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.

 

 

 

What’s my legacy?

Last week, as I was leaving my day job after a particularly difficult shift, I shared an elevator with a fellow nurse. She asked me how my day went, and I told her it had been a rough one. I queried her in return, and she told me hers had been challenging too: one of her favorite patients died at the age of 48. I’ll be 48 on my next birthday.

Her simple words quickly reminded me of how lucky I am to have my health, a good-paying job and a clean, safe home where my small family waits for me.

I thought a lot about that elevator conversation, and it spurred me to think more about my legacy as a writer. Recently, I stumbled upon a website about Victoria Holt, a romance writer who died in 1993 and wrote more than 200 books. Her fans built the website as a tribute to her after her death. Can there be any higher praise?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time – dare I say waste? – looking for validation by either selling lots of books or collecting five-star reviews. But, really, is that what matters?

I write because I have stories I want to tell. I have characters whose voices I hear loud and clear, and if I don’t share their stories, then those characters wane and fade away. And I believe each of my books has one reader it’s meant for – either to entertain or to reassure that they are not alone in their struggle. I don’t write about popular girls; I never was one. I don’t write about wealth; I’ve never known it. I write about working-class heroines who struggle to make ends meet and build a home for themselves and those they love. Not a lot of glamour in that.

There are certain things I can control on this journey. I control the quality of my storytelling. As an indie author, I choose my cover art and hire an editor and proofreader. I choose the actors who record my audiobooks, and I schedule the date my books publish.

But there are certain things I cannot control. I’ve queried numerous agents and editors and received many no-thank-yous. I’ve submitted my books time and time again to the biggest promotion site available, and I hear no. I refuse to pay for reviews, so my books will never be featured in Publishers Weekly or RT Magazine. None of that matters.

What matters to me is this: I want to be known as a writer who helps other writers. I want to be known not for the bucket loads of books I sell but for the encouragement and boost-up I give to my fellow wordsmiths.

So, with that goal in mind, I signed up to host other writers on Great Escapes Book Tours. On Friday, I share a post by Janice Peacock, who writes A Glass Bead Mystery series. She talks about romance and her newest book, A Bead in the Hand. On Sunday, I host Joyce and Jim Lavene, a husband-and-wife team who wrote Gone by Midnight, a collection of short mystery stories. If my meager efforts help these authors sell a few books, that’s great. If those sales encourage them to keep writing, that’s even better.

I can’t think of a better legacy.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Welcome, Janice Peacock.