Time is funny. It can feel like it’s dragging, or feel like it’s whizzing by. Sometimes it feels like both at the same time. But I think all of us can agree that it’s like there’s some kind of hazy time warp thing that happens when we think about the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s like from 2020 to late 2022 or early 2023, time exists in this nebulous space, where it all runs together and is measured by illness, lockdowns, or gas price hikes. Just the other day, my husband said something and then furrowed his brow and said, “That was in the spring of… oh heck, during the pandemic somewhere.”
This liminal space had different effects on different people. I ended up finding it beneficial—it forced me to slow down, enjoy nature, think about the direction of my life. My husband knew he had a lay-off coming so we had to look at how that would affect our lives. He transitioned to working from home most of the time; we learned we needed separate offices but liked joint lunch breaks and after work walks. We celebrated our 25th anniversary but couldn’t take the vacation we wanted, instead opting for a single night in a local hotel. I got closer and closer to a milestone birthday, while actually feeling younger than I had in a very long time. We even bought a couple of kayaks and started hitting the nearby lakes.
I have this theory that things show up in our lives when we need them. In that first year of the pandemic, Charlotte Ledger from One More Chapter (part of HarperCollins UK) emailed me, asking if I’d consider writing something with a Canadian setting. First of all, having a publisher ask for Canadian-set books is unusual, so she had my attention. But what was more unusual was that she was looking for historicals. At that point, I’d been publishing contemporary settings for fourteen years. It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked about historical, though…my former editor at Mills and Boon brought it up as well. It was like the universe was saying “nudge nudge, you know that genre you love to read? You need to write one of those.”
I was instantly intrigued, excited, and scared to death.
And really, the whole reason why I hadn’t tried this genre before is all about fear. Fear of getting things wrong, fear of it being crap, fear of failure full stop. And also… a little bit of fear about how much work it would be. Scared of the research, the scope of these kinds of stories…
Looking back, I think I was so afraid because I have a very healthy respect for the complexity of historical fiction, no matter the time period or what “flavour” it is. I thought about it, thought about soon turning 50 (yes, that’s the magic number), thought about this opportunity, and sent her an idea.
There’s a part of the Hero’s Journey called Answering the Call to Adventure, and while I’m not going to Mordor to destroy the One Ring, I do feel like this was a clear moment where I could either keep on doing what I was doing—it wasn’t like I wasn’t enjoying myself!—or I could take a leap into something unknown and challenging and just go for it.
You can guess what I did.
It really came down to me looking in the mirror and saying, “If not now, when?” What was I waiting for? I finished up my current contract while researching my World War 1 story, then dug into writing a tale of love and loss set during the Halifax Explosion, the largest ever man-made explosion until the atom bomb was used in World War 2.
Let’s be clear: there was a huge learning curve. At first, I had this story as a dual timeline between 1917 and the late nineties, but then I ended up axing the more contemporary timeline and instead added a second female point of view in the WW1 timeline. While the story did end up following my revised outline pretty closely—and the level of plotting I did is a blog for another day—at the revision stage I ended up changing one of the points of view from third person to first. Pacing, diction, balancing historical events with the characters’ stories… all new to me. But I finished it and was really proud of myself. I told myself that even if Charlotte ultimately passed on it, I’d done something out of my comfort zone and I could shop it around.
But she bought it. And so here we are, mid-process, and I’m experiencing things like they are firsts all over again even though I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s ridiculously fun, exciting, and hard work, and I wouldn’t change a thing. And I’m already working on the next book…
I guess what I’m saying is that stepping out of your comfort zone, taking some risks, not letting fear “drive the bus” as Elizabeth Gilbert says, can be a really great thing. Failure is never permanent; you just try again or take the lessons learned (there are always lessons) and move on. But the chances of having regrets is greatly reduced when you simply look in the mirror and say, “If not now, when?”