You hear it all the time, and it sounds like sage advice. Marriage is no picnic, the hopeful single is told. It takes hard work and commitment. You can’t go into it all starry-eyed thinking that once you’ve got that ring on your finger, you’ll live happily ever after. Life doesn’t work like that. Romantic love doesn’t last; in fact, humans are biologically programmed to cheat! But never fear, oh stalwart one, determination and mutual respect can get you through.
My husband and I will be celebrating our thirtieth anniversary next summer. Whenever we encounter the ubiquitous refrain about how difficult marriage is, we look at each other, smile, and shake our heads. We even have a running joke about it. Every year around our anniversary we make an appointment to discuss the marriage. It goes something like this: “So, I think it’s working out okay. How about you?” “Yep, I’m good. Want to re-up?” “Done.” And then we laugh and get back to it. We have faced many challenges in our lives together, but our marriage was never one of them. Our marriage was what got us through the rest of it.
We are not some rare exception. Happy couples are everywhere. They don’t go around telling you how happy they are, because that isn’t cool. “What, you and Dave are separating? Oh, that’s a shame. I can’t identify at all because we’re still totally in love, but I feel for you!” Nobody says that. I complain about minor issues as much as anybody. “My husband is out burying more PVC pipe in the yard today -- maybe someday he’ll actually connect it to something!” But don’t let the public face fool you, and don’t undercount such couples based on lack of visibility. Lovebirds are often happiest when they’re alone.
So to those who would say that happily ever after doesn’t exist, that soul mates are a myth, and that marriage is a worthwhile but challenging project that requires a great deal of hard work, I respectfully counter: speak for yourself.
Whether it is true that everyone on earth has a soul mate out there somewhere, I have no idea. To be sure, some individuals are harder to live with than others. But what I do know is that although there are no perfect people, my husband and I, at least, are perfectly suited to each other. And we are not the only ones.
My point? Every couple and every situation is different, and your mileage will vary. But no one should ever “settle” for an unsatisfactory relationship based on cynicism and misinformation. Enduring romantic love is real. Happily ever after doesn’t only happen in fairy tales. Life is what you make of it.
Happy Valentines Day.
When I wrote my first novel, I was in my early thirties. My character, Leigh Koslow, was a snarky young advertising copywriter on the eve of her thirtieth birthday. (All female sleuth characters were snarky in the nineties. It was a prerequisite.) She was single and not quite loving it, and could never seem to catch a break. As the books rolled on she fell in love with her best friend, and by her early thirties she was happily married, too. She had plenty of problems, but I went against the convention of the day by keeping her relationship with her significant other from being one of them. And why not? I was happily married myself. I wasn’t tripping over bodies every other day – or, well, ever – but at least I knew what young married life was like, and I enjoyed bringing that touch of homey reality to an otherwise pretty unrealistic genre. I also had small children by that age. So, at the end of book five, Leigh and Warren decided to start a family, too.
But then something happened to Leigh and me. I stopped getting publishing contracts, and Leigh began what turned out be a ten-year-long pregnancy. (Yeah. I got the better end of that deal.) Fast forward to the heyday of self-publishing, when I reclaimed the rights to the first five mysteries, watched in delight as they reached a whole new audience, and got motivated to write more. But where could I start? I’d had my own babies and toddlers all too recently to even think of imagining solving mysteries with them in tow. No, time had passed. I was older. Leigh was older. And I decided that in the sixth book she would have ten-year-old twins, just as if I had been writing about her all along. She was still a few years younger than me, and the world still spun on its axis. Everything was fine.
Until it wasn’t. You see, with my own kids leaving the nest at that point, I liked having Leigh’s kids be kids. I liked having Leigh be in her early forties: happily still healthy and reasonably youthful and definitely still premenopausal. I liked having her friend Maura still be young enough to have her first baby at forty-two. I didn’t want Leigh’s twins to turn into teenagers and get mouthy and decide Leigh was an idiot and start spending all their time with their friends. I didn’t want Leigh to grow an inner tube around her middle and stray hairs on her chin. I want time to stand still for me – I mean for her. So where three months passed in Leigh’s world, a whole year passed in mine. And that kept happening.
