If you’re a longtime subscriber, you might be surprised to see this podcast reappear in your feed. Fictitious has been on hiatus for just about two years. I talked about the decision to do so on social media when I put the show into hibernation, but I let YouTube and all of the podcast feeds go dark without an announcement.
I actually did record and produce that hiatus episode, explaining why I was taking time off, and the expectation that it would be about 6 months long. A variety of delays kept me from uploading that video and podcast. Eventually, it was easier to just stay quiet.
Why I Took a (Very Long) Break
My primary reason for the hiatus was burnout. Around the start of the pandemic, I had taken Fictitious from an audio-only podcast and created a video version for YouTube. In the process, it also became a weekly release, with new episodes every Monday. This change came in part to meet the algorithmic demands of YouTube, but also to take advantage of an absolute avalanche of new sci-fi/fantasy book releases and authors to interview.
That weekly schedule ended up being a bit overly ambitious, though. The biggest difficulty was keeping up with the reading. I’m a generally quick reader, but I read for both enjoyment, and with an analytical eye towards craft. I don’t like to speed read through books. I want to savor them, re-read the best bits, mull over the author’s choices.
If that schedule meant reading a book a week, that wouldn’t be so bad. But scheduling and availability of author guests often led to weeks that had two or three interviews in a matter of days. I was often scrambling to find the time, and the mental energy, to consume the novels in prep for the interviews.
Adding to the reading time was additional research I did for each book, generally for alternate reviewer perspectives outside of my own as a cis-het middle-aged white guy, and also writing the elaborate interview outlines that became the backbone of each episode. Then follow it all up with production for two formats — video and audio — and all the work to release and promote them weekly.
It was a monster of my own making, but I kept that schedule up for over year, and released a ton of episodes that I’m really proud of. But, by the summer of 2021, I needed a break. Not in the least because I was losing enjoyment for the very act of reading. I’d turned my hobby and escape into an extremely time-sensitive chore. I needed to rest, and recalibrate.
And, most of all, I wanted to put my head down and focus on my own writing. I’d begun work on a standalone, horror-inflected sci-fi novel. It was fully outlined, and I was excited to use this freed up time to buckle down and get my word counts in. So I announced the hiatus on Twitter, recorded an announcement video, and cleared my schedule.
The Second Half of 2021 was BRUTAL…
And then, almost immediately, life came at me with a wild and brutal year that scuttled all of my plans.
Days after I officially put the show on hiatus, our house, which we were renting at the time, developed massive water issues. Problems which took hours and hours to fix, with multiple visits from handymen and Roto Rooter, and caused our water bill to triple.
In the middle of that, hornets swarmed me while I was mowing our yard, stinging me over a dozen times. My body’s reaction to their venomous onslaught left me in significant pain for over a week, with welts that didn’t heal for even longer, despite a heavy steroid prescription.
And while I was recovering, our beloved 16 year old dog, Domino, my bestest furry friend and constant companion, began experiencing frequent seizures, then suffered an injury that initiated a cascade of health issues. For the next four months or so, an enormous part of our daily life was spent just trying to keep her health from failing, through medicine, comfort, and preventative measures around our home. We couldn’t safely leave her alone, so my wife and I would only go out on solo missions, so at least one of us could be with her at all times.
Those were difficult, painful months, scraping every extra day and hour and happy moment we could with her before the inevitable. We eventually lost her in November, just days ahead of our 18th wedding anniversary. Even knowing it was coming, with months spent mentally fortifying myself for it, the pain of losing her was overwhelming.
With Domino gone, so too went my desire to write, to read, to even watch movies. I found it extremely hard to lose myself in story. That affliction lingered, an apathy that waxed and waned for the next year.
We held out for a month before we couldn’t handle not having a dog, at which point we were blessed to discover the gentle and hilarious rescue we now call Milo. He makes every day better, and I’m so grateful that we get to be his forever home.
But that wild year didn’t end there. Three days after bringing Milo home, my wife’s brother, John, developed a serious medical condition and had to be hospitalized. John is autistic, and we are his caretakers. Trapped in the hospital during a COVID uptick and subsequent medical lockdown, John underwent major surgery and then endured Christmas from his sick bed, with very limited visitation privileges.
We somberly opened presents on New Years Eve when John finally returned home. With our household back together, we gratefully let 2021 slip away into the time stream. We’d had quite enough of all that, thank you very much.
