I am so excited to reveal the cover for my new book, The Writer's Habit! It was designed by none other than my husband, Craig Lancaster, and I am thrilled with it. We're still working on a release date, but I promise that it's going to be very soon. Stay tuned to find out more details, and sign up to my mailing list at the bottom of my Contact Page to get exclusive offers and opportunities.
And... here it is:
What do you think? Post a comment below!
If you’re an avid reader, then you know all too well what it’s like to have bookcases in every room, hardcovers and paperbacks resting on bedside tables and living room chairs, patiently waiting to be read. Likewise, you also probably know what it’s like to spend a week’s pay on Kindle downloads, or leave the library with an armful of books knowing you’ll need to extend your borrowing time.
And then there are those books you’d want to have with you on that deserted island, or save if, god forbid, there was a fire. Or, if you’re like me, you pack them in a box marked SPECIAL BOOKS when you move and NO ONE CAN HANDLE THIS BOX EXCEPT ME.
I debated on whether to make two separate lists—one for books about writing and the other general fiction books—but then I thought, hey, it’s my island. I only get seven. Also, I'm not including my own because I’ll just assume they’ll eventually wash up on the island shore. Or I’ll write new ones to pass the time.
It’s hard to narrow down to seven, and a year from now I might find myself thinking: You put that on the list? Nevertheless, here they are, in alphabetical order by author’s last name:
Heartburn (Nora Ephron)
You’re going to be hearing a lot about Nora Ephron from me this year thanks to my new blog series and project. I first read Heartburn in the late 90s, while I was an undergraduate and in need of pleasure reading. Back then I found it likeable enough, but I wasn’t in the headspace to truly accept it for what it was and is—a story about telling stories. When I reread it years later, after I wrote and published my own novels, I found a whole new appreciation for it. I revered it even further when I used an excerpt from it for an exercise in analyzing writing style. Now I read it every other year, at least. Sometimes annually.
Not to mention it’s funny. That it’s not-so-loosely based on Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from Carl Bernstein is almost voyeuristic, although I didn’t care for the film version. Maybe because I’ve never stopped thinking of Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein.
Best of all, Heartburn is just so cleanly written. So clear, so concise, so fluent—the mark of someone who’d spent a lot of time as a journalist (a common trait you’ll see in almost every one of these authors).
The Other Side of the Story (Marian Keyes)
Before I became a novelist, I thought I would offset my academic writing with personal essays, ones that were funny yet had a point. I began reading books written by David Sedaris, Douglas Adams, and essays by Dave Barry to try to glean some tricks from them. (I know. No women in that list. Hang on though, because look at who I’m featuring.) My friend Susan enthusiastically recommended The Other Side of the Story, and I bought it in a used bookstore in Cary, North Carolina. Since then I've been a big Marian Keyes fan, even though I haven't loved or read everything she's written (yet).
However, any book that makes me laugh out loud—repeatedly—is a keeper.
The story of three characters—Jojo, a literary agent; Lily, Gemma, an event planner with a lot to say; and Lily, one of Jojo’s clients who has been accused of stealing not only Gemma’s idea, but also her boyfriend—is told via letters, emails, phone calls, and third-person perspectives. Every character is flawed but so easy to feel for. Each woman finds herself in a situation she doesn’t quite know how to get out of, and there’s no better backdrop for both a comedic or compelling story than that.
I need to read it again. It’s been too long.
On Writing (Stephen King)
To some degree, I think this book is the writer’s bible. My twin brother presented it to me for Christmas the year it debuted, around the same time I was immersed in my graduate studies and reading everything from Kenneth Burke to Noam Chomsky. I was learning about rhetoric and composition theory—the study of how and why we write, if you will—yet On Writing is the book that transformed me into a novelist. I didn’t even know this at the time I read it.
I’ve read and collected many books about writing, and even written my own (stay tuned for the cover reveal tomorrow!), but On Writing is one of those I can read or listen to (read by King on audiobook) and, if not learn something new, be reminded of something remarkable about the craft. And I’ve always taken more to the craft aspect than the art aspect. I might even argue that every author on this list is a craftsperson.
I just don’t think you can go through life as a writer without it.
