As a child, I wrote an epic poem about a unicorn, planning to perform a recitation of it during the annual school talent show. I spent days memorizing it, and my dad fashioned for me a wand made out of a wire hanger and tinfoil to use as a prop. The night of the show, I stood onstage in the school cafeteria, the smell of that day’s lunch still clinging to the edges of the room. I wore a long pink polyester dress with white lace sleeves, and, with one hand, clutched the tinfoil wand for dear life. The audience, which included my paternal grandparents who had come from over a thousand miles away, looked up at me from their metal folding chairs. Just a few lines in, I was overtaken with a bout of stage fright, and tears began to roll down my face. I cried my way through the entire recitation. And still, from that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
My first post-college career was in publishing, and, over the next decade or so, I had a few short stories and articles published in magazines, an anthology, and literary journals. But I was very haphazard about the whole thing. I’d write when the muse came to me, or so I told myself, and funny enough, she didn’t randomly show up all that often. I thought, someday I’ll write articles full time and definitely a novel, too. Then, a few years ago, a friend and I decided to work on a book project together. We came up with the idea of writing contemporary young adult adaptations of Shakespeare plays, drafting our first book, and an outline for a second one, without an agent. We were basically carried along by my eternal optimism and her ability keep us on a tight schedule. That was when I learned one of the best lessons of my life: that the muse shows up a lot more often when you actually sit your butt down in a chair and start writing. A couple of years later, when our finished manuscript was gathering metaphorical dust on our laptops, another friend sent it to the bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard, famous for being the very first Oprah’s Book Club author. She’d been asked to helm a new YA imprint and was looking for titles with which to launch the imprint. To this day, I wish I had saved her Lauren Bacall-esque voice mail praising to the skies our teen-centric take on Macbeth. She offered us a two-book contract, and the year that followed was the most thrilling, invigorating, and productive period of my life. (It turns out, deadlines are everything for me.) We launched both books at a popular local indie bookstore, where they’d filled the display windows with copies of our books, and our proud family and friends were in attendance. This was followed soon after by a third book contract in which we’d agreed to a terrifying deadline of just a few months in which to conceive of and write the entire thing while at the same time juggling full time jobs, my master’s thesis, and, in my co-author’s case, two children under the age of five. By the time the book came out exactly a year after the first two, we were exhausted and burnout had begun to set in. We decided to try our hand at self publishing our fourth Twisted Lit novel, Puck, and gave ourselves a leisurely two years to write and produce it. Our pub date was November 15, 2016, one day after my birthday, and two weeks before my mom passed away–suddenly, or at least it felt like that–after living with interstitial lung disease for several years. Full stop.
When I’m writing the world makes sense. And right now, there are so many things I need to make sense of: Three miscarriages and two rounds of unsuccessful IVF, my mother’s death, followed less than four months later by my widowed dad’s announcement that he’s getting married again, on June 11th, this time to his high school sweetheart whom he hadn’t seen in fifty years. And, like the dream come true of being published multiple times, there are many good things to write about, too; milestones that have all happened in my forties: Meeting the love of my life; moving in with him and learning to share our living space and navigate a mature relationship; knowing, if only for a few weeks, what it feels like to be pregnant; graduating from a master’s program; traveling to off-the-beaten-path areas of Mexico; attending a week-long writer’s retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains; being a volunteer court appointed advocate for foster youth; completing, as a lifetime non-athlete, a 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for charity. These are all experiences I would love to explore in my writing. But again, deadlines are everything for me. My greatest weakness as a writer is procrastination, my greatest strength (and joy!) is the ease with which ideas flow when I’m carried along by my writing. It’s a great feeling to surprise one’s self with the unconscious connections the brain makes in a focused, creative state of bliss.
They’d transported my mom from the sixth floor of the hospital to the attached hospice on the first floor, my sister, dad, and I trailing behind in shock and horror on a journey that felt to me like being rowed across the river Styx. At my mom’s bedside afterward, she made me promise to use that terrible experience, and anything else ‘bad’ that happened to me, in my writing. I’ll never forget those words, or the urgent look on her face when she whispered them. As the polluted haze of grief begins to lift just a little, I’m left with a sense of urgency. The ultimate deadline is right there ahead of me, and there’s so much I want to do before it arrives.