And now I’m in trouble. After ten books in the series, I’m more than just a little bit older than she is. (Who could have predicted?) What’s worse, there’s no end in sight. I fear that Leigh and I, after growing up all these years together, may have diverged for good. In Never Mess with Mistletoe , I begrudgingly allowed her children to turn twelve. But I’m not sure I’ll ever get past that. Reality is all well and good… but freezing people in time through fiction is so gratifying. Will I ever want to write about Leigh suffering from hot flashes and feeling like a middle-aged frump? Honestly, I don’t know. Perhaps someday I’ll see the humor in it. Like when I’m dropping my dentures in a cup.
This month the 'Zon has challenged its authors to publicly share what they love most about being indie. That’s an easy question for most of us, because there are so many positives to choose from. But speaking as someone who was traditionally published first, one difference that provides me with continual, glowing, cozy-warm satisfaction is... being able to write for my readers.
Now, that might seem obvious. After all, who else would an author write for? Well, I’ll tell you. First, in the old paradigm, you had to please an agent, because if they didn’t think the book would sell to an editor, they wouldn’t represent it. If you made the agent happy enough to present the book to an editor, then you had to make the editor happy. And what the editor wanted might be a little different, because they had to please the marketing people. This was trickier, because the marketing people never read the book themselves, but wanted whatever they thought would please the buyers. Of course, the buyers didn’t read the books either; they just wanted books that would sell, which meant books similar to whatever else was selling at the time.
Forgive me if my next words sound harsh. But somewhere in the middle of that paragraph is where honest and heartfelt storytelling goes to die. Writing as an indie is a breath of fresh air because it allows a direct and unfiltered connection between the author and the reader. (And by unfiltered, I do not mean that authors shouldn’t perfect their craft and appropriately copyedit. Indeed, getting the story across effectively is an inherent part of good storytelling.) What I mean is that when I’m writing, I like to picture my audience and pretend that they’re reading along with me. I imagine the people I’ve gotten emails from and the people who chat with me on Facebook. Are they laughing? Are they getting teary-eyed? Are they bored? Oh, no!
As an indie, I can write with the sole purpose of entertaining the readers I know and love. My most cherished readers always let me know what they think... sometimes in a matter of hours! And if there’s something they love, or hate, or want more of or less of, I can respond to that. The direction my writing takes is guided by the people who matter: readers who care about my characters. Not agents, not editors, not marketing people, or accountants, or buyers, or distributors. Unless, of course, they want to become readers, too. ;)
That’s why I love writing indie.
When I left home in Pennsylvania last week to attend the yearly Novelists, Inc. conference in Florida, the leaves on the maple tree outside my office window were all still green. When I got back four days later, an occasional leaf here and there was tinged with red. The sight gave me a horrible sinking feeling.
Don’t get me wrong -- the leaves were beautiful. They’re even more beautiful now a few days later, as shades of yellow and peach gradually mix in with the red. I’ve always loved watching the changing of the leaves, and from the time I was a kid up until about three years ago, Autumn was my favorite season of the year.
But then, those winters hit. And if you live anywhere in the northeastern US, you know what winters I mean. After the leaves fell off the trees those years, there were times when we doubted they would ever grow back. And even though this last winter wasn’t nearly so brutal, it seems like only yesterday that I was giddy with excitement to see those first green buds popping out.
There’s a psychology to that feeling. I’ve read that when the human eye sees the colors blue or green, the brain experiences a calming effect. No wonder our most relaxing daydreams so often involve palm trees and oceans! As much as I whine at the summer heat, I do love seeing the green. And as much as I adore fall, with its promise of cooler weather, Christmas, and hot chocolate by the fire, I can’t help but wish it would wait just a little while longer to arrive. Don’t you?
'Cause this woman needs her green.