I couldn’t have plotted a believable novel that would have encompassed 2020.
Many people had and have it much worse than I do, and most of us have experienced loss to some degree and in some way as a result of COVID-19. This is part 2 to my story of how becoming an author matched my expectations about as well as the clothes I order from Amazon. If you missed part 1, you might want to check it out before reading on.
“Your first yes,” I read after opening the first of three emails from Shayla, my editor and publicist, at the beginning of March. Shayla had been pitching reviewers for a week or so, and the responses were beginning to roll in. Here were the initial results. I officially had my first yes from a book reviewer!
I turned up the music I had at a hum in my ears through my noise-canceling headphones—a must for any mom working from her home office with a toddler, four-year-old, and a dog also at home—and grooved in my kitchen while my two young kids went on about their business.
Do we have any champagne or wine? I considered, wishing I could toast the moment once the sitter arrived in a few minutes. A look in the refrigerator told me we were out and that I needed to clean out the fridge door. I shut it, ignoring the bottle of congealed Italian dressing.
No champagne? That’s OK. I settled for excitedly sharing the news in the group chat with a few of my friends, which included the cover designer and photographer for my book.
I was two weeks away from moving and three weeks from the official release of my first ever novel. My stress and excitement fought for top billing daily, sometimes hourly. But right this minute, the excitement was winning.
Quickly, I opened and scanned the next two emails from Shayla. More reviewers, more yeses. It felt like an affirmation. I am an author. I am worthy of good things.
I didn’t feel either of those things several months before.
As a matter of fact, I almost didn’t finish writing Adrienne’s Awakening.
Have you ever invested years of work into something you’ve always wanted to achieve? I did with Adrienne’s Awakening. Everything I’d ever written was prep work, my goal to improve my writing so someday I could write fiction. I invested in myself and my writing for years before I wrote the first word for the story that would become the book.
When most of the work was done, though, I stopped. I was 90% there, and the remaining 10% felt like nothing—like a hurdle built for my toddler. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
I had put it away for a while. For several months, I didn’t make time to work on it, and I didn’t want to, either. I was a master at pulling out the usual excuses (I didn’t have time; I was raising a family, running a business, etc.), but those excuses were symptoms, not the causes of my lack of focus. Like most new authors, I faced all the typical fears and doubts. It could be a great story, as long as I didn’t finish and send it out into the world where others might tell me it’s not. But that wasn’t what was stopping me, either. There was something else underneath it all. Something that had stalked my sleep and left my head, neck, and jaw aching every morning when I awoke with clenched teeth.
“I feel like it was my fault,” I had confessed to my friend, trembling and ashamed to say it out loud. I blamed myself for something tragic that was far beyond my control. It had been quietly nibbling at my self-view for a decade. Those nibbles weren’t much if you viewed them individually, but as a whole, my mental health was significantly impacted.
Not only did I feel responsible for that, but I also felt at fault for every bad thing that had ever happened in my 35 years of life.
I didn’t feel like I was enough. I didn’t feel like I deserved this book or any success that came with it. I didn’t deserve to achieve my dream.
The logical part of my brain knew that wasn’t true, but the creative side was what I needed to be able to finish the book. And it wasn’t interested in the facts.
Realizing that’s what I was feeling was a vital step in the right direction.
After my confession to my friend, it took me weeks of tearful, pain-filled work before I wrote a single word that contributed to my book in its current state of completion. Weeks. Months. I would write and cry, write and cry. Until the tears stopped, and the things I had been feeling started showing up in my story, living on the page in a scene, in a character. Until I was finished. It was done.
I did it. I managed to get to know myself on a deeper level and work through a serious roadblock that had not only been affecting my writing but was also affecting my life and relationships. And now here I was, about to launch.
The move stole my joy.
While I waited for the sitter, I reflected on my battle months ago; I had put in the work to uncover and combat my irrational guilt. Wasn’t that enough hard, emotional work for a while?
I paused the music and gathered my charger, my cup of tea that I would take with me to my basement office shortly. My two young children were playing together in the cabinet I had given up keeping them out of and emptied instead. They both giggled from behind the closed cabinet door. My toddler laughed harder as her brother threw the door open and yelled nonsensically, repeating her baby language.
I smiled, and tears filled my eyes and I held my breath, trying to be silent and not break the spell of those little laughs.
I was struggling all over again. I had fought myself so hard to reach this point in launching my career as a fiction author, and I felt like I couldn’t even enjoy the process, the moment, because I was juggling a move. A move to a town I didn’t want to live in.
I had already canceled the launch party because of it; I couldn’t possibly take on one more thing that required planning and coordination of things and people. I still had a book signing set for launch day, and I was inviting everyone.
Writing my book, finishing it, publishing the thing—it felt like graduating college, earning a hard-fought win, and emerging the victor from a battle that had lasted my entire life. I wanted a snippet in time to be a little selfish and make something about me. My book launch week was supposed to be that moment, but nothing was working out that way.
Then COVID-19 arrived in Missouri.
Four days after opening that email from Shayla, my home state saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 less than a week after news of the first death in the United States. I was struggling to keep up with the news and worried by what felt like an extreme response by other neighboring states and local governments.
