Swoosh, There It Is...
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Today, my thirteenth novel was published. I’ve written as far back as I can remember, but I didn’t become a published author until December 18, 2012.
That book, my first, is called The Color of Thunder. As cliché as it sounds, the idea for that book came to me in a dream. It felt so real I thought I might be able to reach out with my hands and touch it. It was the most palpable thing I’d ever seen or felt in a dream, and I wrote the backbone of the story right away. I wrote and wrote until it grew to nearly 700 pages.
I worked on it for a couple of years, and then I got pregnant with my first child. It got pushed to the back burner while I raised Maya and her brother, Scott. I was a homeschooling mom with a social calendar filled to bursting. I worked off and on while they grew up, as a writer and an editor for two different publications, but it wasn’t until Maya was about eleven years old that I decided it was time to come back to that first manuscript. Although I had done a lot of living in those years, the idea behind that book stuck with me. It still pushed at me. Something about it compelled me to go back to it.
It was a mess. I had too many ideas going on at once. The book was too big, unmanageable the way it was, but I believed in my heart that the core was good. I could still see that fundamental idea. When I read through what I’d written, I realized what I’d dreamed that night was still as clear and as strong as it had been almost twelve years before. I started over at the very beginning. Over the course of the next couple of years, I took that original idea, and I built the book, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. When Maya was thirteen, The Color of Thunder finally appeared on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’d finally done it.
That debut novel taught me so much. Not just about writing, but about myself, and why writing is so important to me. It taught me a lot about what drives my desire, my need to write. It taught me that every single book idea comes from a place inside my heart and soul. Each one tells a story that’s buried deep inside … a story that I need to tell. The reasons why aren’t always obvious to me at first, but I understand them clearly by the time the book is finished.
That first book was the beginning of a long lesson in trusting myself. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring it all out.
Back in January 2019, Jennifer Sivec, Lark Griffing and I decided to embark on a new writing project together. I wrote about how that all came to be here. Lark wrote a prequel to the anthology, and two more books after it. Jen also wrote a book, adding to the series. I followed suit when I released Harbor Song, which became book six in the ever-growing Grey’s Harbor Series.
The three of us and another Grey’s Harbor author, Piper Malone, tossed the idea around of putting together a Christmas collection of stories. It seems that the four of us have become comfortable in Grey’s Harbor and are in no hurry to leave our quirky, beautiful, unique little coastal town. When we decided to jump into the project, I knew I wasn’t done with Izzy yet. There have been many compelling characters that have sprouted from my eager imagination over the years, and many of them I’ve grown quite fond of. It’s difficult for me to explain my relationship with Izzy, but it’s a pretty tight bond we have between the two of us. She pushed her way into my life with that first anthology, and she’s been a constant—and persistent—companion ever since. Sometimes those are the best ones to have around.
Izzy told a lot of her story in Harbor Song. At least the story that was behind her. Her past. When I wrote Man in the Moon for the first anthology, I knew there was a lot to Izzy. I knew we were just scratching the surface with her, and that she had a big story to tell. I love Harbor Song. My books are much like my children in many ways. I love them all, and I appreciate each one for their personalities, their quirks, their uniqueness. Harbor Song claimed a part of my heart no other book I’ll ever write will be able to claim. When I sat down to write for this new anthology, I knew it had to be about Izzy. This time, about her present … and also her future.
In Harbor Song, I wrote about Izzy’s difficult childhood. I wrote about a horrible event she experienced—one that changed the course of her life—and her struggle with alcoholism. I wrote about the trauma that took her years and years to come to terms with, and about how she currently fights day by day to continue conquering it. Harbor Song, like all the other books I’ve penned, was a book I didn’t know I needed to write until it was finished. The same thing happened with Leave a Light On, which is my contribution to A Grey’s Harbor Christmas.
As I said, Izzy didn’t go away once I’d written Harbor Song. She didn’t come out and tell me this, but I instinctively knew that I still needed her. She and I had unfinished business. When I was least expecting it—which is generally how it happens—the idea for Leave a Light On popped into my head, and I knew exactly which direction I needed to go. As I wrote, the subject matter got a bit more difficult. I pressed on, and I finished the story. Even though I had all of the elements in place, I didn’t feel that swoosh I always get that tells me, “yes … there you go. There you have it.” I’d told the story, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that if Izzy were real, she’d have been at my house, banging on my door yelling at me because I’d half-assed it. I was too worried about a limited word count. I wasn’t digging deep enough. I was afraid. She was telling me I needed to do better.
I was swooshless. That’s my own personal term, and I’m sticking to it. It’s an important and very necessary part of my own writing process, and I didn’t have it … and Izzy—who has become incredibly important to me—was pissed. More than that, she was disappointed. I couldn’t live with that, so I jumped in again.
In Leave a Light On, I write about abuse … specifically domestic violence. I won’t go into detail about what occurs in the book—I hate spoilers, so I’ll be careful—but it’s the main theme in this novella. My own personal experiences may differ from those I wrote about, but the subject matter is all too familiar. Mental and physical abuse is something I’ve dealt with in varying degrees all my life, and something somewhere inside decided it was time I brought it up.
The story was strong in my head. It pushed, but once I’d written it, I realized I was afraid of it. I was afraid I couldn’t do with it what I needed to in only 25,000 words. I was afraid of being too blunt. Too honest. Too raw. Too real. What will my readers think of me? What if I cross a line? I didn’t trust myself as a writer. And readers, I owe you an apology. I was having a hard time putting my trust in you, too.
It was a damn hard book to write. I cried. I cried a lot. But when I finally put my heart into it, when I finally decided to write it the way I needed it to be written, guess what happened? I got my swoosh. And I could feel Izzy. She has a strong and very sensitive bullshit meter. It had stopped sounding the alarm and she was nodding her dark, bobbed head in satisfaction. “Yes … there you go. There you have it.”
I have never written anything without dedicating it to someone. I generally know before I get too far into a book who it belongs to. Sometimes, I begin writing with someone specific in mind. That didn’t happen with this one. I couldn’t figure it out for a long time, but then the realization hit me. I wrote Leave a Light On for me. This one is mine.
Even thirteen books in, I’m still learning the lesson about trust. In my process. In my writing itself. In my readers. I’m sure I’ll trip over it again, but Izzy pushed pretty hard with this last book. I have a feeling she’s here to stay, so I’ve got some good—and obstinate—support behind me.
~ ~ ~
For those of you who might need it, these are a couple of the sites I used for research while writing Leave a Light On. Please take care of yourself. Please ask for help if you need it.