I actually first started writing my novel in 2009 or maybe 10ish, after posting my online Wishlist. I’d seen people do it and get free stuff. Seeing as I was unemployed at that moment, free stuff seemed pretty good to me.
In looking over it, I was amused by how haphazard the wishes were. They ran the gamete from Venitian masks, three piece suits, cigars and tobacco scented cologne from Italy to bespoke corsets, stiletto heels and Chanel lipstick in the color “Vamp”. Besides having an incongruous taste for the posh life, I wondered at what kind of person someone looking at said Wishlist might suppose they were buying for.
Meet Marco A. Shatter
That night, I wrote a short piece exploring the idea of such an entity. The story followed a young house guest of the family Duhême, Michael, who encounters one Marco A. Shatter. Marco is a benign monstrosity, the adopted, inhuman child of the family. Though unlike most children, Marco came and went as they pleased.
Micheal was uncertain if this pale, bald being was a male or a female. What they were certain of, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was that it had a noxious smell. Marco, well aware of this, attempted to mask their natural musk under copious amounts of cologne. That, accompanied with their taste for only the most pungent of maduro, and oscuro cigars really only compounded the issue.
Marco was very fond of stealing clothing, but had no concept as to how one might properly sort out an ensemble. They might be seen wearing a wedding gown, with a neck tie and brogans, or perhaps just a corset a galoshes. They also loved masks. The walls of the household were decorated with Marco’s collection.
In the premiere story, Michael catches them stealing a tie from his luggage. He gives chase, thinking this is just some human raggamuffin off the streets, only to discover that Marco is nothing like he’s even encountered before.
The name, Marco A Shatter is an anagram of my own, and one I’d been using online for a while. I try to keep my online life separate from my personal one. I’ve learned the hard way that some people are all too happy to smother you, given the slightest inkling of affection of social media.
While I’d used the name as my Facebook and Twitter handle, until that night, Marco A. Shatter had not really been fleshed out as a character. From that short story grew my novel series. These tales followed Marco and the decidedly peculiar family Duhême on their fantastical adventures.
Becoming Napoleon Doom
The second child, who would eventually take the name Napoléon, soon emerged as the focus of these stories. They were a chimeric being, created for the Imperial Russian Government in 1880, to house the soul of an interdimensional entity. Their parents and adopted sibling, Marco, eventually escaped. Together, they attempted to give Napoleon as normal a life as possible considering. However, the child was never able to shake their sense that they were wrong for this world.
The sleepless nights I spent, compulsed by some unknown force to write these stories still remain some of the best memories of my life. I would turn on Patrick Wolf, or Florence and The Machine, and just unleash myself on the page. I existed in a magical sort of neither realm, where I watched my characters fold into the fabric of reality. I loved every minute of it.
I started using the online alias Napoléon Duhême, then Napoléon Dûheme, and later, for ease of pronunciation, Napoleon Doom. I posted pictures of myself as the character, sporting a black wig and a variety of jaunty hats. I hoped to create interest in the character and build a writers platform.
Unfortunately, people just took interest in me and whether or not I was single, or willing to trade saucy pics. It nauseated me, but I figured any attention was beneficial.
For all my labors and devotion at the writing desk, my attempts to query the first book in the series were rather paltry. I didn’t quite understand then that your query is the secret handshake, that gets you through the door. I had a stock letter, which I plugged the appropriate names and companies in to. I would then just mail the query, along with my full manuscript, out to any publisher I could Google an address for. I never attempted to query agents, I always just assumed that was beyond me.
There was very little thought about whether or not my book was genre appropriate for the publishers I sent to. When I did bother to consider this, I always had some rationale as to why it fit. This publisher specializes in historical biographies and my story takes place in the past. This publisher specializes in romance novels and there’s a romance in my story! Being a writer is all about creating believable delusions. Sometimes I was just a bit too good at doing that for myself.
