I began writing at forty. Why not? My two sons were semi-self-sufficient, my out-of-the-house job was fairly routine and didn’t tax my brain, and my husband had his sports.
I contemplated what I should write. Cookbooks? (I did, and still do, love to cook.) How about a children’s book? Or, maybe a local history book?
I figured I had a leg up because the day job at the university consisted of my entering and formatting books handwritten by our professors. I’d become an expert on the brand new MacIntosh II computer. (Yes, I’m that old!)
Ah … work … that was where it all started.
My co-worker, an extremely bubbly, talkative woman … the kind you want to have model duct tape … was also an avid reader. Of romance. One afternoon as I sat patiently waiting for a new batch of professor scribbles to cross my desk, she made me an offer. “I’ve got plenty of books,” she said. “Would you like to read one while you wait?”
Snob that I was, I shook my head and replied, “No thank you. I don’t read romance.”
Miss Perky Personality wagged her finger, shot me a broad smile and said, “Come on, try one. They’re a great escape from this boring stuff we type all day.”
I picked one from the pile she kept on her file cabinet, read the back cover blurb, and smiled faintly. “Chain Lightning by Elizabeth Lowell. Never heard of her.”
“Oh, she’s great. You’ll love the book.”
That was the moment my brain and my mouth stopped working in unison. Boldly … stupidly … I replied, “You know, anyone can write one of these.”
Up until that point, I had no idea Polly Sunshine could actually smirk. But … she did. “Really?” The sarcasm in her voice was not lost on me. She continued, “I dare you to try. This weekend … write two chapters. You’ll see. It’s not so easy.”
Stupid is as stupid does … I was never smart enough to walk away from a challenge. “You’re on.” I pocketed the book by this Lowell lady and returned to my cubicle. I figured, if nothing else, I could get an idea of how romance novels were formatted. No doubt very differently than the scholarly texts I was used to producing.
Five o’clock came. The start of a fairly quiet weekend. The kids were busy with friends, hubby was away at a softball tournament. Just me, my Commodore 64, and noisy dot matrix printer. I was living the life!
So, what to name this ridiculous attempt at writing a love story? What does every woman who’s been married for 20+ years want? A mysterious man … a Dream Lover!
Okay, I had a title. Now to think of a plot and get an idea for structure. Perhaps, I should read a chapter or two from the book I brought home. Just to get an idea of what they write about in romance novels.
Four hours later. Damn! That was a great book.
The first thing Saturday morning, I rushed out to the grocery store and straight to the books and magazines. There, on the shelves, I discovered another book by Ms Lowell … Fire and Rain … but a different cover style. What was Silhouette Desire? I bought it … not that I would admit that to anyone at the time.
Four hours later. Double damn!
All growing boys want hot dogs and store-bought potato salad for supper, right?
Late Saturday night, I began to write. My English degree had prepared me for short stories, poetry, and the occasional essay. Not a novel and definitely not a romance. Yet, once I started, the idea unfolded like a blossoming flower.
Sunday, I printed out those two chapters, made some minor edits (okay, maybe not so minor), and reprinted.
Monday morning arrived and, chest puffed out like a proud peacock, I dropped those pages on my co-worker’s desk. “There you go. Two chapters.”
She lifted the cover page and pushed her glasses into place. “Dream Lover. Hmm.”
There was still twenty minutes before start time, so she took a sip of her tea and began to read. Off in the distance, the clock in the courtyard chimed. She kept reading.
I don’t know why I was nervous. After all, it was only a dare. Not anything I was going to pursue. “Well?” I asked when she reached my desk.
The frown on her face said it all. She hated it. I’d obviously screwed it up. Not that it mattered.
“You copied this didn’t you?” She rattled the pages for maximum effect.
“You copied this from someone else’s book?”
“No, of course not,” I insisted. “I wrote it myself. Just ask my boys who had to live on hot dogs and bologna sandwiches all weekend.” (Not that they minded.)
“Prove it,” she said, taunting me. “We’re not busy today. Write another chapter here at work.”
There it was … that stubborn personality that never backed down. “Sure. I’m not expecting any new work until later today.” I snatched back my pages so I could re-read the last couple as a starting point. Somewhat surprisingly, chapter three came even easier. I sent it to print just before first break.
Handing her the pages still warm from the printer, I smiled. “Something to go with your chamomile and crackers.”
After break, she stood sheepishly beside my desk, her head bowed. “I’m sorry I accused you of copying the story. This is really good. You should submit it to a publisher.”
I shook my head. “No thanks.” I passed her the pages. “Here, this is all you get. If you run out of books, you can always re-read these.”
“I’ll make myself a copy. You should take these with you and put the third chapter in your home computer. Just in case.”
That should have been the end of it. Yet, every evening after work, supper and dishes, I’d put myself in front of the computer and plug away at another page or two, sometimes more. Within a couple of months, the book was done.
I went to work that next Monday, the entire book in my briefcase. I was going to give it to Miss Perky as a surprise. Instead, she turned the tables on me.
“Here,” she said, nearly bouncing out of her sensible shoes with excitement. “This is for you.” She passed me an envelope.
Silhouette Books, New York, NY. “What’s this?”
“Don’t be mad, but I submitted those chapters to Silhouette in your name.”
“What did they say?” Obviously, it hadn’t dawned on me that the envelope was unopened.
“I don’t know but I’m here for you when you open it.” She paused and then leaned in close. “Now. Open it now.”
“Dear Mrs. Fraser … blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Please send the complete manuscript at your earliest convenience.”
Thus began the story of my first rejection letter. However, back in the day, they actually gave you pointers to improve your work.
Dream Lover ended up collecting dust bunnies for a number of years before I finally got tired of dragging it around and threw out the print copy. I still have it on floppy disk … and a disk reader! Just in case. Thirty-five books later and I still can’t part with those disks!
Now, what was I talking about at the beginning of this post? Oh yeah … retirement.
Nah … retirement from writing is for the weak. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a work-in-progress on my computer the very day I take my last breath.
Until next time, stay happy, stay healthy, stay well read.