Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reflections on This Writer's Journey

As I prepare for the release of The Cat, The Lady and The Liar on April 5th, I've been thinking about my career, one I came to as my second job after being a nurse for 35 years. I've realized that each book is like one of my children, each with its own personality, each connected to events in my life—some events good, some bad, some truly terrible, some absolutely wonderful.
The first book an author publishes is always different, and like a first child, seems like a miracle. How did this ever happen? I remember thinking. Holding a "real book," as my husband likes to say, with my words between the pages, was something almost as memorable as the day my son came into the world. Almost. 

My real life kids had weddings within about a year and a half of each other, and in between, I wrote ... wait for it ... A Wedding to Die For. No surprise I felt like I could have actually murdered someone during that time. To be honest, I think it was the funniest book I've written. Truly a happy time, if not stressful.

But life doesn't always treat you kindly, and after I turned in my third book, the notes back from my editor started out with something like, "This book is so sad. You have to make it funnier." I'd been diagnosed with Lyme, so yes, the sadness was there. And perhaps fear as well, fear that the illness would cost me my dream job—mystery writer. 

My editor is quite good at reading the subtext, and at that point the subtext was pretty heavy. I worked hard to make the book better and I believe I succeeded. To this day, Dead Giveaway is one of my favorites.

After writing eight books, I've pushed through the arrival of grandkids, Lyme relapses, a terrible reaction to a simple surgery that nearly killed me, having to take early retirement from my day job because of my illness and so much more. How can those events not seep into the pages? They do, of course, and in unexpected ways. 

When my editor asked me to write a new series with cats front and center, I was excited. But unless I could write two books a year, I had to say goodbye to Abby Rose, of my Yellow Rose series, at least for a while. That affected me more than I ever expected. See, I don't have the stamina to write two books a year. Abby's a part of me and it felt as if I left town and bought a new house somewhere far away. I still miss her ... and one day I am sure she will visit me and everyone else again.

That tiny bit of grief over "losing" Abby, filtered into the first cat mystery without me even realizing it. More notes from my editor about a "sad book." I sure had to examine the novel--and myself. My editor was right, of course. Then I faced my biggest rewrite ever. That sure wasn't fun! But in the end, I have grown to love my new story people. Creating a town from pure imagination was literally and figuratively new territory. The Yellow Rose books are set in Houston and the landscape was already there for me to explore. I thought it would be easy to create fictional Mercy, South Carolina for The Cats in Trouble series. Not really. But the fictional kitties—Merlot, Chablis and Syrah—came with their personalities already set. It seemed magical, really.

So there you have a tiny bit of my story, and I'll bet every writer has their own journey—different and yet the same. But one thing we have in common—we were all readers first. We are readers, just like you. 

What parts of your story are memorable, changed your direction or surprised you? I would love to hear about them.


Julie Goucher said...

Thanks for sharing. I had never really considered that the emotions & real life situations might be reflected in an author's work, which is dreadful, as in some way it is obvious and probably expected.

Aurian said...

What a great story, I am looking forward to reading your books soon.

The Cozy Mystery Journal said...

I haven't read your new series yet (it's in the tbr) but I have to tell you I loved Abby and was so sad when you stopped writing books about her.

I know it sounds silly but as a reader I grieve a little when series come to an end. I get so caught up in the lives of thes characters and feel sad when there is no more.

Heather Webber said...

I love Abby, too, and hope someday she'll make a return (never say never, right?). Am looking forward to Jillian's next adventure!

Barbara said...

I'm interested in two facts: 1) that you were able to rewrite to rid your ms of dark undertones from your mood, and 2) that you have overcome a lack of stamina enough to keep writing books. My husband has Parkinson's and I have COPD so I have both stress and lack of stamina. Your example gives me hope.

Leann Sweeney said...

Thanks all. Abby wasn't cancelled, she was just put on hold, so I hope one day they will find out how to fix the neurological damage caused by Lyme. After that happens, maybe a can write two books a year!

Erika Chase said...

Being a cat person, I love the Cats in Trouble series.

I think everything that happens to us on our life path seeps into our writing, which should make the characters more sympathetic and believable. Which is good.

Leann Sweeney said...

As to the rewriting, that really is my favorite part. So to re-examine my writing and find those places to change the backstory of the characters and change the subtext through recreating the setting and mood was both challenging and rewarding. Writing IS rewriting, for me. And though my energy is low, I do get lost in the story. Many writers who suffer from invisible illnesses are unable to write. Amy Tan has Lyme and didn't write for three or four years. I've pushed through and feel lucky that I can still write!

Vickie said...

{HUGS} Thank you for sharing your story.

As for my changed direction, I always thought I'd be a single chickie. Then, in 1998, when I was 37, I saw him across the Space Ops Center thing led to another: we married in 2001, had Lady K in 2003 (during a hewgah Colorado blizzard) and life hasn't been the same since. All in a good way...well 99% of the time, cuz can't have it too perfect.

signlady217 said...

Talk about life changing directions on you. I have always, always, always, hated standing up in front of a group of people and talking. So what are my two main professions? High school teacher (retired) and sign language interpreter. I still can't quite figure out how that happened! :)