In his book, “What the Dog Saw,” Malcolm Gladwell includes a wonderful piece (another wonderful piece) comparing the development of two different types of artists. We’re all familiar with the wunderkinds, the Mozarts performing in public at age five, composing at age seven, and living lives of public acclaim for their great gifts. For some reason, we consider them the “real” talent in the creative pantheon. They have it, they rock. They’re going to be famous for all time.
Gladwell describes another kind of artist—a writer who “bursts onto the publishing scene” in mid-life or later. While it makes good press to describe this later bloomer as an overnight success, the reality is that many talented writers and artists blossom only slowly.
We of the late maturing variety nibble and nosh on artistic progress: we try, try, try again. We may gradually shift our craft from pastime, to hobby, to passion or we might plug away steadily until the “lucky” breaks all line up, and we’re discovered in our humble garret, contentedly plowing through the fifth revision of our magnum opus. We pray devoutly and hammer stoutly.
I love reading the works of romance wunderkinds (Meredith Duran Julie Ann Long, Sherry Thomas, you know who you are). I delight in their verve and assurance, their willingness to take risks, their sparkling voices. Compared to those racehorses whizzing around the track with élan at an earlier age, I am an aging draft mule. I don’t whiz around anything except the book store when my keeper authors have new releases. I wouldn’t know élan if it jumped up and kissed me. I hatched up my Regency debut in the first blush of geezerhood, or so my offspring says.
Though I am happy to be here. Thrilled, in fact.
In “The Heir” (Sourcebooks, December 2010) I opened the book with a chamber maid getting her bodice buttons stuck on a fireplace screen and being unable to extricate herself. Our hero intervenes to rescue her (and gets stoutly beaned for his gallantry). This scene was inspired by a few lines from “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” by Carson McCullers, where the girl protagonist gets her blouse buttons stuck in the mesh screen of a rotating fan. I read it when I was a child myself and the image stuck with me.
For forty years.
Lucky, lucky old me. I have read not hundreds of good romances novels, I’ve read thousands. I’ve crossed the country by car not once or twice but a dozen times. I’ve been a single mom not for years but for decades. I’ve had not one career but three, and I’ve awoken with my head full of writing dreams for longer than many authors have been alive.
Envy me the amount of raw material I’ve amassed to funnel into my fiction. Envy me the wisdom I’ve acquired about how to most efficiently coax my creativity onto the page. Envy me the sheer joy I take in finally, finally being able to pursue a dream that’s been incubating for years and years and years. Envy me the resourcefulness of someone mature enough to know—well, most of the time—when to wait, when to strike, and when to get the heck out of Dodge.
For those of us who weren’t wunderkinds, it’s comforting to know that it’s good to be even the dowager queen. Surpassingly, wonderfully good.