Category Archives: Inspirational

Is Your Brain a Time Bomb?

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In 1989, when I was a junior in high school, I was struck in the head by an eight pound ball of iron. I suffered a Grade III concussion, a brain contusion, and brain swelling. I survived the incident but to this day suffer symptoms. This post is intended to raise awareness of the long-term effects of brain trauma and Post-Concussion Syndrome for the millions of people who endure living with a wounded brain.

Sensitivity to Light

If you’ve ever had a migraine, you understand how sensitive you are to bright lights. Imagine that times forever, and you’ll get an idea of what photophobia is like. Prolonged exposure to bright light gives me a skull-splitting headache, and it’s a relatively common symptom of severe concussions.  I can’t spend more than five minutes outside without sunglasses, and sometimes, even indoor lighting can be an issue, especially fluorescents. You know, the kind used in virtually every public building ever. So sometimes, I have to wear my sunglasses indoors, as well. No, I’m not trying to emulate the Blues Brothers. I just want to pick up some chips and salsa without feeling like a marching band is practicing inside my skull.

Years ago, some friends took me to an outdoor art exhibit. Naturally, I wore my prescription sunglasses so I could enjoy the day and not end up curled in a corner whimpering. We got invited to an after-party, and because my regular glasses were at home, I was stuck in shades long after dark. Some hipster quipped about the Terminator terrorizing the party, and it drew quite a laugh from the crowd. There’s no explaining photophobia in that moment. There’s only skulking away alienated and humiliated, having just been owned by a hipster.

Headaches Become a Fact of Life

You know those people who refer to every little headache as a migraine? Not the people who suffer from real migraines; a real one will put the strongest person in bed. I’m referring to the people who call the slightest tension headache a migraine. Yeah, I dislike those people. For a full year after the accident, I lived with a constant headache. Some days, it was a dull ache, others a sharp, piercing ice- pick. On bad days, it pounded my skull so violently I questioned benevolence in the universe. After that first year, the headaches became less and less frequent, but I came to know them the way an aficionado knows cigars. To this day, I also get occasional sharp, blinding pains near my scar.

After that first year, once the constant one faded, I learned to ignore most headaches and accept them as my reality. Today, I still rarely acknowledge anything less than a skull-pounder and even those barely slow me down, so whenever a co-worker rubs their temples and whines, “I have such a migraine” I have to squelch the desire to laugh at them. A real headache debilitates you. A real headache puts you in bed and makes every sound and light a test of your will. People who have suffered brain trauma know that any headache that doesn’t land you in bed is merely a nuisance, hardly worth announcing to the world.

Swiss Cheese Memory

Amnesia is a common Hollywood trope for head injuries, but what they never show is the inconsistency of cognitive dysfunction. Since the accident, some days, my memory works flawlessly and I’ll remember the stat line of the punter for the 85 Bucs. Other days, I’ll forget your name as I’m telling you mine. Others, I lose my car keys twelve times. On really bad days, I stare at my keys trying to remember which one goes to what.

Once, I met John Rhys-Davies at a Sci-Fi convention and got to have a real conversation with him. We talked LOTR and Sliders and the back injury he suffered on the set of La Femme Musketeer. The encounter was nearly perfect until, as we were about say farewell, he quoted a line of Shakespeare. As an English major, I scoured the splotchy patches of my memory for the play’s title and noticed the flicker of disappointment on his face. I wanted to explain about my injury, wanted him to know I wasn’t just a dumb bumpkin, but once more the moment was lost.

Sleep Disruption

Insomnia is a frequent condition after a brain injury. Some nights, I merely have difficulty falling asleep, but once I do, I rest through the night. Some nights I sleep for twelve hours. Some nights, nothing works. On those nights, especially when a few string together, I crave rest so badly, I contemplate hitting myself in the head to see if that will allow me to sleep. Of all the side effects I endure, I feel this one has the most stigma. Go-getters are early risers, but my internal clock has shifted so obtusely noon is now the crack of dawn. None of my friends or family understand why I don’t just sleep like a normal person, and no matter how many times I try to explain that I can’t because of the injury, I still feel like they’re judging me. I look fine. That injury happened years ago. Surely I’m over it by now.

