A few of you might have noticed that the release for Fireborn was pushed back a few months. A whole lot more of you keep asking when the next Half-Orc book will be (my own punishment for leaving things at a cliffhanger, as well as writing an awesome series so many of you love. Yeah. Yeah. Woe is me.) So as way of explanation, I’m going to write in detail what the heck happened. It’s a tiny bit personal, but whatever. Here we go.
So for starters, I have terrible posture. Like, hunched over, cave-man, neck sticks out on a ninety degree hinge posture. Got it? Okay. So my family and I took a trip to the St. Louis zoo, a little under a four hour drive from where I live. On the trip home, my dad drove while I sat in the back with my oldest daughter, Morgan. For much of it, she fell asleep leaning over on my lap, and trying not to wake her, I just got as comfortable as I could, leaned my head against the window, and stared at my phone to pass the time.
Now I don’t know if it was the trip, the crappy hotel bed, my lifelong sucky posture, or just all of them coming together into a perfect storm of awfulness, but I woke up the next day in terrible pain. ‘My neck must be out’ I told myself, and made a chiropractor appointment. Didn’t work. Next day, the pain quadrupled.
Lemme tell you about this pain. See, I’ve had my collarbone break in half while growing up, and was told that’s one of the more painful breaks to experience. I’d rather have broken my collarbone again. The left side of my neck felt like a knife were being twisted into it every few seconds. The muscles locked tight so I could barely tilt my head 45 degrees to either side. The pain traveled up the back of my skull and wrapped around the left side of my forehead and temple, settling in as a constant, jabbing twitch above my left eyebrow. Over. And over. Like the muscles were being pulled back, torn, and then reset.
Naturally I went to the doctor. Oh, it’ll pass. Probably tweaked a muscle. Here’s some muscle relaxants. And for about two weeks, that was my life. I lay on the couch, barely able to think. Tylenol and Ibuprofen were as effective as candy. The throbs of pain were so intense I could feel them in my teeth. Chiropractor did nothing. Muscle relaxants did nothing (other than help me sleep the day away). Each morning, I woke up with the same thought: is it finally better? And inevitably, it wasn’t.
Now I should mention I was two chapters away from finishing Fireborn. Two. We’re talking maybe a few hours of work and I’d be done, and it drove me nuts. On one desperate attempt I downed an unhealthy amount of Ibuprofen and tried to hammer through, failing miserably. Simply sitting at the computer was a nightmare, something I couldn’t manage to do for more than thirty minutes at a time before retreating back to the couch. Eventually I got an appointment with a pain specialist, but it was a good month away before I could get in.
Finally I said screw it, something is clearly wrong with my neck. Time to check the internet! Said internet claimed I was dying of twenty different cancers, so not a whole lot of help, but I did find a video of exercises for rehabilitating an injured neck. Well, my neck’s injured, it’s clearly not getting better, and I couldn’t imagine how in the world I could make it worse. So I started doing the exercises, simple stretches and the like. I also started doing yoga with my wife, because hell, I had to do something to get off the couch.
After three days, the pain decreased. Now it didn’t go away, oh no, but it went from ‘omg please kill me’ to ‘wow, this is a seriously bad migraine’ levels. I felt like crying that first morning I woke up and it had lessened. Most importantly, the damn throbbing pain above my left eye was gone. I wish I could convey just how incredible that moment was, how night and day my entire existence became.
Zoom ahead to the pain appointment, and I finally receive a diagnosis. My neck had developed not just one, but two trigger points in the nerves. If you don’t know what a trigger point is, here’s my oversimplification: imagine a nerve getting agitated, swelling up into a little bubble, and then going haywire, sending referred pain signals throughout the surrounding areas. The treatment? An injection, a very unpleasant one, too. Hey, is your nerve hyper-active and freaking out? Let’s jam a thin, sharp piece of metal into it! Not fun, and even worse, my doctor didn’t know at the time I had two trigger points (this was something we figured out later). And when you’re dealing with referred pain, where it hurts the most isn’t always where the nerve is located.
So she missed. I had to endure another two weeks before going in again. Two more weeks of feeling like a completely non-functioning adult. This time she gave me three of those wonderfully fun shots, hitting common locations as well as where my pain seemed to originate. This time, she got it (as evidenced by my near blacking out during the shot and my neck spasming a few good moments upon receiving the injection).
After a few days, I felt immensely better. My pain dropped by like, 70%, to the point where I could easily control the remaining pain with over the counter stuff. This was when we discovered I actually had two trigger points, to which that second one is still lurking around in the back of my neck to this day (I have another appointment at the end of this month, for another round of ‘let’s find the bastard nerve with a needle’). So from start to relative end, this was nearly two months of my writing time completely, thoroughly shut down. That. Sucked.
