When the Smoke Clears

I haven’t posted a blog in more than a month, and here’s why.

Just prior to my Sept. 22 launch date for Lifeline to Marionette, I read a Facebook post by a represented author, who stated that someone who self-publishes a book will only sell as many books as that person has friends. At first, I was offended by this, then somewhat demoralized. I thought, certainly, in this age of social media and digital marketing, it is possible for me to expand my reach beyond my circle of friends. I was determined. I even brought in reinforcement to help me with my digital marketing efforts. I put considerable effort into my pre-launch plan, which was further bolstered by great exposure from book bloggers and reviewers. All went well, and the days following my release date were energizing. Readers began posting their reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I saw what I thought was some genuine momentum beginning to build.

Then, on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 27, I woke to the news that a wildfire had broken out at approximately 4:30 am on Glass Mountain, which is about 10 miles northeast of my home in Napa Valley. Having previous, first-hand experience with monster California wildfires, I knew the distance between the fire and my home could be diminished in minutes if the wind was blowing in my direction.  Fortunately, it wasn’t. However, as the day unfolded, the fire grew, and grew. It blew across the north half of Napa Valley and ravaged the mountains on both sides. The speed at which the fire moved and the fury it unleashed is indescribable. Only those who have experienced a wildfire firsthand can truly comprehend its power. It’s insane.

And it burned for three weeks.

The Glass Fire was finally fully contained on Oct. 20.  In total, it had scorched 67,000 acres and 1,555 structures, including 650 homes and 31 wineries that were either damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, both my home and business were spared, although I know many who cannot say the same.

The last 30 days have gone by in a blur. When I look back on the toll this experience has taken on me personally, I am reminded of something I wrote for the first chapter of The Fifth Language:

The past eight days had changed him. Aged him. Derailed him. Sucked him into a black hole, digested him and spit him out a shadow of his former self. He had been served a reality check, the likes of which he had never experienced before. Not even close.

I wrote these words months ago, and yet it describes precisely how I have been feeling lately. If I had to sum it up, I would say that I have a better understanding of PTSD now than I did before the fire.

When I delve deep into my reaction to the Glass Fire, I realize that it was not the raging fire itself that delivered such a psychological gut punch so much as it was the smoke. Fire invokes fear. Fire is either all-consuming, or it isn’t. But smoke is something else altogether, an entirely different animal.  It’s difficult to describe what it is like to live in a shroud of thick, heavy, red smoke, week after week. It doesn’t move. It’s isolating to the point that it’s almost claustrophobic. And I can’t get away from it. It burns my eyes and my throat. I makes me feel dirty, even though I just showered. My beloved pets are suffering. At least I can keep them indoors, where the air quality is only slightly better. But outside, I have my six horses standing in this thing. I know they are suffering, too, but I have no viable option for getting them away from the smoke. It’s that bad. And it’s weird. And it’s silent.

The fire is now yesterday’s news and the skies are blue again, yet I continue to struggle to cope with the stress that all this has caused. I am only just now starting to feel like the dense smoke inside my head is beginning to clear.

Unfortunately, my post-launch plan for my book went up in flames the day the fire started. I haven’t had the time or the frame of mind to manage its promotion in the midst of all the chaos and displacement the fire caused. I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to reach out to my leads: “Hey, just checking in to see if you’ve had a chance to read my book… I hope you enjoyed it… Please post a review if you did… blah blah blah.”

I’ve had to accept this, and then genuinely be OK with it. So, at this point, I’ve sold about as many books as I have friends, plus a smattering of referrals by those friends. On one hand, I could say that the represented author was right. But on the other hand, I could say this:

My success with Lifeline to Marionette was never meant to be measured by the number of books sold. I never had my eye on being a bestselling author out the gate with my first novel. Results were not my goal. My goal was to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a fiction writer and publishing my work. Check.

Lifeline to Marionette may drop so far down on the search results that no one will find it, but it’s still out there, and always will be, unless I choose to remove it. “Published” is evergreen. Check.

I feel good about what I have been able to accomplish. Check.

Lifeline to Marionette is a story that will continue on, as will I. Check.

What I enjoy most about being a writer is the writing process of itself. I think that’s true for all writers. While I am close to being able to pick up my marketing plan again to see what I can do with it, I’ve never stepped away from working on The Fifth Language. Through all the insanity and stress that the Glass Fire caused, I was able to escape to my writing when I needed to, close out most of what was going on around me and enjoy the peace of mind that writing gives me.