1. Pre-order CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS before 10/11, when it launches.
E-book or hardcover is great!
2. Email a mailing address to whimsydark (at) gmail (dot) com
International is welcome!
3. I will send you a signed bookplate (bottom left) all this rad paper swag, temporary tattoos, and a SPECIAL, EXCLUSIVE packet of MURDERDUST, a spectacular mineral eyeshadow made by Sweet Libertine, who recently debuted a line of eyeshadows called Wicked as They Come and based on my Blud books. As you can see if you click the link, Murderdust isn't available on their site yet-- you can only get it by pre-ordering. It's one of my favorite colors in the line and makes a spectacular smoky eye, especially paired with Magic Dust.
4. We are all happy, and you get to read Conspiracy of Ravens next Tuesday!
Spread the word! Let's sprinkle Murderdust on EVERYONE! <3
Sometimes, the light slips through your fingers.
Truth: When I received an email encouraging me to participate in #HoldOntotheLight, I immediately closed it. I didn't have enough spoons to read that much, to see so many actions I needed to take and hashtags I needed to use and social media badges that I had to spread around. Here it was, a great idea that would help people like me, maybe help people feel less alone, and it seemed like an impossible hill that I just couldn't climb.
That's the thing about depression and anxiety. It lies, and it can keep you from doing great things.
I've blogged on depression, on suicide, on my own origins story, which I also wrote about for my essay in Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life. At 38, I've accepted that I'm never going to be normal, that I'm going to spend every day fighting to stay afloat. I've learned the signs that predict when I'm headed down a dark path and the concrete steps I can take to get back on track-- exercise, yoga, meditation, medication, getting away from the computer. I know all this-- and yet it still gets me. I still fall into that deep, dark, cold hole where I feel helpless and worthless.
But I'm fighting.
The day I received that email, I closed it and walked away. And this morning, waking up to a sunny day that smells like fall, I had the energy and focus to open it and see the good it was doing. I knew what I needed to say, and I had the spoons to say it.
It got better. It always does.
The most important thing I can say on this topic is that whatever you're dealing with, whatever monsters you're fighting: You're not alone. You're not weird or terrible or crazy or sick. There is no normal, no perfect, no brain that's happy all the time. Especially if you're an artist or a writer, the flip side of creativity's coin is often a brain that has trouble calming down, quieting, regulating, sleeping, self-loving.
We're here, with you, fighting.
Look, I'm sometimes a mess. I wrote my first book in 2009 at the age of 31, and it sucked. By 32, I had an agent. By 33, I had a book deal. Writing has become my antidepressant, the obsession that pulls me through dark places and lets me dissect pain and rage on the page. But even having a successful career I'm passionate about isn't enough. There are some days I wake up and can't write a word and just flop around in bed and eat coconut milk ice cream, and there are days that I type 12,000 words and lie awake until 4am, pretty sure I'm having a heart attack and will somehow forget to breathe if I stop counting breaths. This is my reality. This is my cycle. I know that in February and June and August, I'll have a hard time. I know that sometimes I have to take Unisom to sleep. I know that I have to travel with my anxiety medication, just in case. But I know that I can succeed despite whatever my stupid brain throws at me. I know that what's to come is worth the fight.
I'm holding onto the light. Sometimes it's slippery and hard to grasp, but just reaching for it when things get hard feels like victory.
I live in my head. I live in stories and possibilities. I live in the moment. I don't like nostalgia, and I don't often listen to music from my youth, and I don't like dwelling on the past. Likewise, I can't see very far in the future and am all too aware of how many different twists the road could take. Therefore, I live right here, right now.
The downside of living in my head is that I often forget I have a body, at least until it defies me. I walk into doorknobs, hit my head on cabinets, and forget to do important things like drink water or take pills. The sad truth is that I often neglect my body until something goes horribly awry, and then I settle into it like a whiny child into a hard chair, unable to function because everything feels so wretched. I don't like exercise, I don't like sports, I hate running. My body is a glorified bread box.
