Alcoholism · friendship · Grief · Pandemic · writing

One Thing That Changed Me During the Pandemic

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

One thing that changed me during the pandemic happened in Spring, not long after the Pandemic began. Like so many empty nesters, two out of three of our adult kids came home after their colleges went online and decided to ride it out with us for a few months. We had a routine established. The kids set up their laptops and work stations in the living room area, located conveniently next to the kitchen. I worked in my office. We all convened for lunch when my husband, one of the few people still allowed to go to work at his state job in Wyoming, came home. In the evenings we watched movies, cooked and ordered in depending on the night, worked on a puzzle, and spent a lot more time together than we had imagined we would be doing when we first made our plans for 2020. To be honest, except for feeling sad about the people who were sick, I found myself cherishing the time with my family. But then one day, I received a phone call and our little pandemic routine was over. Someone was unable to reach my friend, would I go over and check on her?

My gut instinct told me not to go alone, so my husband and I muttered a goodbye to the kids and headed over to her house together. I’d been through this kind of thing with her before – a well-check usually called-in by a mutual friend – but this time it was someone not close to either of us who had called. Images of all the times before ran through my mind alongside newer images from the news; doctors covered from head to toe in protective clothing, masks, and tallies of the dead. I was glad my husband was driving. He tried to reassure me, but he’d been on this drive before, too. His helpful words sort of tumbled out and landed in a heap between us. We both knew better. I hoped with all my heart we were wrong, and would discover that her phone simply needed charging, but my heart thrummed a warning telling me this time was different.

When I got to her house, I peeked through the window. Tears sprang to my eyes when I saw her empty chair. She might be okay! I was happy that I hadn’t found what I was afraid of, but while still standing on the porch ringing the doorbell I received another phone call. She had been found. My friend was in the hospital and had been there for a week. She’d gone to the ER for one thing, and from there everything broke apart. How many people in the past few months had done the same thing? Only this wasn’t COVID.

I had been down this road with my friend before, and we had almost turned a corner before things went wrong again. There had been a few corners and keeping up wasn’t easy, but maybe this turn would convince her to start over. I hoped she might be home again soon and we could start over too. I desperately wanted to begin again with her, but also to get back to the way things used to be. We had only talked occasionally on the phone for the last couple of years, I’d sent her a card just a few months before to let her know I was thinking of and praying for her, but we hadn’t spent time together. There was a reason, and it includes a complex series of realizations and decisions my friend made in her life that I am still grappling with today. I wanted to grab onto the hope I’d had for her in the past, that she’d had for herself, but with every new detail her future became less certain.

The hospital wouldn’t let me see my friend at first, even though she didn’t have other immediate family in town. Only short phone calls during which she was lucid, but fatigued. The doctors told her she might have six months. Another dear friend of mine gently suggested that I not wait six months to say anything to her that was on my heart, and I will always be grateful for that advice. My friend did not have COVID, but she was very sick. By the time I was allowed to see her in person, which is a pandemic miracle I know, she could barely communicate. She was alarmed when she saw me covered with protective garments, a mask, and a face shield. For all I knew the rules could change and I wouldn’t be allowed to visit her again. She wasn’t dying of COVID, so when the caregivers left the room, I raised my face shield and kissed her forehead.

I did get to visit her a few more times, but on one such visit I knew it wouldn’t be much longer, and she passed away not long after I left. We’d had weeks, not months. My friend didn’t die of the virus that was making it so difficult for me to visit her, but of something that has been around a lot longer. Alcoholism stole her from us, from the world, and made her last years sad and difficult. Its hold on her was like a vice grip. The same time that I was being there for my family and celebrating the online graduation of our oldest son during the pandemic, I was also saying goodbye to my friend while wearing a mask.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that my brilliant soul of a friend died of alcoholism. I wonder every single day if I did something wrong, if I could have done something different, if I did anything right with her at all. It has ripped a hole in the fabric of my life that can’t be easily stitched with poring over photo albums of her when she was healthy, independent, and joyful. Now I am haunted by the difference between the friend from twenty years ago and my friend who died almost one year ago. It’s as if they were two different people.

Now, when I consider alcohol, I see it differently than I did before. I wonder how many alcoholics have been created during this Pandemic? How many people accidentally triggered that darkness inside of them by drinking too much when they were lonely? What if this were to happen to one of my children someday? It’s not that I don’t drink wine during this Pandemic, because I have and do, but I know now that if we aren’t careful, it can snag us without our noticing. It can snatch our friends and loved ones right out of our lives.

