Since January, I’ve been on a necessary writing break. Illness in the family, a new job, and a long-distance move definitely took precedence over my love affair with my laptop. I hope to never see another cardboard packing box in my life. My keyboard was idle, but my mind never was. I made the thousand mile trip to my new home by myself–my family having arrived earlier–and there was a lot of time for deep thinking and some planning of my next book. I also re-visited some of my earlier books, just to say ‘hi’ to some old friends. I still really like them. Now, my boxes are unpacked (well, most of them), the dog is almost through with his emotional collapse, and my job is winding down for the summer. That’s right, I found a job that gives me the summers off. I’m getting smarter with old age. It is time to say good-bye to the real world and delve back into the corners of my mind where new characters and new plot twists have been waiting, not so patiently. One of the nicest things about being in a new locale is the new inspirations. I’m in a place where the sun never stops shining so there are plenty of chances for people watching. Writers never stop making up stories about people they see out and about. I’ve spent a lot of nights on the beach recently just studying people and trying to figure out their story. I also found out that I live just a few miles from a world-famous author. Not that I would stalk him exactly but if I happen to see him walking along the beach…who knows what may happen next? How are we to know how a copy of one of my books just happened to end up on his front porch? Life is a mystery, right?
I met a young girl yesterday and she told me that her favorite thing to do was read. I told her that the best job in the world would be one in which I got to sit in a big chair and read all day. She responded, “I know, right?” Forty years separated us but in that moment, we were the same person: a book lover. We exchanged knowing smiles before I returned her to her fourth-grade classroom. When I was her age, I read everything I could. I used every earned penny to buy the next book in the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. I lived in those books; they meant everything to me. Once, my parents heard me talking in my sleep. I was apparently dreaming about searching for a book. They decided that I was reading too much—-my God, is there such a thing?—-and told me that I needed to take a break from reading. I still remember my absolute melt-down. With wide eyes, my parents rescinded their suggestion. They probably assumed that I was too far gone and there was no getting their daughter back. Even into adulthood, my favorite place to be is anywhere, as long as there is a book in my hand. One of my fantasies has always been getting stuck in a library during a ferocious storm and being told that I have to stay put all night. I love books. I love reading books, I love writing books. I love talking about books. I love going to movies based on books and then saying, ‘It’s not as good as the book.” That little girl and I know where all the cool kids hang out…in the pages of books.
I just returned from 10 days with my parents. 10 days with no internet access, cable as basic as it comes, and definitely no blogging, facebooking, tumblr, etc. I will not lie and say that I enjoyed my technology-free visit. However, when you stay in a retirement town in the middle of northern Florida and you have nothing to do but observe and visit and chat, you definitely make some new memories. For example, my waitress’ name one day was Melayne. I love that name. It will definitely appear in one of my upcoming books. Also, the lady that cut my mom’s hair tried one of those juice diets and gained five pounds when she broke down and ate a Reuben sandwich. Then, the guy next to me on one of my flights admitted that he misses his dog more than his kids when he travels. And the best of all: my parents’ neighbor yelled at his wife, “Well, Hitler isn’t going to get these rugs cleaned, is he?” Wouldn’t you just love to know the sentence that preceded that utterance? When you unplug, a few things happen. You get grouchy, for sure. I think that’s one of the withdrawal symptoms. You worry that you’ll forget to wish someone Happy Birthday because Facebook couldn’t remind you. However, you also get a chance to watch people and talk to people and figure out what life looks like untethered from the computer screen. People say “hello” to each other a lot more. People tell you their story and want to know yours. It was kind of cool and kind of horrible all rolled into one. I should try it more often but for now, it’s just good to be home.
My husband has been spending a lot of time in airports lately and decided to take my books for a whirl. I must admit, when he called me and said that he was well into “Wait for Me,” part of me cringed. I mean, my writer self is worlds apart from my everyday self. In real life, I’m boring and kind of bitchy and definitely not a siren. I’m a Scotch-Irish hard-head who doesn’t back down from a fight easily and admittedly has a sharp tongue when I’m tired (which is a lot.) My writer self is a lot more fun. I believe in sex on the fly, like to flirt shamelessly, and don’t worry too much about dishes or laundry. My husband doesn’t quite understand that I am two separate people. So, the inevitable happened. When he arrived home from his business trip, there was a spark in his eyes. Ladies, you know the one. I nervously asked him, “What’s up?” and he told me that he had no idea that I was so sexually creative. “I’m not,” I had to explain to him. “My writer self is.” Next, my blond husband wanted to know why so many of my male love interests have black hair but that’s a story for another day. I think that writers are like actors. A lot of us are shy, introverted even, self-doubters. Through our writing, though, we are set free. We can be whomever we want to be. I can be carefree, funny, sexy…and all three rolled into one. I can shed my earthly anxieties and explore the world in any manner I choose. Writers live in a two-sided mirror; I’m not just one side or the other, I’m both. I am serious and ambitious, but I’m also fun and exciting. Just don’t tell my husband.
