Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski
I'm not ashamed to admit I'm afflicted with writer separation anxiety. Hopefully others, by reading this, will come forward. There's strength in numbers. It may not plague the majority of writers, but that doesn't make us freaks. Why do you think there are so many serial authors?
I know I should've been ecstatic, but when I finished writing my first novel -- I was bereft. I couldn't stop thinking about Caroline, Andy, Lilly, all my characters. We'd been together for so long. It's not a secret that I spent more time with them than my real family. I never prepared myself for life without them.
That first morning after writing The End was the hardest. It was time to get reacquainted with my life LBTB (Life Before the Book). Sometime during the manuscript's third edit our kitchen became depleted of anything edible. Grocery shopping was long overdue. This was perfect -- something to do. A chore would keep me busy. No time to pine.
At the grocery store I strolled down the cookie aisle. Bad idea. There were Oreos everywhere. You can't dodge a cookie with 17 varieties. I told myself to stop thinking about Andy; he's not real. Oreos were his crutch food. The night he and Caroline got into a chandelier-trembling argument (Chapter 9) he ate 2 sleeves of Oreos with a quart of milk. Any other guy would've gone out to get plastered with his buddies. Not Andy. He sunk into the couch (which he'd later sleep on) and ate 28 cookies. I hated that night. I hated when they fought. A friend of mine accused me of being secretly in love with Andy. Which is completely ridiculous. I'm married!
I spun the grocery cart around and headed to frozen foods. I'm far less emotional when I'm cold. My internal voice said, "Cheer up! Celebrate! You finished your first novel!" At that exact moment I found myself smack in front of the Carvel Cakes. It was a sign. Clearly, a celebration was in order. I felt better already. In fact, I started whistling−which I often do when I'm happy (or need a bathroom). Then I recognized the tune: "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. I gasped. The very song Caroline hummed on that disastrous night (Chapter 10). If only I could've helped her.
Grocery shopping was not going as planned.
I paid for the cake and a jar of pimentos and skulked to my car. My phone rang. It was my son. Thank God. A real person to focus on. "What's the matter Mom, you sound awful." I tried to stay light and breezy, but I choked up. "Mom, it's okay it you miss them. You'll be all right, remember when Caroline thought she was having a nervous breakdown --"
"Because she was!"
"Oh god, that's right. Jeez..."
Before I shifted the car in reverse my phone rang again. It was my husband. To remind me of our neighbor's party invitation. We declined because I thought I'd still be editing. "We should go," he insisted. If I wasn't having fun, at least I could eavesdrop on conversations and steal mannerisms and quirks from people to use for new characters. That could be amusing.
It felt good to wear decent clothes and eye shadow for a change and rekindle with the neighbors -- laughing, swapping stories, exchanging recipes. Was it wrong of me to give them a deviled egg recipe that Caroline's mother, Elaine, kept secret (Chapter 13)? On the rare occasion Elaine shared the recipe, she'd somehow "forget" to mention the chili paste. That Elaine. She could always make me laugh.
Boy was I out of touch with current (past) events of our town (world). A neighbor's sister miraculously recovered from a near-fatal accident. Everyone reveled in this news. Then mid-hoopla, their eyes, with scrunched brows, turned my way. Ripples of "Are you okay?" spilled over me.
I wasn't okay. "It's just that Caroline's sister wasn't so lucky --" I tried to pull myself together but instead became defensive and blubbered, "...she's dead."
My sniffling intensified under a chorus of "Oh my gosh" and "I didn't know" and an exchange of incredulous glances. Someone asked, "Who's Caroline?"
My head shot up. I spurted like a broken carburetor, "My protagonist!"
It was time for me to go. I insisted my husband stay. I needed to be alone.
At home I sat in the chair that supported me all those months (years) it took to write my novel. I lifted the manuscript and inhaled deeply to smell the paper and ink. I thought about Caroline, Andy and Elaine, the kids. The triumphs and disasters. In my heart of hearts I knew. They needed to move on without me. Me without them. They had enriched my life in so many ways. I'd always have that. I put the manuscript down and picked up a box of Oreos, chugged some cold milk.
It was time to ponder a sequel.