I broke. But I’m not broken.

I broke.

There’s a difference between breaking and being broken. To break is to fall apart. To shatter. To BE broken is to linger in that state: pieces on the floor, jagged edges sharp and untouchable.

Picture… a teapot. Sure, why not. This teapot seemed perfectly fine when it left the factory. In fact, it was very valuable; when it was brought home the whole family came to admire it.

But maybe the teapot came with an issue no one could see. Maybe its walls were a little thinner, less resilient than the others in its lot. Maybe it was unevenly manufactured. Imbalanced.

Over time, the porcelain began to discolour. It retained the memories of all the tea it has made. You can’t see this darkness unless you look inside. But it’s there.

The teapot isn’t flawless any more.

At first the problems are small; tiny spider web cracks lengthening and connecting, forming spots that can’t be trusted to be strong. You can see them if you know what to look for: hair-fine fault lines marring the rest. You might make a note to yourself to be gentler, not to put too much pressure on something that is already falling apart.

The word for cracking porcelain is crazing.

Then one day you pick up this teapot, just like you have every day of your life, and it shatters in your hand. Everything it held inside bursts out, making a mess so big it seems it will never be cleaned up. Some pieces will cut you when you try to retrieve them. Others don’t seem to fit anywhere. It’s overwhelming. You gather the pieces up as best you can and dump them in a box to deal with later.

Months pass. You take up cross-stitch, you knit, you watch terrible reality TV just to keep yourself distracted. You stay up all night because every time you close your eyes you see those broken pieces and you can’t imagine how you’ll begin to put them back together. And unless you’re willing to throw it all away you’ve got to fix this at some point.

You learn to ask for help. Someone to help hold the pieces together while the glue dries. You learn to accept the pot’s new limitations. You handle it more carefully. You let yourself appreciate its imperfections, its tiny missing chips. And while you worry every day that it may shatter again, you wake in the morning and use it anyway. After all, it’s the only teapot you have.

I broke. But I’m not broken.

If you are struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day to raise awareness of mental illness and to support those affected. For every post today on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell Canada will donate 5 ¢ to Canadian mental health initiatives that support people like me.

First Signing of 2018!

 

Indigo North London

 86 Fanshawe Park Rd, London Ontario
January 27th
12-4 PM

Are you in the area? Come say hi!

Updates and news (and an excerpt!) can be found on my Facebook page.

A Team Effort with Imaginary People

 

 

doll-3925_640

Writing a novel isn’t easy.

There are moments of doubt about the overall book. Crippling, terrifying doubt. (This idea is stupid. I am stupid. None of this makes any goddamned sense.) You pick your story apart, piece by tiny piece, until it’s in ribbons. But that’s not even the hardest part.

For me, at least, getting the characters going is the real nail-biter. At first, they feel flat and tepid and boring (and that’s being polite). There’s a time when it feels like the minor characters, especially, are just hollow plastic dolls that you’re bashing together while you play pretend in your head.

The thought of breathing life into dozens of imaginary people can be paralyzing.

Think of all the people you talk to in a day. Imagine their thoughts, their dreams, what they ate for lunch, where they’re going after work. They’re running late. They’re out of milk. They got shit to do.

Characters are like that. Individuals, all with their own concerns and priorities and issues. They don’t give a crap about your Hero’s story; they’re too busy living their own. It’s tempting not to give a crap about them, either: how dare they not fawn over your Hero the way you do? But each of them needs just as much attention as your main attraction, if they’re to feel real. And the only one holding the God-pen is you.

It won’t happen. Not this time. I’ve used everything up.

You show up to the story anyway, feet dragging if they need to. Tantrums are expected, if not outright encouraged. You sit and scowl at one of these pretend people until both of you feel a little uncomfortable.

Eventually, one of you will break.

“Okay, fine,” she’ll mumble. “I’ll tell you a little about myself. Listen close; I won’t do this again.” And your character will talk about how she couldn’t afford college, which robbed her of the career she wanted. She settled. She pretends like she’s happy, but she’s far from it: she’s miserable and exhausted and bitter. And, okay, sometimes it makes her grouchy. It makes her snap at your beloved Hero when all he’s done is ask for more coffee.

She won’t tell him why she does these things, but if you’re very, very lucky she might tell you.

And now you’re talking, and though you get to ask some questions most of it is just listening. You take notes as fast as you can because this faucet, once turned off, might not reopen.

And then suddenly, you know her. You know exactly what made her who she is.

And if you sit very, very still, the others will begin to come forward. “I had no friends.” “I was State Champion before I hurt myself.” “I fought against the odds, and won. These losers need to suck it up.”

You don’t breathe. You don’t dare scare them away. Minors are well aware they’re not the stars of your show, and understandably they’re reluctant to give you their stories. Why should they bother? You won’t use most of it, anyway.

But you want them to be alive, just as alive as your Very Important Person. Because if they’re just props, we’ll all know it and none of us will feel very good about it.

Here’s the thing: you can’t go any further in your novel without these temperamental jerks. They hold the fate of your story in their stubborn little fists. And sometimes they like to make you sweat for a while, wondering if they’ll ever tell you what makes them tick. So you wait (im)patiently, fingers crossed, hoping that eventually they’ll help you flesh out this world of yours.

My minors finally came to chat over coffee this weekend. They told me their secrets. Some went deeper than I expected. I am thrilled to finally know them.

And (just like that!) all those loose ends tied themselves up. There’s nothing in the way of the book, now.

Game on.

Guess What Came in the Mail…

Crooked Little House

Crooked Little House comes out on Tuesday!

I’ll be doing a giveaway on Facebook, and you have to be a fan of my author page to enter. Swing by and show me some “like”; giveaway details to follow once I climb down from this cloud.

It’s finally here. I’m finally a novelist.

Brave New Novel

novelpic

This is it.

My novel is DONE.

What you’re seeing here is my baby, all dressed up and ready to go. I’m lucky enough to have a good friend editing (and as an indie, helpful friends are EVERYTHING); this is the copy I’m giving to her tomorrow.

The formatting is arranged. The cover is designed. I feel like it’s a good, clean copy.

This is happening.

IT’S ALMOST HERE, YOU GUYS.

IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!

…by which I mean, I’m alive. How the time flies when you’re slacking off on your blog.

Sorry ’bout that.

So. Uh. Long time no see. Since the last time you saw me, we’ve welcomed a new niece into the world. I’ve started a new DayJob (same company, but I moved on up to the fourth floor). Oh, and I wrote my first novel. It’s still in the roughs, but as we speak I have a real, live, full-length novel sitting on my desk. It’ll be out in the next month or two.

I’ve done some deep thinking about where I want my writing career to go, and about what that looks like, in terms of the day-to-day. I think what made the blog fall apart before was that I was focusing so hard on new content that the actual writing stopped. It stopped for a long time, actually. Completely. Cold. I have never felt worse about myself; conversely, while I was writing the novel this past Fall I was the happiest I’ve ever been.

So, a balance. A fresh start. I have no idea how often I’ll be blogging; I have zero schedule in mind. Because at the end of the day, the effort needs to be about the writing, not the talking about the writing. That being said, I think I can pull off more than once every two years, if I hold my tongue just right. Who’s with me?

 

-Stef