A letter

A private epistle, occasioned by the ‘Altered Perceptions’ campaign on Indiegogo, and posted here for purposes of record-keeping. Read at risk of your own mortal boredom. –T.S.

Dear Theophilus,

Actually, I thought very well of the campaign to help Robison Wells, and was glad to see that it reached its goal. The idea, as I understand it, was to raise $110,000 by means of an anthology in aid of writers with mental illnesses, and the campaign overshot the mark by at least $10,000. I do not know Mr. Wells and never heard of him before, but as I understand it, he has several major forms of emotional illness which prevent him from earning a living in the customary way, and is moreover crippled by debts that can neither be forgiven nor endured: I mean chiefly student loans and back taxes, which cannot be got out of even by bankruptcy. It will no doubt be a great easing of his burdens to have these debts retired in cold cash.

I speak of emotional illness, because in my hard-lived judgement, the term ‘mental illness’ is far wide of the mark. Apart from actual cases of psychosis, which are mercifully rare, most of the people we call mentally ill are suffering emotional torments but are able to think lucidly where their immediate pains are not concerned. As Chesterton says somewhere or other, the madman is not the man who has lost his reason, but the man who has lost everything else. I find myself that I can reason with brilliant clarity when I am depressed; if I were not continually reaching such unpleasant conclusions, the process would not be half so depressing. But I can only reach the conclusions that are there to be found. Some people can delude themselves into feeling happy; I have never had that frame of mind. Reality, in my experience, is what bites you on the arse when you are not looking, and it is useless to pretend that it isn’t there or that the blood on the ground is not your own. This is, I suppose, a mature and bracing philosophy, but it is not one that many people would choose to embrace. As Stephen Donaldson says, it is time enough to refine the soul when the body has no other choice. By that standard (and no other) I suppose I have a refined soul; and I am heartily sick of it.

As I say, I thought very well of the campaign to help poor Mr. Wells; but I cannot say that I felt at all pleased about it. It seems to my emotions to be making a great pother about nothing. After all, what is he really suffering from, apart from his debts? Panic disorder, agoraphobia, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I myself have been diagnosed with three of the four, and if someone wanted to bring me up on charges of OCD, I suppose that the case could be made. Meanwhile, I have my IEPD to keep me warm. (That’s ‘intermittent explosive personality disorder’, if you’re keeping score. It means that I have a vile temper, and that while at the best of times I cannot suffer fools gladly, there are moments when I cannot suffer fools at all. Since I myself am the biggest fool I know, you can imagine what that does for my equanimity.) Now, nobody is volunteering to raise money to get me out of debt, and I am perfectly well aware of the reason why: it’s simply because I am not important enough to deserve it. But some thousands of people think that Mr. Wells is important enough, and that, I am afraid, is where the shoe pinches. It is not a happy-making thing to be reminded so vividly that I am a creature of so little value; and I cannot really cheer for Mr. Wells’s good fortune without the ghastly temptation to feel sorry for myself.

It says on the Indiegogo page for the fundraiser: ‘Fortunately, book writing is a great fall-back position for him, but even that suffers. The first draft of Feedback took six months to write 20,000 words, because he was laid so low.’ This sounds eminently familiar to me. There have been months at a time when I felt unequal to the simple task of writing a blog post. Take these last two months, now: only if you do, I’m not taking them back at any price. First my new doctor put me on Effexor, which made me too drowsy to function for most of the day, but at least damped down the nightmares that were (quite literally, I am afraid) turning my hair grey. Then one day I found myself in a cold sweat for no apparent reason, with a temperature of 34.5 °C: strictly speaking, my body sweated itself into hypothermia. I took this symptom back to Dr. Hussain; blood tests confirmed his diagnosis of hypothyroidism. So I went on Synthroid; but because I had gone off Effexor to help me stay awake while I dealt with the new illness, I had the whole battle with drowsiness to fight again. Just this past week, the good doctor finally threw up the sponge and took me off Effexor for good. He is trying a new medication (new to me, and apparently, relatively new on the market), but I haven’t filled the prescription yet. I wanted to take a couple of days to let the Effexor wash out of my system before putting anything new into that strange chemical stew.

So on the rare occasions when I had enough energy to write anything, I had not enough strength to believe that I had anything worth saying. I make joking remarks about the 3.6 Loyal Readers on my blog, but in truth I don’t think the number can be very much larger; and small as it is, I am rather afraid to say or do anything that might frighten any of them off. But writing nothing is the one thing that guarantees they won’t read me, and will ultimately forget me. I potter away at projects like the one I told you about, which in a moment of insanity I nicknamed ‘the Orchard of Dis-Pear’, but at this point, without any real hope of success. It is really just a way of putting in the time until my money and time run out.

