This is my fourth year in Chicago, and (I keep praying) my last. The New Orleans girl in me just has to return home, as you know if you follow my blog. I think a lot, so I’ve been thinking about Chicago and why I dislike it so much. What does that have to do with fiction? As I reflect on my time here, as much as I’ve been miserable in this city, I realize I owe it a LOT where my writing is concerned.
I came here knowing no one, but knowing I loathed Chicago Bears fans. (Hey, I’m a fan of the New Orleans Saints. I haven’t forgotten the signs at a championship game in 2007 when my boys played Chicago: “We’re gonna finish what Katrina started.” My family lost a house to Katrina, so that didn’t sit well with me. Kind of hit a nerve.) I came here without realizing I would be the only new student in my graduate program for Spanish literature: no fellow newbies to cluster with. It took me a while to meet people. And to feel comfortable in any way here. It’s SO different. In SO many ways.
To cope with the adjustment, and the loneliness of missing my family and my old friends, and the unbearable, horrible, ridiculous winters that made me pretty much a hermit (have I mentioned I don’t like winter?), I turned to my fiction. I wrote my HEART out. I wanted to get out of this city, and I did so as often as possible, in the only way I could. I went to Herezoth. I much preferred Herezoth.
I’ve written before about writing as therapy. Well, I finished an edit of “The Crimson League” days after I first moved up here. Then I decided I’d write a sequel, and I started “The Magic Council.” I realize now that Vane and August’s struggles to adjust to their new lives as the Duke and Duchess of Ingleton–though a far cry from my adjustment and insecurities–were inspired by my issues those first months in Chicago.
Enter year 3 in Chicago: I was rethinking my choice of graduate school/being a professor as a day job. My heart wasn’t into teaching Spanish, and definitely, most definitely, not in literary research. My work was of good quality, but I was beyond burned out. I was getting nothing but pain from my studies. I had to rethink my career path, and that wasn’t easy, because I had always seen myself in academia. It was the only place I had ever felt comfortable: except now, I wasn’t. I’m still not sure I’m qualified to do anything else, but I’m determined to try something else, because I have to. I can’t keep on doing what I was, the way I was. It was in this frame of mind I wrote a draft of “The King’s Sons,” book three, where characters deal with similar fears and concerns about changing the direction of their lives after events outside their control make continuing on impossible. I can’t even describe how shocked I was on my first read-through of the novel, when I noticed how it reflected my life that way.
But that’s what life is about: adjustments. Helping others adjust. Making the most of the bad times and enjoying every second of the good times. I really feel that, as much as anything else, that’s the theme of my fiction. That something I’ve come to learn in these last four years. And I have Chicago, I guess, to thank for that. I’ve been prolific writing here. I learned to call myself an author living here. I’m proud of the work I produced, and all that I can take with me when I go. (Please, God, get me out of here SOON. As much as I love the friends I’ve made, the people are the only things I’ll miss. Some people love Chicago, and that’s fine. It’s just not for me.)