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Creativity, Depression, Weaponized Positivity, Failure, and Rebirth

Two things happened in 2019.

Okay, wait, a lot of things happened around my family in 2019, but two things are relevant to what is about to be a very long and rambly blog post. If you're here to find out when I'm launching LEGACY OF BRICK & BONE I have buried it all the way at the bottom of this post like a jerk, so get your scrolling finger ready.

Alright so, if you're sticking around for the rambly bits, here we go: two things happened in 2019.

First, we sold our house in the suburbs and moved to our rural parcel of land. And in all honesty, it's a pretty densely populated area as far as "rural" goes. The internet sucks but we can make eye contact with our neighbours from our respective properties, which is not what I had in mind when I went shopping for my "middle of nowhere" slice of heaven. But, I digress. The most notable thing about this 25 acres was that it had no structures on it. Yes, you're understanding me right. We sold our house in the suburbs and moved to a plot of land that had no house. We camped from April 2019 to September 2019.

Adventures were had. Skills were acquired. I learnt how to cook on a fire in the rain. It was fun (or something.) The idea was to build a house on our property, but winter was coming and bureaucracy is slow as all the slow things you can imagine, so instead of building we bought the neighbour's (very old and very small) log cabin and figured we would renovate it after the winter. We'd turn it into our bucolic little farm house etc.

The other thing that happened was I got serious about writing. I know, I didn't have a house, but I was going to finish my damned book if it killed me. I charged my laptop with an extension cord from the neighbour's property (thank you Mr. M) and stole every moment I could around all the other things I was doing in a day. I had a first draft of the book that would become Brightwash. I now consider it an outline for about 3 books, but at the time I thought about it as a draft because I didn't yet know how much I was going to change as a writer.

We settled in the old farm house (with no doors) ((okay it has doors to the outside but the house is just like a square with a second smaller square added on, so everything is all just one horrible room. I believe the cool kids these days call it "open concept" but I call it A JOURNEY)) and made due for what was shaping up to be a very cold winter, with the intention that we would start renovating in the spring.

And then, you know, 2020. The world did it's thing.

We couldn't start renovating. I'm sure you can guess why.

But I could write. So I did. We kept the kids busy with homeschooling and I wrote a lot. I beat that shitty first draft into order and I decided the story was too dark without a little bit of hope, so I turned up the romance thread between Tashué and Stella. This of course was inspired by my own personal love story. I met my husband when I was a single parent, and he saw me in a way that healed something in me, and I knew that Tashué needed (deserved?) to be healed like that, too, so enter Stella. I decided to go indie, so I hired my own editors and I got to work with the amazing Bergman dream team to bring that stunning cover to life. Angela Boord (Author of SPFBO5 finalist, FORTUNE'S FOOL) was an incredible friend, reading Brightwash every time I changed it, and helping me kind of find my path as a storyteller. (Seriously, I changed it a lot, and Angela deserves a round of applause for her patience with me.)

In February of 2021, 18 years after Tashué Blackwood first staggered half-drunk into a story, he was finally published.

Sidebar: I've said it before, and I'll say it again here because it will be relevant a little later in this post. Tashué saved me. I was an unhappy teenager and I slid toward some substances that might have been an escape from all that life was handing me, but those substances made it so I couldn't write. And after not writing for a little while, I realized how much I missed Tashué, so I chose him. Things didn't exactly get easier, but at least I had him.

Right, back to the main plot. Post? Whatever.

2021, we were still frozen as a family. (Sometimes literally!! 150 year old log homes are challenging to heat!) My husband, bless his beleaguered soul, pulled together minor fixes. If success could be measured by how hard one man tries, my husband would have saved us, but alas, the real world needs things like contractors and lumber. He got spray foam insulation on the outside of the house and put up new siding so that it would hold heat better, and he got a better heating system installed. But everything was challenging to accomplish. Contractors were swamped, there was a lumber shortage, and you can forget about getting a plumber out here. You kind of have to beg them to come if there's an emergency, which is a horrible feeling when your family of six has no water because the pipes froze again. My husband dealt with each new emergency with grace under pressure, and still also made time to take over parenting so I could make it to evening and weekend podcast episodes. A round of applause for him, please. He's my hero.

All of that is to say that professionally and creatively, I was at a high point. Tashué was published and he was being well received. He was infinitely more popular than I dared hope (seriously, I was emotionally guarded because I know the sobering statistics of how how indies have to grind for each sale, and I didn't think people would vibe with my weird genre mashup) and I was blooming as a writer. Learning who I wanted to be, learning what kind of story I wanted to tell.

