The Writing Life: Where Were You?

Occasionally, the circumstances of writing (or reading) a particular story linger, becoming indelibly associated with that particular tale. I think we particularly remember those that come to us during extreme times in our lives, times of darkness and difficulty as well as times of joy.
When I wrote “Totem Night” (which appeared in the limited-edition volume Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Worlds in 1998), I had newly found myself alone as a parent, responsible for a teen and an adolescent, discovering that I had few marketable skills, and struggling to emerge from a personal crisis. I had been largely unable to write for a couple of years. Of course, given those circumstances, I found the worst possible job, one that even a normal, stable person would find insufferable. In short, I was surrounded by crazy people who, at the slightest difficulty, would run around crying, “Oh my god! What are we going to do?” My boss expected me to read his mind and on at least one occasion, stormed out of the office, leaving a room full of people waiting to see him. On a daily basis, I was handed a pile of decisions that I had no idea how to make.

Granted, I had my part in the looming disaster. I took the job, didn’t I?

One of the ways I tried to survive the job from hell was to divide my lunch hour into walking time and writing time. The walking was dreary, for the neighborhood was cement and buildings.

But the writing time, ah! the writing time! Rarely have I been so grateful to escape into a world of my own devising. Looking back, it comes as no surprise that I framed my story as a rite-of-passage, in which our heroine journeys to a remote mountaintop in search of her totem animal. And what a sight it is — a unicorn with wings to carry me out of this dreadful place!

The unicorn, like the job that had seemed so promising when I applied, turned out to be something quite different from the hopes and expectations of the heroine. Isn’t that always the way of stories that grow out of the nether regions of our minds? I went along for the ride.

The heroine parted ways with her unicorn, but not in the usual fashion. I parted ways with my job when my oldest daughter needed a ride home from college in another state. Needless to say, once the daughter was safely home, another job, one that calmed and validated me, soon appeared. The story was accepted and published, although to a very small audience.

You can read it here:

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her recent publications include Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jaydium, available in serialized chapters and ebook here on Book View Cafe.



The Writing Life: Where Were You? — 5 Comments

  1. I’ve often thought I did my best writing when my life sucked. Something about finding an avenue for all those overwhelming emotions.

    Writing as a coping mechanism. It’s what keeps me on the saner side of my personality.

  2. I wonder if writers do not break out into two types. The honey bee writer needs peace and sunshine to produce; whack on the hive and you do not get more honey but merely unpleasantness. Other writers are sled dogs. It’s below zero and a blizzard, no problem! The wind is like a razor blade, fine! A crack of the whip simply makes then scurry along faster across the tundra; they give of their best when conditions are terrible.

  3. Wonderful comments! I suspect I write differently in the honey-sweet sun and in the raging blizzard. I do know that if the pressure is extreme enough, my ability to write will break down (or what comes out will be so bad it would have been better to not write anything). I need balance in my day (work, sleep, exercise, play, music, reading, family time) and in my life. I don’t do all-nighters, but I’m great at consistency.

  4. I currently work as a typing at a local government council. The pay is ridiculous (little more than minimum wage and I have a degree–stupid economy), but because I type so quickly and do things correctly the first time, I usually have a bit of time each working day to write. I’m so bored an uninspired that writing is the only thing that gets me through the day. Even if it’s stealing 10 minutes away from endless asbestos survey report spreadsheets to think up a detail for a short story, it’s worth it.