Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Losing Everything to Find Myself

My parents never wanted to be rich. There was no lusting after mansions or expensive cars. They just wanted to be "comfortable." My father didn't even want to take vacations, so every summer, I left school for my "staycation," as a vacation without travel is now called.

I hated spending every summer at home. I wanted to travel, to see the world. I wanted to be a writer, to be successful enough to make a living at it. And I did all of those things. I was one of the ten percent of authors who didn't need a day job. I had the large advances, the lead title status, the advertising, the promotions, the publicity. I was on top of the world.

Then I slipped and fell off.

Actually, it was more complicated than that. My dad died shortly before the publication of my fifth novel, and I suffered an emotional meltdown. Dad was proud of my success, but it also made him feel that he was no longer needed. Until I sold the first novel, he was the one who managed the household, paid the bills, and helped take care of Collin while I was working. I believed if I had not been so successful, he might still be alive. Guilt is a powerful thing. It can poison, it can cripple, it can destroy.

Looking back, I should have accepted his offer to manage my finances. I knew he was very good at it, and I knew I was not. Like my mom, I couldn't balance a checkbook to save my life. Even at the height of my earning power, I still managed to end up $29,000. overdrawn at the bank. Had Dad been alive and running the show financially, I would not have fallen for a crooked real estate deal that still haunts me to this day.

I sabotaged myself on some subconscious level. I could no longer enjoy the dream I'd realized. My success, I believed, had killed Dad. It was the beginning of a writer's block that lasted seven years and cost me everything I'd worked for. I was angry, erratic, and frustrated. I was hurting and took it out on everyone around me.

We lost our home, most of our possessions, and nearly our pets as well. We got Sam and Mom's dog Schatzi back, but my potbellied pig, Iggy, was killed (see my Sam's Story blog). We rented a small apartment from a man who turned out to be a truly remarkable human being and landlord. We might have gotten ourselves turned around then, but the damage had already been done. Mom, a diabetic, had a series of strokes. I had medical issues of my own. I was levied by the IRS. By the time Mom passed away, our landlord had sold the apartment building after having a quadrupole bypass, and we were losing another home.

We were homeless.

Oh, we never spent a night out on the streets or ended up in a shelter, but it was close a couple of times. We lived in a total of six motels in the next couple of years. Collin worked at IHOP, but didn't make enough to pay for our room and food, so I was constantly seeking out assistance just to keep a roof over our heads. I couldn't get a job. No one would hire me. Once they knew I was a published author, they'd label me a bad risk. I wouldn't stick around. Once I was published again, I'd be gone, they assumed. I couldn't focus well enough to write. I blamed myself—for Dad's death, for Mom's, and for Iggy's. I blamed myself for our circumstances, and Collin blamed me, though he never said it to my face.

For six months we lived with a woman we'd never met before the day she opened her home to us. We lived with Pastor John and Carole for three months. And then we met two incredible women who had never met each other before teaming up to help us get back on our feet. They paid the rent and all necessary deposits to move us into our current home. We've been here just over five years now. Today, we consider Carolyn and Kathie family as well as friends.

The decision to self-publish Chasing the Wind was not an easy one to make, but I knew it was the right one for a number of reasons. Poised to re-enter the world of conventional publishing, I saw all of the old negative issues resurfacing. When you're rich, you have a lot of people wanting some of it for themselves and using any means they can to get it. I didn't need—or want—that kind of crap in my life. And I saw myself reverting to the old ways. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins for a very good reason—and it's the one I've always had the most difficulty with. I knew some people would say I'd opted for self-publishing because I couldn't sell the book. (Not true, by the way, but believe whatever you wish.) But I didn't want to repeat past mistakes. I didn't want to have to be concerned with my public image. I didn't want to get phone calls reprimanding me because I'd gained a few pounds. And I didn't want someone else deciding what I could and couldn't write. I wanted creative and personal freedom, and I'd finally found it. I write and market my books online, in the privacy of my own home. I choose my titles and my covers, which Collin designs. It was a real kick when we decided to re-release my backlist with new covers and their original titles and everyone thought The Unicorn's Daughter with Collin's cover art was more interesting than A Time for Legends with the glitzy cover art.

I finally understand what my parents found so appealing about a simple life. I don't need to own things. I don't need to impress anyone. I have no more regrets. And I'm not looking back.


