Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How a Migraine, A Handful of Pills, A Swedish Girl, And a Wild Imagination Became A Novel

So, guess what?  I wrote a novel.  Yep! It has words, chapters, pages, a cover, and hopefully will have a destiny greater than being a glorified coaster. Yes, yes, please cue the clip of Stewie criticizing Brian for his noble writing attempt, but I actually did it.  It’s called My Sweet Saga and it can be purchased here (and liked on Facebook here). I attached some advanced reviews to the bottom of the post in a shameless attempt to show you other people have enjoyed it, so it can’t be all bad. But the following blog has little to do with the book itself, and everything to do with the inspiration behind it, as I would love to share why this absurd novel was more than a simple result of a hobby or just a way to kill time. It was actually the most important thing in my life over the course of the past two years for a number of reasons beyond the obvious.  

Early June ’09: 

There were tons of reasons I was sitting on my bathroom floor, holding a handful of sleeping pills, but at that exact moment, I just wanted a bad migraine to stop.  I don’t get them often, and for those who get violent migraines, I’m sure you can relate.  But for the lucky ones who do not, picture a pulsating ice cream headache times 50,000…except these don’t go away for hours. Add incredibly blurry/clouded vision that enhances the pain and, oh yeah, imagine that even limited exposure to light infinitely compounds the problem.  To put it mildly, they are fucking hell. Generally in these horrible moments, I try to think of happy thoughts or songs, just something to concentrate on until I pass out from the pain.  I mean, anything that could pass for positivity will do. Boobs, an upcoming party, hell, even a five-dollar, foot-long from Subway. But that night, I could think of nothing.  Nothing at all.  Just a void. And I never realized that had become the sum total of my perceived existence. So I swallowed the pills, chugged water, and hoped there wouldn’t be jolts of pain that would precede death.

I fucking hate the word ‘suicide.’  I try to never use it.  In fact it hurts to even write it.  And I never, in a million years, thought I’d ever be one to try it.  Sure it was something I’d think about during tough times, but I figure everyone probably has fleeting thoughts until they push them away like annoying cigarette smoke.  It’s absurd, really.  In retrospect, I try to think of my life up to that moment and, with new context, attempt to see where I went wrong.  But, to this day, I’m honestly not sure.  There’s nothing to pinpoint.  I simply just wasn’t happy, and it manifested itself in slow, strange ways.  I realized I really preferred to be alone, and therefore, would spend more time doing solo mundane activities.  Sure, I’d go out with friends, but as soon as those nights began, I’d find myself checking the clock until I felt it was an acceptable time to go home and sleep.  Saturday afternoons were filled with walks, long walks.  In fact, one late morning, I set out down the block for coffee and didn’t stop walking until I reached Santa Monica.  Not the boulevard, the actual city.  Which wouldn’t seem like such a big deal unless you know I lived east of Beverly Hills.  Mirrors became my enemy.  I couldn’t look in them anymore; in fact, I took to brushing my teeth in the dark.  All I saw was a rounding body, thinning hair, sunken eyes, and, in hindsight, everything in my life I was missing.  I had come to LA to become a writer, but I found myself not caring near as much.  In fact, the crap I handed my manager was completely uninspired to the point where he’d actually yell at me.  I was just going through motions.  That was life. I like to think I kept a good face, laughed all the time, and I probably did.  In the moment, and this is the 100 percent truth, I honestly didn’t think anything was wrong.  There were no cries for help because it never even occurred to me that I needed it. 

Seconds after I swallowed the pills, my body rejected them.  Maybe it was the way I chugged the water, maybe it was just effects from the migraine, perhaps it was my body telling me “not yet,” but I immediately vomited pretty hardcore.  I remember feeling conflicted about it, but not strongly so.  Trust me, I wasn’t thinking of picking up the pills from the floating vomit chunks, but I wasn’t thanking God I tossed my cookies either.  Regardless, a short time later I felt myself get very sleepy; I guessed I hadn’t vomited them all.  I didn’t know what would happen, and I wasn’t all that scared.  I figured if I woke up, I’d be fine with it.  But if I didn’t, I was at peace with myself too. 

