Author Maggie Shayne’s trial by fireMay 30, 2008
By Maggie Shayne, author of Lover’s Bite
It’s almost overwhelming how much life has changed for me since I wrote Lover’s Bite, (on sale now) and its sequel, ANGEL’S PAIN (on sale October 1st). It was only days after I had mailed the complete manuscript of the latter to my editor, while I was out for the evening, when tragedy struck at home. It began with something electrical, something shorted or arced or sparked. It might have been the DVD/VCR player, the investigators say. That seems to be the “hot-spot.” At any rate, the spark spread and grew, and my alarm system began to scream, and the local firefighters sped into action. I was actually on my way home, only a half hour away, as all of this was happening. I was traveling through a dead zone, so my cell phone wasn’t responding to the alarm company’s frantic calls. So the firemen had no way of knowing if I was in the house or not.
I wasn’t, of course. But my dogs were. Wrinkles was nearly fifteen, an English Bulldog. And Sally, the Great Dane, was eleven. My cat, Glory, (named for Glorificus, the Demon-Goddess from the second to the last season of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) was also home at the time.
I arrived home to see flashing lights and fire trucks, and thought there must be a car accident near my house. But only a few yards closer and I knew. I pulled my car into the first open spot I saw along the roadside, dove out of it, and ran across the road, jumping hoses, dodging firefighters, fumbling with my keys, and yelling, “My dogs! My dogs! My dogs!” over and over.
I got to the front door while a few firefighters noticed me among the melee of trucks and smoke. I unlocked it and raced inside, got about five feet along the narrow entry hall, before I was blinded and choking, and then a pair of strong arms lashed right around my waist and hauled me back out. Their owner, a firefighter, told me sternly that I could not go in there. And I said, my dogs are in there, and turned right around to try again, and again, he yanked me back out, and promised to go find the dogs. He went to get someone to go in with him, because they’re not allowed to go alone, I guess, and I went around back thinking I could get in that way and maybe it wouldn’t be so smoky and I could find my dogs. A fireman followed me, though, and again I was stopped.
At the front door again, I shouted guidance, knowing where the bulldog would be. She sleeps in the little ground floor bathroom. It’s really her room, not used for anything else.
So I told them where she would be as they crawled on hands and knees through the thick smoke, and in a few minutes one of the men came out again, carrying a chubby white body in his arms like he’d carry a baby, and she was clearly dead. He took off his mask after her laid her down and I still don’t know if the tears in his eyes were from the smoke, or seeing such a special dog that way.
A few minutes later, two more men came out carrying Sally, because one could never have managed it. I just sank to my knees in the snow where they laid them, and hugged them and cried. The firemen came and covered them up with blankets for me. The dogs didn’t suffer any burns. It was the carbon monoxide. Wrinkles, it seems, never even woke up from her nap (she spent most of her time sleeping these days). She was right in her usual spot. Sally had run upstairs, the worst thing to do, of course, as smoke rises. But she didn’t even make it all the way down the hall toward the bedroom. So it was fast.
I sat there sobbing in the snow, feeling like the world was ending. But then another firefighter came to me, and when I turned I saw that he had my cat in his arms, and she was alive and fighting mad. I took her and hugged her to me, and felt the first glimmer of relief. Together we went to the car, where we waited until the firefighters got the place safe enough to enter, and the investigators arrived, and allowed me to walk back through the house, while asking me endless questions. And after seeing the utter destruction of Serenity, my home, and just about everything that had been inside it, I was finally allowed to leave. Sooty, with nothing by my car, my purse, and my cat, I went to my oldest daughter’s for what was left of the night. And I knew that my life changed forever.
And, as luck would have it, two days later, I hit a deer and smashed up my Murano. Sheesh! (Luck had nothing to do with it. I was so focused on the negative that more negativity was all I could attract.)
Gradually, though, I got over the shock, and got back in touch with who I am. I’m an optimist. I’m unshakable, unflappable, unstoppable, and always have been. I got a room at a B&B nearby. I hired a crew to come in and demolish and gut my house. One room, my office, survived almost intact. The same crew cleaned that office, and helped me set it up as an apartment. A plumber got the pipes working to the attached bathroom. An electrician made sure its wiring was safe and connected. The phone company came, the Dish Network people came, the Internet people came, and after two weeks, I moved in. Because I needed to be home, even if only in a small piece of it.
Every day of that time in between, I donned safety glasses and a face mask, and joined the crew in the demo work. I worked alongside them all day, every day, (except weekends) working just as hard as anyone on the crew. It was therapeutic to be doing something.
As I write this it’s been three months since the fire. The gutting and cleaning work is done, the possessions we could save have been cleaned and stored. There weren’t a lot of them. I’m living like a college student in a dorm room, with a mini-fridge and microwave, taking my clothes to the laundromat to wash them. I’m living on Healthy Choice and Smart Ones frozen dinners, breakfast cereal with soy milk, and yogurt. Oh, and V-8 Juice to make sure I get my required servings of veggies.
