Our spectacular host and accomplished author Michelle Hauck has invited judges to share our publication stories. Even now I’m published, I still love reading these stories: they’re tales of hope and happiness. Reading them helped me even more when I was slogging through the query trenches, getting rejected over and over, and wallowing in self-doubt. So, I’ll share mine, in the hope it might bring you some hope and happiness if you’re feeling bleak. Don’t feel like publication will never happen for you: it will, if you don’t give up.
I’m in the mood for reminiscence, and it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so I’ll turn this into a bit of an epic. I’ll tell the whole story of how I began writing, and how that convoluted mess eventually led to publication.
As some of you know, I’m neurodivergent. I have PTSD, I’m bipolar and, as it turns out, maybe autistic as well. This is a lot more fun than it may sound to some people—at least some of the time. Other times, it can make stuff harder. My publication story arises out of one of these difficult times.
It was the fall of 2013. My husband, tween daughter, and I had just moved to the south-central coast of California for my husband’s new job. I’d left my friends, my bands (I’m a musician) and my family behind. I was unemployed for the first time since my daughter was born, and my daughter was nine, so my days were no longer filled up with chasing her around, playing princess, and changing her diaper. Add this to the fact that we had to live in a trashy hotel for months since there were difficulties in closing on our house, and I was left ungrounded. It sent me manic in a huge way.
I’d always written, but now I started writing sixteen, seventeen, eighteen hours a day. I was so involved in my YA fantasy epic I couldn’t sleep. I never talked about anything besides my books. This annoyed my husband a lot and he got pretty insulting about it, so I started avoiding him, hauling Kid (who was homeschooled at the time) on road trips to visit the sites in the Desert Southwest where my novels largely took place.
I wrote all seven books in that series in a year. By then, we were in a house, but my marriage was deteriorating. This situation brought up a lot of old feelings and fears, so I started writing a new series, this one dealing with some of the heavy stuff I’d experienced, like addiction, abuse, and psychosis.
Meanwhile, I was querying the first novel in my YA series…with very little success. It was my first book, and even I knew that I was probably querying it too early, but I don’t regret it even now. I entered a lot of contests, joined a lot of critique groups, and learned so much about writing and the querying process. Some of us learn best by doing, and that involves making a “fool” of ourselves sometimes. But those who are afraid to be foolish don’t accomplish as much, in my experience.
Anyway, I began to slide out of my mania while writing my new series. As I was engulfed by depression, I clung even tighter to my stories, living as much as I could in that fantasy world. This put further stress on my marriage.
Then, when I was writing The Other Place (which is told from the point of view of a young schizophrenic man) I made good friends with a schizophrenic guy in town. I became a bit obsessed with him. He not only made me feel like I wasn’t alone, he helped me to see that my psychosis and other mental illnesses were nothing to be afraid of. There was a beauty in our shared world when we were together that was a powerful medicine for my depression.
However, hanging out with him didn’t help my marriage, either. My husband began kicking me out of the house regularly, during which times I’d live in my car with the schizophrenic guy. I always went back to my husband when he calmed down, though. I knew even then that this was partly because of my abuse syndrome, but I didn’t have the spoons at that point to get myself together. My only hope—the hope I clung to with all I had—was that I could get published, and that would lead to other opportunities to make money doing what I loved, like editing.
I started querying The Other Place. I got a lot more requests than I did with my first book, but they all turned into rejections. “I love your concept, and the writing is good, but I can’t identify with your character.” I hated that one—basically they were saying, “We love the concept of mental illness, but we can’t identify with the mentally ill.” I also had agents and editors say the plot was too nontraditional (in other words, too neurodivergent), and a couple that said “Love this, but we already have a book about mental illness.”
I started to drink. Heavily. Even my daughter was begging me to leave my husband at that point. But I was afraid to, for a lot of reasons. I was having psychotic breaks, and serious thoughts of suicide. I didn’t feel able to support myself or take care of my kid alone. I needed an out. I needed some faith in myself. I also needed help, but I wasn’t really aware of that yet.
So, I started writing a book that wasn’t so “crazy”. It was a romantic suspense called Love or Money, which had a more traditional plot and characters. I didn’t send that book to agents—I only pitched it on #PitMad. I got two full requests from publishers, which pretty quickly turned into two offers.
When I got those emails, it was like the heavens had opened and said, You can do this. You’re worth it, and your life is worth living.
Finally, I took my daughter and got the hell out of that house. My parents convinced me to come home. I half built, half renovated a tiny home on the ten-acre farm that has been in our family for generations, and I’m living there happily, writing; editing; and raising fruit, vegetables, egg chickens, and bees.
I got the psychiatric help I needed, and I’m more stable than I’ve ever been. I’ve since gotten my whole Other Place Series published. I’m coming to terms with my neurodivergence, and have become an advocate, speaking up and fighting for civil rights and respect for the mentally ill.
That schizophrenic guy—we’re engaged now.
I know this is a sort of different publication story, but maybe it can give some hope to those who are having a lot of difficulty in the writing trenches. It’s a lot harder, physically and emotionally, than non-writers could ever understand. I also hope it might help those struggling with mental illness. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and we can live beautiful lives on our own terms if we know our own worth.
Elizabeth is a freelance editor and the author of the LGBT romantic suspense novel, Love or Money, and the Own Voices magical realism The Other Place Series, which deals with abuse, addiction, PTSD, and psychosis. She has written eleven other novels in a wide range of genres, which are in various stages of revision and pitching.
She grew up as a barefoot ruffian on a fruit orchard near Yakima, in the eastern part of Washington State. After weathering the grunge revolution and devolution and migrating up and down the West Coast, she is back in Yakima, where she lives in a (mostly) off-grid tiny house she renovated and built herself, and grows most of her own food.
She earned a bachelor's degree from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and worked for many years as a paralegal and translator. She is a musician and songwriter, and has played in many bands, rocking some instruments she doesn't even know the real names for, but mostly guitar, bass and keyboards.
Elizabeth is a mentally ill advocate, and believes if people get to know those who live on the fringes of society, both in stories and in real life, they'll find them more likeable than they originally thought.
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