Obviously, I woke up. 

I’ve heard accounts of people jumping off bridges.  How they say the second they commenced free fall, all they wanted to do was live.  Like they just made the biggest mistake of their life and they would do anything to take it back.  I didn’t feel that way.  I just felt kind of numb. Actually, I felt as if it wasn’t such a big deal and that I shouldn’t be dramatic about it.  And, also, I thought none of it was scary.  But I knew I didn’t want to get back to that place I hadn’t even known I was near.  So, that dreary weekend, I decided to change things.  And since I love making lists, I made one.  A list of all the things I wanted to do to change my life.  I wanted to get in shape so I wouldn’t be afraid of the mirror.  I wanted to change my entire persona and look so I wouldn’t be reminded of the person I was (anyone wondering why I’m all tatted up now, well, now you know).  I made a point to be more social. I would force myself to write something meaningful. There were many other little things on the list, but arguably the most important was the item that simply said…TRAVEL.

I had never really been anywhere in my life.  I’d driven across the country a few times, but they were hardly enlightening experiences.  I’d been to Disneyworld many times as a youth (which were always fun) and there was a trip to Canada or two.  But I never had that semester overseas or that post graduate trip to Europe where you discover that the “world is so big, yet so small.”  I didn’t feel particularly strongly about travel even when I wrote it on the list, but I figured it was something I should try.  But I didn’t want to go to general tourist destinations like London, or Paris, or Tokyo.  I didn’t want to visit anyone anywhere; I preferred to go somewhere alone.  Looking back on it, I wanted something I could, as ridiculous as it sounds, call my own.  I’ve long admired Swedish politics and, when I was young, someone told me all Disney fairy tales took place in Sweden (100 percent completely untrue.)  Anyway, because of those details, Sweden always had appeal to me, so I went on Orbitz.com and, with some prodding from my buddy Mike, booked a 6-day trip to Stockholm.  People found this choice strange, and I never really gave them much reason to consider otherwise.  But I felt it made sense.  

I started checking things off the list in the weeks leading up to my trip, but didn’t feel much better, to be honest.  The new exercise regimen gave me something to focus on, and the other small items on the list provided goals to keep me occupied, but even with only a few days left before the trip, I considered not going.  I’m not sure how seriously, I never once voiced this uncertainty (because in moments I generally was thrilled to go), and anyway, I think I just knew I wouldn’t turn back. 

So, on August 10th, 2009, I, armed with a camera, clothes, and well wishes, boarded a plane from LAX to ATL, where I would then take an 8 or 9-hour flight to Stockholm, Sweden. 

And, to make this incredibly melodramatic, that’s when everything changed.

I always thought it would be cool if the universe tipped you off to life altering moments minutes before they occur, if for nothing else so you’d be mentally prepared for them.  I had no intentions of “finding myself” in Sweden or anything like that.  In fact, I’d given basically no thought to what I’d do, what I’d see, if there would be serious culture clash, and etc.  I didn’t know if there were touristy things to fill up my time, or if I’d be bored shitless.  In short, I didn’t really know shit about the city, a word of Swedish, or even a Swedish custom. I figured I’d just wander around, talk little, and eat herring or whatever the restaurants provided until it was time to come back home.