Now, normally this would seem where the story gets all happy and we move on, but you must remember something. The human body is stupid. So, for about two months I was under incredible pain, and suddenly, the vast bulk of that pain is gone. So what does my brain do? “Oh, hey, you’re not in incredible pain anymore, so you don’t need all these feel good chemicals I’ve been pumping into you lately, lemme shut these off…whoops, did I turn off too much? Oh well, deal with it.”
Now, my family has a lengthy history of depression. In reality, I’m pretty sure I have a lengthy history with depression. I’ve just never acknowledged it. I’d go through spurts where I didn’t feel like myself, where I napped all the time, was cranky with the kids, suffered anxiety attacks, all of which had gotten exponentially worse during the past two months with my schedule obliterated by a nerve death star. And when the pain went away, it effectively bottomed me out, hard.
There’s a lot of way better examples of depression out there on the internet (I’d recommend these two comics by Allie Brosh) so I’ll just detail the important moment. We were shopping for groceries, me and my wife, and I was grumbling about how tired I was. I couldn’t write, because the moment I sat at the computer I wanted to do nothing more than fall asleep. I’d bought a treadmill desk, elevated the monitor, been doing yoga, was fixing my posture, exercising, drinking tons of coffee…and still, tired, sleepy, exhausted, unable to think. And while at the store, I described it like this: where I’m looking is what exists, but everything else I’m not looking at, stops existing to me. Like, not in a physical sense, but more that I didn’t have the energy or effort to even acknowledge these out of focus things. Weird, sure, but that’s the only way I can describe it.
My wonderful wife, hearing me describe this, pauses and goes “David, I think you might be depressed.” It seems silly, but this really was one of those light bulb type moments. I’d never considered it, not once despite all the family history. But man, once you know it, looking back, it’s stupidly easy to see sign after sign after sign slowly developing over the past five years, to the point I kinda feel like an idiot for taking so long to notice.
Another doc appointment. I start a low dose prescription of an anti-depressant. And then the fun begins, because why in the world would I hope for something to go easy? Anti-depressants have an interesting (and by interesting, I mean terrifying) list of potential side effects, particularly in the initiation period when your body is first becoming accustomed to the medicine. The one I got?
Anxiety. Like, constant, unending, throat-constricted, heart-racing, hands-twitching anxiety. Imagine your body being locked in the fight-or-flight state from dusk to dawn. I felt like an easily startled rabbit. My seven year old actually stood in front of me and yelled Boo! and I nearly died of a heart attack. I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Performing simple tasks, like driving my kids to school, was too overwhelming to even comprehend, resulting in a dry-heaving attack in the middle of the freaking shower. Once again, I felt like a non-functioning adult.
The reason I endured was because that same morning the anxiety began, my former self returned. I was laughing and joking with my wife. I felt awake. I felt happy, even despite the anxiety. My wife described my behavior as someone learning to human again. And that’s how it felt, like I’d awoken for the first time in months. Still, there was a problem.
Do you know what’s not easy to do when the slightest thing gives you crippling anxiety? Sitting down to work on a book that’s now long overdue. The idea of even calling my agent would spike my heart with terror. And so I endured. It’d pass in time, which it did. And after nearly four months of some of the most bizarre or out-of-nowhere problems, I finally was able to sit down and work on Fireborn.
Now I cannot express how incredibly wonderful Orbit has been through this entire thing. My editor, Devi, has never once made me feel pressured to get this book in. They gave me all the time in the world, despite delay after delay and missed deadline after missed deadline. No worries. No panic. Just focus on getting better. If anyone from Orbit actually reads this, well, you’re awesome, and thank you.
Now I’m still working on getting the proper dose of medication for my depression, and I’m still annoyed by this sting in my neck, but they’re both being dealt with. Hopefully in time, they’ll both be gone completely. More importantly, though, is that I can finally write again. I finished Fireborn a while back, and it’s in Devi’s hands, waiting to undergo round two. But the four month delay there is why the publication date was pushed back. As for the next Half-Orcs, well…those four months I spent as a pathetic lump on the couch were the four months I was hoping to crank out King of the Fallen.
So what’s the current plan? Right now, I need to write and finish Shadowborn. That’s priority number one. After that, I’m hoping to crank out KotF for you all, putting a nice little ribbon on the current angel storyline. Then comes the next project for Orbit, one I can’t wait to eventually discuss more with you all.
Lemme check the word count here…sheesh. Over 2k. Well, if anyone got to the bottom of this ramble, thanks. I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things writing, cranking out crazy adventures and blowing things up with fireballs.