You can see why this is not a healthy way to live. Much like a house, a body requires constant maintenance and tidying if it's not going to fall apart around you. For the last several years, my body's weekly maid service has been trail riding on my horse. When I'm riding, I'm in flow, in the moment, grounded in my body and working my muscles and seeing and smelling and hearing new things. My senses come alive and my thighs ache and I come home feeling that groggy, cool, kind deliriousness you feel when abject pain is relieved by narcotics. But when my horse came up lame after Thanksgiving, I no longer had a way to connect my wayward brain to my neglected body, and I started to stagnate. And that's when I started yoga.
On my mat, I found that same mind-body connection, that same buzz I used to find on horseback. I spend an hour being in my body, touching my own weaknesses, and working working working toward alignment. They call it "your practice" for a reason: It's all practice.
I felt the click as my instructor assisted me into a more true expression of each pose, and I read and studied and learned how many of my ongoing physical issues were also mental issues. I had breakdowns during hard poses as my hips opened up. I had breakthroughs during the final savasana that helped me process my father's death. I learned to use breathing to stall or reroute my panic attacks. Yoga became the open chat window for my body and mind to connect. I realized that I am not my thoughts-- I am so much more.
As writers, our brains are constantly hunting around for the worst case scenario, both so we can more effectively torture our characters and when looking at our own lives. If you give your thoughts too much power, they become magnified. Every mistake is a catastrophe. Every rejection is a death knell. Someone else's triumph is a condemnation. Your brain is powerful, but your brain can lie. Yoga-- or meditation, or running, or painting-- can get you out of your head and into perspective about what's real, what matters, and what can be let go. Yoga helps me defrag and recalibrate.
That's why this year, I decided to enroll in a YTT 200 Yoga Teacher Training program. And because I tend to be good at the new things I try, and because I'm fairly smart and have teaching experience in the arts and in writing, I thought I'd automatically be great.
And I'm not.
My first month of YTT left me feeling like a child in a new country where I don't speak the language. I was expected to read extensively, to write papers, to practice at home, to journal, and to stand up in front of people with vastly more yoga experience and attempt to teach them poses I am far from mastering. When I taught my first sequence, I could feel my heart beating in my temples and hear the question mark at the end of my every sentence. I fumbled for words, forgot to be assertive, didn't use non-violent communication. In short, I was a hot mess, and I felt like a complete fool.
I came home that first weekend and considered quitting.
I wasn't good at it. Not good at yoga, not good at teaching yoga. It was too much all at once. The other students were so much better at me, at the positions and the teaching. It was a waste of money. I couldn't see myself ever having the knowledge and competence and confidence to lead a class.
But I kept on. Kept going to as many yoga classes as I could as a student. Kept doing yoga at home, whether through online videos or by myself on the porch. I tried to teach my daughter. I helped my husband with some restorative poses. Kept reading. Kept stretching.
Still, every month, before YTT, my feelings plummet. I get scared. I should quit. I'm not good enough.
Every month, I still go.
And the simple truth is this: I'm getting better.
There have been little breakthroughs along the way. The first time I got into Crow Pose and literally felt like I was flying. The first time I adjusted my daughter and heard her say, “Oh!” when she was perfectly aligned, her face alight with understanding. When I adjusted my husband during a stretch and heard him sigh in relief. And, finally, this past weekend, when I made my first class playlist and realized that if I simply looked at each class like a short story, I could succeed.
Putting together a sequence was the hardest part for me. I simply didn't have the vocabulary to lead a flowing series of poses--it felt like being asked a prepare a twelve course meal when all I had were flour and butter. After three intense weekends of teaching, I finally feel empowered to find my voice. I start by making a playlist of songs geared toward the time limit, then I look at the songs and see what kind of feel or theme they have-- just like I do when making a book playlist. Then I consider what I want as the peak pose we work toward-- just like when I figure out what the climax of the book will be. Then I feel out the introduction/intention (beginning), the portion of the sequence where we build heat in the body (escalating action), the climax, the cooldown (denouement), and the closing (ending). See? It's a short story, told through the body and tied together with a theme and soundtrack.
Suddenly, it all clicked. I just had to find a way to apply what I'm best at (writing) to something that I found nearly impossible (teaching yoga). I found my voice and my purpose.
