I’m supposed to be working on my novel right now. I’m close enough to the end to see it – to know the maneuvers and the moments that are going to get my characters to their Happily Ever After and me to a nice few days of rest where I go on a movie-watching binge and maybe a hike. But, like one does when one nears a deadline, I went on Facebook this morning. But instead of stupefying me with updates of cats and kids, today it lead me to a small revelation, which I wanted to share.
Scrolling through updates, a friend from an old job posted that it was her 10th wedding anniversary. Now, this in and of itself is a truly stunning feat – having been married for approximately nine months, I can attest to this. Another stunning feat is her beautiful family that has grown out of that decade. But the heady realization was that I remembered her getting married, because we had worked together at the time. And it is a job that is seared in my brain as one of the worst jobs I ever held.
It was a commercial production house, specializing in food commercials, and I was hired as a gopher. (Go-for-this, Go-for-that, etc.) Now, I took this job frankly, because I needed it – and I did it efficiently, but not very cheerfully. I did not want to work in commercials. I wanted to work in television and tell stories. Not sell stuff. This unsmiling chip-on-my-shoulder mentality made me, well… not the nicest person to be around. (I still have difficulty watching a certain Italian restaurant chain’s commercials without thinking of how the proverbial sausage is made, but I digress.) But I was smart, responsible and organized. I got the job done. And I was friendly with a few people, like the aforementioned Facebook friend. The fact that I didn’t like it there was mostly because I would not let myself.
But not entirely because of that. It was also… not the best job in the world. The office was just off of Astor Square in New York. My desk – when I was at my desk, and not running errands — was in the basement. The 4/5/6 train has a stop right on Astor Place. So, since I was subterranean, every five minutes the walls would shake with a train rumbling either just beneath or beside me (I could never figure out which) and then – I kid you not – cockroaches would come out of the walls. I eventually got used to the train rumbles. I never got used to the cockroaches.
It also did not pay very well. As in, at all. I was working a flat 40-hour week (no overtime, even when you worked it!) and I think I took home in the vicinity of $300/wk. As I lived in Manhattan (in a 5th floor walkup 100 blocks away with roommates), this basically covered my rent. And maybe some ramen noodles. My mom kept sending me twenty dollars with every letter, so I could buy socks, when needed.
All of this is to say that I was pretty miserable. (I don’t know many 23-year-olds who are not miserable, but again, digression.) But that misery actually lead to something. Since I had no money, I had no way of going to the movies, to buy books, to do the things that might dull the pain and frustration. Instead, to keep sane, and from going into debt, I found a way to entertain myself. I started writing a romance novel.
That romance novel eventually became Compromised.
Which, I was writing when my Facebook friend was planning her wedding.
Which means I have been writing romance novels for a decade.
It boggles my mind to type that. I still feel very new, very novice to many, many things about being an author. (I look at my royalty statements every six months and I need a translator. It’s in Klingon, I swear.) Compromised hit the shelves five years after I started writing it, but in 2003, it was still the little thing I was doing to see if I could. And that same Facebook friend who was deep into planning her wedding was also the first person to read and give me encouragement on it. I would write a page during downtime at the office, and send it to my friend, and she would tell me “Write More!”
When I got an agent and then eventually sold Compromised, I was at a different job, one that I loved. I was much nicer to be around then. But what got me started was that moment when I didn’t have anything to lose by trying.
Right now, I am well on my way to finishing up my seventh book (eighth, if you count my novella The Dress of the Season). When I turn it in, I get a few days of vacation, then I tackle number eight, then nine in the spring. I have long since crossed the threshold into the world of a professional writer – in many different mediums. And staring ahead into the next decade, I find myself looking forward to trying many more.
After all, what do I have to lose?