By now we’re two weeks into the New Year. The balloons have deflated and the party hats and horns and champagne glasses are packed up or recycled. Every other writer I know is officially back to work, committed to ambitious daily word counts. But me? I have to wait until January 28th, the dawn of the Chinese New Year. Here’s why.
Long before the popular call to abolish 2016, it had already been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for me personally. The quick recap: We unexpectedly lost my father-in-law, my mom who lived with us, our young dog, and then a friend to a car accident. My husband also lost his job. Our adorable new puppy refused to be trained. One car gave up the ghost and the other was totaled when I became the creamy middle of a vehicular sandwich. And…I just couldn’t finish the manuscript of my next book, due to my publisher asap.
I tried my best, butt glued to chair, but it was impossible to focus. My editor and agent were extremely supportive, and my book was rescheduled, but I felt terrible about letting everyone down. My characters, The Ladies Smythe & Westin, were sympathetic, but not much help. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, dear,” my senior sleuth, Dorothy, told me. “You’ve had some nasty shocks. Why don’t you take a nice, long break and buckle down later, when you’re ready?” My twenty-something sleuth, Summer, had her own advice: “You need to get out more, hit the beach. And do some yoga, with candles. And lots of cocktails.”
A close friend offered to read my Tarot cards via text. She’s always very direct and honest, but I felt her hesitate when it came to relaying the results. “Well, there’s good news,” she said, finally. “You didn’t get the Death card and you’re going to finish a big project. Maybe it’s your ms.” She also added that it didn’t look as if things in general were going to improve for me for a while.
Well, that didn’t sound promising. On a trip to New York in August, I poured out my writerly woes to an author couple I’ve known for years. One of them had the answer. “It’s the Year of the Monkey,” she said. “In fact, it’s the Red Fire Monkey. Not good.”
Confession: I’m not a fan of any kind of monkey. They’re mischievous, they chatter, they distract, they bite, and they jump out when you least expect them. A college friend of mine dedicated her life to researching monkeys in the jungles of South America, but I’ve been terrified of them since I was a kid. Mostly because, well:
After the illuminating lunch with my writer friends, I flew to Miami with another friend who was treating us both to a relaxing vacay at a trendy luxury hotel. I brought my laptop and a hard copy of my ms. along to work poolside. But apparently the Fire Monkey outwitted the TSA and jumped aboard our plane. Upon arrival in Miami Beach, my friend and I learned that Zika-virus-bearing mosquitos had directly pinpointed our hotel’s neighborhood—and, FYI, Hurricane Hermine was on the way.
At that point, it was time to confront the Fire Monkey, wherever he was hiding in the chemically-sprayed bushes, and inform him that he needed to go. He refused, but made a counter offer: No more monkey business—he would be my official writer’s muse for the rest of the year.
Let’s just say that things did not go well.
I can’t wait for January twenty-eighth, the day that officially ushers in the Year of the Rooster. I looked it up, and the Chinese horoscope (I’m a Rat) says I’ll need to be nimble and quick to stay ahead of challenges—and I “won’t get much sympathy from Mr. Cock-a-Doodle-Do,” whatever that means. I’m going to have to work harder to succeed and pay attention to details. And oh yeah, I’ll need to look my best for events, so I must throw out the ratty, worn-out clothes from my closet, even if I think they’re flattering.
I guess I’ll also have to get up a lot earlier than usual to write this year, with a Rooster in charge. Ugh.
I wish I could tell you the transition to the new muse team is going smoothly, but it’s hard to tell. I suspect the Fire Monkey has some pranks in store for his successor. In the meantime, I’m going shopping with Summer for inspiration to finish FASHIONABLY LATE. (Also, it sounds like I’ll need a whole new wardrobe for Malice Domestic this spring.)
Don’t let the door catch your tail on the way out, Fire Monkey! And you’ve been warned, Rooster. This is the Year of the Finished Manuscript.