Once I was in a band called Hadji. Looking back on it, we were a great band. We did amazing things that nobody in the New Orleans music scene was doing 18 years ago. Don’t believe me?
So, we did what bands did back in 2003. We packed up our gear, said goodbye to our friends and moved to Los Angeles. And we worked, and we struggled, and then it happened: that magical tipping point.
We showed up at the Derby on a Saturday night, and it was packed. The opening band was perfect to hold the crowd. There was a film crew there wanting to do a documentary on us. Us!
As we walked to the stage to set up, the soundman came up and told us we were moved to the last position on the bill. I started to argue. This is our slot. We’re supposed to go on now. This is our moment.
But I lost the fight. The band that was supposed to play last was on “tour” and said they needed to hit the stage right then and there because they had a long drive ahead of them. They were lying, of course. They wanted to play in front of 500 enraptured people. The people of Los Angeles are not well known for their attention spans.
Unfortunately for all of us, the out-of-tune, combination Reggae-Punk musical stylings of said band cleared the bar exactly 90 seconds into their first song.
And that, my friends, was that.
You don’t get a big moment like that twice. That was ours, and we lost it. Things fell apart pretty quickly after that.
It’s a hard thing to lose a dream like that. To have to let go of something you’ve put so much of your blood into. But we had to. Our drummer was battling some demon we didn’t know about until it was too late. Our bassist needed to make ends meet for his family. And I was tired.
By the end of the year, a hurricane wiped out our home city and stranded us all in Los Angeles. So, I went on, on my own, for about two more years. Making film scores. Doing remixes. Mixing records for other people. But my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I just didn’t want to continue.
But when you’re a creative creature, you can’t let go of that energy easily. I hit the pause button for a while, throwing my energy into learning everything I could about Judaism. Thinking G-d would have some answers I didn’t.
Then I tried gardening. I loved it; until I didn’t. I moved on home improvement, which frankly I only enjoy in small, concentrated bursts. I tried photography for like a nanosecond, but that really isn’t my bag. (Don’t believe me? Check out my Instagram feed.)
And then, one magical morning in November of 2012, I rediscovered writing. I remember how bad traffic was as I made my way to my office that morning and I was really desperate for a good book. The last Harry Dresden book had left me thirsty for more (hint, hint, Jim Butcher. Come on, already, dude) and I couldn’t find anything to scratch that itch.
Then other itches bubbled back up to the surface. The band itch. I missed my band. Missed my bandmates even more. I thought how long it had been since I’d spoken to our original drummer. He’d quit years before the move to L.A. to make his own move to New Zealand. I thought about those sweaty, dusty nights, packing up the U-Haul for out-of-town gigs, carrying that fucking drum coffin of his down the steep steps at our rehearsal warehouse and dropping it into the trailer.
“She was a good ol’ girl, but I just had to go and kill her.” –Kyle Meades, ladies and gentlemen.
And that’s when it happened. That lightning spark of an idea. That flash of creative stimulation: what if a dead body had tumbled out of that case?
And Clementine Toledano was born.
I wrote the first two chapters of what would become That Old Devil Sin in an afternoon. A flurry of words came rushing out. I could see everything so clearly.
I’m not going to lie, the first few characters and places in that book were initially inspired by real people and places I know. Until the characters came alive all on their own and took their own form. But that moment was the beginning of me really starting over and building myself back up.
Before that, I’d lied to myself about being ok after Hadji broke up. I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t anywhere near ok. Everything I was, all the mythology I’d built up around who I thought I was, was centered around being the leader of that band. And when it was gone, so was my center of gravity.
And it’s fucking tough to live without a center of gravity, y’all.
It’s even tougher to build a new one.
Now that I have FOUR books under my belt, (did you catch that? That’s right, The Devil’s Luck is D.U.N. done. Just five more chapters to edit and off to beta!) I’ve built a new core. And it isn’t based on a mythology. It’s based in reality.
I am more than a musician. I am more than a writer. I am more than any one thing that defines me, and I do not lie to myself.
That last part is key. While I daydream of one day quitting my job and writing novels the whole world will read, I know that the likelihood of this ever happening is very small. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to write the best novel I can. It doesn’t mean that I don’t plan marketing strategies and try to make that dream a reality.
But it does mean that I don’t let the rise and fall of my books’ Amazon rankings define who I am.
Having talent does not guarantee success.
But at some point in time, all the hard work and positive thinking and self-actualizing visualization have to come to a head and raw, dumb luck will tip the scales one way or the other. It’s just the way the universe seems to balance itself.
The trick is not to let it tip you over.