When I got my assistantship teaching assignment in grad school, the department had assigned classes alphabetically, so guess who got two 8:00 AM classes?  Guess how many of my “friends” jumped at the opportunity to trade with me?  For my final year of grad school, I ran on three hours sleep a night, at most. If there can be any positive spin, at least I had time to grade all those papers.

 Nobody Can See the Mark

One of the most difficult aspects of head trauma is that no one can “see” what’s wrong. Even standard imaging techniques like MRIs and CT scans can only detect the subtle changes to the brain while it’s in a resting state. If neurologists can’t detect it, how can the average person? If I come to work on an hour’s sleep because my insomnia kicked in, I sometimes hear whispers through the grapevine that I stayed out all night drinking. If only. When I wear my shades in my office with the lights off, those whispers escalate. If I turn down 8:00 AM assignments, I’m simply lazy. After explaining the accident for the zillionth time, I watch their eyes travel up and down my body, searching for some physical sign of impairment, and even after I show them my scar or let them touch the dent in my skull, the doubts still linger in their eyes.

A few years ago, a colleague slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot. She had no visible injuries but suffered a concussion from the whiplash of the abrupt fall. Because she “looked” fine, our superiors couldn’t grasp why she couldn’t handle her usual workload. But I understood. All those tiny blood vessels and axons and synapses, as fragile as snowflakes, were violently shaken in a way nature never intended. I reassured her that in time she would find herself again and adjust to her new reality because I had managed to do so, and I spoke up for her with our superiors. Still, because we show few if any external signs of damage, they have a hard time grasping that our impairments are just as real as someone who has lopped off a finger. 

It Forces You to Change Your Life

When you’re in a crowd, your brain is able to process almost all the information subconsciously while you consciously focus on whatever you’re doing. For me, however, crowds are a nightmare. When too many people are moving in too many directions and having too many conversations, my brain becomes overloaded and within a few minutes, I can become completely disoriented. You can try to avoid crowds, but just like light, you’ll soon realize crowds are everywhere. So I take back roads with less traffic, shop during off hours, and work jobs that offer solitude. I don’t often go to live sporting events or concerts or even restaurants because the cacophony of noise and motion still completely overwhelms my brain a quarter of a century removed from the accident.

The worst example of this sensory overload occurred at another convention where I was attending as a guest author. I arrived a night early to get my badge, find my panel rooms, and have a plan, hoping to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same plan because as the escalator deposited me into the lobby, I found myself in the middle of at least two thousand people, elbow to elbow. Within seconds, my senses were overwhelmed, and I struggled through the throng to find an exit sign.  The disorientation was so bad I had to withdraw from the convention and spent three days at home to recover. Isn’t there a line somewhere about the best laid plans?

It Also Changes Your Personality

Many people know about Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who underwent a major personality change after suffering a brain injury. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t take a tamping iron fired through the skull to make a difference. After the injury, I became much more introverted and quiet. Like many who’ve suffer severe concussions, I’ve battled depression. Mood swings are common as well.

Not long after the accident (I think I still had my stitches – all 36 of them) my pickup truck stalled and wouldn’t refire. I tried and tried and tried to start it, and with each unsuccessful attempt, my frustration escalated. In a fit of rage, I hopped out of the truck, grabbed a shovel from the bed, and proceeded to beat on the hood until I couldn’t lift the shovel again. Before the accident, I rarely lost my cool, but in that first year after, I was a walking rage machine. Today, it takes quite a bit to push me to that point because I’ve learned to check the cauldron of emotions as they course through me, but if I do reach it, something will probably get broken.

Also before the accident, I was highly analytical and serious-minded with a nearly photographic memory. Afterwards, while much of my analytical ability remained intact, in addition to the memory issues, I became much more creative and free-spirited. While neuroscience still can’t fully explain why this happens, one plausible theory is that it’s akin to Frontotemporal Dementia. Because of the rewiring that occurs, the interactivity within different regions of the brain changes, resulting in a fundamental shift in cognition. More than likely some mechanism that inhibited creativity was damaged by the accident, which “turned on” my latent creative skills. In extreme situations, this can lead to Acquired Savant Syndrome, such as the case of Alonzo Clemons, who suffered a brain injury at three and developed a profound mastery of sculpting despite not being able to tie his own shoes.

