Comfort food for the winter of the soul

I’m sure there are writers who walk through life is if it was their personal bowl of bloop-berries (no it’s not a typo, it’s a reference to a comfort-food book. Anyone recognize it?) I’ve never met one of these authors, but then I don’t know many people. And for some reason (maybe because for most of us it is a very tough row to hoe.) bleakness, despair are things I’ve encountered in many a writer. Maybe it’s the flip side of the creative coin. I don’t know. I just know dealing with it is important to me, and, methinks also for many of my writer-friends. Obviously there are many other reasons for depression and despair, but writing seems to do well at providing extra (and yes, a lot of it has to do with the movement of small bits of green paper.). It also comes down to sheer tired a lot of the time. The author –trad published or not, is doing 3-4 people’s jobs most of time, and probably more if they’re Indy and worse if they have a day job. Worry and stress don’t help the sleep either.

I’ve been through this far too often. Still, I think the important point is ‘been through it’ which says I can look back on it, a situation less fraught with uncertainty than ‘looking forward to it (which I don’t)’.

I know the importance of friends (especially ones who can listen and will understand, and lift). They’re precious and to be loved and cared for when you’re doing well.

I have my own list of rituals and patterns that help me. Exercise – especially in natural sunlight (or being on Flinders – natural wind and possibly rain). A bit of adrenalin – being frightened out of my little mind while clinging to three-quarters of nothing seventy feet above the reaching ground does make the problems of publishing appear small. Or wondering if my body will come out of this underwater cave or whether justice will be served and the spiny lobster in there will get to eat me instead. I do appreciate that not everyone is this silly. Perhaps making to-do lists of small things and actually crossing off those successes is more practical. I tidy my desk. You know I am fighting it when I tidy my desk. It is not a normal situation, and ties to some extent with ‘book dead, post-partum depression.’ (and yes, I know it is not the same, more like empty nest syndrome. It’s a vast thing which takes over your whole life at the end, and in which you are exposing at least a large part of what happens in your head to a largely uncaring world… and letting go.) The other thing I try to do is finish finishable tasks. Tasks where I can see a tangible result. That has shifted a little bit, with Indie publishing, but the limbo-lag was always the hardest part of writing for me.

There is seldom time or money for things like holidays or more sleep. (my wait for first readers this time has been a frantic rush to do all those other tasks I should have done, including killing and butchering the pigs (which were rather like books. Cute little piglets, inclined to panic and go into hiding at first, eating voraciously, demanding more and more and getting to point where they might just eat me, or dig out of their pen and destroy the world. Raising them was mildly demanding – but the task wasn’t over until they were killed (which has to be done. It’s not something I enjoy, but it’s quick, clean, and they lived well. I do it, that way I know that.), scalded, gutted, hung, butchered. My day started at 5.30 this morning, butchering before the flies and heat. I’ve got about 40 pounds of bacon curing in the fridge right now, and some sausages made, hocks and ribs curing… Hams tomorrow. The job isn’t done until they’re in the freezer – or if they were books, for sale.)

But one thing I have found that is best of all is retreating for a couple of hours to my personal comfort food for the bleaks. Probably “LEST DARKNESS FALL” or “FLINT” or ‘THE UNKNOWN AJAX’ for really the bottom of the pit. But there is quite a list of books for winter-times of a writer’s life. I am sure you have your own. We could have a few recommendations, and what makes them that. I must admit it really made my day… well, week if not month, to be told I wrote comfort-food books. Made me feel like it was all worth doing, after all.You can keep being literary prizewinner, or even a bestseller. If I can do that, I’ve done all right.


  1. I was doing this last night when I finally gave in to being sick (which also explains a lot about my struggles earlier this week, I was probably sub-clinical already). I read two books on my Kindle, nothing special, just easy comfort read books. I didn’t re-read an old favorite only because I didn’t want to put on the light and wake the other person in the room 🙂 Nice thing about backlit devices, I can do that.

  2. My dark time books vary – right now they’re the original Fleming Bond novels while I wrap up my first novel. Then I’ll go back to Zane Grey and Muleford for a while.

  3. _A Civil Campaign_ and lately _Captain Vorkosigan’s Alliance_ by Lois McMaster Bujold.

    The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik

    _The Rivers Of London_ aka _Midnight Riot_ and the other books in that series by Ben Aaronovitch.

    1. Hey! I’m an Aaronovitch fan, too!

      Just finished the latest not too far back. Was a little bummed by the climactic reveal.

        1. Urban Fantasy as a broad category. Magical detective stories, perhaps? I’m lousy with sub-genre classifications.

          Centered around a young London police constable who stumbles into the supernatural, with some interesting turns on the idea. Fun reads with a Londoner ‘perspective’

          I’d call them more character stories with magic and the supernatural as secondary plot devices rather than explorations of supernatural themes in a modern setting.

          Ben Aaronovitch’s website

        2. Stories told in first person by rookie policeman in London who stumbles on the supernatural and winds up being mentored by the only policeman in the system who is also a magician, and Handles All The Magic Stuff that the police force sometimes bumps up against.

          Youngster is very “modern London” and his interactions with the much older, stuffy-despite-his-best-intentions mentor and the magical entities in and around the city are something I really enjoy about the books.

          Four books so far–the fifth comes out soon. Three months sooner in the UK than the US, damn it.

