Squawk Radio

Thursday, July 13, 2006

LIZ PONDERS THE MYSTERIES OF THE WRITER'S LIFE

Silhouette is reissuing my first book this week. DESTINATIONS SOUTH was originally published in the Special Editions line in October 1989--nearly seventeen years ago. Which means I began writing it more than eighteen years ago. January 1988, to be exact.

My life was a lot different then. I’d recently turned twenty-six, and had even more recently celebrated my first wedding anniversary. I was still six years away from becoming a mom. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Haddonfield, New Jersey (the one right next to the manually operated elevator, so we heard the elevator door slam shut every time someone used it). I was working full time for The Limited at Cherry Hill Mall, making, if I recall correctly, $5.80 an hour. (I’d later be promoted to associate manager for a whopping income of $17,500 a year, more money than I ever thought I’d make with a degree in English.) I knew no one who even read, let alone wrote romance, and I had no idea Romance Writers of America or Romantic Times Magazine existed. I didn’t own a computer, so the entire book was written in longhand, in about five spiral notebooks. I had to charge a typewriter on my Sears card when the time came for that.

I did a lot of stuff wrong with my first book. I sited it on a mythical Caribbean island at a time when (I later discovered) books sited in foreign locales didn’t sell well. I gave virtually every character their own point of view, even if that character only showed up for a page or two. I took a major side route in the middle of the book to tell a story that had nothing to do with the hero and heroine’s romantic journey. I wrote the longest prologue in the history of the romance novel, revealing all kinds of things about my heroine and her motivation that would have been much more effective had I saved the information for later. But here’s the best thing I messed up: I was certain I was writing DESTINATIONS SOUTH for the Desire line. Imagine my surprise when Silhouette told me my word length was off by about 15,000 words, and my manuscript would be published as a Special Edition, a line I’d never even read before.

But there were a lot of things I did right with my first book, too. I wrote about a geographic area I adored and missed very much, having lived there briefly (and having moved from there only months before I began writing the book). I was able to capture the flavor of Caribbean life really well because of my love for it. That gave the story a strong sense of place. I had two characters in my brain I cared very much about, who were as alive to me as my own family was, so I was able to bring them fully to life on the page. I was so in love with the written word that I was able to string a bunch of them together in ways that made for evocative prose and therefore entertaining reading. But most of all, I was just wildly in love with the whole act of creation, and I gave myself over completely to the writing. I lived that book as I wrote it. I was back in the Caribbean again, on the same island as my characters, and I knew them both like old friends.

My love affair with writing has been a rocky one over the last two decades. Sometimes my books and I flirt and laugh like teenagers, loving the potential of what might happen between us, even if we’re not quite sure what that involves. Sometimes we’re like newlyweds, discovering all kinds of surprising things about each other we never knew before--and we’re not sure we like. Sometimes we fight like lovers scorned and don’t speak to each other for days. Sometimes we’re as comfortable as an old married couple, and everything flows seamlessly and with utter knowledge and devotion.

Eighteen years after starting my first book, I still--usually--love my job. But as is the case with so many things in life, there is only one First Time. Had you asked me eighteen years ago how I thought my writing career would be going in 2006, I can assure you I would have answered a lot differently than what the reality is. There’s a lot to be said for blissful ignorance.

But then, I am as ignorant now of the next eighteen years of my career as I was then of the first eighteen. So what else can I say except, “Bring it on.”

So how about you? How has your life changed in the last two decades? Are you living the life you imagined you would? Ever finally done something you’d aspired to do for a long time, then discovered it wasn’t quite what you expected? And all you writers out there, how has your writing journey been?
Elizabeth Bevarly, 9:15 AM
39 comments