Your Brain Becomes a Time Bomb

The weird thing about concussions is once you’ve had one, you’re more likely to get one again; after your first concussion, your chances of getting a second go up 400 freaking percent. And subsequent concussions can be catastrophically bad, even if you don’t have apparent permanent damage from the first. This is because if you only damage a small number of neurons, your brain figures out a way to work around it. The damage is still there, but you don’t notice it, which may falsely lead you to believe that your brain is as healthy as it ever was. Since those connections never heal, another concussion can destroy enough of them your brain can’t work around it any more, leading to more serious problems. Another complication that can arise is called Second Impact Syndrome, where after a concussion, even the slightest bump on the head before the brain has sufficiently healed causes it to rapidly swell inside the skull. Though rare, the mortality rate for SIS is about 50%, and the permanent disability rate from it is nearly 100%.

I cannot stress this point enough. People who have suffered severe brain trauma have to accept that their brain should not be exposed to additional risks. I struggled with this fact for years because I had been a competitive athlete, and after the accident, I felt compelled to continue to prove my toughness. Today, a quarter of a century removed, I recognize the folly of that thinking. Just surviving the incident is tough enough. Your body may still be strong and virile. Your muscles and bones may not have suffered permanent damage from the head trauma, so you sometimes may believe yourself still capable of competing in the sports you love. But your brain is permanently injured. You have to accept that fact and not expose yourself to further damage.

In college, I drove a delivery truck on the weekends. It was a refurbished moving truck with one of the rear doors that slides up like a garage door. One night, the door didn’t open fully, and in the darkness I couldn’t see it as I stepped up into the cargo bay. My forehead slammed into the aluminum guard full force. As I crumpled to the wooden bed (luckily falling into the truck and not three feet down to the concrete parking lot) my final thought before I lost consciousness was that I had just killed myself. Later that night, when I finally made it home, I couldn’t figure out how to make a tub hold water. Fortunately, I recovered with no further permanent damage, but from that moment forward I became much more protective of my head.

Your Health Becomes an Uncertainty Forever

Since brain damage can manifest symptoms in countless ways (or not at all), I constantly find myself wondering every time my eyelid twitches if it’s just normal body behavior, or if it’s my nervous system starting to break down. Having a concussion puts you at much higher risk for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The Mayo Clinic found that even a mild concussion made you four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s, and another study found that three or more concussions made you five times more likely to suffer early-onset Alzheimer’s. Additionally, multiple concussions can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is the degenerative brain disorder that has prompted the NFL to address the concussion issue. And until neuroscience progresses further, there’s no real way to predict if you’ll get it until you start exhibiting symptoms.

Ever since the accident, if I hold my arm a certain way, my left index finger pulses involuntarily. For twenty-two years, I thought little of it, other than slight embarrassment when it occurred while I taught. Three years ago, my left hand began trembling more frequently and would occasionally cramp in a way that drew my fingers together in a twisted knot. I began experiencing other symptoms that mirrored MS and Parkinson’s. For six or seven months, while doctors ran test after test with no answers, I lived in absolute terror that the accident had slowly degenerated my brain to a lethal point. It turned out to be an unrelated issue concerning gluten sensitivity, and today, I won’t say I’m back to normal, but as long as I completely avoid gluten, I do fairly well with it. But the lingering effects of that scare are that I can no longer tell if I’m aging normally or degenerating more rapidly than my peers. I now fear every sharp pain near my scar, pains I ignored for twenty-two years because they were simply my reality. And where I once shrugged off the memory lapses, I now question if my recall is worsening or if I’m just imagining it. Those fears are real, as real as any of the other side effects, and living with those constant concerns for my brain’s health can become rather tedious.

You Slowly Gain Acceptance and Adapt

Despite all these limitations and discomforts, over time, I’ve learned to accept my reality. The process wasn’t easy, and for the first five or six years after the accident, I wallowed in self-pity over everything it had taken from me. Then, one day, the epiphany struck me that I was lucky just to be alive. I’ve since learned, through years of trial and error, to find pleasure in the things I can still do and let go of the things I can’t. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things because I know firsthand the fragility of life.

I’ve learned to stop trying to conform to society’s expectations of who it thinks I should be and embrace the reality of who I am.  I’m one who has survived a trauma that should have killed me, and that fact alone is pretty special. I’ve carved out my niche based on the skills the accident unlocked, and I’ve learned to be grateful for each and every day regardless of how many times I lose my keys or misplace my sunglasses because I’m simply still here.

