Under Pressure

People used to ask, “When is your next book due?” and I would laugh, self-consciously, because I didn’t have deadlines. I wasn’t a writer who had contracts or editors waiting for me to produce anything. In those bygone days, I thought success would look like having people waiting for my books: agent, editor(s), readers.

I’m at that place now. Just one book, so let’s not paint myself as the second coming of J.K. Rowling. But let me be very honest. This doesn’t feel like success. It’s fucking terrifying.

My next Idyll series book is due in February, and I am wrestling with the second draft. I’m promoting the latest Idyll book, published less than one month ago. I have another book I’m awaiting my agent’s feedback on. These should be happy things. Lately, they feel like chains.

Many of these feelings are due to external pressures. The world has gotten darker and scarier. I find myself battling for things I think sane people in other countries take for granted: health care and access to clean water and relief from hurricane damage and the right to marry who you love and the right to protest racism.

And then there are the battles on my home turf. Last year, my older brother, Brian, had a stroke. This February, his speech therapist announced he wasn’t making progress and stopped his treatment. I couldn’t leave Brian stranded in illiteracy when so much had been taken from him: part of his vision, his short-term memory, his ability to care for himself. I taught Brian to read, using flash cards and a small books called Understanding Rap, because the lyrics are short and in large, bold print.

“What you know about purple drank?” Brian read to me over the course of three minutes. He looked at me via Face Time. “Nothing, but you wouldn’t think that to listen to me,” he said. He understood the words! Made a joke. He was coming back, a little. He can now read Aesop fables but his comprehension, because of short-term memory loss, isn’t great. He’s very good at rhyming though, and he takes every learning opportunity to crack wise.

He reads the word “pick” from a flashcard.

I ask, “Brian what’s something you might pick?”

“Your nose.”

I did forty-five minute therapy sessions with him every day after his speech therapist cut his services. Three months ago, I had to cut down to thirty-minute sessions four times a week.

Sometimes I feel like a selfish bitch and some days I tell myself I am doing what I can and must to keep myself whole.

My life is not a misery, but escaping to Idyll can be a relief. Finding the energy to make the journey is more than I can muster some days though. I hate that. I am my toughest critic. Every moment of weakness is followed by immediate comparisons to those who have it tougher. Plenty of people do. Wah wah, I have to write a manuscript for which I am being paid. Boo hoo hoo.

I know that my drive is what got me to the place where I am under contract for a book. And it’s what makes me unwilling to complain, to recognize that this life is not what I imagined, not at all, and it is so much harder. My brother is only fifty years old. Part of why I’m writing books like my life depends on it is because I promised my Dad I’d care for Brian when my parents die. He will need money to live on. I am making that money, I hope.

To keep a whole novel in your head requires space and a certain relaxation of your mental borders. The ability to dance between fiction and reality. There are too many high walls in my brains these days. Too many ‘Here Be Monster’ markers.

And yet, I keep chipping at the rocks in the soil of my brain. I know there’s fertile soil under there. A book waiting to be found. Yesterday I had a good writing day. I woke up with a fully formed scene in my head and it turned a whole relationship around and formed the bedrock for a central plotline. Good days are possible, even when it doesn’t seem so.

I push on, and hope the good days get me to the next book, and when people ask when my next book is due, I tell them.

 

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