Wednesday, October 01, 2014

FOUNDERS DAY - Light At The End Of The Tunnel

This month marks the return of our beloved Pink Heart Society Founders. What has happened to them in the last eight years? How have their lives changed? Where are they now and what are they doing? Trish Wylie is the first of our fabulous four to answer those questions.


I have to admit it's strange looking back at where I was eight years ago. It seems a bit of a cliche to say I had a different life back then, but it's true. I'm not the same girl. I'm older (I have the crows feet, aching bones and a goodly portion of my body seems to be heading south, if you need proof) and (theoretically) I'm wiser. Heaven knows, my writing career has been a steep learning curve. Whose isn't?!

I do like to think I've mellowed, though I'm still as bloody minded as ever. I've made a good start on my crazy cat lady collection but at the same time am starting to find a balance in my life. At least I hope I am. I'm also a lot more battered and bruised, emotionally speaking. But we'll get to that last part in a moment... 

Let's start with the good stuff!

I can still remember the first discussions I had with my writing buddies, Ally Blake, Natasha Oakley and Nicola Marsh about setting up The Pink Heart Society. We were authors on the 'up', with books under our belts. We had drive and enthusiasm and were keen to make our mark. It looked like co-authored Blogs had become the next big thing, but we wanted to try something more ambitious. Bigger. Wider reaching. Something which celebrated everything we loved about series/category romance! 

It was a lot of work. Way more than we'd realized. But we did it.

My first post for the brand new PHS was on September 9, 2006. By then, I'd published six books, five for the Harlequin/M&B Romance line and one for the brand new Modern Romance Extra line. My first had been released in the States the year before and won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award. I'd just made the decision to quit my day job and write full time. And the following summer I made my first trip across the pond to the Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas. 

Writing had literally opened up a whole new world to me and I'd been incredibly lucky, especially when it came to the friends I would never have met if I hadn't become a writer. I was so very grateful for that. I still am.

But two years later, I learned a very important lesson. And I learnt it the hard way.

Frankly, I think it's a problem for a lot of writers. We don't like to say 'no' to anything, especially if its an opportunity which could help us sell more books. What if we say no and they never ask us again? What if we get a reputation for being uncooperative? I wanted to be the 'go-to' girl when it came to books with short deadlines or filling slots when one suddenly became empty or being included in a linked series. I didn't need sleep or food. I had coffee and a keyboard! My family and friends would understand. They knew it was my job. I'd see them after I sent in the book and slipped into a coma for a week. Everything would be fine.

So, in 2008, when M&B celebrated their centenary, I didn't say no to anything.

Newspaper interviews, Radio, TV, Library talks, I did the lot. My editor had also mentioned they would like to see three books a year for each line from me and while I'd balked a little at the suggestion, I was determined to try. I also did a short story for EHarlequin and one for the center pages of the Sun newspaper with its-gulp!-three million readers. I blogged as often as possible, I did all my website updates. I went to the RWA conference in San Francisco. And I learned everything I could about writing from a screenplay, novel and comic book perspective at Comic Con in San Diego.

Don't get me wrong, I managed to squeeze in a heck of lot of fun that year, despite being sick as a dog and confined to my hotel room in Los Angeles. Looking back, I should have seen the latter as a warning sign. But by then it was too late. The damage was already done.

When my calender cleared interview/appearance/travel-wise towards the end of the summer, I knew I had to push hard to finish my WIP. I still wanted to reach my goal of six books in a year, so I made a fresh pot of coffee, turned on my laptop, opened the Word doc, stared at the screen and...

I had nothing. Nada. Not. One. Single. Word.

I'd hit The Wall.

With a great deal of effort I improved to the point where I was moving a single word up and down the page. There were numerous push backs on my deadline. And every time I opened my laptop, I spent a good fifteen minutes to half hour crying. But eventually-and somewhat miraculously-I managed to finish the damn book. I was a writer, after all, and writer's write. Even when it really, really hurts.