You must tell me some time how you keep your own concentration on days like these. At any rate I hope you will; but whether you reply or no, I remain

Yr. obt. svt.,



  1. Having a peripheral knowledge of your struggles, from reading your blog over the years, I must admit when I read about the campaign on Mr. Wright’s blog I expected you to be the “beneficiary”. I was disappointed it was not intended to help you Mr. Simon. I have felt helpless in the past in not being able to do anything you. You mentioned in a long-ago post the possibility of a tip jar on your web site. If you are ever able to do so I would contribute where I can. Perhaps you could exchange an email with Mr. Wright on how he went about implementing that technology? At any rate, through your trials please try to remember that Our Lord loves you more than you, who is a professional at imagining the fantastic, can ever even begin to fathom.
    Hang in there my brother in Christ.

  2. I do wish you would put a tip jar up. I just finished rereading Lord Talon’s Revenge, and I wanted to pay you for it all over again, for the purely selfish reason of wanting you to write more. You’re the best new fantasy author I’ve read in years.
    I knew things were rough right now, and didn’t want to nag, but my son’s godmother and I are anxiously awaiting The Grey Death.

  3. If I’m the 3rd commenter, that means you only have 0.6 to go to verify the number.

    I derive enormous enjoyment from your (alas, infrequent) cogent postings, as well as from your fiction writing.

    I struggle with some form of depression all the time, and mostly it makes me despise myself. When it’s at bay, I can get lots of work done, but I hate not being in control of my ability to buckle down and work, and I’m not comfortable with the notion that it’s not my fault somehow. (And I’m writing this instead of something more productive at this very moment, but adding my bit of cheer is more important.)

  4. cinda-cite says

    i’m not sure about my standing in the queue but i might be loyal .6….

    God’s love and prayers,


    • Since yours was indeed the fourth comment to appear, I suppose you must be the .6. However, some or all of my other Loyal Readers are also fractional, because they are Loyal to other writers besides myself. It appears that my Loyal Readership comprises more than four individuals, even if the total number adds up to 3.6.

      • Yes, that would explain it: I am certainly a Loyal Reader of several different authors, though I’m not quite sure how large a fraction I would end up contributing to the 3.6.

  5. I hope things improve for you, Tom. I find it difficult to express meaningful and compassionate words to those close to me who are suffering much less someone I know as the man whose work I enjoy on the Internet so forgive my clumsiness. My prayers are with you.

  6. I’m here, too, and still eagerly waiting on the book of essays so I can have my mom read your posts.

    (notice I’m not compiling them myself)

  7. Stephen J. says

    I agree forcefully with the above recommendation of a tip jar. You may also be interested in knowing that The End of Earth and Sky is one of the critical reasons I am finally going to succumb to the technological shift and invest in an e-reader, so you may take credit for getting one of the stubbornest Luddites I know (i.e. me) to actually change his mind on something. (To give you some idea of my tech- and ‘Net-stuntedness, I periodically drop off Facebook for extended periods, have no Twitter or blog of my own, and did not get a cell phone for myself of any variety until the end of last year. So this is an accomplishment of note.)

    • I am very much honoured indeed by your decision to abandon that portion of your Luddism. I hope you will find yourself well rewarded, and by better books than mine, too. I do not specify this out of modesty. I myself got my first e-reader in 2011, in the form of the iBooks app for my iPhone; and it was a pure delight to be able to download all the free books from the Gutenberg people and read them wherever I wished, without being tied to a PC screen. The classics are an inexhaustible trove; and now, not only are they priceless, they are also available without any price.

  8. Thank you all very kindly for your support!

    I will think hard about adding a tip jar; but I warn you, there are two strong factors militating against it. One is the feeling that asking for tips is something like begging, which I was brought up to be ashamed of. By this I mean, I was taught that it was better to die of starvation than to beg for money.

    The other factor is that, um, well, I don’t know how to set up a tip jar. I mean, I can install a WordPress plugin all right, but I don’t have any idea how to make the money in the jar actually go anywhere. I shall have to look into that, and it fills me with trepidation on purely technical grounds.

    • Answer to Objection to 1: Tips are not equivalent to begging. A tip received is in return for something of value. Good service or pleasure given, etc. Therefore, there is no need to feel anything other than gratitude toward the person who holds your talents in esteem. You might as well feel guilty for charging for your books. And speaking as the father of a son who is about to profess his Solemn Vows in a mendicant (Dominican) order I suggest you deeply reconsider your long held contempt for begging. The Little Sister’s of the Poor, the Missionaries of Charity, the Dominicans, the Fransiscans (and many other mendicant orders) all beg for subsistence. The point is the aim of the begging. We all hold in contempt those who beg at busy intersections for money from passersby – only to take their newfound cash home and stop at the liqour store on the way. There are, on the other hand, moral forms of begging.

