I’ve had four earaches in the last nine months.
Not a very interesting tidbit, I grant you, but it came startingly to mind when I read this passage from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
(discussing clinical studies on grief and bereavement) “Dolphins…had been observed refusing to eat after the death of a mate. Geese had been observed reacting to such a death by flying and calling, searching until they themselves became disoriented and lost. Human beings…showed similar patterns of response. They searched. They stopped eating. They forgot to breathe. They grew faint from lowered oxygen, they clogged their sinuses with unshed tears and ended up in otolaryngologists’ offices with obscure ear infections.”
The epigraph for Seeker (my second book, and the prequel to Shiloh) is taken from a verse in Hebrews. “But now they desire a better country,” it says. I thought there was no better way to sum up the story, to try to convey the chronic grief of the people of Holt, to try to convey their deep longing. My journey in writing the story was painful. I wrote my losses and heartaches into those characters, and I love them, and some of them I’ll never get back. It’s right. Fitting. There are things we can’t recover from, not yet. But it does us good to honor our losses, to acknowledge the sadness of beautiful things fallen to dust, or burned to ash, or dead and buried.
I didn’t know when I wrote Seeker that I would spend a year wrestling with my publisher, receiving guarantee after guarantee about the release date. Each time a new date approached, I geared up. I planned and promoted. My hopes and my heart rose in little nervous flutters. It was almost time to share my story, to introduce readers to Mina (my favorite character I’ve ever written). It was almost time to see how they reacted, if they reacted, to the village of Holt and the magistrate’s weakling son and the wide-eyed Grey and the reckless Knox. It was almost time to introduce the hero, Evander, Father and Light of the Sun Clan.
Readers asked questions. “When will your next book be out?” “Has Seeker been released yet?” Again and again, I told them it would be soon. Delays, delays, delays. I tried to be cheerful, to keep it all in perspective. “This is really a very small problem in the scope of eternity,” I told myself. But my heart was aching. And every time the date was pushed back…further and further…I ached all the more.
There are remarkable similarities between writing a book and having a child. I won’t burden you with all of them, but releasing Seeker, this story that’s so dear to my heart, this tale that I so long to share, has felt a little like being nine months pregnant…for a year. If you’ve been pregnant, or if you’ve been around a pregnant woman who is ready to give birth, you probably understand a little of how this has felt.
Exhausting. Frustrating. Anxious. Desperate. Hysterical.
I tried to rein in my disappointment. “It’ll happen soon,” I said. “Any time. I’m almost there.” And while I thought I already identified with my characters (and my hero in particular), I was forced to enter their desperation, their longing, in ways I could never have foreseen. I’ve been forced to enter into my own desire, to sit with it, unfulfilled, and cling to hope. Perhaps I even “clogged (my) sinuses with unshed tears.”
I hardly know how to frame my feelings now that I’m holding the book in my hands. “This is the story of the Sun Clan, the Lost Clan, and all that was lost with them.” And this is the story of my waiting, my longing, my grief. I’m honoring those losses with a story, a beautiful story, set in the village of Holt, on the edge of the Fayrewood, in the foothills of the Pallid Peaks. I hope it moves you as much as it does me.