A Very Good Two Years

My daughter called me up a few years ago, in the middle of one of those weeks when the spare went flat, the rent check bounced, and the professor sprang a pop quiz on the one assignment she had forgotten to read.

“Why doesn’t anybody tell you being a grown up is HARD?” she wailed, and my heart went out to her. As a child, adulthood looms as a golden land free of boiled asparagus, a place where we can stay up late every night, and never have to get on another school bus again. Time passes, and we see that staying up late isn’t all we dreamed it could be.

Being a published author is a little like growing up. Two years ago this month, my first book hit the shelves—a dream come true! And yet… I’ve learned a few things too, not all of them happy. Some of my lessons learned:

1)      Romance readers are among the kindest, most together people on the planet, and most romance authors are cut from the same cloth. We have our priorities straight, and for the most part, we treat each other decently. Yes, there are a few people, some of them reviewers, who must believe being snarky and narcissistic is some sort of contribution to the marketplace of ideas, but those people are by far in the minority, and they are not unique to the publishing industry.

2)      Luck has a lot to do with whether a writer succeeds commercially, the same as it affects the careers of doctors, ditch diggers, teachers, and everybody else trying to earn a living. One author’s book is chosen for some award, another’s gets into the hands of a mean reviewer on a mean day. When I realized that luck is not the exclusive plague of the fiction writer, writing became no more risky than lawyering, parenting or riding horses—all of which I’ve done with some success.

3)      Writing professionally is hard, not only because there are deadlines, reviews, and financial anxieties, but also because the manuscript I write becomes the property of an organization intent on maximizing the book’s commercial appeal, though how that’s done is still largely a mystery. In some ways, as an author, I have the least say over how the finished product is polished and packaged. In any survey of self-published authors, they do not cite increased revenue as their primary reason for turning away from traditional publishing, they cite an unwillingness to surrender artistic control as the reason they abandon the traditional publishing model. That’s significant.

4)      The final lesson learned is probably the most important: I love to write romance. I wasn’t sure I would, once the royalty checks, deadlines, and sales figures started showing up, but I do, I do, I do love to write. This is a Big Gift, because having a passion in this life is an inoculation against all manner of woes and miseries that a mere paycheck cannot cure.

I hope twenty years from now, I’m still writing romances, and still feeling mighty, mighty grateful to have that privilege.

What’s your passion? Is it the same one you had twenty years ago? Two years ago? To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed copy of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.”




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19 comments on “A Very Good Two Years

  1. I started out having a passion for art but I’m afraid I listened to the naysayers and gave up way too soon. So my passion is my children and reading and cats lol. My youngest daughter had that same passion and I totally supported her and she may only be doing it part time but it’s something she loves. Everyone should have a passion and if they can get paid for it too, so much the better.

    • It’s often the case that a parent’s avocation becomes a child’s occupation. I think that has to do with the calling incubating for a generation, but never going entirely dormant. Then too, I didn’t start writing until my late forties, when Beloved Offspring had sprung off into the big world.

      Maybe your artistic phase lies ahead of you, not behind you.

  2. Just commenting to congratulate you on your two years anniversary. And on having a passion which has lasted so long! I can’t identify one – reading is something I’ve loved fiercely all my life (so definitely longer than 20 years!) but it’s passive rather than active. I suppose the nearest I get is my feeling for plants and gardens, but I’m not sure it’s strong enough to be called a passion. At least it’s fairly active!

    • My one sister is a passionate about quilting–it sustains her in ways nothing else does–and the other sister is passionate about classical poetry. They are both quiet people, the classicist in particular, and yet, they are unstoppable too.

      And I read romance for thirty years before I tried writing one. There’s no telling which happy pastime is a passion waiting, waiting, waiting to blossom.

