Dr. Hertzig appeared out of nowhere, startling Dana Barnes slightly as she gathered belongings and checked behind drawers and under the uncomfortable steel bed with its institutional folds to see if she had forgotten anything. He loved to pop up, sprite-like, and surprise her, taking full advantage of the rule that doors must remain open twenty-four seven. In the past five days, he had completely disabused her of the notion that a
handsome doctor was every girl’s fantasy. She detested him with his faux avuncular charm and transparent guise of amicability. He was German which seemed fitting: Dr. Hertzig was a Nazi.
Dana had been at Expedition House voluntarily for five days, at the suggestion of her regular therapist Harriet, who had pitched a short stay in the psychiatric facility as a way to kick-start a stalled recovery from the worst depression of her life. Dana pictured rehab and liked that it was covered by her insurance. Her boss reminded her that she had great benefits whenever she pressed for a raise so why not? Anything to avoid another dosage increase.
The first thing Dr. Hertzig told Dana when she arrived, all ready to submit to whatever regimen lay in wait, was that she didn’t belong there.
“You don’t belong here,” he said. “I’ve met people who want to kill themselves. It’s quite frightening. You don’t want to kill yourself.”
“I never said I wanted to kill myself.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
She was taken aback. What kind of mental health expert was this? She had been referred to him by a colleague who had diagnosed her as bipolar 2 over a year ago. Just because she wasn’t drooling and didn’t have slash marks on her wrists. He made her feel stupid to be there, to be doing something proactive when people suffering depression were supposed to take initiative. However, about one hour after their interview, Dana began to suspect that the Teutonic twit was right. It was when the intake nurses confiscated her shoelaces, scarf and even her gym pants, the implication being that she might try to strangle herself with a pair of pink sweats. It dawned that a psych house was more like
prison than rehab.
That first night she laid on her back in the cold room with the thin mattress and had the sinking feeling that she had made a terrible mistake. Blithely submitting to a stint of suffering. What a fool! Five days under a microscope! She was depressed but not that depressed. She demanded to speak to someone in charge. But it was the middle of the night and there was no one. After a lot of screaming at indifferent orderlies behind glass barriers she slouched back to bed, the double dose of diazepam kicked in and she slept
soundly until sunrise.
The days began early, with breakfast served at six a.m. Then Grooming Class, a supervised pampering session in the arts and crafts workshop with everyone clutching a small mirror while charge nurses doled out travel-sized toiletries. (Potentially dangerous items, like nail cutters, were on a short leash). At ten a.m. there was a fifteen-minute recess during which Dana could either go back to her room to mope or try telephoning someone on the oft-occupied house line (no cell phones permitted). Then it was the first of three group sessions in which everyone was encouraged to share their deepest
Afternoons were devoted to rather involved outdoor group activities like orienteering. The facility was in the middle of nowhere and emphasized recovery through nature. On the first excursion Dana lost her way and was miserable. The second day she learned how to read a map and on Day 3 she found her way out of a forest which was highly
Time passed pleasantly enough and by day four Dana was relaxed and settled in. The people were friendly and more normal than she expected after her unpleasant acclimation. There wasn’t anyone licking the window or running around naked. Some poor souls were there for electro shock but they were in a different wing and kept to themselves. In a way it was better than a hotel. Someone brought her a sedative or an upper or sometimes both every two hours, with each dose in a tiny paper cup on a tray beside a Styrofoam of cool water. She watched bad TV at night and read books. There wasn’t anyone telling her to restock shelves. No Facebook with envious posts from people with better lives. She felt at peace.
The upshot was Dana had grown fond of Expedition House by the time Dr. Hertzig crept up on her for the fifth morning in a row and had decided to extend her stay. She knew that the kraut would be hostile, waited for him to speak first.
“Morning Dana. Ready to rejoin the land of the living?”
“Hello, Doctor Hertzig. Actually, I wanted to have a word with you about that.”
“I know what you’re going to say.”
Dana bit her tongue and smiled. “Oh?”
“Your insurance covers five days, Dana. After that the rates here soar and so will your payment portion. There’s no need to stay. I have your medicine right here.” He held up a white paper bag. “Lexapro 60 milligrams, Abilify 5 milligrams, Diazepam 10 and your, uh, what’s this? Oh, contraceptive.”
Dana felt her cheeks flush. “I don’t want to leave. I’m just getting used to the place.”
