Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Guest Post from T.L. Haddix, author of Firefly Hollow

I have a confession to make. Something I’ve only shared with my husband. Of all the reasons it took me so long to pick up the metaphorical pen and paper, this one is the most personal.

I was terrified that if I sat down and wrote the way I needed to in order to immerse myself in my characters’ worlds, I’d get lost and never come back.

Sounds a little woo-woo, New Age-y, right? It isn’t, not really. Not if you understand the way I grew up.

When I was two, I lost my parents and my sister to a drunk driver. I was in the same accident that claimed their lives. I don’t remember the wreck. It tore my family apart in ways that I can’t comfortably put into words. After they were killed, I ended up living with my maternal grandparents for a few years, then moved in next door to live with my mother’s sister. She became my Mom. We were a tight-knit little family unit, the four of us, brought together as much by grief as by love.

Although not physically injured, I didn’t escape the accident unscathed. The mental scars are still present today. In all honesty, it took me about twenty years to really start moving past what had happened. I had PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I startled very easily at loud noises, the sight of any Jeep--which was the vehicle we’d been in when the accident happened--made me scream with terror. It just wasn’t a good time.

One of the symptoms I had was that I’d lose time. According to my family, I would stand at the window in my grandparents’ living room and stare out at the highway for hours, as though I was waiting for my parents and sister to come home from work or school. I can remember standing there, and can remember snapping to attention--and having no idea how long I’d been staring out that window, or what all I had missed. There was the sensation of time having moved all around me, and I had no recollection at all of things that had been said or done while I was “away.”

That continued until I was well into grade school. I don’t think anyone ever noticed it was happening, at least not once I started school, as the episodes were brief, lasting only seconds or a couple of minutes by then. But it could have been years passing for all I knew.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, my grandmother--my rock--started losing her mind to the ravages of dementia, her first symptoms appearing about a year after the accident. It was a slow decline, probably not Alzheimer’s but multi-infarct dementia. I spent literally all the years of my childhood watching her lose a piece of herself every single day.

So when I grew up and I’d start to think about writing, I was afraid. I knew that in order to get into the depth of the stories and lives of the characters who were clamoring for attention in my head, I would have to dive in. I’d have to submit to them, and push down that mental barrier keeping the characters and their stories inside. That terrified me.

What if I didn’t come back? What if I couldn’t find my way out of this fictional world that I wanted to write about? If I got stuck in Leroy, the fictional town my Shadows series is written around, how would my husband find me and pull me out? I had all these memories from childhood of losing time. I knew my grandmother had suffered a similar, more permanent fate. I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I resisted for a long time. I was too apprehensive to even try. It wasn’t so much the fear of failure that paralyzed me as it was the fear that I’d lose myself if I started writing. There would only be so much of me inside, and once I ran out of self, I’d just be a shell of a person, walking around the world numbly, and no one would realize it.

I don’t know what changed. I suppose I just got tired of worrying about it, and reached the point where I had to take the chance. The stories were fighting to get out, and keeping them inside seemed more of a risk than sitting down with a paper and pen and seeing what happened.

Now, three years into this venture as a full-time writer, I am still here. Still present. I understand that the creativity is just another layer of my psyche, not a separate dimension, or a mental illness that’s going to suck me in and keep me there. And I enjoy delving into the characters’ lives and loves. The journey of discovery is as fun for me as reading a book from a favorite author for the first time.

I’m still not entirely comfortable letting myself go and letting the stories overtake me, but I don’t fear the abyss like I used to.

Get your copy of Firefly Hollow from Amazon US (paper or ebook) or Amazon UK (paper or ebook). 


?wazithinkin said...

Fascinating, Ms. Haddix, thank you for sharing such a personal story. I loved Firefly Hollow and look forward to more of your writing.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Your personal story would make a great book, if you are or will be at a place in your life where you could write it safely.

Thank you for sharing.

Aurora Smith said...

I totally get whtat you're saying.

T. L. Haddix said...

Thanks, everyone. And a very big "Thank You!" to Big Al, et al, for letting me stop by to chat.

I debated on whether or not the struggle was too personal to share, but I'm glad I did. Something I've learned the last few years is that even when you feel like stopping, even when you think you're going to fail at something, it's important to keep going and to try your hardest. Sometimes you have to take a risk to get the reward.

And Karen, I could do that but no one would believe it was real. :)

Thanks again, all.

T. L.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for the post, T.L.

Life can be stranger than fiction. FWIW, among two of my favorite reads this year are two short memoirs, The Cookie Dumpster and Hieroglyphs, both by Shana Hammaker, about her childhood struggles. While the market isn't nearly as big as for paranormal romance, I think a lot of people find books like those to be good reads whether to make them appreciate how well they had it or to know they weren't alone.