Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tired, Rejected, Broke and Depressed or How I Came to Write Iced Under

November, 2003. It was bitterly cold. We were renting a cottage on a large lake in Quebec, a four-season home that didn't quite cut it in the fourth season. My marriage had ended two years before, I had two school-age children and a new partner, Tim. We were planning to build a house, the cottage was meant to be a haven while we waded through the paper work to begin construction. I was unemployed, he was self-employed.You can imagine how happy the bank was to see us coming.

I'm not sure what it was exactly that tipped me over the edge. I was a struggling romance novelist, unpublished, and broke. I kept sending out manuscripts hoping a publishing contract would provide us with a financial cushion, and me with a career. The rejections kept rolling in. I applied for writing jobs and didn't get them, I applied for non-writing jobs and didn't get them. Christmas was coming and with no money for gifts, I made coupons for my children that they could redeem for time playing board games, baking cookies or going skating. I wrapped bottles of shampoo and put them under the tree. (My kids still call this the "Shampoo Christmas.")

Finally, I received a rejection that said my latest submission wasn't special enough after I'd come very close to acceptance. Then the bank delayed approving our building loan. My last stab at remaining positive in the face of calamity evaporated when I planned to go to an event and no one wanted to go with me. Such a small, trivial thing. But I curled up in a ball in my bed and didn't get up again. That was in mid-November.

My ex-husband had to take over caring for our children. My poor partner, Tim, didn't know what to think. I'd sleep, wake, cry, sleep, wake, cry. The ice was forming on the lake outside the cottage. I listened to that. No therapy, no anti-depressants -- just me and the ice.

Then on December 1st a local radio station had the bright idea of running Christmas music 24 hours a day. I must have heard every Christmas song ever recorded over and over and over again. I listened to that station 16 hours a day, 7 days a week; passively at first because I didn't care enough to change the station. But then the words of hope, peace and goodwill started to work on me. Maybe it was the message of giving, thinking of others and gratitude that pulled me out of my depression. I have no idea why it worked. Christmas music therapy isn't for everyone. Tim said if he had to listen to one more Christmas song he'd have lost it. The radio station never did it again--too many complaints.

I was still pretty fragile but I managed to get up and get dressed in time for Tim's mother to arrive Christmas Day. She brought everything we needed for dinner and my kids saw me for the first time in six weeks. They liked their coupons.

But I was broken. I'd been writing romances for five years. I wasn't really a writer -- I was a dabbler, an opportunist -- I didn't read romances, I just wanted to make some money. I didn't have stories in me.

Then Tim showed me the ice that had been forming on the lake all the time I was in bed. The ice I'd been listening to in the night. It was shiny black and clear to the bottom. A rare phenomenon that happens when there is little snow but the temperatures drop to freezing; the ice forms crystal clear. Black ice. As I looked down to the reeds, I said "Wouldn't it be terrible if we saw something down there like a body?"

A few days later I penned the words "The ice was clear that year, clear as rain straight down to the bottom..."

After several revisions and several rejections, Iced Under was published in November 2008.

The moral of the story? You're going to get rejected anyway -- you might as well get rejected writing something you love. I'm still broke but I'm a writer. A real writer. And that takes the sting out of just about everything.

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