Edward Unspooled (Craig Lancaster)
Yes. My husband. But before Craig was my husband, he was my friend. And before he was my friend, he had written this book called 600 Hours of Edward that went through a similar journey as Faking It, from a self-publishing success to an international bestseller. We’d met in 2011 and were mostly the kind of Facebook friends who occasionally quipped in the Comments section, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later when we actually started reading each other’s work that our mutual admiration and respect truly developed. And after we finished reading each other’s fictional stories, we began to tell each other our personal ones. The more I learned about him, the more I wanted to know. This was all in a platonic sense. But after his marriage ended and the writing was on the wall (ugh—sorry. I couldn’t help it), we had already built a solid foundation on which to begin adding the bricks.
Given that The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter is my favorite of Craig’s books, you would think I’d add that to my pile instead of the third installment of Edward’s journey. But there’s something about Edward Unspooled. Maybe it’s because I have a thing for epistolary novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many laugh-out-loud moments in this book too, and again you’ve probably detected a pattern in addition to the journalist thing. (Craig’s journalism career spanned twenty-five years, by the way.) Maybe it’s because Edward is just so lovable and endearing, and it’s a book about a husband and wife who are so well-matched and love each other dearly. And if I’m on this deserted island without my husband, then dammit, I want this book.
The Craft of Revision, 1st edition (Donald Murray)
I am eternally grateful to my friend and former mentor Mary for giving me this copy.
Here’s the ultimate irony: I think Murray revised this book too much by the fifth edition, which no longer resembles the first. The first is the best. It’s the one that changed not only the way I look at revision, but also the way I taught it. I would share excerpts of this with my students, and there was always one or two in every class who “got” it.
Murray was another from the journalism pool. (Sadly, he is no longer with us.) He wrote in a way that seems as if he didn’t pore over every word choice, incessantly reread and rewrite until he’d honed it to every word in its right place. As if it all flowed out on the first shot. I think there’s a strange kind of misconception about writing style that is seemingly simplistic. As if eloquence is the marker for what makes writing “art.” I certainly appreciate those who write beautiful sentences. But the books I keep coming back to, the ones that leave me thinking long after I’ve turned the final page, are the ones that are written in ways that are put together in the way a woodworker makes a chair. They are still beautiful (I once again recommend you read The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter, as well as This is What I Want—there are some sentences in there that I downright envy), but they’re also, if you will pardon the metaphor, easy to sit in.
Straight Man (Richard Russo)
In the same way everyone who aspires to be a writer should read On Writing, everyone who aspires to be in academia—in particular, an English department—should read this book. The absurd politics, the affairs and innuendo, the ever-looming publish-or-perish threat…it’s all there, plus—wait for it—the humor, beginning on the very first page when Hank’s nose falls victim to a collision with a spiral notebook. Straight Man is one of those books I read cover to cover thinking, Man, I know this place. It had even prompted me to write my own academic farce, one that still sits in a drawer, because even though I love every character in it, I never quite found the story. Maybe one day it will finally come to me. It needs to be told.
In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran (John Taylor)
Do I really need to say any more? I mean, you’ve got that fabulous Patty Palazzo-designed cover. You’ve got John Taylor when he was just a glasses-toting geek listening to records in his bedroom (weren’t we all that kid in one form or another?) You’ve got Duran Duran in its glory days and in its not-so-glory days. You’ve got sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. And you’ve got a pretty well-written memoir.
And yes. I’ll say it. Pictures.
In many ways, I think we treasure certain books not only for their stories or their style or characters but for their memories. In the same way I am happily transported to my UMass-Dartmouth days when I read Straight Man, and I will forever remember my dearest love reading Edward Unspooled to me every night before bed, the two of us snuggled together, In the Pleasure Groove will conjure the memory of my standing before this man previously known solely from my turntable and my bedroom walls, and showing him a copy of my own book, the title of which was inspired by his band’s song. It will conjure every live show, every moment on stage, dare I say, the music between us. It will forever be a book about what’s possible.
What are your 7 Books You Can't Live Without? I want to know! Leave a comment at the bottom. (And subscribe to my mailing list, too!)