Suffice to say, I didn't make my six book goal that year. And to make matters worse, while I was still struggling to complete the last book in my contract, the rest of my life went to hell in a hand-basket. There was a major split in my family - heartbreak, arguments and upset on a daily basis for months on end. There were financial worries. Times when I couldn't afford a pint of milk and read by candlelight because I couldn't pay my electricity bill. 

Then two of my beloved pets died, the people I cared about most in the world moved away and I had to cut some life-long ties for the sake of my sanity and mourned the loss like more deaths. All of a sudden I found myself alone, in a deep, dark hole of depression. I cried every day. Sometimes, all day. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't sleep when I was in bed. I had no appetite. The only time I left the house was to feed my animals. I became a recluse, didn't want to talk to anyone, alienated some of my closest friends and at the lowest point, even wondered if there was any point in being here anymore. It would have been so much better for everyone if I wasn't. That's the way I saw it.

How in hell was I supposed to write happily ever after's with all that going on?

Climbing out of the hole has taken a lot of time and a great deal of effort and there are still days when I can feel myself slipping back in. I couldn't have got this far alone. Without the support of my family and friends, I doubt very much I'd have survived. By the time my next book was published, it had been a year and five months since I had anything new on the shelf. It would be another eight months for the one after that and another seven months for the one after that. I wish I could tell you it gets easier. But here we are, a year and seven months later and once again, I'm struggling to finish a manuscript.

I keep telling myself that publishing three new books since I crashed is a good thing. I just need to keep going. And I have more story ideas now than I've had for several years. Those are all positives and I try to focus on them. I still have bad days depression-wise, but it's not every day and with practice, I can handle it a lot better, so that's good, too. If I want to keep writing, I just have to get up, sit down at the keyboard and continue fighting my way through The Wall.


I also have to make an effort with friends and family, take care of my health, remember to take time off to do the things I love and leave the house more often. Learning to ask for help when I need it and to accept help when it's offered is another of my goals. I've always sucked at that. But I'm working on it. And I'm much, much better at saying no these days!


One step at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. That's how I handle things now. It might not seem very ambitious and there may be people out there who think I should just grow a pair and bloody well get on with it, but it's what's working for me.  And that's all that matters.

Depression is pervasive. It reaches grubby little fingers into your mind and fills it with a combination of lethargy, paranoia, self-doubt and numerous other delights until it can literally feel like you're going insane. I've been there. The panic attacks were a particular favorite of mine. No-one had warned me about that. If you've ever suffered from depression, I don't have to spell it out for you. You know exactly what I'm talking about. But if you're suffering from it now, I'm here to tell you that you're NOT ALONE. And as impossible as it might seem, you CAN get through it.

I didn't think I would. But, here I am.

Yes, there are still times when I worry I might have thrown away my career and that no-one will remember me when I release my next book. The romance writing world is HUGE and even when I was flying high, I knew I was just a face in the crowd. And yes, since the demise of the KISS/Modern Tempted line it has felt like I have to start all over again. My difficulties with the last book on my contract might have something to do with that. End of an era and the loss of my safety net, etc. etc....

But you know what? It's not about how you fall. It's about what you do when you get back up. Another cliche, I know, but again, it's true. I might be bruised and battered. I might even have some scars which will never fully heal. But if I've succeeded once, I can damn well do it again. 

I haven't given up. On life. Or writing. And neither should YOU.

How do you deal with the times when words are difficult to find? Have you ever taken on more work deadlines than you've been able to handle? Do you have any advice which might be useful to others? Jump to the comments and join the discussion!

Trish's latest is an old book in a new anthology with fellow authors Myrna McKenzie and Dianne Drake. The Bachelor's Cinderella is available to buy at Amazon and all the usual outlets.

And just to prove there's still life in 'old' books, another anthology, Bedded For His Pleasure, with Pink Heart Society Columnists Kate Hardy and Heidi Rice, made it onto the KOBO best-sellers list this week. Congratulations, ladies!

Trish's website is currently undergoing a re-vamp, but in the meantime, you can keep up to date with what she's doing on Facebook and Twitter.

30 comments:

  1. I for one am very pleased you didn't give up!
    One thing I read recently is a Swedish study showed fit muscles helped people control stress better. It is what I tell myself when working out. It does help.
    And you know what -- I believe you will finish this book and it will be brilliant.

