Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Bluebird of Happiness; the Chicken of Depression

I’m depressed!  Very depressed.
The Bluebird of Happiness temporarily absent from his life, Stan is visited by the Chicken of Depresssion
For the past several days I’ve been trying to write an important chapter in our fourth Detective Kubu novel.  And all that’s coming out of my fingers is drivel.  Unadulterated drivel.
To make things worse, this afternoon I had to send a copy of the manuscript of our third novel, Death of the Mantis, to a friend across the country.  While I was waiting for Fedex to deal with the paperwork, I glanced at a few pages.  Ugh!  The writing wasn’t as smooth as I remember it when we eagerly sent the manuscript to our editor in March.  It was choppy, and there were typos!  There were still typos after all that proofreading!!  Aargh!
As is the nature of the beast, I, of course, then had to find other things to be depressed about.  That didn’t take long.  As I approached – on foot – the house I am staying at in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, I started to pant.  Whether this was from the slight hill I had just ascended or in anticipation of the 45 steps and three switchbacks on the path from the road to the door, I don’t know.  But by the time I reached the door, my heart was racing, I was sweating, and my leg muscles were in need of a steam room and massage.  Where had my youth gone?  Where was the finely tuned body of yore?
Fortunately my subconscious had anticipated my malaise and on the way home had directed me to the local supermarket, where I purchased a packet of Chocolate Digestives – one of my all-time favourite biscuits (cookies).
As I sat sipping my cuppa tea (normally enjoyed at 4pm sharp by my family in South Africa, but today 12 minutes early due to emotional needs), I decided I’d better write this week's blog before attempting to finish my elusive chapter. 
Of course, writing a blog requires a topic, which I didn’t have.  I slouched further into my chair.  Should I write about the Motswana man, Tirafalo Mokopi – a 21-year old security guard in Matsiloje village - who claimed he’d made love to a ghost?  As he lit a match to whisper sweet nothings to his sweetheart, she disappeared before his eyes, even though the windows and doors were shut.  “She just vanished,” he said in mild trauma. 
That would be a great lead-in to a piece about Succubi, I mused with a flicker of enthusiasm.  But then my negative demeanour took over.  Who on earth would want to read about Succubi?  Obviously nobody!
I helped myself to another Chocolate Digestive.
I also pondered writing another Botswana story: of the Maun businessman and New Apostolic Church priest, Raphael Shoopara Sekele.  Although initial rumours were that he had been murdered, probably because his body was found on the back seat of his car with blood dripping from his mouth and nose, police confirmed that he had died during an illicit lovemaking session, not with his wife, but with a girlfriend.  The fact that his pants were down and his manhood exposed probably helped the police reach their conclusion.  According to The Voice, ‘the revelations of his demise will come as a shock to the community and church members, who described Shoopara as a man of multiple talents…...’ I was also pleased to read that the police returned Shoopara’s mobile phone to his widow.
Grey go-away bird
I decided there really wasn’t enough in this story to make a blog of it, even though I noticed that Shoopara was originally from Kachikau - that's the town where Moremi, the cook from Jackalberry Camp in The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, and his pet go-away bird saw the man wearing the hat with guineafowl feathers.

Time for another Digestive!

Then I considered the story of ‘Pumpy’ Puso, a three-year old girl from Tutume, a small town in the north central part of Botswana, not far from Zimbabwe.  Two weeks ago, around eleven in the morning, she went to play at the neighbours’ house with some friends.  A couple of hours later, her younger cousin came home for lunch, but Pumpy wasn’t with him.  Frantic, Pumpy’s mother went next door to find her.  To no avail.  She had disappeared.  Despite massive man (child) hunts by police and community, she still hasn’t been found.
'Pumpy' Puso
Pumpy’s mother is in deep despair.  She thinks that Pumpy has been abducted for muti.  In this context, muti is a potion that transfers the power in one organism to another.  For example, if you want courage, you may take muti made from the heart of a lion.  If you want to improve your sex life, you may seek out a witchdoctor to give you the right muti to accomplish that.  The witchdoctor would likely abduct a young girl (or boy) and brew a potion made from ……body parts.  Unfortunately, not an uncommon practice.
Just thinking about Pumpy threw me into a deeper depression than before, both because of the nature of the crime, but also because the chapter that I am having trouble writing is about a man whose daughter has just been abducted.  In the chapter he becomes deeply depressed, and his mental state is increasingly precarious. 
So my depression has come full circle.
And I still can’t squeeze the right words out.
So, I’ll give up trying and have another cup of tea.
And finish the packet of Chocolate Digestives.
The blog can wait.