I want to write about this for several reasons. For one, if you think traditionally published authors have all their shit together, WE DO NOT. If you think that being great at one thing means you deserve to be automatically great at everything, IT'S NOT TRUE. If you're thinking about quitting something because it's hard, DON'T. You just have to find your way, your path, your voice. Succeeding at something that frightens or intimidates you is the only way to grow. Nobody levels up sitting at home being complacent.
Writing is wonderful, but don't let it be your everything. Get out. Be in your body. Take a shower and put on clothes that make you feel alive. Have new experiences. Take classes. Suck at stuff. Try harder. Get better. Level up. It will help your writing.
Repeat: IT WILL HELP YOUR WRITING.
Part of my goal in training to be a yoga teacher is to help writers. Not only to unhunch your shoulders and soothe your aching back and stretch out those typing fingers, but also to find the space you need to let in new ideas. Yoga helps me find that space. Yoga helps me say Yes. Yoga helps me open up, heart and mind, to possibility and to remember that there is light inside me.
If you're a writer, I highly recommend finding the right yoga studio and putting on those raggedy old leggings and getting on the mat. No one cares what you look like. No one cares if you know what you're doing. No one cares if you have trouble getting into poses. That's what's so great about yoga: everyone is so busy being in their own body that they're not looking at yours, much less judging you. It's pretty much the opposite of Twitter.
So there's your advice of the day: Writer, get out of your head.
So I'm reading FURIOUSLY HAPPY by Jenny Lawson, aka The Blogess, and it's making me feel lots of things because her crazy and my crazy are kissing cousins. I've put off reading this book forever because she's funnier than me and her books sell better than mine and she has more taxidermied animals than me, and I consider all of that deeply insulting. Still, the book is resonating, and so I want to tell you a story that her book reminded me of.
A few months ago, I was in Denver, Colorado for Anachrocon. This is exciting because I've believed for many years that Colorado didn't exist. I mean, come on. A perfectly rectangular state full of huge mountains and elk? Impossible. I had daydreams of my plane landing on this big blank smudge, like, Whoops, it's not real. You were right! But instead, the plane landed in the weirdest airport in the world that's probably above a secret apocalypse bunker for the president and Beyonce and other national treasures. Seriously. Google “Denver airport conspiracy theories” and look at that mile-high, red-eyed, blue-skinned murderstallion standing proudly out front and tell me this place was not built by the Illuminati. Or, more likely, the Masons, because that is literally what masons do.
Anyway, I had an amazing week hanging out with my buddy Kevin Hearne and then I went to stay at the con hotel for Anachrocon, which is a great fan con run by fabulous people. It was a lovely hotel room, by which I mean there were no bedbugs (YES, I CHECK EVERY BED AND EVEN UNDER THE MATTRESS), and the pillows were nice and flat and the mirror made me feel pretty in part because it made my eyes look like the eyes of a goat on ecstasy. I was very fond of that hotel room and went there often to decompress, because like Jenny Lawson, these events use up a lot of my spoons and I eventually have to go take meds and drink vitamin powders and commune with my friends on Twitter without worrying about sucking in my stomach or having weird stuff in my teeth.
So the thing about me and hotel rooms is that when I have one to myself, I keep it pristine. I put everything exactly where I want it, and I fold myself into the bed like it's a crisp new Trapper Keeper folder, and when I get up in the morning, I fold that little triangle of the bed back and POOF! The bed is made. The first thing I do (after checking for bedbugs and goat eyes) is to put their Do Not Disturb sign up because I'm terrified of people knocking on the door. The hotel room becomes my fortress of solitude, and I don't want strange people coming in and rearranging my earrings and touching my shoes. Or, even worse, I don't want them to bang on the door so that I'm forced to explain why they can't come in. The hotel staff doesn't seem to understand the word NO, or the words NO THANK YOU, or even NOT NOW PLEASE; I'M NAKED; YOU CAN GO AWAY.
