Today it is my privilege to welcome a woman who is not only a fellow Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! author, but also my critique partner and good friend. She’s always lent an ear when I’ve needed to talk during the loss of my daughter.
Welcome to Lynette Sowell
In this blog, I have been processing the loss of my daughter to suicide. The experience of loss of universal. What significant loss have you experienced? How has it impacted your writing?
While I was writing my second mystery, The Wiles of Watermelon, we lost my 42-year-old brother-in-law Eddie to liver cancer. The disease took him very quickly, within four months of his diagnosis. Our (My husband and I) relationship with him had been strained until the past year, when it seemed like things were turning around. Less than a month after losing Eddie, we lost one of our long-time pets right after Thanksgiving—“my” kitty of our brood of five felines. All of this happened while my husband’s business took a nosedive and his income was cut in half. Let’s just say the last six months of 2007 kept going downhill on many fronts.
As far as how loss has impacted my writing, I have to say it was hard for me to write about murder and be funny. When I submitted my manuscript in January, I apologized to my editor. I was afraid my book wasn’t remotely quirky or funny like a cozy mystery ought to be. We writers often joke about killing people off, but this experience showed me that loss is not a trivial thing. And when I have a character experience loss, I believe I’ll portray loss more authentically.
What central truth did you learn through your loss?
I didn’t have to hold onto God. I didn’t feel strong enough at the time, for one thing. He’s the one holding onto me. I couldn’t focus on my feelings or they’d swallow me up—anger at how Eddie wasted so many years of his life; sorrow at all the time we didn’t get to be family; anger at how his wife treated our family and tried to keep us from seeing him and saying goodbye; walking beside my husband as he went through a time of deep grief and depression, and I felt powerless to help him; discouragement at seeing our business in a slump while I waded through my own grief; frustration at circumstances; guilt over my feelings about losing my beloved cat—that really hit me hard, and I felt guilty because after all, my hubby had just lost his brother. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you understand. Feelings can sort of snowball, just like that one sentence did!
As far as dealing with feelings went, November, December, and early January were hardest. It was the Christmas season, usually our favorite time around here, but the whole time was just pushing through. One bright spot was the week we spent in Massachusetts for my sister’s wedding and Thanksgiving. We had a breather, a complete change of scenery, and we could pretend we hadn’t been through a loss. But then we flew home to Texas. The church was decorated, we attended the Christmas functions and programs, and we barely got the house and yard decorated. But I didn’t “feel” any of it. The same with New Year’s, when I found myself wondering, “Lord what comes next for us in 2008? Because I’m not sure I want to know.”
Do you write to escape your circumstances or to process your feelings? Or both? Please share examples.
I used to journal years and years ago, mostly to process my feelings. Or I’d escape through a book. During the past few years, though, with writing deadlines I had to write whether I felt like it or not. While I wrote, I did find a measure of escape. But it was more like the escape of going to work and leaving your troubles aside, if only for a few hours.
What books or characters resonated with you in your time of loss?
Honestly, during my toughest time of loss I didn’t really read anything other than the Bible. If I read any fiction from October through December, I don’t remember it. Once I’d worked through the hardest part, though, I read Brandilyn Collins’ thriller Amber Morn this March. I love Brandilyn’s books and the truths that resound in her writing. But what got me was the theme verse in the front of the book, Proverbs 14:32: “When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have a refuge.” While her book was the white-knuckled seatbelt suspense I love to devour in a day, the verse set me bawling and so did the story.
I think what impacted me most was the fact that even in death, when we belong to Jesus, nothing can touch us. Eddie wasted lots of years, and we lost him too soon, but he made the most important decision anyone could ever make before he died. He knew he’d messed up and asked the Lord for forgiveness and a fresh start. The last night we saw him and said goodbye, his home was filled with peace. It almost made the air hard to breathe. When I got to hold Eddie’s hand and pray with him while he held onto life by his fingertips, I felt as if I’d stepped a couple of footsteps into Heaven with my brother-in-law, if only for a few minutes.
You have recently published A Suspicion of Strawberries. Please tell me a little about your book.
My book is set in the town of Greenburg, Tennessee along the Tennessee River. It’s what I like to call “a comfortable distance between Nashville and Memphis.” My heroine, Andromeda Clark, has bucked expectations by not marrying, settling down, and having a gaggle of kids like everyone else. She’s still dating the same long-haul trucker boyfriend and has finally found a business she likes—running a homemade soap shop. But then notorious bride-to-be Charla Rae Thacker keels over and dies from anaphylactic shock in Andi’s store, and Andi must scramble to save her business. But then Andi discovers strawberries, a deathly allergen to Charla, in the soap that killed her. She doesn’t just have to save her business. She has to prove Charla’s death was no accident.
Footnote: Look for a series from Heartsong Presents featuring Lynette, me, and Tamela Hancock Murray.