Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing Through Grief, Part 6

No discussion of writing through grief would be complete without my explaining how deeply I owe my writerly self to my mother.

I was reminded of this two weeks ago, and it’s taken until now for me to face actually writing about it ... and posting it. At this point, I'd appreciate being able to just move on with life, not think about things, and definitely not cry. And up until, oh, last week, every time I think about Mom, or about anything else emotional, I’d instantly tear up.

I’m trying to rebuild some momentum with the writing. Difficult at moments with some extra reading I’ve needed to do—contest judging, which I really enjoy. But writing blog posts has come more slowly, too.

Beyond that, though, I’m finding it nearly impossible to focus. Already suffering from what I term motherhood-induced ADHD (...25 years of being interrupted EVERY TWO MINUTES for hours a day), I’m finding if there’s anything else going on in the room that I might find even mildly interesting, I’m constantly distracted.

Not terribly conducive to getting a piece of story knit together.

I keep thinking how profoundly unhappy Mom would be if I gave up writing altogether. Which I’ve considered doing, at least where fiction is concerned. (We won't even discuss the "story of my heart." Almost 35 years of working on the same story series that isn’t even remotely published yet ... at what point is enough enough, and you move on?)

But ... something won’t let me. It isn’t even the thought of Mom frowning at me from heaven, because hey, the disapproval of our Creator is so much more weighty. LOL, or should be. It’s just—realizing all over again how connected my writing was to her. And now that she’s gone ...

She’s probably the biggest reason I’m writing at all. An artist as well as a voracious reader, she never minced words on what she felt I was good at, and my childhood attempts at artwork met one day with an exasperated, "You just can't can't draw!!" So, when she encouraged my early writing efforts, I took it seriously.

Through my teen years, she championed me, read anything I threw her—and found enough promise in it to ask for more. She could listen to me rattle on for hours about my characters and storyline. She was the one who first suggested that instead of having some vague, nebulous concept of “strangers” who gave the Gift—why not have THE Stranger? Their own colloquial term for God? And I remember the look on her face as she said it—a suppressed smile, full of joy and knowledge, as the suggestion took hold in me and sparked an answering excitement. For the first time, I had a storyworld I could intimately connect with my own faith ... because of her.

She also suggested plot twists. I forget how many. She even drafted a short but pivotal scene from the POV of a minor character, a scene that I kept with very little changes. Oh, and the lyrics of a song that’s also pivotal across several stories? She wrote that.

Later, after about 15 or so drafts of the story, she started refusing to read my revisions. I started writing when I was 15, for crying out loud, and every time I’d revise I’d be a little older, a little wiser, and think, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen like that” or “That’s just stupid.” :) Eventually, it wore her out.

I quit asking her to read drafts. Eventually, I even quit asking her to read new stories. But she remained the one complaining the most strenuously that nobody seemed interested in publishing me (or representing me), and she never stopped hoping to see my original stories in print. She was definitely the most excited when I got that first contract, a surprise in the opening session of the 2012 ACFW conference. Even if it was for a humble little historical romance novella.

She told everyone who would listen that her daughter was a published author. She even insisted on handing out bookmarks when she was in the hospital year before last, after surgery to repair a shattered hip and later quadruple bypass surgery.

It was so embarrassing. :)

After she lost her eyesight (not to mention the use of a computer), I read her my later novels, and the two novellas. She grew to love those as well as my early stories, and it gave me much joy to be able to put my first published volume into her hands.

I'm still hopeful that someday I'll see a version of that first story in print ... dedicated, as I used to tease her, to My Editor, the Mom.

And no, I still can't quite believe she's gone.

Monday, March 07, 2016


Yes, I know. Two posts in one day. Bad form. :)

So, even though it's a year late, I've updated my "sources" page with research links for last May's novella, The Highwayman. Pretty excited that I finally got that up! If you read and enjoyed that story, take a look, or if you're just interested in the history behind it.

I have a deleted scene I plan to post soon, as well. :)

Writing Through the Grief: Part 5

Two months ago last week.

Week before last was a bear. Not all was grief induced, although there was plenty of that as well—things definitely pointed to a certain amount of spiritual warfare, which shouldn’t surprise me, given everything going on in the world. In the middle of other things, I seriously wrestling with the question of whether I should even continue writing fiction for the aim of traditional publication—something every writer struggles with at some point or another—and just feeling so exhausted and overwhelmed by every little thing. As I told one of my friends, it’s been all I can do just to get through a homeschooling day (when even interacting with my children in a constructive manner feels like more than my introverted self wants to handle), and to drag myself to church and play my two praise songs. What’s the point of any of it? I am only one person, with so little influence and impact on the world around me that I wonder whether I’ve ever accomplished anything of lasting worth.

Trust me, I know where that voice is coming from. And there are times all I could do was weep and beg the Lord to silence that voice, to just give me strength to keep doing “the next thing.” (From Elisabeth Eliot, who has been lauded for her faithful service after her husband and four others were martyred by the Aucas in South America ... their story is told in Through Gates of Splendor. I wonder just how often people stop and think about the overwhelming grief she must have faced in the months after that event. Pretty sure she knew what this stage felt like!)

This week, some of the overwhelmed-ness has faded, but a new weirdness has seeped into some of my relationships. Part of the issue with grief is that you never really know who you can trust—who can handle the emotional overflow (maybe spewage is a better term) when things get too difficult and you just need to talk, or you’ll self destruct. Sometimes the people who feel safe wind up not being able to handle your intensity after all, even when they’ve assured you in the moment that they care and understand. I’ve lost at least one friend, and very messily, because of this—but there were other issues at play there, too.

And that’s part of the problem, there’s rarely just one issue. Right now, I can point to any one of a half dozen people I consider “safe” (which really is a heck of a lot for this introvert, but God has hugely blessed me), and every single one is dealing with some kind of serious upheaval, too. I know from past experience that my husband and I do okay as long as one of us is relatively strong and able to extend grace when the other is falling apart (okay, so the latter is usually me), but when both of us are tired and weak? Ugh, that’s when things get dangerous. And that would be why 80% of marriages that suffer some kind of trauma (loss of a child, etc.) end in divorce.

I fear more of my friendships also ending in divorce, so to speak. At what point will one or more of them decide I’m just too intense, too exhausting, too needy or toxic, for them to deal with in addition to their own crises? Not that I blame them when I find myself shedding pain like my German shepherd sheds fur. Only God is able to absorb anything I fling at him. (Casting all your cares on him, for he cares for you ...) And they desperately need my prayers, like I need theirs, but what about the times we’re all too distracted and irritated and in pain to pray?

And even more scary, it feels like the whole Body of Christ is moving toward that state.

But I said I’d share about the writing. I’d already been working on a new story, and now I’m working on another new story—which is barely in proposal stage, and for which I needed to write a first chapter but nothing more for now. I’m glad to get to write that chapter, though, because I think my strength lies more in the actual execution than in the concept.

Both are a little out of my favorite era—1830 and 1865, respectively—but both might be an easier sell. Part of me is just so weary trying to write to the market. Part of me knows I’ve come too far to just quit.

And that kind of sums up a lot in life, doesn't it? That we've fought too hard, gained too much ground, to just give up. So we just keep trudging on.