If you’re living with the effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome, please know you’re not alone. Please know that you can carve out a fulfilling life if you learn to work within and around your limitations. You’ll never again be the person you were before your trauma, but in time, you can find the new you, one who is a survivor, one who discovers new talents you never knew you had, and one who finds pleasure in the little things. In time, you too can learn to operate within the boundaries of your wounded brain.

D.A. Adams is bestselling author of The Brotherhood of Dwarves series and a survivor of severe brain trauma. You can follow him on Twitter @authordaadams

A special thank you to Chris Radomile, who assisted with the development of this article. You can follow him on Twitter @raddystuition

The Steep Climb

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In late 2003, I had a manuscript for the first book of a fantasy series, my first child on the way, a dead-end job at a crappy private college, and zero interest from a major publishing house. In my gut, I knew the series had promise, so I made the decision to self-publish. Back then, self-publishing was much more involved than today. E-readers were still in their infancy (when I submitted book one to Kindle, there were only 40,000 titles available, if memory serves), and self-publishing then meant launching an entire publishing company from scratch. As an educator, I didn’t have much money, so I secured funding through my aunt and uncle, who both read the book and agreed it deserved to be on the market.

There wasn’t enough money to do a color cover in an offset print run, so I decided to go a different route. I wanted to make the cover look old, like a relic from a bygone era. Looking back, that was my biggest mistake. Few people got it; most just thought it was ugly. But I still love the simplicity of that original cover. On February 21, 2005, my son’s first birthday coincidentally, book one returned from the binder, and The Brotherhood of Dwarves series was on the market.

For the first few months, I traveled to every bookstore, comic shop, gaming store, and library in a hundred mile radius, trying to get on their shelves. Some were receptive and encouraging, helping me gain a foothold; others were complete jerks. I organized book signings at local venues, and beat the pavement every free moment I had. I quickly learned that book signings by an unknown author are a complete waste of time. But in June or July 2005, I attended my first fandom convention in Knoxville and sold a bunch of books and T-shirts, so I began focusing my attention on conventions and festivals with solid incoming crowds. By late fall, I had sold about 75% of that first print run and decided to do a second. I made some tweaks to the cover, trying to get the right feel of an aged relic and added a blurb from my friend Cameron Judd, the bestselling Western writer.

At first, the second printing sold really well. I had tremendous momentum, and everything felt like it was moving in the right direction. Then, it was like I hit a wall. Nothing worked. By summer 2006, I couldn’t give the books away, quite literally. During this time frame, my relationship with that crappy private college was deteriorating rapidly, and my marriage was strained. I was working two jobs, plus running the publishing side of things and writing book two. I ran on three to four hours of sleep for almost a year. On September 5, 2006, my second child was born, and despite the joy of that event, everything in my life was crumbling beneath me.

The period from 2006-07 was one of the bleakest of my life. My books weren’t selling at all, my marriage evaporated, my career tanked, and on December 25, 2007, my wife interrupted me playing with my sons to tell me she wanted a divorce. I knew our marriage was over, but the cruelty with which she and the man she left me for handled it will never be forgiven. My memories of early 2008 are a fog. Being a father was the most important aspect of my life, the one thing that kept me going, and losing that full-time role was a blow I almost didn’t get up from. Unless you’ve been through it, I cannot explain the emptiness I felt.

Luckily, I have Scottish genes. Luckily, those genes infused me with an obstinate nature. Luckily, I refused to let her break me. In May 2008, I relaunched book one with a new, color cover and also released book two, Red Sky at Dawn. I slowly started getting back on the convention scene. I worked on book three. I focused more efforts on building an online presence. But sales were sluggish. Too much time had elapsed between books one and two. Most of my earliest readers had forgotten about me, and for a couple of years, I slogged onward, feeling as if I were starting from scratch at every new convention I attended.

My personal life was a wreck. I dated the worst possible women, emotional vampires who spoke sweet lies but beat me down at every opportunity. For several years, I made terrible decisions in my personal life, mistakes that probably set me back professionally, but that’s water under the bridge. No sense dwelling on things I can’t change now. Hopefully, I’ve learned my lessons and won’t repeat those same mistakes ever again. Today, I’m personally in a much better place and with a much, much, much better partner, a woman who accepts me as I am. But again, that’s all a different post for a different day.