“You’re not supposed to get used to it. Therapy continues. A short stay here is intended to supplement healing. You have to live in the world to fully recover. This is too hermetic. You’re essentially on the sidelines here and we both know that you are more than capable of handling life outside of a psychiatric unit.”
Dana exhaled wearily, reached for the bag of goodies which he kept hold of.
“You have to sign for it.” He proffered a sheaf of forms on a clipboard which she proceeded to go through and autograph, one by one while Hertzig flicked his beady eyes around the bare concrete walls, spying a stack of self-help pamphlets in Dana’s open bag — Addictive Relationships, Experiencing and Expressing Emotion, Loneliness, Assertiveness, Suicide Prevention. He looked away and focused on the attractive woman in front of him, her delicate bones and features. Her young slender body. Dana Barnes was an attractive girl of twenty-six with soft brown eyes and strawberry locks that
lightly brushed her shoulders. She was about five-foot five and was blessed
with a luminous aura.
“So does this mean I’m cured, Doc?”
“We don’t like to use that word. You still have a lot of work to do. But right now going home will do a lot more for you than intense round the clock therapy.”
“I’m not going home. I’m going to my sister’s husband’s place. A farm or something like that. In Oklahoma.”
“Best of luck.”
Dana felt undignified as she lugged her bags down the buffed, antiseptic corridor, having been buzzed through three doors already. She made it to the main entrance to see that the sky outside was black and it was pelting with rain. She peered out at the lot and anxiously scanned the cars, searching for someone who wasn’t there.
“Dana!” The sound of her name made her jump.
A silver haired woman in pajamas came staggering over, shaking a bony hand.
“Dana! Are you leaving without saying goodbye?”
Dana forced a smile. It was Joanie. Crazy Joanie. Long suffering Joanie.
“Hello, Joan. How are you today?”
“I’m still thinking about that story you read to me last night. Did you really write it all yourself? It gave me nightmares.”
Dana reacted. Joan was suddenly her best friend. “Really?”
“You have a gift. Your descriptions are so vivid, so real.”
A horn toot interrupted. Dana turned to see a black, beat-up Honda Civic pull up out front.
“That’s my ride, Joan. Thanks for everything. It was so nice to meet you.”
The disheveled woman regarded Dana with a haunted expression and held her arm in a tight grip. “Are you ready, dear? I know you went through some tough times.”
“I’m fine,” said Dana, trying to politely extract her limb.
“Take my advice, throw the pills away, fall in love and have a baby. I wish I had done that.”
The Honda honked again.
Joan released her.
Dana smiled awkwardly, gave the senior a quick peck on the cheek and fled through the entrance doors into the downpour, trying to shake the memory from group on day two when Joan shared that as a child her parents kept her locked in a cage and fed her dog
Joan watched Dana clamber into the Civic and squinted her eyes to get a gander at the driver but couldn’t see through the wet glass and the sheets of rain. She watched as the dark car circled the lot, wipers swishing, sloshed down the long drive of the grim building and stopped at the exit. The driver’s window rolled down and an arm extended with a ticket for the attendant. A few seconds later the barrier hoisted up and the Honda passed through and merged into traffic.
Dazzling sunshine roasted the Honda as it zipped down a freeway. Seen from the sky, the moving vehicle was a dot amongst millions coursing through the arteries that divided the Great Plains. By sundown, it was off the main strips and exploring stretches of empty road stretching to the horizon, venturing further into unmarked territory. The car radio crackled with the sound of proselytizing religious voices. “Babylon is fallen, fallen,” declaimed a sermonizing preacher.
A determined wind stirred up with the onset of dusk. Soon it was gusting and wild eddies were sending swirls of gravel-strewn dust hammering at the car. Visibility was almost zero as clumps of grit bombarded the headlights. The Honda crawled through a filthy haze, about to halt on the shoulder when wavy, spectral swaths of red, white and blue appeared intermittently amid the blanket of roaring debris, just a little further ahead. The strange, flashing colors coalesced into the malfunctioning neon shingle of a cheap roadside motel:
COLOR CABLE TV
DIRECT DIAL PHONES
The Honda sputtered to a stop under the lurid sign which buzzed on and off as it short-circuited, crackling and zapping gratingly like a giant fly zapper.
Dana dashed to the porch of the motel office, guided through the storm by the car’s high beams. She paused on the deck before the darkened door. There were no lights on inside the office. She tried the door, found it open, entered the building.
The place was deserted. Dana rang the front desk bell and waited, noticing in the shadows a glass display case of dead moths mounted on a wall. She suddenly felt uneasy and gasped upon turning to face a big, unkempt man standing there.
