Thursday, November 14, 2013

Deadline Hell

By Donnell Ann Bell

Back in 2008, I read a blog by Tess Gerritsen called ,”When business runs your life,” in which she expressed concern over a bestselling author, a millionaire many times over, who had become so consumed by her deadlines she was literally making herself sick.

I never forgot that blog, or Dr. Gerritsen’s admonition. Then and there I decided that if/when I got published I would respect my limitations. I mean, who wanted fame and fortune that bad?
My publisher bought my first book, and afterward I signed a two-book contract. I felt the time constraints were reasonable. After all, one book was completely written. That left me nearly a year to write book two. I’d worked for a weekly newspaper; I’d met deadlines. Every Wednesday without fail my coworkers and I put the paper to bed.

I was organized, professional. I would make my fiction deadlines as well, have a life, and not spend my mornings over a toilet like this poor author I no longer envied.

The goal toward dealing with deadlines started out fine. I developed my characters, outlined the book, and wrote. Most months I made my goal of 20K—even allowing for family time, book signings, conferences, and for when the inevitable self-doubt and freezing set in.

It was a doable deadline of August 1 until June 23, 2012, and 60,000 words into my 85K word manuscript, breaking news hit the citizens of El Paso and Teller Counties. Fire had broken out on a popular hiking trail known as Waldo Canyon, approximately ten miles from my house.

This was concerning on so many levels, a writer’s deadline was the least of firefighters’ worries. The drought that had afflicted the Midwest, Rockies, and the Southwest had left my area a tinderbox. It was summer, in the high 90s, with unpredictable winds, and scrub oak and beetle-ridden pine trees provided enormous fuel.

We’d dealt with fire before and nobody panicked―yet. The U.S. Forest Service arrived like the cavalry and emergency preparedness took effect. Officials started out first with voluntary evacuations, then mandatory, as flames could be seen reaching 150 feet into the sky. Eventually more than 32,000 residents of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Woodland Park as well as the mountain communities surrounding Hwy. 24 would be removed from their homes.

Still, the beast refused to be contained, and it didn’t help that speculation abounded, that the blaze had been manmade. All at once, I had more suspense going on around me than I was trying to achieve in my book, and like every other resident, we packed our suitcases and sat glued to our televisions watching the nightmare unfold. To walk outside required face masks, and the contaminated air smelled like a massive campground or ashtray. Even at my distance, I found charred debris in my yard.

June 24 and 25 came and went, and like a thriller novel when things appear to calm down, Colorado’s notorious winds picked up, climbing to 60 mph. On June 26, officials feared that the fire might come down the mountain and reach into the major population of Colorado Springs. Residents of an area known as Mountain Shadows had hours to evacuate, and soon The US Air Force Academy was at risk and ordered to do the same. During rush hour that day, the I-25 corridor was nothing more than a chaotic sea of vacating automobiles.

On June 28th, it was determined that 346 homes had been destroyed, two deaths had occurred, and the west-side neighborhood of Mountain Shadows had been wiped out.

In Waldo’s aftermath, we were left with displaced people and the responsibility of helping people pick up the pieces. One of my dear friends lost her home, and the collection of clothing, food and purchasing of bare necessities became our priority. As I drove to the Care & Share food bank, I was both pleased and astonished to be left waiting in line behind other people who wanted to give back in some small way.

Meanwhile, my deadline approached and I had yet to return to my keyboard. It was as though watching my neighbors suffer had afflicted me with their PTSD. The idea that someone had erroneously, or worse, deliberately set this blaze to my beloved community blocked my muse, and I read everything I could get my hands on in hopes that the police had apprehended the suspect.

