Two years ago today, I released a little passion project called Empath. Nicknamed the “anxiety dragon” book, Empath was less about “what’s popular” and more about pouring my loneliness and ache for home into something else so it would leave me. I’d become overwhelmed with my anxiety, which flares and spirals like a dragon in my mind. I wanted to write the things I could never say to my ex because I was too scared to. To write the things I could never say period because I was too scared to.
And that’s how that little dragon book came to be.
Trudging through the Pain
I hated writing Empath. To be fair, I was pretty unhappy at that point. It was the last quarter of 2014, and I had made the decision to move to Pensacola, but unable to do so for another eight months. I had grad school to pay back, a house to sell, and a career to relocate. There was still a question if this craziness was going to actually happen.
And life in DC was miserable. People often wonder why I have such bad things to say about the city, but in truth, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Every morning, I’d hop on the metro to a job I hated and hold my breath as the train would pass by my ex’s house. Would today be the day I ran into him? Was he still with his new girlfriend? Would they already be engaged? There was no escaping this morning and afternoon ritual.
There was also this crushing loneliness. Most of my friends had abandoned me in DC after I’d gone through my quarter-life crisis. The rest of my support system was a thousand miles away, and I couldn’t get there.
And the cherry on top was how this book screwed with my mental health. Forcing myself to write scenes where Lauren couldn’t breathe would trigger my own sympathetic response. Chronicling her musings about her ex (taken from my own memories), would leave me exhausted and miserable. In order to write her pain, I had to experience it.
What I Needed
Way back before the quarter life crisis, I refused to admit there was a problem in my life. I avoid pain and misery like the plague, and to accept this new reality would hurt like a son of a bitch. Although I’d gone to therapy, which lead to the rediscovery of writing as my self-care, I still hadn’t dealt with my pain. Writing Empath was spending three grueling months underwater in my grief and misery. And when I reached the end, I was clean.
But it gets the most feedback. I received a five-page fan letter from a girl who was so moved by the book, she bought two more copies to share with the troubled girls she mentors. For a book that was written so closely to my own unique experience, it’s strangely a universal story. In some way, that makes those with whom it resonates feel a little less alone.
I like to think everything happens for a reason. Had I not gotten this urge to write a book about my pain and misery, I might still be holding onto it. Changing location doesn’t solve a problem, although it can aid the solution. Because I’d written Empath, I was ready to move on, for real. When I arrived in Pensacola, I was ready to live a beautiful life. And life really is beautiful.
So happy book birthday, my little book. Here’s to many more years of breaking feels–and slaying fears.
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Lauren Dailey is in break-up hell.
Stuck between moving on and letting go, she puts on a brave face while crying herself to sleep at night. But when a mysterious voice promises escape from her sadness, she is suddenly transported to a new world. And in this place, the slightest touch pulls her out of her tortured emotions into the mind of another - an empath.
The villagers - sweet Aerona and her mischievous twins, wise Siors, and hunky Cefin - welcome her and the blessings her empath powers bring. But this world is not without its dangers. The Anghenfil, a fire-breathing monster, has haunted the village for decades, and has a taste for empaths. And that mysterious voice promising escape from sadness? It's sounding more like a whisper tinged with smoke and embers.
Can Lauren keep the monsters in the mountain and in her head at bay? Or will she succumb to the darkness like the empath before her?
Empath is a book about a girl going through a rough patch. She hears a mysterious voice promising an easy out to all her problems, and is transported to a world where she has the power to feel what others are feeling. Just one problem: there's a dragon that might want to eat her. And oh, by the way, it might also be the source of that mysterious voice, tempting her deeper into her own darkness.
Empath is a standalone novel intended for ages 15 and up. Content warnings for mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicide.
"There," Cefin said, pointing to a pile of rocks that leaned against the side of the mountain. "That is where I found you."
"I was under there?" Lauren breathed. It was obviously a cave-in, and the boulders were thick and heavy. If any of them had fallen in the wrong place, she would have been crushed.
It was a miracle she wasn't crushed.
She approached the pile and saw where Cefin must have dug her out. Seeing the size of the rocks, knowing how close she had come to not getting out, she felt a little sorry for being so angry with him. Although he was being an jerk right now, she wasn't sure she ever thanked him for saving her life.
"Hey," Lauren said, tossing him a sideways glance. "Thanks for saving me."
"Just hurry up," he huffed, pulling his spear off of his back. "The Anghenfil could be in any one of these caves."READ MORE
"The right response is 'you're welcome'…" She walked up to the pile and began pushing aside any of the rocks she could, looking for anything strange. She tossed a fist-sized stone behind her and gasped.
"There's a cave here!" she called to Cefin, who was standing with his spear in his hand and not helping her whatsoever.
She sniffed and began tugging at a big rock, hoping that if she could move it a little bit, it would dislodge other ones, creating a larger hole, one that she could slip through. With a heave, she pushed with all of her might and it broke free, tumbling down into the blackness and taking Lauren with it.
She landed in a heap in the dark, cool cave, coughing up dust and other particles. A small halo of light formed a circle on the ground, but didn't offer any other illumination in the cave. Pushing herself to her feet, she walked over to the hole and peered out, spying Cefin standing at attention.
"I'm fine, thanks for asking."
"Hurry up," Cefin snapped, his eyes glued to the skies.
"Yeah, yeah," Lauren rolled her eyes, disappearing into the darkness.
She stumbled around for a moment, feeling at the floor with her feet for anything that would give her a clue as to how she got here. Maybe she just needed to walk to the end of the cave and she'd wake up back in her own bed. She kicked the ground until she found the wall of the cave, placing her hands on the chilly stone to guide her. She kept to the wall, planting her feet firmly with every step to keep her balance.
Her foot caught on something and she fell, but not onto the hard ground, onto something firm…
In the darkness, a gigantic red eye opened.
She gasped, fear gripping her as she scrambled for the small pinhole in the distance that was the edge of the cave. "CEFIN!" she screamed, her voice echoing in the cave.
The monster was moving, and Lauren saw a flash of bright fire, illuminating the black body the size of an elephant.
She screamed and ran faster, hating herself for ever coming up here. She flung herself at the small hole, wriggling out as fast as she could. Cefin's spear was out, concern on his face.
"Lauren, quiet down, you'll wake the—"
"TOO LATE!" she screamed, pulling herself out of the cave and running past him as fast as her feet could carry her. "RUN!"COLLAPSE
Mindy on Books, Books, and More Books wrote:
This is a thrilling book that mixes a solid fantasy setting with the heroine’s emotional turmoil and does so in a surprising, but well-executed way. Recommended to fantasy fans who don’t mind a more contemporary touch in their books (Lauren is, after all, still a twenty-first century girl traveling to a fantasy world).
Jen Streck on Psychocat Reviews wrote:
Interesting premise of time and space/dimension travel mixed with psychological or mental illness issues so that you aren’t sure even at the end if it really happened. The story was an interesting mix of fantasy and reality. It explores the concepts of depression, suicide, and letting other people in to the “secret” thoughts and emotional connections. Well written so that it is intriguing rather than preachy.
There's a good chance those final chapter will break your feels, but they will also remind you that ending up at the bottom doesn't mean you have to stay there.