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This is a photo of everything my husband and I own (except for a few clothes that we can fit in a couple of suitcases in our car). When I sold my debut novel Oil and Marble: a Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo, we sold our condo to go on book tour. We also sold most of our belongings.

There’s, honestly, not much left. Books, photos, a pair of old sheets and a quilt. It’s pretty sparse.

But it didn’t seem sparse when, yesterday, I had to go digging through those boxes to try to find one particular book and one particular DVD–both to help me write the next novel.

While waist deep in old whiskey boxes filled with a bunch of stuff that I can’t quite remember why we kept, I thought, boy, this is NOT what I pictured when I was a kid dreaming of being a novelist.

I’d pictured sipping tea out of some steaming hot mug while ensconced in my own personal library–floor to ceiling books on every wall. Comfy chair. Blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Papers spread across the floor. Never needing to talk to real people (the imaginary sort are quite enjoyable). In this dream, I was also ten years younger, twenty-pounds lighter, and could drink a bottle of wine the night before and still wake up at 6 AM to write, so the dream wasn’t realistic, anyway.

But instead of settling into some steady world of writing, I’ve thrown myself into an explosive life. I don’t have a home or any of my books on shelves. I don’t have a favorite comfy chair. I carry my ragged stack of papers in my backpack. I have to dig through boxes to find that one essential book with that one line of research that I need to complete the latest chapter. And, worst of all, I have to talk to real people a lot (I believe this is the first year of my entire life that I’ve spent more of my time talking to real people than to the imaginary kind… I love my fans, but for this extraordinary introvert, it’s overwhelming. Confounding, even).

I didn’t expect that publishing my debut novel would fling me into such turmoil. I didn’t expect it to turn my life upside down.

Then again, I waited until I was 40 to achieve my childhood dream, so maybe my life SHOULD be in turmoil. Nothing should be settled. I should be seeing the world upside down and sideways.

I’m beginning to come out on the other side of this self-imposed chaos and appreciate this magnificent journey. It helps that, once again, I’m able to spend more time talking to imaginary people instead of real ones. In the end, whether it’s sitting a dark, wood-paneled library or inside a car headed to the next destination, spending more time inside the only world that has ever brought me comfort–my head–is all that matters.

And along this topsy-turvy journey, I’ve met lots of new characters, experienced new plot lines, visited new settings, felt new emotions. In this single year, I’ve collected enough details to fill a whole bundle of new novels. Things I wouldn’t’ve known if I’d been stashed away in some idealized library.

This whole “publishing a novel” thing is not anything like I dreamed, but perhaps, that is exactly as it should be.

Now, I have to return to my boxes. There’s one more book I need…