Thank goodness I quit “wanting” and tried again!
I’m not sure when I first realized I liked to write, but it happened somewhere between a disastrous report on the parts of the eye in 6th grade and my pre-teen attempt at a novel (a super-short story, actually).
That first manuscript included an orphaned heroine, a cross-country adventure while eluding the police, and a crush on a bad boy who helped her out of trouble.
How it took me so long to figure out that I should write romantic suspense, I’ll never understand.
Maybe it’s because I never considered writing as a career. Other people made a living at it, not people like me. Success as a writer seemed as likely to happen as that singing career I’d once envisioned. The idea of making a living writing is still daunting—and as yet unrealized—but here I am plugging away at the keyboard most days, ever hopeful, because it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
For years, I dabbled in poetry, wrote a slew of technical documentation, and emailed random flashes of story ideas home for safekeeping. When I finally quit working for someone else back in 2008 (wow, time flies!), I knew I needed something to keep my brain engaged and challenged. Something that could satisfy my insatiable desire to learn, my unending curiosity, my hunger for a behind-the-scenes look at professions and scenarios I’ll never (I hope) experience firsthand.
Like reading, but better. It was time to seriously pursue writing.
Fiction was my dream, but I didn’t have any big ideas. Not the kind I thought I wanted to take on. I’d spent most of my adult life reading mysteries, thrillers, and historical adventures. I couldn’t imagine where authors like Sue Grafton, David Baldacci, Ken Follett, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Joseph Finder, and Khaled Hosseini got their ideas. Talk about intimidating.
It wasn’t until I picked up a couple of old historical romance novels from the “Free” box at the library that I realized there was a genre for the stories in my head. It was an epiphanic (yes, that’s a word), slap-your-head sort of moment. I knew historical wasn’t for me (love to read it, can’t write it), but when I found romantic suspense authors like Suzanne Brockmann, Christina Dodd, JoAnn Ross, Laura Griffin, Roxanne St. Claire, and so many others, I found my home.
I started writing immediately, and haven’t stopped since. Releasing my own romantic suspense (Blind Fury) earlier this year was the culmination of a five-year effort/dream that really goes all the way back to junior high.
What if I hadn’t picked up those free books? Would I have come to romance another way eventually? I hope so. It’s likely. But who knows how much longer it would have taken?
I’m just grateful for the ways of the universe, and happy to have found my niche.
Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try (or try again)? What’s holding you back?
Since next week is the Rita/Golden Heart announcement day, my K&T sisters have asked me to repost this letter I “wrote” last week to my CP (critique partner). I hope that all who are waiting for a call, especially those who don’t get one, find some comfort in these words. They come from a writer’s heart.
“Monkey buttshine!” my son screams at his sister.
“Rat hag!” she yells back.
I drop the laundry basket and head downstairs.
They know the m-b word is not allowed. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what a monkey butthshine is, but to my twins, it’s the worst thing they can call each other. In their odd twin language, rat hag is the second-worst. So the one who starts the fight, the one who says “monkey buttshine” first, always wins.
“Take it back!” As usual, they speak at the same time, in the same false tone, with the same heavy breathing. Faced off like two cage fighters, they circle each other.
My daughter has on the ugly face, my son’s fists are clenched.
And my mother’s heart breaks. “Why do you speak to each other like that?”
They both turn and look at me, two pairs of blue eyes wide, as if noticing me for the first time.
My son answers first. “Because she tricked me. She’s always tricking me.”
“Am not!” my daughter replies.
“Are too! It’s why you’re the oldest,” he pauses for affect. “Monkey buttshine!”
Good grief. Not this again. “Your sister was born first because she was lowest. There was no grand conspiracy to make you younger.”
“By eleven minutes,” my daughter adds with a wonderful teenage sneer. “But mom said it felt like eleven hours!”
Did I mention my twins are thirteen?
“Go finish your chores.” I pick up the laundry basket with a heavy sigh (I can add drama to any situation as well). “And I don’t want to hear those words again.”
“Why not?” my son asks as I leave the room. “I’ve heard you say worse things to yourself.”
Without responding, I stumble up the steps and make it to my bedroom. My heart races and everything blurs.
I’ve heard you say worse things to yourself.
Those words cut me as surely as if I’d taken the sharpest knife to the softest skin on my forearm. Not only because I’m horrified that they’ve heard me, but because they’ve spoken the truth.
I drop the basket in front of the window, the morning light highlighting the folded white laundry, and I see all the variations in the white cotton, where the bleach never penetrated. Perfection is a self-defeating behavior, but self-destruction by words is far worse. Especially when one is a writer with an entire arsenal of rhetorical devises armed and ready.
I am, and always have been, harsher on myself than anyone else. Usually I keep the brutal self-talk inside, but I have a tendency to mutter when I’m upset. I just figured no one else was listening. But, apparently, I was wrong.
As I reach down to start putting away the yellowed whites, my cell phone vibrates. A text from one of my CPs.