“I do not want to stock up on things,” I told my husband the first weekend in March. Stores in St. Louis had already seen a massive influx of people wanting to get enough food and household items to make it through a stay-at-home order. We were low on toilet paper, but I wasn’t concerned. Surely it was temporary, and there’s no way everyone would buy up all the toilet paper—not out here in rural Missouri, surely. “We’re moving in a week. I don’t want to pack and haul anything we don’t have to.” My left eyelid twitched as I said it, as it so often does when I’m stressed and tired and not taking time to hit pause and care for myself.
“I know, but just trust me,” he said. “Are we running low on anything for the kids?” He was in protector and provider mode. I’ve always appreciated his eagerness to provide for our family, but I couldn’t see beyond the urgency to pack and have the house ready.
“I don’t want to spend the money, either.” I tried pushing some more. I didn’t even want to go to the store now. I didn’t want to be one of those people panic-buying like the world’s worst winter storm was on its way. We would get through this by being calm.
My husband won the debate eventually. We went to the store, and he tried to stock up on a few items we were low on but wouldn’t usually buy quite yet. He had mixed success. I don’t think the majority of others felt the same way I did. The people around us in the store were moving quickly from item to item. Some were openly complaining about the lack of toilet paper and bottles of water while many others kept quiet, never making eye contact with anyone as they shopped methodically and rapidly. The overall mood was anxiety, and I fit right in, my own anxiety triggered by the nervousness of those around me, by our looming move, and by all the work entailed in a book launch.
Moving day arrived a week later.
“Hey, what time did you say your brother would meet us to unload?” My husband asked me on moving day—two days after Missouri’s governor declared a state of emergency. My brother was going to come help unload at the new house, and I was wobbly with relief when he had agreed because I was running out of steam. We had been packing and loading since the morning before, and I had only managed a few hours of sleep because the revolving to-do list in my mind wouldn’t stop growing. My worries about COVID-19 and an impending quarantine whispering lies, urging me to get up and keep working, to get everything done as soon as possible. I woke up before my husband and our three children, before the sun was above the horizon.
“Did you hear me?”
I don’t think it was the first time my husband had asked me when my brother would meet us, but it was the first time his words registered. I was standing in our kitchen, phone in hand, eyes focused on the screen in front of me. Another review was in, and it wasn’t good. It was terrible. I had my first two-star review. The reader clearly didn’t even make it past the first few pages, but they still took the time to tear the thing apart.
“I told him we’d be there in an hour,” I said without looking up, tears forming in my eyes.
“You don’t have to cry about it,” my husband said and fake-laughed at his joke, trying to get me to smile or laugh or just be in a better mood. This move was the hardest move of my life, and the timing of it was the worst. I had already cried once that morning.
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t answer without letting the tears loose.
“What’s wrong? Are you still upset that we’re moving?”
I was, but that wasn’t the issue right now. It was one part of a whole that had me feeling sorry for myself.
“I got another review, and it’s bad,” I said and took a breath, not meeting his eyes. I blinked and rubbed my tears away with the backs of my hands. A mistake since they were gritty from boxes and dusty from our stuff. “It’s silly and expected. I mean, I did expect there to be a few terrible reviews. Otherwise, I’d be doing something wrong as an author.” I locked my phone and stuck it in my pocket. “It’s a badge of honor,” I said, and it sounded hollow even to me.
I bent down to the box at my feet and continued to pack items in, but it was no use. One tear turned into two, and two turned into the Missouri River.
“Hey, hey, hey,” my husband said and leaned over, grabbing my upper arms to pull me up. I stood and let the tears flow freely. Like I could stop them anyway. He wrapped me in a hug.
“That sucks, babe,” he said as he hugged me. “Do you want to talk about it?”
No, I didn’t. I wanted to be done moving. I wanted the house to finish packing itself, the boxes to unpack themselves into the new house magically, and this entire chapter to be done.
Sadly, I’ve never received my letter from Hogwarts, so that wasn’t happening.
The people selling us their home had graciously agreed to let us move in a day early to help with logistics for closing day. I made it through moving day, and it was time to close on the sale of both houses.
We arrived at the title company tired, sore, and cranky.
“We can’t close on the purchase of your new house, unfortunately,” the title officer Paula (name changed for the sake of her privacy) said after we were seated.
“Why not? I thought everything was set.” I said, my stomach relocating to somewhere near my toes.
“Your mortgage company has sent over the funds, but they haven’t given us the final figures.”
“Isn’t that unusual?” I asked and glanced at my husband. My exhaustion was mirrored in his face.
“It happens sometimes, but not usually,” Paula answered.
After signing for the sale of our house, we contacted our mortgage company. They’re based out of California, and COVID-19 had impacted them. They were scrambling to transition to working from home and still stay connected. It didn’t look like they’d be able to get the needed paperwork to us until the afternoon. We prayed the people we were buying our house from would be flexible with the situation. I mean, we had already moved all of our things in. Surely they wouldn’t make us move everything back out, right?
Thankfully, we were able to close the next day. The same day all of my book signings scheduled with indie bookstores in St. Louis were canceled.
To be continued in Part 3…