On my second day, I got dressed and double checked my schedule and the con map and my outfit and my bag of swag and all the various things that make me feel like I have my shit together, and I made sure the DO NOT DISTURB sign was up. Unfortunately, the housekeeper was right outside my door. I noticed this when I looked out the peephole to make sure the hall was empty, and I timed my exit for when she was in another room so I wouldn't have to speak to her because I am terrified by speaking to people in this dance of WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE WHAT DO YOU WANT EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME. So she goes into another room, and I dart out the door, and she must hear the teeny tiny click my door makes as I gently shut it because she lunges out of the other door as I hightail it down the hall and says, “I can clean?”
So I turn around like a deer in headlights and say, “No, thank you.”
And that should be great. She should be able to mark that down on her log in the “Freaky weirdos” category and take ten minutes to play with someone else's jewelry. But that is not what she does.
SHE PURSUES ME.
AFTER I SAID NO THANK YOU.
“I can go clean now you are gone?” she asks, and she looks very forbidding, like a teacher who doesn't like me very much and wants to double check my backpack for a jar of spiders. And I wish I had a jar of spiders to throw, because she is now Terminator-walking down the hall toward me, and I can't figure out if she's going to tackle me until I promise to remove the DO NOT DISTURB sign or if she wants to clean out my ears for me or something.
And I realize that if I don't put a stop to this insistence on invading my personal space, she's going to wait until I'm in the elevator and go in there and probably put on my earrings and use my perfume, and that thought makes me want to burn everything I own, because DON'T TOUCH MY STUFF, so I turn around, fidgeting my fingers like a nervous hamster, and I don't know what to say, and she's still stalking toward me, and I'm afraid she's going to touch me or yell at me or something, and I'm a grown-ass woman of 38 quaking because a housekeeper is frowning at me, and what comes out of my mouth is the honest-to-God truth.
I shouted, “PLEASE DON'T GO IN MY ROOM BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE TOUCH MY STUFF AND MATCH UP MY EARRINGS AND YOU'RE MAKING ME REALLY, REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE RIGHT NOW.”
And before I could see how she reacted to that for-shrinks-only confession, I ran into the fire stairway and down three flights of stairs because I didn't want to stand in front of the elevator pushing the button repeatedly like some dumbo in a horror movie as she continued to T2 toward me with increasing rancor.
My heart was racing, and I was filled with panic, and all the while, I was very aware that this was in no way an actual big deal or a problem. Like, a woman who wanted to do her job asked if she could just go and do her job like she was supposed to do, but it just so happened to be the straw on this introverted camel's back, and she was probably just standing in the hall trying to figure out where my nurse was and when I would be given my proper medicine, because it's not normal to shout at people not to match up your earrings.
A housekeeper did that once, and I still have nightmares. I had them all in a jumble in the little cardboard box I travel with, and she TOOK THEM OUT and LINED THEM UP on a HAND TOWEL, and I felt like I was in Sleeping with the Enemy. So you can see why this is one of my fears.
That's what anxiety does to you. It can take some perfectly normal situation and ratchet it up to an 11 on the scale of Normal Things That Are Okay, and suddenly it's not okay. I doubt this woman had any idea that I had to huddle down in that emergency stairwell and dig in my purse and take anxiety meds because of a simple question. When I mentioned the interaction on Twitter, I got several responses along the lines of, “Wow. Yelling at housekeepers. Privileged much?” And I just want to shout back, DID YOU JUST START FOLLOWING ME BECAUSE I AM A SMORGASBORD OF WRONG REACTIONS TO NORMAL SHIT. I can give myself a panic attack by hearing the wrong Pink Floyd song or deciding that an ingrown hair is cancer. Being verbally confronted in a strange place is bound to mess me up.
The takeaway here is that FURIOUSLY HAPPY is making me feel better about being a cornucopia of neuroses and ailments, and that it's normal to be slightly crazy. We all have something that pushes our buttons, and we all do our best to stay functional. I went down those three flights of stairs, put on my Public Extrovert Happy Face, and did my best to be a great con guest. My hope is that no one who talked to me or came to my panels knew that I'd had an anxiety crisis in the hallway and was secretly terrified to return to my supposed fortress of solitude and find a death threat written on the goat-eye mirror in someone else's blue sparkle toothpaste above a skull made of my own jewelry.
