Why my vaporware book is still a touchy subject

It’ll be three years this October. You’d think I’d be over it by now. But you’d be wrong.
There are a lot of reasons I don’t want to talk about my vaporware book.

It left me feeling used up and thrown away. Let me tell you about that summer. After I worked my 8-hour day, I’d come home around five, throw a frozen pizza or something similarly effortless into the oven for 30 minutes, then I’d sit down and write. When the pizza was done–I learned how to recognize when things were done by smell–I’d go get dinner, bring it back over to my keyboard, and write some more. I’d stop occasionally to get a drink or something. Sometime after midnight, I’d call it a night. Sometimes quitting time came at 12:01, and sometimes it came closer to 2.

The next day, I’d start the process all over again.

One day very early in the process, I was driving home from work. The right side of my body completely shut down. I couldn’t move my right arm or my right leg. My head felt funny. I left-footed my way home. I dragged myself up a flight of stairs, and by the time I found my keys to my apartment and let myself in, I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know who I was. I started thinking I was probably in trouble. I went and found the phone, picked it up, and started to dial for help. But I couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number. I couldn’t remember how to dial a phone. And even if I’d been able to do all that, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone who I was.

I laid down, not knowing if I’d ever get back up.

I awoke a couple of hours later. I called my doctor. “Get in here,” he growled. So I went in the next day. Yes, the word “stroke” was batted around.

Ultimately, it turned out it was a panic attack. The CAT scan of my head turned up nothing out of the ordinary. Fortunately.

I’m an overachiever and when I have fears that I can’t live up to my own expectations, bad things happen. It’s the way I am. My dad was the same way. Fortunately a combination of people managed to calm me down and it didn’t happen again.

What did happen was a slow, gradual pain in my wrists. I used to play baseball and softball a lot (I still play softball) and I always had a nagging injury because of my style of play. I learned before I was a teenager how to play through pain, and so I wrote through my pain. Except it got worse. And worse. The 16-hour days took their toll. One day in June, I was out of clean dishes, so I closed up the dishwasher and did a load. (I’d put the dirty plates in the dishwasher previously, for some reason. Probably because there wasn’t any room in the sink.) An hour or so later, I opened the dishwasher. I reached down for a plate. I couldn’t grasp it. I was physically incapable of unloading a dishwasher. My wrists were in agony and I had no strength in my hands.

I laid down on my futon wondering what I’d do with myself. If I couldn’t write or fix computers, what would I do for a living? Going back to school to learn another skill was out of the question. That would involve writing.

Somehow I managed to do my job. Any time I had to type something, I’d get someone else to do it. My brain still worked, and I gained back enough strength in my wrists to be able to do hardware work. So one of my coworkers took care of most of the software issues, while I took on hardware issues.

The book sat and sat. Eventually I got to the point of being able to write again. That was a bit of a miracle in itself. Someone who bought my first book, Curtis Horn, somehow got wind of my troubles and wrote me with a book suggestion. I bought it that night, read it cover to cover, and went out shopping for vitamins. It all worked. In late August I sat down to write again. By September I was able to write for a couple of hours at a time. At the end of September, the book got cancelled. I fought it for a while. Then I had my agent look for other possibilities. But I wasn’t 100% yet.

I’m still not completely recovered. When I have to do a lot of repetitive motion, especially mousing, like I’ve been doing for the past few days for a project at work, my wrists start to hurt after about 20 minutes. I have to stop and do something else.

I can type, but the marathon sessions required to write a book are beyond my reach. I’m not a 9-inning pitcher anymore. I’ve accepted the possibility that I might not ever be again. A 1,000-word magazine article is about right for my typing abilities at this point. So I write the occasional magazine article, Wikipedia entry, or the stuff you see here.

Can I revisit the book? No. I put both of my careers on the line for that book. I poured everything I had into it and got a whole lot of nothing back out. I think I know what hard drive contains the manuscript. I have less idea where to find the CD-R backups. I don’t know if the drive still works. Honestly, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if it didn’t. I’m pretty sure the CD-Rs have gone bad by now.

Getting all the copyrights released, if it’s possible, would be a phone call or an e-mail message or two away. But I can’t do it. That’d be like calling up the ex-girlfriend from hell, years later. You know her. She’s the one you loved more than life itself but the relationship was fatally flawed, unsalavagable, and she ripped your heart out, jumped up and down on it, then kicked it back at you with a disgusted look on her face. And you looked down on it and wished you were dead. We all dated her once. Well, at least everyone I know dated her at least once.

I dated her. Then I built a replica and I titled it Integrating Linux Servers with Windows Networks.

