It hasn't been a year of why doesn't he love me, or I wish I were thinner, or I wish I were richer. I could stand to lose a few pounds for my health, sure, but I'm not going to give up one of the greatest pleasures in my life to fit into skinny jeans. The way I look is a lot less important than my blood pressure, and if the doctor gave out awards for a good bp, I'd be able to paper the walls of my office with them. I could stand to have a better communication style with my loved ones, but I'm not pining for more love. And I certainly do not need any more money. In 2009, I was laid off, and my security looked pretty shaky, but I got a new job, and at least for now, they're treating me really well. If anything, this year I've been looking hard for a way to have more peace of mind, and I think I've been stuck in the bargaining stage of some great grief. I think that grief is about the loss of my ability to write fiction full time. Sadly, after that, I lost my ability to write fiction at all.
If you look at my bibliography (which I wish were longer, but it's what I have), you'll see that I started with kind of a bang, at least in my small corner of the writing world. One of my first stories took a 2nd prize in the Writers of the Future contest. Then, as a writing acquaintance of mine eloquently explained by drawing a diagram on a bathroom mirror (thank you, Jay Lake, may all the gods bless you and keep you), I began the sine wave of real writing. I'd had some small success, and then I wrote a bunch of meh. Then I had a spike (a sale), then a bunch more meh. And as Jay explained would happen, the spikes started happening closer together, and in 2008, I had six short story sales. And one poem (thanks, Goblin Fruit). And then, you'll see, it stopped.
As these things tend to happen, sales sometimes happen down the road, because if you're like me, you start at the very top of the list (aiming high), and you submit, submit, submit, until the story finds some editor who likes it, maybe in the middle of the list, maybe down in the "token payment" zone. So what you're seeing is that I stopped writing new things in 2006, and stopped fiddling with old stories in mid-2008. I took a stab at novel writing somewhere in there, and at a total of 340,593 total words written, I stopped writing fiction completely. I wrote a lot of personal poetry that I never submitted anywhere, and I lost my way. I think I lost my mind--totally cracked. I hope you'll pardon me; I was divorced in 2006 after writing full time for two years, and I think the two things, losing my partner and losing my creative space at the same time, broke my heart, and probably my mind. The passion was still there, but the gift had gone. Last year, in 2010, I went into a bookstore one day, and I saw no fewer than 4 new hardcovers on the bookshelf, written by people I know. Ken Scholes, Mary Robinette Kowal, the aforementioned Jay Lake, and James Maxey. There were more, but maybe I couldn't see them through the tears. I fingered the spines and the pages. I wished them well, and I spoke to them. I know you. Here you are. I'm not here, with you, and I'm sorry.
Since then, I've seen books from Will McIntosh, Ted Kosmatka, Alethea Kontis, Brad Beaulieu...and let's just say a lot of Facebook friends who have been so kind as to friend me, after meeting me once at a convention. I've watched other friends, various workshop partners, and associated acquaintances working like holy terrors, posting word counts, sometimes body counts (mother-in-law died, father died, spouse left me, etc.) and sharing their PhD pain, that great, horrible process of labor and birth that's so very much harder than producing an actual baby. How I admire you, all of you, for working so hard at this shared obsession, while I've been shattering my spirit and putting pieces of it back together with glue and string and staples. Bravo, brava, brilliant. I think it has taken seeing you there, on the shelves, to make this thing real to me. Before I saw you there, I have to say, novelists had a kind of unearthliness to them, some kind of sheen around them that said of the gods, not of earth. This not to say that I have lost respect for the novelist; not at all. Oh, my friends, I respect you so much. It's to say that you are all human, and you have all lived, and experienced pain, and made significant sacrifices to have accomplished what you have accomplished.
Until then, all I had for role models were the Johns (Updike, Carroll, Irving, Fowles), and authors like King, Straub, Gaiman, Atwood. Though, one time, I knocked back a bourbon with Peter Straub, I sat beside him as if in the lee of a great, mystical standing stone. This man wrote The Talisman with King. This shot of bourbon does not signify a human connection. It's as though I'm standing in an autograph line, and there are hundreds behind me, shifting from one foot to another, waiting for the signature to be delivered by the tired author, with the glazed look that says, "I really want a spicy tuna roll." The author does not intend lack of connection; it's just not reasonable to expect a genuine connection with someone who is wading through a sea of humanity, to the point where it all becomes absurd and abstract for them. I have hundreds of books in my home written by these folks, of the gods, not of earth. Now, Theodora Goss gives a reading of The Thorn and the Blossom in Kendall Square in Cambridge last night (go read a review here), and because of a scheduling conflict, I miss it, and that's unhappy making because she is one of those writers who to me has a heartbeat. I've watched her read her own poetry, and she's a very good reader. Dora does her own work justice when she reads, and because I know her, despite the beauty of her work, to me she is of the human beings, of the earth. She shows me in her blog that it's tremendously hard work, but that this writing thing is possible--that the books all around me were written by human beings, not handed down on tablets by the gods from high mountains.
I'm grateful to you, my writing friends and acquaintances. I can't actually be inspired by those I've read but never met. I can't eat a secondhand description of manna from heaven; I can only experience a wistfulness, shrug, and remain hungry. But I've met you; you are real. You sweat, you work, you cry, you sit at your computers and you look at Facebook, and you play Panda Poet, and sometimes you are just too tired. You have doubts. You question your sanity and maybe your integrity. If you're lucky, maybe you get a pat on the head and a cookie from loved ones, and if you're not, maybe you get a bitter stare: Oh you're doing that again. But you're crazy or stupid or driven enough to sharpen your pencil or blow the lint from your keyboard and open that one file, that one that's driving you insane, and you put in a few lines when you can. You type on the train using an Android phone and folding keypad. You write longhand in dollar notebooks. You write in your head while cooking dinner or rocking a crying baby. You have been bitten by the beast, and you have accepted your fate. It is not that I think "if you can do it, I can do it." I don't think that at all. This is me, seeing you, and appreciating you.
You're a writer, and you write.
Keep going. Please, keep going.