Depression lies, and anxiety is an asshole, but you should never shout at someone who uses a Do Not Disturb sign. They've made it pretty fucking clear what they need to be okay: Do not disturb them.
I learned very early on that music is a great way to build books and preserve sanity.
That means that for each book, I have a specific playlist. When I'm building up the idea, writing the first draft, or editing, I listen to that playlist exclusively-- in the car, while on walks, while cleaning the kitchen. I behaviorally condition myself to be in that world with those characters when I hear that music. That means that if I need to switch between projects-- say, stop a first draft halfway through to revise a book for my agent or editor-- I can easily switch gears and reimmerse myself in the book that needs attention.
The key to a great playlist, for me, is to use all new music. I don't want songs to which I already have attachments or songs from my past that evoke certain feelings or nostalgia. And that means that for each book, I need 20+ brand new songs. Sounds like a tough deal, doesn't it? Back in high school, I was lucky if I found an album I really loved once a year. That's where Spotify comes in.
Spotify is free—although you have to listen to ads and can't take it with you. I pay $9.99 for a monthly subscription that cuts out all ads and allows me to upload my playlist to my iPad and iPod. $10 a month for unlimited music in my car and while traveling? THAT'S A GOOD DEAL. I used Pandora for my first few books, and it's a great way to spontaneously find new music, but you can only skip through so many songs before they force you to listen to something that makes you want to plug your ears with knives, which does not work for me. So, assuming you're using Spotify, like I do, here's how I make a playlist.
First, I find a song that *feels* like the book. I don't want something for which the lyrics are a 1-to-1 perfect match; I want the feel. Whimsical, sexy, dark, futuristic, whatever. Sometimes, I'll hear a song somewhere and know that it's the playlist seed. Sometimes I go on Twitter and ask for suggestions. Frex, when I was building the playlist for SERVANTS OF THE STORM, I asked for moody, dark music that felt like a storm building and dark things crawling underneath. My pal Ken Lowery suggested a band called The Gutter Twins, and that band became the heart of the playlist. Sometimes, it's one album and maybe a few extras for a book. WICKED AS THEY COME, for example, was entirely written to Like Vines by The Hush Sound.
More often, I start with one song and have to find a bunch of songs that flow with it. The first step is to make a new playlist and name it. Then you have to find songs to dump into it. For WAKE OF VULTURES, I started with the band Gangstagrass. I searched Spotify for Gangstagrass and pulled up their Artist page. Then I clicked Related Artists, which pulls up dozens of new bands. For each band, I pull up their Artist page. Here, Spotify shows you that band's 5 most Popular/listened to songs. You can even see how many times those songs have been accessed by Spotify users. I listen to those songs and just drag n' dump anything that sounds good into the Playlist.
I can tell within 20 seconds, usually, if a song works for that playlist. If the music is so good and works so well that I just listen to the songs and forget to dump them into the playlist, I often go through all of that band's albums and add as many songs as possible. You can see from the recent CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS playlist that Gangstagrass shows up a little, then there's a ton of Trampled by Turtles, Greensky Bluegrass, Punch Brothers, and Brown Bird. For this playlist, I started with Wait So Long by Trampled by Turtles, which I found for the Bedlam playlist. I never finished the Bedlam book, so you can see that that playlist never got big.
As a writer, I feel like my books are an organic process, influenced by little tidbits, experiences, and quotes I think of while in the shower, while doing yoga, while surfing the internet. Playlists are like that, too. I might hear something I like on the radio or while at a restaurant, add it, and use the Related Artists feature to find more songs that sound like it. I also find that mental images or words from the songs sometimes make it into my books. Right now, I'm writing the first draft of an epic Fantasy, codename smallbright, and you'll see that the playlist is mostly Lord Huron. Little snippets of the songs keep ending up in the dialogue, and I'm okay with that. If you listen to Like Vines, you can hear themes that worked their way int WICKED AS THEY COME, like the song Sweet Tangerine or the arrow through the throat. Music heavily influences each book, and the playlists are like part of the magic spell that grows a rich, tangled story out of a few tiny seeds.