The editor who I had hired kept pushing me to go the self publishing route. They insisted my target audience was the esoteric and new age community. I could go to conventions relating to these niche interests and sell “as many as a thousand copies.” That wasn’t good enough for me. It still isn’t.
While there are definite esoteric elements in my work (lucid dreaming, multidimensional entities, energy parasitism) I think most people in this camp want books that fall more into the “how to” range. While they might appreciate a character who performs energetic healing but they’d rather buy a book on how to mediate and bring it on for themselves.
Still, with this advice in mind, I latched on to a paranormal podcast called The Grimerica Show. They were looking for bloggers to help boost content. I submit a simplified, more modernized version of my story as a weekly web comic called Lost Bread. They accepted, and I remain forever grateful to them for them having given me this platform.
I started trying to ingratiate myself to this audience. Its a behavior I’ve adopted in my life as a means of fitting in. One I’m still trying to purge myself of now at 41. I’ll attach myself to a group or person, research everything there is to know about them and try to force my square peg self into a round hole. Rather than focus on the plot, I got caught up with incorporating inside jokes about the podcast, and hiding referential Easter eggs in my art. The story became very diluted, but people were paying attention to it. That was more than I’d had before.
I also started doing cover art for Grimerica’s episodes. This eventually gave me an expansive portfolio of work. Though I don’t always agree with Grimerica’s views, I believe in their right to speak them, and let people arrive at their own conclusions. That kind of conviction was not something I had on my own. I cannot underplay Grimerica’s importance in my development as both an artist and writer.
The modernization of the story line allowed me to experiment with the Napoleon character outside the original Victorian setting. Victoriana can be beautiful, but tends to be a bit gothic and pompous at times. While I was very entrenched in that aesthetic when I wrote the novel, I was allowing my tastes to evolve. It really gave the character, and myself much needed depth.
I still think it’s weird that I tried to be Goth in order to fit in. I loved the aesthetic of films like Beetlejuice, Dracula, or Interview with a Vampire. I met people who liked creepy stuff too and said, to myself “Okay, I must be one of these!” I was never really able to reconcile how the elegance of Coppola’s Dracula translated into striped stockings, spiked jewelry and combat boots- but when in Rome I guess. Likewise, I’ve never really been able to acquire a taste for metal or industrial music.
This comic version of my book also introduced Josie, Napoleon’s goth/punk ex girlfriend. She was a symbolic expression of a past wasted trying to mold myself into the perfect partner for whomsoever would have me. She also embodied my inability to comprehend myself outside the confines of a relationship. Her inclusion was very therapeutic, and started moving my story outline in interesting new directions. Plus, she’s a looker, and fun to draw.
The reimagined plot mainly focused on Napoleon’s lucid dreams, slowly revealing a past that they’ve forgotten, and their true nature as an interdimensional entity. While asleep, Napoleon inadvertently falls into alternate dimensions and encounters the strange beings who live there, all of whom seem to be jockeying for Napoleon’s attention or demise. The plan was to slowly reveal the multidimensional plot Napoleon had unwittingly become part of by way of the Imperial Russian breeding program 136 years prior.
The Con Life
In 2016, after trying to submit my comic for publication and failing, (It really had become too niche with all the asides and inside jokes) I self published a print version of the Lost Bread web comic. In 2017, I started trying to sell it and my Grimerica cover art at San Diego Comicfest. I quickly discovered my art and comics were not really on brand for this market. A surrealist comic, littered with obscure inside jokes with a thin stream of residual plot is a tough genre to sell. My art was also more of the dark surreal or dadaist persuasion. Not exactly a popular choice among people who just want to see naughty pin ups of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Still, I made about $350 dollars and sold out of the first issue. That’s something right?
I feel a little heartbroken when I look at the watercolour story art made during this time. It was obvious I still had plans to return to my main plotline someday. That day was still a long ways off yet.