Ever since I first saw Julie and Julia in the theater when it debuted in 2009, I’ve been wanting to do “A Year of ___________” in which I immerse myself in some subject and then document the experience of it. But I every time I tried to think of an appealing subject, I drew a blank.
Duran Duran was too obvious.
And obviously going through a chef’s cookbook was also already done. (I thought about trying one new Cooking Light recipe every day, but then I saw that someone else had done it. Besides, I’m too much of a picky eater in general to attempt anything to do with cooking.)
A Year of Jogging? Painting? Playing guitar? Nothing screamed yes to me.
I think when you set out to do something like that, you need to challenge yourself a little bit, even step outside your comfort zone. But you also need to feel the passion of it.
How had it taken me so long to choose Nora?
It came to me at the very end of last year. And yet, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it. She was right there in front of me the entire time. I’d read/seen most of her stuff already. A treasure trove of scripts and screenplays, articles and essays, all for my consumption. And let’s not forget Heartburn, which I read once every two years now. But devoting a year to all things Nora Ephron would be interesting. It would be fun. I was completely on board with this. And I was going to keep it secret until the book was done.
Oh, did I mention I wanted to write a book?
I began on New Year’s Day with Wallflower at the Orgy, her earliest collection of articles. My original intention was to write something in response to each piece I read, and then somehow assemble it into a book.
I ran into two roadblocks. One, I found myself not stopping at just one piece at a time. I’d read two or three at a time, make notes, and then forget to write the response to the notes. Two, the more I tried to write responses, the less I knew what to say. Most of the time I found myself delving into my own experience with food, marriage, reflections on the women’s movement (having reaped the benefits of it rather than lived through it as it was happening). I couldn’t see where the potential book was, why anyone would care what I had to say. I didn’t even know how to write about the writing. Because for me, my love of Nora Ephron started with the writing. The more I read, the more I wished I had known the writer.
And then, of course, I wasn’t reading every day. What was the point of devoting a year to someone or something if you weren’t going to partake in it every day?
I did it anyway. Kept reading. Wallflower at the Orgy. Crazy Salad. Scribble Scribble. Heartburn. Lucky Guy. Blog posts featured in The Most of Nora Ephron. I just finished I Feel Bad About My Neck.
I’ve read a lot in three months.
But there’s more. I want to finish the collection. I want to read more scripts and screenplays. Richard Cohen’s book She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron. I want to see films that haven’t been on my Nora Ephron rotation (Mixed Nuts, anyone?). I’m looking forward to seeing her son Jacob Bernstein’s documentary Everything is Copy again this week. I want to get my hands on the rare Nora Ephron Collected, preferably a copy that doesn’t go for over fifty bucks.
And I figured I’d drop the secrecy—and the writing-a-book idea—and simply share my reflections here. Blogging can provide a good outlet in that aspect, provided it’s not all just one big blob of stream-of-consciousness dumped on the virtual page. I’d like this series to inform and educate, enlighten and entertain. I’d like my readers to see just how and why she means as much as she does to me, and how she’s shown up in my own books. And I’d like to share a few thoughts about the topics that she wrote about and loved—food, marriage, and New York, for starters.
Who knows, maybe along the way I’ll figure out what I really want to say.
There was no way I could have known.
No way, in 2005, when I finished the first draft of my first novel, Faking It, that twelve years later it would sell over 200,000 units in three languages worldwide. I had no idea that in 2010 it would sell close to 16,000 copies in one week as a self-published book, or that it would be re-released in 2011 by a publishing company owned by the largest online retailer in the world.
And yet, that is exactly what happened.
That's cause for celebration, yes?
And so, I want to celebrate by giving away a Junior's cheesecake. I think Andi and Devin would approve. Because were it not for you, this milestone wouldn't have been possible.
Subscribe to my mailing list below and be automatically entered to win. Runner-up will win an audiobook version of Faking It. Winners will be selected and announced via email on March 24. Save the date!
So here’s how 2017 is going so far in the world of Elisa Lorello, Author and Teacher:
I’m happy to announce that my eighth novel, Big Skye Littleton, will be released this August. I’m currently involved in post-production (a.k.a. editing, cover design, and other fun stuff) and am happy to be working with the Lake Union publishing team once again.
