Roger Rosenblatt began a recent article in the New York Times with an anecdote about going to speak to his granddaughter’s class and being introduced like this: “This is my grandfather, Boppo. He lives in the basement and does nothing.” Actually he and his wife live in on the lower level of his son-in-law’s house and he’s a writer.
As a writer still working toward publication, I find it comforting that even seasoned authors are still viewed by family and friends as only vaguely employed. Even harried romance writer friends writing on short-deadline contracts for multiple lines still get called on to volunteer at their children’s school, their church, the neighborhood because they’re seen as housewives with lots of free time.
In the article Rosenblatt talks about the quirks of most writers—how we live in a world of our own making with imaginary people which can be very hard on family life. Naturally we’re often distracted and immersed in our own realities, or rather the heads and lives of the characters we create. We delight in finding worse case scenarios to challenge our heroines and torture out heroes because we understand that conflict and tension are what make a story exciting.
Romance writers have the added mission to weave a satisfying love story and in the process we become our heroines and fall in love with our heroes. To tell their story we need to live it scene by scene with every action, thought, speech going down on the page. I’ve heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips say, “Some days I just take dictation.” Those are the days writing is a joy. They’re also the days re-entry into self and real life is the most disorienting. And that’s when it helps if your spouse and family understand that coming out of the zone is like awakening from a deep, vivid dream. Or nightmare.
My husband has never read any of my work and yet he’s become a brilliant brainstorming partner. Over many conversations, he’s gotten to know my characters and the world they live in. He’s cooked dinner for my writer friends and sat quietly absorbing our concerns, ideas, frustrations and victories. He’s learned not to take my distracted conversations as disinterest in him or to have his feelings hurt by my affection for my deeply flawed, larger-than-life alpha-heroes. And he buys a good Bordeaux to ease the sting of rejection or celebrate a victory. Yeah, we writers are an odd lot, misunderstood by friends, family and strangers we meet. Like Roger Rosenblatt, I’m happy with this writing life and wouldn’t choose any other. Okay, maybe I’d switch places with Angelina Jolie. Just for a little while.