But personally, I was sinking. I felt like a failure as a parent and a spouse. I was "homeschooling" the kids but that basically consisted of me thrusting workbooks at them to keep their minds occupied while I fought to keep our heads above water. And also played referee because they were in each other's business constantly since they're all on top of each other in the same bedroom upstairs. We didn't do much in 2020 for obvious reasons. We ventured out a little in 2021. I missed having fun with them, but the world was very small and still scary. We kept up with our farm chores and we did our best.

Tashué became a SPFBO finalist.

I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I could feel my health declining. From the stress? From the constant state of being overwhelmed? Probably also from the state of rot and decay that is still as I write this eating away at parts of the house. We were supposed to fix it all but instead we were stuck in a kind of stasis, cobbling together temporary fixes so we could survive long enough to make it better one day.

Tashué was in the process of saving me again. So, too, were my fellow SPFBO finalists. Coming together with them at the end of 2021 gave me something to hang on to. Tashué gave me a reason to get out of bed. It feels awful to admit because so many mothers say this about their children, and maybe wives say this about their husbands. I do love my children desperately, and my husband is my best friend, but I felt I was failing them. That I didn't deserve them. There were times when I started to wonder if they were better off without me.

(Listen, don't call the psych ward on me, I know how intense that sounds, and I promise I'm feeling much better now.)

Tashué was having his moment. I worked 18 years for this, and I had to keep going. I had to keep getting out of bed, had to keep hustling to get him into more and more readers' hands. I was able to stay relentlessly positive for other people. My fellow SPFBO finalists, Clayton, Fletcher, Kerstin, Tim, Holly, Ben, Jenn, Lauren, Taya, Chris, (you guys, if you're reading this, I love you so much and I can't express how grateful I am that we got to frogicorn together) said I had weaponized positivity and they were right. I was using it as a weapon against my own burdens. It gave me some sense that I was actually accomplishing something because I didn't feel like I was doing a good job telling Tashué's next story, and I didn't feel like I was doing a good job as an indie business person (I haven't starts ads yet and I neglect my newsletters and I forgot about this blog for a long while). I wasn't even doing a good job being Angela's friend, because I fell behind on reading her latest novel, too. I didn't feel like I was doing a good job as a parent or a farmer. I was forever behind on everything. But telling them that they are amazing? Well that was something I could do for them. I never wanted any of my friends to feel as low as I did. Shoutout to Jenn especially, who understood the particularly complicated experience of tossing a romantic fantasy novel into a competition as visible as SPFBO. I'm so glad to claim you as a friend, Jenn. And I'm so proud of your book.

In the midst of all of this, I was trying to write LEGACY OF BRICK & BONE, the sequel to Brightwash. And like I said above, I wasn't doing a good job of that either. The story was a mess, Tashué lost agency and his fire. Lorne became a different person. I wrote a lot of sex scenes (sorry Fletcher) because it was easy. It's something I can do. But I quite literally lost the plot. It's funny, looking back on the writing I did in that time, how obvious it is to me that I was depressed. I was worried about how dark my original ideas had gotten, and I tried to steer it toward something lighter, but what I got wasn't light it was just... empty. Half numb in some places and overly wrought in others. (Sorry Fletcher)

The winter of 2021/2022 was especially bad. We didn't get a lot of snow that year, but the deep cold still came. Snow acts as insulation when it builds up around a house, but last winter we didn't have that protective layer. It was so cold in the house. Thank fuck my husband updated the insulation and the heating when he did, because I can't imagine how bad it could have been without those things. That's when I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't hang on to this dream anymore.

Shoutout to my beloved Adrian Gibson, who taught me how to tattoo myself in this stretch of time, which was an excellent outlet for my deep malaise.

Actually, shoutout to all of you. To all the friends who carried all the weight of my existence without even knowing I needed help carrying it all, I owe you a lot.

Somewhere around this time, something else happened. I can't recall if it was 2021 or 2022, and I can't recall who reached out to whom first, but I made two new friends and the pair of them changed me again.

I probably reached out to Carissa first, because let me tell you, she is AMAZING. Carissa Broadbent is aspirational. She is a creative steamroller, just launching herself layer by layer into the indie stratosphere. She might say I'm overselling her success, but don't listen to her. That girl is making an empire and I'm honoured to witness it. Talking to her about business helped me learn to hope again. I know it won't be easy to hit the kind of sales she does, and in fact I'm not convinced I even can. Carissa understands her market in a way that I don't. I'm still not entirely sure if I fit under the romantasy umbrella or not, but the market will probably let me know as I start to experiment. But let me tell you, being near her lights me on fire again. I want to achieve a tiny sliver of her greatness.

