"But you're actually very intelligent, Virginia. I mean, you could write something else, something really meaningful." Once, even, although I'm paraphrasing (but awful close to a direct quote), "You're wasting your talent, surely you can see that! You have a gift and you're using it to write trash. Doesn't that make you sick to your stomach? Aren't you ashamed?"
Jayden Neverfails, if you read that last bit, yeah...I still remember your words and they still *&^$ing hurt, thank you very much. Because you and everyone else that asks doesn't understand and can't, not really. I could use a thousand words and never make it make sense to you. But I can try...
I've heard the question in less academic settings, where the person is just mildly curious. After all, I could write a nice horror novel. Spatter some blood about. I have a gruesome enough imagination and the correct level of general cynicism--surely I could devote my use of the craft that direction instead of 'dithering away' in the romance genre.
I can admit, rather freely, regardless of the intent of the person asking me why I write romance, that it is bloody unlikely I'll ever truly give up doing it. Not for however long there are stories inside me, anyway. A lot of things combine to drive me to write these books.
For one, I love fairy tales. In real life, I've never found that kind of epic love. I've never been the woman to inspire single-minded devotion and an overwhelming need to never leave my side in a partner. Some have walked beside me for a time, some have stuck around and become friends, but the kind of love I write about? Yeah, I am not one of those romance novelists, enchanted by her real-life hero, who pens stories with that lover at the root of every hea she crafts. Me? I write the stories of what I think love should be like and I don't know that I think they're all entirely possible, even if I made it so on paper.
But I do feel one thing very, very strongly.
Romance novels are magic.
Why? Why, after only seconds ago admitting I'm not sure if it is possible to love like that in the real world, do I claim the stories are magic?
Because I've been surrounded by darkness, overwhelming hopeless and weighted dark. Scary, bad things have happened to me, situations I couldn't get out of or forget. I've been hit by deaths of loved ones that left me mired in overwhelming grief and sadness and not sure how I'd face a morning without my loved one in it.
I've been surrounded by sickness. I've been so not well, I wasn't even for a second wondering how I'd draw my next breath. Instead, I've been to the point where you're pretty sure you won't draw that next breath at all. When part of you just stills... and says with quiet acceptance, "Ah, so this is how I'm going to die."
I've been weighted by impossible realities. Bills too large to ever get paid, unsure where me and my family would sleep that night, unsure where I'd manage to find our next meal, unsure of abso-f*&%ing-lutely everything--other than feeling scared to death and not nearly a good enough person to make it past that point.
I've walked the midnight vigil only another parent would understand. That horrible lo-o-ong night when your child is gravely ill and you've spent all your tears and prayers and begging to whatever gods might be listening for that child to just make it through the darkness and see another sunrise. I've wheedled and bargained and made deals I could never hope to fulfill, been sure that nothing and no one heard my desperate cries...and yet there are still hours of hopeless night remaining where you just pace the floor (or the garden outside Rainbow Babies and Children Hospital, as the case may be) feeling entirely alone and inept.
In those times of darkness, depression, self-doubt and sometimes even abject hatred of myself, there has been one truth that always remained.
I could open a book and become someone else when the weight of my life was too great to carry.
I could fall into a story, become someone else--if even just for the duration of a chapter--and cry about something else. I could fall in love, even if I never quite managed it in real life with any sort of success, and the hero would love me back. I could laugh and be mad and feel a thousand different things, but by the end of the book...
There would be a happy ever after.
While reading those fictional happy ever afters, I can half believe in my own against all logical odds. I can hope that there is a reason for the dark times, that they might one day lead to ones that are brighter.
Sometimes hope is the one thing we're denied in the real world, but it shines so bright in the stories.
And that is why I write the books I write. Because somewhere, some day--maybe even today--some other person is lost in the darkness and isn't sure how they'll make it to morning. Maybe they're in a hospital bed, cradling a smart phone with an amazon app in their hand, facing unbeatable health odds, and maybe one of my stories is how they make it through their seemingly endless night. Maybe I can make them smile, even while their personal hell is bigger than any I've personally faced.
Maybe there is another mother, just like me, out there alone. Maybe she's so much like me that no one else is at that hospital with her...she's feeling young and inept and completely not good enough to fight for the precious life laying in a bed, but she'll be damned before she'll walk away. Maybe others walked away from her, left her alone in that battle, but she's not going to walk away. If I can give her a measure of solace or even a moment of respite from the fears clogging her throat...
Then I'll keep telling these stories.
It is entirely possible none of that will ever happen. Maybe every time any of my stories are read, they're just a couple of hours of fluff and kinky sex, easily forgotten once the reader gets to The End. I know in the past (Dom of the Dead, for example, triggered A LOT of reader emails and messages suggesting others dealing with grief understood my need to bring that lost person back to life, if only on the page, and their words meant the world to me...) some of my stories have mattered to a few, and that is enough.
Even if I never manage to be the light again, I am happy that my words have been the light for someone else. Authors have written hundreds of books which were my lights, so if I've done that for even one reader?
Then my work is important.
It isn't a 'waste', because how can adding to the light in such a dark and pain-filled world ever be considered a waste?
Anyway, with less rambling--THAT is why I write romance. That is why this genre, these stories, this use of my life...because I've needed books like this. If I've needed them, others need them too. Maybe they won't find my book when they need that escape, and that is okay, because I'm not the only one writing these stories.
There are hundreds of us, thousands maybe. We're all sitting in the darkness (or light, if you're a morning writer) and putting word after word on the screen or paper
We're a literal army of voices, rising up and chanting the most important words in the entirety of human experience.
- There is hope.
- Everyone deserves love.
- You can make it through this.
- You are not alone.
That is why I write romance. It makes me part of the battalion against hopelessness.
That is why I taught my children to read. I knew if I taught them nothing else, reading offered a key into a thousand other worlds. Reading would unlock the door to their souls and show them they weren't alone when I couldn't be there to remind them.
That is why this genre. Because even if I don't know how to make a love last in my life, I can create hope. Sometimes that is more powerful than real arms, anyway.
Eh, I guess this is a bit of a dark post. But as I watched the sun rise this morning and battled my personal demons, I remembered why I do this. When I get asked? Sometimes I just blink back tears of frustration or shake my head because no short answer says what I mean, not really. Often, I'll laugh and give some snarky answer.
"Why not spend my life writing about nipples?"
When I actually mean something more like all of this...all this rambling truth. It might not be everyone's truth, but it is mine.
Just like everyone else, though, I often don't have the words to say what I mean. Feelings are bigger than words, which is why it takes a whole book to fit them.
Happy writing and reading and thanks for listening to an old lady babble.