          1. Better broad-brush presentation than mine.

            I’ve got my Kindle pre-order in, but I do wish they’d match release dates…

      1. Yes. It broke my heart when [spoiler] [spoilered] and I’m hoping there is an explanation beyond the obvious.

        1. Yep. It’s such a long step down for {spoiler} to even consider such. Like you, I’m hoping for as yet unrevealed subtext.


  4. Right now my ‘to be read’ is too full to even consider the concept of go back and read. However, I downloaded ‘Save the Dragons’ and looked for the donate cup. I found things like ‘checkout’ but no ”pay here’ box to do anything with. Please advise method of payment.

    1. I’ve been re-reading “The Blue Sword” since the 80’s. I’ve got the Ace edition with the Kirk Reinert cover in a box somewhere…

      1. *checks shelf* Yup, that’s the edition I have. Tucked in between “Hero and the Crown” and Ringo’s “Hymn Before Battle.”

        1. Have always liked that cover. Wonderful horse.

          I enjoyed “Hero and the Crown” but it didn’t capture me like “The Blue Sword” did. Don’t know why. Might’ve been that I had a crush on Harry. 😉

          1. I have copies of the Greenwillow hardcovers of Sword and Hero and the Crown. Twenty-five cents each at the world’s cheapest church book sale.

            I did _try_ to offer them more money for them….

            1. Those are nice covers, as well. Intriguing art.

              And — wow! Random search to see the covers — first editions showing $200 for Sword and $250 for Crown.

          2. I was the reverse: I really enjoyed “The Hero and the Crown”, and have re-read it several times, but “The Blue Sword” never grabbed me, and I only ever read it once. (And that was a long time ago, so I barely remember any of it.) I think I liked the high-fantasy setting of “The Hero and the Crown” better than the Lawrence of Arabia-esque feel of “The Blue Sword”.

            1. I think I liked the high-fantasy setting of “The Hero and the Crown” better than the Lawrence of Arabia-esque feel of “The Blue Sword”.

              The wonderful variety of human experience! Your comment sort of gelled a feeling for me, I think the LoA-esque feel might have been a large part of what pulled me. It was different enough from what I’d been reading at the time to intrigue.

  5. The point of comfort books is that you know the book (or possibly the writer) will reliably deliver the feeling that will comfort you now; any book you choose with that caveat will do. It is often something from childhood.

    The key point is knowing in advance that your need will be filled.

    I read Busman’s Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Other Side of the Moon, by Meriol Trevor, and Travis McGee stories. Not because their endings are necessarily happy, but because I know I can count on the emotional experience they deliver.

    1. For me it depends on how bleak I am. For a little down, a familiar favorite author will do – but they’ll do anytime:-) For the real downer… one the old friends that speaks to me personally.

  6. And — I guess continuing my trend in this thread — I dig the McGee series. My dad turned me on to MacDonald, for which I remain thankful.

      1. It annoys the hell out of me that they are all 9.99 for Kindle – when McDonald isn’t even alive any more, and I hate the idea of Lee Child’s name on the cover, even for an introduction – so I won’t be buying them electronically for a long time. (One was 5.99. Whopee)

        I doubt his heirs are getting a better deal – if anyone knows otherwise, I’ll reconsider – but I refuse to pay BP prices when I can get used for .01 + shipping.

        1. I try to collect the old paperbacks for that reason. I’d love to have ’em all on the Kindle but — not at premium prices.

  7. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Calvin and Hobbes (any) by Bill Watterson.

    1. Calvin and Hobbes was essential to my childhood. *grin* I still want a Transmogrifier. Mr. Watterson may have got me into trouble a time or two…

      Or it could just be my disobliging ways (they’re a matter of a habit). *chuckle*

  8. By a nice coincidence, two of my favourite comfort reads are The Rats, the Bats and the Ugly and A Mankind Witch.

  9. Hrm. There’s probably a thousand and one ways to redirect a slump. Got to admit, outside-excercise and completing tasks are quite good for it.

    A goodly tale, though? Ah, now that’s a fine thing. What makes one goodly is the general up-feeling one gets from it, I think. Sometimes it’s that can-do combination of wit, effort, and competence that the story brings (Dave Drake’s Lt. Leary series, for me). Classic pulp has it’s own place there, too. Can’t help but admire the moral (and physical!) toughness those old detectives had (Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe).

    Humor is essential. A good laugh, straight from the gut, cures many a soul’s ills. For the worst of the worst, there’s puns. But more than that, honest laughter. It is neither petty nor cruel. Modern situation comedies rarely engage that (another reason I rarely watch t.v.). Whether bawdy or sly, clean or deadpan, it should bring joy and delight.

    Doing good deeds works, too. Perhaps the morality tale is too tattered and tawdry for today’s tastes. Or perhaps again there are some things that just work for this broad culture, things like honor and decency, that nourish our better natures. Sometimes these are Westerns, but not all. I recently discovered C.J. Box, and a main character who just wants to do the right thing is rather nice. In daily life, it helps as well.

    I’ll have to think more on those stories that make things better. Got to sleep soon, so I can get back to making horrible things (it’s haunted house season in Speck).

  10. I, too, really like A Mankind Witch. Also Kipling’s Stalky and Co., Bujold’s Memory, Turtledove’s Toxic Spelldump (for some truly remarkable puns), and Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. All served with a hot cup of tea and a purring cat in lap.

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