I can’t believe it’s already July. Old Flames was due out months ago, and the fact that it’s sitting there on my computer with no words written since mid-May is very distressing to me.
The truth is, 2020 has just proven to be too much for me. During the first couple months of the pandemic, I felt like I was still doing okay, but eventually the stress and isolation together wound up doing a good deal of damage to my mental health. People keep talking about “our new normal,” but my body and mind have been unable to accept the turmoil of this year as normal. Even though I’ve done my best to create a buffer between myself and the news, even in my own home, nothing is normal. I live in a multi-generational household, and even though our county is in Phase 2 of our state’s reopening, no one in my home has been able to go back to work yet. I am burned out of everyone being here, and even though I can at least see my friends again, for one reason or another I keep finding myself stuck here at home, isolated in some regards and surrounded by way too many people in other regards. The necessity for members of my household who previously worked in offices to now work from home has cut into my own workspace. Everything is a mess, it’s cluttered, it’s noisy; and as a result, my mind is a mess, it’s cluttered, and it’s noisy.
Additionally, there are aspects of Old Flames that did not seem like a big deal in the original development of the story that have been hitting far too close to home. The story hinges on a forest fire. That can’t be changed; I built it into the plot of Alexandra’s Riddle, and it’s even built into the title of the book itself. The fire is too integral to the plot to be removed at this point. Unfortunately, there are elements of the plot that are way too similar to the news for comfort. For one thing, as anyone who has lived in an area affected by wildfires knows, when there’s a fire burning, you have to wear a mask outside. Masks have not only become an integral part of our “new normal,” they’ve also become a highly politicized one. Now every time I write someone putting on or taking off their mask in the book, I feel like I’m making a political statement. Likewise, writing about community events being canceled while all the community events I like to do every year were canceled one by one, or writing about people anxiously watching the news, or myriad other small things that wouldn’t hold any especial meaning any other year that suddenly are way too real. These are just some reminders among many sprinkled throughout this story about a community in crisis that my own community is in crisis. I write for escapism, but this book has not been letting me escape. Instead, it’s been reminding me of everything that my mind so desperately needs to escape.
All of this compounded led to me just hitting a wall with only a few chapters left in the book. I was at the stage where, ordinarily, I get excited to be reaching the climax of the story, where the action is picking up and where I can taste the ending and know that I’ve almost reached the finish line.
And instead, I felt no excitement at all. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to write another word. So I put it aside, figuring I’d be back to it in a few days. Instead, it’s been two months, and I’ve made no progress.
I don’t know what this means for the book. I don’t want to give up on it, but I honestly don’t know how long it will be before it’s finished. I have written six novels across two pen names and I have never had trouble with a book the way I have with this one. I hit a wall with it last year and wound up having to majorly doctor the plot to get it moving again, but I had only written two chapters when that happened. Now I’ve written seventeen chapters across a hundred and fifty pages. My beta readers see no issues with the plot, nothing structural that would cause a problem like this. It’s just… me.
I am going to try a few more things to get it moving again. I’ve tried switching to writing a different book instead, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything else, either. I just want it to be done. I don’t think I’ll be able to focus on anything else until it is.