And, of course, Ryan Cahill. How dare Ryan to be so amazing. Not only has he mastered the art of the indie hustle, but he's also kind, creative, energetic, and hilarious. My favourite thing about Ryan is he wants other people to succeed, too. There's no sense that he's guarding anything. We commiserated about our mutual struggles, and he gregariously shared a lot of the marketing lessons he learned on his journey. He, like Carissa, gave me something to aspire to. Something that I could achieve. A plan of action to get Tashué out into the world on the next level. Thank you for so generously and compassionately sharing your time and your strength with me, Ryan.

I struggled along with Brick & Bone for a while, I finished something like a draft. I genuinely hated that book this summer. I've been struggling with it since 2020. I started working on it before Brightwash was finished. Every time I passed Brightwash off to an editor or a reader, I worked on what was to come in the series. But like I said, in the midst of that depression, I slid way off the rails.

And yet another friend came through for me. Michael Fletcher, someone who is way cooler than I can ever hope to be, offered to help me out by reading Brick & Bone. I passed it off to him in August and he spotted all the places I was unhappy with, and he's been amazingly patient with the absolute fucking mess I handed him. (Sorry Fletcher!!) It was in talking to him that I finally, finally, found my writing joy again. It was after talking to him about something Ishmael does that I went through the stuff I wrote in 2020, before the depression caught me and I lost the fun of writing Tashué. Ryan and Carissa taught me to believe in my career again, and Fletcher reminded me why I love telling stories. He reminded me (without even knowing what he was doing, because he kept apologizing to me like the Canadians we are) who my influences are, reminded me what the hell I'm even trying to say with these stories.

Here we go, I'm getting to the end.

After a lot of soul searching, my husband and I decided it was time to pause the farm dream. At some point, I told myself I could do it, I could make it happen, but I would have to give up writing. That, I think, was my lowest point. I seriously considered it, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't leave Tashué.

I think we don't talk enough about setbacks as a culture. There's a heavy stigma to it that carries a lot of shame. We came out here because we wanted to build a hobby farm, but nothing went right, and to save the sanity of our family, we had to give it up. I'm not sure if we'll try again later, or if I'm a city slicker for life after this traumatic experience, but we'll see. It was especially hard for my husband to let go because he felt like he had failed at something, but I'm trying to convince him he's still my hero. As I see it, we haven't failed, so much as I was overly optimistic about what I could accomplish + ya know, 2020 and the aftermath + he took a new time intensive position + I launched a surprisingly successful indie career etc etc. We didn't fail, we just got real about what we could and couldn't do in this point in our lives, and we pivoted accordingly. But maybe that's just the definition of failure. And if that's the case, maybe we should stop being ashamed of it. Life just keeps happening and sometimes you fumble. And then you pick up the pieces and hopefully you find something new to be optimistic about, and life just keeps happening.

So, we bought a new townhouse in the suburbs and we'll be moving there in November. (Before winter, thank fuck, because I'm serious when I say I couldn't do another winter here.) I'm optimistic about our lives again. The kids will have more space and we'll reenter society, and we'll get more proactive about their schooling. I'm not under any illusions that life will be easy, because it never is, but at least it will be a little simpler. Potable water and rooms with doors and dependable heating, oh my!

And something else happened. In talking to Fletcher, Carissa, and Ryan, in watching movies that inspire me, in rereading Dennis Lehane novels, in looking at the things I wrote back when I was having fun, I learned to love my book again. I could see how to fix it, how to bring back all the things that make me cackle evilly.

Head in a Cake Box, folks. You'll see.

I know how to fix and, and I'm finally excited about it. It's going to be a lot of work, but finally Tashué is telling his story again. It's going to be dark but I'm not ashamed of it anymore.

And so, tentatively, and with hope, I intend to launch LEGACY OF BRICK & BONE April 25, 2023. It's a year later than I wanted, but I refuse to call it a failure. I'm sorry to everyone who's been waiting, but trust me when I say you wouldn't have liked anything I could have published earlier than this. It was shit.

I fought for this story, and I almost gave up on it, but Tashué and I needed some time to figure shit out. And I'm finally proud of the story he needs to tell next.

Thank you, dear reader, for trusting in me so far. I hope the wait will be worth the book you get in April.


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