When people hear that I’m a writer, they all ask the same question. A variation of why/how do you write? I will answer, “I write because I have to,” and “One word at a time.” Those answers are the simplest form of the truth and yet still meaningless to someone who’s never felt the urge to fill a blank page with words.
My writing comes from a desire to create, live in, and enjoy a world outside the realm of the limited opportunities of my existence. Writing is my way of working around the old conundrum that while talent is tin, opportunity is gold. Writing creates opportunity. Opportunity to discover, learn, research and investigate things that were otherwise beyond my reach both physically and economically.
Reading is essential to writing. Reading is mining tin and storing up the raw material to later make art. I started as a reader. And I read everything; cookbooks, dictionaries, instruction manuals. I consumed words as if I had a literary tape worm. Somewhere between my Anne Rice phase and my all things Stephen King phase, I started reading biographies. I borrowed them from the library or bought them for a quarter at rummage sales and read them to learn about other lives, other ways of being.
Biographies led me to history and history led me down the path to historical romance. I can hear people sputtering now, but… but… Romance? Historical romance, to me, represents the triumph of heroines over biased social constructs, economic restrictions, and stifling patriarchy. Writing of these victories, one story at a time, is a balm to my own struggles with independence and authority.
Like so many others, I had to find the magic alchemy that would turn what little tin I had into gold. I was born into the sort of large, poor, small town family that rarely gets noticed for anything other than their run-down house or shabby clothes. Like my siblings, I started working while still in high school. I typed up forms at one job before walking down the road to flip burgers at the other job. I cleaned bathrooms, filed thousands of pieces of paper, and answered phones. Still, I had not saved enough to attend even the local community college.
So out I went into the world to greedily collect experiences while reading about lives much more glamorous than mine. The more I worked the less I had time to write but the love of reading never left me. Going to college got pushed further and further out of reach as marriage and then children took up my time. Until one day, a small notice in one of those shopper’s circulars that usually gets thrown in the trash after the good coupons are clipped out, a notice about the meeting of a local writer’s group caught my attention.
I didn’t know anyone there, I had never before been to the place where they met. I remember sitting in the parking lot staring at the building, watching the other women walk in the doors and wondering if they’d think me odd and untalented. I went in anyway. At the end of the meeting they sat around the table, each reading a page or two of their current work. When my turn came I took the folded sheets from my purse, the scraps from where I pulled them out of the spiral notebook littered the table like confetti as I read. They hated it and told me so.
And yet I went back the next month. Because, while they hadn’t liked it, they had taken it seriously enough to discuss it. That crumb of encouragement was all I needed. Writing was no longer just the secret project hiding in a box under the bed, it was real. Turned out that little group of like-minded women were a chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Joining that group made all the difference in how much opportunity gold I was exposed to.
My reading tastes have changed over the years but historical romance will always hold a place in my heart. Stories of women with little autonomy, straining against rules put in place to keep them firmly within their social class and butting their heads against barriers constructed to keep them low and small, will always call to me. The characters in these books have to be quick and clever to overcome and survive. I read those stories for the triumph and satisfaction of the happy ending.
And that’s exactly why I write them.
I still belong to RWA and still see many of the women from that first table reading. The writing community is like the ocean in that you never want to turn your back on it for too long. RWA, however, will always welcome you home and toast your successes with you.