21 days until GH/Rita finals announced. I don’t think I have a chance of finaling. I feel like puking.
I take a deep breath. Those words carry so much emotion, and I remember her disappointment when she didn’t final last year. I remember her smiling on Facebook and cheering on her fellow writers with the grace and humor she’s known for. I also remember the horrible things she and many of my published/yet-to-be published friends confided to me about themselves and their own manuscripts while others celebrated online. And I don’t know how to respond.
Yes, I’ve finaled in the Golden Heart three times over the last three years but I’ve also not finaled five times. I know the disappointment and can still taste the tears, but I hesitate to type back. How can I encourage her when I treat myself with the same kind of contempt? With a kind of harshness I wouldn’t shower on my worst enemy?
As I put away laundry and struggle with what to say to my CP, I hear the kids downstairs negotiating whose turn it is for dog doo-doo duty. In the midst of back-and-forth promises and threats, my son says, “I’m sorry I called you a monkey buttshine. You’re prettier than a monkey’s butt.”
“I know.” My daughter quickly responds, “And I didn’t come out first on purpose. I was at the right place at the right time. But sometimes the best comes out last.”
My heart skips. Sometimes the best comes out last.
“At least we have each other,” my son says. “Can you imagine how hard this would all be if we had to do everything alone?”
And, again, I’ve learned from my children. My twins were born with a confidence I’ve always envied. Everything they’ve ever faced from speech therapy, entering middle school, to getting braces, they’ve had a sibling. A friend. A partner.
I stand by the bedroom window and watch them outside. In yellow puddle boots and arms wrapped in plastic newspaper bags, they work together to clean the yard while the dog chases them. And I smile. They’ve shared everything. Haircuts at the scary cartoon place. Death of the beloved hamster. Whispers in the dark. Birthdays. They may argue, but they don’t fear because they are never truly alone.
Suicide by words is just plain old fear wrapped in vivid imagery and clever metaphors.
And isn’t it my job as a CP, as a friend, as a colleague, to stamp out this fear in both myself and those I love? It’s my privilege to encourage in the face of trials and disappointments. To celebrate in times of joy. To sit by quietly, just holding her hand, as she struggles. And even though I’ve failed myself doesn’t mean I can’t do better, can’t try again. Maybe by helping her, by not letting her face her fears alone, I can help myself.
I reach for the phone, but I don’t text. Instead, I compose an email for her and all the other brave writers who entered RWA’s Golden Heart/Rita contest this year.
“Dear Friend, Let me take your hand,
Regardless of what happens on March 25 or in two months or next year, I will not let you listen to the words of the serpent.
Regardless if that editor reading your newest manuscript offers you a contract or rejects you, I will not let you hide.
Regardless of the path your publishing career takes, you are still a writer. Your words (and drawings) still matter.
Your words aren’t meant to draw blood. Your words are meant to change peoples’ hearts. And isn’t that the most important thing? Isn’t that why you became a writer?”
Whether or not the phone rings on March 25, please remember these words for they come from my heart. Sometimes the best things come out last.
And the best is always worth waiting for. Just ask the teenagers. They know everything.
P.S. You are not a monkey buttshine (whatever that is)
Have you ever suffered from your own internal words? Words you’d never say to anyone else? How do you rise above the negative self-talk? I’d love to know I’m not alone.
The winner of any one book from Christy Reece’s LCR series is Chris Bails. Congratulations, Chris! Contact us within the next 10 days to collect your prize.
It wasn’t my passion for writing romance that brought unanticipated good fortune. It was my passion for my writing software, Scrivener.
Yes, I’m the kind of girl who goes gaga for apps and gadgets, and I have a long history of writing how-to manuals to teach others how to do my job. So, through a series of blog posts, and later my online classes, I accidentally and somewhat unintentionally established myself as a Scrivener expert.
Word got around, and when the publisher of the For Dummies line of books went looking for someone to write Scrivener For Dummies, the Twitterverse served up several names, including mine (thank you!). During our initial call, when the acquisitions editor at Wiley asked if I’d like to submit a proposal I bit back a girly squeal and calmly said something like, “Yes.”
Apparently they liked it—and possibly also my platform of former students and current blog followers—and I got the job.
Last week, my book finally hit store shelves. No, it’s not what I expected to create when I started writing more than three years ago. I thought my first published book credit would be an emotional, exciting romantic suspense with a blurb from my favorite author and a hot guy on the cover (hey, if you’re gonna dream, go big).
Instead I have the pointy-chinned Dummies Man on the spine. Not exactly an alpha male, but he has his own appeal.
Scrivener For Dummies may not be a romance, but my love for my subject is still on the pages. My voice is still there in every paragraph. And my heart still does flips when I spot the black and yellow cover on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.
I followed my passion and something unexpected happened. It’s not the path I expected to take—and I haven’t given up on my dream of publishing romantic suspense—but I’m certainly not complaining about the detour.
Has your passion for something ever taken you in an unexpected, but positive, direction?