Hi, everyone! I know I promised an update ages ago. I’ve been fielding disappointed and anxious emails for a while, now. If you’ve been worried about me, or if I’ve not yet responded to your email—I’m sorry.
While I care deeply about my readers—and will never stop, from my knees and the bottom of my heart, thanking all of you for your time and devotion—I’m afraid there was a little part of my brain that wanted to put this post off for as long as possible.
I’ll come right out and say it—at the conclusion of this post, a lot of you are going to be disappointed. There’s nothing I can do about that, except continue to apologize and thank all of you—and, hopefully, convince you that my vision for the future is pretty darn awesome.
This post may be long. This post may be TMI. But I feel that it’s important to get everything out there—not only because I feel like I owe my readers an explanation for my relative silence, lately, but because…I don’t know. I feel like it may help someone else, down the line?
So, to just come out and say it: My publishers recently informed me that they are not interested in continuing the Dearly series.
I am eternally grateful to them for giving the series a chance. While I regret that my books did not sell as well as they hoped, I know that I personally benefited from our professional relationship in more ways than I ever imagined or hoped I would. I have learned much, experienced much, and grown much. To my editors, especially—Chris Schleup and Jennifer E. Smith—I owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
Becoming a published author changed my life. It lifted me out of a monetary black hole. It set me on the path to independence. It convinced me that I was capable of doing something, creating something, after I’d spent many years believing that I was a useless lump of flesh.
I am saddened, but not devastated. Because I have so much more now, more than I ever dreamed I would have. I feel like five years ago I set off on a strange, twisty path through an unknown and terrifying forest. I have now emerged on the other side—perhaps with a few leaves in my hair, a few twigs tangled in my sweater—to behold a beautiful land, a peaceful land, a place I never thought existed. The journey there was scary, but the payoff was enormous.
I am grateful. I am glad. I am humbled. I am happy.
This is where the TMI warning comes in. I feel I should stress that what I am going to describe in no way reflects upon my publishers, my agent, or anyone with whom I have worked. This is not an indictment against anyone else, especially anyone with whom I had or currently have a business relationship. This is all personal.
But this is the other side of what becoming a published author did to me. This is why I have been so quiet—and unproductive—over the last year or so.
I am going to describe the forest.
And I am going to tell you why I can never go back there.
Even if it means never writing another Dearly book.
All my life, I have suffered from anxiety and depression. I am open about my experiences with these mental issues, because I feel that silence on the topic of mental health causes a great deal of harm.
It is not until recently that I sought help—therapy and some medication—for my problems. Yet, looking back on my life, I can see that they’ve been with me from an early age. I was a shy, sensitive child. I can clearly recall experiencing intense separation anxiety around the age of six—when I was in a friend’s house directly across the street from my own. Seriously—lying on the floor, sobbing for my mother separation anxiety, when she was maaaaaybe fifty feet away. I can remember begging her to turn away friends at the door when I was only six or seven—because I felt “sad and quiet,” and didn’t want to play.
I can’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t experience some combination of intense fear, sadness/listlessness, and extreme self-loathing. I’ve pretty much always hated myself.
And yet, despite all this, I managed to get on in life quite well. At least, I did well when it came to academic work. Back when grades formed the objective measure of how well my life was going, I was a star.
I had trouble translating that academic success to “real life,” however. Because I was shy and sensitive, and had a tendency to believe other people when they criticized me, meaning that my brain tended to enter death spirals where all I thought of myself and my contributions was, “FAILUREFAILUREFAILUREFAILUREFAILUREYOUSHOULDJUSTKILLYOURSELF.”
Because killing yourself is an entirely rational response to failure. Staying alive to try again? Pfft. Optimists are SO annoying.
Anyway. This was how I lived my life.
And then I discovered that I was pretty good at something.
I wrote a book.
Now, I got an agent very quickly, a publishing deal very quickly—too quickly, I think. But suddenly, a bunch of people—people I didn’t know, people who were objective, who had no reason to lie to me—were telling me that I was great. They were giving me money for what I’d made—I was literally being paid in You Are Great Dollars.
You’d imagine that these experiences would immediately propel someone out of the Failure Death Spiral, serving as irrefutable evidence that they are Pretty Damn Amazing, indeed.
But for me, they never did.
They made everything worse.
This isn’t anyone’s fault. Not even my own. I don’t want to make it sound as if anyone who praised or trusted or believed in or championed me is to blame for driving the anxiety/depression knife deeper into my gray matter. Far from it. I love those people. I don’t even blame myself—for if I could control my own brain, I wouldn’t be writing all of this.
