People ask me sometimes what made me begin writing creatively at my age. (I know! I look at them like they’ve just insulted the Queen, too. ‘At my age?’ really?) It’s something I’d never done, and I don’t have a straightforward answer to that question, but I think I can explain somewhat, at least so you can get the gist of it.
About eight months ago, I woke up with an idea in my head. No, actually it was before that where things began changing, which lead to the idea in my head. So about a year ago, my youngest started college, and I was home alone. Nope, it was before that, too, when I had an epiphany, and decided to change things out. May 2013, my youngest graduated high school. Yeah, that’s a good starting point. Here we go.
May 2013, my youngest graduated high school and we had a party. Lots of friends and family came from all over; from states and states away they drove to celebrate with us. I looked at my kids and family, seeing polished and accomplished people, filled with life and love, passionate about how they spent their lives. I hadn’t held that kind of passion in myself for a long time, and I realized I missed it. I missed being excited about something happening in my life, missed caring about events and people. So I made myself a promise, and I found a quote that I kept on my phone, “Actually, I just woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to feel like that anymore, or ever again, so I changed. Just like that.” I looked at that quote every day for a couple of months, as things in my life changed around me.
My son went to a special needs program for the summer. He was gone for five weeks, the first time in his life he’d been away for that long. The first couple of weeks I sat home, on the couch. I did homework, read books, watched TV, but didn’t feel passionate about anything I was doing. I hadn’t changed anything. I looked around and found there were few things in my life that I did feel passionately about. My family, yes. My work, yeaahh, maybe. Some days. My education, nu huh – means to an end. What did that leave me?
I love music. I always have. High school band, play lots of different instruments, go to concerts – love music. Okay, that’s something I could get passionate about. So, I went to a local show. The band wasn’t that good, but I still left there with a smile on my face that hadn’t been there when I went inside. Maybe I was on to something?
Fall rolled around, my son left for college. Home alone again, but now I wasn’t content to sit on the couch alone. I have a problem with crowds, though. They freak me right the fuck out. I get panic attacks if there are too many people, ‘s why I won’t even go to the mall after Halloween. Too. Many. People.
Research to the rescue! I found several small venues within a couple hour radius and started tracking which bands were playing. Found a show and went, and loved it. Again, I left with that shit-eating grin on my face. Yeah, this I could do! (fist pump)
What else do I like? Hockey. But the crowds. Ugh. Our local ECHL team, the Fort Wayne Komets, had a series of games at home, and I bought tickets to all of those games, selecting a seat on the glass directly behind the players’ bench. Nice view of the ice! Yeah, right. Nice view of the players’ asses was more like it! Okay, I could do this, too.
Game one, hoodie up so I couldn’t see much except directly in front of me, and earbuds in, blasting music so I couldn’t hear the crowd. Yeah! I could do this! I left that game with the same shit-eating grin. I could change myself, not just let things change around me.
I found another saying that resonated with me, “Be a fucking wolf. Be a fucking lion. Take no shit. Set goals. Smash them. Eat people’s faces off. Be a better person. Show people who the fuck you are. Never apologize for being awesome. Stay the mother fucking course.” Popped that one on my phone as the background, thought about what it meant to me every time I looked at it.
Work was crazy, too many hours, too many projects…the holiday season snuck up on me and I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have the energy to do anything. For the first time in my life I hung no lights, had no tree, and barely bought presents for folks. Clearly I hadn’t changed enough.
But…about eight months ago, between Christmas and New Year, I woke up with an idea in my head. It was the potential for a story about a strong woman who was successful in spite of having hard shit thrown at her all throughout her life. A woman who was passionate about things in her life, about the people. A woman who had changed. Just. Like. That.
I didn’t know what to do about it, so I did nothing. For a couple of weeks at least, I just noodled on the idea, dreamed about the woman, began seeing the other people in her life, found a hero. I decided I needed to get it out of my head, so I wrote out a brief outline of the story, saved the document, and went back to my life.
Still dreaming about the woman, I’d wake up with a shit-eating grin because she was so sassy and bossy and great. And the men in her life were great, too. Shit-eating grin from dreams. Huh.
I worked up a character development document, fleshing out the protagonists and antagonists of the story. I was creating connections between characters as they started to come to life, their personalities staring at me from the screen. Shit-eating grin. It still wasn’t enough, the story was beating at my brain, wanting out. I launched myself into a series of concerts and games, because this wasn’t something I thought I could do. Write? Are you kidding me? I speak technology, not fiction. I can talk hockey, but had no idea how to build from event to event in a story-arc. Who was I trying to kid? But, what if I could?
I took a Saturday, nothing else going on, and sat on the couch with my laptop, pulling up a blank document. I closed my eyes and began typing, just vomiting onto the page. I couldn’t type fast enough, entire sections of sentences were missing because my brain was going so much faster than my fingers could follow. Fourteen hours later, I realized I had to PEE, and when I got back to the couch, I looked at the word count and was astounded to find I’d written nearly seven thousand words. Holy shit! I read back over it, filling in the gaps where I’d gone too fast, correcting spelling and grammar, guessing at the sentence structure stuff, because I’d never done this before. All the writing I’d done was for a class, or for a business report, which are both totally different from building a story from the first paragraph, first sentence, first word.