As with everything, writing helps those of us who love words, so here I am letting my thoughts about my friendship with an alcholic unravel just a little bit here for the first time. I am only just starting to write about my feelings about this topic, just as I am only beginning to understand alcoholism and its toll. This disease is ages old. The pandemic life has simply made it harder to bear.

So many things are different now. I wonder, probably like you, what will change and what will stay the same? I think of my kids as they waited all those months ago at home for my husband and I to return from the funeral, so we could continue at-home graduation festivities. How strange it must have been for them. What have they learned from my friend’s journey? From this pandemic? I pray they are changed for the better. I pray that I am too.

I am certain that I will never be the same for coming face to face with my friend’s alcoholism, and the pandemic magnified the effect and meaning it had on my friendship and in my life. I’ve learned a sad lesson that now, more than ever, we need to communicate with our loved ones, check on those who are alone, and instead of reaching for a bottle of comfort, reach for things in our lives that can truly bring us joy.

Tina Ann Forkner is a school librarian, writing instructor, and published author from Wyoming. Learn more about her books here.

Blog · Book News · Books · Inspiration · Life · publishing · Random House · Ruby Among Us · Tina Ann Forkner · Waterbrook Press Author · writing

What Could Be More Important Than Being Published?

“…on days when I look at my publishing career and acknowledge that I am still not a NYT Bestseller and that I’m still trying to make it as an author, there are many things that have come from being a published author that are worth more than money and fame.”

23000441_10156349914092565_8012114548848028188_o (1)

Look What I Found When Looking Through Old Picture Files:

That time when my parents and I had dinner with the publicists (Wynn-Wynn Media) who worked on my very first novel, Ruby Among Us.

From the pictures I found, it might look like our families became friends after I was published, born out of a friendship between an author and a publicist, but the truth is, we connected because of an existing friendship between our dads that my publisher didn’t even know about when they connected us together. In fact, my publicist Jeane and I didn’t know about it either.

Real quick, let me explain something to you about the industry. Most readers don’t know how traditional publishers and outside publicists work together, but it is important to note for this story that publicists and authors don’t get to pick each other. At least not when the publisher is the one hiring the publicist, which was the case with my first novel. What happens is that the publisher assigns who they want and while it is not unheard of for an author to have heard of a publicist on a professional level, this was my first novel, so I barely knew what publicists did, let alone who any of them were.

It turns out that my publicist, Jeane Wynn, and I were always meant to be friends. We just hadn’t had a chance to meet each other before. Little did I know when I nervously waited for my first phone call from Jeane, I would immediately feel like we’d met before. She just reminded me so much of people from back home, which was the last thing I expected from a phone call with a publicist.

Long story short, I liked Jeane from day one, which came as a surprise to no one who knew her. Who could not love Jeane? She’s just that kind of person. What did come as a surprise is learning that our families already had a history together, and that it started before I was even born, decades earlier in a tiny little Oklahoma town.

At first, when Jeane mentioned that she lived in Oklahoma, it made perfect sense. I remember thinking, no wonder we seem to have a lot in common. She has that friendly way about her that people have in my hometown. It made sense that she might seem familiar to me. However, when Jeane mentioned that her family had actually once lived in Colcord, Oklahoma, the small town I grew up in, I was shocked. How in the world could my publicist have even heard of my town, let alone lived there?

Well, there is no way someone could have ever lived in Colcord and gone unnoticed. Everyone knew everyone else, so the first thing I did was call my parents. Our families had to have known each other, and it turns out that they did. In fact, not only did they know each other, but our dads knew each other quite well since before we were either one born.

That’s when my dad told me that Jeane’s dad had been his best friend.

23000239_10156349914422565_6453357903868388850_o

When I told Jeane, we started comparing stories. We figured out that a long time before Jeane was assigned by my publisher to work on my book’s campaign, her dad was my dad’s beloved Boy Scout leader, as well as his teacher. That’s how my dad, as a young boy, started looking up to Jeane’s dad and considered him his best friend. Isn’t that cute? Further, we learned that our dads have been fishing buddies ever since.

It turns out that even after my dad was grown and Jeane’s dad had already moved away to another small Oklahoma town, they would still run into each other at favorite fishing holes. As my dad shared his stories of Jeane’s dad, it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been hearing about Jeane’s dad for years. Her dad was THAT guy, my dad’s favorite fishing buddy, and his kindness, faith, and wisdom had an impact on my dad’s life a long time before Jeane and I came along.

