I've been thinking a lot about work lately. Specifically, how work affects quality of life. Last year was one of change for me. I shifted to writing fiction full time. Before that, I practiced law full time, and before that, I worked in various office jobs and later as a paralegal, always writing on the side.
|The Willis Tower, one setting for my urban horror.|
As an attorney, I've never, ever, been bored. I learn new things every day—about my clients’ businesses, changes in the law, new courtroom technology. My first year as a lawyer also was the first time I can remember not being worried about money. That was a really great thing. I also remember feeling happy to have a professional title and a certain amount of respect.(I discovered this respect in a roundabout way. When I worked as a paralegal and told people I was writing novels, they usually rolled their eyes and joked about my pie-in-the-sky aspirations. As soon as I became a lawyer, others assumed I’d sell all my novels and asked if when that happened I’d continue practicing law. (Yes, I would.)). At the same time, the transition to large firm lawyer carried new stresses. Juggling matters for multiple clients, dealing with a vast range of personalities and work styles among coworkers, superiors, and opponents, and always being “on” and switching tasks so I could respond quickly to anything that came my way.
And so I wrote horror stories. Mostly about law. In The Mirror, an attorney who desperately wants to advance at his firm attends a summer recruiting event at an evil amusement park. His envy of people who succeed where he fails and his frustration at how others see him are reflected in the frightening things that occur as the park’s attractions spin out of control. In The Red Stone, a lawyer on the brink of partnership struggles with his ambivalence over how many hoops he'll jump through to prove himself. His travails include battling a boss/mentor who becomes an actual monster while wining and dining a hard-to-please client. And The Tower Formerly Known As Sears addresses the inevitability of change in the locked world of attorneys trapped within the former Sears Tower during a tornado.
When I wrote these stories—which you can find in The Tower Formally Known As Sears And Two Other Tales Of Urban Horror for Kindle and Kindle apps (free January 12-14, 2016)—I didn’t see them as personal. None of the characters are me in disguise. All the protagonists are men, and none of the plots reflect my personal experiences except watching from the inside of a large firm as it went through growing pains to become global. More personal to me, at least in that I share the main character’s gender, is Ninevah, a short story published exclusively for my email list subscribers, where a woman executive struggles with whether to stay or go when her company is swallowed up by a larger corporation. While I never climbed the ladder in a corporation, Joan Voichek’s fears and desires strike a chord with how I felt when contemplating transitions—first, when deciding whether to break away from a large law firm to start my own practice, and years later, when I decided to shift away from a busy practice to focus on fiction writing. While Joan frames the questions in her mind in terms of finances, her real fear is the loss of her true self if she goes along with the corporate program. Of course, because it's a horror story, staying is much more dangerous than she ever imagines.
Looking at these plots together, it hit me how much they reflect the ambivalence I felt as my law practice grew busier and busier over the years. I was grateful there was a strong demand for my work, and I kept growing as a person and a lawyer. I enjoyed and did well at arguing in court, giving presentations, and interacting with other attorneys and clients, things I might not have known had I followed my earlier inclinations to close myself in a room and write and read fiction. But working 55+ hours a week at law didn’t leave me enough time to recharge by reading, writing, meditating, or doing yoga. I often felt disconnected from what I thought of as my true self, the one that, in the years immediately after college, worked for a few weeks at a time, then took off 1-2 weeks to write. That self was financially pretty broke, not surprisingly, but far more peaceful and content.
Now, as I wrote about in the Beauty Of Being Fifty, I feel I’ve reached a wonderful place in my work life. I’m happy for the many years of intense hours practicing law, and I’m happy for the chance to let that be a smaller part of my professional life while I write. Perhaps that’s why my work shifted over the last few years to my Awakening series, which fits better into the supernatural thriller genre than horror, and why my next series idea is a more traditional mystery/detective one. Then again, who knows, after another five years of writing full-time I may be writing horror stories about that.
If you’re curious about what’s frightening in the world of work, you can get The Tower Formally Known As Sears And Two Other Tales Of Urban Horror free for the Kindle or Kindle app from Wednesday, 1/12/16, through Friday, 1/14/16, or for $0.99 after that, and it’s always free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Also, once a month, I send a monthly MOST newsletter with book and film or television reviews in the Mystery, Occult, Suspense, and Thriller genres, and an occasional email about my new releases or appearances. If you join here, you will receive Ninevah, which was published exclusively for MOST subscribers.
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.