At its absolute best, being an artist is a tough row to hoe. This last year has taught me a great deal about myself as a person and as an artist, and how those two things are intertwined. That may seem obvious to some, but for this artist it was a revelation. This year, I was sure I was done writing. The dream I’d had my entire life and had worked toward since I was nine years old had been a cruel and terrible, time-wasting lie. I needed to move on.
Some of my dear friends disputed this assessment to be supportive, but it was still the truth of how I felt: my first novel was a dismal failure. Granted, it’s a fringy piece with an audience that doesn’t like to be found, so it’s hard to market to them. It’s a good book—a well written and sexy book, which is good for its particular genre. But no one read it. Worse, no one bought it. I had five very kind reviews and that was it. Done. So. Arabesque had five readers. Bless each and every one of them who took the time, but it was clearly not enough for me to continue to Book 2.
Right after accepting this epic failure spun me into the worst depression of my life, my body suddenly tried to kill me. A year ago this month, my appendix burst but I, for whatever reason, was unaware of it. There was never that moment of excruciating agony that you always hear about—stabbing pain and doubling over vomiting. None of that happened. I have a chronic digestive condition that causes me so much pain so often, that I genuinely thought it was just a bad bout of that. It would pass. I just needed a good bowel movement and all would be well. I was, quite literally, convinced of this.
For eight days.
Meanwhile, my body was trying desperately to save itself from this toxic invader by creating pockets of tissue with which to hold the poison to keep it from free-floating in to my bloodstream. This created a massive infection that gave me a terrible fever and was the only reason I actually went to see my doctor. Even at that time, I thought he’d give me something to help the intestinal blockage and send me on my way. Well, doctor man took one look at me and sent me directly to the ER at Cedars Sinai. He called ahead for a cat scan so they were ready when I got there. I was set up in a room with a curtain and given multiple IV injections because my body was all but shut down by this point.
And just in case anyone is wondering, a potassium IV feels like lava in your veins. I screamed because I thought I was having an allergic reaction to it. The nurse was like ‘no, it’s just uncomfortable for some people’. Right. Uncomfortable. Like having lava pumped into your veins would be.
I got the scan and then waited for a while for them to get the results. Then the ER doctor on duty came in and told me what happened. Even then, I thought she’d gone into the wrong room with the wrong results. “No,” I was thinking. “This is an intestinal thing.” Well, it wasn’t. I was admitted right away for emergency surgery.
I was so ill from the infection that the doctors had to cure that before they could even consider taking out the appendix. I was in the hospital undergoing procedures for a week and when I left, I still had to have drains sutured into my side to collect the poison that was still coming out of me. That went on for another ten days. Once I could finally get the drains out, the surgeon I was working with told me we’d still have to wait a while before he felt it was safe to open me up for the appendectomy. This was mid-April of last year. I had a trip to our cabin planned in mid-May and was stressed out about missing that. This kind doc arranged for my surgery to happen on May 3 so I’d be able to travel.
I had never been under anesthesia before so I was afraid. Would I see the devil? Would I live through it, or die on the table like my friend’s cat did when it went in to be spayed? The operating area was chaos while they prepped me and then the nice surgeon arrived and took me into the room. He said it should only take about thirty minutes; he’d see me soon. I remember him talking to the anesthesiologist who was standing behind me. There was a little nod of the surgeon’s head and then there was black.
Four hours later, I was having a dream. There was a bonfire in a large, open courtyard. It was night time and there was a small, low tent sitting near the fire. Stars were everywhere in the black sky and I was aware of tall trees nearby. I saw a crow sitting on a rock near the fire, which is how I knew I was dreaming. I started waking up and heard people talking around me—two nurses were bent over me wiggling tubes and checking vitals. The surgery had taken four times longer than anticipated because it was a war zone inside my body, but I was finally free of the thing I’d been calling “the terrorist”. My appendix and all its toxic garbage were gone.
I didn’t think about that dream again for weeks. I concentrated on my recovery and on taking my trip to the cabin. I was going slow up there in the high altitude, taking it easy while my body healed. There’s a road behind our cabin that leads to some other cabins way up top on the hillside. It’s steep, but it’s a gentle climb. I took that walk one day while I was there and stopped dead at the top of the road.
There was the courtyard from my anesthesia dream.
I remembered the fire and the tent and the crow—all of it. I had no idea what it meant yet, but I had a feeling like I’d never had before. I’ve written three novels over my life, published one of them—but I’d never had a story sort of . . . stalk me like this one was. I could feel it there, hiding in the trees, but I couldn’t see it or hear it yet.
A few weeks later, it landed all at once. Lead characters and all, backstory, forward story, full, complicated mythology. Everything. I was jumping up in the middle of the night to make notes and write snips of dialogue. The main characters were siblings—a brother and sister—who have the scary but important job of helping lost souls get where they need to go. They are called a ‘vessel’ and an ‘outcaster’. They are Kathryn and Kellan Broch. They have become my muses and my angels.
Everything came at once in a huge whirlwind and I started writing immediately. It’s utterly different from anything I’ve ever written before, and far more personal because it speaks so closely to my experiences at our family’s cabin in the mountains. The story is set in a mountain town that looks very much like ours. I’ve had many supernatural experiences there over the years and have heard stories from many other people about their own experiences in that area. It’s a crazy place. It needs to have its story told.
So I’m going to do that. And mix in some saucy, push-and-pull romance at the same time. There are two boy/girl romances and the hint of a boy/boy romance that is mostly just on the edges of the first book. If I’m writing it, there will be boys kissing each other somewhere, even if it’s only in the background.
The new work is called “Six of One”. I’m planning a series of three books for the full arc and the first book is called “Blackwing”. I’m writing its ending as we speak. The process of preparing a book for independent publication is long and expensive and I have a vicious day job taking most of my time, so I don’t have an exact date when it will be ready. But it will be this year—soon, hopefully. I will keep you all posted here and on my Facebook page. It’s a new place for me as a writer and a new audience—one I don’t know at all. But I hope to find them nice and welcoming and interested in a fresh storyteller.
I do want to make clear that this is not a YA project, even though stories of this nature generally are. I know many grown-ups who read this type of YA story because they love the stories, not because they’re trying to recapture their youth through the characters. I thought I’d take a shot at writing a thrilling supernatural love story with adult characters. Don’t worry, they’re not that old, but they’re grown with life experience behind them, unlike the usual characters in these tales. I write long books. I’ve spent a lot of time with these characters over the last year and I adore them. I think they’re pretty damn cool.
I think you’ll like them, too. And yes, I will give you the creeps with this one. All those years of being one of Stephen King’s “Constant Readers” has finally wormed its way into my own work. You’ve been advised.