I do not remember a time when I was not a storyteller. It’s cliché, but the truth. I was in my early twenties before I realized that other people didn’t put themselves to sleep by telling themselves a story in their head. I am in my late thirties now, and this is still how my brain shuts itself off.
Characters have been popping into my head for as long as I can remember. Some stay for a few hours, others are still crackling around years later. I have a fantasy heroine named Annabelle that has perpetually dropped in over the last decade. One day I may have to tell her tale—though maybe she is here only for me.
I was in the second grade when I wrote my first book. Here is a very proud me holding the book in the picture. Mrs. Jones required all her students to “publish” at least one book by the end of the year. This consisted of a few pages with author drawn pictures that the parents laminated and bound. I loved it—well, the writing part. I have never enjoyed drawing and if I had known how to hire an illustrator, and found one willing to work for lollipops, I would have gone that route!
In high school my English teacher challenged all of us to write a short story. I say challenged, but it was a graded assignment. There are few assignments that I remember, but my short story was called Homeward Bound. While it didn’t strictly follow the rules for a romance, it was a love story. My first! I don’t remember the actual grade, but at the top of my page were the words Do Something with Your Writing.
I treasured those words. I held them close with the belief that one day I might claim success. Then I took a college creative writing course. And it destroyed my burgeoning belief in my skill.
I am not so naïve as to believe that my early work deserved straight As or even Bs. But I do think they deserved more than the Nothing will come of this statement they received.
While I can’t prove it, and my memory is jaded by time and temper, I think my first foray into the world of romance turned off my professor. The belief that characters deserved a happily ever after, rather than an angsty end, was not welcome. The world does not reflect this—another line attached to a story I wrote. Which I still find interesting in a CREATIVE writing class.
Unfortunately, my professor was right. The world often doesn’t provide a happily ever after. But sometimes it does. And EVERYONE, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, deserves one. A truth I will scream from the mountains until my final breath.
I wish I had been strong enough to tell my professor I thought he was wrong. To point out the countless romance writers who’d made careers out of happily ever afters, to state with conviction that romance is the bestselling genre and it’s not even close (though that was a piece of info I didn’t have).
Instead, I let my voice be stolen. I packed away my pens and did my best to ignore the flame within me. But those five little words scrawled on the top of a short story refused to disappear from my heart. It took many years, more than I wish to revisit even now, but eventually I burst one evening and told my husband I wanted to write. I needed to get stories out.
We’d been married for many years at that point, had two children not yet in grade school, were both working full time—basically not the perfect recipe for putting words on the page—but he looked at me and said okay. Then he followed through and let me go spend an hour or two at the library each week without complaint that there were other more pressing things at home (see real romance heroes exist).
It took one ridiculous fantasy novel (I’ve shown the opening to the writer’s group I run, so they can see how far you can come–it’s bad), a few false starts and a historical romance that I have finally admitted is just my proof I could write a romance novel but its characters will only live in my mind, to get to published status.
But all these years later, I can say I did something with my writing. I mailed my first book, Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart, to my English teacher with a note of thanks. I did not mail it to my college professor (though I admit being tempted).
I believe you should write what you want. And if that means angsty tragedies, go forth and conquer, but my stories will always leave you (and me) feeling happy. So tell the story growing on your heart, no matter what it is.