Smart Romance

I have done some amazingly foolish things in the name of love. Unprintable, unspeakable, cringe-worthy things. Haven’t we all? In my younger days, I compromised way more than I should have, put up with some exceedingly bad behavior and exhibited my share of it as well, accepted way less than I deserved, told lies, mostly but not entirely little white ones and accepted the lies of others. I sat by the phone, back when the phone sat in the middle of my house. I cancelled plans with family and dear friends in order to be available for the man of the moment and I have fallen in and out of love, or at least what I assumed was love, more times than I can count. Although I’ve been happily married and very much in love for over 30 years, I can still recall just how crazy love could make me. But I survived it and the whole experience made me stronger and smarter. I value what I have today, in part, because I didn’t always have it.

I use the term ‘smart romance’ on my website and on my business cards. It’s part of my brand, if you will. But is ‘smart romance’ really anything more than an oxymoron? Is all romance fiction? Something that Hallmark created in order to sell some cards?Let’s look at the facts. Half of all marriages apparently end in divorce and 100% of all divorces started out as a marriage. With odds like that, is it unreasonable to believe in lasting love? Think about it. We fall in love. The use of the term “fall” implies that the process is somewhat uncontrollable, dangerous – as in “falling ill” or “falling into a trap” – and that love makes the lover somehow vulnerable. Is vulnerability why our heart breaks when a romance ends? Does love make us weak? But maybe it’s not our fault. Can we really help who we fall in love with? It causes chemical reactions, love does. Measurable increases in oxytocin and vasopressin. One medical expert suggests that “when we fall in love, we are falling into a stream of naturally occurring amphetamines running through the emotional centers of our brains.” Yikes. Maybe we’re all just a bunch of love junkies out there looking for a fix. We’re suckers for a good love story. Perhaps that’s why ‘love’ is such a popular theme in film, music and books. Romance, women’s fiction, chick-lit- however you want to label it, these stories celebrate love in all of its’ glory. But in modern romance, it’s usually not all about surrender or falling, it’s more about choices and soaring. The majority of stories focus on relationships that are truly win-win, where both parties ultimately triumph.

I’m in the process of writing my fourth novel. All in the same genre- contemporary women’s fiction with a strong dose of romantic love. My main characters always fall in love and don’t always act rationally, but does the presence of love require an absence of rational thought? I don’t think so. I think smart romance is alive and well, and I think believing in love and romance is smart. In my first novel JEEP TOUR, Jackie reboots her whole life after a chance meeting with a sexy stranger. Maybe she would have moved cross-country even if she hadn’t met Rick, but I doubt it. She was willing to take a leap of faith in the hope that she would find her happy ever after. What she actually finds is something she never could have imagined.

In Guessing at Normal, Jill joins a rock and roll band on the road after a one night stand with the bad boy lead singer. To be fair, their one night stand actually lasted almost three whole days, but what kind of loony tunes would give up the security of a crappy job, a lousy apartment and the very conditional love of her very dysfunctional family to follow some sexy rockstar? A smart woman? Hmmm. Maybe. And in Driving on the Left (coming soon- this summer) Becca’s fling with a strapping Irish tour guide leads her into a series of decisions that some would view as crazy, but only time will tell. Sometimes you just don’t know, until you do. I haven’t gotten too far on my 4th book, but trust me. There will be smart women making foolish choices and figuring things out along the way.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

As an author with two published novels and a third one on the way, people always ask me what inspires me in my choice of characters. Okay, so no one really asks me that, but if someone did, this is what I would tell them. Everything and everyone is fair game when it comes to creating, developing and naming those who show up in my books. Mean girls from middle school, unrequited crushes from high school, the odd colleague from a part-time job, the woman in my water aerobics class; any and all of these people from my past and present might show up in one of my books. Maybe even as a main character! Random expressions, physical quirks, silly stories and vague recollections become the stuff that my novels are made of. If you are in the least bit memorable, and believe me that’s not all that easy to be, as I don’t even remember what I ate for breakfast, there is a solid chance that you could recognize yourself in one of my stories. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll change bits and pieces, as the last thing in the world I want is a lawsuit for defaming your character or ruining your reputation. You’ll probably have a different name, except for one of you who left such a huge gaping hole in my poor broken heart when I was 22 that I used your real name so take that, you jerk. But for the most part, blondes become redheads and brunettes might be bald. Canadian accents will be modified to a Texan twang and you might even change genders!! But you will be there, hiding in plain sight, in all your glory for the world to see and enjoy or snicker at.

Please don’t take this personally. It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously, I have been around the block a time or two and it’s definitely not my first time at the rodeo if you catch my drift. I have lived and loved and had my share of wins and more than a few losses. But for whatever reason, you made an impression on me, at one time or another and it’s my job as a writer to get it down on paper. I can’t guarantee you that my memory is all that accurate. Actually, it’s not, not at all. So maybe you weren’t really that mean or that dreamy or that weird, or maybe you were. Somewhere in the dark and dusty recesses of my brain, a small part of you lives on and once it’s in a published piece of literature, you will be immortal. You should really be thanking me instead of threatening litigation. Who doesn’t want to live forever?

So go on, live your life and follow your dreams. Just remember, if we have crossed paths in the past, or ever do so in the future, you should read all of my books at least once just to see if you or some part of you made it into my story. And you should probably recommend my books to all of your friends and family and colleagues to read. It’s entirely possible that one of them might recognize you, even if you weren’t able to do so. When that happens, don’t even try to deny it. Learn to cultivate a mysterious smile or a nonchalant shrug. Your cover’s been blown and flying under the radar is no longer an option. You’re welcome!!

Just ‘Showing Up’ Isn’t Enough

“80% of success is showing up.”