  3. Reading has definitely been a passion for more than 20 years. Over the last 20 years my passions have waxed and waned. Before marriage and children I wanted to write historical fiction and actually started writing a few books in college, but I haven’t finished them or written any more of them since my Twins were born over 11 years ago. My passion has been my family since then. Taking care of my four boys and my husband. I still read as much as I can. I spent about 7 years crocheting baby blankets with a passion (3 a week), but I have hardly picked up a hook in the last 3 years since my “baby” was born. I am sure that passion will come back. The writing bug is starting to bite again and I actually pulled out my old stories and notebooks filled with character descriptions, but I still haven’t written anything. Authors like you give me hope that it is something that I may yet get to do when the kids don’t need me as much and with my boys I don’t know when that day will come.
    Congrats on the anniversary of your books in print.

    • Sarah, I hope you do eventually write. When I was in the throes of single parenting, I needed the comfort of a good escapist read regularly. When you immerse yourself in anything that often, you’re picking up passive understanding of what works and what doesn’t. When I did start to write, the books piled up thick and fast. I’d complete an manuscript about every sixty days for the first few years. Now, those were really, really rough efforts, but they were good stories.
      Don’t lose sight of the dream. It will be there when you have the time and energy for it.

  4. I love fabric, in many forms, always. I started sewing in high school and have made everything from lingerie to outwear, from quilts to textile art, and am now refashioning, exploring the concept of zero waste, surface design, and designing my own styles. Fabric is my thing.

    At one point, I worked my behind off to become a textile artist and just as I reached a point of great success, the recession. In times of no money, contemporary abstract alternative art is not it. The stars did not align as Malcom Gladwell says in his book The Outliers. Luck and timing is a HUGE portion of the journey that has little to do with how hard you worked or whether you’re good enough. An interesting and often difficult lesson.

    I’ve read romances for more years than I can count and I love to write which means I’ve tried writing a romance. I’m definitely a non-fiction kind of girl. How fabulous that you’re enjoying your passion. I have encouraged my children to find something that intrigues them, something that can go from row-row-your-boat to many black notes and grow and evolve as they grow and evolve. Fabric is that for me. I can’t imagine not working with it.

    I already receive an ARC of the book earlier. THANKS.

    • Myrna, I tell my daughter: Do the thing you love so much, you’d do whether you got paid for it or not. When I’m feeling beat up by reviewers, misunderstood by my editor, etc., I come back to: I love to write. I will write whether anybody buys my books or not. So… big deep breath, refocus, get back to the writing, and my life goes on.

      I’m getting better at focusing on what I enjoy, though I hope for you the stars align soon. Any pics of your work you want to share here?

  5. The stars are not going to align in time – on this issue – for me. Only 5% of artist are self sustaining at best and they typically paint trees, nudes, and flowers in acrylic. That might sound pessimistic but it’s actually realistic. I hit a few low points in coming to this acceptance and my greatest fear was that I’d lose the love of creating just for creating’s sake – the writing whether the books sell or not. It just about happened. When I get to those points I often ask myself when was the last time “it” worked and what did that look like and then I attempt to create a similar path. Right now, I’m focusing on creative everyday wear. I can enjoy the process and experiment while I sew it and then wear it or not and it’s great. No buyers necessary. And there are challenges like zero waste – using up the scraps – and refashioning – making something wonderful from something ugly. My blog has some examples although nothing much at the moment. A while ago I deleted the entire thing as a way of moving in a new direction. Very cathartic. Absolutely wonderful. I could post a few favourites but I’m not sure how ? ? ?

    • Myrna, the links ought to work in the post, if you have them on Pinterest or your FB page.

      I got back into riding horses in my thirties because nothing was working. I was the proverbial human doing instead of a human being, and yet, I had a five year old daughter who looked to me to keep life moving forward. I asked myself, “When was the last time you were HAPPY?”
      The answer as a kick in the pants: Fifteen years ago, when I was a kid on a horse… Off to the horse barn,I did go, and it was a great move. Expensive, but the right thing to do.

  6. I’m one of those unwilling to give up artistic control. Just hope my work is good enough to qualify as artistic.

    I love the thought that a person’s passion if given full reign can be an inoculation against the negative facets of one’s life. Here’s to writing, running, volunteering, painting, fishing, designing, even lawyering.