By late 2010/early 2011, I realized I had gone as far as I could go as a self-published author, so I began talking to Seventh Star Press about taking over the series. I thought about looking at other publishers, but there was something about Seventh Star, though still a fledgling at the time, that appealed to me, and honestly, I didn’t trust any other publisher to take over my baby. No one else would’ve allowed me to keep the artistic freedom I demanded while offering as much support in terms of platform. On November 28, 2011, SSP released The Fall of Dorkhun. A few months later, they re-released books one and two with new cover art.

From the moment I signed with SSP, momentum began to turn back in my favor. Ever so slowly, I began to inch upward from a completely unknown, self-published author to something more. At conventions, I noticed a shift in how people perceived me. It’s difficult to describe the change, but it was palpable. In December 2012, Between Dark and Light was released, and just recently, book one became a legitimate bestseller during a promotional campaign. It’s been quite the climb, and I’m still not finished.

So here’s my warning to writers chomping at the bit for fame and fortune. Are you willing to wait nine years to see any return? Are you willing to drive 100 miles to sell two books? Are you willing to sit at your booth at a convention for eight hours and speak to every single person who walks by? Are you willing to stay at your booth for sixteen hours because there was a mix-up at the convention and your table is in an unsecured hallway? Are you willing to have doors slammed in your face? Are you willing to feel like you’ve let down everyone who matters to you? Are you willing to endure the slings and arrows from small, petty people? Are you willing to work two jobs AND still write a book? Are you willing to lose everything in your life that matters to you? More than once? Are you willing to press on despite every rational indication insisting that you will never break through? Are you willing to sleep in the back of a broken down SUV for seven weeks because you have nowhere else to go? Are you willing to endure those poisonous late hours all alone, with no promise of brighter days, yet still keep writing?

If you can’t honestly answer yes to every single one of those questions, a career as a fiction writer may not be the right path for you. Every serious writer I have ever met has had to pay their dues, in one form or another, and the great Steve Earle said it best:

Some folks say, if you keep rolling
And you keep it on the yellow line
It’ll take you to the big highway.
But there’s a toll to pay
So if you’re going,
The keeper at the gate is blind
So you better be prepared to pay

There is no secret to success other than never giving up, refusing to lose, refusing to accept no as the final answer. The only formula that works is persistence and faith during the darkest, hardest moments. Everything else is just window dressing. My climb is far from finished, and some days, I feel like there isn’t much gas left in my tank. But failure isn’t an acceptable option for me, so I’ll keep traveling to conventions, talking to readers, engaging people on a personal level, caring about them as human beings not dollar signs, writing these blog posts about my road, asking for reviews, and sincerely thanking people for using their hard-earned money to buy my work and their precious time to read it. That’s how I inch forward; that’s my formula.

I’m D.A. Adams, and I’ve just begun kicking ass!

This Is My Family

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Humble beginnings…

Before the big promotion gets into full song, I want to take some time to thank the people who have supported me over the years. You folks encouraged me when I was a “the self-published guy” at conventions; you picked me up when I got knocked flat, more than once; and you believed in me when no one else did. Without all of you, I wouldn’t have toughed it out and continued forward with the series. Regardless of what happens with this promotion, every single one of you has a special place in my heart, and I am eternally grateful for all the love you have shown me. If I forget anyone, please accept my deepest apologies; putting together a list like this isn’t always easy.  Also, if you disagree with your category, as some readers are friends and some friends readers, please don’t take offense:

Readers – Patty Reed, proud owner of the very first copy of The Brotherhood of Dwarves; Aaron Price, my man the guitar dwarf; Dino Hicks; Sandra Quinton Ward; Joel Gates; Shon Medley; Steven and Janet West; Robert Gonzales; Misty Kat Gutierrez-Waller; Joanna Witkowski; Jessica Lay; Jennifer Morton Perkins; Floyd Brigdon; Christy Alaska Reece Vance; Crystal Rhea, who once told me she wished she could have more children so she could name one Roskin; Chris Walker; Ashley Franks; Amy and Roscoe Crittendan; Alice Walker-Buchanan; Alicia Justice; Reanna Berry; Kristie McKinley; Kriss Morton; Jileah Sampson; Herika Raymer; Rob Kirkpatrick; Coco Rivers; Xavier Rothechilde; John Chingren; Matt Small; Carrie and Duane Collins; Alicia Gardner, who regularly interacts of my Facebook page; and Chad Johnstone. You all have stood by my work for many years and deserve back more than I can ever return.

