What a long, and short, strange year it’s been

I’m sitting in front of our blinking Christmas tree as my husband Michael finishes up the last touches on a very Southern New Year dinner. The first few years I lived here in North Carolina, the absolute cultural necessity of certain dishes upon the turn of the year took me somewhat by surprise, let alone their meaning. I remember, early in our relationship, my very no-nonsense husband saying to me at the grocery store, “You know, black eyed peas for luck and collards for money.” Which made about as much sense to me as saying, “You know, bananas for happiness and escargot for giggles.”

I make the ham and the collards. Instead of using brown sugar in the collards, though, I revolt in my Northern, French-Canadian way, and use maple syrup, instead of brown sugar. I also use Martha Stewart’s quick method instead of a long braise, because I think they taste better.

We rang in 2022 last night alone, after our small get-together plans were nixed due to the continued Omicron situation. We watched Tick, Tick… Boom! together, and Andrew Garfield’s performance was stunning. So much of it resonated with me, as a writer, and most especially about moving past those first few failures. Courtesy of Jonathan’s agent in the film:

That’s what it is to be a writer. You just keep throwing them against the wall, and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.

Rosa Stevens – Tick, Tick… Boom!

2021, in my writing life, was a strange mirror to my personal life. It started off very uneven. I had a wonderful time at the Futurescapes Writing Workshop, got great feedback, felt like I was really on top of my game, and finished writing Netherford Hall. But then I had a rejection on that same manuscript that really resulted in one of those dark night of the soul moments as a writer. Queen of None was so well-received. The wind was at my back. But I was just struggling to get through that next hurdle. Maybe it was the pandemic; maybe it was my recent ADHD (official!) diagnosis. I don’t know. Still, I found myself wondering if I was just stuck. Truly, I can’t tell you now what I needed. I can’t tell you why it all hit me like a piano forte to the head. But, I suppose, we all need to hit moments like that.

Then, a few things happened very quickly that changed everything.

When I look back on 2021, I’ll remember

I failed my “official” ADHD assessment in the best way possible. That is, I was “absolutely, conclusively” ADHD (I’d had the psychiatric assessment in 2020, but this was the computer assessment, which would mean I could qualify for the next tier of ADHD meds). It took quite a few months of figuring things out, but I got on the right meds, and things have balanced out a whole lot better in the brain power department (oddly, stimulants calm me down). But medicine is just a tool. More than anything, my diagnosis has helped me advocate for myself and stop blaming myself for things I can’t change.

But it also meant that I case aside all the masking, the pretending to be less than or different than I am. There’s still work to be done, and mourning, too, but there’s healing, as well.

I used to pretend to be less smart. To not know as much about various topics. Because, I encountered, many folks are made uncomfortable by people who know a lot. But I love knowing things. So in February 2021, I started tweeting my research, specifically in historical costuming and fabric culture, which is one of my favorite little hyper-focuses.

And then came #ThreadTalk. This phenomenon grew out of my genuine love of a subject, and has introduced me to some of the coolest people out there. Not people with huge followings or clout–I mean just awesome folks who love what I love: history, fashion, culture, tea. And I, apparently, help people out. Every week people tell me that I’m part of what makes Twitter not suck, or a bright spot in their week. All I’m doing is sharing research, something I kept to myself for years because I was afraid people would think I was too much. Just typing that out now makes me cringe. But I’ve got a lot more planned for 2022!

In between all of that, I found Stacey, my agent. That story is recollected here, but the short of it is: I was just paying attention at the right time on Twitter (again!). Netherford Hall got polished and improved massively with her insights, and now it’s in the queue waiting for the right editor.

In June, I turned 40. And that wasn’t a big deal. At the time, I was a lot more invested in my flowers than anything else. I also had blue hair for a while, which I loved, but was very hard to maintain.

Bee in the garden on my milkweed.

Then in July, I was shocked (and thrilled!) to find I’d won the Manly Wellman Award for Queen of None, that Arthurian novel that just keeps going. It was good timing, too, because I was about halfway through writing its sequel, Queen of Fury. I got to accept the award in person with some of my favorite people present, in that lull between when we were just able to go out in public again.

That’s my award!

Then I got to go to Switzerland! It was for work, but I scheduled some free time where I visited a castle. I cried. My dear friend Olga helped me make every minute of my abroad experience count, and as I was typing away on Queen of Fury, I could see Hwyfar and Gawain walking around the castle. I ate my weight in local mozarella and tomatoes, and got to drive across the Alps. Like what.

Which brings me to Queen of Fury. Yes, the book took me a bit longer to write than expected (apologies to Eric Bosarge, my editor at Vernacular Books), but in my defense, it also turned into a much larger, much more ambitious book. I did the math, and over the 7 active months I was writing it, I still averaged about 20,000 words a month.

And writing Queen of Fury, for me, was my personal highlight. It’s funny, because I remember distinctly, at the end of writing Netherford Hall, feeling as if I’d never feel that way again about a book. But then Queen of Fury ended up being about so much more than I’d planned. I was figuring out a lot of my own stuff as I wrote, exploring themes I’d never explored, and went on a real emotional journey. Sometimes, you don’t. Sometimes writing a book is writing a story. But other times, it’s beyond you. I needed Queen of Fury this year as much as any reader.

Other highlights include an absolutely phenomenal night in Hillsborough, NC, doing a live reading at Yonder’s Noir at the Bar with SA Cosby, Eryk Pruitt, Todd Robinson, Rob Hart, William Davis, Jr, Colin Cutler, and Josh Getzler. It was electric. I missed being with other writers, and talking about writing, and reading my writing… much, much needed.

Yonder does the coolest posters, too.

The last bit of the year has been slower as we worked through Dad’s health struggles. I “failed” NaNoWriMo. But I did start a new book, and I’m working my way through that. I took about three weeks off of writing after November, but I’m writing again. I started reading more, too. I mostly read nonfiction in 2021, so it’s been nice to get into fiction again, and to get totally lost in it.

Oh, I also went through close to 30 lbs of butter during the holiday baking season. No wonder I wasn’t writing much. I spent most of the last month making cookies.

I’m not making any 2022 resolutions other than to write the next one. That’s the same resolution I make every year. I need to be in the forest a bit more. But these are all given, not things left to resolutions.

I revamped the blog. I made some new ThreadTalk swag. I kept writing. My orchids are re-blooming, that constant reminder that although a thing is very difficult to do, it is often worth it. But it’s up to us, individually, to put in the work.

One of my orchids who re-bloomed. Wouldn’t you know, I even accidentally broke off the first stem entirely. But she still grew back. Whew.

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