I had to think about this for while, oddly. It felt a little bit like wondering why I walk, or why I breathe—things I don’t have to consciously think about, things I simply do. Writing feels like that to me most of the time, because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing something. (If we didn’t have creative writing assignments in elementary school, I made up my own. Seriously.)
And yet, I don’t wake up every morning ready to explode if I don’t siphon off some of the stories in my head, mostly because they’re not fully formed stories until they’re written. I don’t have a physical need to sit staring at my laptop until my contacts are permanently burned onto my eyes, and my neck is wondering what the hell it ever did to me to be forced into that position for so long. And, believe it or not, I’m not doing it for the money or the fame, either.
It’s taken a while to figure out, but I think I write because it’s my own form of therapy. I write to solve problems, or to figure out how I feel about things when the tangle of emotions is too ridiculously knotted to pick apart any other way. Granted, I probably have at least a basic need to tell stories, and to clean out some of the ideas rattling around in my head, but the heart of it is not that simple.
Curiosity is what always gets me going first. Take Cold Kiss. First, mostly goofing around, I wanted to see if I could write a book about a zombie. But the longer I thought about it, the less I wanted a protagonist who was brain-hungry and decomposing. So that meant voodoo zombies, which are raised purposefully (and usually as, more or less, a slave).
Then the question became, who would raise someone from the dead? And why, for god’s sake? Thus Wren Darby—frantically, epically grieving the death of her first boyfriend—was born.
But it wasn’t until the book was finished—and by finished I mean, revised, revised again, copyedited, and actually printed—that I really understood what I had written about it. And it wasn’t—surprise, surprise—zombies. It was about grief, and the threat of loss, and how you cope when someone you love dies. Seems sort of obvious, right? But writing the book wasn’t just a process of getting Wren to figure that out—it was me, too, dealing with my own complicated emotions about my mom, who has been chronically ill most of my life, and near death a few too many times for comfort.
I wrote a book called Pictures of Us for Harlequin a few years ago, and realized that the same thing had happened. It’s a book about a married couple dealing with a shocking revelation, and I had originally scribbled down the idea and the first bits of it years and years ago—when I was pretty newly married. Now, there were no shocking revelations in my marriage—yay!—but when I finally had the chance to write the book, I discovered a lot of fears I had clearly been burying about marrying really young (I was twenty-one) and what marriage was supposed to mean. (Everyone got a happy ending, for the record, including me.)
See? Problem solving. Or, you know, do-it-yourself therapy. At some point, my brain decided to turn my love of writing into a multitasking process, I guess. And I’m totally okay with that. It makes wondering what my initial story ideas are really about a whole lot more interesting, anyway.