The Heroes Journey
Updated: Dec 5, 2017
I stood in front of the pantry in a dark blue robe and tennis shoes with no socks. I hadn’t managed to hobble into the bathroom to peer into the mirror to find out just how disheveled I looked. I could tell it would be bad because I had at least a week’s growth of scraggly beard and my hair was like something out of a really bad 80’s heavy metal video.
It was four in the morning and I hadn’t slept a wink during the night.
The last time I had tasted real food was about 10 days ago and for the first time since then I thought I might be able to stomach something. I pulled out a box of old cocoa Rice Krispies, pulled out a handful, and shoveled some into my mouth while a bunch of them cascaded down the front of my robe and scattered across the ground.
Luckily I have small dogs and they were on duty in seconds. A robber trying to crack the front door? Nah, they sleep. A piece of food hits the floor and they are suddenly fucking police dogs.
I was unsteady on my feet but managed to find a glass in the kitchen cabinet and drink some water. The food hit my belly like a rock and I didn’t think I would be able to eat more than a few teaspoons of stale cereal.
My stomach hurt because I had a brand new nine inch scar, partially healed, running from just below the center of my rib cage, through my belly button, and down to my waist.
I felt pathetic but I also felt alive.
Most stories and books and movies follow the heroes journey structure. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end In the course of the story the main character must first face adversity. They must have a goal, and along the way they run into conflict at every turn. At the end of the tale the hero must emerge as the victor meaning they defeated their foe or reached their ultimate victory.
Let’s look at the movie Die Hard as an example.
John McClane is a New York City cop who has come to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife Holly. At a Christmas party the employees at Holly’s company are taken hostage by a Hans Gruber.
John McClane is out of his element. He’s trapped in a building and he has no help from the outside. Over the course of the movie he spends most of his time hiding from the terrorists and he doesn’t even have a pair of shoes to wear.
He gets shot, beat up, his feet are torn to shreds from broken glass, and he must face insurmountable odds at every turn including some over zealous FBI agents who think he is one of the captors.
At the end of the movie he managed to save all of the hostages, save his wife, and even throw Hans off the 25th floor of the Nakatomi building thus becoming an unlikely hero.
Good thing John didn’t stay home and instead got out of his element, faced adversity, and triumphed in the end.
I have seen this movie about fifty times. I'm not sure what I didn't understand the first time but I know it's a classic example of a heroes journey.
My story is no different except I didn’t have to fight terrorists, I wasn’t shot at or beat up, and I didn’t have to throw a guy off a building. My feet weren't ripped to shreds thanks to broken glass, and I didn't have to rescue anyone except my self...a little bit.
Let me assure you that I am not a hero. Heroes are the kind of people who run into burning houses to rescue strangers. I might run into a burning building to save my girlfriend Katie, my kids, my Bengal, LucyFurr, or my laptop with all of my writings, but that’s about it.
However my journey began the day I nearly died and reached it’s ending 5 months later when I went from making barely enough money to barely cover a few bills, I decided to quit writing and go back to a day job, pulled my head out of my ass a few days later, wrote an entire novel in 3 weeks, and made over $10,000 the next month from book sales.
See. That’s a journey right there and the scary part of this story is that it’s all true.
But back to the day I coded in the ER.
For the last five or six months prior to November of 2016 I had been having a lot of trouble concentrating and my memory was in really poor shape. Someone would tell me something and I would forget it a few hours later. Sure, this could be chalked up to being nearly 50 years old, but it was the way it came on so suddenly that should have alerted me that all was not well in the land of Tim.
The changes had affected my writing a great deal. I used to be able to write thousands of words per day, every day, and not even think twice about it. Since I had begun my writing journey in 2009 I had put out 15 books, some with publishers, but maybe seeing the writing on the wall in 2014 I had decided to make a leap and embrace the indie writing life.
That meant firing my high profile New York Literary agent and striking out on my own. It was a scary prospect but after releasing two books at the tail end of 2014 and making over $3,000 in December of that year, I knew I was onto something.
Think about that for a second. $3,000 in one month from self-publishing in 2014. Before that my biggest royalty check for an entire quarter had been about $800. Hell, I had made more in one month than I had made in all of 2013.
But being a self publisher and indie author meant that I had to write all of the time. I had to complete books and get them out every 3 or 4 months. Writing one book a year simply wouldn’t pay the bills because my name is not AG Riddle.
I left my day job in October of 2015 because I had this plan to launch a couple of series and ride them into the sunset. I was making more from my writing than I made from my job as a support engineer in IT. A field I had been in for over 20 years.