Once I have a story seed and a playlist, it takes a few weeks for me to work out the general tone and direction of the story and characters. I figure out where the story begins, what the instigating factor will be, what the climax will be, how it ends, and what happens after that. I don't start writing until I know all those signposts and can't stand to wait another moment to write. By then, the playlist has become the background music for my life, and I listen to it through earbuds while I write. I don't hear the words anymore while writing, although I sing them when I'm driving around.
You can see all my playlists on my Delilah S. Dawson Spotify channel. You'll notice published books, books in the works, short stories, the Lumberfox e-books, and books that never made it. I'm so grateful for today's technology that allows me to find 30 songs I love in a couple of days and weave them into my art. My playlists allow me to switch effortlessly between projects, and they also help me to access flow and tap into my subconscious when I get to a tough spot and don't know which way to take the story. I run a hot bath, turn on the playlist, turn out the lights, and meditate in the water until I break through the block, figure out what happens next, or realize at which point I took a wrong turn and need to back track.
One caveat: When I use a song for a book, by the time I'm done writing, editing, and launching that book, I'm pretty much sick of that song forever. Its magic is used up. That's why I don't use something old or something that I'm in love with. Each playlist becomes a period of my life, music that defined me during that book. I tend to drop the playlist, move on, and have no further interest in that music. And I'm okay with that. It's like giving my old clothes to charity because they no longer fit or are my current style. You just don't want to use a song that's truly, truly meaningful to you unless you're ready to say goodbye.
Another caveat: You don't have to make your playlists public, like mine are. You should be free to add as much Nick Jonas or Taylor Swift as you want without worrying about other people judging you.
Other benefits: Seeing the band from your playlist play live can be transformative and give new passion to the writing. We saw The Civil Wars, The Airborne Toxic Event, and Manchester Orchestra while I was in those playlists, and the day after the concert, I hit 10k thanks to the energy planted directly into my sternum.
Do you use playlists? What methods do you use to comparmentalize projects or weave music into your art?
My dad died April 30 after a long battle with cancer. I was with him in his final moments, and I held his hand during his last breath. It was, to say the least, a jarring and transformative moment. Since then, I've written 60 pages on a gut-wrenching epic Fantasy, gone to 6 yoga classes, cried a million tears, and had too many nightmares to count. I've been tweeting about grief and art and coffee creamer. And I've learned some things.
Although this was my first time witnessing death up close, I'm no stranger to trauma. As I've mentioned before, I've dealt with depression, suicide, rape, abuse, PTSD, anxiety, miscarriage. When Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life comes out on June 7, you'll know the truth about my complicated relationship with my father and why the Hulk means so much to me. I strongly feel like we, as a society and as artists, need to be more open about mental health issues and pain and how the struggle of adulting, of real life, leaks into our work. And I want to tell you how I'm personally using that struggle to fuel my art instead of letting it poison or silence me.
1. Get meta
There were so many moments while caring for my dad in hospice that I thought, “This is an entirely unique experience, and I need to remember it.” Watching the body shut down, knowing what it's like to sit vigil through the night, waking up and holding your breath to listen: it's a strange and frightening territory that most humans will go through, and no matter who is around you, just like in death, you go it alone. If I can stop in a moment and think, “One day, this moment will be useful to me,” it helps to process it. Trauma is obviously not pleasant, but it can inform your art and perhaps, one day, help other people get through a tough time.
2. Use your work as an escape
Caring for someone in hospice is hard work—body, mind, and soul. When you get a little time off, you can blank out with the TV or you can channel all the snakes in your head into art. There were times, over the past few weeks, when I'd leave someone else at my dad's bedside, go into another room, put in earphones, and write like hell. I began writing in 2009 as relaxation after spending all day with two babies, and so it feels natural to think of the story throughout the day, clock out, and give whatever I have left to the work. When I was pregnant, I fell into painting like this. Doing something with my body besides creating a new body felt wildly indulgent. If you can't write, try coloring or painting or woodworking. There's always a way to fit art into troubled times. Flow is very restorative to the artist's brain.
