Confessions of a Romance Novelist: When I Could Finally Call Myself a Writer

Last week I wrote a post dedicated to my mom.  This week’s is for my dad.

Confessions of a Romance NovelistA writer’s greatest struggle is in calling herself a writer.  For a non-writer, this probably seems weird.  But for writers, this seems natural.  K.M. Weiland recently coined it as one of the 7 stages of being a writer when she said if you can’t quit, you’re a writer.  She also said not to measure yourself against someone else’s yardstick.  These both resonated with me in a way they wouldn’t have before I saw the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One.  Here’s why.

When I was a little girl, I grew up in the twigs.  That’s where you get to when you get past the sticks.  Anything that was worth traveling to was a 45-minute drive away, and this was before cell phones, tablets, and DVD players in the car.  As the baby in the family, I would often get pulled along on road trips with my dad to run errands.  I’m not really sure how this happened.  I grew up in a place where kids were left to wander outside from sun up until sun down.  But for some reason when Dad was going into town, I suddenly had to be watched.  I think Dad just secretly liked our car rides.

He would give me two options for passing the time in the car.  The first was to sing in harmony.  We would later find out I was tone deaf, so kudos to my dad for trying this one more than once!  The second option was this.  He’d say, “Tell me a story, Jessie Clever.”  You see where this is going.

Dick Tracy!

My dad LOVED a good adventure story.  He was the one to introduce me to Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones, Dick Tracy and James Bond.  And I think this was all before I was seven.  Wildly inappropriate some may say, but as a young writer, this was the best childhood I could have ever had.

I remember sitting in the movie theater with my dad.  It was often the late show, because my family ran a business.  A store, campground, restaurant, and marina.  Dad was an outboard motor mechanic his whole life, and I remember him working long after the sun went down.  I would be sent to his shop to find him for dinner, and as always, he was covered in grease with his arms up to his elbows in a motor.  So as an adult, I think back to our late night movie expeditions and wonder how the heck he stayed awake.

But mostly I remember the light of the movie on my dad’s face.  He had a great face with wide planes and blunted angles.  I would slouch down in my seat with my popcorn or M&Ms and look up at him when a good scene played out on the screen, and we would share a knowing look that this story was getting good!  I would sit there next to my dad and think, one day I’m going to write a story this good.  A story worthy of a shared look with my dad.

My dad passed away two years ago.  I remember the first movie I went to after he died.  It was Paul Blart the Mall Cop.  The sequel.  You know the one with Kevin James.  Dad loved Paul Blart.  The hubby and I were in Florida on vacation, and it was raining.  We decided a movie would be good.  I sat in the darkened theater and cried silently for two hours at Paul Blart the Mall Cop.  I cried again when I took my niece to see Fantastic Beasts.  It had been Dad who had introduced me to Harry Potter.  While also on a road trip.

But this past January, something changed.  The hubby and I finally saw Rogue One.  I know, we were a little late to the party, but hey.  Holidays and stuff get in the way.  I sat in the theater and did not cry this time even though my dad had introduced me to Star Wars.  As I watched the movie, I instinctively identified all of the parts that make the story good.  You see, there is an actual structure to a good story.  As a writer, I’ve studied the methods, learned what the different parts are called, and how they piece together.  Movies for me are now neither good nor bad.  Now they are pieces of a puzzle that my writer mind must identify and name and place.  Rogue One nailed all of the pieces of a story structure.  They got all the rules right, and that’s why it was a good story.

Normally, I would sit in that movie theater, riddled with anticipation, anxiety, and guilt.  All of the things other writers feel when comparing their own work to the exhibition of a good story.  That thing where we measure ourselves against someone else’s yardstick.  I would think some day I’ll write a story this good.  Someday I’ll do it.  But this time, watching Rogue One, I sat there and just watched.  Something was wrong.  Something was different.  It took almost to the credits for the light bulb to go off, and I looked up at the ceiling as I often do when I talk to my dad now.  As if heaven resides in the ceiling of the building I am currently in.

I thought, Holy crap, Dad!  I did it.  I actually did it.

I wrote a good story.

That.  That right there.  That was the turning point.  The realization that I was no longer comparing myself to other writers’ stories.  That I was no longer waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  I knew it.  I knew that I had finally written that story.  The one that I am proud to hold up and yell to the world, I am a writer.  This book is proof of that!

It took eight novels, two novellas, and four short stories.  But I finally got there.  The ninth novel.  I got to the one that had me talking to my dead father in a movie theater.  And I said, just wait, Dad.  Just wait to see what I’ve got coming up next.  You’re going to love it.

And I could see my father then.  The blunted angles of his face awash in movie light.  And he gave me that look.  That look that said this story is getting good.

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