Sunday, January 20, 2019

Stranger than Fiction: This Book is Cursed!

In November 2018, I released my first non-fiction book on Kindle: a collection of ghost stories and other strange tales I had heard and experienced over the past 50 years of my life-- Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey. This very short book (100 print pages) took me about two years to put together, and, looking back over those two years, I have begun to wonder if the book doesn't just talk about the supernatural, but that maybe it is, itself, supernatural--cursed. 

Before I go any further, let me preface this by stating that I am not a true believer in the supernatural. Rather, I am a skeptical believer. I believe, as a Christian, that the supernatural exists--it's in my Bible, after all. What I don't believe is that it is as common as so many television shows, documentaries, blogs, books, and websites portray it to be. I'm not just skeptical of these programs and so many dubious accounts of the paranormal--I'm skeptical of my own fantastical stories, have come up with much more rationale explanations for most of them, instead of just declaring them supernatural. That being said, however, I think this book really is cursed. 

I got the idea for A Skeptic's Journey back in early 2017. I've been a fan of the Fortean for many years. From about 2000 on, I read about it on the internet on lunch breaks to take my mind off the real horrors of my job as an Investigator for the local Prosecuting Attorney. In 2012, I set out to combine my fascination with the fantastic with my desire to write, and began putting out supernatural thrillers on Kindle. I also redoubled my efforts to study and read this modern folklore, seeking out stories I could build upon or borrow from for my fiction. In 2014, I retired from the criminal justice career field, hoping to turn writing into a full time job while I switched to a less intense day job. That's when I began to listen to paranormal podcasts.

Over the past few years of listening, I have been struck by the number of people active in the paranormal community who express a desire to see a ghost, or experience something paranormal themselves. I reflected on this in early 2017, realizing that I have had a great many experiences myself that might fulfill the wishes of so many paranormal hopefuls. I sat down and made a list of these possible encounters and was surprised at the number--having always previously mentally filed them away as "maybes" that made for good story telling, but which I hadn't put much faith in. I then made a list of stories related to me by people I personally know, who themselves claimed to have experienced, first-hand, something strange and "unexplainable". There was enough material, from both lists, for a short book. 

The road from concept to publication has been a long one, but not because of the mundane, every-day problems you might think. I didn't need to find a publisher--I self-publish on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, etc. and have for several years now. Writing wasn't a problem either--I've done fifteen novels since 2012. Putting stories into written word isn't hard. Even finding the time wasn't that bad for this project--until a series of unfortunate events began cropping up in my life...

Bad luck is no stranger to me. I've had a number of dilemmas arise over the years with irritating frequency. But they're generally spread out over time, and vary in severity and ease of solving. But not this time...

In Early 2017, right after I decided to write A Sketic's Journey, my daughter was diagnosed with scoliosis at an annual physical check up. This sudden spine curvature was attributed to a phenomenal growth spurt over a one year period, but it definitely derailed my creative process and filled my thoughts with worry. 

Soon after this diagnosis, my wife was in a car wreck. Again, it was a moderate problem--she wasn't severely injured, and our new car (that we'd bought only five months earlier) was quickly repaired. But getting our money from the insurance company (the other driver was at fault) made for a stressful few months. 

During this time, my daughter had to start wearing a back brace. Then she had to start doing regular physical therapy with the hope that strengthening exercises might alleviate some of her spine curvature. Now, in addition to the stress of her diagnosis and my wife's accident blocking my creative process, I had very little time left to actually write.

By Fall 2017, I was finally getting back on track, once more taking notes and wracking my brain to remember all my best paranormal stories. Then it was time for our annual automobile problems. This time, it was our minivan, with a water leak that wasn't hoses, wasn't the water pump, but finally ended up being a cracked radiator--something that took me several weekends, many trips to the auto parts store, and a lot of money trying to figure out. Again, I didn't have time to write--I was too busy being a shade-tree mechanic to keep our minivan running. 

Meanwhile, my bi-annual bronchitis and sinusitis episodes flared up. I attribute these to a scar in my lung I got back on active duty in the USAF many years ago--a result of a rough round of pneumonia. They're regular in my life, and nowhere remotely as serious as men and women who've lost limbs in service to our country. Still, they knock me down for a few days twice every year, and cost me money in co-pays and prescriptions. I decided to once again try and file a claim for Veteran's Affairs disability for my affliction. If you've ever dealt with the VA, you know that even if things go right, they're not an easy organization to deal with.

Claim #1 was closed overnight, while I slept. I had indicated I wasn't done with the online claim and needed to upload more documents. The VA decided that they didn't need to see these documents, and closed the claim while I slept. It was infuriating, particularly given the VA had, in past years told me I hadn't presented evidence of an ongoing problem. With everything else going on, I decided to put this on the backburner for a while. I focused on my daughter, my day job, and every day life. My writing languished for several months.

By March 2018, in between a day job, taking my daughter to physical therapy, and trying to write, I again set out to try and file for disability. Needless to say, four months later, I was still butting my head against the government wall and getting nowhere. 

Then we got really bad news: my daughter's spine had progressed, and she was going to have surgery. 

All creative process was gone at this point, and all my writing projects stalled out. I was sick to my stomach most days, worrying about 12 year old daughter and this major surgery she'd be having soon (a spinal fusion). 

June eventually rolled around, the VA was still throwing up walls of red tape in front of me, and my kid had her surgery. Now began six months of helping her recuperate. Again, I had no time, or interest, in writing. But I pressed on anyway, using my lunch hours at work to hammer out short snippets of my paranormal tales. 

July rolled around, and with it, my daughter's 13th birthday. While the surgery had been successful, it was a somber occasion, as our little girl was still recuperating and needed a lot of help at home. The special day came and went, not much different from most other days since the surgery, save for a cake and presents. But to top  off the lackluster milestone, three days later, our dog died. 

Our dog, Sunnie, was like our third child. We'd gotten her at about 10 weeks old, and showered her with affection for all of her 9 years with us. She too, had a rough life, going blind in 2015 from a mis-diagnosed thryoid condition, and then developing anxiety that meant we had to treat her daily with doggy prozac. Her death couldn't have come at a worse time as we were already on eggshells, hovering over our daughter as she recuperated. 

Things eventually began settling down. My daughter was able to go to school, we adopted a new dog, and I turned once more to writing, intent on an October 2018 release for A Skeptic's Journey, to monopolize on the Halloween hype. But, life got in the way again, a great many little things popping up here and there, and I missed my self-imposed deadline.

Eventually, the book finally was done and I dropped it on Kindle on November 23, 2018, Black Friday, the day before my 51st birthday. I sent out a round of emails to paranormal podcasts, hoping to spread the word about my collection of stories as I'd heard so many authors do on so many podcasts. 

I was fortunate enough to get mentioned on one podcast, then landed an interview on the December 30th, 2018 episode of Beyond the Darkness with Dave Schrader and Tim Dennis. 

While I hadn't priced A Skeptic's Journey to make me any real money, I had hoped to at least share this collection with many people. As of this writing, that plan has failed. In limited Kindle release (free for Kindle Select readers), and priced at $.99, A Skeptic's Journey appears to have been read by less than 100 people. By far, it is the least successful of any book or short story I've previously released. 

Is the book cursed? Was fate/destiny/the darkness trying to keep me from writing it? Or did I just have two exceptionally unlucky years completely unrelated to my writing? Or maybe nonfiction is considerably less popular (on Kindle) than fiction? I don't know, but I'm glad this project is over. I'm ready for my luck to change.