Why It’s Great to be a Writer

I wrote my first … lemme see … god, I think it’s 16 … books on a typewriter. The very first one might have been on a manual one – that was back in the days when an IBM Selectric was a wet dream. And I actually liked typing – I liked having the pages pile up beside me, I liked the click of the keys and the sound of them hitting the … roller? It had a special name — platten? (I just went and looked it up – I was close. Platen.) Ah, the good old days. I used yellow newsprint for my early draft, because my mentor did, and onion skin for the final draft which was a big nono but I did it anyway.

And so it goes. Stories helped me survive a … shall we say difficult … upbringing. Think Mommie Dearest crossed with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf crossed with Lost Weekend and you get the picture. But I could always retreat into books, and into my own stories, and I could survive. Maybe my siblings didn’t have that escape. (They both died young from their various addiction issues, as did my father).

But those stories kept me going my entire life (so far). When I was going through infertility and every month discovered that I wasn’t pregnant I would curl up in my big bed with a comforter and reread Georgette Heyer and make it through the day. When I was a suicidal teenager I watched a new tv western (trust me, it was brilliant) and fell so in love with the world that I decided it was worth living. (By the time the show was cancelled I was past suicidal thoughts and none have returned for more than 50 years, thank goodness.

If a story is going strong then life is wonderful – there are days when I can’t wait to get to the computer (yes, I upgraded) to find out what my people are doing. In fact, that’s what gets me there every day. That, and discipline, which I had to discover myself due to the aforementioned upbringing. My worlds, as dark as they might be, are always a safe place for me.

Two things really brought that home in the past few years, one mundane, one existential. I was stuck in an oral surgeon’s office, having two teeth removed. When I went in I hadn’t realized I wasn’t going to have anesthesia, and I sat there, clutching the armrests, tears rolling down my face, in an absolute panic. Desperate to distract myself, I threw my mind into my latest characters, and the panic began to fade. The surgeon did something new and horrible (no physical pain, mind you) and the panic came slamming back, so once more I raced back to my story world. It wasn’t until the third time this happened that I realized what was happening. That world brought me calm and peace even in really dire circumstances.

The other was at a really low time in my life. I’ve got Major Depression as a diagnosis, no surprise with a father and a family history of Bi-Polar Disorder and a mother who had a borderline personality plus a family history of depression. In general I have an excellent medical cocktail and a real enjoyment of life, but occasionally the black cloud breaks through.

A few years ago life was so bleak and hopeless, and I was so trapped, that I drove home from visiting my BFF Crusie, weeping (and it’s a long drive). I tried to think of anything that could bring me hope, peace or joy (I always fight the blues like mad) and there was absolutely nothing – everything was disaster and despair. Until I thought of what I was writing. Thought of the other books I wanted to write, the stories and worlds that were there for me. Remembering story, the movies that never failed to transport me, the books that kept me alive in my childhood, the characters I had waiting for me, was a ray of hope that made the weeping stop. When there had been nothing but devastation there was suddenly wonder.

I used to annoy cancer survivors by saying that the perfect book at the right time can cure cancer. (They ignore the fact that I’m a cancer survivor). But man, it’s true. When you get the perfect story, either reading or writing or even watching on a screen, it puts you in the zone so squarely that I think healing endorphins flood our bodies. Or maybe it’s pixie dust.

Whatever it is, it’s magic

In honor of that magic I’m going to recommend books every month that will cure whatever dark cloud is swallowing you up. Books that can silence Donald Trump and wipe out the southern legislators. Books that turn Mitch McConnell into turtle soup and William Barr into a toadstool.

Was there ever a time we needed magic more? Another friend, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, said she never aimed to change people’s lives with her books, she simply wanted to change their afternoon. With enough good afternoons you can survive anything.

4 thoughts on “Why It’s Great to be a Writer

  1. I was getting worried because we had not heard from you in so long so glad you posted I agree totally about books curing all that ails you.

  2. I feel the same way. Although, I did not go through any of the pain that you have. We all have pain and moments of darkness, sadness, loneliness. Your writing and books (historicals esp. Devil’s Waltz) have given me those moments of magic. That feeling in my stomach, when I read a certain sentence or scene that you wrote that is me.
    Thank You
    So keep fighting, keep writing, decide to be happy.

    1. and I just got the rights back to The Devil’s Ealtz, Hidden Honor and Ruthless, so they’ll be out in spanking new editions (though I don’t think there’s any apanking in them)

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