Creeping Wave Radio
In 2017 I’d been asked to join a Podcast called “Friends to Know” which patterned itself after “The Joe Rogan Experience.” It became pretty obvious to me early on that I wasn’t a great fit for this show. For one, it was one of the first times I had emerged in person, as Napoleon Doom for a sustained period of time. I’d never really established my own self online. I’d rather speak through my work.
I’d done short videos advertising Grimerica before, and snippets on social media where I donned my black wig and became Napoleon. Now that I was in this role for multiple hours, certain issues arose like gender and sexuality, which I really wasn’t comfortable discussing. At the risk of sounding like a Tumblrina, I just don’t think of myself in those terms. I get out, live my life and don’t make a lot of time for deep introspective analysis of who or what I am. That’s what my writing and art are for.
Whether it was his intention or not, I felt like the show host had no problem undermining me, or using me as the brunt of his jokes. It felt like being a highschool pariah all over again. Still, I never said anything, and took it all in stride. I’d just drink a fifth of whiskey before the show started in order to pull it off.
I guess I made a good impression, because from that show, I was offered a slot in a new Podcast collective Grimerica was organizing. The group was dedicated to alternative media, and uncovering fake news. It’s become a bit of a cliché at this point, but in 2016/2017 political hot takes that challenged social justice and political correctness were the plat du jour. I knew I was an even worse fit for this show, but decided to try and put my own spin on things.
In my attempt to avoid delving too deep into the confrontational or conspiratorial realm, I came up with Creeping Wave Radio. It would be an extension of the stories in my original novel series, supplemented by a hearty infusion of cryptids, paranormal and conspiracy theories. Instead of trying to expose hidden truths, these ideas would be handled through a light-hearted audiodrama, akin to “Welcome To Night Vale”.
I incorporated my co-hosts from “Friends To Know” and the hosts of “Grimerica” into this new incarnation. The first season was heavily based on a dream I had, while falling asleep listening to Tom Wait’s “The Black Rider.” This show was closer to my original concept than the comic had been. Unfortunately, as the show wore on, I started diluting my plot once more. I wrote people in as unnecessary characters, trying to bank off of their audience and grow my own. Some of those characters worked beautifully into the mythos, and others were just distracting and ultimately pointless.
I eventually separated from this podcast collective and went out on my own. As Napoleon in Creeping Wave was supposed to be a podcaster, I developed my own spoof podcast of the esoteric and conspiratorial genre, The U Mind.
The show started off as purely scripted and improvisational guests, appearing as bizarre characters. Soon, I had people asking to come on the show to promote their own projects. When I’d tell them they’d have to appear as a character, and I’d work up a script for them, more often than not they were offended. Their work was just as important to them as mine, and they wanted an outlet to promote it.
I realized I could potentially grow my audience by cross pollinating with these guest’s and their fan base. I could only really orchestrate about 9 episodes of Creeping Wave Radio per year, what with the scripting, coordinating with bands and actors, etc. I could keep interest in my projects up during the off season by doing a weekly interview with whoever had something to shill. Then when my audiodrama season premiered, I’d have built up the fan base that would be receptive to it.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. The guests would retweet their episode once, their friends would listen to about five minutes of it to say they did, and that would be it. It was a wasted effort and a stifled creative en devour all rolled into one, pandering, snowball of despair.
Have Art, Will Travel
By 2018, I basically showed at any venue I could get accepted into. I was now promoting my art prints, my audiodrama, my podcast and my comics. The only thing that communicated to people was that I was a hobby artist with my hand in a lot of cookie jars. No one took my work seriously or treated me like someone who attended these events to grow their business. Instead, I had the reek of an amateur, looking to “connect with a community of like minded individuals.” I was anything but.
Being an introvert and thrusting myself into the public eye this way took a toll on my mental stability. I knew I had to network, but I had never really mastered the art of saying no, or setting boundaries.
