Good Morning. I'm almost finished with the final book in my Reluctant Grooms series. WHEN ALL HOPE IS LOST. I've been working steadily on this story since Thanksgiving. In it, I examine Lady Olivia's life and why she does the things she does. It has been an intricate journey filled with twists and turns and and angst and depression, grief, heartache, love, loss, and agonizing pain.
One of my best friends, (a mom at school) whom I speak with nearly every day on the phone, wondered where I'd been. She never calls me because she knows I'm writing, so she waits for me to call her. It was three weeks before I picked up the phone.
"What the hell have you been doing? I thought I had done something to piss you off," she said, when I finally called her last Monday.
"No, I've just been writing." We chatted about the book. She's actually my sounding board for plot twists. When I described certain elements of it to her she thought I was a genius. "Brilliant." is what she said. But then she said, "I saw you in car line yesterday. You look awful. Are you okay?"
For the last five weeks, I have been working 14 hours days at the computer. I have sorely neglected my "real life" because Lady Olivia has pretty much dragged me through the ringer. I've cried during every chapter, sometimes nearly every scene. It wasn't something I planned to do, believe me. Making my readers cry with my words is one thing. Making me sob like a little baby is another.
Lady Olivia has always been in the background of all my stories. As other characters say, "She likes to have her hand in all the pies of the aristocracy." From matchmaking and charity work to Parliament and political intrigue, Lady Olivia is a diverse character.
However, she never had her own Point of View in any of the stories. She was always there, giving advice, and scheming to make everything turn out in her favor, but always through the eyes of another person. Until LADY OLIVIA'S UNDOING.
I set her up in UNDOING to take a fall. I don't know why. I thought it was good reading. In THE SEDUCTION OF MR. SUMMERVILLE, I allow her to fall even further. Yet, once I finished that book, I realized I hadn't done enough. She needed to hit rock bottom.
It hasn't been easy, let me tell you. I cried nearly every day. I've had more than a few sleepless nights pondering over chapters. I suppose I can honestly say I am "suffering" for my art. And here's the kicker. Just as I was almost finished, on the last chapter I might add, I came down with a nasty sinus infection and bronchitis. I tried to write through it, but I had to take a few days off. Lying in bed forced me to examine what I had written and why.
You see, Olivia and I are almost the same age. (I'll be 53, she just turned 56.) She's led a charmed life. So did I for a very long time. And then mine fell apart. I lost everything, (IRA's, my savings, my home, my job, my fiance) all within a couple of months. I hit rock bottom and had to climb out of the mess circumstances had thrown me into. I don't know why, but I wanted Olivia to go through exactly the same thing. I'm thinking that I had never dealt with the nightmare that was my life back then and this was my own personal catharsis.
It wasn't easy putting myself through the emotional roller coaster again. But I dug in and remembered how I felt during that time -- angry, unbelieving, sad, depressed, gob-smacked, furious it had happened, wondering when it would end, how I would ever get out of it.
As a writer, we have to dig deep into our own emotional highs and lows so our characters will be able to SHOW that to our readers. As writers we need to get it from the INSIDE. Granted, it takes courage to be able to look at our past selves and examine where we were, how we felt, and then go through it all over again. And I can tell you, that's why I got sick. Within those six months when I lost my "life" I was also really sick (the beginning of my current health situation I deal with now). Hence, my illness for the last week. History is repeating itself.
Truthfully though, I think this is the best book I've ever written. WHEN ALL HOPE IS LOST is the perfect title (thank you Jane Austen) because Olivia has nothing. She's hit bottom and at the end of chapter ten she has lost EVERYTHING, much the same way I did. What else is the poor woman to do? I make her suffer endlessly, because I did. It took me a long time to get from that point in my life to where I am today.
However, in the book, Olivia has a champion -- ME-- who makes it all better by the end of the book. Why? Because I'm a sucker for a happily ever after. I can't tell you what happens, but let's just say she gets what she needs. As have I.
Tell me -- How far do you go for your characters? Do you "suffer" for your art? Do you write from the inside?
Anne Gallagher (c) 2015