I have been a working writer (and teacher) for over 20 years, and in that time, I’ve come to believe that a writing life is uniquely structured to transform the soul. It will not give you the glib and easy surface of #blessed on Instagram but, if you clear space for it, writing (and its Siamese twin reading) will keep you forever curious and interested.  And if that’s not the recipe for a good life then what is?

I didn’t realize how passionately I believed this about writing until COVID hit.  ER doctors in New York started sounding the alarm about the scarcity of ventilators. I knew, with the tranquility of truth, that should I land in the hospital, the 30-year-old mother must have the ventilator, not me.  

Not because I don’t have children – after all, there are people I love fervently in this world who depend on me – and not even because I have a good 10+ years on that mother.  But because I can say, without hesitation, that I’ve had a good run.  And when I look to why, beside the people I love, it’s that I’ve read amazing books, terrible ones, and really fun ones. And because, I’ve worked like crazy to make space to write my books.  Certainly, I have others to write, but if I don’t get to them, I’ll know that I did what I could with the time I had.

Which includes my writing here.  

The last time I tried my hand at blogging, I discovered that if you don’t feel passionately about something you shouldn’t be posting about it.  And, back then (in the days of MySpace and LiveJournal), I felt it was only ‘appropriate’ to discuss passions with friends, in person; not with strangers in cyberspace. 

In the intervening years, I’ve built a teaching career and worked with students as far flung as Europe and Saudi Arabia.  I’ve come to believe in the value and possibility of sharing what I care about from a distance.  It is absolutely true that much of writing is a solitary endeavor, but nothing important gets done alone.  No matter where you are in your writing journey, I’d like to share it with you. Even if it’s only by sharing what I’ve learned on mine.  Please poke around, email with questions, take what is useful, and discard the rest.   If you’d like some free writing exercise to get an a feel for my teaching, please help yourself.

{Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger}

As I write children’s books, yet read widely outside the genre, and, by passionate choice don’t have children, Why do you do this comes up a lot.   How I respond depends on who is asking (and how).  

My students always merit answers about voice, point of view and the young protagonist as the ultimate outsider in a world created by adults.   

To social acquaintances, who are expressing polite interest, I say that Mary Poppins Comes Back and The Secret Garden are two of my favorite books and that we tend to write what we most love.

 Then there are the people who ask variations of, “Why don’t you write a real book?”  This took some trial and error, but I’m now saved a lot of trouble if I just shrug and smile.   

All of these answers (including the shrug-smile) share an aspect of what is true without actually being true.

However, as a romance reader, in the awkward position of writing her first romance novel without it being anywhere near her first book, my answer never varies when people ask either: Why do you read romance novels? or Why on earth would you want to write one of those?

“You know how in a movie, TV show, or serious novel, there is a man at the heart of it, and in the background there is also a woman?” I will ask, my voice deepening at the word Man and dropping to a whisper over Woman.  “Well, in romance novels, there is a woman at the center and there is also a man.”   Here, of course, my voice does the opposite; sounding important with Woman and dropping in significance at Man.

Certainly, a good romance novel has a hero who is worthy of our attention and he goes on his own emotional journey. But, in the end, it is the woman who has claimed her power:  true love, an orgasm the first time she has sex (usually), and a deeply satisfying and pleasurable life with her soulmate. 

Along the way, money troubles are solved, the clothes are nice, and the food is delicious.   

The experience of daily life – meals, work, clothes, friends, children, family – oh, and taxes, is given full celebration from the female point of view.  And one more thing:  The happily-ever- after that is demanded by an entire genre, that is known by the reader to be waiting at the end before the book is even purchased.   

An HEA is a revolutionary act and a battle cry.  That statement will inevitably get me the quizzical look I need to proceed. 

Using the criteria created by men, a novel about female passion, power, sex, and love is only Art if the heroine, one of literature’s most famous and brilliantly drawn, is killed by a train.  

In a romance novel, the heroine ends up owning the railroad along with her beloved’s heart.   

But among those of us who know all this already, I will simply say:  I read romance novels (and am writing one) because they are fun.    

If, like many of my students, you are struggling to get to your desk, it helps to remember that what awaits you is not simply a love story and a revolutionary act that views women and their needs as worthy; it helps to remember that it’s fun.  And if your are a romance reader (any kind of passionate reader, actually), you know you are writing the novel that you most want to read.

If your answers to Why do you do this are different, use whatever they are to get you to the desk.  

{Photos by Michel Stockman (top) and Aliis Sinisalu.}