Writing in the Wake of a Tragedy

This article is by A.L.S. Vossler.

Writing has always been a source of joy for me, and a source of tremendous frustration. But when I successfully published my first book, it was all joy and happiness. I got my first shipment of books on December 23rd, 2017. It was the most exciting thing I have ever held in my hands. I texted a picture of the box of books to my parents, and both of them texted me back about how they were so excited for me. But I was busy because of the fact that I had to go to New Jersey to visit my husband’s family and attend his brother’s wedding, so I forgot to reply.

I never replied to those texts.

But it was okay, because I would see them after we got back from New Jersey to celebrate Christmas with them during Epiphany. I would give them signed copies of the book I wrote that they were itching to read. I would give my dad the silly t-shirt I had bought him and my mom the necklace I had made for her.

It was okay that I didn’t reply, because I was busy and didn’t need to immediately. After all, I had made plans with my mom the day before. Nothing else needed to be said.

Tragedy Strikes

At 1 AM Eastern time on the 28th, while I was comfortably settled in bed at my in-laws’ house, I was ripped out of sleep by the sound of my phone going off. It was my sister. There had been a fire.

Mom and Dad did not escape.

The feeble “Oh, my God” that tumbled from my lips was not enough to express what was happening inside me. I was at a loss for words. I screamed and cried. My teeth chattered as if I was freezing cold.

The next morning was spent in a total delirium as the words “I am an orphan now” rattled around inside my head for hours. I booked a nonstop one-way flight to the airport nearest my parents’ house and was on my way there the next day. I missed my brother-in-law’s wedding.

I met my sisters who had both survived the fire at a hotel. Eventually, we found the courage to drive back to the scene. The house was burned to the ground, down to the very foundation. Everything was totally destroyed besides a stock pot and a large metal bread bowl—and even these did not survive unscathed. Half-charred, ruined books lay scattered around the outside of the house where the living room used to be. I recognized one book as one of my Dad’s prized history book collection. I desperately searched for his copy of The Lord of the Rings, hoping to find even one page, but came back with nothing but handfuls of ash and crumbling pages. All the books were destroyed and gone. The bookshelves that so eagerly awaited a copy of my book were gone.

The people who raised me and taught me how to read and write and loved me unconditionally were gone.  They were so excited to read my book, and they never got the chance.

I thought of the congratulatory texts Mom and Dad had sent me, and all I could think was, “I never replied to those texts.”

I stumbled through disbelief and grief and rage for days, not sleeping, barely eating, clinging to my sisters who survived the fire and weeping until my eyes ached and ached. The funeral was a blur. The passage of days seemed to lose meaning. Life seemed hollow.

For a brief moment, I turned to writing. I wrote a poem—a simple poem about the gardens that my parents tended so carefully, mourning the fact the gardens would grow wild in spring with no one to care for them.

Beyond that poem, I was sure I would never write again.

And still, all I could think was, “I never replied to those texts.”

Recovery Begins

Life kept marching on. Mercilessly, it marched on. Day by painful day, I put my shattered life back together. It was, and still is, a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. But some of those pieces, like my writer’s nature, could not be destroyed. Eventually, my compulsion to write returned, and I went back to writing the sequel for my book.

So, how do you write in the wake of such a tragedy? How do you write when your mother—your closest friend and confidante—and your father—the man who inspired you to love fantasy fiction in the first place—are gone?

The answer is surprisingly, shockingly simple.

You do it the same way you did before the tragedy. You follow the same creative process. You follow the same editing and rewriting process. You set a timer or a word count and shoot for that target every day.

However, everything is harder. Some days, you do not have the strength to do it. Some days, you only put one sentence down in the document. Some days, words pour from you like your grief.  The character you killed off for the sake of the plot without a second thought, you now mourn as if he is a real human being. When your protagonist has lost her father, as mine did in the first book, you realize that your representation of her grief is a laughable farce compared to what real loss is like. You find your writing feels fake because every part of you is raw, like an exposed nerve.

Finding Purpose

Still, you must trudge on. You have to celebrate small accomplishments, even if you do not feel like celebrating, or you never move forward. For me, I add another piece to my vintage toy collection every time I finish a particularly tough section or chapter. You need that, because if you used to call your mom for inspiration and encouragement when you had writer’s block, you have to find an alternate method.

It is possible to continue writing in the wake of a tragedy. I would argue that it is even necessary for you to heal, as it is in a small way returning to a sense of normalcy. Now more than ever, I am writing for my parents. When the sequel to my first novel is published, I will dedicate it to them.

That is how you keep writing. By finding a purpose. By writing poetry, or prose, or whatever helps. By writing for the ones you have lost. And you do it following the same process you had before, the process that works.

I used to write because I love to write. And I still do love to write.

But now, I also write for them.

I write for them because I never replied to those texts.

For Further Thought

Has a tragedy ever stripped you of your desire to write? How did you find the courage to take up your writer’s pen again?

Do you think that writing is necessary to heal?

About the Author:

A.L.S. Vossler has been writing fantasy since she was fourteen with the constant love and support of her parents. Her published works include her debut novel Charybda, poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction, and newspaper articles. You can learn more about her and her writing at her blog, alsvossler.com.

This article was contributed by a featured author whose details are mentioned above. Are you interested in writing for Mythic Scribes? If so, please check out our submission guidelines.

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Carol C
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Carol C

I am in tears as I read this. I am not a writer, but by your brave telling I am feeling your pain. I love you and hug you. I encourage you to continue writing to heal and for comfort in your loss.

