Grief and hope and the little book in-between

May 5, 2014

THE CHAPEL WARS releases tomorrow.

Here’s what some reviewers have said about it:

“Leavitt creates some hilarious scenes that could only be set in Las Vegas (kissing Elvises, anyone?) while maintaining a serious emotional tone. Like a Sarah Dessen heroine, Holly discovers that her heart has answers that are neither easy nor perfect. Recommend to readers who enjoy novels that blend light-hearted moments and gravitas.” ~Booklist

“Holly’s story could almost be a sitcom. But the hilarity is tempered by moments of genuine feeling, whether it’s grief… or romance.” ~Horn Book

And this is the one I really want to talk about

“Leavitt’s sense of place and ability to balance grief with hope make for an entertaining read.” ~Publisher’s Weekly

This was a difficult book for me to write. Nearly an impossible book for me to write. Like, I can’t believe I wrote this book and tomorrow you can buy it (or preorder it today. Before you forget.)

Impossible? Why so glum? Lindsey Leavitt writes breezy! Fun! Fluff! What’s so hard about that? What challenges could you possibly know? Surely you take a few hours away from your charmed life to jot down some fun ideas that magically swirl into something resembling a novel.

My friends. No.

Let’s shoot for full disclosure. My personal life has been NF (Not Fun) for the past year or so. Please don’t ask why—that’s why I used the word personal. It’s enough to say that I’ve battled crippling depression, grief, and anxiety. I’ve had physical issues and mental issues and family issues and faith issues and professional issues and can’t-get-out-of-bed issues and *insert any other issue*. They’re lonely emotions, emotions not expected from an author who formerly complained about too-small tiaras at book signings. Writing light and funny romance when it feels like your world is falling a part is difficult on the best of days, paralyzing on the worst. It’s why THE CHAPEL WARS has a bittersweet edge. I didn’t mean to add it. Just art imitating life.

As a result, I spent a lot of time hating this book. I hated the (missed) deadlines attached to this book. Hated talking about writing with authors who had brushed their teeth that morning and had Big Plans! for their thriving careers. Hated driving to wedding chapels and bridal expos and seeing all these giddy brides and thinking, “LIFE ISN’T ALL ROSES, LADIES!” Hated myself—honestly, there were times I really hated myself.

I would sit down in my cheetah-print recliner and stare at my cracked laptop screen and think, “This will never be a book. I am ruined. I will never publish again, never write again, and then I will have no excuse for all this not-showering business.” My amazing editor, Caroline Abbey, pulled me through the half-finished drafts and flimsy plot lines with positivity and grace. She believed in me and this story when I didn’t, and for that I dedicated this book to her. The original title for this novel, btw, was ARE YOU THERE, CAROLINE? IT’S ME, YOUR (LATE) AUTHOR.

You’re probably thinking, Why should I read this book? It sounds depressing and the author is a hot mess and that doesn’t really match a book with a heart on the cover. I just want a cute boy and a quick read, okay?

Because what I discovered writing this book is even on the darkest days, there is always light. That people still laugh (and even fall in love) at funerals. Babies are born and books are published and morning follows the night. Charles Dickens knew what he was talking about with all that best of times, worst of times crap.

Mostly, especially, there is always hope.

And that’s what I conjured up when I came to the blank page. It took coaching and lots of bribery, but I found humor and perspective and even joy as I filled the pages. I’m more proud of this book than any other book I’ve written. I’m proud because I learned so much about myself, so much about life, just from writing some witty dialogue and a super fun kissing scene. This isn’t The Next Great American novel, but it’s a fun story about my hometown and childhood and personal struggles and, yes, a cute southern boy who dresses up like cupid.

Thomas Paine once said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” It’s going to be triumphant for me to walk into Barnes and Noble and buy my own book tomorrow. It was triumphant to co-write a book with my sweet friend, Robin Mellom, this year and sell it at auction last week. Writing has literally saved my life during all of this, and I am grateful that I get to share this… share my stories with you.