Yesterday I finished the first full draft of Scribbles of the Empress. I started writing it 1,008 days prior, before Covid was a global pandemic. That’s thirty-three months, many of them devoid of word count because I struggled a lot with my own depression while writing this book. It ended up being 108K words, so longer than The Scribbled Victims, but shorter than Scribbling the Eternal.

I’m not sure if this book means more for me than the others, but it certainly means something different. Many of my own struggles with grief and suicide are expressed openly through Orly in this final installment. There’s a section I discarded where Orly addresses her audience and says:

Earlier I said the war against me must seem anticlimactic. It was. But this wasn’t a war story. It’s a story about mourning and suicide. Perhaps it is even about suicide because of the inability to stop mourning. Late in these pages, I realized this is ultimately what all my pages have been about, ever since Yelena died.

I left those words of Orly’s out because it didn’t fit well with the text around it, but also because it breaks the fourth wall, which was something she did in The Scribbled Victims but I forgot to maintain the convention in Scribbling the Eternal.

I just emailed 72 pages to my beta readers, who have remained committed to this book since its beginning and whose help I am very fortunate to have. I’ll begin my rewrites now, hoping they’ll only take a couple of months, as I rewrite heavily as I go. Then editing and proofing. Then book design, typesetting, and audiobook recording. I’m aiming for an October release.

I hope my readers will love the book and how Orly’s series ends.

IG Post for Ashley
Though I’ve been off social media for 142 days, I made this while writing this month. Maybe I’ll post it to my IG. The words are part of the dedication I’m working on for Ashley Vargas.
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Covid Positive Tests
Covid Positive Tests

I just realized I haven’t posted since the last day of 2021. Between January 1 and 18, I wrote 6,217 new words which was just over my monthly goal of 6,000 words. So, I was having a good month, but then on the 19th, I woke up with a terrible sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and felt exhausted. I tested positive for Covid. I tested twice, because the result on the first antigen test I took appeared faint, but the second test also appeared faint. But since I was symptomatic, I figured they were correct positives. I missed three days of work, then worked from home, tested negative finally on February 1, but continued to work from home until February 7 because my boss didn’t want me coming in until I was symptom free. I stopped writing on January 19 and didn’t begin again until February 1.

Teams Japan and Finland
Teams Japan and Finland

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic hockey. I was rooting for the women’s team from Japan, Smile Japan as they are known, but they were knocked out by Finland who after the game gave hugs to some of the Japanese players who were in tears and the whole thing nearly made me cry. Such is the beauty of the Olympics. Though I expect the US or Canada to win the gold medal, the compassion shown by the Finnish team now makes me hope they get the gold medal instead the bronze they seem to be accustomed to. I have a tendency to root for underdogs. Compassionate underdogs are even better.

Act III Notecards
Act III Notecards

But enough of that. This is my author blog. On Friday, February 11, I netted 1,759 new words and finished Chapter Twenty-Four. This means Act II is complete and I can finally move onward to Act III. Yesterday, I went to a different Starbucks than I usually write at and made notecards to help me nail down the order in which things need to happen from here until the end of the book. Some of it is flexible. I know what needs to happen, but the order isn’t always prescribed. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of notecards I made. The stack was thinner than I anticipated which is a relief because I had been worrying that Act III would be too long and thus possibly boring since it was all denouement. I’m now hoping I’ll have a full draft by the end of March.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. I hope things have been going well for you.

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Today is the last day of 2021 and I just finished writing for the day. I finished my rewrites on Chapter Twenty-One and Twenty-Two. I netted 8,406 words for December. More than usual, but much of that is due to winter break at my day job. Tomorrow, I plan to reread Eighteen through Twenty-Two, and then if satisfied, I’ll send them to my beta readers who haven’t received pages since April 30.

2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge
I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge yesterday, with one day to spare. In 2022, I plan to reduce the number of books because there are some very long books I want to read including In Search of Lost Time.

