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In 2011, our close friend, Bill Trojan, died. His death wasn’t sudden—he had untreated diabetes—and yet his death was sudden. He literally keeled over at Worldcon in his room. The end, for him, in many ways was both swift and slow. Swift, in that one moment he was alive and joking with people before going to his room, and slow in that he wasn’t caring for himself, and he knew that he was getting sicker.
The swift/slow aspect of his death enabled Dean to bully Bill (who was single) into writing a will, which put Dean in charge of the estate. We were able to follow Bill’s wishes, but we also had to deal with all of Bill’s stuff. He was a hoarder/collector. He had maybe a million (not making this up) collectible items, pristinely kept in bags that filled boxes which were also lined with things like empty grocery bags and used underwear.
Instead of working on our fledgling business, WMG Publishing, as well as on his own writing, Dean sorted through the detritus of Bill’s life, mostly alone.
I remained at the Oregon Coast. I had book deadlines from my various traditional publishers. We needed that income, so I worked very hard on finishing the projects I was working on.
In addition to all of the physical work, we had the emotional side. We were grieving the loss of a good friend. I was worried about Dean, who was in what I call superhero mode. He was going to get the work done, come hell or high water. Hell and high water showed up as he finished dealing with the actual estate, while he drove millions of dollars worth of collectibles to the Oregon coast the night before Thanksgiving in an epic storm.
He made it, barely, and for his efforts had a stroke inside his eye, losing some vision there. Then he got the flu that was going around that year, and spent most of December shivering with fever, in bed.
I still had deadlines. I was writing frantically and caring for him.
Because traditional publishing had gotten so ugly in the first decade of this century, I no longer enjoyed the work. In fact, I was feeling besieged. I had a traditional editor so bad and abusive that there was a private Facebook group devoted to how to cope with her.
I coped with her just fine a few months after Bill’s death—while all of the other personal stuff was going on. She called me, after having read a book I will discuss below, and called me a talentless hack who couldn’t write, who didn’t know what the hell she was doing, and couldn’t write a good book to save her life.
Well, at that point, I was a decorated, bestselling author in multiple genres. The words stung—words like that always sting—and after I hung up the phone from the “discussion,” I wrote to the company and pulled the book. In fact, I pulled every book that they had bought, including the ones already published.
No one puts Baby in a corner.
That decision could have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, because I had no real termination clause in the contract for something like that. But I had documentation of this woman’s abusiveness and I was willing to go to court if I had to in order to get all of my work out of her hands.
I negotiated with the publisher and ended up with a deal that got me out of the company and cost neither of us money. Every time that woman contacted me—and she tried several times—I wrote a certified letter to the publisher, telling him that she was abusive, and our agreement was that she never speak to me again. I threatened them with legal action (and a restraining order) with each new contact.
No one puts Kris in a corner.
That fall, I learned that I could write through anything. It wasn’t fun, though, and it wasn’t an escape. It was work. To make matters worse, the book I was working on when Bill died was called Charming Blue.
Charming Blue is a Kristine Grayson novel. The Grayson books are light fantasy romances that are off the beam. I always had fun writing them, and I had been really looking forward to Charming Blue for more than a year.
In my novel, Wickedly Charming, a character walked through the opening. He was dressed all in blue. He was drunk. He smelled of Aqua Velva. He was about as repulsive as a man could be (except that he was handsome, underneath it all). Worse, he was known throughout my fairy tale world as Bluebeard.
I knew he would be the romance hero of my next novel.
Yeah, I’m weird that way.
I imagined myself writing it and laughing, unable to believe how strange I was being.
Charming Blue started that way, but then Bill died, and life got stressful. I didn’t want to be writing anything fun. I wanted to write mean, dark mystery novels, maybe noir. Nothing uplifting at all.
But I had no choice. I had to finish this book. I dragged myself to the computer every single day, wrote and finished the book. Of course, this is the book that the horrid editor told me that I couldn’t write and she was rejecting it outright because it was awful and didn’t follow the outline.
Ironically, it followed the outline to the letter—something I rarely did—and if the reviews and the emails I get are any indication, the book is as good as I hoped it would be. Maybe better.
That whole experience after Bill’s death, though, made writing hard, and put me off Grayson for a while. I wrote other things.
That was the problem with traditional publishing: the deadlines are immutable. Sure, you can push them, but if life circumstances make it difficult to write something light and funny and uplifting because life is not any of those things, well, too bad. You signed a contract, have a deadline, and an obligation, and maybe a financial need, to get that book done.
I’d been in that circumstance before, but never as blatantly as the experience I had with Charming Blue.
So…as many of you already know…we had one of those life events about ten days ago.
Dean and I were running in a 5K on Sunday the 22nd when Dean’s foot caught on the lip of a depression along the concrete path. He fell, hard, and thanks to his athletic training, landed on his shoulder, not his head. His shoulder was crushed. Shattered. Destroyed.
Long story short, he needed surgery immediately, but this being America, it took until Thursday the 26th to get him onto the operating table. To find out more, click here.
I was doing all the things, but mostly working hard to coordinate appointments, fill out medical information, and doing what I could to make him comfortable. My memories of last week are mostly of me running from place to place, and Dean being in terrible pain. I mean excruciating, awful, horrible pain.
Our condo was full of notes and to-do lists, because I couldn’t keep track otherwise. I didn’t get much sleep, and I was moving the entire time I was awake. I didn’t stop moving until I was in the surgical waiting room on Thursday afternoon. And then it started up again on Friday.