Colleagues – Viki Rouse; Bill Clampitt; Theran Muggleston; Heather Easterly; Betsy Long; Kay Heck; John Jessel; Doug Waddell; Paulette Golden; Tim Holder; Samantha Isasi; Terry Rawlinson; Christopher Lee; Steve and Kathy Alcorn; David Atkins; Aaron Wilmon; Jason Fishel; Julianna Gregory; Rachel Cassity; Chip McClain; Jason Dixon; John Oxford; Sherri Jacobs; Sue Frazier; Denise Wood; Erika Stevens; Birgit Kuban Austin; Robin Ringer; and Amanda Barnes. It’s been a pleasure serving in the trenches with you. I’m certain I’m leaving out some of you from the Tusculum years, but again, please don’t be offended.

Writers – Cameron Judd, who encouraged me so much in the early days; Brady Allen; Bob Holton; Sean Taylor; Dan Jolley; Bobby Nash; Joe Dickerson; James Tuck; Steven Shrewsbury; Elizabeth Donald; Jimmy Gillentine; Megan Lindholm; Jonathan Maberry; Glen Cook; Selah Janel; Ed Crandell; Rocky Perry; Rick Wormwood; M.R. Williamson; P.S. Gifford; Laura Jean Underwood; Kimberly Richardson; Andrea Judy; Joy Ward; J.L. Mulvihill; Jim Gavin; Georgia Jones; Angelia Sparrow; Tamara Lowery; Allan Gilbreath; Marian Allen; Jon Edward Klement; Larry Buttram; M.B. Weston; Haley Elizabeth Garwood; Stan Mitchell, who promoted me on his newspaper before anyone else; and Andy Deane. You all accepted me as one of the gang and made me feel welcome in this crazy profession.

Students – There are literally too many to list here, and I would probably leave out someone important. If you were ever a student of mine, please know that I will always remember you, even if I can’t always remember your names. Some of you have become dear friends, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share my knowledge with you. Please, continue to interact with me on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and anywhere else we might meet.

Friends – Dagan Smith, the best friend a man could hope for; Stephen Zimmer, who believed in me when I had lost faith in myself; Philip Hopkins, a great friend AND a great editor; Christopher Rico; Christopher Koeppel; Amelia Ragland Russell; Tilman Goins; Tyrone Smith; Jack Tribble; Scott McNabb; Keith Baker; and Heath Tatum. You all have given me more than I deserve, and any person with half as many friends who are half as good would still be deeply blessed.

Family – Collin; Finn; Mom; Dad; Marsha; Marty; Breezy; Christa; Jenna; Sammie; Jackson; Aunt Jane and Uncle Leroy; Aunt Jane and Uncle Bill; Janette; Angel; Aunt Billie; Shane and Dennis; and those who’ve passed on. I love you all.

Finally, I want to thank Tracy Kinsler, who offered me friendship when I needed it, who accepts me as I am, scars and all, who appreciates the little things, and who does the little things. You are stuck with me, now.

These next few days are going to be exciting and nerve-wrecking, but hold onto your hats because the ride could get pretty fun.

PS. If I accidentally omitted you, please send me a message, and I’ll add you in.

A Great Weekend

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There’s so much good to say about this past weekend it’s hard to know where to begin. First and foremost, a huge shout-out to Zack James, Nick Papworth, and all the staff at ETSU-Con for organizing such a good show. You guys did a spectacular job, and I hope you will have me back as a guest again. The event was well-organized, well-attended, and an all-around good time. Everyone involved in putting it together should be proud of what you accomplished. The university should be grateful to have such amazing students capable of running a convention of this scope. Considering that this was only the second year of the event and the first for most of you running it, I’m excited to see what you accomplish in the future.

I also want to give a nod to my fellow guests, who I would highly recommend to any convention organizer. Charles Martinet, you are a first class gentleman, and it was an honor to share a stage with you. Thank you so much for your kindness, professionalism, and advice. Hopefully, our paths will cross again down the road. Robert Axelrod, thank you as well for your kindness. My only real regret of the weekend was not getting to spend more time talking with you. Martha Harms, it was a privilege to share your first ever con appearance with you. You have such a great and positive attitude. I wish you all the success in the world for your career. Aki Glancy, you have a bright future as well, and it was a pleasure to spend the weekend across from you in the dealers’ room.

