As I look back across the past decade, I find so many different ways to measure it; progressing from teenage breakdowns to the difficulties of adulthood, beginning my true battle with anxiety, surviving moves out of my childhood home and to three different ones while facing familial breakdown, my first boyfriend and breakup, and falling in love with and marrying the man of my dreams.
But as the days move on into the flow of 2020, I find myself measuring the years not by the experiences so much as by the stories I told.
November 2010. I'm 17 years old, and my best friend (and unbeknownst to me, future SIL) convinces me to do something called "NaNoWriMo". Bored and blocked - and not taking writing very seriously at the time - I decide, why not? What emerges from "why not" is a steampunk novel called Free Skies, a broken, absurd little book about childhood friends, big dreams, and betrayal. That book will (thankfully) never see the light of day.
But the important thing was what awakened at that time: my love for the breakneck craziness of NaNoWriMo sparked within me a newfound seriousness about writing.
Like...hey. I want to write seriously.
And it turns out, I can.
2011. My world falls apart. I experience my first broken heart, have my first panic attack, my dad loses his job, we leave the house I spent most of my childhood in and move an hour south to where I have just two friends - leaving behind the life I loved and knew. But through it all there is one beacon, one place I retreat to because for the first time in God knows how long, I've found a distraction that sets my soul on fire. Something that starts to narrow my focus on the kind of stories I love, that I want to tell.
This something is called Supernatural. I'm watching this show constantly and oh boy am I writing some serious fanfiction for it (yes, it's still out there, and no, I won't say where! ;D). I begin to see stories as not just fun, but an escape. An escape from life that's starting to look a lot grimmer.
2012. A year that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I fall out of love with Supernatural and take a brief spin through the land of superheroes thanks to Smallville, but I can feel that something is missing. I bang out two contemporary novels that fall flat, then try my hand at writing a superhero book that fails miserably. Halfway through NaNoWriMo and giving up on Hybrid Heroes, I'm at my best friend's house for Thanksgiving and I have this crazy dream about kissing my crush - my future husband - and I think, "Wow, good thing he can't see what I'm dreaming!"
The next day, with the combination of coffee, the inspiration of Jack Frost ala Rise of the Guardians, a challenge from my friend and the memory of a dream, I write the first words of a new, utterly unplanned novel: "It began when he broke the glass."
This, my friends. This is the book that changes everything.
Everywhere I have been and everything I've become as a writer in the last eight years is because of this book. It reawakened in me a love of fantasy that had been somewhat buried over the years while I chased whatever genre my current interests happened to be set in. It taught me that I can worldbuild, and do it well. There was something about that group of broken boys - the Fellows, as my brother and I affectionately refer to them still, led by the dubiously heroic Jax Carsen - that enthralled me like no other cast had before. I cried, genuinely cried, at their hardships, built an enormous playlist for their book, and thought about that book constantly.
Dream Reaper was more than a book to me, really...it felt like coming home.
What I didn't realize until deeper reflection was that it wasn't exactly home - but it was leading me there.
Dream Reaper, you see, was the first of a duology that became a trilogy; and from that trilogy spawned another trilogy, written in 2015, called Heroes of Almeyda. And in that sequel trilogy was born - literally! - a bright-eyed, sword-wielding princess determined to change the stars.
Her name was Cistine.
When I reflect over the past decade, especially since 2012, I see through the stories I told the clear stepping stones to where I stand now. I had to write Dream Reaper so I could write Heroes of Almeyda so I could introduce Cistine; so that I could then try, and fail, to write her story many times over the ensuing years, until finally I got it right with a silver-haired outlaw named Thorne walking onto the scene in 2017, the year I finally realized Cistine's story was not actually part of the Fellows' at all. But had I not sat in that coffee shop in 2012 and written about Jax Carsen and his fellowship in a book that may never be in readers' hands, I would not have paved a road to a world where Cistine existed. A world where I chose my own fate for my characters and set out to share them with the world through publishing.
A world I now get to share with all of you. All because Jax Carsen broke the glass.
How do you measure the years when you look backward and see that every story you told, every character you met, was all leading to the book of your heart? How can there be anything but gratitude when you realize how intricately woven your past is, and anything but excitement when you realize your future is the same?
Eight years from now, when STARCHASER is all published and other stories have been written, what will I see when I look back? When I gaze ahead? What new tales will my experiences lead me to tell?
Friends, I don't know yet, but I am dying to find out. Because in the moment, we never really know if the intriguing, annoying, complex, infuriating, beloved book we're working on is one of those special ones. The ones that shape us. The ones that guide our future. The ones that will define us for the rest of our lives.
So for the past decade, for 2020, for all the years to come - here's to the stories that shape us.
May we never stop telling them.