Horror and Hangovers: Writing Until It Kills You
Written by: Mack Moyer
The majority of writers who dedicate their lives to the craft come to a point where they write not because it’s their dream to ‘make it’ as an author, but because we cling to it like a raft in the vast, awful ocean that is real life.
Kind of like the ocean that killed Marky Mark in The Perfect Storm, only with more rejection letters.
I’ve written here before that there are everyday things far more horrifying than any scary story, and I think that’s especially true for writers.
My friend Alfie would agree.
And if you dedicate your life to writing at the expense of all else, you’ll probably agree one day too.
Alfie is like any number of authors who decided, quite too young, that all he wanted to do was write. He ditched college, eschewed any semblance of a career, and set to putting word to paper. That was when he was twenty.
He’s over fifty now, with a belly like a keg, prematurely wrinkled and balding, with the few brave soldiers left on his scalp having turned grey long ago, now pulled back in the kind of old fat guy ponytail you only see in the darkest recesses of Redtube’s amateur categories.
When you see him walking up the street you might think he’s homeless. Though his drug of choice is alcohol, he hustles along the sidewalk with the hurried gait you only see with heroin addicts heading out to get testers before the dealers give them all away.
He’s the kind of guy who would look perfectly normal selling bottled water at a street corner.
Like many artists, Alfie’s love of penning horror stories took precedence over ever finding a decent job.
Which none of us care about when we’re twenty, but things like dental insurance and heating bills get in the way of our bohemian, writerly aspirations the older we get.
Alfie lives in a one-bedroom efficiency in a Southwest Philadelphia slum. Making less than ten dollars an hour working in a nursing home, Alfie’s chief duty is to make sure old guys who poop themselves have clean asses afterward.
Alfie trudges to work every night for the graveyard shift then in the morning hits the library to write. He doesn’t have a laptop anymore. He got drunk once and passed out on top of it. When he woke up he saw that he smashed the screen to pieces.
After long nights tending to human fecal matter, Alfie jockeys for position among homeless men and morning drunks for access to the library’s computers. If he’s lucky he’ll get forty-five minutes to tinker with his novel, a 900-page behemoth he’s been working on for years.
Beware the substance abuse fantasy of the writer’s life…
Because Alfie didn’t. Whether he was predisposed to becoming a boozehound or took the plunge willingly while indulging in Hunter Thompson or Hemingway fantasies, Alfie began drinking hard when he was young and never stopped.
Now he says he can’t stop, not because of the shakes or the inevitable psychosis from withdrawal but because he claims all his good ideas come to him when he’s shit faced.
And he’s right. I’ve read his sober work and it’s unimpressive. At his drunken best, Alfie’s paranormal yarns are haunting and surreal, poignant and human, in a self-contained, Alfie-only genre that’s as much literary as it is horror.
So he drinks, thinks, writes, and wipes asses. This is his lot.
He almost died because of it.
A combination of pounding lukewarm tallboys and chain smoking cheap cigarettes led to Alfie having a stroke a few years ago. It scared him enough that he stopped drinking, albeit briefly.
During his short-lived stint of sobriety I saw Alfie when I was hung over. I told him I was thinking about cutting back on my own drinking.
“How much do you drink?” he grumbled.
“Usually a few Miller Lights after work,” I answered.
He snorted. “Drink until you can’t,” he said, talking more to himself than to me.
Alfie recovered from the stroke and settled into sobriety, narrowly avoiding the grim jaws of withdrawal thanks in equal parts to luck and medical care, yet his writing suffered. Soon he couldn’t write at all, and not just because other derelicts had gotten to the library computers first.
He became more depressed than usual. His life was already shit, but at least then he had the craft.
Alfie started drinking again six weeks later, begrudgingly, and his writing has never been better.
But you’ll probably never read a word.
Alfie’s only published work appeared, years ago, in tiny horror-lit magazines that hardly anyone ever read. He’s not internet savvy in any sense of the term, which immediately torpedoes his chances at gaining even a small readership in today’s market.
Even when he had a laptop, he didn’t have internet access. He’s got a 2005 edition of the Writer’s Market book and sends paper submissions to literary journals that don’t exist anymore.
He spends his limited minutes of computer access writing, not taking part in the review swap circle jerk on Goodreads or spamming Facebook with links to his self-published book.
Alfie is going to die a penniless, yet talented writer. In a few years, as much as it saddens me, he will have another stroke or an ailment far less dramatic, choking to death on the fluid in his lungs from an undiagnosed condition because the only time Alfie ever sees a doctor is when he wakes up in the emergency room with a tube jammed down his throat.
And it is sad but, in a perverse way, Alfie is a hero to all of us who dedicate our lives to this maddening, ugly, yet life-affirming work.
He’ll likely never earn another dollar from his fiction.
His addictions that were facilitated by his love of writing (or maybe he would have been a puking gutterdrunk regardless of whether or not he ever wrote a single word) are going to kill him, yet he dares not quit unless he finds himself unable to write again.
Alfie writes because he needs to. He writes because he’s good at it. He writes because it’s his life.
Above all else, he writes because he’s a fucking writer.
Alfie is in all of us.
Mack Moyer’s horror novel is available on Amazon. Buy it so he can afford a case of bottled water, so that he may sell them on a Philly street corner.
Nice one, Mack!
We’ve posted more than 1300 articles on HNR, and I can honestly say that this may be my absolute favorite. I REALLY FELT this piece, and sadly, it hit home for me. I love you, Mack! 🙂
This makes me so sad, but it is so damn relateble.
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