After I finished Chapter Twenty-Two, I went on to write text that felt like a confession, with Orly telling her readers what she discovered these books are really about. It’s really a confession of ours. I don’t know if it will make it into the final draft, but I think my shrink will be glad that I’m writing about it because it may help me process my own suicidal feelings.  

Last night, I decided to remove the Soleil story from the book. Soleil is a diminutive finch Orly received among many other finches from Berthold. She was meant to parallel Orly amongst her coven, but as I near the end of the book, the payoff for it feels too on-the-nose. So even after I reach the final page of the full draft, I’ll have that to write out of the book. I’m not looking forward to it. Right now, my to do list of things to check before releasing the final draft is up to fifty-seven items.

I wrote the opening lines of this book on June 22, 2019. I didn’t think it would ever take me so long to write this book, but there were multiple long bouts of depression. I keep telling myself that it will come out in summer of 2022, but now I’m not even sure. I have to make sure there are no loose ends and I want it to be the best book it can be. Just writing about its release in this blog post I can feel my anxiety writing. I know I’ll release it, but I’m terrified.

At the same time, I’m afraid of finishing it but dreading it will never be finished.

I hope 2022 is a great year for you.  

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I made a lot of progress with my book since my last post. Starting on November 6, I began to write with some regularity again, for the first time since May 2. I ended up writing 8,825 words in November, which exceeded my monthly goal of 6,000 words for the first time since April.

I finished Chapter Eighteen and Nineteen and am nearly finished with Chapter Twenty. Two days ago, my total word count passed 80,000 words. It feels good to reach novel length.

I’m still dealing with thoughts of suicide but it feels more manageable than it had been thirty days ago. I wonder how much these thoughts have affected recent chapters. I wonder if Chapters Eighteen and Twenty are longer than they need to be as Orly and I are in our headspace so much. I’m not even sure if her/our thoughts and feelings will make sense to readers if this book sees its release.  

I don’t have much else to report other than I feel like I need to vomit because of something I ate. I’m drinking licorice root tea to help deal with it. I’m hoping to finish Chapter Twenty by end of day tomorrow, but I’m feeling disconnected from everything today, so I don’t know if I’ll get there.

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Vegan Corn Dogs
Vegan Corn Dogs

I finished writing the beginning of Chapter Eighteen, which begins the bridge between midpoint and climax of the book. This is always the hardest part of a story for me to write. Using handwritten notecards helped me organize it enough to get it done. Looking back, I feel like it shouldn’t have taken me so long to write so little (currently 1,138 words), but then I must remember depression and then it makes sense even though it’s still disappointing.

Last week I waited on hold with a suicide prevention chat line for twenty minutes before I gave up and logged out. I wanted to talk to someone, and I know talking about suicide makes the few friends I discuss it with sad and sometimes tearful, so I wanted to spare them.

I tried to be kind to myself over the weekend. I hung three paintings in my office. I drove to get the vegan corn dogs I’ve been craving. I drove on side streets aimlessly and skipped to songs I could sing to. I drank hot chocolate.

I had a list of things I wanted to talk to my psychologist about today, but she called out sick, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

I’m glad I finished the beginning of that bridge. Going on from there should all come easier unless, of course, the depression…

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It’s been seventy-eight days since my last author blog post, and I don’t know how to begin. My thoughts are scattered, so please bear with me.

Reading on paper at Starbucks
Rereading on paper at Starbucks Store 20537

I haven’t had a significant daily word count since May 2. Since then, I’ve posted here about the depression I’ve fallen into, my struggles to pull myself out of it, no longer loving my book, and feeling disconnected with Orly. Most days since May 2, I haven’t even attempted to write. On July 3, I printed the seventeen chapters I had and decided to reread them on paper, hoping it would help me see my story in a new light and hopefully reengage with it. I didn’t make it through the rereading until yesterday, September 5.

But something did happen on August 29. That morning I could only get myself to read the first page of Chapter Sixteen, but I noticed I finally felt differently about it. It wasn’t a feeling of inspiration or reconnection as I hoped it would be—it was a feeling of distance. I was no longer hurting from it, and that felt familiar. It was as I had felt while writing Scribbling the Eternal.

