing to think. Oh well. I’m long past worrying about what’s weird and what isn’t and try to worry more about what’s real.
I remember hearing an interview with Tom Waits once, where he talked about the genius, the inspirational spirit/urge/whatever as something that was outside him, that came to visit. That doing the work was about making conditions more likely for a visitation. Sometimes the genius showed up when he was behind the wheel of the car, stuck in traffic, and he’d say “hey, now’s not a great time, can we work on this later?” Maybe it even worked. Maybe it was all bullshit, like the story about the soldier who got part of his testicle shot off and it ended up impregnating a nearby bystander. That’s what storytellers do, right? They line up bullshit that ends up telling the truth, or something that feels enough like the truth to hang on to.
So yeah, the incubus is the shadow genius. So maybe by giving my incubus a name, Tranches, and being able to identify and address him, I can change my relationship with him. Instead of him just taking up space in my head because it’s not a thing that I’m ready to deal with, it’s just Tranches. He shows up, wants some energy, maybe drink all the beer in the fridge. Yeah, Tranches is kind of selfish and maybe even an asshole, but he’s there. He’s not going away entirely. That doesn’t mean I have to put up with him all the time. Or even as much as he’s been hanging around lately. Here, let's have a look at him.
Adorable, right? Don't worry. It's not being charged. It's a visual representation of an abstract weight.
This isn’t a cure. I’m not curable. Ain’t none of us is. Welcome to being human in this weird-ass timewave zero of a culture we’ve found ourselves in. It’s okay. And yeah, this isn’t anything more than putting a face and a name on a thing I’ve been living with forever. But maybe he wants a name and a face and to be known. Beats pretending a thing isn’t there when it really really is.
So, hey there, Tranches. I see you over there. Yeah, I see you.
Is this just Jungian gobbledygook? Self-realization? Chaos magic(k and what’s the difference there anyways?) I don’t know. I do know that it makes sense with the way I’m seeing things, with the way I’m working. Maybe it’s better to make friends, or at least be able to keep Tranches at arm’s length. Or know that he’s not everything.
Oh, my genius? Definitely Gojira. There’s no question. A shimmering destruction, a guardian capable of burning down everything in his path. But also a skipping Showa superhero. He contains multitudes.
None of this makes sense. It completely makes sense.
There was more I was going to go over here, but I’ll stop after this next thing. The only thing that matters, ultimately, is that you’re the one giving a fuck about your work. For too long I was only giving a fuck if it could move my career, if it could get me published, if it fed my ego. I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I mean, yeah, the “is this a thing that’s good” was there in the equation, but there was too much else in the way, which I put in the way, to be clear. I’ve got to be the one giving a fuck, and not worrying if anyone else does or is. I know, noble, man. Divorcing myself from success like I’m above it all. Nah. I’m divorcing myself from it for my own sanity.
But back to giving a fuck. It starts with me. And it’s time to stop listening to Tranches whispering to me that nobody else will, ever. (Yeah, that’s a lie, but it won’t be enough to pay my mortgage either.) Who gives a fuck if nobody gives a fuck?
Special thanks to Laird Barron who was kind enough to help me get my head screwed on straight last week.
Okay, that’s a thing done.
In other news, I’m off to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland this weekend. I’ll be sitting at the Broken Eye Books table, signing copies of QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS and TOMORROW’S CTHULHU, as well as copies of THROUGH THE LIMBS, a SF novella about weaponized melancholy and the industries that get built up around it. Yup, that’s the kind of thing that tops the charts and gets influencers talking. You bet. I’ll sell you copies of this thing that I made up at Kinko’s.
Don’t give a fuck.