I’m very late to the TNB fifth birthday party, but I didn’t want to let it recede too far into the distance without writing a few words of appreciation.
It was late 2006 when I first heard of the TheNervousBreakdown.com. This was the first iteration, back when there were maybe twenty-five or thirty contributors writing mostly to amuse each other. Zoe Brock suggested I contact Brad, and she kept after me about it when my first reaction was lukewarm. After all, I was authoring a popular blog on MySpace, generating a large amount of conversation with every post, so the unimaginative guy in me saw no reason to branch out. Like I was really going to take the time to write a post that maybe only twenty people would read?
Also, before MySpace I’d done very little non-fiction or memoir type work because I’d focused almost exclusively on developing a career writing novels.
But the idea of interacting and collaborating with talented writers was alluring. Yes, I sometimes wrote thoughtful pieces on MySpace, but my most popular posts were silly things about Paris Hilton and Victoria’s Secret models and a hypothetical Dungeons and Dragons-type game where nerds roll dice to pick up imaginary hot women.
And to be perfectly honest I wasn’t fully confident of my writing ability. I knew I was fairly good at composition and could pen a mean action sequence, but publishing a couple of novels with Random House’s Ballantine imprint didn’t make me feel like the hero like I expected. Selling those novels was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but even before the first one was published I could already see I wanted to grow. I longed to be taken seriously as a writer. Like we all do.
What I found with The Nervous Breakdown, once I began to post, is the collective nature of it, the regular interaction with a number of talented writers, had a profound impact on my own ability. There were so many styles and personalities and backgrounds, and the pieces were short enough to be digestible in a single sitting, that I realized a big reason why people bother with writing programs and degrees: competition. These writers were good, and if I didn’t want to embarrass myself, I had to step it up.
This may all seem obvious and predictable, but I’d never known any other writers serious about their work. Growing up I didn’t have many artistic friends. And the writers I met after I was published, at conventions and other events, were there mainly to talk about sales. Sales are important, of course. But I already had a background in marketing.
As a novelist, if I’m known at all, it’s as a science fiction writer. Which is a strange thing for me since I don’t like genre fiction. Novels that exist only because they’re written about a particular subject matter (science, crime, romance, history) don’t appeal to me. But high concept ideas do. So how to tell a story about a science-related topic without being branded a sci-fi writer? I’m not sure it’s possible. But if it is, the way to do it, in my estimation, is to immerse yourself in everything else.
One of TNB’s frequent readers once wrote to me, I love your writing, but I don’t read your books because I don’t like that kind of stuff. No offense. I didn’t take offense, not at all, because for me her words meant I’d made a little progress. I wasn’t necessarily reliant anymore on high concept ideas to tell a story. Which makes me smile a little.
In September my next novel is being published. It’s called Thomas World, and it’s about a man who believes the whole world is a game that revolves around him. Either that or he’s losing his mind. It may sound like science fiction, and it owes much of its existence to Philip K. Dick. But in reality it’s the least sci-fi book I’ve ever written, and it owes just as much to the community of contributors and readers here at TNB. I couldn’t have written it without you guys.