For months I’ve been saying that I feel disconnected from Orly and feel lost because of it. And now I’m saying I feel a certain distance from her story and thereby feel closer to normal. It hasn’t been easy to reconcile how both could be true. But I know I’ve been hurting a lot while writing Scribbles of the Empress. I’ve felt isolated, lonely, self-destructive, and suicidal—all things that Orly is also feeling. With these shared feelings, how could we be disconnected?

There are depths of a depression so dark that you can only be there alone. Even those who can empathize, those who are also depressed, destructive, and suicidal, still have no place to be there with you. You’re so far gone that there, yours is yours alone. It was in that way I disconnected from her. In that way, I disconnected from everybody.

Making edits at the library
Making edits at the library

I am recovering from these depths. Maybe because of time. Maybe because of meds. Maybe because my shrink finally convinced me to try doing affirmations. In my resurfacing, I’m somehow establishing a division between myself and the book so that I don’t hurt so much that I can no longer write it. I love Orly, but we are not one. We cannot be so close that we destroy each other. We might destroy ourselves, but we should never destroy each other.

This is where I’m at right now. I don’t know if it will last or if I’m assessing things accurately and won’t come to different conclusions later. But I think I can move forward and write the next chapter. I will watch Orly go to Argentina, but I may not be able to go with her.

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My best friend, Amirah, sent me a Facebook memory yesterday of something I had posted five years earlier. I was shocked when I read it. The post began with this sentence:

I’m trying very hard to love my book again.

Facebook MemoryI wrote that in 2016. I was talking about The Scribbled Victims. In my post on my author blog from May 13 of this year, I wrote this about Scribbles of the Empress:

True, as time passes, I tend to become less satisfied with my work, but that’s never happened with a work-in-progress; it happens months after finishing.

My memory, as it often does, failed me, and I see now, that that is not true. This experience of not loving my work-in-progress has happened before. I found proof of this while reading through posts on my personal blog from June 2016 and I found this post from June 6:

Blog Post June 6, 2016

Throughout that month, I wrote about feeling depressed and demoralized with my work-in-progress. I even posted about trying to immerse myself in beauty, looking for art to inspire me, just like I’m doing right now. (I’m even going to an art fair after I post this.)

Knowing that I’ve gone through this struggle before makes me hopeful, because I certainly got through it, for I finished writing The Scribbled Victims, and am still mostly happy with it today, and it led to Orly becoming such a big part of my life. I don’t remember how I got through it. (I didn’t even remember it happening.) Maybe it just passed. But if there were things I had done to come out of it and love my work-in-progress again, I can probably find clues by reading July, August, September, and so forth in my personal blog, until the book was released in February 2017.

I feel indebted to my BFF. Not just for sharing that Facebook memory with me, but because she has been there for me throughout this difficult period and understands how much it’s been hurting me.

Here’s to hope that I will be writing again soon and loving my work again.

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Saturday evening, long after I stopped rereading chapters of my new book and feeling nothing, I began to think that what I need is something to stimulate me. I thought of getting drunk even though I don’t drink (since 2003). I toyed with the idea of drugs even though I haven’t done any since right after college. I thought of cutting even though I’ve resisted since 1995. I then thought that perhaps the problem is that since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go to theatre or ballet; both often offer moments that touch my heart.

Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara
Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara. This was one of the pieces I loved most. The photo doesn’t do it justice, the piece shimmers and the background is made up of so many colors.

I slept thirteen hours and when I woke at 10:30 a.m., I played Mozart’s Requiem, hoping for inspiration. Later, I drove up to Los Angeles to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit. I love his work and hoped seeing it in person would help me feel again. The exhibit was impressive as well as immense. I stared at some of the pieces for a long time, and sometimes I could feel my emotions trying to surface, but they never fully got there, even when I admired what I was looking at. I tried talking to Orly about some of the pieces, but it felt like I was trying too hard.