His name was Earl Hicks, an unshaven, fiftyish good ol’ boy in paint-splotched dungarees, chewing tobacco. He smiled crookedly at his comely young guest.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” he said with a provincial twang.
Dana regained her composure. “Do you have any vacancies?”
Earl shook his head. “Sorry to disappoint you miss and in the middle of this weather too. Apple’s got a convention in town, they booked every room.”
Earl leered, revealing sharp little teeth, stained brown and yellow.
“Just kidding,” he said with relish, cracking himself up. “I got ten vacancies.”
He sauntered to the front desk while Dana turned and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the idling Honda. Curious, Earl paused and followed Dana’s gaze to the parking lot but was blinded by the stabbing strobes of the car’s bulbs. He shrugged, muttered “Apple convention!” to himself as he reached for the keys to Cabin 13. “Here we are, my favorite cabin. 13. Are you superstitious, Miss?”
Dana furrowed her brow. His favorite cabin? She saw his grubby hands pawing the cabin keys and a million bad movies unspooled in her mind.
“My name’s Earl by the way. Earl Hicks.” His tongue slid across the crack in his lips.
“I’d prefer Cabin 1, Earl. Closer to my boyfriend’s car.”
Earl paused, grabbed the dangling key for Cabin 1 and slammed open the register.
“I’ll need a credit card. In case you’re thinking of making a fast getaway.”
It was around midnight. The weather had calmed. The front office of The Motel Americana glowed like a beacon in the night, its garish windows seducing the usual squadrons of suicidal lepidoptera, scads of which came fluttering from the shadows and collided into the glass.
Earl was plunked behind the counter before a bell jar that held a female Dun Skipper and a ball of cotton soaked in acetone. Beside the jar lay forceps, a pinning block, pins, glue and a specimen holder. The white-spotted monster was asphyxiating, vibrating its furry wings against the glass dome of its prison, its long, coiled tongue stretched in paralysis as it sucked helplessly for air.
When the insect stopped flopping, Earl unzipped a pouch, extracted a fine hypodermic syringe and drew back the plunger, squirting a thin spray of liquid over the counter. He went to raise the glass dome when the sound of shouting from across the forecourt made him pause. He looked out to see the lights still blazing in Cabin 1, illuminating the dust-carpeted Honda parked before it.
In the stillness, a female voice could be clearly made out. “You wanted to come with me!” screamed the woman. Earl pricked his ears. “I’m supposed to be convalescing,” came the shrill voice again. “Not arguing!” A door slammed.
Earl strained to listen. It was quiet, save for the dull thuds of moths hammering the pane. He eyeballed the clock which showed 12:04 a.m., raised the glass dome and stabbed the expired insect’s thorax with liquid preservative.
Inside Cabin 1, ceiling fans turned slowly, fighting a losing battle. Dana peeled off her sticky Gap shirt and stripped down to underwear. Annoyed, she went to the broken AC unit and fiddled with it, punched the dial. Her fist caught a sharp edge and she winced. Sucking knuckles, Dana rummaged her bags until she found a Coke, cracked it and took a big thirsty swig. She gagged on the boiling beverage. Hot soda streamed from her mouth into a potted plant.
From the bathroom came a squeak followed by the sound of water hitting cheap plastic.
Dana scowled in the sound’s general direction and kicked back on the bed with one of her self-help books, affecting an air of indifference, but every now and then staring daggers at the bathroom where a thin strip of light burned at the base of the door. The TV was on with no volume. Dana found the remote and turned the sound up. News footage showed men wearing dust masks kneeling in prayer.
“...the River Saline set a new record-low for June. These farmers in North Peperell have crowded into their school gym to pray for rain...”
A plaintive yowl echoed from the corner of the room. It was Alice, a short-haired ginger American Bobtail that resembled a tiny tiger, waking up from a nap in her latched travel basket which was compact and resembled a handbag.
Dana fed her little friend a snack. There was another squeak from next door and the water stopped cascading. Dana tensed and braced herself for confrontation.
The morning sun was a massive fireball in the sky. A lone hawk circled The Motel Americana which was situated on a quiet road with no other buildings nearby and surrounded by lumpy brown farmland bisected by a curling band of dead river.
Hot sunlight glared into Cabin 1 revealing Dana dozing atop the sheets, clad in a thin cotton slip and a guy’s boxer shorts. She stirred, felt for someone next to her, heard the shower running and stretched her eyes at the clock: 7:00 a.m. Her feline alarm howled.
