I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death this week. A very dear friend of mine is saying good-bye to her mother after a devastating stroke. The pain in my friend’s face as she is hugging her non-responsive mother for what may be the last time is exquisitely beautiful in a raw and primitive way. Anyway who reads my books knows that I write about death a lot. Wait For Me focused on reincarnation, Because of Dylan explored the death of an old friend, Lost and Found in Laurel Ridge zeroed in on the guilt and eventual acceptance of the death of a loved one. I’ve always found death and the way we deal with it a compelling topic. I suppose working around it for so many years has made me somewhat pragmatic, understanding that it is inevitable; it’s also incredibly unifying. We all will die despite our economic standing, how many books we’ve sold, or the credentials behind our names. Most of my patients who have been facing death are quite accepting towards the end. Whether it is because they are tired of being in pain or looking forward to the possibility of seeing those who have gone on before them, I’m not sure. I just know that the majority of my patients have expressed to me that they are ready to see what waits for them beyond this world. Where the difference comes is in the way those left behind handle the loss. Each time one of my friends loses a parent (I’m unfortunately at that age now) or even worse, a spouse or child, I’m riveted by their responses. It’s so unique and beautiful and awful….why are some people made stronger while others never recover? Why are some people angry while others are accepting? Why do some people want to talk about it while others are supremely uncomfortable with the topic? I don’t know the answer to any of my questions. I have no jewels of wisdom to pass along. Maybe that’s why I write so much about death. I doubt that I’ll ever figure it all out but there is comfort in the exploration.
“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”–Stephen King
I was going through some children’s books yesterday, picking out some old favorites (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the gold standard of children’s books) and discarding others. I have a real bias against children’s books that are too wordy. So much can be said in so few words. Of course, this is coming from the person whose first novel was over 400 pages. Anyway, I found this book that I had never read before. It was about a woman who finds a bone in a graveyard and takes it home. A ghost keeps demanding that she return it. Remember, this is a children’s book. My co-worker was hoping that the book ended with the lady and the ghost becoming friends, but alas, no such luck. The old woman returns the bone finally and the very angry ghost leaves. I LOVED IT!!! I would have been so ticked off if the ghost had wanted to befriend the lady. I do not know what perversion exists in me, but I love being scared. I love scary things. I love jumps in the night and, even more, I love teasing people just to scare them. For example, try conversing with someone and then slowly shift your eyes to right over their shoulder. Widen your eyes slightly, as if you’re not quite sure what you’re seeing. Inevitably, the person will say, “What? What is it?” Shake your head, frown worriedly, and say, “Nothing.” I get so much pleasure out of doing that. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight when I placed my life-size doll outside of my brother’s room, raised her arm in greeting, knocked on the door, and ran. Hearing my brother’s screams was awesome. Tonight, I’m going to see a scary movie that I have had marked on my calendar for months. When I saw the trailer back in the winter, a lady in the movie theater jumped so violently that she spilled her 64 ounce drink. That is my kind of movie. Even though most of my books contain a bit (or a lot!) of the paranormal, I’ve never tried a scary book, until now. My newest work contains a very scary child. I’m having fun with it, but no promises on the scary-meter. I may be a perpetrator of scary pranks, I may run to every scary movie there is, but I don’t know how well I can write it. I will have fun trying, though. By the way, if any of you other indie writers sell a book in India (just sold my first) do not get overly excited when you see the commission total. The rupees to dollar exchange rate is less than impressive. However, welcome India!
Since January, I’ve been on a necessary writing break. Illness in the family, a new job, and a long-distance move definitely took precedence over my love affair with my laptop. I hope to never see another cardboard packing box in my life. My keyboard was idle, but my mind never was. I made the thousand mile trip to my new home by myself–my family having arrived earlier–and there was a lot of time for deep thinking and some planning of my next book. I also re-visited some of my earlier books, just to say ‘hi’ to some old friends. I still really like them. Now, my boxes are unpacked (well, most of them), the dog is almost through with his emotional collapse, and my job is winding down for the summer. That’s right, I found a job that gives me the summers off. I’m getting smarter with old age. It is time to say good-bye to the real world and delve back into the corners of my mind where new characters and new plot twists have been waiting, not so patiently. One of the nicest things about being in a new locale is the new inspirations. I’m in a place where the sun never stops shining so there are plenty of chances for people watching. Writers never stop making up stories about people they see out and about. I’ve spent a lot of nights on the beach recently just studying people and trying to figure out their story. I also found out that I live just a few miles from a world-famous author. Not that I would stalk him exactly but if I happen to see him walking along the beach…who knows what may happen next? How are we to know how a copy of one of my books just happened to end up on his front porch? Life is a mystery, right?
