Saturday, October 13, 2012


My tumble into the abyss did not happen all at once.  Necessity intervened.   Even as my emotional resources began to deteriorate I was under an urgent obligation to provide the University Press of Colorado with masses of materials for my forthcoming Espinosa book.  This, I was to learn, was no mean undertaking.

Accustomed as I was to the simpler practices of fiction publishers, I was unprepared for the crushing weight of unfamiliar obligations that suddenly descends on the author of a book to be put out by an academic press.  While I had mastered the arcana of footnoting, I had not anticipated the difficulties attendant upon contacting separately every source I had directly quoted or from which I had purchased a period photograph, asking their permission to use those materials.  Each source had its different process for granting permissions and this immediately became a wellspring of worsening confusion for me. 

The task took many weeks and in several cases the permissions and photographs cost me shocking amounts of money.  Rather than pay a cartographer to prepare the necessary maps for the book, I chose to draw them myself, an expedient I had used in Nor the Battle, with, I thought, some success; but, as I am afflicted with arthritis, preparing the maps was no easy job and I fretted that the illustrations looked awkward and amateurish and felt certain they would be rejected.  Further, I was required either to prepare an index for the book myself or pay for the press to hire one; and as I had no wish or ability to pursue this sort of mind-numbing ordeal, I chose to pay a private indexer.

My deadline for accomplishing all this and more--far more--was last July 30.  I worked feverishly to beat that deadline, and managed to do so by a couple of weeks.  But the process was sheer hell.  It drained me of strength and initiative; doubts about the quality of the work sprouted like foul weeds; Worse, I--usually a nerdy perfectionist with detail--sank into a black hole of confusion about what was what and what went where.  My depression, unhindered by what should have been the euphoria of being published again for the first time in five years, eroded my thought processes until  I found it incredibly difficult to keep track of the status of all the permission requests; to organize and compose captions for all the photographs; and to make the changes to the text recommended by peer reviewers. 

Anyone who knows me well understands that I am normally a fiendish organizer.  But now my ability to organize was collapsing.  I would lose track of some important piece of material and immediately go into a blind panic searching for it in every nook and cranny of the house.  There were days when I literally did not know what I was doing or why.

Styron, in Darkness Visible, speaks often of his depression as a psychic pain.  But I felt no pain.  In fact, I felt numb, empty, a vacuum within a vacuum.  From a person who usually made a fetish of organization I had deteriorated into a whining, bewildered stranger in a world I no longer recognized.

Ruth, usually an angel of patience, finally and understandably began to grow weary of my infantile tantrums and seiges of self-pity.  I could not blame her, but neither could I help myself.

Finally, somehow--I no longer recall how--I compiled the materials and sent them off to the publisher, who, to my immense relief, declared them (even those maps which looked to me like Neanderthal cave-paintings) acceptable.  Now the long wait began.  The book would not appear for another year.  In the meantime I would crash and burn.


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