“All right, all right, I’m getting up,” Dana told the hungry animal which was furiously scratching the padded walls of its basket.
Dana caught sight of her raw face in the mirror. Last night’s sweaty dreams surfaced. She struggled to remember the details but could only recall running through a thorny forest. What was that about? Probably residual anxiety from the dust-storm. She shrugged it off and started to organize breakfast for Alice.
She found a snack bag. “Whoa,” she said upon seeing Alice’s protruding talons. “Someone needs a manicure. Or is it pedicure? Pedicure. Cats don’t have hands!”
Alice purred contentedly as she munched on dried treats.
Dana hit the floor and did some sit-ups. Her abdomen had impressive definition and she dashed off a dozen rapid rips without any visible sign of exertion.
“Did you go running?” she cried out to the bathroom, hoping to be heard over the downpour.
There was no response. She got up and rapped gently on the flimsy door. Silence. The door was unlocked. She gently turned the handle and pushed. “Good morning!”
The bathroom was hot and damp. Jeans, a belt and socks sprawled on the floor. A dog-eared Maxim tossed on the little foot mat. There was a vague shadow lurking behind the opaque curtain.
“Come on, this isn’t funny.”
Dana went stiff, swallowed, reached tentatively for the plastic and yanked it aside to reveal a soaked bathrobe draped over the shower head.
“What is going on?” she said, unnerved, turning off the water before going to the window and looking outside, fixing her perspective on the smutty Honda.
“He must have gone running,” she said.
Alice yawned, baring her fangs. Dana searched about for something, lifted clothes off the floor and then stopped, frozen in dismay. “Oh, no. Did I do that?”
Her cell phone had been stomped on and smashed. There was no response from the on button, it was completely dead. Dana picked up the room phone and dialed.
Dana sagged, spoke tersely into the phone. “Hey, Marathon Man, I’m going downstairs for breakfast. By myself. My phone’s thrashed, call me at the motel or just show up.” She hung up in frustration, quickly threw some clothes on.
The small diner annexed to the side of the motel was filled with retirees in cheap clothes eating strange food like grits and chicken fried steak. One by one they looked up at the stranger anxiously searching their faces. A voice with a laid-back country drawl startled Dana as she eyed the room. “How y’all doin’?”
She turned to face the waitress, a blowzy woman in her fifties, trying to look much younger, her small pained eyes half lost behind a heavy cake of powder. “All by your lonesome?”
Dana nodded. The waitress steered her to an empty booth, making chitchat. “You from L.A.?”
“How can you tell?”
The waitress smiled politely and left Dana alone with a big plastic menu to hide behind.
An hour later, Dana was still by herself. She slapped cash down and stepped outside into the heavy heat. It wasn’t nine yet and already the air was stagnant. She crossed the forecourt to the front office. Hoping for the welcome relief of air conditioning she got the warm current of a weak electric fan instead, rattling from its perch on the front desk as it recirculated hot air.
Dana dropped two quarters into the pay-phone and dialed. The same recording played back to her: “It’s Tyler. Leave a message if you know me.”
She slammed the receiver down.
Earl looked up from behind a magazine and watched her step outside.
Dana ventured to the road and snapped her eyes about the wavering pancake-flat topography. High in the sky, the hawk circled with a twisting rattlesnake in its grasp, heading toward a distant ridge of snow-capped sierras. Dana leapt with fright, heart in mouth, when an 18-wheeler thundered past, horn blaring. She paused a moment and recovered, took a deep breath and strode back to the front office.
Earl was reading June’s Guns & Ammo, swigging a long neck soda when Dana barged in, all tense and blustery.
“Excuse-me,” she said.
He looked up at her and raised his eyebrows.
“Morning. My, uh, boyfriend went jogging and I think he must’ve stopped somewhere. Is there a Coffee Bean or something like that nearby?”
Earl stared back blankly. “A what?”
“Somewhere else around here that serves breakfast.”
Earl sighed heavily, picked up the phone and dialed a local number from memory. The other-end ringing tones went on forever, repeatedly, annoyingly, until eventually someone picked up. Earl smiled and spoke softly into the phone.
“Hello, Mable? Earl over at The Motel Americana. How’s the roadside diner business?”
He listened. “Really? No shit. Say, any outta towners stop by this morning?”
He listened for a while, his face impossible to read.
Dana’s stomach did somersaults.
“Yep, not local,” he said into the phone before listening again.