To keep things short: For four years or so, after I signed the contract for Dearly, I lived in a fog of abject terror. That little tickle of anxiety and social paranoia that accompanied me through my days blew up into serious paranoia. I thought people who passed me on the street could look into my mind and see every bad thing I’d ever done. I would sit at my desk in a near-catatonic state, for hours, wondering how my book would do, how I would write another one—scaring myself to the point where I began dreaming about just walking away, getting on a bus to Mexico with a fake passport, fleeing from the spotlight I felt was shining on my life. I barely slept for weeks at a time. I second-guessed everything I thought I knew, and began to second-guess those wonderful people in my life, too.
I thought everyone was lying to me. I felt like I was part of some sick game, or some vast conspiracy. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. Because I sucked, and I’d sucked forever—I’d hated myself since I was a little kid. How could I now, suddenly, be wonderful?
The only answer: Everyone was lying to me.
This even extended to my beautiful Beau. We broke up for a time because of it. I lost the most wonderful person, outside of my family, I’d ever known in my life for years because of it. Because I was terrified of him for reasons I could not explain, and rather than talk to him about it—because sharing the contents of my mind and heart would give the conspiratorial forces more ammunition to do whatever it was they were doing, obviously—I ran away.
God, I’m crying now. I told you this would be TMI. It got dark. It got dark fast. I’m just glad that through all of this, some part of my mind—the last sane corner—kept shouting, “THIS IS NOT NORMAL. THIS IS REAL TIN FOIL HAT PARANOIA. YOUR ANXIETY IS OUT OF CONTROL. GET HELP GET HELP GET HELP.”
So I did. And I began to make progress. And then I reached out to Beau again, and told him that I wanted to see him. And when I did, I knew that I still loved him and needed him.
And he saved me. That man took me and saved me, and that is worth more than any fictional relationship printed on dead trees.
I’ve been living with him for a year, now. A glorious year during which I finished no writing projects and never pressed myself to do anything I didn’t want to do. And I honestly feel like this year has been a slow, steady climb toward greater mental health. I feel so much better, guys. This might sound pathetic to many of you, but it’s a freaking revolution to me to be able to do things like:
- Wake up in the morning with a project in mind—even if it’s just sewing a skirt—instead of cold dread that leads to catatonia.
- Wake up and be cheerful.
- Feed myself.
- Make plans and do research and think ahead, like an actual grown-up.
- Share what I am thinking and feeling with someone. Not self-censor.
- Think about other people.
- Go to sleep, free of fear.
I feel so healed after this year of inactivity. However, there are effects that still linger. For instance, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust my “gut” ever again. That sixth sense that many people have, that tells them when something is going to go wrong, or they’re going to encounter some danger? I can’t believe mine when it dings. Because my brain told me so many lies for so long—lies that I believed.
How did publishing a book do all this to me? Well, it thrust me into the spotlight, for one thing. My book was also a product that was going out into the world, out of my control; I believe that was a large contributing factor to my breakdown. My personal mental health management strategy, for years, had been “withdraw and don’t engage with the world”—after all, if people don’t know you exist, they can’t come and get you. Hell, I never even reviewed things on Amazon, terrified my words would be used against me. Ever wonder why I don’t participate much on social media? Now you know.
The grind of publishing also wore me down—specifically, writing and editing to deadline. I don’t begrudge the industry its scheduling at all, and deadlines are an important part of life. But I was not in a place where I could handle deadlines in a mature and rational way; they just contributed to my overall stress level.
So. I’m much better, now. I feel healthier. What does this mean for Dearly? What does this mean for my writing career?
Well, it means I’m not in a place where I can tackle a third book, yet. I’m afraid that Dearly is still tainted with the fear and devastation I experienced in that forest. I don’t want to go back there. I can’t.
I want to get to a point in my life where I can think, “Ooh, I get to write a third book!” and not, “…Idon’twanttowriteathirdbookpleasepleasedon’tmakemewriteathirdbook.” Not only for my own mental health, not only for my own enjoyment, but because I believe it’s the only way to do the characters and the story justice. Dearly is snarky and irreverent and filled with beautiful tragedy, and I just don’t have the energy to produce those things right now.
When that happens—and I do believe it will, at some point—I plan to self-publish. I’m actually working on some other writing projects right now, which I plan to try publishing myself. (Under a different name.) I am writing. Just not Dearly.
I know at least one reader has already asked me, “If you were only contracted for two books, why didn’t you wrap things up in two books?” I made that choice because, at the outset, I knew I had more than two books worth of material rattling about in my brain. I still do. It’s there. Just mumbling, not screaming.
So, at the end of this—what can I say? I’ve already let you into the most broken, intimate parts of my mind. I’ve apologized for how things turned out—and I will do so again. I am very sorry. And I am very, very thankful for all of you.
I am sorry. Thank you.
And if you’ll hang with me, if we can just chat as friends for a while—I would like that. Because at some point, I will want to write Bram and Nora and Renfield and Vespertine again. I know I will. Just not now.
In a way, I think I’m waiting for them to come out of the forest and join me. But, you know, they’re zombies. They kind of have to move at their own pace.