I am late today. Sorry for that. Actually, I thought today was not my day because I’ve lost track of time. That sounds lame, even to me, but unfortunately, it’s true. For many reasons, I am in the doldrums of the year, part of the ebb and flow of time and emotion and family. First, it’s fall. I adore fall, with the lengthening of night and the shortening of day. It feels as if time slows and gives me more moments to reflect, to snuggle in early, to pile up on the couch with the dogs and the Hubby. Night becomes a reason to push away work and not think of deadlines. I love fall, but this year it’s not so lovely, and because I’ve become friends with so many of you, I have decided to share the reasons why with you, and how life has changed my writing.
On July 24, my mother-in-law became ill and was hospitalized. After that, she went into rehab, and was eating and drinking and laughing. On the tenth day of rehab she became ill again, this time with a much worse illness that not only resulted in a physical disease condition, but caused altered mental status—a fancy term for hallucinations and a case of the crazies. The docs got the infection under control after many, many days, and her mind started to come back, but her physical spiral down was slow and horrible as her body began to fail. She passed away in hospice on Monday, Oct. the 8th and was buried on Wednesday, Oct. 10th. I was at her bedside with my hubby when she died.
During all her final days, a lot was going on. My mother became ill and still is, my father (blind and mostly deaf) was under my care for 20 days, and I had lab job to keep going. I requested and was given extensions on my deadlines for Blood Trade, which I finally turned in on Oct. 10, the day of the funeral. Had a book release—Death’s Rival—on Oct. 2, hit the NYT and USA Today on Oct. 9 (between death and funeral), did a launch party, took a class at the hospital, paid bills, did laundry, worked at my lab job, and last week I flew to New York Comic Con for four days (Oct. 11 – 14). I came home to my still-grieving Hubby.
I love fall. I really do. I understand why the seasons change and why people die. I also love writing. It is my life for so many reasons. But because it is my life, I have to weave it into the warp and weft of living and dying. That is hard. It is one major reason why commercially published writers say, “If you can do anything else with your life and be at least moderately happy, do it. Don’t be a writer. It’s too hard.”
I didn’t say all this to depress you, but to share with you a writer’s life. And to share with you a scene that started while MaeNell lay ill. In it, you can see how my personal life became part of the scene. This scene is *very* rough. Believe me, I know. It needs a lot of work. But it is a view into my own mind.
It opened silently, not with the hair-raising creak I expected. Nothing jumped out at me. Nothing moved. Nothing made a single sound.
The smell from the crawlspace was the fetid stench of a mass grave. I aimed the flash down to see bare, sandy ground and what might have been ankle bones with two leg bones sticking out of it. The angle wasn’t good enough to see anything more, but I was just happy not to see hundreds of rats squealing away. Dead bodies, I was getting used to.
Seven small steps led down, like attic access steps, open and rickety.
I got a firm grip on the weapon and the flash and paced carefully down. The steps were more solidly built than I had thought. I stepped onto the ground, finding it firm and dry and sandy. The floor above me was not insulated, just pare boards, and I could hear people up there walking around, muffled voices through the wood and sheets of old linoleum.
I flashed the light around the crawl space. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. Then I realized it was a head. Human. Sticking out of the sandy earth. It was also alive. The head was female, upright, and I could see a slow pulse in the neck, maybe forty beats a minute.
I scanned my light to the right, and saw another head, this one less buried, with a neck and shoulders and one arm free from the ground. Female. She was wearing clothes over her thin skeleton, skin and bones showing at wrist and collar, and her hair was matted into a slimy mess. She had a chain around her neck, and an amulet hung from it. A little farther to the right was a another woman. Only her face was visible, the rest of her buried, her head tilted back, her mouth open, like a drowning victim, gasping for a last breath. Witches, all. All glowing with witchy-power in swirling, oily, foul shades of energy, like the death energies of everything that had ever been alive.
I moved the light again. And again. The seventh woman was Misha. She was sitting up, her legs buried in the sandy soil, her hands free. She had gone blond as an adult, and still wore traces of lipstick and mascara. Black gunk was smeared below her eyes in the bruised hollows. She had put up a fight. She had a black eye, and a puffy lip. That was not like the passive Misha I had known as a child. “Good for you,” I whispered.
The light caught the gleam of metal. A cell phone rested on her lap. The amulet on her chest was hanging open. I wanted to rush to her but I had no idea what to do for her, and no idea if I would kill her if I tried to pull her from the dirt. I moved the flash around the rest of the circle. All of the women were buried to some extent or another. None of them were the Hampton women.
The floor was low and I bent, studying them. All were alive except the ones at my feet. I shone the light down and saw a skull with some connective tissue left, some hair, her teeth showing the black of old fillings and metal dental work.
Beside her was another skull, less well preserved. They appeared to be laid out in the beginnings of some pattern I didn’t yet understand.
I showed the light around the witch circle and realized that the witches and dirt they were buried in looked . . . wrong. As I watched, something moved over Misha’s knee. And I realized that the women hadn’t been deliberately buried. They earth of the circle was, instead, swallowing them. I picked out the women who had been buried the least amount of time. And I studied the witch who was most buried. She didn’t have long. The dead witches at my feet were the ones who had died in service. And been replaced, though I didn’t know if someone had dug up the dead and dragged them here, or if the earth spit them out when it was done with them. I figured the Hampton witches were intended as replacements for the ones nearly buried. But the Hampton women were not here.
When we write, we put our souls and our lives into the work. It is both a reflection of us and our lives and a work of art all on its own. It is blood and spit and piss, it is birth and glory and joy, and it is the grave. If you cannot do anything else but write, then pour yourself into it. Or, rather, throw yourself from the cliff face and give it your all. And as you fall, remember that the writing life is supposed to be that. All or nothing.
Today I have lunch with a friend. Tomorrow is Hubby’s birthday. Yesterday we took Hubby’s father to the gravesite. Today I start the next book, still untitled. Life and death still go on. Would it be easier if I was not a writer? Yes. Will I stop writing? No. I can’t. You see, I am already falling, hard and fast, and it is dark and cold and terrifying and wonderful, and I have no idea what lies beneath or how far away it is.
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