Remembering my priorities

Currently, I’m attending a romance writers conference in Seattle. I’ve wanted to go for several years, but I’ve never been able to get the time off from my day job or afford to go. This year, I’m lucky enough to have both.

Romance novels come in lots of different sizes and heat ratings. Friday, I sat in on a session and learned of a new sexual practice: edge play. Do you know what this is? I didn’t either, so I raised my hand and asked the editor to clarify the term. She said it’s when lovers use knives –  yes, knives – in their sexual foreplay. Okay. I did not know this. I felt really dumb until I overheard one of the conference keynote speakers, a New York Times bestselling romance writer, admit she didn’t know what it was either.

Yesterday, during another session, a very successful author shared her experiences with the biggest publisher of romance, Harlequin. She said she knew her relationship with the publisher was over when her editor asked her to rewrite her manuscript seven times and then said she realized she had taken the author’s voice completely out of the book. This author said she had a book published (for which Harlequin owns the rights for 30 years) that she is ashamed of. She apologizes to readers for the poor quality of this book. Wow.

I came to this conference to pitch my Celebration House Trilogy to a film scout. And I did that. Will anything come of the business card I palmed off on her? Hard to know. She doesn’t represent women’s fiction, stories that would be a perfect fit for the Hallmark Channel. Her connections at Universal Studios and Paramount Studios are looking for edgy, dark stories. Ones that probably involve knives.

So, I returned to my hotel room and stared out at the amazing view of Lake Washington and Bellevue from my room on the 15th floor. And I’ll be honest: I felt discouraged. It’s like I told my husband, “I don’t fit here.” I don’t write stories where men rape men or molest children or partners use knives to find sexual pleasure. I just don’t. And I will never, never publish a book I’m ashamed of. I’d rather work a day job.

I felt like I just don’t fit. And this made me sad, it really did, until I checked my email. There I found two questions/comments left on my website:

#1: From Pamela, on my Return to Celebration House page: “How in the world can I get this book? I have been looking for months for it.”

#2: From Bonnie, also on my Return to Celebration House page: “Looking forward to reading book 3. Hope you’re busy writing.”

I wish I could convey to these two women who threw me a lifeline of encouragement how much I appreciate them for taking the time to send me a message. Please trust me when I say: this was just what I needed at just the right time.

These two simple messages prompt me to remember my priorities:

  1. I will write and publish books I am proud of.
  2. “Readers are the only validation that really matters.” It’s not just a stolen phrase. It’s my mantra. I think I forgot for a short time.

CelebrationHouse_Book3As I finish writing Return to Celebration House, I’m confronted with the idea of legacy. Melanie will do whatever she needs to protect Carrie’s legacy. And I ask myself, as I’m sure many of us do at one time or another, what’s my legacy? I think it’s time to make peace with the idea that I may never sit in a dark theater and watch my stories come to life as only Hollywood can do. I may never sit on my couch and flip to the Hallmark Channel and watch Carrie’s story unfold before me. But I will always, always be proud of my work, the books I publish. The stories I share. And I will always be grateful for the emails from readers that keep me going. Always.

ADDENDUM: Later in the morning after I published this blog post, I attended a session entitled, “Sexy but Sweet: The Art of the PG13 Bedroom Scene Done Just Right” by author Brooke Moss. Have you heard of her? I had not either. Brooke just released her 10th novel, some traditionally published and some indie published. None of her books contain graphic sex. She doesn’t write it. It’s uncomfortable for her. She doesn’t want her daughters embarrassed to read her books, just as I don’t want my Aunt Mary Rose to be embarrassed to read my books.  During this 60-minute session, Brooke and other members of the audience talked about the very reasons why they don’t want sex scenes in their books. I looked around at the 30+ members of the audience, and I thought, “Hmm. Maybe I do fit.”

Here’s where to find Brooke: Brooke-Moss

Hands and arms inside the cart: finding a way to get the work done.

 

 

 

Bring it, mountain

Yesterday, I attended a writing seminar near Seattle. An editor from Harlequin, Susan Litman, spent most of a day telling authors how Harlequin could help them become hybrid superstars, which is to say writers who both self-publish their works, as I do, and sign a contract with Harlequin to publish their work.
I really wanted to attend this seminar; I really didn’t want to drive there.
You see, I live in eastern Washington state. The conference was held in Seattle. Between them and me is a mountain range. And it’s February. And we’re enjoying a robust winter with lots of snow and ice.
I left Friday morning about 8:30. I made it to Seattle shortly before 3 p.m. Not too bad. The mountain pass was mainly just wet. But, all day yesterday, I watched the state cameras and saw this message: “Eastbound I-90: Chains required.”
I have never put chains on a car. I didn’t even own a pair of chains until yesterday afternoon when I went to a Les Schwab and bought a pair. The salesgirl – and I’m using the word “girl” because I’m pretty sure she was twenty years my junior – made it look so easy. You just wrap the chains around the tire. Snap here, here and here, and voila, you are road ready! (Just don’t go faster than 30 mph).
My plan was to enjoy the writing seminar and then start the 300-mile drive home. But by mid-afternoon, they had closed the highway due to heavy snows and, my favorite, avalanches. My anxiety only grew.
So, I stayed another night at the hotel, spending the evening at a Barnes & Noble and shopping at my favorite Seattle grocery store, Whole Foods. And my anxiety grew.
Last night, I studied a map of Washington and looked for a way to get from the hotel to home without crossing the mountain pass. No problem. Just drive south on Highway 5, turn left at Oregon and drive east to Richland, then a few more hours of driving north to Spokane. No problem. Except the 300-mile trip becomes a 550-mile trip. The five hours of driving becomes nearly nine hours of driving. Oh, and the Seattle news station kept showing this amazing footage of semi-trucks skidding out of control on ice just north of Portland. So, my long detour offered no guarantee of safety.
This morning, I awoke about 3:30 a.m. Insomnia has its uses. I was completely awake and just dreading this drive. So, I checked out of the hotel and at 4 a.m., sitting in my car in the parking lot, I made a decision: I would face this mountain. Whatever it had to dish out, I would take it. Bring it, mountain!
I hit the worst part of the pass about 5 a.m. The few cars on the road at that time had pulled off to the right and the drivers began to put on chains. I did the same. Did I put on my own chains? Uh, no. A good Samaritan with a thick Hispanic accent put the chains on for me. But then I was off at a speed of 25 miles per hour, determined to put Snoqualmie Pass behind me. There were no cars behind me. Even fewer cars in the oncoming lanes. But mile by mile, I climbed that mountain. At one point I saw a state transportation worker. I slowed down and asked him if I needed to stop. He said, “You keep going, girl.” So I did. Further down the road, I realized the snow on the road was lessening. I pulled over at a gas station and took the chains off. By myself. No help. I found out later they closed the pass by 7 a.m. Too many wrecks.
I’m at home now, wearing my cozy pajamas and listening to my basset hound snore. But the sense of pride I feel for conquering Snoqualmie Pass is with me still. I did it! I told that mountain, “Not today, Mother Trucker!”
This reminds me of writing the first draft of a novel, which I’m struggling to do right now. The first book of my trilogy, Building Celebration House, is with the proofreader. I will make my deadline. But the second book, Stay at Celebration House, is giving me trouble. I can’t convince the heroine to do what I need her to do – forgive her cheating ex and accept his marriage proposal. She’s fighting me. But in order to give her the satisfying final scene I want for both she and the readers, she must do this. Just like I must get over that mountain. And we’re gonna get there, she and I. One mile or word at a time.
Hands and arms inside the cart: Rebuilding Celebration House