Nancy Means Wright is the author of fifteen books, including seven mystery novels (St. Martin's Press; Perseverance Press), and two kids' mysteries (Hilliard&Harris) for which she won an Agatha and Agatha nomination. Short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books' anthologies, American Literary Review, & elsewhere. She lives in Vermont with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats, who love to pull her hair as she writes.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW: DIARY OF A WOUNDED WRITER
by Nancy Means Wright
So the spring-summer-fall Campaign is over, and despite a little blood loss, I’m alive. No, I wasn’t running for office: I was just trying to launch a novel.
January 13, 2010: I’m driving into the Vermont Book Shop to leave a pile of folders depicting the cover of Midnight Fires, the first in a new mystery series with fiery 18th-century rebel Mary Wollstonecraft, en route to an Irish castle to be a lowly governess. The bookseller knows me (it’s my 15th book); he promises they’ll order lots of copies. Everything off to a great start—till I drive off in my old Subaru—and *#+**!! Something hit me! Not a book, no, it’s a Jeep Cherokee with a grinning guy behind the wheel. Unlucky start, but I’m an optimist. I hand the cop a flyer of my book, and hitch a ride in his cop car to the hospital Emergency—to quell my drumming heart.
February 15: Publishers Weekly calls the book captivating; enthusiastic reviews follow. My car is in the repair shop and I owe the hospital $1300. I’d switched insurance via phone, never got the medical part, but never mind, I’m on a high!
March 1: I’m running late into Town Meeting at the local school; and ahhh! my boots glue to the thin carpet; a cement floor rises up to hit me in the face—I’m back in Emergency with bruises, cuts, and a broken right arm. “I’ve a March blog tour,” I plead, “a book out in April. Fix it, please?” The bone doctor schedules surgery. Oh, the slings and arrows of misfortune!
March 5: Home from hospital with pins in my right arm; a killer dose of Vicodin. My skin swells; my right hand is a big rubber ball; my left fumbles at the keyboard. In the mail: ARCs from my editor to autograph for the Malice auction. (Who signed those? My Maine Coon cat?)
March 14: The left handed blogs go forward. My therapist scolds: “Use that arm!” Google cries, “Wrong password!” when I try to respond to a blog comment.
March 30: My doctor proscribes Metoprolol for my rising blood pressure; Temazepam for a healing sleep. (Palpitations, they warn. Staggering. Memory loss. Can be fatal.)
April 5: The book is out! I breathe in the warm papery smell. On the cover: Wollstonecraft, her feckless lovers forgotten—happy and pregnant at 38, just months from giving birth to Mary Shelley. 18 years from the birth of Frankenstein, but the mother will never read it. She’s soon dead of blood poisoning—the doctor pulled out the placenta in a dozen pieces but neglected to wash his hands.
April 13: My car’s fixed, but I can’t drive it. My spouse drives me and 25 copies of Midnight Fires to Belmont, Ma for a SinC-NE panel, a first for the new book. We check into a motel; to relax, I swallow an extra tab of Metoprolol. I feel great! I greet fellow panelists, a roomful of listeners. Start up to the table and—my legs give out. I can talk but I can’t stand! The librarian calls 911 and the whole room watches as I’m hauled onto a stretcher. All night long the hospital runs tests, sucks up my blood like a vampire. At dawn a nun wants to pray over me. I surrender—it can’t hurt. The prognosis: nothing more than a Metoprolol overdose (and a pending $2000 bill).
April – May: Pub date comes and goes. I’m a madwoman: Facebook, Goodreads, MMA, MWA, Dorothy L, CrimethruTime. Bookstores, libraries…. But I’m sweating, palpitating—trying to get off the Metoprolol. I’ve insomnia: I double the sleeping pills. Can’t quit—I’m addicted! My legs are logs; I stagger, my head’s a drumroll. Malice Domestic coming up but I cancel the flight: lose airfare, registration, courage, confidence. Who’s ever going to buy my book?
May 12: My insurance says the school where I fell is liable, but the school denies the claim. Will I have to sell my computer? Remortgage my house?
May 14: A thousand color postcards arrive from my publisher! There’s Mary inside a frame of fire, still penning a novel, months away from her death-by-childbirth. I hire a grandchild to address them to bookstores, libraries, book clubs, fans. Her crabbed handwriting slants up, down, and off the card, but I give her a hug. I’m off the meds!
June, and my right hand improves (though the skin has darkened from surgery); I can reach high with my practice pulleys; my therapist waves goodbye. But I can drive!
July 24: Three hours through teeming rain to teach a workshop at a writers’ con. I made it, hurrah! The book is still selling. I’m revising The Nightmare, a Wollstonecraft sequel, due out fall of ’11.
October 13: Vermont trees are on fire in leafy red and orange, but I’m off to San Francisco for Bouchercon. I meet my editor and publishers, joy! Like the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m in a happy fog. Then Crime Bake in Boston, yay! And suddenly it’s
November, and to resolve the liability snafu, my lawyer hands over the problem to Senator Patrick Leahy; his caseworker scares my insurance company into submission. Sure, I’ve spent ten times my book advance and I still owe the hospital, but I have my computer. My fingers are songbirds on the keyboard. The house is mine. My darling man is sticking with me.
December: The new cover arrives, with Henry Fuseli’s gorgeous erotic painting “The Nightmare”: a sleeping woman in a diaphanous nightie, a grinning demon on her breast; a mare’s head, leering… I know that nightmare well, I’ve just lived it. I think of author Pat Wynn who wrote that good historical fiction makes you wonder “where truth ends and fiction begins.” Or vice versa?
Who really knows? Not even impassioned Wollstonecraft (who tried to move in with Fuseli and wife in a ménage à trois and was shown the door)—could tell you that.
So here’s to the New Year…2011. Onward and (por favor) UPWARD!
Nancy Means Wright
“Becoming Mary Wollstonecraft” Facebook page