Dana felt her knees buckle, tried to maintain a grip as she waited for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, Earl cracked a ghastly smile and spoke. “OK, petal. You too.” He hung up the receiver, chuckling, returned to his periodical.
Dana was fit to explode.
“What did she say?”
“Oh. She said no one’s come in this morning.”
Dana ran a hand through her hair. “Is there a gym in the motel?”
“Oh, sure. Next door to the Pilates studio.” He cracked himself up.
Dana trembled. “This doesn’t make sense. Where is he? Something’s wrong. We need to call the police!”
“Now, now, young lady. Hold on a moment. I’m sure everything’s...”
He trailed off, his eyes locked on the window. Dana turned to see what he was so fascinated by outside: A police wagon. Two cops getting out. All the color drained from her face.
Sheriff Daniel Fisher, 60, still in great shape, emerged with Deputy Pamela Reese, 35, his whip-smart right hand. They passed a pickup which had a huge pig tethered in the back. The porker squealed at them, sharply and gratingly. Fisher recoiled. “Remind me again why I do this job?”
“Money, power,” said Reese.
Earl waved to them from inside.
“… meeting interesting people.”
Fisher looked at her and smiled. They liked each other.
The two law officers entered Earl’s pokey world, bringing a blast of hot air with them. Both immediately felt the tense atmosphere. “Who died?” asked Fisher.
Dana’s lip quivered.
“What’s going on Sheriff?” said Earl.
“Milk rig lost an axle on the 10 early this morning. I got thirsty sheep backing traffic up all the way to Peperell. Need a bite to eat, been up since four.”
Reese headed to the cafe. Earl relaxed. Dana was alone again in her anguish. Sheriff Fisher leaned on the counter and flipped through a local newspaper. “How’s business, Earl?”
“Booming, Sheriff. At this rate I’ll retire in 2046.”
Dana looked at Fisher like she wanted to say something.
“Something wrong, Miss?” asked the policeman.
Dana hesitated and then blurted it out. “My boyfriend’s missing.”
Dana nodded. Fisher looked at her and then at Earl who shrugged.
“Since when exactly?”
“This morning. I know how that sounds, but there’s really nowhere he could be. His car, wallet and clothes are all here. Please, we have to do something!”
“Now, miss, calm down,” said Fisher. “When exactly did you last see him?”
“We got in last night, around eleven. During the dust storm. Went to bed just after midnight. When I woke up he was gone.”
“Do you live in town?”
“My sister has a place just outside Rockingham. We were on our way to see her.”
Earl piped up like he just remembered something. “That wouldn’t have been you and your ‘missing’ boyfriend I heard arguing last night would it?”
“No,” said Dana. “I mean, well, we may have had a slight quarrel.”
“Is it possible your man was upset and went somewhere to cool off?” asked Fisher.
“Where would he have gone?”
“He’s probably sitting at a bus station somewhere feeling stupid. Thumbin’ a ride, who knows what.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Wait,” said Fisher. “Be patient. Give him a chance to come to his senses.”
Reese appeared laden with breakfast items.
Fisher handed Dana his card. “Give us a call if you don’t hear from him in seventy-two hours and want to file a missing person’s report.”
“Can’t you, I don’t know, put out an APB, alert police in the area?”
“I’ll let our state trooper know. That’s the only other police there is.”
Fisher tipped his hat at Dana, gave her a sympathetic look.
Dana watched them go. “Tyler, where are you?” she muttered.
Earl swilled his soda and peered at her, contemplating the distraught girl with the same pitiless eyes with which he beheld the suffocating Dun Skipper.
The only sound in the cabin was the rhythmic whir of the ceiling fan. Dana was pacing, smoking, occasionally stopping at the window, glancing out, pacing again. The ashtray next to her was full.
Alice mewled from inside her travel pouch.
Dana ignored her, sat down and absently flipped the pages of a local guide book left as a courtesy on the table. Black and white prints told the story of the area’s early beginnings. There were images of the first settlers dealing with hardships, the elements, Native Americans, starvation...
She shut the book and tried dialing Tyler again.
“The subscriber you are contacting is no longer in service.”
She listened in disbelief. “No longer in service?” Fighting tears, she made a decision, quickly gathered Tyler’s belongings into a suitcase and exited with Alice.
Earl watched from the front office as Dana got into the Honda and peeled out in a cloud of dust. A shadow spilled across his face, robbing him of his rustic affability and lending his features a wolfish, predatory edge.
