I wrote a romance. This isn’t the one that I wrote. Or rather, this here isn’t the one I’m about to explain, although I wrote this one too. According to my friend Carrie there’s nothing more precious than a writer talking about writing, but I’m trying a different type of contrarian than my usual.
I think my earliest true inkling that my job was going to spin out of control came nearly five years ago. I remember thinking I had to find something to do that would allow me to feel productive. I needed to be creating something, anything. So I sat down and began to write. I had seen the movie Avatar relatively recently and I read an article afterwards that compared it to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai: narratives that place the technologically evolved but spiritually adrift white man among “pure” but “primitive” savages. The white man finds his true self and so also redeems and leads the “savages.” I figured I’d start with the premise of the “aliens” as the white folks and the humans as the “people of color.” This isn’t a new device in science fiction either, but I not only grew up as a person of color in the United States but have an undergrad degree in American History and Ethnic issues, so I figured it would be fun.
And I wanted to write a romance. My mother essentially raised me reading romances. She read them. I watched her read them. I read them as I learned to read – Georgette Heyer, Emily Loring, 19th and early 20th century popular fiction, Jane Austen, dozens of scarlet-covered 80s Silhouette Romances, Nora Roberts in the 90s and Mary Balogh after that. And, heaven forfend, Barbara Cartland. I don’t think reading romances is necessarily healthy. It probably had bizarre and perhaps destructive effects on how I view romantic relationships. But in any case I wanted to write a romance. Avatar and those silly Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner films are romances as well. And the most important thing about romances, and the reason I still read them today was because they have happy endings: completely predictable, safe, solid happy endings. I don’t read a lot of literary fiction because literary fiction has reliably unhappy endings and there’s enough of that in the real world without reading it in my spare time.
I started writing, sitting on the sofa after my children went to bed. I saw a man on the street one day, with a particular gait and expression on his face and wrote a romantic hero that looked like him. I wrote a romantic heroine that satisfied my urge to make the women in action movies have a happy ending. The 1986 movie Aliens was formative for me and I wanted the tough gunner Vasquez (and her reincarnation, the pilot in Avatar) to live and love instead of die heroic deaths. So I made a heroine like them. I trickled the story out over the course of four years. I developed an ensemble cast, sort of like a police procedural or Star Trek: a doctor, a talker, a mother. I got pregnant. I gestated my baby along with my story. I wrote on my parental leave while my infant napped in her bouncy chair. I went back to work. I struggled at work. I wrote some more. I went through fallow periods where the plot stalled. I explained the plot to my sister. I figured a way out of the stuck plot. My job got so bad I took a mental health leave and wrote some more. Then I was done. My characters had their happy ending and I wept over them.
I began querying agents. I got rejection letters, as one does, when one queries (“I’m just not passionate enough about it”, “I’m not a good fit”). I lost my job and my heart was worn out with being told “no.” I wrote some other things instead. Possible sequels to my romance percolated in my head. I remembered a novel by one of my favorite mystery novelists, Ellis Peters. She usually has a romance that is ancillary to the primary mystery plot and there was one I particularly liked, but wasn’t as well developed as others, so I borrowed the sparse plot bone like Adam’s rib to make a new, full story. I hooked the story onto an existing character in the first novel whose temperament suited the character type I wanted. I got as far as imagining another protagonist.
Then I saw a friend on Facebook saying she was going to do the National Novel Writing Month Challenge. Then I saw another friend getting ready, and another. So I figured, what the hell? I was traveling in November and would have time in planes, airports and hotels, so I started writing. NaNoWriMo’s neat little grid of word count, daily average and target was soothing. I spattered out words with my keyboard and the characters did their thing. I had days where I wrote 3000 words and days where I wrote 900 (or zero). The end of the month drew near. A title popped out around November 20. And I was done. The story had a beginning, middle and end. It was less than half as long as the first and I seriously wondered where the rest of it was, but there didn’t seem to be any more of it.
I put it on JukePop because JukePop Sponsors NaNoWriMo. You have to create a free JP account to read past the first chapter, which I suppose is fair trade for the platform. So here it is (or the first four chapters at least). 52,000 words made up of DNA from some minor characters in a sweet little PG rated medieval mystery spliced into a space opera world with some sex, gun battles and social commentary thrown in. Neither protagonist in this one looks like Michelle Rodriguez. A young Jason Momoa, perhaps.