  7. Ever since I learned to read, I read. I have a particular passion for romance novels because of the traditionally happy ending and watching the growth and maturation of the characters. For some of us learning that we are worthy of love, is a life long journey. For others, risking their heart and being vulnerable to someone else’s insensitivity, indifference and even scorn, is too much potential pain to even try so they settle for other things – that never seem quite fulfilling. If I had known that you could get paid for reading books, I would have pursued that as a career path. I think I’ll always have a passion for romance novels.

    Grace, I especially enjoy your books. Your characters have depth and your perspective is fresh and bright. I always eagerly look forward to your book releases.

    There was a study done a few years ago. What that study revealed is that quite a few women take a break in their career to raise their children. Once the children are grown, they take all those skills and apply them to their career or even forged new careers. Women reentering the work force in their 50’s were becoming CEOs and boldly succeeding in innovative ways.

    Grace, I think you are one of those examples. The imprint of an author’s heart, intelligence and creativity are reflected in their stories.

    Grace, I think you must be an amazing person to have so much depth, sensitivity and creativity in your stories.

    I hope to one day write a love story and have a population experience unconditional love through my writing.

    Take Care – one of your most ardent fans, Mare

    • Correction – I didn’t mean that you took a break from being an attorney to raise a family. I meant to say that your life experience shows in your writing.

      • Mare, thank you so very much! In some ways, I did veer away from being the kind of lawyer I was “supposed” to be. I graduated first in my class from an Ivy League DC law school–whoopie doo!–and expected I’d go into a big firm and litigate government contract issues, bill 3000 hours the first year, make partner. The world had better watch out for me.

        ‘Cept the rabbit died in my last year of law school, and all those silly, empty plans went in the dumpster. I had diapers to change, you see, and growing up to do. Making partner mattered not at all compared to cadging what time I could with my one and only offspring.

        Would not trade that path for anything on God’s green earth, now. I hope you do write those stories, because the world needs them a lot more than it needs one more partner in some DC law firm.

  8. I have straddled the line, succeeding in both the commercial and the noncommercial worlds of visual art. The bottom line has always been that I have the most respect for myself when I am being completely honest to the core of my soul/life knowledge. My personal work is not mainstream. My siblings and parents can not understand my concepts, but the people who do understand look at me as if I offer a lifeline of sanity. When those eyes of comprehension come from strangers I realize I am accomplishing the greatest goal of all: deep communication about hope with no strings attached… a form of unconditional love.

    When I read romance novels I am chasing after that same lifeline of sanity. My favorite authors often write about destroyed characters, explore their motivations, offer reality based psychological solutions, and then sing on into hopeful endings. If I had a talent with words I’d definitely try to be a novelist, but I struggle to open my mouth… so I’m happy sitting here reading the visions of those gifted romantic thinkers who are lucky enough to walk the published path. You all are life savors to me.

    So I’d say my lifelong passion has been for heartfelt, soul derived art in any medium, given as well as received.

    • I spent some time with a writing buddy whose books I adore, and she pointed out that creative people generally are not highly valued in our society. The writer, the dancer, the actor, the poet, the potter, they study their craft for years, can be criticized viciously by anybody with a computer, are seldom highly paid, and often not even appreciated.

      This is all true, and yet, I could not stop writing right now if I had to. There are those moments you mention, when somebody GETS your work, and finds sustenance in it, but there are also those moments when the work itself is bliss, whether anybody else stumbles on your creation or not.

      I wish you that bliss, and the commercial success that I’m convinced it can lead to. Mostly, though, I wish you the bliss.

  9. So many passions: Books, Horses, Food. The passion for books keeps me entertained, informed, and made all phases of learning generally enjoyable…I will always read. I pursued my passion for horses, competing, training, and showing until my health made it unfeasible. By pursuing it I know I did it as far as I could, making letting it go a smidge less fraught. My passion in bloom is food: the alchemy of ingredients to recreate or create dishes without gluten, corn, dairy, things I’m now allergic to and are everywhere (shampoo even). Even on days when my health has me horizontal, book or nook in hand, ingredients dance in my mind. Good days mean working with the ingredients and serving up the results to neighbors and the how-to on my blog.
    Grace, it is wonderful that you create for the sake of creating and we’ve the chance to discover and relish the results.