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aerial photography of pine trees

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The year 2012 was a rough one for me. If I remember correctly, I was taking online courses and no longer working at the time, which was amazing, and going forward, I will ever pursue a similar state. But I was also dealing with a level of anxiety and fear that has only been matched post-2016 election, and for much the same reason.

I’m what’s called a thanatophobe. Roughly translated, it means afraid of death. Now, that would describe most people, right? Fear of death is normal and part of the survival instinct. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about being snuffed out, of the world continuing on without you, even though you accept perfectly well that the world got along fine before you were born, too. Your consciousness just can’t comprehend not being a consciousness. That’s why you wake up from dreams when you die–or that’s the theory, anyway. It’s all very mirror-in-a-mirror.

I do have what I consider a higher level of normal death anxiety. Hypochondria is a side effect of that, as is the mysophobia that’s been slowly but steadily increasing for a while. Uncertainty and control freakishness play a big part.

But I also have an occasionally paralyzing fear of apocalypse. All kinds of apocalypses. If there’s been a disaster movie about it, I’m afraid of it–although, strangely, I love disaster movies. Natural apocalypses. Alien apocalypses. Supernatural apocalypses. The Rapture. The Yellowstone caldera eruption. Asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Nuclear war. Rapid climate change. Epidemic. (Honestly, every time I read THE STAND, I get a cold. I think the publisher puts something in the pages.)

And yes, the 2012 Mayan calendar ending that marked the end of the world as we know it.

Did I know that, while natural and nuclear apocalypses are quite possible (as my brain reminds me all the time), this one was complete bunk, and nothing was going to happen in 2012 just because it was 2012, and the world was definitely not going to end on exactly December 21, 2012? Absolutely. I knew this for a fact. Just like I knew that the Rapture wasn’t going to happen according to Harold Camping’s predictions. Did that stop me from being afraid of it? No. That’s why they call it a phobia, Carl. It’s utterly irrational. And it was the entire freaking year. December 21 was at the end of it, after all.

So to distract myself, I wrote THORNS, which ended up about 195K words in its first draft. (I write long, then cut. That’s my very frustrating process.)

Of course, it helped that I was pretty much the only one freaking out and everyone was else was basically chill, so there were a lot of ports in the storm. Post-2016, not so much, which is why creativity has been such a hard thing for a lot of artists of late, although I’m noticing an upswing. Fear fatigue, maybe?

THORNS actually arose from a short story I’d wanted to write during college four years earlier. The opportunity came up in my fairy tales class–yes, I had a literature class on fairy tales. Envy me. Among a few other options, our final assignment could be a retold fairy tale, so I sat down and put to paper the idea I’d had for this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retelling I was dying to write.

First thing I realized upon writing it was that it was too long for a short story–around 11K. The second thing I realized was that the story was still much too short and didn’t work at all as it was. It needed to become a novel to do the concept justice, so I shelved it until I thought I could handle a more elaborate plot. I wrote a much shorter BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retelling for the purpose of the assignment and moved on with my life, working on other projects. Most of which I also shelved, because that was the period in my life that I was really Learning How to Write by writing well-conceived crap. I’ll probably rework some of it someday.

Enter the apocalypse.

I’d say I just needed some escapist fiction, but THORNS isn’t really escapist. What it offered me, however, was a full, rich, detailed world in which I could hide among plot complexities (I’m a logistics person, so the problem-solving aspect of plotting is my wheelhouse) as well as hang out with people who were much more interesting to be around than my anxiety-ridden head. As long as my mind was racing, I thought I might as well put it to better use.

About halfway through this monster of a novel, I realized one book wasn’t going to cut it. Because of course.

But that’s the beauty of it (seriously, I’m not trying to be fairy tale puntastic). I can always come back to the THORNS series. When I do, I know it’s going to take up time and brainpower and spoons. But it’s going to do so in a way that I very much need, so it’s a good thing I’ve planned at least seven books in advance, and in my spare moments at work, I try to think beyond that. I told myself I couldn’t publish the second book, ROSE RED, until I’d written the fourth, PUPPETEER. Now that I’ve more or less figured out a work/writing balance, I’m thrilled next year will finally see me tackle it. (If we’re still here. Just saying.)

Haven’t figured out a work/writing/life balance, but you can’t have everything. And if you can’t have everything and the world is going to hell in a sound bite, I plan to do it writing.

The line in HAMILTON that sticks with me daily is “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

Because I fucking am. And I’ve got shit to finish before then. I guess death is a great motivator.

Would rather not work in a constant state of low-level panic, but I’ll take what I can get.

P.S. Editing through the apocalypse works, too.