This is my third novel in two years--Pasta Wars and The Second First Time have gotten a nice reception—and it’s coincided with some extraordinary life changes: falling in love, moving across the country, buying a house, and getting married on the east coast, to name a few. All good but overwhelming at times. Things seemed to be finally quieting down.
And then we adopted a cat. While we co-parent two dogs. One of whom wants to eat cats.
We’re one big happy family.
So, what’s next? You know I’m a bit superstitious about revealing projects in progress, but I’ll share as much as I can without the annoying ambiguity:
In the coming weeks and months you’ll see changes to this website and an increase in blog content. My goal is to finally make this a site that serves you, readers of my books and attendees of my classes, to keep it current, and to maximize its potential.
I’m also (finally) starting a mailing list, for which you can sign up here. In addition to news about upcoming books or classes, you’ll be privy to special offers, giveaways, and exclusive content. I’m looking forward to getting that off the ground.
Are you following me on social media? As of today I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Based on this survey to which you can still respond, you may be seeing increased activity on each, without too much cross-posting. Again, my goal is to serve you with informative, entertaining, and engaging content. I want to do a better job of connecting to and communicating with you.
Readers: Stay tuned for Big Skye Littleton developments and other fun stuff just for you. Is there a new novel in the works? Not ready to discuss that one yet, but, as the Magic 8-Ball says, Outlook good.
Writers: In addition to the six-week course I’m teaching this spring in Billings, I am also currently developing some online courses, and I’m looking forward to bringing them to you. Also, my book The Writer’s Habit—a book over six years in the making—is almost here! Keep an eye out for it.
Duranies: I haven’t forgotten about you either! Friends of Mine continues to reach readers, and they’re some of the most gratifying connections I’ve made as an author. I’ve got a couple of DD-related project ideas marinating—that’s all I’ll say for now.
Last, but not least, be on the lookout for the new business venture my husband and I are launching next month. We are so excited to be working together and look forward to working with you!
In the meantime, have you got a question for me? Suggestions? Requests? Post them here in the comments, and I will respond to them as part of a new, ongoing feature on this blog.
As always, thank you for your continued support! I couldn't keep doing what I love were it not for you.
As my memoir Friends of Mine: Thirty Years in the Life of a Duran Duran Fan celebrates its third anniversary this week, I can’t help but reflect on the bonds that have been formed and the highlights marked since its release. Among them is Andrew Golub, known to the masses as “Durandy,” owner of the world’s largest Duran Duran memorabilia archive and a fan whose love and passion for the band and its artifacts is surpassed only by his kindness and generosity toward fellow fans.
I met Andy in person for the first time a little over one year ago, during a summer road trip to Seattle. We’d already established a long-distance friendship, but our time together solidified our mutual love and appreciation. I spent two days in the archive, ogling rare and priceless contact sheets, perusing international articles, and drooling over the pinups of my past. Andy documented every moment, snapping photos of me in all my Duranie glory. Last week we reunited, for one day this time, and continued the archive adventureland following our overdue hugs.
To date, Andy is the publisher of two books: Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran, a work of art in and of itself which showcases the promotional posters that span across Duran Duran’s almost forty-year career, and his new release, The Music Between Us: The Concert Ads of Duran Duran, a dazzling display not only of a selection of concert posters and advertisements beginning with Duran Duran’s early performances at the Birmingham nightclub Rum Runner right up to their spectacular Paper Gods tour-in-progress, but also a tribute to the fans that attended them worldwide. Like Beautiful Colors, The Music Between Us displays every poster on glossy pages in full color; however, their accompanying text is written in the words of the fans themselves. Each vignette contains recollections from fans around the world, including one from yours truly, as well as a beautiful testimonial from my fiancé, who attended his first Duran Duran concert with me at the Hollywood Bowl last year. The result is a most gratifying experience. With every fan remembrance, I found myself looking through the lens of the words, jumping through the poster in Mary Poppinsesque fashion, and landing at the Palais in Melbourne, Australia in 1982, Roseland in New York City in 1993, or Sheffield Arena in the UK in 2011. Moreover, I tracked my own concert dates and posters and memories, and found myself back at those as well, reliving the anticipation of the lights going down, the band taking the stage, and the music seeping into my soul for the next two hours.