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    1. Thanks, Michelle!

      I'm still not great about exercising. Really should do something about that. Have sworn I will. But just taking the time to go outside on a bright day and adjusting my sleep patterns so I got as much light as I could really helped. Fingers crossed you're right about the book! xxx

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  2. Trish, thank you so much for sharing such an eloquent, humble and incredibly wise post. It was your writing that inspired me to pursue publication - you will always have a fan here :). I suspect I'm not the only writer who has found the fabulous PHS site inspirational - it's great to see the journey of the founders and the site through the years.

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    1. Thank you Eve! And I'm so glad to have helped you follow your dream!!! That the PHS is still here after all this time is a testament to all the writers who have worked so hard to keep it going. I genuinely hope it can continue to inspire future generations of writers. Would be such a lovely legacy. :) xxx

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  3. This was such a brave post, Trish. I've been a fan since I read your first book. To know you were suffering through all this breaks my heart. As someone who has been through the battle with depression myself, I know how hard it is to fight back. You are so strong and so inspirational. If there are PHS readers out there suffering, I hope they see from your example that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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    1. Bless you, Barbara! I know you've been there so I don't need to tell you how dark it can get. I found the isolation particularly hard to deal with out here in the middle of nowhere. Particularly when I didn't have the Internet. But I do think I'm stronger now as I come out the other side of it. Wouldn't wish the experience on ANYONE but if talking about it can help someone and show them there is still a glimmer of light, then it's totally worth re-living it in this post. I don't think it ever goes away but it CAN get better. xxx

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  4. Trish, I've been reading your blog and books for years and I've always been so humbled and inspired by your openness about your ups and downs. As you said so well, depression is a terrible thing, and I think one of the hardest parts about it, is that it's so damn difficult to talk about—its nuances and pains are so hard to articulate to those who have not experienced it. So many people deal with it in silence, and it's SO helpful and SO important when people like yourself speak about it. I think it's especially hard in an industry in which, if we have had any success at all (however that's defined) we are often expected to behave as though we're over the moon all the time, even when that's not the case.
    This is my rambly way of saying thank you, so much, for this post. It is brave and beautiful and encouraging, and I wish you only the very best. :-)

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    1. Hi Amy and THANK YOU!

      Talking about it is incredibly hard, particularly when you're at the bottom of the pit. Though I have to admit this was quite cathartic. Made me realize how far I've come. :)

      I worried a lot about the whole 'misery loves company' thing and that I would drag people down with me if I talked about how I felt. But it's not an infectious disease. And there were times when it would really have helped to have someone there who could tell me I wasn't losing my mind! We DO have a tendency to 'smile from the wrist down' in this industry. Though I think that's changing. And knowing there are lows as well as highs is incredibly important. We might not be able to avoid them, but we can be prepared and find some small measure of comfort in the knowledge we're not alone. At least that's my hope with this post! xxx

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  5. Huge hug. I'm so sorry you've been through this. I hit The Wall a couple years ago. I finally like writing again and while my output is nowhere near what it used to be, I'm happy and healthy. Just know you're never alone. The writing community, especially among romance writers, is so supportive. We've got your back!

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    1. Thanks, Jackie. And hugs back for your experience! It can feel so debilitating, can't it? I really think I took words for granted. They'd always been there for me and when I couldn't handle my emotions, writing everything down or putting it in a story helped make sense of it all. When they weren't there it felt like I'd lost part of who I was. Still feel like I'm fighting to get that person back, to be honest. But we gotta keep moving forward, don't we? And you've just mentioned two of the most important things for me: being happy and healthy. Focus on those and I think everything else should start to fall back into place. I just have to remember it's a marathon, not a sprint!

      And we really do have the best writing community, don't we? I've never found support like it anywhere else. xxx

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  6. Pink Heart Society was the first romance website I visited, back in 2009, and I've been back often since. Thank you for your post, and I hope things continue to improve for you.