Just like my LAX->ATL flight, I was placed in the waayyyyy back of the plane, right in front of the toilets; it was the exact same seat I occupied during the first leg of the trip. Strangely enough, the girl sitting in front of me was actually the same one who did on the initial flight (she probably used Orbitz too), and we soon struck up a conversation regarding the coincidence.  After the flight attendant informed us that the plane was only half full and that we could find any seat we wanted, me and said girl escaped from the shitty seats and picked adjacent rows in the middle of the plane, both taking advantage of the extra space for prime napping.  But while talking to her about movies featuring killer pigs (yes, this happened), a young, lightbulb blond girl parked herself in the row right next to mine and, in retrospect, I now ponder how I ever doubted the idea of “love at first sight.”  I honestly can’t remember exactly what I felt then, but I do remember my body tensing and my heart racing a bit.  I remember, hmmm, not being confused, but the thoughts running through my head weren’t exactly lucid.  This beautiful young girl quickly interjected herself in our conversation (I think we were on to zoos at this point…ones without killer pigs); her slightly accented English giving away that she was native to Sweden.  Soon after, the girl from the previous flight went to sleep, and the conversation with the Swedish girl continued for the remainder of the flight. Eight or nine of the quickest hours of my life later, the plane landed, we were still talking, joking, and whatever.  We exchanged information and a thought to see each other again, even though she had to travel a few hours south to her home somewhere in southern Sweden.  In retrospect, I should have followed her, but well, I was on zero sleep, of muddled mind, and, most of all, I just suck in certain situations. 

After we parted, I took the train into Stockholm, quickly found my hotel, and immediately laid my exhausted, yet lighter body on the queen-sized bed.  I remember spreading myself out and just staring at the ceiling of the hotel room.  Silence. It felt good. And, fuck, for the first time in God knows how long, I felt HAPPY.  It was all so fucking cliché, right?  Depressed, travel to Europe, meet a girl, get happy? Movies were made about this bullshit.  But there I was experiencing that exact feeling.   I don’t want to dwell too much about her, but there was something beyond her great smile and a quirky personality.  She was a bit guarded and mysterious, but also incredibly open in brief moments.  Like there were small cracks in her personality that would quickly reveal themselves, and there was something about it that was incredibly compelling.  Mostly, it was the unexplainable, animalistic feeling that overcame me (and I don’t mean sex).  Sometimes you just meet someone and your heart pounds, you fumble over your words, you just know this person will become an important part of your life.  I could remember feeling such emotions in the past, and maybe it was amplified because of my circumstances, perhaps the whole thing was just too damn romantic, but everything about the incredibly brief time we spent together was amazing, and more importantly, I knew, more than anything, that I didn’t want to lose that feeling.

And I didn’t. 

The week that followed was probably the best of my life.  No, unfortunately I never saw that girl again, but we talked throughout the entire week, often, and the specter of seeing her reigned over it.  It gave me something to look forward to, even if it was false. Perception is reality, anyway.  And it gave me a confidence in the strange city where I knew no one and nothing.  I had originally expected to speak to no one, but there I was, out there. I met people, conversed with them, dined with them, and never felt judged.  I learned new things and did new things that were completely out of my routine.  The weight was wholly off my shoulders, as there was NOTHING around to remind me of Los Angeles and all the baggage I left there.  I felt like I couldn’t be exposed in Stockholm. In a word, it was ‘beautiful.’  It’s funny because I think for the entire time I was there, I only did one touristy thing, but I was constantly occupied and busy.  In fact, here's actual footage of me at a Stockholm club. 

When the vacation came to a close, I felt like I wasn’t done.  I wanted more time there.  Perhaps I was deluded, but at the time, it’s probably what I needed. 

Upon returning home, crossing the threshold of my bedroom, looking at the bathroom floor where only a few months ago I had decided to take my life, I knew I didn’t want to be back there.  But really, what choice did I have?  So I decided to do that next best thing.  To write.  A story that captured the feeling of that past week.  So I figured I’d write about what it might be like to spend more time with that girl. Just one day. One crazy day.  And to spend it with her in Stockholm.  As mentioned, she was mysterious and complex, and I wondered what kind of trouble we might have gotten into, and what secrets she may have been hiding. I didn’t know what kind of story would transpire, and I didn’t care that living inside some fictitious novel was probably unhealthy.  A week or so later, I wrote the first words that would become My Sweet Saga.  And every day after (for five months), I would rush home so I could work on it, so I could lose myself in it.  And I couldn’t WAIT till the chapters that took place in Stockholm.  I just wanted to relive those six days, and in many ways, I did, though my unfair imagination created a MUCH wilder, and more painful ride. 

