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The Writing Life during Life’s
Greatest Challenges

BY JOANN GROTE

“Live long enough, and you’ll get most everything thrown in your face at one time or another,” Kasey Michaels told me. During and after traumatic events, daily life may become overwhelming; maintaining a creative life and career may feel impossible. Five NINC members shared their experiences in the hope that by doing so they will help other members.

Please share briefly the situation(s) you experienced or are experiencing.

Kasey Michaels: The death of a parent; serious illness of child, spouse; personal illness, major surgery; caring for elderly parents; and other events.

Gina Wilkins: Most notably and not in chronological order: a daughter critically injured in a chemistry lab accident and hospitalized for several weeks; a plagiarism case in which one of my books was republished under another “author’s” name; the unexpected death of my father-in-law; my mother survived a second case of breast cancer and four years later succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a grueling eight month’s illness; a tornado tore off part of our house, leading to an ugly legal fight with a contractor; my husband underwent unexpected heart stent surgery; and our older daughter who lived 2500 miles away from us survived a massive brainstem stroke at age 30, requiring full-time care from us for several months afterward.

Laura Phillips: I had three children in early elementary school when I essentially lost the use of my hands, and the rest of me was barely functioning. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t hold a pen long enough to write a check. This was in the early ’90s, long before online bill-paying and voice recognition software were mainstream. I could barely walk from one end of the house to the other. The eventual diagnosis was a combination of fibromyalgia, inflammation of the flexors in my hands, and arthritis. It took months to regain normal function in my hands and years to get the fibromyalgia under control. I did, though, just in time to take on the long-term care of my mother, who’d just had major surgery.

Dianne Despain: In May 2012 I was diagnosed with uterine cancer that had spread to my ovaries and cervix. I’d had no symptoms, no warnings.

Sharon DeVita: My only son died suddenly in 2002 at age 21.

Many NINC members support themselves and/or their families with their writing. In addition to surviving a traumatic experience emotionally and physically, there is a need to survive financially and to keep one’s career intact at a time when one’s energies and attention are focused on more immediate —often life and death—concerns.

Kasey: There aren’t many of us with a nice deep financial cushion to collapse in until the worst is over. The breadwinner is the breadwinner, even if he’s got both arms in casts or is caring for an ailing family member or trying to get past the death of a loved one. Nothing will ever again be even close to “all right” if the one who brings home the money stops bringing home the money. That leaves only one option: get back to work. You picked this job, this precarious life, and when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, it’s the life you love.

Were you writing on a contracted book at the time of the incident(s)? If so, did you assume you would meet all deadlines?

Kasey: Always, yes; a romantic comedy I had to return to within seven days of my mother’s sudden death, for instance. If I’d been working in an office, a department store or a hospital, I’d have had so many    

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