Archive for August 13th, 2011

Saturday, August 13th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Key Moments in a Writing Life, Part 2

Howdy folks!  Happy Saturday!

Last week, I started us down a quite the autobiographical highway, pointing to the roadsigns and landmarks along the way that I think were key in bringing me to where I am today as a writer.  This all came out of some reflection I’ve been doing around where my career is today.  Last week, my third novel came out in mass market paperback and next week, I’m co-hosting the Hugo Award Ceremony at Worldcon with my best pal Jay Lake.  Both are pretty significant landmarks — very visible for those watching my career from afar — but for all the landmarks that others see, there are the ones that no one could know about but me or those near me, out of sight beneath the surface.

We left off at 2007, so I’ll pick up there.

2007 — Jenn Jackson called, asked if I was sitting down, and then told me that Tor wanted all five books.  We’d thought, best case, that they’d want three so we were Quite Surprised.  News of the deal started to spread through the community and I made an unplanned trip to World Fantasy so I could spend some time with Tom Doherty and start being introduced around.  Jay and I went out a day early, toured the Tor offices, licked some windows in NYC and then had a blast at World Fantasy Saratoga.  I felt like Cinderella.  Years of being relatively unknown, and suddenly folks knew who I was, wanted to meet me, wanted to hear about the book.  It was amazing experience.  And a week after I got home, I learned about my Mom’s stomach cancer.  A few weeks after that, and she died of complications following a surgery that confirmed she would’ve only lived another few months.  I had to make that horrible decision to remove her from life support, complicating already complex grief.  I can’t even begin to describe the experience adequately but it was absolutely one of the most challenging, painful, key moments in my life in general and was a tough blow to my writing at a time when I needed to be writing more and faster.  I was mid-way through Canticle when I stalled out for the next five months.  Somehow, I managed to write “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon,” a tribute of sorts to the impossible relationship I had with my Mom.

2008 — I signed my first major contract, got my first big writerly paycheck, took a trip to Mexico to celebrate my fortieth birthday.  In April, I finished Canticle and learned my best pal was starting what’s now turned into a long fight against cancer.  In May, Tor sent me to BEA to sign hundreds of copies of the Lamentation ARC, nine months ahead of publication, to start the word-of-mouth campaign.  I got home from L.A. to learn that my nephew had been killed by an IED in Afghanistan.  Mixed in with that loss, amazing reviews of Lamentation started showing up.  In October, my first short story collection came out with Patrick Swenson at Fairwood Press (remember him from last week?)  And in December we learned we were pregnant and my dad was in the hospital.

2009 —  It was my 41st birthday.  We’re sitting in the doc’s office for Jen’s first ultrasound and the doc says “Here’s a heartbeat.  Hmmm.  Let’s see what else is happening around here….”  Neither of us were prepared for the second heartbeat.  Happy Birthday to me!  And right on the heels of that news, in early February, just a week before Lamentation came out, my father passed away.  I went on my first book tour after giving the eulogy at his funeral and Antiphon stalled out at the midway point and waited for another four months for my writing engines to fire.  But fire they did, and just a few days after Lizzy and Rae were born, I wrapped Antiphon.  I edited my third novel while holding and feeding my tiny little girls.

In October, when Canticle came out, I found myself on the Locus Bestseller list — my first time as a bestseller.  I went on a tour to promote the second volume (this time with the uber-talented and ever-lovely Kate Elliott) and…came home and went into a slow, painful collapse.  Meanwhile, Spain, France, Germany and Russia were all signing onto the Psalms of Isaak Bandwagon.  And my first short story collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys, was a finalist for the Endeavour Award at the end of the year.

2010 — I’ll be honest; I don’t remember chunks of this year.  I know that at some point, Lamentation won the ALA RUSA Reading List Award for Best Fantasy of 2009.  And Lamentation and Canticle both landed on the Locus Awards ballot.  And I started blogging here at Genreality.  My workon Requiem was moving at a snail’s pace if at all.  I’d had a few weeks here and there where I could work but I’d largely been reduced to rubble.  It took half of the year to figure out what was going on.  Remember that Unfortunate Childhood I referred to last week?  Well, part of its legacy in my life was a really solid helping of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I’d been diagnosed in the mid 90s but had lived relatively free of the worst of its symptoms.  Until all that Life Stuff pig-piled me.  The second half of 2010 was spent trying to get me put back together but the symptoms were worsening.  The lack of sleep that comes with newborn twins was a contributing factor, but so was the close proximity of all that loss to all that gain…and all that stress.  I went out and promoted Antiphon when it came out in Fall 2010 and largely stayed out of sight beyond that.  But I started reading up on a new treatment for PTSD out of Chicago….

2011 — Thanks to Dr Eugene Lipov and the Chicago Medical Innovations Foundation, I flew to the Windy City in February and March of this year to receive the Stellate Ganglion Block.  This treatment — a pain block that’s been in use since the 1920s — wiped out my PTSD symtpoms.  There are minor leftovers that show up here and there, but nothing at all like what I was experiencing when things were at their worst.  And for the most part, my new “good” was better than my prior years with relatively minor symptoms.  Of course, I thought getting the PTSD dealt with would bring me racing back to my words and my former 1k words/hour speed limit, that I’d get my book in quickly and write, write, write.  I was wrong.  Ends up that all those things that needed to be processed when the PTSD flared up still needed to be processed and that took up critical brain-space.  Truth is, I’m still not back to my old self all the way.  But….  Lamentation won France’s Prix Imaginales.  And a few months ago, my buddy Jay Lake and I got asked to co-MC the Hugos.  And three weeks ago, I finished my first piece of fiction (a short called “Time Dancing in the Key of E Minor”) just before my daughters’s second birthday party.  And last week…my third novel came out in mass market paperback.

So what’s the point in all of this?  Why this long, drawn out calendar of events?  Well, for those of us on the outside, looking at a writer, we see their words and we see the events that those words take them to.  We see when their first words show up on the public scene and we see the award they win or don’t win.  We see the very tip-top of the iceberg and we scratch our heads and wonder how they got where they are.

We’re all of us looking for that magic bullet that will lead us to a magic carpet.  I know I surely was, from my subscription to Writer’s Digest in high school to all of those writing panels I attended when I first discovered the convention world and those first goshwowsenswunda issues of Locus I cracked open chock full of all that industry news.  We’re all hoping there’s a shortcut, a secret door, and some folks have even asked me about the one I seemed to find back in 2007.  (Heh.)

And for a while now, I’ve maintained that the only magic bullet is to write, write more, write faster.  And truly, I do believe that.  But I’m also growing to believe more and more that there’s another piece to that — it’s recognizing that our lives are what give us our stories.  We find the depth of our characters in their response to the problems we throw at them and the fodder for all of that is…life.  We live eyes and ears wide open.  And each step we take in our lives is grist for the Storyteller’s mill if we let it be.