“Let’s start with fear of success. Success is certainly better than the alternative, but it can be terrifying. How will you handle that first interview? That grand opening? What will you wear?”
I’ve probably told the story enough of how I quit writing. I went off to a Big 10 college at 18, had a fabulous English prof (a full tenured professor who actually adored teaching) the first semester who read my writing out as the “excellent” example and I thrived. I wrote and wrote. I loved it.
Then the next semester, being too shy to go drop a course, I ended up in in a course of Shakespeare and theater of the absurd taught by a grad student having a hot and heavy affair with the grad student teaching across the hall. She panned my writing. I was devastated and quit. Not forever. I did try a few times. I did find the courage to write one hero, Bill Moyers, a letter and get a fabulous hand-written reply. I did write the “shitty first draft” of a truly awful novel that has since been consigned to the landfill. I wrote for a law firm in-house newsletter telling scintillating tales of secretaries selling old refrigerators and Associates getting to promoted to partner. Not much, but it was something.
Then I began blogging while briefly homeschooling my kids. I finally found a niche for a while writing about the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting— posts that won me thousands of hits. I wrote popular satirical fan fiction of the Duggars on a message board that got rave reviews. My kids grew-up, the Duggars didn’t and I didn’t have any more to say on that subject. It was time to get serious. I’d proven to myself that people could be persuaded to read my words.
I’ve always looked for role models—people who are successful doing what I want to do. That’s how I became a law librarian—my first real career. I loved the drive, authority and commanding presence of one local law firm legend. Actually, I wanted her clothes. It got me to dream job # 1.
I loved Helen Hooven Santmyer’s huge, multi-generational novel, “…and the Ladies of the Club.” More than that I loved that it was first published by a scholarly press when she was past retirement age. I began to look for more later-in-life success stories from published authors. I found Claire Cook and loved her story. If she could write in a mini-van at 5 am outside a high school, I could certainly write around my day job. But I needed a catalyst, a focus, a MISSION.
That “catalyst” was Julian Fellows’ big Downton Abbey mistake. And it happened because I had a story to tell–many in fact. It happened because “if not now, when?” Remember, long ago I learned to look at successful people, happy people and try to see what they did that I didn’t.
Then, then I started actually writing. I began with Downton Abbey Fan Fiction and Downton Humor but it wasn’t enough. So I started to put Clive and Julia and William and Agatha and the others on paper. I lived with them, dreamed of them, found the right images of them [Amberleigh Pinterest boards here and here]. I enveloped myself in the world of Amberleigh and Shellborne. I revised. I cut. I hacked. I butchered. I started over. I screamed. I cried. I rejoiced. I nearly QUIT again on Book 3 which is still not done completely. But I did it.
Along the way I started this blog with a much better focus. My books are all cross-generational romantic novels or novellas, so I do stories on such couples in real life, in fiction and in films. I review the books I read and write topical book posts. I write childhood memories. I cover the Royal Family. I’ve revived ‘Milla’s Diary because I missed her, she’s fun! I take the occasional poke at popular culture. And I write other “slice of life” pieces like this one. That’s it. Just these topics.
By this time I knew, I just knew, I had to tell Meg and Alva’s story–in fact it was more pressing than Amberleigh. I had to tell the story of a man who eats “Meat, Potatoes and Pie,” and the bright young woman who makes his life into a Midwestern Love Story. Along the way I wrote Milla’s Diary just for fun and began to live the Engagement of Eddy and May. Guess what else–I felt better than I had in years. Yes I slept a lot–but I write and sort out my books as I go to sleep–they are my personal bedtime stories.
So, when I read the page in Claire Cook’s useful book Never Too Late, I knew I needed to share this. Some of you known about this peculiar way in which I prepared. Now you all do. It, no doubt, solidifies in your mind how odd I am! Stay with me. These books will happen. And others, too. If you fear doing something new, just practice. Fake it till you make it—don’t laugh; it works.
Another day I’ll tell you how I learned to talk on the phone. It’s a good story.