I’m grateful for this weekend and the time I got to share with Tracy. She really made it special and enjoyed her first con experience. It’s a breath of fresh air to share my career with someone who gets that I have to step into the spotlight and doesn’t attempt to sabotage that. I’m grateful to have a lady like her in my life at last. She accepts me as I am without reservation and allows me to be me.

Stay tuned, folks. There are so many good things happening right now I can’t keep up myself. The dwarven invasion is underway, and great things are just around the corner.

An Old T-Shirt Made My Day

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When I first arrived at the dealers’ room at Con Nooga, I was greeted by one of my earliest readers who was wearing a Brotherhood of Dwarves t-shirt. First starting out, I sold those shirts along with the books as a way of generating additional income at festivals and conventions. There aren’t many of them left in the world. I only have two or three myself. Seeing one in public brought back a rush of memories and emotions that are hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.

I’ve written many times about my hesitancy to begin writing the series, so I won’t cover that again here, but when I made the decision to self-publish, I did so with full confidence that one day I would find my audience and be successful in the endeavor. The t-shirts were part of a larger strategy and were pretty popular, mostly because of their elegant simplicity. They definitely helped make shows less draining financially and increased visibility at many of those early events. In fact, the t-shirts are a big reason why John Rhys-Davies insisted on giving me publicity photos.

I had wanted to give him a copy of book one, but he had refused the gift and demanded a trade. He wouldn’t accept something for free, so he gave me an autographed picture of Gimli in exchange for the book. Later, his business manager (or girlfriend or both) came to my booth to thank me again. When she saw the shirts, she said he would love one and wanted to buy it. This time, I insisted that I would not take any money and gave her the shirt. A few minutes later, a furious (in a somewhat playful manner) John Rhys-Davies approached my booth and demanded that I accept something. We argued for a few minutes (an epic battle between Scottish and Welsh stubbornness) until he asked if I had a camera. My good friend Tilman Goins was in the next booth over and chimed in that he had one. Mr. Davies ordered us to follow him to his table, where he posed for the publicity photos of him reading Brotherhood. Those pictures sold a lot of books for me in the early days.

Because of my marriage falling apart and the implosion of the economy, I never got to do a second run of those shirts. When I finally was able to publish Red Sky at Dawn, I tried doing shirts for that book, but they just didn’t have the same appeal. Looking back, I wish I’d done another run of Brotherhood shirts instead of Red Sky, and I remember vividly wrestling with which one I should do. During this time period, sales for Red Sky were sluggish, very sluggish, because too much time had passed between the release of each book. Three years is too long to let readers cool off, and I constantly felt like I was starting from scratch at each event I attended. Finally, after three years of muddling through, I conceded that I’d gone as far as I could go as a self-published author and began seeking a larger press for book three and the series.

I’m grateful to be with Seventh Star, and today, the series is poised to explode (Stay tuned folks.  Exciting news is just around the corner). Moving to SSP was the single best decision of my entire career, and every day I am grateful to be a member of such an amazing team. But part of me still feels the bitter sting of my failure to succeed on my own. I poured so much of myself into those early years and came up short, and no amount of spin can change that basic fact. Although I accomplished some good things, my foray into self-publishing ultimately failed, not from lack of effort but from a combination of bad decisions, bad luck, and bad circumstances. No matter what level of success I may ultimately reach, I will always bear the scars of that failure.

But when I saw that beautiful t-shirt last weekend, my heart skipped a beat, and I was reminded of a time when my oldest son was still a baby and I was full of optimism. I remembered why I chose to dive head first into the publishing world and endure the criticisms and trials and setbacks and humiliations and triumphs and everything else the last nine years have brought my way. The Brotherhood of Dwarves is a damn good book that deserves to be on the market. The series as a whole, as I envisioned it back then and have since brought to life, is epic, and deserves to have an audience. Seeing that t-shirt reminded me of the things that are truly important. Whatever the future may hold, I will never forget the people who took a chance on an unknown author with an “ugly” book. I will never forget the people who encouraged me on my darkest days and nurtured me through my leanest years. You are my friends and family, and I am blessed and grateful to have you in my corner.