Dana cruised down a deserted highway, searching for signs of life. Nothing but sagebrush and sand for miles. She reached for a cigarette to find she was out, cursed under her breath. Alice clawed at her scratch pad, further grating her nerves. Ahead, a human-shaped object started to come into view, standing on the road about two hundred yards away, shimmering like a vision in the heat.
Dana’s heart pounded. It was him. She swallowed, suddenly dry-mouthed, her entrails tightening as she anticipated the confrontation to come. She steeled herself and continued on, wondering whether to toot her horn or just stop. She got closer but he still didn’t acknowledge her presence. She pulled up alongside and craned her neck to face him. It wasn’t Tyler. It wasn’t even a person. It was a double-armed cactus growing on the side of the road.
Dana slammed the accelerator and sped on down the plunging highway. The ribbon of tarmac seemed to go on endlessly without any signposts or vehicles anywhere.
Then she saw something else. Just a blur, but it was clearly a man. He was moving, walking at a clipped pace. Dana strained her eyes, squinting in the harsh sunlight. She pressed down flat on the accelerator and then eased up. The person ahead became...
She cried out, joyous. He was facing forward, thumb held out hopefully to the road. A desolate figure in the sunshine.
She exhaled with relief. Her calm was fleeting as a new kind of anxiety gripped her. She must have really pissed him off for him to abandon her on foot. A finger of sharp light stabbed her eye. She looked away, momentarily blinded. Tyler continued walking into the molten sky. Dana slowed, just a few yards from him now. He turned to face her. She
A new angle revealed that it wasn’t Tyler but a hideous scarecrow blown to life by the bone-dry wind. Dana bit her trembling lip. “I am officially losing it.”
Alice stopped scratching and yowled in agreement.
Q & A with Damian about Solstice and writing
What inspired you to write this novella?
I liked the idea of doing a missing person story without seeing the missing person and eventually coming to question if the person is in fact real. From this initial twist I built a story. So the idea inspired me.
How long did it take you to write this novella?
Off and on several years, but that was because it was once a movie script for a movie that never got made.
How many times did you go back and edit this chapter (or this whole novella)?
First, it was an outline, then a screenplay, then a short story and, eventually, a novella, so many, many times over several years. Frankly, it could do with another edit!
What advice can you give on how to handle switching perspectives? Say, seeing things from one character's eyes, then switching to another?
Be careful not to confuse the reader, first of all, and if you have asked them to invest time in one character, don’t be abrupt and ask them to care about someone new suddenly – it is asking a lot.
However, if the different POVs are well integrated, compelling and can somehow keep the rhythm alive without being disruptive (one POV makes for a smoother read), then go for it. When starting out as a writer, it’s probably best to stick with one POV. Then, once you have mastered this, branch out into stories with multiple viewpoints. Keep the POV switches to a minimum and maintain one consistent POV that anchors the reader and the story.
How do you deal with criticism to your writing?
There are different types of criticism, but generally I listen to it closely, discard what I consider unhelpful, and use the rest.
Often, there is something valuable. For example, more than one reviewer pointed out that I used plastics in a novel set in 1940. I deleted the anachronistic references in my
book and never received a bad review based on this point again.
The way I see it, for some bad reviews, I received some valuable free editing. Sometimes with negative reviews, there is no criticism, just a general rant about how much the book sucked – this is just meaningless blather and I have learned to ignore it and put it down to people just being people. I sound very Zen, but a lot of the time cruel criticism, of which there is plenty in the arts, can preoccupy my mind and upset me, feeding on my insecurities and making me question all the good reviews I have received.
But I can honestly say that as time goes on, I have become thicker-skinned and better at recognizing a genuine response to an engagement with something I have written vs. someone petty with an axe to grind.
The biggest sin is to dwell meaninglessly on criticism and, thus, waste time and let it creep into your soul and hamper your confidence. You need to feel confident when you write because it’s so hard and too easy to quit. If I ever get too down, I read the bad reviews of great books that I love and maybe peruse my oft perused good notices.
Is it difficult to write such depressing material?
Depressing material would be very hard for me, but I didn’t find anything depressing about the book. The story is dark, but it doesn’t make me sad because it’s ultimately the tale of a girl triumphing over her neuroses, throwing the anti-depressants away and finally getting on with her life. I think all stories should be positive on some level, and I certainly don’t set out to write something that might bring anyone down.
Do you relate to any of the characters in the story?
I relate to the main character. Every time she felt alone, afraid, elated and thrilled, I was putting my own emotions into the character. Also, I was once imprisoned by a cult and nearly sacrificed (joke).