About four hours later, I had the outline in the document as chapter headings, with brief summaries for each of them and I was hooked. It was crazy, but this felt like what I was meant to do right now in my life. I had a story that I wanted to write, and I had started. Just. Like. That. Stay the mother fucking course.
I wrote every day. Another image inspired me, this one repeated the same information again and again, and repetition works for me! I wrote in silence, not telling anyone what was going on with me. I went to concerts and games by myself, and folks already thought I was crazy for that. So, why give them additional ammunition? My son was home, resident student didn’t work out, but he was busy reconnecting with friends, and easy with everything.
What else could I change? I’d always liked hiking, and had managed several short trips over the past few years. Hmm. I started planning and training for a much bigger endeavor, looking at the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. Go big or go home, right? And I wrote, every day. The story was taking shape under my flying fingers and I found fresh energy with every chapter. I met musicians and athletes, made crazy connections and friends that I’d never have expected, and the story was still just…Beating. At. My. Brain.
I still dreamed about the woman, but the other people in her life now had just as big a part of my nocturnal noodlings, and I could see where some of them were deserving of their own story. They were vibrant and filled with life, and I woke most days with that damn shit-eating grin on my face. Fucking awesome, man. I wrote every day, even if it was just a couple hundred words, I wrote their story down on the paper. Some days I’d review what had gone before, and I’d find discrepancies so I created a continuity document, so I’d have something to refer to, because as a reader I knew that kind of lazy shit made me crazy. I also started a timeline document, because there were so many people to keep track of now.
At about sixty thousand words, this tweaky thing happened. Someone (a famous someone) said something to me that I found incredibly offensive because it implied a lack of…something in my life, and because of that I told my best friend what I was doing. “Hey, guess what? I kinda, sorta, maybe wrote a book.” I actually typed out the text about four times before I hit send, because I was afraid she’d think I was crazy. Or making shit up. Tentatively I asked if she’d want to ever read it, maybe, possibly. She agreed and I sent over the document and started chewing at the inside of my cheek. An hour later I had moved on to my fingernails and then I had to ask her what she thought. She’d liked it so far, which made me let out a breath I didn’t even realize I’d been holding. Actually, I asked her if there was suckage, and she said no suckage, which I interpreted to mean she liked it so far, but yeah…like that.
She finished it. And she wanted more! Holy shit, seriously? Okay. I had written every day, so I had plenty more by then. Email sent, I went back and re-read what I’d written so far, and decided to add in a couple scenes, explain some of the back story, flesh out a couple characters more because I knew they now had a bigger part in the last half of the book. Yeah, at seventy-five thousand words, I knew it was a little over half-way done. Holy shit.
I had her re-read the parts that I’d changed. She liked it, gave me honest critique, and the story became better. Some days I felt consumed by the characters, and I’d plot out things while I hiked around town, still preparing for my big Georgia trip in early May. I did a smaller trip to Knobstone in April, and being away from the story for that long nearly killed me. Those were the first days in months that I hadn’t written, but the break was healthy, I think. I found a great website with products that spoke to me, and bought coasters from them to scatter around my life that reminded me to keep taking chances. I surrounded myself with supportive messages that reminded me to change. Just. Like. That. Stay the mother fucking course. Take a fucking chance.
I finished the story not long after I got back from that short hiking trip. Hollie, my friend, and I read the story that had become Mica, end-to-end, and we both deemed it good. I’d asked another friend at work to read it, and she said it was good, too. I asked my oldest daughter to read it, and she gave me the biggest compliment. She said she kept forgetting that I had written it, that it could be a story she’d bought to read. Meanwhile, I’d started writing a second book, and had plans for three more after that. Because the stories just kept beating at my brain. But I couldn’t imagine that people who didn’t already know and like me would want to read what I’d written. No way would they pay for this. But just in case, I looked for an editorial service and started down that path, which wound up with the book being ready right when I was. Seek fucking criticism. Question fucking everything.
So that kinda brings us up to date. In eight months, I’ve written more than a half-million words, and have two books for sale. Seriously, I’m living at a rate of several WTF an hour! This is not my life! I’m not meant to be friends with musicians, be on first name basis with authors who I’ve fangasmed over for years, talking to famous photographers about images for book covers, and having my picture on places like Amazon and Goodreads and Shelfari. Not me! WTF? <– see?
Mica, book #1, and Slate, book #2, are both released and live on Amazon, and have both been best sellers, appearing on more than one Top 100 list there. As an author (crazy, right?) I’ve also appeared on more than one Top 100 list, which just blows me away. I’m over halfway done with book #3, Bear, and yes, he’s beating at my brain right now, yelling because I’m writing this and not his story! I read the reviews of the books written by readers, and am humbled and inspired by these marvelous people who have fallen in love with my characters…my thoughts, the ideas that strung together like pearls in my dreams, the stories that allowed me to pull them from the dark and into the light of day.
Why did I start writing? Because I couldn’t not. Just. Like. That.