I met a young girl yesterday and she told me that her favorite thing to do was read. I told her that the best job in the world would be one in which I got to sit in a big chair and read all day. She responded, “I know, right?” Forty years separated us but in that moment, we were the same person: a book lover. We exchanged knowing smiles before I returned her to her fourth-grade classroom. When I was her age, I read everything I could. I used every earned penny to buy the next book in the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. I lived in those books; they meant everything to me. Once, my parents heard me talking in my sleep. I was apparently dreaming about searching for a book. They decided that I was reading too much—-my God, is there such a thing?—-and told me that I needed to take a break from reading. I still remember my absolute melt-down. With wide eyes, my parents rescinded their suggestion. They probably assumed that I was too far gone and there was no getting their daughter back. Even into adulthood, my favorite place to be is anywhere, as long as there is a book in my hand. One of my fantasies has always been getting stuck in a library during a ferocious storm and being told that I have to stay put all night. I love books. I love reading books, I love writing books. I love talking about books. I love going to movies based on books and then saying, ‘It’s not as good as the book.” That little girl and I know where all the cool kids hang out…in the pages of books.
I just returned from 10 days with my parents. 10 days with no internet access, cable as basic as it comes, and definitely no blogging, facebooking, tumblr, etc. I will not lie and say that I enjoyed my technology-free visit. However, when you stay in a retirement town in the middle of northern Florida and you have nothing to do but observe and visit and chat, you definitely make some new memories. For example, my waitress’ name one day was Melayne. I love that name. It will definitely appear in one of my upcoming books. Also, the lady that cut my mom’s hair tried one of those juice diets and gained five pounds when she broke down and ate a Reuben sandwich. Then, the guy next to me on one of my flights admitted that he misses his dog more than his kids when he travels. And the best of all: my parents’ neighbor yelled at his wife, “Well, Hitler isn’t going to get these rugs cleaned, is he?” Wouldn’t you just love to know the sentence that preceded that utterance? When you unplug, a few things happen. You get grouchy, for sure. I think that’s one of the withdrawal symptoms. You worry that you’ll forget to wish someone Happy Birthday because Facebook couldn’t remind you. However, you also get a chance to watch people and talk to people and figure out what life looks like untethered from the computer screen. People say “hello” to each other a lot more. People tell you their story and want to know yours. It was kind of cool and kind of horrible all rolled into one. I should try it more often but for now, it’s just good to be home.
My husband has been spending a lot of time in airports lately and decided to take my books for a whirl. I must admit, when he called me and said that he was well into “Wait for Me,” part of me cringed. I mean, my writer self is worlds apart from my everyday self. In real life, I’m boring and kind of bitchy and definitely not a siren. I’m a Scotch-Irish hard-head who doesn’t back down from a fight easily and admittedly has a sharp tongue when I’m tired (which is a lot.) My writer self is a lot more fun. I believe in sex on the fly, like to flirt shamelessly, and don’t worry too much about dishes or laundry. My husband doesn’t quite understand that I am two separate people. So, the inevitable happened. When he arrived home from his business trip, there was a spark in his eyes. Ladies, you know the one. I nervously asked him, “What’s up?” and he told me that he had no idea that I was so sexually creative. “I’m not,” I had to explain to him. “My writer self is.” Next, my blond husband wanted to know why so many of my male love interests have black hair but that’s a story for another day. I think that writers are like actors. A lot of us are shy, introverted even, self-doubters. Through our writing, though, we are set free. We can be whomever we want to be. I can be carefree, funny, sexy…and all three rolled into one. I can shed my earthly anxieties and explore the world in any manner I choose. Writers live in a two-sided mirror; I’m not just one side or the other, I’m both. I am serious and ambitious, but I’m also fun and exciting. Just don’t tell my husband.
You know when Target begins selling a line of adult toys based on a movie, the world as we have known it no longer exists. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey. Not that I don’t love a good juicy book, but I think my parents were too fond of corporal punishment for me to ever find EL James’ brand of romance appealing. I won’t go see the movie either because I hate chick flicks. I always have. They don’t have enough twists and turns to keep me interested. My confession today, however, is that I am jealous as hell of EL James and her success. It doesn’t matter if I read her book or go to her movie; millions and millions of others have already filled my spot. It’s her complete and utter success as a self-publisher that has me peeved. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of that kind of success? When I watched a story about Reese Witherspoon talk on how she reads tons of books by women about women and chooses which ones to turn into a movie, my heart jumped. I mean, I’m a woman. I write about women. Sure, sometimes the women are ghosts, but they’re still women, right? Why couldn’t Reese Witherspoon pick up one of my books and be utterly fascinated? Even more, what’s stopping Princess Kate (I sell well in England) from reading one of my books and saying casually in an interview that I’m her favorite author? If she can cause a dress to be sold out in 45 minutes, imagine what she could do for my books. I was so jealous of EL James that I toyed with the idea of writing erotica. Then I realized that erotica doesn’t usually involve historical characters or a dead sister giving you advice from the beyond or an evil old witch placing a curse on innocent children. Unless I can create a whole new genre of paranormal, kind of creepy erotica, I think my career as an erotic writer can’t get off the ground. I wish I could say that I hope the best for EL James. I wish I was a better person. That green-eyed monster is a powerful thing, though. My hope is to someday make some other frustrated writer as jealous as I am today.