Friday, October 11, 2013

Turning a Bad Thing into Gold

I'm by no means a Midas type of guy. Meaning, not everything I touch or write, for that matter, turns into gold. But I have become a survivor. Case and point: Eight years ago this week, my second wife and I split up. I packed up my stuff along with my then thirteen and nine year old son's stuff, and moved from a huge four bedroom, three bath house to a two bedroom, one bath apartment. My youngest son was forced to leave his school and his friends while my oldest son became quite angry and at the same time, withdrawn over what to him, seemed like yet another life rejection. Both boys also had to leave behind their little sister. 

But here's the hard truth of the matter: I had no one to blame other than myself. I'd become a frustrated and unhappy young man. Having achieved some major success just a few years before in the form of quarter million dollar two book deal with Delacorte Press, I felt that I was entitled to more success. When that deal eventually went sour due to the publisher's corporate problems and I was left high and dry, I fell into a tailspin of despair that made life with Vince pretty unlivable.

Still recovering from the ill effects of a very expensive first divorce, my finances were in a shambles, my debt was enormous, and I had no real cash coming in. To make matters worse, I had no publisher and even my then agent was no longer returning my calls. That Christmas morning I was so depressed, I woke up, went straight for the refrigerator and cracked open a beer. I had reached rock bottom. As I stood there with the beer in hand and a tear running down my cheek, I knew I had two choices. I could either keep sliding south, which of course means six feet under. Or I could pull up my bootstraps and start climbing out of the hole I'd dug for myself. Luckily I tossed out the beer and got digging.

It was around this time I started writing THE REMAINS, a story about twin girls who were abducted back in the 1970s when they were only twelve by a madman who lived in a house in the woods behind their home. In part, the story was based upon my breakup with my second wife and I was able to utilize some of our relationship as the basis for the main characters. In this case, my protagonist, the artist and art teacher Rebecca, still maintains a friendly if not loving relationship with her ex, Michael. Michael is a writer who, having once before hit it very big, fell into a trap of partying like a rock star until one day he woke up in a hospital only to realize that everything he worked so hard for had turned to shit. And like me, he had only himself to blame.

Michael still loves Rebecca and since she is his muse, he insists on writing inside her apartment. When Rebecca begins to receive strange paintings with messages hidden inside them from an autistic savant who is her student, she comes to realize the paintings are warnings. The man who abducted her all those years ago has been released from prison and he's out to finish the job he started with she and her twin sister all those years ago. Only this time, he plans on doing it right. That said, Michael and Rebecca team up not only to solve the mystery, but also to rekindle their love.

Just the other day it dawned on me that if I hadn't broken up with my second wife whom I loved very much, I might never have written THE REMAINS. In fact, I'm quite sure I would not have written the story at all. if I hadn't reached rock bottom and survived it all, I never would have written the character of Michael. Nor would I have nailed the desperate-need-to-survive-at-all-costs that Rebecca experiences when she's being hunted down in the woods by the same man who abducted her many year ago. In a word, I had taken a very bad thing like a breakup, and turned it into gold.

Last month, THE REMAINS sold over 30,000 copies in paper, ebook, and audio. It reached the Top 10 in the UK and the US. It was also, or so my agent tells me, Thomas & Mercer's No. 1 seller for the month of September. Not bad considering the hundreds of books they publish. But the point here is not how well something sells. The point is that I was able to turn a bad situation entirely onto its back, and write something that I am entirely proud of. Something that can stand up in both the literary and suspense genres (since September 1, the book has earned more than forty new 4 and 5 star reviews). 

Today, I'm sitting at my writing desk in my studio and reflecting on all that has changed in the eight years since my wife and I split up. I've published hundreds of articles and photographs for some major news outlets like RT and magazines like Living Ready. I've traveled to from Moscow to the Amazon Basin, and from Shanghai to West Africa. I enjoy extended one and two month writing retreats in Italy. I've written more than half a dozen new short stories and two novellas. More importantly, I've written thirteen new books and have recently completed the first draft of my seventeenth. My debt is gone, and I even have enough money to invest. I don't enjoy the benefits of one publisher. But several.

A number of years ago a prominent local bookseller looked me in the eye and said, "You will never score another major book deal again." Since then I've published (and re-published) seven novels with perhaps the hottest major publisher in the business today. I will be publishing more with them to be sure.

I love proving naysayers wrong. But more than that, I love proving myself wrong. Eight years ago I felt like there was nothing to live for anymore if I couldn't be a working writer, and do so on my own terms. What I had to grow up and realize is that this is a business full of ups and downs and the work ethic must be adhered to like a priest and his daily Our Fathers. But if there is one thing I've learned more than anything else, it's this: Happiness is a choice. It's not something that arrives and departs like the cavalry. Happy people seem to attract other happy people. They also attract success. They are healthy and hopeful. Their dreams are vivid and real. Conversely, the miserable attract misery. They are physically and mentally incapacitated and they are the perpetually plagued. Avoid them at all costs.

Just like Rebecca and Michael from THE REMAINS, my ex and I are giving our relationship another try. Why shouldn't we? We've both changed and managed to ride out our separate storms. We've grown up in the process and learned a whole lot about life. We're survivors.

Want to read THE REMAINS?

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  1. Right on. Life has a funny way of pointing us in the "right" sometimes its a left we need to take.

    1. Hey thanks for chiming in...I feel badly for suicides because life is an up and down adventure...