And believe it or not, life is good. Today I finally got my building permit, so by the time you’re reading this, the rebuilding will have actually, finally begun! Serenity is going to be better than she ever was. Everything new, everything made over to fit my precise vision. It’s almost like starting from scratch. The loss of the dogs was the hardest to take. But besides the dogs, I really didn’t lose anything at all. I was insured. And it was just stuff. You can’t take stuff with you. Stuff isn’t who or what you are. Stuff doesn’t make you or break you. It’s just . . . stuff.
They saved some of my clothes, though many others were destroyed by the smoke. I lost three computers, a digital camera, all my John Waterhouse Prints, some of which were on canvas, every stick of furniture on the ground floor with the exception of the little round breakfast nook table and its four chairs, and countless, endless personal things almost beyond measure. But I’m covered. And that’s good. And I’m unharmed, and that’s good. My dogs didn’t suffer, and I know they’re okay, and that’s good. The frame of the house, the roof, the basement, the structure itself, is still solid, and that’s very good. Everything else can be replaced.
I have no doubt this entire episode is going to show up, somehow, in some form, in future books. But bear in mind, none of this had happened as I was writing Lover’s Bite. I was going through a more personal crisis at that point, but it resolved itself, and is better than ever now. Just as I know this latest situation will be.
The first book I will have written, post-fire, will be titled BLOODLINE. It’ll be another vampire story, and we’re looking at May of 2009 for the release.
The other major change in my life, since the fire, is a little guy by the name of Dozer. I didn’t think I was ready for another dog just yet, but my daughters encouraged me to at least go and look at this litter of newborn English Mastiff pups, only an hour away. If I really fell in love, I figured I could put down a deposit, and it would still be two months before I could take the pup home, and by then, maybe I would be ready.
But when I got to the place where the puppies lived, I was introduced to this ten-week old male from another litter. He was unspoken for, and could go home with me that very day, if I wanted. And from the minute he first licked my face, there was absolutely no way I could leave that place without him. His presence here has brightened up my life considerably. Immeasurably, really. He’s an absolute joy, like having a 4000 watt bulb installed that radiates nothing but pure positive energy. It’s amazing.
A favorite saying of mine is, “You are where you are.” The thing is, you can be miserable where you are, or you can find ways to be happy there. It’s a choice. Either way, you are where you are. Being miserable, though, tends to keep you right there, or take you somewhere worse. Finding joy, tends to move you forward, toward where you want to be. So I’m finding joy. I found joy in Dozer, in the work that’s been done so far, in making plans for the work to come, and in enjoying every minute of every day.
Something good and empowering came from this event. I’ve always been a very positive person, and I’ve kept it through some pretty tough times, but I never knew, until now, that I could lose just about everything, and still find happiness and fulfillment and peace down deep inside me. It’s good to know that I don’t need my “stuff” to be happy. I can be happy in a dorm room. Or a tent, I think.
I haven’t overlooked the fact, that, on the night of the fire, those firefighters didn’t know if I was in the house or not. Therefore, they were doing everything they could to get in there and rescue anyone who might be inside. And even with all that, they didn’t get in fast enough to save the dogs. So if I had been there, and unable to get myself out, they wouldn’t have been able to save me. Clearly, that wasn’t meant to be just yet. But it sure does make me appreciate being alive even more. I don’t have even the slightest fear of crossing over. But there’s a whole lot here to enjoy in the meantime, and I intend to do so! I’m so not done yet.
Spring is here, at last in upstate N.Y. I have flowers growing in my gardens, and I just love spending time working on the flower beds and the lawn. I’m able to go running outside again, and that just makes me giddy with joy. Not to mention healthy! I picked the perfect time to train a dog, because I have nothing nice for him to ruin, and by the time I get anything nice, he should be pretty well trained. Now if that’s not a silver lining, I don’t know what is. And Glory is even starting to make friends. (She’s great with dogs—was best pals with Wrinkles and even loved Sally up every now and then.)
Lots of really good things are happening for me. I got the Murano fixed after hitting the deer, and the damage was covered, and the body shop threw in a free detailing, so it seems just like a brand new car.
Oh, and bigger than any of that, I was nominated for the RITA Award for DEMON’S KISS. This is my fifteenth nomination. I have one win under my belt, and I’d love another one, so those gorgeous golden statues can stand on either end of my mantle–once I get my mantle replaced, I mean. At least that golden statue, my prized possession, survived the fire. Thank goodness! And that has to be a good sign, right?
Lover’s Bite might be even better than its Rita-nominated predecessor. Topaz’s heartbroken scenes were real, as I was going through a breakup of my own while I wrote them. The joy of the ending was real, because I was kind of writing my own ending—the one I wanted–and almost as soon as I finished those pages, that was the ending I got. It manifested just the way I had imagined it and wanted it to, and I just love when magic like that happens. This is probably the most personal book I’ve ever written, though the details of the plot, naturally, are far different from what happened to me. It’s the emotion that came straight from my veins onto the page like never before. The romance, the intensity of it, the breakup, the reunion. Very personal stuff.
Next, comes ANGEL’S PAIN in October of this year, followed by BLOODLINE in May 2009.
Demon’s Kiss: 12/07
Lover’s Bite: 5/08
Angel’s Pain: 10/08