Mid July, I contacted my publisher and warned that I might miss my deadline. Deborah Smith, Vice President of BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, wrote back, “Deadline, Fire, Deadline, Fire. Fire wins.”
I was so grateful, her kind remarks were freeing, and soon after that I finished my book, in truth, ten days after my deadline. Fires and flood have affected my community in 2012 and 2013, and 500 more homes were lost, and more deaths occurred this year. Arson is suspected to be the cause of Black Forest. Waldo Fire, Black Forest and our recent 100 year flood have proven to be more suspenseful than any thriller writer could pen. “Come hell or high water” isn’t just a phrase to me, it’s something I’ve lived. As for the author Tess Gerritsen wrote about, I have a new and vivid appreciation of her deadline hell.

About Donnell Ann Bell 

Donnell Ann Bell has put her first two novels on e-book bestseller lists, including Deadly Recall, her sophomore release from Bell Bridge Books, which hit #1 on Amazon Kindle’s best sellers’ list. BETRAYED is her third novel. She lives with her family in Colorado. 

Active in the writing community, Donnell sits on the board of Pikes Peak Writers, is a member of RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter, Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She also co-owns Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group for writers, started by retired veteran police officer Wally Lind.

You can visit her website at

About BETRAYED (Bell Bridge Books) - November 18, 2013 

Available for preorder on Amazon Kindle

When Oklahoma City resident, Irene Turner learns the incomprehensible, that the stillborn baby she delivered 28-years earlier is alive, she takes the evidence to where her daughter now lives—Denver Colorado.

Detective Nate Paxton can’t believe what Irene’s evidence shows him.  Kinsey Masters, a world-class athlete, raised by a prominent Denver family, an unattainable woman he’s known and loved for years, was stolen at birth. 

Irene Turner, Nate Paxton, and Kinsey Masters are united in a sordid conspiracy.  But, it’s who the conspirators turn out to be that will leave the trio shaken and in disbelief.  Irene’s foundation of trust will be ripped from its core, as kidnapping, murder, and a thirst for revenge lead her to learn she’s been betrayed.


G. Jillian Stone said...

Hey Donnell,

Can I borrow your fire excuse? I have a deadline coming up this Monday with three chapters left to write!

All kidding aside, that was one horrible fire you'all had there in Texas.

Jillian Stone

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Jill, good morning, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, heck the Pacific Northwest, we've all been on fire. However, I'm in Colorado. :) You really, really don't want my excuse. Good luck with your deadline. No standing over toilets allowed! xxoo

Anne Marie Becker said...

Donnell, I hope your community is recovering. So scary, and it's amazing how unexpected disasters can impact us, even when not directly impacting us. So glad you had an understanding editor! The new release looks fantastic. :)

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Anne, it's going to be a long, long process. Who would have thought that in a drought we would have to worry about flooding. But with the destruction of trees and the charred ground, the area has had some hazards to be sure. Thanks for stopping by. I have a very patient editor and publisher. So grateful!

Karalee Long said...

We watched the news of those fires and were overwhelmed for the people in that area. I'm so glad you were safe. Up here in Boulder, we've had fire and flood, and it's all too scary and sad. Can't wait to read your books that are in my TBR stack. Stay safe.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Karalee, back at ya! Scary times. I pray for rain (within reason) ;) Thanks for stopping by!

Mary Marvella said...

Donnell, I am so glad you survived! You are a real trouper and a fabulous writer!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Ah, Mary, me too :) and thank you on both counts! Our summers have been otherworldly of late. You can't make this stuff up! ;)

Anonymous said...

Donnell, you put into words what I felt. My family was not affected directly by either fire, but close friends lost homes in both Waldo Canyon and Black Forest. Terrifying. And interesting that your publisher's understanding freed you up to complete the novel.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to be that anonymous! That was Catherine Dilts. : )

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Catherine Dilts, sometimes the only thing bystanders can do is to write about it. That, and do our best to help. My publisher ROCKS! Just sayin'.

Polly Iyer said...

A lesson learned. There are more important things than deadlines and even things more important than our stories. Sometimes we're so involved in those words on the computer screen that everything else goes blank until tragedy wakes us up. Sorry for your friends, Donnell, and for the experience. I read enough of Betrayed to know you'll have another hit on your hands.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Oh, Bless you, Polly Iyer, back at cha, friend! I'm in awe of your writing!