As you can guess—things didn’t turn out as planned.
For one thing I began 2016 feeling pretty good about my prospects. I put out a superhero mashup thriller called Impact Earth I had been working off and on for about 4 years. I expected it to sell okay but I didn’t think it would do all that well. I primarily writer horror and dystopian books so I expected my regular readers to turn up their nose and wait for the next zombie book.
To my great surprise it reached #1 in the Kindle superhero category and went on to be my 2nd best selling audiobook of all time. Impact Earth needed a sequel and it needed one ASAP. But as the year wore on and my writing became less and less productive. I began to despair. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t crank out 2,500 words a day like I used to. Instead I found myself staring at the television more often than not, and then forgetting what in the hell I had even watched.
Obviously this had a huge impact on how much money I was making. By the time I was in the hospital my monthly income had shrunk from over $5,000 to $1,500 a month. That wasn’t even enough to pay my freaking mortgage!
The morning of November 9th 2016 I woke up feeling like shit. Donald Trump had just won the presidency but that wasn’t the reason. The night before I’d had a little bit of wine but it simply didn’t explain why I felt so sick.
By mid-morning I was back in bed having barfed up enough weird brown stuff to haunt a horror movie producer for a week, and it was all I could do to actually get back out of bed. I literally crawled to the bathroom at one point because I was so light headed.
That’s when I passed out.
Katie found me on the floor with my pants around my ankles because I had fainted while sitting on the toilet. I don’t know about you but this is about the most embarrassing way you ever want your girlfriend to find you. I protested that I was okay. I just needed to go back to bed and rest. I’d be fine in a few hours—really!
But she wouldn’t listen, thankfully, and I was piled into the car, and rushed to the ER.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what coding in an ER feels like because I was very much unaware of what was happening around me. I had just passed out for the third time in an hour. When I had closed my eyes the ER room had contained Katie and a nurse. When I opened my eyes the next time it was a different story.
There were a lot of medical doctors and nurses in the room poking and prodding me. They had brought in warm blankets and I had no less than 3 IV needles jammed into my arms.
Katie was yelling at them that I was bleeding internally but they seemed to think I just had a bad stomach bug. Yeah. A stomach bug that makes me pass out like a drunk on New Years. That’s some bug.
How in the hell had this happened? Just a few days ago I had been a guest at a local comic convention and it had been an amazing weekend. I was rubbing shoulders with local authors like Robin Hobb, Jason Hough, and the always dapper Django Wexler. Now I was in the hospital and all I knew was that I might have a GI bleed—which is code for having blood coming out of your butt.
I don’t recommend trying this.
Not a little bit of blood either. We’re talking a liter in one go.
The thing is, I should have known something was going on. I had been putting out a new book about every three months but I hadn’t had a release in a while except for a book I co-wrote with an author named Tim Marquitz. The book, Damaged, was not a huge seller, and that’s something I will cover it in detail in a later chapter.
But let me say that books are not a guaranteed success. I had expected Impact Earth to flop but something about the cover, or the synopsis, or the blurb, had drawn people in to give it a chance. Even when you have 20 novels in print that does not mean that your fans are going to flock to anything you write and I think that Damaged is just one of those books. There are a lot of theories as to why this occurs but I have come up with a simple solution.
Have you ever been to Vegas or sat down in front of a slot machine? You put money in, pull a lever or push a button, and more than likely your hard earned cash is going down the tube. Writing and self-publishing books is sort of like that. You can treat your product like a baby, nurse it, feed it, wrap it in a blanket, but when you present it to the world there is every chance that the world won’t see the beauty you do. They may say “Oh my fucking god. That is an ugly-ass baby.”
Oh. You didn’t know this would have salty language? Uh - it’s called IndieAF for a reason.
So back to nearly dying in a hospital.
I remember chatting with a cool male nurse while lying in a hospital bed in a nice private room after they had determined that I was severely low on blood, and telling him about my books. He said that sounded like the kind of stuff he would like to read and would check them out. I told Katie later on that I blabbered a lot while I was on morphine. She gave me the funniest look.
“Oh honey. You weren’t on any drugs. You were just out of it from blood loss.”
I guess the point is that drugs or no drugs don’t be shy about telling people you’re a writer because you never know where your next super fan is hiding. Just don’t be like me and act like a homeless guy on the side of the road yelling at everyone about what an amazing author you are.
...too be continued in part two. That, ladies and gents, is what we writers call a cliff hanger.
<snare drum boogie out of here>