Friday, March 16, 2012

The story behind my story

I've been thinking about my life three years ago, back when I started putting everything I had into my first novel.

I had just quit my job as an associate editor at an unethical, toxically-managed magazine publisher. I was stressed out, poor, scared. I was also free. Given the terrible working conditions I endured (my colleagues, too) and the breach of contract my boss was responsible for, I qualified for Employment Insurance. While I looked for a new full-time job, I filled my days by freelance writing for major newspapers and real, proper magazines. I felt like a real writer again, and I was excited for the future.

A few weeks later, my body went to hell. My right foot (and eventually my right leg) was suddenly a major source of pain. It felt like someone was stabbing it with a knife one minute and then searing it with heat (and then ice) the next. My foot and my leg were constantly changing colour -- from red to blue to purple -- and I was having all kinds of strange, neurological sensations: a feeling of rushing water up and down my leg and spine, extreme sensitivity to touch, a squishy feeling as though my feet were filled with sand and fluid. An athlete all of my life, I was terrified that I'd never even walk again.

And then my left foot started to mimic my right. My doctors were stumped. I saw dozens of them and underwent dozens of tests, many of them painful, but no one could get to the bottom of my condition. Worse still, few cared. I was shuffled out of offices and hospitals so many times with the phrase "I'm sorry, but I can't help you," that I lost all faith in the medical system. One time, at 3 am after a particularly miserable MRI, a drunk idiot threw a can of 7Up at my head. "Cripple bitch!" he yelled as I steadied myself on my crutches and hailed a cab.

If I'm going to be honest (and what's this blog for if not honesty), I thought I was going to die back then. And if I'm going to be really honest, a part of me kind of wanted to.

Being unable to walk on the bad days and terrified to try on the better days, I was trapped inside my apartment for months, sometimes having to crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom. I was alone all day long, documenting my symptoms for the next specialist, re-teaching myself Mandarin Chinese and waiting for my amazingly caring and comforting boyfriend (now my pre-husband) to come home from work. I was losing touch with the world and myself, and I only knew one way to get it all back.

I had an idea for a novel that was brewing for years, back when I was living across the street from a Kingdom Hall. I had written a few chapters at a time -- showing them to a co-worker who also dreamed of being a writer -- but I never molded them into anything cohesive. I needed time, I told myself and, struggling to start my career in magazine publishing as I was, time was a luxury that I did not have.

Unable to walk and unemployed as I soon became, however, time was now plentiful. There was far too much of it, as a matter of fact. So I sat at my desk, propped my rotten leg up and got to work. I was finally going to write my novel.

It was rough at the beginning, wrestling the pain into submission long enough to get work done, but I took the good days and made use of them and I tried my best with the bad. I was determined to write myself out of the mess I was in, at least mentally. And it worked. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have those ideas to turn into words, into pages, into chapters. It scares me to think of the possibilities.

That's why this novel means so much to me. It saved my life.

And that's why even though the odds are against me now, The Weather Inside WILL be in a bookstore someday. I don't care how many revisions it takes, how many lines have to be cut, or characters re-shaped. As long as it's still my story to tell, I will do whatever it takes to get it published.

I'm thinking about those days right now and writing about them here not because I want pity, but to remind myself of the shit I went through to get this far. (And there was a LOT more shit, too. Buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it.) And to remind myself that if I wrote my first book under all that duress, that today -- in the healthier, saner place I am now -- I can mostly certainly write my second.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Berry good progress on book #2

It's March, which means that I'm likely Vitamin-D deficient and five pounds fatter than I was last summer. It also means that I've been working away at book #2 for weeks now and wondering how the hell I managed to write book #1 in the first place. My current theory is that I was struck by lightening -- that Zeus himself zapped all those great ideas into my head and then, with my body spasming from the jolts, my fingers just happened to contract and hit the right keys over and over and over for the next couple of years.

As such, the plan for my next book is as follows:

1) wait for massive electrical storm to reach Toronto;
2) retrieve metal pole from storage locker;
3) run outside;
4) hold onto pole;
5) Zap!;
6) Book.

Until then, I'll just have to put the ol' brain to work on book #2. It's going surprisingly well so far. I'm liking the characters and the possibilities for drama that they're bringing with them. The setting is amazing and the fact that it's a real place? All that surreal geography and history? I mean, damn. You couldn't make all that up if you tried.

In other news, look at what I found in my bag of Swedish Berries last night:

A siamese berry! I thought these guys were only the stuff of legend, of myth, of... Oh my Gods. Zeus? Was that you? Are you there? Is this double-berry a sign?

Now where the hell did I put that pole?