Here’s the truth: As a reader, I don’t care about my favorite authors’ personal lives. I wish them well, of course — I wish them health and wealth and hope they are happily ensconced in whatever constitutes contentment for them. But on a nitty-gritty level, I just don’t care, so long as the stories keep coming.
Which makes me feel doubly hypocritical, asking your indulgence in talking about my personal life as a writer, and about a long, vast, terrifying stretch when the stories didn’t come at all.
In 2008, I would have qualified by anyone’s standards as a bright young author with every likelihood of a successful career before her. The stories and novellas I’d published over the prior three years had been warmly received by both readers and reviewers, garnering quite a number of awards and recommended reads. I’d begun working on a series of paranormal romance novels with an eye toward traditional print publishing, and had just landed a truly outstanding agent on the basis of a partial novel and series outline.
And then, crash. Absolute, total, smashed to slivers crash. Virtually overnight, I went from happily married in a home in New Hampshire to driving laps up and down the eastern half of the U.S., for all intents and purposes living out of my car because I couldn’t stand to stay in one place more than four or five days.
And worst of all, I couldn’t write.
It’s hard still to think back on those days, to put together the pieces of what happened. The worst of it was that at some level I had felt it coming – my ex-husband’s increasing ire at my near-total absorption wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret, and my exasperation at his increasing interruptions helped fuel my dangerously-spiking high blood pressure. On the penultimate day, that blood pressure and the final argument with my ex-husband caused something to snap. Whether it was as one neurologist later suggested a TIA or “mini-stroke” or simply a plain old-fashioned nervous breakdown, I have no idea. But something radically changed, inside as well as out. I began stuttering. I had a brutally hard time finishing sentences. And on top of the grief and heartache I felt at the ending of my marriage, I found to my horror that my ability to write, to imagine stories and transfer them into words, was gone.
Do I blame my ex? No, I don’t. My early success wasn’t out of the blue – I worked like a dog for it, as most writers do. And after three solid years of a wife who was pouring sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week into building a writing career and was simply not present ninety percent of the time… well, if I’d been him, I’d have been irate, too.
I can wish I’d handled things differently. I can regret not having tempered my complete absorption with writing. I can also wish I’d married a reader, someone who understood the magic a good book can weave and who might therefore have been somewhat more supportive of my efforts (although honestly I think it would’ve taken a saint not to resent my days and weeks of mental absence). But all of that was water under the bridge and here I was, floundering in deep water with no sight or scent or even hope of shore.
Eventually, like the drowning person I was, I let go of everything – my reader’s group, my website, my newsletter…even my agent. Or rather, I gave up so thoroughly on even so much as checking my email that she eventually let go of me. (Once again, I sure don’t blame her!) I lost, during those dark years, a newsletter mailing list of almost 2000 subscribers, a reader’s group that was over half that, my facebook page, my twitter account, everything. All the infrastructure that I had so painstakingly built over those first three years, infrastructure which, while it may not be crucial to writing itself, is absolutely essential if a writer wants to actually sell what she writes. All gone.
I tried writing during that long, long tiresome stretch – literally years where I cast about, trying to figure out how to rebuild a life that was so thoroughly broken. I even finished a few stories, mostly by gritting my teeth and putting down one word after another. The stories showed it, too – torturous, wooden, haphazard things that no amount of rewriting was ever going to breathe life into. After a few attempts, I gave up. I let it lay fallow.
With time, my stuttering stopped. Speaking in complete sentences became easier and easier, although to this day I still occasionally reach for a word and say something completely different — “Let me get my escalator,” for example, rather than “Let me get my coat.” It’s quite wild! And finally, after over a dozen years, stories started to stir again in my head. Even better, I found I could once again capture them on paper.
So here I am, like those pansies in the picture at the top, slowly shaking off the ice of a very long winter and finding my way slowly, step by step, back into the sun. Will I ever reach the success I might have had if none of this had happened? I don’t know—it seems doubtful. But I also, at some level, truly don’t care. I am writing again, and that alone is miracle enough. And if I am truly, truly lucky, some at least of my old readers will forgive my long absence – and perhaps some new ones will find me, too.
Sierra Dafoe has won numerous awards for her paranormal and contemporary romance stories. Learn more about her and her books at www.sierradafoe.com, and check out her latest release, Immortal Lust, on sale at Amazon and other online retailers!
Read an excerpt at Changeling Press!
A Knight of the Templars, Gerard is sworn to chastity, but Cytharea stirs him as no woman ever has.