Beautiful Colors is a collector’s book. The Music Between Us, however, is a fan’s book. Because within all the memories lies the one thread that connects us: the music. The teenage dreams have come and gone (and come again), but every note and lyric of Duran Duran’s discography lives and breathes and springs eternal. Durandy’s gift to all of us is, as bassist John Taylor so accurately inscribed in his copy, “Keeper of the Paper Flame.”
Here's the deal: I'm getting married in five months. I'm also 25 pounds overweight.
I lost said 25 about four years ago, and it took me pretty much an entire year to do it. So I figured I'd be in a good position to do it again when I got engaged eleven months prior to our wedding date.
I tried and failed in January. And tried again and failed again in February. And March. And April.
So now I know. Not gonna happen.
Please don't tell me how I'm wrong, suggest diets, exercises, etc. That's not the purpose of this blog post. The purpose is that yesterday I ate a piece of chocolate and was reminded of my wedding dress.
A piece of chocolate = GUILT.
It's utterly ridiculous.
We do it to ourselves, and others do it to us. Sometimes even well-intentioned. And I want it to stop.
I bought a strapless gown, one that's going to expose my flabby arms and highlight my ample bust and, at best, perform a visual trick to minimize the belly that doesn't go away. I haven't tried it on since ordering it.
But this morning, in the shower, I finally listened to the voice that's been telling me it's neither about the dress nor the wedding. It's about the marriage.
Because this is also the deal: Every day my fiance tells me how beautiful I am. Every. Day. He doesn't tell me to make me feel good, and he's not restricting the compliment to my eyes or my smile or my calves. He means my entire body. He means me, inside and out. Last month, I tried on dresses for my twin brother's wedding, and while I was self-critical, my fiance broke into a smile that simply melted me when he saw me in each one.
I'm marrying a man who loves the body I'm in now.
I'm marrying a man who holds me when I have nightmares and hugs me when I have good news.
I'm marrying a man who willingly splits the housework chores with me.
I'm marrying a man with whom I laugh countless times a day.
I'm marrying a man who apologizes if he is in the wrong, and forgives me when I am.
I'm marrying a man who picks up the slack when I am on a deadline, and appreciates when I do the same for him.
I'm marrying a man who says "Thank you" every day.
I'm marrying a man who gets me.
I'm marrying a man with whom I can spend 12 hours in a car, and who will allow me to clasp his hand for the duration of a flight.
I'm marrying a man who is conscientious, intelligent, talented at everything he does, witty, silly, well read, well written, and makes the best pancakes around.
I'm marrying a man with whom I am deeply in love, as much as he is with me.
Fuck the 25 pounds. Fuck guilt.
For the next five months, I'd like to eat mindfully and joyfully rather than vigilantly or responsibly. I'd like to remember my wedding day as "Man, that was so much fun," rather than, "Shit, I looked fat in that dress." I'd like to keep my eye on the marriage, not the wedding and certainly not the dress. I'd like to wave those flabby arms in the air while I gleefully dance at my reception. And I'd like to keep on waking up to my fiance, who smiles upon opening his eyes, and says, "Good morning. You're beautiful."
I'd like to spend the next five months, and the rest of our lives, seeing me through his eyes.
Believe it or not, today is the first Valentine's Day that I'm in a relationship. Or rather, a love relationship. Throughout my adolescent and young adult life, Valentine's Day was a day of dread, when I longed for a card or a heart-shaped box of chocolates from someone special, someone outside my family, someone male, who longed for me. I longed to not be the kid with the fewest Valentines in the class, the teen with no carnations from admirers or a date to the dance (I even remember one year in which the carnations were handed out on a Friday and I was out sick; I returned on Monday to find three wilted, somber carnations from my girlfriends). I wanted a bouquet of roses delivered to me at work. I wanted a romantic dinner for two.
I wanted to be loved. Like, in love, love.
By my thirties, I said, "Fuck it." Not just to the day, but to the whole damn fairy tale.
