On Writing While the World Drowns

Yesterday my book came out, a book I’ve been working on for six years. This is not my first book but nevertheless it does represent a few “firsts”. It’s my first USA deal with a big five publisher, my first big advance, my first genre book, my first book with my first New York agent. It’s also my longest book (four times longer than the next nearest contender). All my books are the books of my heart but this one…this one is important to me.

And it came out yesterday, while the world drowned. I had promos set up, bloggers I had promised to retweet, a group giveaway I had committed to, and of course, a book to sell. I did it all in between retweeting flood images, fundraising calls and heartwarming stories, researching places to donate, and talking to my daughter about the science, politics and history of devastating climate change.

“What would happen to us if there was a flood?”

“We’re not at risk of flooding here. People in Richmond and Delta are though.”

“What would happen to them?”

“They would lose their homes, I guess. We could have some of them stay here.”

“What if there was an earthquake?”

And so on. But I still kept doing my job–retweeting reviews, posting graphics, thanking people for their congratulations, writing a little, when I could concentrate on it. I kept doing my job.

To fully explain why this was so important to me, I need to go back, a long way back to my own teen years and tell you a story. It was Christmas season and my dear sister was in high school herself one day when they had a fire drill. She obediently left everything behind in the classroom and came back a few minutes later, not noticing anything untoward.  That afternoon she took the bus into town to buy some Christmas presents for me and our other sisters, but when she went to get the money out of her wallet, money she had been saving from babysitting for weeks, it was all gone. Someone had stolen her money during the fire drill.

My sister told me about this that night. She told me how on the way home she had stood at the bus stop and cried. My parents, though not poor, were not the kind of people who would just replace stolen money, or broken toys or lost possessions. We wouldn’t have even asked. As I sat listening to my sister sadly tell me about the lost money, feeling impotent and angry, a little fire burst to life in me, a fire that became a vow. I didn’t want to ever cry about money. I didn’t want anyone I loved to cry about money.

Full disclosure, I’m a bit of a mess, and I was even back then. While I had the grades and the brains to go to law school or whatever, that was never realistic for me. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, no one bothered to examine why I so often bombed out on things that should have come easily to me. Now I know, of course. Anxiety. Depression. Attention problems. Even now these things turn writing a book into a painful, sisyphean ordeal.

But I do my job. I make money. I do other things to make money too, from investing to teaching, to designing, to taking in boarders. And of course I support my husband and his well paying but exhausting job in tech. I do this all a little obsessively to help allay the lingering sadness about my sister’s tears. It was more than thirty years ago. It was only twenty dollars, about fifty dollars in today’s terms (babysitters were paid $1 an hour then). And I still hate to see anyone, let alone someone close to me, cry about such (to me anyway) paltry sums. I still do whatever I can to dry those tears.

Those who know me personally know I don’t have expensive tastes. I wear stretch pants from Target and eat home-made beefaroni. I fly economy. I shop at Value Village. To be honest even with the good book deal I’m not sure I can afford to live any other way. But I don’t want to either. That’s not what motivates me. I want to be in a position where I can help. Since I’m useless at emotional support (I either break down myself or I get distracted and confused) and I’ve never been able to successfully “rally the troops”, money is my best means. If I’m ever to be in a position where I can blithely give a million dollars to flood recovery (as Sandra Bullock just did) or even a thousand dollars I need to keep working. I’m of no use to anyone if I can’t keep my own roof up. Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Yesterday and the day before, and many other days during natural disasters or other calamities I’ve seen people scold me and my writing colleagues about doing promos on Twitter or elsewhere. I’m some cases, especially in the hours immediately after a tragic event, I’m inclined to step back from any planned promotions. Some of my colleagues have auto tweets set up though, and if they happen to be away from their computer, these promos might still go ahead. I’m not going to judge when this happens. Just like doctors and nurses and librarians and truck drivers and teachers keep working when the world goes to hell, so must writers. Selling books is part of our job. We can’t help the world stay afloat if we’re sinking ourselves.

So we keep working, we keep writing, we paste smiles on our faces and tell people about our imagined worlds. I took part in a group book launch on November 9, 2016. Everyone was in shock and miserable but we kept working.

We did our jobs.

My sister lives in my house now. She’s single and doesn’t earn much and Vancouver rents being what they are, when she was recently “renovicted” it made sense for her to just move in. If she’d needed to search for a new rental there would have been tears.

Not on my watch.

Post any good causes you think I should know about in the comments. I’ve got some big checks coming!


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