What a difference a review makes, or perfect timing

by Ulff Lehmann

I write stream of consciousness in these articles. The words pour out until they don’t, so whatever follows is how it is.

In the past few months, motivation has been at a minimum, with anxiety and panic attacks weighing me down pretty much every single day. I read, or watched Netflix. Last week, or ten days ago, more like, I finally decided that it was time to write again. To pick the scattered pieces of my emotions and thoughts up and put them together into some semblance of functional, creative human being again.

There’s still anxiety and panic, and the mere thought on all my concerns makes it hard not to cry uninhibitedly, but I can function.

So, after a forced hiatus of about two months, I went back to work on the second draft of Shattered Walls, my fourth novel. Yes, it’s the continuation of the story that began with Shattered Dreams.

Some days, it’s easy, getting off my ass to get back onto it in front of the computer. Then there are days I want to write but life gets in the way. I’m not complaining about them. For the past few years, I’ve been living more and more like a hermit, so when one of my friends comes and drags me out, I go out. It’s exhausting, but given that I can teach her little son all kinds of mischief, it’s also very rewarding. And then there are days when the thought of actually getting off my ass are… meh. Maybe it’s skirting depression, or that I’m just not in the mood.

Either way, today was one of the latter. I was watching Netflix, and considered not writing today. Maybe it was because I hadn’t figured out how to write myself out of the situation I had written myself in. I don’t know.

You see, I wrote the first draft of Shattered Walls three or so years ago, right on the heels of what now is Shattered Hopes and Shattered Fears, back before I signed a contract with Crossroad Press, back when I was still thinking about writing an epic trilogy, because that’s what you do as a fantasy writer, write trilogies. The book that was then the conclusion to said trilogy was coming along rather nicely… until I hit a snag, or an ambush of snags, really. Is that a thing? Ambush of snags? Well, now it is.

The snags:

  • my health. I had unknowingly been suffering from sleep apnea, so my days were pretty much interrupted by me falling asleep whenever, my focus suffering like mad. At the same time my doctor found out that I needed surgery in my nose, which I thought was linked to me sleeping badly (it wasn’t). So off to surgery, then half a year later my best friend told me about the apnea and that I had best drag my carcass to a sleep clinic, or else. Sleep clinic it was, got an apnea mask thingy, started losing weight and things were peachier
  • my brilliant shorthand turned against me. What’s my brilliant shorthand? Simple. Since I don’t know when, the stagnating of pretty much every fantasy world has bugged the fuck out of me. Thousands of years and not a single technological advancement. That kind of thing. So I had figured out a workaround, what if humans were living in the shadow of an advanced civilization that they did not truly comprehend. What if this was mankind’s Dark Ages? So far, so good, man is the bumbling inheritor of a race that has gone. So, my shorthand was pretty much, “Oh the dominant culture were the elves and they are like the Romans.” Perfect analogy. Only my elves weren’t truly gone… Schrödinger’s elf, so to speak. That was all well and peachy until I realized I needed to introduce elven military. So I hit the books to research Roman legions, and since I’m obsessive compulsive, I, of course, bought the book that held the evolution from the Greek phalanx to the Roman legion. That caused me to change things quite a lot.
  • my not having figured out the ending as much as I wanted. Those who have read my books, even if it’s just Shattered Dreams so far, know that I have a great many narrative balls arcing through the air. But I did have the narrative pretty much set in stone since the mid 1990s, from the shepherd in the beginning to the reveal at the end of Shattered Fears. What I never had was a satisfactory end. So while I was working on book 3, which is now books 4 and 5, I was still finding my way in how to end this thing. Perspectives change; I knew, finally, how to bring the story home, but then came the apnea, research period. During that time I realized that I had to revamp the entire final part to adhere to internal and historical logic. Then came my signing with Crossroad Press, and my outlook changed, again.

This is all before my world came crashing down on me in early August this year, and I pretty much had a nervous breakdown or three.

Why am I telling you this? Simple, I have trouble letting go, I rarely forget anything important, and when the meh mood strikes, it’s usually with all the shit that came before.

So, I was sitting here at home, watching Netflix, feeling meh, when I checked Facebook and saw a notification someone had tagged me in one of their posts.

It was their review of Shattered Dreams.

I was floored. The praise, about how much the reader, also an author, had enjoyed my book, but the part that left me staring at the review was when they said this one book, my first novel, had already elevated me into the top 10 of their all time favorite authors. Me! My first book! I sat there, mouth open, blinking. I mean, top 10, damn. Meh fell off of me when I reread the review. Top 10… I don’t know who else is on that list, nor do I care! This one reader had elevated me to his personal top 10. Me! With my first book! Meh was gone, and I said to myself “Self, you have got to write, work, prove that you are worthy of this rank!” So instead of brewing a fresh mug of tea, I switched of the TV, turned on the music, and took a shower.

Then, fully clothed of course, I posted a short video on my author page and went to work. Suddenly what seemed like such a tough task, felt simpler. And I wrote 6 pages or so.

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