You know when Target begins selling a line of adult toys based on a movie, the world as we have known it no longer exists. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey. Not that I don’t love a good juicy book, but I think my parents were too fond of corporal punishment for me to ever find EL James’ brand of romance appealing. I won’t go see the movie either because I hate chick flicks. I always have. They don’t have enough twists and turns to keep me interested. My confession today, however, is that I am jealous as hell of EL James and her success. It doesn’t matter if I read her book or go to her movie; millions and millions of others have already filled my spot. It’s her complete and utter success as a self-publisher that has me peeved. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of that kind of success? When I watched a story about Reese Witherspoon talk on how she reads tons of books by women about women and chooses which ones to turn into a movie, my heart jumped. I mean, I’m a woman. I write about women. Sure, sometimes the women are ghosts, but they’re still women, right? Why couldn’t Reese Witherspoon pick up one of my books and be utterly fascinated? Even more, what’s stopping Princess Kate (I sell well in England) from reading one of my books and saying casually in an interview that I’m her favorite author? If she can cause a dress to be sold out in 45 minutes, imagine what she could do for my books. I was so jealous of EL James that I toyed with the idea of writing erotica. Then I realized that erotica doesn’t usually involve historical characters or a dead sister giving you advice from the beyond or an evil old witch placing a curse on innocent children. Unless I can create a whole new genre of paranormal, kind of creepy erotica, I think my career as an erotic writer can’t get off the ground. I wish I could say that I hope the best for EL James. I wish I was a better person. That green-eyed monster is a powerful thing, though. My hope is to someday make some other frustrated writer as jealous as I am today.
“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”–F. Scott Fitzgerald
I remember when I was a teenager, I thought to myself that no one really knew who I was. In true teenage form, I pretended to be who my friends wanted me to be. I was the sweet one, the understanding one, the one who never rocked the boat. It wasn’t who I truly was, it was just what the group needed. Even now, many years beyond my teens, I’m different people. At work, I’m the responsible one, the one that never says “I don’t have time.” To my family, I’m the problem solver, the one who always has a solution in times of trouble. If you ask my sons, they will say I’m the mean one, the one who over-reacts when we wait too long to get seated at a restaurant. Sorry, but I thought two hours was an excessive amount of time to wait. I didn’t yell, I just expressed my displeasure. There are few people who know who I really am; sometimes I even forget who I really am. Writing brings you back to yourself, though. Writing has a beautiful way of emptying your mind of all of the noise and focusing on the new world in which you want to live for the next three months. Fitzgerald was right. We are a whole lot of people. Sometimes I’m brave like Amy (Wait for Me). Sometimes I make really bad decisions like Grace (Saved by Grace). Sometimes I want to stick my head in the sand like Ellie (Second Chance). All of those women in my books are me and I’m those women. I’m in the middle of a life transition right now. We’re packing up our house in the Midwest and moving to Florida. My parents need me and as a friend said, it’s a nice thing that they live in Florida and not North Dakota! My writing is on hold but in a few months (if the real estate market is kind) I should be back at the keyboard while watching the sun set over the Gulf. I don’t have the main character figured out yet because I don’t know who I’ll be in the Spring. I’m looking forward to finding out.
I’ve written time and time again about how writing takes dedication. It takes commitment. It takes your full concentration. Well, so do your parents. My dad became ill during my parents’ first week in their new home. He ended up in the hospital while my mom remained in the middle of stacks of boxes, unsure of even where her silverware was hiding. My husband and I headed for not-so-sunny Florida and helped set up their household in between visits to the hospital and sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed. It was a pretty bad week. Like a true writer, though, I kept filing away my experiences for later examination and use. For example, what type of person thinks it is okay to let his dog sprawl out on the couch in a hotel lobby? I want to know more about the two older women who came to the grocery store in a golf cart and bought flowers and wine. Why is the security guard at the front of my parents’ neighborhood taking his job way too seriously? Then there’s Dee, my parents’ friendly neighbor, who was raised in the Bahamas and told us the history of her home country as well as making us a pie from the oranges off my parents’ tree. My dad’s brother, Uncle Bo, was in town, too. I grew up with my dad’s family but have not had a lot of chances to see them in my adult life. Every time I spend time with them, though, I remember how quirky, funny, and downright odd my dad’s family can be. Scotch-Irish, they are born story-tellers. They are not much into watching television or reading; but they can keep you occupied for hours with their tall tales. Spending time with my dad’s family reminds me of who I am and where I come from. It reaffirms what I do. So, I didn’t write a single word while I was away, but I guess I was on a sort of a research trip. It’s nice to be home again, though, and feel the keys beneath my fingers.