I have a problem with this quotation attributed to actor/director Woody Allen. In truth I have other issues with Woody Allen, but that’s one for another day. Although it is probably true that it is next to impossible to be successful without showing up, is showing up anything more than just the first baby step in the overall path to success?

Is being 80% successful even a thing? Can you actually be anything less than 100% successful? Is that like being 80% pregnant? Or getting 80% promoted? And just where are you expected to show up? I’ve never seen any places labeled ‘Find Success Here’ on a map. Without any clear direction, is is possible to be successful if you show up, for example, at a convenience store or a sports bar? I guess that would depend on your definition of success.

“I showed up and grabbed the last loaf of bread at the mini-mart. Yessss!!!”

“I showed up at PJ’s Bar just as they brought out the hot wings. Score!!”

Can you show up late and still be successful? Can you show up drunk or hungover? What about being prepared? Keeping your nose to the grindstone? Minding your p’s & q’s? I’m not sure about that last one, but the first two should count for something. Oh, and can you show up, but leave early? Will that impact your ability to be successful?

In the classroom, it is certainly possible to show up consistently and still fail the course. Doing your homework, studying for exams, participating in discussions- those are the behaviors of successful students. Attendance usually counts for no more than 10% of the overall grade. In the workplace, good attendance is expected. Those who fail to show up are usually not long for the world. Can you imagine getting a performance review where the only measure is attendance?

“I showed up; therefore I should keep my job, or get a raise or a promotion.”

“Did you contribute to the bottom line? Assist your department in meeting its objectives? Increase market share or customer service rankings?”

“Well no, but I have perfect attendance, so…..”

And finally, what about in relationships? Is simply showing up for a 1st date a guarantee that there will be a 2nd one? Don’t you have to make a bit more of an effort? As a parent (arguably the hardest job in the world) simply being present is never enough. “My parent was um, present,” said no well-adjusted person ever. That’s because parenthood is not a spectator sport – active participation is required. Life is challenging, but ultimately extremely rewarding, and the rewards are reserved for those willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Be involved. Get down and dirty. Work up a sweat. Contribute. Give a damn. Make a difference.

Just showing up for your own life? Not an option. You can do better than that!

 

 

Balancing Act

Balance is important to me. Really important. My whole life, I have struggled to find it. The dictionary defines balance as “mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.” Emotional stability? Works for me. Calm behavior? Sure, sign me up. Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra! Astrology has never been something I truly believed in; I can’t even remember the last time I checked my horoscope. But I was born under that sign, the scales, so that could explain why I try so hard to find balance. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an alcoholic household. I’ve been told that adult children of alcoholics ‘guess at normal’ behavior and find the concept of stability very appealing. I don’t really know why I crave balance so much, but I do!

When I was in my 20’s, the balanced life I was seeking would have been equal parts of hard work and pleasure. Climbing the corporate ladder was challenging, but I managed to find plenty of time for partying and falling in and out of love. I was burning the candle at both ends and being exhausted and frequently stressed was the price I gladly paid. When I met the man who would become my husband, I knew I had found ‘Mr. Right’. Balance became all about maintaining my professional success and investing lots of time and attention into this new loving relationship. In my mid 30’s, my biological clock was ticking and getting pregnant became the priority. Work was more of a necessary evil, a way to have good medical benefits to pay for loads of fertility treatments and ultimately, the birth of two children. By the time I was turning 40, I was once again exhausted. 50 hour workweeks, two in diapers and daycare and no time for me or the hub! I ultimately gave up a six figure salary in exchange for the life of an academic- teaching originally was a way to cutback and have a shorter work week and summers off!!

So there I was, working a bit less, spending quality time with my kids, maintaining an adult relationship with my husband and trying to get a little ‘me-time’ in the form of exercise, reading or time with friends. I tried to dole out bits of free time as mini rewards for my efforts. A weeknight chick flick with a girl friend would be ‘paid for’ by spending a Sunday morning grading papers. A day volunteering at my kids’ school would have to be balanced with working an evening open house at the college. As my kids grew, the challenge to live a balanced life became even greater. Games, practices and dance recitals were time consuming and required lots of scheduling and even more compromise. I learned the benefits of multi-tasking (who says you can’t grade exams at a swim meet? Yes, I saw how you cut milliseconds off that last lap, I think.)

Today, I have two adult children who are thriving, a husband of 30+ years who I cherish and a rewarding job teaching at the college level. It is sometimes a struggle to find time to spend with friends, workout and write the Great American Romance Novel, but I’ve learned that it’s the price I pay for wanting to have it all. The knowledge that no matter how we slice it, there are still only 24 hours in a day. A happy home is more important than a clean one and time with friends and family always take precedence over everything else. Maybe I’ve confused ‘balance’ with perfection. Maybe my life has been pretty well-balanced after all!

Write Here, Write Now

With a nod to one of my favorite 90’s hits by Jesus Jones, I thought I would take a moment to comment on the subject of writing. For me, it is not a hobby or an escape. It has become my passion. I love to write. Dare I say it? I live to write. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have a story to tell. Quite a few of them as it turns out. JEEP TOUR was always going to be written. A love story set in Sedona AZ was just too freaking incredible to pass on. Guessing at Normal came out of left field, fueled by my years as a motel desk clerk and the late great Dan Fogelberg’s visit. Now I’m finishing up a sequel to JT called Driving on the Left inspired by my daughter Hayley and our trip to Ireland. Despite my best efforts to keep them quiet, two more stories are starting to take shape. Second Guessing will follow Jill’s life as a successful songwriter and her challenges dating and being a single parent. The second is less clear, but it’s a lovestory based on actual people and events in the late 19th century. More to follow!! But for now, I invite you to sit back and enjoy a song just about guaranteed to put a smile on your face!!