After all, it wasn't about the hearts and roses and candy. It wasn't about the romance and the cards and the sentiment. It wasn't about a day. By my forties, I'd learned that love wasn't something to be attained. I'd learned to shower myself with roses and romance and heart-shaped cakes. I bought myself cards, left myself love notes. I took myself to the movies and the museum and for long walks on the beach. I fell in love with myself. I fell in love with my life. And I radiated that love outward whenever possible.
And yet, as a single person, I still couldn't help but feel ostracized every February 14th. Especially in the advent of Facebook-- I remember one year in which the trend was to post profiles photos of you and your significant other. I openly voiced the discrimination. Since then, I've stayed away from the fray as much as possible, and remained vocally cynical of the day.
But here I am, on Valentine's Day, in love. Engaged. Living with a man who is the reflection of the love and light in my life. For the first time. And I confess: I'm conflicted. How do I treat this day that has historically treated me and other singles rather shittily? How do I not turn into a hypocrite? How do I reconcile going out to dinner with my sweetheart tonight, and the heart-shaped pendant he presented me first thing this morning, with the commercial, Hallmark-hellish aspects I've avoided and abandoned these last few years without abandoning others?
By remembering the message Sarah Girrell and I delivered via protagonist Eva Perino in our novel, Why I Love Singlehood:
Singlehood is a State of Mind
This is my message to singletons and couples. A day devoted to love is nice in theory. But a life lived lovingly every day, regardless of relationship status, is the best gift you can give to yourself. That may be a corny sentiment, but I've experienced its truth.
Yes, my fiance and I are acknowledging the day. Yes, I love the simplicity of the pendant and the thoughtfulness behind the gift. But, had there been no Facebook, no displays at Target, no gaudy jewelry commercials, I doubt today would have been much different. We still woke up to laughter. We still give each other space when needed. We still don't depend on each other to be the supplier of happiness. It's not that every day is Valentine's Day. It's that every day is the love of our life.
Yesterday I stumbled across a blogpost in my Facebook newfeed (click here to read it) that, according to Amazon, "only 40 self-published authors are a success" and "making money." Before you get thoroughly depressed, however, read on and you'll find that "making money" is defined as "selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years."
We'll get to that in a minute.
I'm not going to address the stats featured throughout the post that were taken out of context. Instead, I'm going to address the following two quotes:
"In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation."
"So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich."
Nothing irks the shit out of me more than when a fellow writer -- especially a fellow writer -- spouts this kind of nonsense, and uses a gross definition of one million ebook sales as the bar that determines "success."
Here's the thing the blogpost didn't mention:
I don't have the numbers on this, but I'm willing to bet that, aside from celebrities, Stephen King, E.L. James, and J.K. Rowling, there are also probably only about 40 traditionally published authors who have sold one million books in the last five years, ebooks or print.
It also doesn't mention the number of authors, traditionally or self published, who are making a living from the royalties of their book sales, ebook or print version. I'd be willing to bet it's still a relatively small number compared to the thousands of authors who publish every year, regardless of the track they choose. However, I could probably name about 15-20 author friends -- myself included -- who fit in this category.
I don't deny that writing is a difficult business in which to make a living. There is no quick road to publishing success. The competition is fierce, and sometimes exceptionally written books--traditonally or self pubbed--don't find commercial success for reasons unknown. It doesn't help that, thanks to the ease with which one can publish now, the market is saturated. I also don't deny that I was one of the lucky ones, having been in the right place at the right time with the right price when my then-self published novel Faking It peaked at #6 on the Kindle Store Bestseller list around this time in 2010.
But it is possible to make a living.
Yes, publishing requires perseverance. Yes, the chances are that the more books you publish, the greater ability you'll have to eventually sustain a living. And regardless of whether you sell one or ten or one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand books per year, write good books, dammit. Hone your craft. Always respect and focus on your craft.
I've got no problem with people who use money as a motivator for writing. I've certainly got no problem with people who want to write books and make a living from it. I was one of those people.
Since 2010, I've sold, worldwide, in English, German, and French, print and ebook, close to 450,000 books. I've had some great luck and support and also put in a lot of hard work. But my success isn't defined by those numbers; rather, I define my success as having had the tenacity to write novels that I'm proud of, find an audience, and eventually make a living without setting unrealistic expectations or letting naysayers set the standards for me or feed me the bullshit that it's impossible to do so.
