Why Sharon Lynn Fisher Wrote: The Ophelia Prophecy

 My blog tour for THE OPHELIA PROPHECY is winding down now, so as you can imagine, this is like my zillionth post. I really do strive in each and every one to provide original content — if I’m writing on a topic I’ve written on before, I do my best to come up with a fresh angle. Because let’s face it — if I don’t, you and I will both be snoring two paragraphs in.

So what I’d like to do for Pauline’s “Why She Wrote” feature is spend just a couple of minutes answering that question very directly, and then go off on a bit of a tangent about why this book was particularly challenging for me.

THE OPHELIA PROPHECY was my second science fiction romance release for Tor Books (following my debut, GHOST PLANET). It was a second-pitch book, as in they had already decided to buy GHOST PLANET, and we wanted to pitch another story idea for a two-book contract.

I had already written the first chapter of OPHELIA, which was inspired partly by the title itself (I reverse engineer most of my stories) and partly by a dream I had about two praying mantises dueling with staffs. So it was a matter of pulling together the story elements and writing a synopsis (shudder-worthy for any writer, but did I mention I’m a pantser?). Lucky for me my editor had faith, and we sold it on that first chapter plus a one-page synopsis.

My editor had faith, but I was intimidated. I had pitched a big story. Lots of twists and turns, political intrigue, multiple plot layers, very science-y bits, and worst of all, BUGS. The hero and his people are transgenic organisms, part human and part praying mantis. It bears repeating: I voluntarily contracted to write a story in which I would have to persuade romance readers to mix with bug people. (Never mind the fact bugs totally creep ME out.)

This book took me two years to write. That was partly due to all the stuff I just mentioned. Also partly due to the fact I was finalizing GHOST PLANET for publication during the same time period. But the bulk of it was … well … life did what it does. It got messy — like bits-stuck-to-the-walls-and-ceilings messy.   

My daughter was not yet in school, and her dad and I split up after more than 10 years together. I’d had long-term relationships end before, but as some folks reading this will know, it’s different when you have kids. Partly because you’re so worried about how they’ll be affected, and partly because if your own parents divorced, having a kid involved in your divorce dredges all that stuff up again.

For about a year the disruption was mostly logistical — moving, figuring out custody schedules, filing court documents. And also there was the adjustment to life on my own again (admittedly parts of that were healing, revitalizing, and plain old fun).

But some 14 months in, it all came down on me like a cargo hold full of tribbles —spiky ones with teeth. I’d experienced bouts of depression before, and they had intensified after the birth of my daughter. PPD is serious and scary — I remember walking down the street one day thinking everyone would be better off (me included) if a bus ran me down. Yet when my daughter’s doctor asked me if I’d experienced any depression, I said, “Only a little.”

Looking back, I think the full course of the post-separation depression was more than a year, though I did everything I could to suppress it and only really became aware in the final 6 months — the worst stretch of it. During that year I was both finalizing GHOST PLANET and working on OPHELIA. The editing and proofing wasn’t so bad, but writing a romance novel when your marriage has just fallen apart? Especially one that requires lots of research, and features a couple that’s almost fatally star-crossed? Yeah. Not so much.

One personality trait that has served me well is determination. I determined that this thing was not going to get me. I embarked on a mission of self-improvement that included self-help books, Buddhist temples, yoga, energy healing, and even tarot readings. That may sound desperate, and desperate I was, but every bit of it contributed to digging me out of that hole. I learned that I was clinging to pain from my past because I’d really never allowed myself to feel it. I learned that I’d been living fearfully, blocking my own path to happiness. In short, I’d lost the thread of who I really was under the pile of fear and emotional baggage.

And part of “who I really was” was a writer. That had been true when I was 6 years old, and it was still true that grim day, 6 months before the lifting of my depression at age 40ish. The process of writing that book was p-a-i-n-f-u-l. And it was cathartic, and it was necessary. That damn book haunted me — the fear of both writing it and not writing it. But that damn book, along with my friends and my precious daughter’s hugs, kept me going on the worst days. And by the time I sat down to write the last 100 pages, the fog had lifted.

Thanks to all the psychology books I read, I know that chances are the big D will happen again someday. But I’m an optimist, and I just have this hunch it won’t. Never to that extreme, anyway. I have tools now. I know things about myself I didn’t know then. And because I’m a writer, I’ll always have the next damn book.

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