Jeane and I are pretty sure we never met before our publisher and publicist put us together, at least that we know of. Since our dads mostly kept in touch over the years through fishing, our families didn’t have joint dinners or hang out together, but now that Jeane and I have met, we share a common bond.

23000039_10156349914087565_3836768969957053666_o

I guess that to some people, this might not seem like such a big deal, even though I think the chances of an author and publicist being put together and learning, unbeknownst to them, that their dads were already the best of friends, is pretty serendipitous. To me, to Jeane, and certainly to our dads, it is special, kind of like a great big hug from God.

I am grateful for the friendship of our dads and our families, and I am so grateful for my friendship with Jeane. I love that God brought us together in such a special way, and on days when I look at my publishing career and acknowledge that I am still not a NYT Bestseller and that I’m still trying to make it as an author, there are many things that have come from being a published author that are worth more than money and fame. Friendship is one of them.

Tina

Blog · Southern Writers Magazine · writing

Southern Writing: Southern Hospitality

Suite T

Supporting fellow writers is just like spreading Southern Hospitality. I wrote about this over at Suite T, the blog of Southern Writers Magazine. Stop by and join in the conversation: 

Southern Hospitality: Writers Raising Each Other Up

 

Happy Reading!

Tina

Blog · writing

Low Tide

beached boat (2)A few weeks ago I was walking at low tide  on a beach in Cape Cod and came upon these boats that would remain stranded until the tide came in. I guess I was in a sentimental mood because as I waded in the low waters looking back toward the shore  at the beached boats, I was struck with a feeling of isolation. I thought to myself, “I’ve been there.”

I thought to myself, ” I am there.”

Haven’t we all been there? I’ve been beached in my life and have had to wait and wait for the waters to rise up and lift me to freedom again. It’s the same with writing. Sometimes I feel isolated, as if I’m the only one who has ever written a terrible sentence, and as if I will never write another good story again. At times I literally stare at the screen and wonder if I will ever write another story, period.

Since I was so worried I’d never come up with a decent line again, it might be surprising that while on vacation I decided not to write fiction at all. I mean, who wants to work when the ocean’s nearby? But it was more than that. I knew my writing self needed a vacation too, even though I’d originally planned to use the vacation as a sort of writing retreat.  Once I was on the Cape surrounded by ocean towns, lighthouses, and sand I decided to let my stories percolate instead of putting them on the page. I decided to have a real vacation.

If you don’t write, this might sound silly, but I needed my thoughts to be beached like those boats waiting for the tide to come in. I needed to let my stories roam around in my mind and my subconscious self wade through the words before I let them out again.  The hope was that while I was wading in the ocean and not writing, my story would work itself out. I wanted to soak up inspiration while visiting the Cape and hoped that once I was back home, the threads of story that had become knotted in my mind would unravel and be free to set sail.

It worked.

As I waded through the ocean’s edge,  I waited on my story hoping it would come back to me. And it did, eventually. Once I was back home with a rested body and mind, the tide, in the form of a story, came rushing back in.

It’s probably a good idea for all of us to give our brains a break every now and then, but it’s crucial for us creative types. Don’t be afraid to give yourself some time, because you know what? The tide always comes back in.

-Tina

Blog · Book News · Books · publishing · writing

Book Contracts: They Do Exist

20140428-195928.jpg
A peek at my contract with Tule.

Over the past few years, my readers have asked when my next book is coming out. Well, I’m thrilled to let you know my third novel is coming out later this year. Yesterday I received my copy of a signed contract from Tule Publishing Group. I’ve included a picture above for curious readers, and I just want to assure you writing souls out there that no matter what you hear, book contracts still happen.

I couldn’t be more happy about having Tule as my newest publisher. Their authors are all fantastic writers and Tule publishes commercial fiction ranging from romance to chick-lit to compelling women’s fiction. That last part is where I come in. My novel from Tule will be in the Women’s Fiction genre, the same as before, so in case you were wondering, I’m not changing anything about how I write. I’m still me and I’m still writing novels about the complexity of families, intergenerational relationships, hope, self-acceptance, and of course a love story  for good measure.

I’ll let you know more details as I receive them from my publisher, but right now it looks like  my third book will be releasing in October of 2014. The only thing different about this one is that it’s going to be available exclusively as an eBook, so if you don’t have your eReader yet, you might want to  put that on your Mother’s Day Wish list. And if you want to learn more about my previous novels from Random House, they are still available. You can find information here on the site or just look them up on Amazon.

Thanks everyone, I have lots more to share with you, but it won’t all fit into one post. Until later, happy reading.

 

-Tina