Laur
Guest
Laur

You are so brave to write about this and I am so terribly sorry about what happened. I don’t normally reply to articles and I have only just discovered this group but I really want you to know that a tragedy can be turned around. I’ll never “get over” mine but my professional writing career all started when my second husband found all the songs and poetry I wrote about my first husband ds car accident which had left me widow with a 3 yr old boy, when my son was 9 I remarried my best friend who taught me to live on. I published those poems in memory of Marco and continue to publish today but I usually write fantasy as the real world is still a little difficult to cope with. I wish you all the strength a day courage in the world and please keep writing in honor of your parents as I write in honor of Marco.
Much love.

Rose Andrews
Member
Rose Andrews

Hi. You are strong. It comes across in your words. I’m sorry you’ve gone through so much heartache, really enjoyed reading your article. Take care.

Sheilawisz
Member
Sheilawisz

Hello A.L.S. Vossler and congratulations for a most excellent article!

It has been one of my favorite articles ever published in Mythic Scribes, and I am not exaggerating at all as I write this. I can relate to your words and the feelings that you have described, and I felt touched enough to take some time and write a good comment for you.

First of all, I want to say that I am truly saddened and very sorry about the terrible tragedy that you and your sisters suffered.

My case is different to yours, you see. My life (actually I refuse to call this broken mess life but let's call it that for now) has meant tons of hardship and suffering for me, since many years ago. Very often I find myself wishing that somebody had murdered me when I was little, so I would not be "alive" today facing so much misery and pain. I also indulge in many other dark thoughts, and self-harm happens every now and then.

You can think of me as a ghastly soul lost very far from home, happiness and light.

I have many personal mechanisms to somehow keep walking on this Earth, but the most important of them all is my writing of stories!

To me, Imagination is Magic and Stories are great Friends. I find great fun, pleasure and relief when I imagine and write my stories, and also this brings me a very special kind of personal satisfaction that I cannot get anywhere else. Without imagination and the writing of my stories, I would simply take that final step and end my misery once and for all.

Writing is not just therapeutic, it soothes my pain like the best medicine and helps me to survive.

Sometimes, I have been crying and sobbing in pain and still the narrative comes to me. Words just flow and flow, and it's a wonderful feeling like a candle in the darkest of all nights. I often curse my various misfortunes and agony in this world, and yet I believe that without all the pain and demons inside I would not be quite the same person and the same author that I am.

My stories would be totally different if I was one of those happy-life people, so in certain way I enjoy my darkness.

Just think of Alice Sebold and how she was inspired to write The Lovely Bones after the terrible experience that happened to her. Many great writers in world history have been tormented lost souls, so it really seems that hardships are sent to us for a good reason.

Hugs!

S.W.

Anne Marie Gazzolo
Guest
Anne Marie Gazzolo

So sorry to hear of your terrible losses. Thanks for sharing. My dad was – is – my biggest fan. He told me the day I was published would be the happiest day of his life. I have the picture of him and me holding my book, both of us all smiles. He died over 2 years ago now but I can still feel his love and pride so clearly. I held up my second book which just came out up to heaven so he could see it. Love is stronger than death! God bless, another book worm and lover of Middle-earth. 🙂

Gabriella
Member
Gabriella

I’m only just now waking up. A year ago my big brother was in the hospital with Stage 4 cancer–too young–dying, though his wife was in denial. Christmas Eve found me strong-arming her to finally put him in hospice, the resuscitations were so painful, he was begging for it to end. Then with my sister an unreal white-knuckled 3-hr drive home in icy-dangerous whiteout conditions (a 1-hr trip). Michael died on Christmas.
I’ve lived in the coffee shop for a year, head down, revising, writing. Not good writing but really great avoiding pain.
I couldn’t see a way forward, my whole family was grieving, there was no one to talk with. It was killing my parents. But Michael was my hero, my idol, he raised me and taught me and inspired me, he was my whole life. Everything I did in life started with him.
But you’re right, writing was there for me to cling to, my world that–while not being advanced–was still an escape. I even wrote some setbacks, but it was there for me. It was there all the while I felt that *I* wasn’t. It lived while I merely existed. It was a place that didn’t change the way real life did after Michael left the earth.
Yes, you can write again after a devastating loss–not writing to be brilliant, but writing to survive, at least for a time.

ThinkerX
Member
ThinkerX

My fathers health took a turn for the worse almost two years ago. Christmas, 2016, he wasn't in his usual armchair throne in the living room, dispensing presents to my mob of quasi relatives – instead, he was sick in bed. At that point, I realized he wasn't going to see another Christmas. But, what could I do? I am no doctor, plus I work full time. So, I hoped my assessment was wrong, and kept writing.

First drafts of the principle WIP's were completed, so I focused on rewrites and various novellas that had been bubbling away for a while.

At times, I held out hope he'd recover. Then, I visited the homestead on a warm (for Alaska) summer day and found a passel of quasi-relatives enjoying the sun – and Dad, inside, wrapped in a blanket. Things started downhill from there: visits to the doctors revealed troublesome issues, and at one point I was hunting on the internet for medical equipment for him. That October, Dad reached the point to where he could barely stand at all – and I was distracted enough to where my writing cratered. NaNo was a disaster.

We had a family get-together that Thanksgiving…and Dad died a few weeks later. My already weak writing mojo died along with him.

Boredom and a persnickety desire to finish the assorted WIP's drove me back to the keyboard – but progress was painfully slow. Still, I made incremental progress for a time – then what was supposed to be a relatively routine operation on me revealed serious underlying issues. Wrestling with that and the fallout from Dad's death put another crimp in my writing mojo, one I am just starting to recover from. Current goal is to finish the two WIP series and selected other works.

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