Finding My Place in the Publishing World

UntitledpI’ve been reading promotional materials (again!) looking for ways to increase book sales, and one of the articles, in a rehash of the idea of positive thinking, said that if you’re not satisfied with the way your writing career is going, don’t ever let it be known but speak and act as if you were a bestselling author.

In other words, don’t ever let people know the truth, and that goes against the spirit of this blog. I suppose it isn’t smart of me to talk about my struggles to find my place in the publishing world because it probably does show me in a negative light. In fact, one friend emailed me and said, “If you want to stop writing and pity yourself because you think you are a failed author, go ahead. That’s your choice.”

Regardless of how I come across, I am not negative or pessimistic. I have every intention of making my living as a writer, and if I thought claiming I were a bestselling author would get me there, I’d do it. Or maybe not. There are so many authors out there claiming to be more than they are that the world doesn’t need another one.

Despite the contention of my friend, I do not consider myself a failed author. In fact, I am a successful author. I’ve written five books that I’m proud of and that many people love. I just haven’t been able to turn them into financial successes yet.

I see myself on a writer’s journey, though I admit I’m going through a crisis of faith, struggling to find reasons to write. (I’m also struggling to find reasons to live, but that doesn’t make me a failed human being.) For some writers, writing is their reason for living, but although that isn’t my reason for living (I am not compelled to write; it’s something I choose to do), I have a hunch that my reason for living is tied up somehow with my reason for writing. (Writing fiction, that is. I do write every day for this blog, partly for the discipline of it and partly to help me figure out my place in the world, the world of grief, and the publishing world.)

I began writing fiction more than a decade ago as a means of bringing my dying life mate/soul mate in close. Someone who is dying drifts away until finally he begins to disconnect himself totally from life, and I couldn’t bear to let the disconnect from me happen sooner than it needed to. For several years, until he drifted too far away, I wrote at night, then read the passages to him in the morning, and he’d let me know if I nailed the scene, usually with a small, impish smile. If I didn’t get a passage quite right, I didn’t get a smile, but I got help figuring out where I went wrong.

That’s why I used to write — to see his smile. And that’s why writing has become such an angst-ridden subject for me. My reason for writing died when he did.

A friend (the same friend mentioned above now that I think of it) once sent me a snippet of a poem:

A voice calls, “Write, write!”
I say, “For whom shall I write.”
And the voice replies,
“For the dead whom thou didst love.”

—John Berryman

Maybe someday writing for the dead whom I didst love will be reason enough to write, but for now, I’m still searching for my place in the world and the publishing world. And if the search — or my angst — comes across as negative, so be it. Besides, when I start acting as if I am a bestselling writer, I want it to be for real.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Following Grief Wherever It Leads

A couple of weeks ago at my grief group, I mentioned that the day I cleaned out my life mate’s effects — his clothes, personal items, and mementoes — was the worst day of my life. I then said the only good thing about it was that since it was the worst day of my life, by definition, every day afterward would be better. The moderator of the group gave me a surprised look and said, “That’s a very positive thing coming from you.” Huh? I didn’t know we were supposed to be positive. I thought the whole purpose of dealing with grief, of talking about it, of learning from it was to feel it, process it, and let it go so that we’d eventually be able to rebuild our shattered lives. Being foolishly positive seems to be a rather negative way to deal with a soul-shattering loss.

After the first painful weeks, most bereft are outwardly optimistic when it comes to sharing their grief because they’ve been taught that dwelling on anything unpleasant is unhealthy. They talk about looking forward to new opportunities, new goals, new hopes, but inwardly they are still reeling from their horrendous loss. (And if they aren’t, chances are they are denying what their loss means to them.) I chose instead to feel my grief, to dissect it, to put it into words for the bereft who couldn’t express what they were feeling. I also wanted to illuminate the experience for those who haven’t a clue what grief really feels like (especially novelists, who so often get it wrong), and to challenge the current myths about grief. If I wanted to, I could have been as optimistic as everyone else, but that was not my self-imposed mission. I don’t need to shore myself up with positive thinking — I’m strong enough to take grief straight. This does not mean I am closing myself off to new possibilities. Eventually I will have to rebuild my life, but I am in a position right now where I can follow grief wherever it leads.

And where it is leading is into the second year of living without my mate.

The first year of grief is all about dealing with the emotional, physical, mental, spiritual shock of the soul quake you experience when a long-time mate dies. That shock protects most of us from feeling the full effect of the truth — that we’ll never see our mates on earth again. After the first year, when we begin to rebuild our lives, to feel that the worst is over, we are hit with the aftershocks, and it’s as if we are experiencing the loss all over again, but this time without the protective effects of the original shock. If we’ve worked through our particular issues — our shoulda, woulda, coulda’s — we are left with pure heartbreak.

Our family and friends (the few who stuck with us) have moved past the loss and they expect us to move on, too. One of my blog readers, a professional consultant in emotional-mental health who has been supportive of my efforts to demystify grief, wrote, “At this time of the journey, (the second year) people are at such risk of going into severe depression, of jumping into relationships they usually wouldn’t enter etc because everyone expects they’ll be ‘moving on,’ ‘creating a new life,’ when in fact the shock is only now subsiding (the emotional shock of losing the loved one is so under appreciated and I believe lasts for at least twelve months).” She hopes I will continue to share my journey, because “the next eight to twelve months will be just as important for folks to read. It seems to me the second year is about another level of acceptance . . .about the recreation of life whilst initially hating that it has to be recreated at all . . . about choosing life and the potential for happiness when death has taken our loved one . . . about choosing to find different lights to shed meaning on our existence.”

She makes good points, and I wouldn’t mind continuing to chronicle my journey into grief (despite the fact that I’ve alienated most of my blog readers). The problem is, I have nothing to say. Or at least, not much. For the most part, my situation isn’t changing. I’m caring for my 94-year-old father (or, to be more accurate, I’m staying with him so that he can keep his independence as long as possible), so I’m not doing much except taking a few isolated trips in an effort to fill the hole my mate left behind. It won’t be until after my father goes (and I could be 94 myself by that time!) that I will be able to start the rebuilding process, try to find a new life, a new place, a new reason for living. I’m still in a holding pattern. Obviously, I’m not totally stagnating, but I’m not moving on in any significant way, and I can’t because of my living situation. I’m not even having any revelations as I walk in the desert. (Of course, the heat could be baking my brain, burning off any thoughts before they form.)

I have no hopes at the moment, but I am not despairing, not weighted with hopelessness. I’m merely waiting for what life throws at me next. Perhaps this waiting is another stage of grief, a hiatus before the real healing begins, and if so, I’ll be ready. Dealing with grief as it comes, without the frill of foolish optimism, has taught me that I can handle anything. (Well, anything but torture, but I have no interest in being a martyr for any cause, so I should be okay.)