I had one of those dark years where everything in life changes and it takes a long time to put the pieces back together and find “the new normal” – but here’s what I learned from the experience:
1.) Books transport you out of the stress and despair and into a whole other world where people have bigger problems than you. In this way, they give you perspective and they entertain you when you think there’s nothing on the planet that you can focus on. I will be forever grateful to Mercy Thompson (a great heroine from Patricia Briggs) and Jane Yellowrock (another of my “girlfriends” from Faith Hunter) for keeping me company on some really dark days. Those two series brought me through the scariest time in my life – and even made me laugh when I didn’t think I could. I went from therapy writing to therapy reading but I’m on my way back again.
2.) Writing takes tremendous concentration – and when I’m stressed I have the attention span of a gnat. I haven’t been able to string two coherent sentences together for an entire year but…
3.) Research is the first step toward recovery. I might not have been able to write, but I sure did put in some late nights at the computer researching for my next books. I haven’t lost the passion to write, just the time and focus – but that’s shifting back. Arienne’s on a new adventure, there’s a new heroine with a mystery to solve, and two other books I’m co-authoring with my good friend April Chanderon. 2016 should be an exciting year!
4.) At my core, I weathered the storm quite well. My characters have the same ability – when other people might crumble, they don’t – when sane people would give up, they forge ahead. There’s a little part of the author in every character – and I’m sure I’m not the only author who stitches together characters with bits and pieces of myself.
5.) I still write “smart, fun fantasy” because everyone needs an escape. That won’t change because I learned that escaping into a good book is salvation – and I am more than willing to have Arienne, Callie, and Cleo hold someone else’s hand through the scary times life sometimes brings.
Sometimes (like today), I get up at the crack of dawn because I’m simply too stressed out to sleep. Life’s like that – long periods of status quo where it seems as if everything is flowing along like a peaceful river and then you’re suddenly going through the rapids in an innertube, clinging to irrational hope that the roaring you hear in the distance isn’t a giant waterfall.
Those moments of “Oh, crap – here we go!” are what fuel my writing. For those of you who’ve read my books, you know that my characters find themselves charging forward despite those little voices in their heads that say “I’d rather be taking a nap on the couch” or even “this wasn’t such a good idea.” That’s what life is all about. There are days when you can nap, and days when you just need to deal with the insurmountable tasks you feel ill equiped to handle. You can’t crumble and you can’t hide from those challenges – the only thing you can do is move through them, trying to trust the fact that your talents and skills will serve you well.
For me, my ability to make a mental escape into another place has been a skill which has kept me from twisting into a giant stress ball and rolling into a nice, dark closet to wait out the catastrophe. Sure, I can’t sleep a lot of nights, but I can get up and lose myself in Arienne’s next adventure, or I can relish Cleo’s self-serving “me first” attitude, or I can help Caly figure out what the clues mean. Those breaks from the reality give me time to decompress and solving a complicated plot twist is so satisfying that it gives me hope I can solve the gnarled tangled that my own life sometimes becomes.
Writing is my escape. I can point to situations in my books and think “Oh, right – that’s when x happened” and I can remember the particular emotion or issue that was playing in the back of my mind when I first sat down to write a specific chapter. Those exact situations aren’t in my book, but I can think of times when (like Arienne) I was facing a giant obstacle and felt too overwhelmed to work out the solution until that little voice in my head spoke up (like Gonishen did) and said “Just think. You know the answer to this.”
That’s what a book should do. Take you out of your current situation and bring you somewhere where you can solve messy problems and feel like no matter how bad things get, there’s a solution and everthing you’ve learned up until that point has been to prepare you to find that solution and keep moving forward. I think of my readers when I write – I want to take you on a journey to an interesting place with people who feel just as overwhelmed and inadequate as the rest of the world does but after an adventure, I want to bring you safely home feeling like just maybe, a happy ending is always possible.