Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Allure of the Romance Novel

All anyone has to do is peek over at the list of authors on the side panel to see that when it comes to reading, I am currently a fan of the romance genre.  With the possible exception of Diana Gabaldon, whose epic Outlander series somewhat defies any true categorization, all of the talented women listed are romance novelists.

There was a time when I had little interest in even picking up a romance novel.  In the past, I've tended more toward mysteries and thrillers and general popular fiction.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham...you get the idea.  They are still prolific, talented writers I admire, but I no longer seek out their novels as I used to.
While I still consider Stephen King an amazing, one-of-a-kind author, I find I no longer want to spend any extra time considering "the dark side" of life.  No more of King's rabid dogs and murderous sewer clowns, Koontz's lab experiments gone horrifically wrong, or Grisham's lawyers running for their lives.  The daily news has enough of the horror and fear; it seems I can't bring myself to seek it out as entertainment.

Ah, but then there's the romance novel.  Especially the historicals.  With these, I can truly escape to another time and place, one that doesn't hold quite so many echoes of the world we now live in.  The inhabitants of that historical romance world dress better, behave better, and appreciate the world around them and the people in it.  They live more simply, gathering together to read a book or listen to a concert in a neighbor's drawing room.  They hold house parties and balls and interact with the utmost civility and good manners.  Children are respectful of adults, men strive to be gentlemen, and hard work is both expected and pursued.  In the historical romance world, there are no televisions, iPods or cell phones.  When people are together, they have actual conversations; they don't walk along texting other people, ignoring the person beside them.  They appreciate the company of others. 

Naturally, a good portion of the allure of the romance novel is the romance itself.  Who doesn't love love, after all?  Who doesn't always hope for happy endings?  And with a romance novel, there will always, always be one. It's pretty much guaranteed.  And despite what some believe about the sex in romance novels, while they may vary in intensity from mildly steamy to erotic, in my experience they are almost invariably written with sensitivity and with the goal of conveying the natural progression of love.

Of course, the characters in romance novels are not perfect. There are always conflicts and misunderstandings, arguments and sometimes danger.  But these are inevitably worked out or overcome, and the villains receive their comeuppance while the heroes and heroines discover love and begin their Happily Ever After.  And these days, I would much rather set aside the endless stories of crime and unhappiness, and choose instead to remind myself of the possibilities of love and hope.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friendship and Perseverance

It's been a long week.

There have been unanticipated challenges, deadlines, and worries...and the end result is that it's been days since I've opened my story file.  I'm fairly certain I will not reach my 50K word goal by November 30th.  I still plan to write, whenever I can, right up through the end and beyond, because I find I am no longer willing to simply throw in the towel when it comes to writing.

It's only recently that I began writing again, but I have a long history of wanting to.  In high school, I wrote a short story that everyone oohed and aahed over, which was essentially a regurgitation of a book I'd read (in other words:  completely unoriginal!).  In college, I lived for researching and writing all those papers.  In those pre-computer days, I'd spend evenings in the library, with my box of index cards and notebooks, writing everything out longhand before pulling together a final draft on my new electric typewriter.  I still remember those nerve-wracking but proud moments of handing in papers I just knew were good.

I interviewed for jobs in writing or editing, but my lack of an internship (I'd worked a secretarial job through college) knocked me out of the game.  I ended up taking a full-time position as a secretary/administrative assistant.  And then another.  And another.  A few of them allowed me the opportunity to do a small amount of writing or editing of company newsletters and such, but nothing truly fulfilling in a "writerly" sense.

And when the jobs ended, the parenting began.  I made time to be a wife, a mother, a homemaker, a bookkeeper...everything but a writer.

And so I stopped.  And along the way, it seems I lost my confidence, pushed back the desire until it barely registered.

I no longer identified myself as a writer.

As my children have grown, I've felt myself growing, too.  Coming out from behind all that Mom Stuff I'd needed in the early years, reaching out for something I knew was missing, but I didn't know what it was.

And then fate led me to a new friend I'd never expected, who reignited a passion for reading and soon, for writing.  She shared her own fantastic work, encouraged mine, introduced me to another writer friend who shared her journey, too, and helped me find an audience for some of the thoughts in my head.  And now, I can claim at least one published essay, a freelance job as a book reviewer, and perhaps even the title of  "aspiring author."  And if not for that one friend reaching out and recognizing something in me that I'd pushed so far back I no longer saw it myself, I would never have taken those first hesitant steps on the path I should have followed all along.

How far we can come when we open our hearts to friendship, and how unexpected the gifts can be...

The road to here has been a long one, but I'm hoping I've only just begun the journey.  I'm blessed with many friends and family who support me in all that I do, who encourage my efforts to continue becoming.  While I may not have learned how to juggle it all yet, I've discovered I don't need to stop being me in order to be Mom, Wife, Employee, or anything else that I need to be.  I can keep writing, keep trying, even if half of what I write today is garbage and even if I won't be able to grab that title of "NaNo Winner." 

After all, there's always next year. 
And I know I'll still be writing...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Time for NaNoWriMo

Time is always the problem, isn't it?
Finding enough time for the things we really want to do. For me, this November, that would be NaNoWriMo. Like last year, I am trying to meet the NaNo challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And, like last year, it seems I am unlikely to succeed.
I certainly don't do my best writing under the limitations required for participation; namely, quantity over quality. It seems I am a hopelessly determined editor. Spelling errors haunt me, awkward prose nags at me, and dreary dialogue pounds away at my temples, screaming for rewrite. I find it nearly impossible to forge ahead, letting my last poorly-rendered sentence fade away, forgotten as I move on to the next. The words beg for deletion, plead for reworking, and it's all I can do to put them out of my mind and forge ahead, telling myself I'll revisit them again, sometime in December.
Choosing historical romance as my genre requires a huge amount of research, and I realize that I should have spent the month of October locating all of the information I needed, outlining my novel, and organizing myself for the frantic month ahead. Alas, I didn't. Historical inaccuracies abound, I'm certain, and all I can do is hope that my basic premise doesn't balance on some fatal flaw that will ultimately bring the entire thing crashing down.
If only there were more time.
Time that is free of concerns, worries, and every other thing unrelated to the story currently whispering to life in my head?
That kind of time, I know, will never be mine. Nor anyone else's, I'm quite sure. Women, especially, seem to have the ability to juggle so many things at once, and it's hard to realize sometimes that we can't always "do it all," that often we can only do, well, enough. And sometimes we need to make time for ourselves, for the things we want most to do, even if other things need to be set aside for awhile.

And maybe that's the whole point with NaNoWriMo. Trying to meet the challenge is a training exercise of sorts. I am learning that despite whatever is happening in my life, I can make time for writing, even if it's not the recommended 1667 words per day. Some days I can't write a word, for one reason or another, and that's okay. That's life. But other days, I can surprise myself by writing 2k words in one sitting, and that can be pretty okay, too.
I may not make it to 50,000 by the end of this month. And I definitely won't have a decent novel by then, either. But maybe I'll have the bare bones of an idea, a few scenes to work with in the future. And regardless, I will know that I have the fortitude to keep writing through all the personal challenges, to work toward a goal that may not be met on a certain timeline, but has the potential to be met someday. I'll know that I have it in me to keep going. And maybe, for a writer, that's enough.