Magical book

Magical book

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Writer, Interrupted

Ten years ago this month, I became a published author with the release of The Heat of the Moon. This was probably the biggest turning point in my life. Now I’ve reached another turning point. Because I’ve received so many e-mails from readers asking when I’ll publish another book, I wanted to pause, reflect on the past, explain what has happened in the last few months, and look at the possibilities for the future.

Although The Heat of the Moon didn’t catapult me to fame and fortune (and I was realistic and knowledgeable enough not to expect that), my life did change in extraordinary ways, even before the book came out. I made personal friends I would never have met otherwise, connected with readers through the group blog Poe’s Deadly Daughters and Facebook, and discovered that no, I wouldn’t actually die of terror when I had to speak before an audience. 

On the whole, it’s been a great decade. I haven't made much money, but who wouldn’t love starred reviews, awards, fan mail? My only regret is that along the way deadlines and other aspects of publishing diminished my pleasure in the writing itself. 

Here I am, ten years on, still plotting murder and mayhem at an age when sensible people are enjoying retirement. After ending my six-book Rachel Goddard series (which started with what I thought was a standalone), I wanted to give up standard murder mysteries and return to my first love, suspense. I had a new character I loved, a concept I loved, and I was producing first draft pages at a furious rate.

Then the pain started.

And grew steadily worse. Like the majority of people, I was no stranger to back pain (the human spine is indisputably evolution’s worst mistake). But this was different. This was scary. The orthopedist I consulted thought I had bursitis, gave me cortisone injections that didn’t help, and sent me to physical therapy, which aggravated the pain to an almost unbearable level.

Admitting defeat, the ortho referred me to Virginia Spine Institute, where I found a brilliant doctor I trusted. But he, too, was unable at first to pinpoint the source of my pain, which was rapidly crippling me. I had x-rays. I had an MRI of my spine. Neither showed anything remarkable, just the same back problems I’d always had. Ordinary painkillers were no longer enough, and I started taking narcotics.

The pain worsened.

Determined to help me, my doctor ordered a nuclear bone scan, and at last we started getting answers. The scan showed massive inflammation around the pelvic bones. A CT scan followed, and numerous serious fractures were revealed — fractures that neither x-rays nor MRI had picked up.

By then, I couldn’t walk more than a few feet. As soon as he saw the CT results, my doctor got me in to see one of VSI’s world-class surgeons. His surgery schedule for the next day was full, but he rearranged procedures because I needed help immediately. I went from his office to Reston Hospital, where I was admitted through the ER. A painkiller drip mercifully knocked me out, and I was aware of nothing else until I woke up with a lot of screws and rods holding me together.

Recovery hasn’t been easy, with various complications from drugs and continuing pain from a bone that stubbornly refused to start healing for months. 

Needless to say, I wasn’t getting any writing done.

I missed my characters, my story. I felt rudderless without writing. I can’t give it up any more than I can stop breathing. Eventually, though, I started writing again and reclaimed my sense of self.

Before the sky fell on me, I had a rough draft and many pages of notes for revision. I’m grateful I didn’t have to return cold to the book and struggle to reconnect with the characters and find my footing in the plot. Persistent fatigue and pain still keep me from sitting at my desk and writing most of the day as I used to, but I’m writing. What’s more important is that I’m enjoying the writing more than I have in years because I’m not thinking about sales and covers and flap copy and promotion. I’m just writing. 

As I said, many readers have e-mailed to ask when my next book will be out. My answer: I don’t know. But I will finish this book, and one way or another, it will become available to readers.

Knowing that readers I’ve never even met enjoy my books enough to write and ask when they’ll get another one gives me a big boost when my spirit and energy fade. A lot of people make up the business end of a writer’s life, and books wouldn’t get published without them, but no one is more important than the individual reader, flipping the pages (or screens) and loving a book. I’m grateful to everyone who has read my books and everyone who has written to me in the last few months. Please continue to contact me whenever you wish.

The new book will come. I can’t say when, but it will come. I promise.

Meanwhile, here’s a panda! 

                                            Photo by Sandra Parshall, all rights reserved