Update on the steampunk novel
My goodness, it’s been quite some time, hasn’t it? I hope you’ve been well. I earnestly, honestly, hope you’ve found some solace, some joy, some comfort in the time we’ve been apart. The world can be a difficult, awful place, but sometimes hope is all we have to cling to.
I want to speak about my novel, the steampunk novel I’ve been working on for the better part of five years. I have tried before, many times, but each time I have stopped, have deleted the post. I cannot speak of the novel without speaking of myself, of the things that have been happening to me in the years since my last blog post. This post will be personal, and it will be political, and it will be long. But I owe it to myself and to all of you to speak. Better late than never, right my lovelies?
Let me begin by ripping off the bandage: I do not feel that the novel I have been writing, outlining, worldbuilding, is viable. I do not believe the novel I have been working on will see the light of day. Some novel might, and the worldbuilding is solid enough that I wish to use it in a future project, but the novel I have been working on is no longer one I can see myself publishing.
The problem is race.
As some of you may know, I am mixed; I consider myself Black, but I was raised primarily by my white parent, in schools primarily filled with white children, in a town primarily composed of white people. I was raised cut off from my Black roots, taught to act and think and feel as though I were White. I was taught many racist things about my own Black people, and I have been doing the hard work of un-learning them, of coming to know myself as a Black person. To many of my white readers, this won’t make much sense; if you’re asking yourself now what the difference is, what this matters, I encourage you to do some searching yourself. The myth of whiteness hurts white people, cuts us off from our true cultural heritage and substitutes White Supremacy in its place.
When I began outlining the novel, it was about a white woman. It was about feminism, it was about suffrage, but it was about a white woman coming of age in America in the 1800s. The plot would feel comfortable, familiar: a young white woman being pressured to marry a man she had no feelings for, rebelling against her parents, learning to stand on her own two feet and rebel against the patriarchy, taking on a leadership role in the effort to give women political power.
But it was set in America, and that means I had to grapple with the specter of Slavery.
I didn’t want to leave people in bondage, even fictional people. And so, as I crafted my alternate history, I freed the slaves sooner, shortly after the Haitian uprising. I decided to use the social upheaval of the ending of slavery as a backdrop for the novel. But the novel was still about a white woman. The plot didn’t make sense to be about a black woman, because there was no generational wealth being handed down among those in bondage. And that didn’t sit right with me. Why not? The more interesting story would be that of a newly freed slave, not of a young white woman.
I re-imagined the novel as a split perspective: the comfortable, familiar coming-of-age story would share time with the more difficult stories of a black woman, of an Indian veteran. Both these protagonists would be disillusioned with Capitalism, with the Imperialist machine, with the world that used them for their bodies and abandoned them once it was no longer politically expedient to use them. I began writing; each time I wrote a segment of Evangeline’s story, I found myself bored, listless. I could not write the fluffy, familiar piece, the piece about a white woman learning to come to terms with her society. It’s been done before, so many times.
So I decided to drop her story. I would focus on the more interesting plot lines. But I find myself adrift. I wish to write something like this, at some point in the future. But I am struggling to begin when I cannot envision the ending.
I write novels with happy endings. While things get dark, perhaps darker than many would like, I need that happy ending to soothe away the darkness inside myself, and I refuse to withhold it from my readers. But the problems my protagonists are grappling with are problems I myself grapple with: how do you find happiness in a world that hates you for who and what you are? How do you come together and fight back when the machine is so much bigger and stronger than you are? How do you unlearn things you’ve been taught since you were small, and still come out some semblance of the same person you were?
But beyond that, beyond the technical struggles, I’ve been struggling in other ways.
I have always been prone to bouts of depression. I am a self-harm survivor, an eating disorder survivor, a suicide survivor. When I am in my black moods, when I struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes I can write, but nothing I feel comfortable putting out there as mine. Often I cannot write at all.
In 2017, in the wake of the US Presidential Election, I entered a dark mood that did not lift. I was able to do the editing I needed to complete on HeartBeats, and I thought that with time and self-care I would be able to begin on FrostBurn in short order, so I said nothing, focused on my mental health, and waited for the storm to pass.
In 2018, I lost the ability to put out the short pieces I had been doing on my Patreon. I simply could not force myself to focus long enough to write a piece I felt happy with. I had no motivation. It was taking me over an hour to get out of bed in the morning; I simply set my alarm for earlier so I got to work on time, without a word to those around me. I spent most of my weekends listlessly sitting on the couch, watching television. I went to therapy every other week like clockwork, but while I learned a lot about myself, while I did much growing and digging, the motivation didn’t return.
A couple months ago I spoke to a psychiatrist about antidepressants. She prescribed me medication to control my anxiety – as it turns out, you’re not meant to be anxious all the time, constantly fretting over one thing or another. Anxiety unchecked can cause depression, as it saps your energy just holding back the mental demons long enough to get anything done, leaving you feeling empty and exhausted at the end of the day. Anxiety also interrupts your sleep, making it hard to get that energy back overnight.
I’m not back to my usual self yet, but I can feel the changes already. We’re still working to find the exact mix of drugs that will help me tame the anxiety without leaving me sapped of motivation – as it turns out, anxiety may have been the reason I was able to force myself to publish things before, when I was depressed but still struggling to move forward. It feels like learning to walk all over again: I have to understand who I am, how I prefer to function, when what I thought was myself was actually mental illness.
There’s more to this story. But I’m not ready to speak of most of it yet. So instead, I will say that I hope to be able to write again soon. My Patreon charges by the piece, not by the month, so if you sign up now, you won’t be charged until I’m able to produce again. I’ve been working on collaborative fanfiction while I’ve been recovering, which has been a wonderful way to exercise my writing muscles and keep in shape, though I haven’t felt right charging my patrons for that work. And I’ve been aiding other writers, editing work my husband has been producing. I envision a reinvention in the near future; the future I am beginning to understand for myself looks very different than the future I envisioned some three years ago when I launched this site and my Patreon. I refuse to not publish FrostBurn, because my audience deserves an ending to the story that began with Wolfbound, but the future may not hold many novels. It may hold video projects and short stories and things stranger and more wonderful than I can go into right now. Please be patient with me while I figure this out.
I love you, readers. Thank you for your support during this time. Please take care of yourselves.