I felt genuine melancholy when I completed the last four-word sentence of the book.  I knew I’d be in for months of editing, but also knew that another journey had concluded.  But what I didn’t realize was that the book became my anchor during a really tough period.  Things that may have dragged me down or effected me, had I not had the book, didn’t bother me in the same way.  I didn’t care as much about daily doldrums cause I knew that, at night, I could escape into my writing.  And by the time I was done with the book, I felt a lot better. 

The novel is probably 95 percent fiction, in the sense that the characters are based on people, but most are composites or figments of my imagination.  None of the events actually occurred as written, save for some of the dialogue, but I refer to the novel as a memory that never happened.  Because, in tons of ways, the main character of the book is me.  I admire some things about him, mostly his courage, but also despise parts of him too.  James Frey referred to his controversial book, “A Million Little Pieces” as a Picasso portrait of himself. You know, where it’s completely distorted and inaccurate, but the essence is still there. I kind of think this is a similar thing for me.  I figure a few twists of fate and something like this could have happened.  So, as mentioned, the book is silly, whimsical as hell, but it is easily the most important thing I’ve ever written, to me anyway.  And I think it has a certain honesty.  I expect you will find it light, and hope you think it’s funny, but also hope you will discover heart and self-reflection that will cause you to think twice about the book once you read that aforementioned final four-word sentence.  And I hope it stays with you.

Because the book was so paramount in my life for so long, it’s weird to now let this go to the world and move on to the next chapter of my life.  In fact, it’s strange to now feel pretty much everything about that time becoming a distant memory, even when I still try to conjure it as new.  I did visit Sweden, once again, fairly recently, and as amazing as the second trip was, I found myself chasing the ghosts of the first.  But those memories will always remain locked in time along with the Aqualung and Sufjan Stevens songs I listened to while running along the river, the smell of the hotel shampoo that I will never forget, and all the wonderful people I met.  And, as for the girl, we talked for a long while, but have grown apart.  I still think of her more than I should, but now she exists more as a footnote with each turned page and much less like the plot.  Either way, I’m glad she entered my life for many reasons, but maybe none greater than inspiring me to write this book that means so much more than silly words on a page. 

Anyway, I thank you for reading this and would, of course, be honored if you purchased this book.  I would love to hear your thoughts on it and for you to spread the word on my behalf. Mostly, I just would love people to enjoy something that was such an important part of my life. 

Though if you’re just in search of a new coaster, I’m sure it’ll be the perfect thing to support your drink. 



Shameless Advanced Reviews!

Incredibly hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt, My Sweet Saga is a wild ride across the Atlantic and back again.  A must for anyone who has ever found love in the strangest of places.  – Simply The Best Magazine

Disturbingly funny and strangely unpredictable, Sills' story is replete with crazy, yet believable characters and clever dialogue. My Sweet Saga is an engaging journey into the world of those who travel and find love. A fantastic debut.
-Angela Stubbs, The Nervous Breakdown

In between teaching me useful new racial slurs like 'Nazi Tankbanger', My Sweet Saga entertained me with my two favorite things: guys who are complete boobs, and aging strippers with giant fake boobs. – Simon Hill, Author – Grandpa Won’t Wake Up

“One of the better Portnoy’s Complaint-type novels I’ve read in a while,” - Ron C., Editorial. 

“This book is so well written and so perfectly executed. Brandon’s internal (and external) dialogue is absolutely hilarious. Excellent storyline. Brilliant characters. I loved every minute of reading it!" - The Book Hookup

“This didn’t embarrass me near as much as you said it would.” – My Mother


  1. I loved the book, as you know, but I also love the story behind it. Ever think of writing the story behind the story?

  2. Thanks! I have thought about that, i think it might work well in short form. Its something I plan to visit after things settle down

  3. I know authors often are asked what inspired them to write their story, you can just direct the "askers" here and be done with it. ;)

    You asked for thoughts on it, here are mine:

    Niina ( from Finland, not quite sweden ;) )

  4. I have just installed iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.