–By Laura Oles
I’m a little out of practice being part of a crowd. This last year has taken me down some unforeseen roads, avenues that are only now leading back to some normal semblance of my daily life.
More on that in a minute.
Speaking of crowds, I recently attended Malice Domestic (a mystery readers and writers conference) and also served as a speaker at an event at a gorgeous library in the Texas Hill Country town of Kerrville. May has meant time talking with readers about the stories they loved, connecting with other writer friends whose work I admire, and basking in the joy that is having endless conversations about the nuances of storytelling, structure, and world building.
Yes, I’m still willing to have the plotter/pantser debate. Also, I’m pro Oxford comma.
As I get my groove back attending writing conferences and other book events, I realized something.
I missed these people.
Not only as a writer but also as a reader. Reading has always been an important lifeline for me, especially in my youth when I was moving almost every year to a new school as part of an Air Force family. But books were a particularly important part of my survival toolbox once 2022 kicked down my door. It was the works of many talented authors that supported me, in part, through this last year.
Let me explain with a small detour about a big topic:
My younger sister had a horrific beginning to 2022, starting with a perfect storm of medical events culminating in her experiencing (according to one of her many doctors) “too many strokes to count.” She then fought her way through an entire year of re-learning to do everyday things, learning to do some things differently, and keeping her razor-sharp sense of humor intact. I was grateful that I was able to spend weeks at a time with her during her hospital stays and then assisting in adjustments to being at home as she reclaimed her life. I’m sure I smothered her with too much attention and hovering, and I’m grateful that she trusted me enough to be a part of her recovery.
Did I mention that she was also pregnant at the time? As a surrogate? (The baby is, remarkably, completely healthy, and lovely.) And then she needed to have open-heart surgery? My sister is a fierce force of nature. Her recovery has been astounding, hard won, and also complicated in many ways. She has shared her story far more eloquently than I ever could—it’s her story after all. She’s also a gifted writer.
While many people have followed her incredible journey—and she has been so graciously open with the difficult details of her recovery—this is the first time I’ve been able to write about it in any format. For someone who makes a living with words, this last year left me speechless.
And then towards the end of 2022, I had my own health scare, which required tests, a biopsy and then surgery. My recovery was a good one, and I was able to enjoy the holidays with my family. At this point, I wanted nothing more than to see 2022 in my rear-view mirror. When I talked to my sister about how my scar would heal and how visible it would be, she told me, “Be proud of that scar. You earned it.”
During this last year of medical emergencies and the restless waiting of recoveries, my own writing simply wouldn’t come. I was immersed in traveling, caregiving and trying to keep myself together. I simply had no space for writing stories—I was too busy living this one—but I did find comfort in reading. I read short stories, novellas, and novels, grateful for these authors who gave me the gift of their created worlds. I needed a break from my spinning universe, and immersing myself in a book in the late evening hours gave me respite that, to this day, I know helped me through it all.
I started this year giving my calendar some serious side-eye, afraid to make any plans for fear of the next crisis to come. But then, while walking down a favorite stretch of beach in Port Aransas with my husband over New Year’s weekend, I spotted a beautiful shell. A lighting whelk, nestled in the sand. In my twenty-five years of walking that beach, I’ve never come across a shell so lovely. I took it as a sign that maybe it would be okay to consider better things would come, that being afraid of hope might be energy wasted. That shell sits on my desk as a reminder that the future holds promise as well as challenges.
I resumed making plans for the year, attending conferences, book events and celebrations. Part of me fears declaring such plans to the universe, but then again, if anything happens, I hope my writing community will wait for me until I can return. Until then, I’ll do the best I can with a book on the nightstand.
Sometimes, it’s the little things.
Laura Oles is the award-winning author of the Jamie Rush mystery series. Her debut mystery, Daughters of Bad Men, was an Agatha nominee, a Claymore Award finalist and a Killer Nashville Readers’ Choice nominee. Depths of Deceit, her second novel, was named Best Mystery of 2022 by Indies Today. She is also a Writers’ League of Texas Award finalist. Her work has appeared in crime fiction anthologies, consumer magazines and business publications. She loves road trips, bookstores and any outdoor activity that doesn’t involve running. https://lauraoles.com