I truly believe that art shows, conventions and meet ups need to do background checks on the people they allow in. When you have a gathering of people that pride themselves on how well they DON’T fit in, you’ll inevitably have some deeply disturbed individuals in the mix. Sure, some people are just quirky, but some people have developed the mentality that the rules for so called “normies” no longer apply to them.
I seem to be irresistible to the latter, who made it their life’s work to eat out my soul and pour their essence into my empty husk. They quickly learned that I was easily cowed into submission through shame, degradation and lunatic tenacity disguised as genuine concern.
I always sort of assumed that being on the low end of the totem pole, with regards to social standing, these people secretly envied the mean girls and toxic boyfriends who told them they weren’t good enough. Seeing someone so willing to debase and humiliate themselves as I was, they embraced the opportunity to hobble me. It was a rare treat for one of their ilk.
So many of these shows were more about fostering a social environment based on common interests than they were about doing business. Socializing has always been more of a chore to me than anything, something I did out of obligation. These congregations were incredibly violating to my sensibilities. I’d much rather suffer a physical assault than one on my mental sanctity. Physical suffering is finite, eventually you’ll pass out, or die. Mental torment on the other hand is potentially infinite.
I started drinking to cope. I couldn’t handle this sudden onslaught of “friendship”.
New Life In Lockdown
In 2020 Coronavirus hit.
On March 11th of that year, I was actually out with friends for my 40th birthday at an English style tea house in San Marcos, CA. I was very careful of who I showed in my pictures, not wanting to incite the jealousies of those who monitored me online . I also made certain to only post the photos after I was well away from the location, so as not to suffer unwanted guests. Such was the paranoid carnival of my life at the time.
I had made a wish on a tiny teacake, with a candle stuck into it, that “Somehow I could take my life back.” 8 days later, the state of California implemented a lock down protocol. There would be no art shows, no conventions, no meet ups for some time.
I found it incredibly freeing. Having forbidden myself from saying no, or asserting any power over my life for the sake of inclusion, this lock down felt like a gift. In this time, I slowly felt my actual self, the one I’d kept suppressed for so long, reemerge.
My drinking, which had always been more a coping mechanism than anything else, slowly tapered off to nothing. My senses returned to me, I was able to honestly evaluate the path I had been on for four years of my life. I didn’t like it. I realized that it was a pattern of knee jerk reactions and consolations to everyone but myself. I had become a passenger in my own existence.
Social media still allowed a way for people to worm their way into my life. I had a vague recollection of trying to establish an authors platform at one time. That had just disseminated into a sort of bizarre smattering of selfies, sassy quips and memes. I had become just another meaningless profile, cajoling for followers without any discernible focus or goal.
I started retreating from this environment. When I did resurface, I’d post pictures of hikes I went on, or things that were drastically different than whatever sort of fare I had been posting. It still had nothing to do with my writing, but it was reflective of my reemergence into the world. In my mind, I’d just burn out my old connections by garnering their disinterest. That didn’t work.
The Ugliness of Truth
I started experimenting with unrepentant honesty. I actually started telling people what I thought of them rather than mollifying everyone. Honesty is a wonderful flame to burn bridges by, especially ones that lead to places you never want to return.
It’s also a great way to amass enemies. One of the biggest fears that had kept me complacent to those around me was that of social retribution. The idea that all the connections I’d grovelled and suffered to win might be lost in an instant held me captive.
Those same people had learned that I could be made compliant through the application of shame. They were already apprised of my fears and insecurities from years of mining them out of me. They also knew how to exploit them. I’m still in the process of learning not to fall down on my knees and beg forgiveness whenever I find myself under fire. I’ve wasted too much of my life as a servant already.
I’m getting to enjoy being called a narcissist for wanting a life of my own, and toxic for finally being forthright. If those are your definitions of those words, I cheerfully accept these titles upon myself!
I’m hoping to use this space to journal about the writing process, and returning to the drawing board, with the experience that only failure can bring. I can only write from my life experience, and I’m tired of living in fear of those who happened to be there with me.