But, by Monday of this week, we had found a pattern. Dean is healing well. He’s still in pain, but the medications manage it (if we follow our own self-imposed schedule). On Sunday, I left him in the telephone custody of a friend (who was monitoring her cell) to go on another 5K run.
By Monday, I had gotten enough sleep to enter my office in some semblance of a routine. Dean was back sleeping again, and I had some quiet time that didn’t involve calling every doctor on the planet.
I opened the file of my latest novel—the fourth in a five-book saga that’s a prequel to the Fey series—and stared at the page. My brain chugged. I wasn’t sure I could figure out how to write anything.
So, I gave my muse the option. You can write anything you want, I told her. Or not write at all.
That’s the beauty of independent publishing. I could take the next six months off if I wanted to. The money would still flow from the books we’d already published. I never had to finish the book I was working on, if I didn’t want to. Or I could wait two years.
The options are all mine.
I spent fifteen minutes staring at the screen, going through options, and my brain sent me a message. We have to finish this book now. I am in the final stages of writing the novel, which is usually something that goes very fast for me.
I wasn’t sure if that thought came from me feeling obligated to finish or if the voice was my muse, giving a command. I really didn’t want to have a repeat experience of the Charming Blue variety.
So I allowed myself a few minutes of rereading what I had recently done. And then I found myself tweaking one or two things, which is how I often start after a long hiatus.
And then, I was writing.
Even better, the writing felt like an escape. It felt fun. I promised myself I would write 1,000 words or one hour, whichever was later. Within 30 minutes, I had the 1,000 words, with more on the way.
I credit the freedom that I had with the fact that I could write. I could choose to write whatever I wanted, and what I wanted was to finish this book. Whether or not I transition immediately to book 5, I have no idea. That isn’t important at all.
What’s important is that I got into the fiction-writing habit again, after a hellacious week.
Another interesting thing happened once I started up again. My brain relaxed, and took inspiration from the world around it. Not from the hospital or the medical things, which I’m sure will find their way into stories, but just a feeling of possibility.
I’m reading several short novels by a writer I like, and I’m seeing how the novels stretched him. I wouldn’t mind challenging myself like that.
Then today, I made my way back to this semester’s class, which is a theater class called “Gay Plays.” It’s been fascinating so far, but the part of the class I’ve most been looking forward to is being able to see/read Angels in America by Tony Kushner.
I wanted to see the play since it was on Broadway in 1993. Then it became an HBO miniseries in 2003, which I put in my mental playlist. But the time commitment is a lot (6 hours) and, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I was up for the emotional rollercoaster that I knew was coming.
I’m still not sure. I was a reporter during the early years of the AIDS crisis, and some things are real triggers for me. I lost a lot of friends during those years and watched others struggle through some hideous decisions.
I knew, if I watched the series, I would need others around me, to talk and discuss it. But most of my adult friends don’t want to revisit that time in our lives.
Hence, the class.
We watched the opening of the series today, and I could see the pieces falling into place. Tony Kushner is an amazing writer, and I watched his screenplay (based on his play) put big themes and heartache and commentary into motion, deftly and with great power.
That’s inspiring. It makes me want to reach for something bigger than I am.
I love that feeling.
Even though I’m in the middle of a life-changing event, I have the mental freedom to be creative. I know I can move to something else if I want to, or stack up some ideas for future use. I’m not struggling against the expectations of an anonymous publishing company or an abusive idiot of an editor.
I know that my mind will be very busy with the changes to our lives. We have to make adjustments for the next several months as Dean heals.
As I’ve written many times before, shit happens. We all have to deal with those things and take the time to work through them.
Sometimes, writing isn’t possible.
Sometimes, writing what you were writing before the event isn’t possible either—at least, not for a while. Maybe not at all.
Events change you. The person I was before Dean fell is not the person I am now. Dean is not the same person either.
We don’t know how much will change, but some things will.
Other things won’t change. We’re both writers, after all.
I think I can continue writing on this Fey project because, at this stage in the book, every character is dealing with the aftermath of a life-changing event. It feels natural, almost like a commentary on the last few weeks of October 2023 in our lives.
I have no idea whether or not I would have set aside a Kristine Grayson novel. I found myself thinking about a Grayson novella late Monday night. So who knows?
The real point here is that I have the freedom—and so do all of you who are independently publishing. We’re not tied to deadlines or demands. We can follow whatever path we need to be on.
That feels really good.
It also feels quite surprising.
The contrast is amazing to me. But I celebrate it. It will make life easier in a time when life is filled with other challenges.
And that’s a good thing.
We are in the last few hours of a Kickstarter. It feels odd to tell you that because of the events I mentioned above. I didn’t get to do much promotion of the Kickstarter at all, but many of you did the promotion for me. Thank you!
The Kickstarter is for the Holiday Spectacular, which is one of my all-time favorite projects. A calendar of stories, which subscribers receive one per day throughout the holiday season, is the centerpiece, but the Kickstarter also features writing workshops and a lot of cool things, like great merchandise.
Plus, the folks at WMG (and Dean) put together the prettiest Kickstarter I’ve ever seen. If you’re reading this post on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll be able to catch the last few hours of the Kickstarter and join up.
Even if you don’t join, you might want to look and see what’s possible in a modern Kickstarter. I know I’m a bit gobsmacked by all the possibilities.
And here’s the other reminder:
This weekly blog is reader supported.
If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.
If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynruschr4e to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Focus and Escape,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Cover at the top of the blog is for The Charming Trilogy, Volume 2, by Kristine Grayson, available through WMG Publishing.