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    1. Thank you for taking the journey with us! I love this place and coming back it really does feel like I'm surrounded by family. :)

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  7. I'm trying to find the words to tell you how moved and in awe I am of your strength, generosity and determination which shine through in this incredible post. I *know* you can damn well do it again. You are one of the most important people in my life and I love you more than I could ever ever say.

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    1. And you know I love you to the moon and back, right? You were with me through the dark days and I will never, EVER forget that. A voice in the darkness can make SUCH a difference and you provided that lifeline for me. You're my superhero! xxx

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    2. You mean the world to me. I love you.

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  8. Love you loads. Survivors together.

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    1. Love you equally squooshy amounts, my fabulous friend. Onwards and upwards for us both, right? :) xxx

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    2. Sounds like a plan …!

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  9. Aww, Trishy - this post made me want to go and make a cake, then jump on a plane and deliver it to you with a hug. It's hard to write when your life's falling apart round you. All I can say is baby steps. Make lists (and have things on there you can definitely tick off, even if it's something like 'clean teeth', because then you have ticked something off and it will make you feel better to know you have done at least one thing that day). Hang on in there. You have a lot of people who love you xxx

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    1. And now I really want cake... Shall hold you to that hug the next time I see you, my friend ;)

      Funny you should mention lists. I should have thought about doing that. Was always a manic list-maker when I worked with horses. And actually one of the first things that helped (as well as going outside for a walk each day and adjusting my sleep pattern) was getting into a routine. I've never kept anything remotely close to a spotless house but things got really bad when I was at my worst. So each morning I made myself get up and do laundry or wash dishes or plan a proper cooked dinner. I also made more of an effort with my hair and nails and each of those things, as small as they were, helped. They say it takes 30 days to form a new habit, right? So with any luck, now that everything else is getting back to normal, I should be able to apply that to my writing...

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  10. And also... write what you love. Even if it's not something you want to sell - if it's something just for YOU. That will help get your confidence back. And I agree with Michelle about exercise. My morning session at the gym keeps me sane. And you can kill people off in books ;) (Well. Until your ed works it out and bans you from it...)

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    1. THIS is actually HUGE for me. Are you inside my head???

      Every story idea I've had which has made me WANT to write again have been ones which wouldn't have suited any of the lines I used to write for. And cutting loose is one of the things I'm looking forward to most once this book is done. Really must do something about the exercise thing. Could do with the extra energy through the winter when I have my little herd of four-legged beasties to look after!

      LOL at killing people off! Don't. Tempt. Me.

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  11. Hugs, Trish. Writing is hard - no question but it's so lovely to see you back - and maybe at a lunch some time soon so that I can give you a hug.

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    1. Can't begin to tell you how good it is to BE back, Liz! Said to friends at home that the wedding I attended about six weeks ago was the first time I'd felt like myself in a long, long time. And yes, it really is hard. But I can still remember the highs and I'd really like to experience some of them again. :)

      Would LOVE to get to another lunch. Shall most definitely be seeking you out when I do! xxx

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  12. What a wonderful blog, Trish. I remember reading about you hitting the wall. I'm so glad you are over it. Take care if yourself. You are precious. Caroline. Xx

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    1. Maybe not entirely over it, Caroline, but there's a great big hole in it now and the bricks are definitely crumbling. On the bright side (cos I focus on that these days) if I ever get stuck again, I'll have a better idea of how to get out of it. We live and learn, don't we? And I will. You, too! And THANK YOU!!! xxx

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  13. It's life! Living in an imaginary world is lovely, truly lovely, but sometimes you have to deal with the 'real'. The 'thing' I've learnt is that 'talent' is still there. 'Voice' what makes your writing 'YOU' is yours .. always. Other people have to wait while you deal with the 'real'.

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  14. You're incredible, Trish! A true inspiration to those of us early in our writing journey. It's so hard to balance things out, I always feeling like I'm 'robbing peter to pay paul' as far as my time is concerned. This blog is a much needed message, I think many writers feel the need to keep everyone happy, to be that romanticised version of t'the perfect writer' and it's just not possible. We all need down time, we need time for our families, and sometimes that means saying 'no' or stepping away from the laptop. A lovely, warm-hearted post - I want to print out and stick it on my wall!

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