Stan - Thursday

Postscript:  In order to clear my head and raise my spirits (but mainly for the popcorn with butter and salt), I headed out after writing the words above to see George Clooney in The American. I am pleased to report that I'm now less depressed than I was.  Even my drivel was better than the movie.


  1. I hope you get over your writer's block. I'm waiting for the next book!

  2. Fortunately the next Detective Kubu book is already at our editor for publication in 2011. It's called Death of the Mantis and has the plight of the Bushmen as its back story. Kubu's old Bushman friend Khumanego asks him for help.

  3. I definitely think a full case of chocolate digestives is called for. This is not just writer's block, it's a full-scale crisis, possibly even a Dark Night of the Soul. Those require absolute pounds of chocolate.

    I'm in the same place. Everything I write sounds like instructions for assembling a barbecue, possibly translated from Korean.

    Pumpy's story broke my heart. God, the darkness that rises up in some people.

  4. Stan: I have read your books and all your posts on Murder Is Everywhere and you do not write drivel.

    This cannot be said of writers who loan their names to unknown writers, sign contracts that are obscene in that the publisher is paying millions for a hollow vessel, and readers are still encouraged to put down money to participate in a shell game. The writer from Europe who most recently shared a cover with a master of drivel is actually very good and not unknown among people who devour mysteries.

    I won't get into the auditory drivel that emanates from "news" sources owned by Rupert Murdoch or, for that matter, what passes for prime time television.

    I know drivel when it crosses my path and nothing you write meets the criteria by a long shot.

    Now, having revealed that the next book is due in 2011 can you gives us a hint about when in that year? Early in the year would be very nice.


  5. Hi Beth: Thanks for your kind words about my writing. But you haven't read what oozed from my mind over the past few days!

    Early in the year would be VERY nice for Death of the Mantis, but the closest we can get out of our publisher is August/September. Sigh.


  6. Hey Stan pass the digestives. What you call 'drivel' would make my rough draft similar to the sandpaper alternative that passed in 70's France for 'papier de toilette'.

    Didn't Chandler say when in doubt kill someone, or something like that?

    Chin up, now go murder someone,

  7. Buck up, old (OLD! Bwahahaha!) friend. The block shall pass. Go down to the bay and eat some sushi. Live some fugu! Your writing has ALWAYS been good (and Ghu knows, I've seen it for a lot longer than most anyone on this list!) and WILL always be good. So there!

  8. Ah, 'chocolate half-coated'. Balm for the soul those. I used to gorge on them as a teenager. Made me fat. A fat teenager. That was bloody depressing actually. Now I prefer the dark chocolate ones. Great dipped in a cuppa. Though not quite as great and durable as the chocolate hobnob, the Jacques Cousteau of the biscuit world. Those babies can go under for seconds and still come up intact.

    Stan, you have my sympathy. As you would from most writers. We all have times like this. Lots of them. Thankfully there are good days too. Though, of course, often when things come too easy, we end up worrying about why!

  9. Hi Stan - there are times I feel physically ill writing and every word almost needs to be removed surgically from my brain. It is horrific so I truly sympathize. However the good thing about computers is you can always fix the castrated text later, when the words begin to flow. If it makes you feel better, be happy that you are writing in English, a language with a lot of words, my language has very few which can be sooo annoying at times.

    Finally, although you are probably already over your block (having had all the cookies by now) my advice at times like these is to read through what you already written (from the first chapter) and when you hit the hard spot where the muse left the room, try to imagine that you are the reader not the writer and anticipate where you, the reader, would like to happen next.

    all the best Yrsa

  10. Hello,
    There's another long cold Canadian winter approaching, so I need something to read. You know, some unadulterated drivel about assembling barbecues or works of that ilk. Perhaps the complete cultural history of the chocolate coated digestive biscuit would get me through to spring. Write on!

    But seriously folks, none of you write drivel. I'm glad you care about what you write. I'm glad you care about Pumpy too.
    Write on!

  11. Thank you all for your support in this arid time. Took the day off and went to the Africa exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Some wonderful pieces. Tomorrow I'm going to take Cara's advice and kill someone! A politician to boot. Hopefully that will revive my muse.