2022 Didn’t Slow Down
2022 didn’t wait around to get interesting, though. My wife quickly landed a great new job. Our landlords abruptly decided to sell our house. But, fortunately, we were in a terrific position to purchase it. As first time homebuyers, though, that was a new adventure and one I took point on as my wife’s new position absorbed her attention and energy. Right as that process finished up, a client brought me on a huge and very cool project, and I lost myself in the work for awhile.
All that time, and no writing. It’s not that I’d stare at a blank page or screen, unable to write. I just couldn’t bring myself to even make the attempt. A lot of things felt very far out of my reach at that time, like my brain was broken and my clumsy efforts to glue it back together were futile and failing.
That summer, with support from my wife, friends, and doctor, I was evaluated and diagnosed with ADHD. It’s a strange thing, in your mid-forties, to be presented with information that re-contextualizes your entire life. I had to examine a lot of the assumptions and observations I’d made about myself in a new light, and began to understand myself a little bit better. This is still very much a work in process.
My one real creative outlet during these past two years has been my D&D group. I’ve been running a home-brew fifth edition campaign for about three years now. Every Tuesday, a bunch of my closest friends gather via Zoom and Roll20 and explore a world I created, sharing a story we tell to each other.
In the process of running that weekly RPG, I’ve written more than 120,000 words of lore, world building, adventure hooks, and game mechanics. Much of it serves double as the building blocks of a fantasy adventure series I’m currently outlining. (And perhaps my own campaign setting and game modules? We’ll see…)
Somewhere late in 2022, my hunger for books and stories returned. My writer brain switched back on. Not at full power, not yet, but gradually resuming the near constant ideation I used to experience—scattered and tangential though it might be.
Putting my writer brain back together
Now, as I write this in early summer of 2023, many pieces of me that felt distant for these last years are coming back into focus. The agonizing fog of detachment has cleared somewhat. I’m not free of it, some days are still hard, some desperately unfocused, but I find myself excited again to throw myself back into my other creative endeavors.
So that leads me here, again, to Fictitious. Why? Because I miss it. I miss these amazing conversations with writers, the chance to explore their creations and craft, to learn from their processes and errors and triumphs.
Why did it take so long? Well, all the things I mentioned before. But, also and not insignificantly, shame. Shame because I set this show aside to write myself, and then failed to do so. Feeling like a fraud because, for all those discussions about storytelling, I haven’t turned my own stories into finished books yet. Mentally cringing because I told some of my author and publishing friends my plans before going dark, and I return with little to show for it, creatively.
But I know, too, that whatever lack of discipline, motivation, or burning need has hampered my writing, I shouldn’t be ashamed of bearing the weight of these past years. I can’t put all the blame on struggle, or executive dysfunction, or even depression. But I can acknowledge the effect of all of them, and give myself a little bit of grace.
And I can do my damnedest to stop them being an anchor around my ankle—to break that chain and run free. Or, at least, to drag that heavy bastard behind me as I advance towards my goals, and do things that I love.
The podcast is back, but there will be some changes…
So, with all that, Fictitious is back. More interviews with writers, and more deep examinations of storytelling craft. But some things are changing.
First off, I’m returning to the audio only format. YouTube was a fun experiment, but the extra load of video production isn’t where I want to put my time. I’ve been a podcaster for over 10 years now—the mic and audio production is my comfort zone.
The show will continue to be available on YouTube, though. I was surprised to find that a lot of my older, audio-only episodes have performed pretty well there. It’s also been encouraging that, even though there hasn’t been new content in this feed in two years, new YouTube viewers have found the show while I’ve been gone, leaving nice comments and interesting feedback.
I’m also going to play around with the format of the show. The questions and structure of the interviews might evolve. And I’m going to experiment with more essay and compilation episodes, sort of like my “Is this the best book On Writing?” video, which went exclusively to YouTube.
The frequency of release is going to be a lot looser, though. I learned my lesson with the weekly schedule. If I want to keep loving reading, I can’t demolish myself trying to keep that pace. So, apologies in advance if you’re the kind of listener that really likes a defined drop date for your podcast episodes. I’ll do my best to deliver great stuff whenever it appears in your feed.
If you made it all the way to the end of this narrative, you have my gratitude. If you’ve been a fan of Fictitious in the past, or are just discovering it, thank you for giving me and my guests your ear and time. Let’s keep meeting new authors, exploring new worlds, and creating our own stories, together.
The home for all things Fictitious is right here on fictitiouspodcast.com. It’s on the socials as FictitiousPod, mostly Instagram right now, as Twitter is a sinking ship I don’t feel like going down with, and I’m still searching for a better social media life raft.
Thanks for coming back to Fictitious. Now. Let’s go write some stories.