  1. Guilt is a powerful thing, and I know how problems and troubles can be overwhelming a lot of the time.

    It's really brave of you to write this, Norma, and it shows how far you've come in your own life since those days. Self publishing has really become the way to go, and from all you've said, the conventional publishing industry's become writing by committee... and dictated by marketing chimps.

  2. God bless you Norma for figuring everything out and creating a future for Collin. You are a successful author, but more than that you are a mother and an inspiration to those who know you.
    The years slip away and someday we will all be wondering where they went while we tried so hard reaching for our goals. Now you can sing the Sinatra song, "My Way" with feeling! :)

  3. Life is goofy. But on the other hand, a lot of things are goofy so we might just as well go with it.

  4. A truely inspiring journy Norma! Tragedy, self doubt, and personal struggle is often the road we take to finding the correct path. I am so glad you have found your way. Keep your chin up and keep writing. We are a better world for it.

  5. I know a best selling author who self-publishes and is very successful because of her following. Basically she wants complete control over her career. Self-publishing doesn't have the stigma it used to have. So good for you!

  6. Thanks, all of you. William, you knew most of this, I think, already--and of course Carole knew. I don't know about brave, but it sure is liberating.

    Kimberly--more than a few conventionally-published authors are making the switch. Self-publishing is the future of publishing. Like your friend, I want full control of my work and my career, and this way I have it.

    Evie--it wasn't ever my way. It was God's way. I had to hit bottom before I could see the light, so to speak.

  7. I don't know what to say. I am gobsmacked
    How strong you were/are and how wonderful for you that you found some help.
    What a life you traveled.
    What has happened has already happened and nothing you say or think can change it. I know I have be down that road. I fight everyday to not beat myself up over what I have done. The guilt can be overwhelming at times and I must say I have traveled a parallel road as you. Every choice I made was a bad one as I believed people to be better than they were.
    I am so happy that you found a way out and now you and Collin have found some footing. You are both so talented.

    cheers, parsnip

  8. Oh brave of you to recount all those years when you had it all, and then lost it all. A very difficult thing for you to do, but you did it...and now you can hold your head up high...

    You are a very wonderful person and you've guided me through it all...and I thank you for your friendship, your sisterhood and your love.

  9. Wow, what an inspiring story. It's always great hearing true stories of real people who overcome adversity. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I feel like I know you a whole lot better, now ... this was a great story, a story of coming back on your own terms and of wonderful people.

  11. Norma, talk about hell and back. I am so sorry for these issues that happened to you. In the US, we are not so much into forgiving as blaming. Thank heavens you found help along the way. Your journey has been a tough one, but it led you to all of us, and your strength is what keeps us all going.
    I think we all understand guilt, and it is baggage that weighs us all down and stops our progress.
    I will say it has always been an honor to know you.

  12. Wow. That is a large burden to carry, Norma. It's a long story, but I had a lot of guilt about my own father's death. Gosh I guess we have all been through a lot, but you have come through a strong person and you really inspire us. I am very glad to call you my friend.

  13. Brilliant - I had no idea about any of this: which just goes to show how successful you feel to those who do not know your story but just enjoy your talent. Well done. Pat yourself on the back, relish the important stuff, and always look forward.

  14. Wow, Norma! What a ride you've had! Thanks for sharing it with us. I have to agree... the more things you own, the more owned you are. We will always want more.... greed and pride will run a person into the ground.
    I don't think you should feel guilty tho... not about your father's death. We all make choices that affect the flow of our lives, and we can't regret them, we can only learn from them.
    I know you said you no longer have regrets and i think that's wonderful. I love that you're making your own calls with your books. I love that the internet and self-pubbing gives authors that option. It's so exciting being in charge of your own life and career.

  15. Wow, Norma, what a journey. Thank you so much for sharing that with us - I read it with admiration that you've come so far, and managed to build yourself up again.

  16. You are more than a conquerer, Norma, and only God knows that those who have suffered greatly know how to love best - both in word and deed. You've expressed so many events and feelings in this blog and your vulnerability is very real. Through the years I've seen you on a journey to a better place - one of joy and contentment, and not just mere happiness. Oh sure, stuff still happens and always will. But without it, who will we really grow to be? Thanks so much for your friendship and for being real. Hugs.


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