If you're a writer, and you want to make a living from it, either as a self-published author or with a traditional publisher or as a freelance writer, I cannot tell you that it will be easy or that it will happen quickly. I can tell you, however, to go for it-- as long as you write kick-ass material. Set your own goals and standards for success and making money, but dammit, write well.
Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I craved marriage without ever truly knowing the reality behind the word and all its social connotations, expectations, and pressures.
That’s right. Craved it. As if it were a cupcake in a bakery display case, my nose pressed against the glass, unable to reach it.
The word was even more romantic than the thing itself. I was puzzled when married couples told me marriage was “work.” Kind of like people who said they thought reading was work. I didn’t get it. That wasn’t the vision in my head. I’d always pictured something fulfilling, satisfying. When the I Dos were said and done, so was the work. Happily ever after.
I’m grateful my ideas were never tested, because then I’d be writing this blog post as a divorced woman.
In my late thirties and especially my early forties, I realized that everything I’d sought in my utopian vision of marriage was actually attainable within myself. What I expected from a man, I provided instead. The fulfillment I’d desired could only be achieved by being my most authentic self. Satisfaction was the product of tapping into that authenticity and expressing it in all facets of my life, from teaching to writing to hanging out in a coffeeshop, either by myself or with a friend. It was about running to, rather than from, my stories.
And then came the master key: I am neither responsible for nor dependent on anyone’s happiness but my own.
I’ve had several life-changing realizations in my forty-five years, and that was one of them.
The result was that I loved being single. I loved the independence, the roominess of flight. I’d come to view marriage not as an elusive confection but rather a bullet I’d dodged, especially when I witnessed the struggles of loved ones in their marriages. Where I had once seen contentment, I now saw constraint. But the word, and the thing itself, was still too abstract for me to comprehend. I knew I’d never fully get it until I was in the thick of it. And yet, it didn’t seem as if I’d ever get there, and I was more than OK with that.
I knew one thing, however: if I did finally meet a man I wanted to marry, it would feel like home. And that’s exactly what happened.
Craig and I knew early into our romantic relationship (remember, we’d been close friends for the better part of two years, and knew each other for four) that we were on the road to marriage. It was on the boardwalk at Sunken Meadow in May, actually, when he first took my hand and said, “I think I’m going to marry you,” and I looked up and said, almost matter-of-factly, “I think you’re right.”
But he and I are practitioners of what we call “intentional living.” Just because we knew this information didn’t mean we needed to act on it with any sense of urgency. In fact, we were very tuned in to what felt calm vs. what felt crazy. (Still are.) We had yet to live together, day in and day out. I had yet to see him in a bad mood. He had yet to see me lose it in an airport. We had yet to experience grief, loss, frustration, or illness together. We had yet to see our childhood traumas rear their ugly heads in our adult behaviors.
That was the “work” I’d so often heard about.
But here’s the thing: when the relationship is attended to, day by day, moment by moment, the work feels more like maintenance. And the tools are appreciation, kindness, generosity, communication, and, most important, boundaries. It’s that master key: I am not responsible for Craig’s happiness, and he isn’t responsible for mine. This is not to say that I don’t want to or can’t say or do kind things for him; but if Craig can’t be happy unless I am, or unless I say or do something kind for him—or vice-versa—then we’re in big trouble.
When I came to Billings at the end of September to spend a week prior to our trip to California, and I asked, “Do you want to shop for a ring?” he replied without hesitation, “Yes.”
Even at the jewelry store, as we surveyed the selection, we kept checking in with each other. “How are you feeling about this?” “Does it feel calm, or does it feel like chaos?” It felt like home, through and through. And yet, much like Billings, it was a home I’d never been to before. I still had to get used to the idea. I had to shed all pre-existing notions and former selves—the self-satisfied singleton and the starved one as well. Re-examine what marriage meant to me in the here and now, as a word and a concept. It was no longer a thing to be attained or consumed. Like everything else in my life, it was a state of being.
The ring is beautiful. And Craig’s proposal is a story to be told again and again. But it’s not about that. Or the wedding. Or the word. It’s about the maintenance. And it well may be my favorite part of the journey.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.