I’m past the stage where I don’t want that girl to know where I’m living or how I’m doing. Apathy’s kicked in. She can know whatever she wants, as long as it didn’t come from me. But that doesn’t mean I want to pay her a visit. The book’s even worse. I can still feel the pain some days.

Maybe someday there’ll be another book. It probably won’t be much like either of the other books I worked on in the past. I’ve got some books in me, but I don’t know if I have the ability to get them out of me.

And right now I’m enjoying just having a life. Back in 1999 and 2000, I completely forgot what a life was. And since I’m not willing to make the sacrifices I would have to make to be a full-time writer, I have to choose between a life and writing books.

I choose the life.

7 thoughts on “Why my vaporware book is still a touchy subject

  • February 6, 2003 at 9:16 am


    I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day that my book came to me. I don’t know where it came from, it just flashed into my mind in an instant and I knew it completely, beginning to end.

    That was the easy part. From that day forward I was obsessed with trying to get it down in print. Wherever it came from, it was given to the wrong writer. That was in 1998 and it’s still not done. Unless something changes for the better, I fear that it will never be written. Not that it would be a great tragedy if it wasn’t completed. Whomever gave it to me neglected to inform me what I was to do with it if I do ever complete it.

    Like yourself, this old body began to break down in some serious ways one year later. It’s funny how that works! The parts one abuses the most are the parts that will go first. I suppose I have never abused my mind because it is still crystal clear and sharp as ever. I COULD do many things, but my body simply will not permit it. I’ve given up everything of a physical nature I’ve loved to do for most of my life up until I turned fifty-nine years of age. It wasn’t by choice…I had to give it up simply because it is impossible for me to do any of now.

    It forced me into early retirement but I thought I would be able to write for the rest of my days. Seems I was wrong about that. Three years of sitting in front of my computer and my body rebelled against even that activity. Two or three hours in a chair and my head begins to swim and I get so light headed I feel like I’m going to pass out. Only one thing relieves those symptoms…I must lay down for a time and relax.

    So now I must ration my time out and make choices as to what is most important. Finishing that book isn’t one of my priorities. The world will just have to go on without it. I’m sure it will.

    My life isn’t much now. No hunting, no fishing, no prolonged walking or sitting. I can work in my yard gardens if I take frequent breaks and keep my inhaler handy when I get to where I can’t breath any more. Physical energy is a limited resource. Some days I used it up all at once and the day is over for me except for doing mental work.

    I have lots of time for working on my relationship with God. That’s the one aspect of my life that I have been making lots of progress in.

    Thanks for choosing to use some of your efforts in sharing with all of us. I do so appreciate it.

  • February 6, 2003 at 4:13 pm

    I must say that I laughed myself silly about “the ex-girlfriend from hell.” As you said, we’ve all dated her. We feel your pain.

  • February 6, 2003 at 6:53 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that what you obviously love so much has caused you so much grief. If it’s any consolation, I want you to know that your book has really helped me deal with many of the shortcomings of Windows 9x. In fact, it’s because of your book that I’ve been so reluctant to upgrade to WinXP, just because your book has helped me become so much more familiar and comfortable with 9x than any other product. You’ve taken most of what I’ve needed to know about partitioning hard drives, tweaking the registry, getting rid of Win9x crap, and put it into one, easily accessible volume so that everytime I sit down at a 9x computer, I can have everyone sing my praises as I squeeze a little more life out of an old machine. And that’s because of you. Not too many authors get to hear from their readers just how appreciated their books are; I want you to hear from me that your book was very much appreciated; I guess asking you to write a book on Win2K/XP tweaks would be out of the question!

    One thought that I did have was that you could sell ‘chapters’ online, through your website. Download a chapter for a dollar, or two, or five, whatever you like. You could work on them at your lesuire, take your time, and your readers would wait. I know I’d buy them. And the benefit, of course, by selling them online is that you wouldn’t have to be any publisher’s b***h, as it were. It’s like selling music tracks, except you’d be selling ‘installments’ of your book online. Even Stephen King (I think) has dabbled with it. Just a thought.

    But thanks again for your book; sorry it cost you so much to make it.

  • February 7, 2003 at 8:31 am

    Lawrence, if only O’Reilly had promoted his book the way you just did, perhaps his experience would have been better!

  • February 7, 2003 at 10:26 am

    Whoa. And my co-author and myself, awaiting to hear back from a publisher with a co-author…

    Has someone ever published a book on how to deal with publishers LOL?

  • February 7, 2003 at 11:57 am

    Phillip Greenspun did write about his experiences, Taran. You can probably get a link off of http://photo.net .

    Wasn’t a picnic for him either.

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