      Answer to Objection 2: It could be as simple as setting up a PayPal account tied to a newly created (and generally unused) email address. PayPal is very easy to set up and generally secure as long as you choose a complicated password. The link you would add to your web site should be almost trivial to set up as well. That would at least allow all of us web denizens that own PayPal accounts the opportunity to give you a tip when we are delighted by say a series of wonderful posts on Christmas Hymns (just speaking in the abstract here).

      • A tip received is in return for something of value. Good service or pleasure given, etc.

        A tip received is usually a percentage gratuity offered by the purchaser in excess of the amount due as shown by the bill. Where there is no bill, there is no tip per se, and the language of mendicancy more properly applies.

        I suggest you deeply reconsider your long held contempt for begging.

        I beg your pardon: I do not have a contempt for begging. I was merely taught that it would be evil and contemptible for me to do it. There are many things in this world that it is wrong for me to do, even though it is perfectly right for others to do them: get a formal education, get married, have children, or speak about politics, to name just a few. I cannot give any rational cause why these things should be wrong for me and not for others, but I have been repeatedly and vehemently assured, in every case, that they are. Begging is another thing that falls into that class.

        The point is the aim of the begging.

        Yes, indeed; but I am not a member of any mendicant order, and would not be using the proceeds (unlike the Franciscans and Dominicans) to enable me to propagate the Gospel without having to work a day job, nor (unlike the Little Sisters and many others) to help the poor and the sick. I would only be using it for my own subsistence, and that, as I was taught, is not permissible: partly because a good Scots Presbyterian (my father’s stock) must earn his living by work or else die; partly because a good Catholic layman (such as all my mother’s people were) is supposed to give alms and pay tithes, not receive them. And partly (as I have been so often taught by society at large) because my subsistence is a contemptible end in itself, and my survival is an evil that ought not to be encouraged.

        • A tip received is usually a percentage gratuity offered

          To me the operative words here are usually and offered. Usually is correct, but not determinative. A narrow definition would be rejected by the porter carrying my bags at an expensive hotel or my postman when I give him his Christmas tip. Those are both tips.

          I do not have a contempt for begging.

          It is I who should be begging for pardon, I apologize. Please forgive my very poor choice of words – my only defense is I scribbled the above in haste the very first thing after waking this morning. My only point was that there are moral forms of begging, which you made clear that you agree with. That was not clear from your initial statement – and the position stated that it would be better for you to starve than to beg for food seemed to exclude that. I was in no way trying to say that you should be begging, or that having a tip jar would be begging. I believe neither.

          • No apologies are necessary, Sir. I made my meaning unclear. As you have perceived from my comment just above, I meant that I believed begging was wrong for me to do, not necessarily for everyone.

            Anyway, I am glad to hear you make a good case for not regarding a tip jar as begging. It does help me against the objections of those strident old Presbyterian ghosts. (You have never been haunted, Sir, until you have been haunted by someone who was predestined to do so.)

            • Hrodgar says

              For my part, I always thought a tip button on a blog more or less equivalent to a busker’s hat or open instrument case on the sidewalk.

              • There is that. However, you can get arrested for doing that in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or just by busking so badly that your music succeeds only in violating the local noise ordinances.

                I live in constant fear of discovering that my writing is on the level of that grade of busking; and that is another reason why I have never put up a tip jar. I honestly am afraid that nobody would leave any tips, and somebody might call the cops – or at least point and laugh at me for being insanely presumptuous.

              • Joe Katzman says

                I, personally, refuse to give money to mendicants – but I will give money to anyone who performs and busks. To me, it says “No matter my station or lot, I refuse to be anything but a producer.”

                My giving is a mark of my respect for that, as is proper for a son of Alba’s lineage.

                With that said, I do pay attention to quality. Quality is respected even MORE. It bespeaks not just a current desire to produce, but a past effort toward improvement of that production. Your busking is more like the kind on Toronto’s subway systems. Which is to say, done by people who had to pass an audition of competence first. It shows there, and it shows here.

    • Bob McMaster says

      Regarding begging. At this point, you have not done so. Merely making it possible for others to give you money is not doing so. And, refusing to allow anyone to be charitable to you is, in some sense, uncharitable to us. Since it is more blessed to give than to receive, I ask you to not deny us the blessing of giving.

  9. Off Topic: Mr. Simon, will it be possible someday to purchase The End of Earth and Sky via Smashwords? I do not purchase books from Amazon, especially ebooks. I am more than happy to purchase from Smashwords or Barnes and Noble however. Thank you.

    • At the moment, The End of Earth and Sky is enrolled in KDP Select, and it has paid me a bit to do so, since I do get people borrowing it from their lending library now and then. However, I do not intend to leave it there permanently.

      It had been my original plan to remove it when The Grey Death was published; that would allow me to offer it for free as a sample of the series, and make my money off the following volumes. But since the second book has been long delayed by my ill-health, I may alter the plan and take the first book off Select before the second is ready. When I do, I shall certainly announce it on my blog. And I shall certainly do it sooner because of your kind request.

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