03 July 2007

Reading and Writing Through the Storms of Life

This has been a month to make history in my family. Within one week, my husband had three asthma attacks, the first one coming within a hairsbreadth of fatal, and my father went into the hospital for a surgical procedure, which proved to be one more thing than his poor body could handle, and this week, we lay him to rest. Hubby is home, healthy and back at work, and a big support as we start this new phase.

For a couple of weeks there, my life was spent shuttling between two hospitals, and it wasn't at all uncommon to go two days and change without sleep. Signing my name on countless medical documents for both of my guys, starting to recognize the staff and their voices on the phone, and all that stuff, stress can get to even the hardiest of us real-life heroines. It was, incidentally, all those heroines from mumblecough years of reading and writing historical romance that helped me keep up what I needed to get through it all.

Back when my father started having his troubles, we made a hospital bag -– something to grab when going out the door for medical emergencies, stocked with all the necessaries, from lists of doctors and medications, to clean socks, healthy snacks, and...a romance novel. Trust me, if you're going to be spending hours in a waiting room or by the bedside of a loved one, you're going to want a romance novel. Give me the choice of watching the closed captioning on the news or talk shows versus opening the cover of a book and slipping into another century full of adventure and love, and guess which I'll pick every time?

I thought when this started that I wasn't going to get a lot of writing done. Wrong. I've been toting around notebooks for two of my current projects, and welcoming the chance to not only slip into another era, but have control over it as well. Visiting with Trista and Drew on a deserted island in the Georgian era, or Angus and Summer in modern New York and Tudor era Scotland, is a welcome break, and a reminder that real life is going to throw us curves in any era, and like the heroines we are (as we all are heroines of our own stories) we can get through it. I can't ask my heroines to push through if I'm not going to push through myself. Even on days when I can't get anything on a page, the story still goes on in my head, and that little bit of normal is a big help to get through the rest. Because heroines always do.

To the authors of the books that saw me through some long nights, and ushered me through the rigors of ancient Rome, the social strata of Victorian England, the wild adventure of sixteenth century Caribbean seas and the pageantry of the medieval era, thank you a thousand times for the respite, and a thousand more for the inspiration. In choosing which books should replace the ones just read, I found myself pleasantly surprised that there does seem to be a bigger selection of settings and eras these days, which can only be good for readers and writers alike.

It also gave me a new connection with some of the hard things my characters have to experience. The eras I write about don't have the medical advantages we have today; a loved one could either linger indefinitely or be gone in an instant, and some of the common cures or treatments of the day might have the exact opposite effect to what we know to do now. All of which may someday find their ways into future stories. Life, death, love, fear, faith, hope, family, friendship and such aren't confined to a particular time or place.

When you come to a tough bend in the road, how do you get back on track when it's time to get writing again? Does reading help, or is that for another time? What about using real life experiences as ways to make your characters work for their HEAs? Some things are universal.