3. Accept that sometimes, it simply won't happen
No matter how prolific an artist you are, no matter how many ideas you have, there will be days that you simply have nothing left to give. The words won't come, the lines won't work, and you'll feel like a failure and a waste of space, and fuck that. Every field has to lie fallow for a while to let the soil rebuild its strength and health. Find something that will refill your well and nourish your dirt and do that. Read a great book, read a shitty book, read an old, comforting favorite. Bake, take yourself out for a nice meal, do your preferred exercise, go hit golfballs after writing curse words on them in Sharpie. There's nothing to be gained by staring at a blank page and blaming yourself. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. They might be dying, but you need to live.
4. Remember that everyone grieves differently
The five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But that doesn't mean there's a normal, expected progression or timeline. You might have some of them, all of them, in this order or out of order. You might bounce back to anger again and again; ask me how I know. You might displace your feelings and get angry at the dog because you can't get angry at your dying friend. You might compartmentalize and try to ignore reality as much as possible; again, really, ask me how I know. You might tell everyone you're fine and then wake up covered in tears. There is no one way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently. Don't feel guilty or bad for how you deal with trauma. As long as you come out the other side, as long as you live through it, you're doing fine. Expectations are the enemy.
5. Consider working through your feelings using your art
If you read Wicked as They Come, you see a damaged woman with trust issues who goes crazy from lack of sleep. If you read Servants of the Storm, you see a girl who can't get over her dead best friend. If you read Strike, you see a girl dealing with PTSD. If you read Wake of Vultures, you see a person struggling to accept themselves when no one else will. My short story, Sundowning, came about after my first all-nighter in the ICU. Don't even get me started on the epic Fantasy I'm writing right now and the daddy issues therein.
Thing is, the struggles I feel in real life end up on the pages of my books, and my job is to make them pretty, palatable, and useful to the reader without getting preachy or hopeless. There's a passage in Strike where Wyatt explains the concept of a Memory Palace to Patsy, and she internalizes it as a Forgetting Attic. That's me. That's my attic. That's my pigeonhole desk full of locked drawers containing the moments of my life that hurt the most. I had to put in that part because that's how I deal with my PTSD, and if it could help a teen dealing with some of the same shit, I want them to have another strategy in their bag of tricks. Your characters are real people with real problems, and their thoughts and words can help you get to the other side of your own experiences. Let them speak for you. It can help you process deeper feelings and internal conflicts that you might be hiding, even from yourself.
6. Remember that it takes time
Grieving is not an easy process. You don't start with Denial on Monday and check off the box for Acceptance on Friday in time for a breezy weekend. There is no gold star for getting over death more quickly or tidily than anyone else. Lean on people. Call in favors. Excuse yourself to cry, or just cry wherever you are, like I did in yoga last night. Claim the time, space, and energy you need. I had to cancel several appearances this spring because I. Just. Can't. I've had to learn to step back and grab the shoulders of well-meaning huggers who encroach on my personal space.
You might not be able to write for weeks. Or what you write might seem crappy or loose or overly purple in the prose. Publishing will not move on without you. All the agents won't have chosen dance partners before you're done grieving. The world will wait for you, for your book. Even deadlines can be moved. It takes what it takes. Just be kind to yourself, okay? Grief fades in and out. It surprises you. You'll think you're doing okay and then have a dream that takes you back to step one. And that's okay.
If you have a heart, you will experience grief one day. Maybe a lot of grief. But that pain can be useful to you. That pain makes you who you are. That pain reminds you that life is precious and to be lived, that you need to revisit your bucket list, that you need to go stand with your feet in the ocean and hug all your friends tighter. That pain ties you to every other human on earth, and to elephants and apes and service dogs mourning by coffins. That pain is a bolt of lightning from destiny, spurring you onward. Your days are numbered, pal, so use them well. Don't ignore or belittle or hide your pain. Live it and honor it and use it to rip someone else's heart out with words so that they, too, remember why we're alive.
2. It's out September 20.
3. Coming up next: A Wake-related announcement and the cover reveal for book 2, CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS, which is out in October! <--CLICK HERE FOR HOT NEWS, YO
4. You're awesome. You know that, right?
*dances away, hugging feather*