I’m D.A. Adams, and I’ve just begun to kick ass.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

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One of the lessons I try to teach is the importance of taking risks. Not everyone has the courage to step off the ledge into the great unknown, but if not for the people who do, we would never progress forward as a species or a society. Part of taking the risk is exposing yourself to failure, and as a man who has endured my fair share of failures, I can avow that the sting of falling short is palpable. In this society, we tend only to celebrate and acknowledge success, and we have developed this sensibility that prosperity is solely the result of hard work. When someone fails, society at large tends to blame the person for not working hard enough or not having the mettle to succeed.

But failure is a natural facet of risk. Plenty of people have started businesses or written books or performed music, working just as hard if not harder than those with success, and still failed. Maybe the timing wasn’t right, maybe they mistook the market, maybe they just never got their break. But two things I have learned in my life: hard work does not guarantee success, and failure is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Personally, I would rather endure a thousand failures than live with the knowledge that I didn’t have the courage to try. We as a society need to shift our thinking back to valuing efforts and attempts as much as we value success.

I’ve made the decision to leave education. It’s a risk, I’m aware. Instead of a guaranteed monthly salary, I will be forging ahead into the unknown of freelance pay. Instead of a benefits package, I will have to provide my own insurance and retirement. I understand those risks. The other night on Facebook, someone with good intentions questioned my decision. How will I provide for my sons?  How will I survive? She worried that I would regret the decision. On one level, I understand those sentiments. At my age and having been through as much as I have, I grasp the value of safety and security. I get that some people need the stability of a salary and cannot fathom the concept of living without a guaranteed income for the future. I get that.  I honestly do.

But despite the stability education affords (although that is dwindling daily under the business model), I find myself suffocating from the bureaucracy. Each and every day, the escalating problems within the system kill a piece of my soul. When I weigh the safety of a stable income against the toll it takes on my person, I no longer find it worth the sacrifices. I would rather risk absolute failure than continue down this path. There is so much more to life than a monthly income and job security, and with whatever time I have left on this planet, I intend to use my greatest gifts to the fullest extent I can.

For those who maybe worry about me, please know, I would not make this leap if I did not believe I could survive. There are mechanisms at work behind the scenes that I’m not yet at liberty to discuss, but please believe that this spring and summer are shaping up to be quite an exciting time. For the first time in a long time, I have real hope that my writing is about to become financially lucrative. While nothing is set in stone and there is still tremendous risk involved, I believe that the time is now. If I stay put out of fear of failure or insecurity about income, I will miss my window and wither away into a broken husk of a man.

So with that in mind, I’m stepping off the ledge, trusting that everything I’ve spent the last ten plus years building is about to come to fruition. I accept the risks, understand the gamble, and know that I may not succeed. But then again, I just might. Because the other side of taking a risk is that it offers an opportunity for a reward. It’s not that I write for money or fame or any of that nonsense. I don’t. I write because I must, because it’s the only thing that makes me feel whole when my children are absent, because people seem to like my characters and stories. I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life giving back in the form of teaching. Now, I’m moving forward solely on my creativity and writing, and I accept the risks involved.

An Obstacle is Merely an Opportunity

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Those are words I try to live by, though some days are bigger challenges than others.  There is no end to the list of obstacles writers in America face today.  From the glutted market to the dumbed-down populace to the overpowering sway of the corporate media behemoths, being a fiction writer, especially an independent, often feels akin to the fate of Sisyphus.  I will keep rolling my boulder, however, because that’s what I was put here to do.  Whether I can ever get it over the hump or am condemned to watch it roll back to the bottom every evening, I will keep pushing.

Unlike Sisyphus, I can learn and adapt my tactics.  This year, for example, I intend to broaden my reach in European markets.  If American audiences are too enthralled with dinosaur porn to read good fiction, maybe I can find a foothold there.  I intend to look into other markets, as well, like Australia, but Europe will be first because I already have a slight presence there.  One way or the other, I will expand my readership this year.

I read a good article the other day about how people should focus more on their processes than on their goals.  I’ve always applied this concept to writing, and I’m going to attempt to apply it to promotion as well.  I’m going to examine and improve upon the ways in which I promote my works and aim for increasing the effectiveness of my efforts, instead of just setting a goal and focusing on that.  The article also talked about focusing on small, incremental changes to processes instead of large, sweeping overhauls, so I’m going to look closely at what I do and how I do it and then attempt to improve upon what I’m already doing.  In that way, I will get this stone over the mountain and treat these obstacles as opportunities.