It was a long drive home because of the traffic and the disappointment. But it made me realize that maybe the problem isn’t the manuscript; the problem is me. I think my heart is asleep, and I won’t be able to feel what I had previously felt while rereading my chapters until it wakes up.

I put my copy of The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing on my desk to read today as it had moved me when I read it before.

Book Cover The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing
The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing

This post isn’t about Mozart or Nara not providing the stimulation I’m looking for. They’re amazing. Everyone knows that. As I said, the problem is me. I’m thinking it’s going to require an immersion into piles of beautiful art to get that alarm clock to go off. Mozart, Nara, Downing…the list will have to keep building until my heart wakes up or I think of something else. Maybe I need to adjust my meds. Maybe I need to travel. Maybe I need to fall in love. Whatever it is, I just hope I begin to feel something soon. Until I do, I don’t know if there is any point in me rereading.

Maybe I should just stop looking back at what I’ve written and just start writing again from where I left off.

I don’t know. I’m lost. I’m confused.

I see my shrink in a few hours. I doubt she’ll have the answer, but I think she’ll be happy that I’m trying and that my efforts don’t involve drinking, drugs, or razor blades.    

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I was pulled down a whirlpool and ended up in a really dark place around May 19 and stayed there for over a week. My depression got really bad and I struggled with persistent thoughts of suicide. I told my psychologist these thoughts were the worst they’ve been since I’ve been her patient. I actually felt worried because I didn’t feel in control of myself. I believe this was result of the failed rereading of my book that I attempted on May 8, where I went back to the beginning of the book and felt nothing but disconnected from Orly and her story. I had never felt disconnected from Orly before and I panicked over it, worrying that everything we had written was shit. Stuck in this terrible place, I decided to just put it down and step away from it, hoping to return once my mood improved.

Thirty-four days have passed since I last looked at my new book. I feel like I’ve mostly come out of the depression and am in a better place now. Fourteen days ago I began thinking I might try rereading again, but I was so afraid that I would still feel disconnected and end up back at the bottom of that whirlpool that out of fear I put it off. My psychiatrist suggested not going back to Chapter One, instead going back only to Chapter Fifteen as I had been more recently immersed in that section of the book. I thought that was insightful and considered it, but ultimately I decided against it, because I know I need to go back to the beginning to assess what I have as whole so that I can begin to write new sentences, continuing where I had left off.

A picture from Starbucks
A barista wrote on the bag containing my oatmeal, thanking me for the donuts.

Yesterday, which was Friday 06/01/2021, I saved a new version of the manuscript and marked the file title with 06.12.21 in an attempt to encourage myself to try rereading today. Now that pandemic restrictions are beginning to relax, I decided to try my reread at Starbucks store 20537, which had been a second home to me while writing Scribbling the Eternal. I had not written there since the pandemic began. I woke up early so I could pick up donuts for the baristas and get a table before they were all taken, as only half the tables are available in order to promote social distancing. It became clear to me quickly that I had grown rusty at writing in public as I found it difficult to ignore the people who came and went and not hear the music being piped in over what I heard through my headphones—two songs by Mazzy Star and three by MXMS on repeat.

Despite the distractions, I remained in my seat and began to reread. I struggled to connect to my own words and I was afraid of what the consequences of that might be. Here and there I would connect and feel like I was reclaiming my hold on my story, but then some passages later, I would feel my grip upon it slip. I stopped many times, but forced my way to the end of the first chapter. I then packed up my things and left Starbucks. I headed home where I would continue in solitude, hoping that might change things. As I read, again the connection came and went. My worry increased. I took a Klonopin and later another.

I made it to the end of Chapter Three, feeling half engaged and half empty. It was an improvement from my reread in May, but it’s not enough to feel good. Not wanting to wait to see if my mood plunges, I’m going to try to keep going, in whatever increments I can and just hope to build some momentum and find my way back to when Orly and I were in this together.  

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