What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Adults always asked this in sugar-coated tones. Like, at seven years old, how should I know? And why did they want to know?
I had some ideas, four of them: elevator operator, tight rope walker, movie star, a famous writer. Alas, by the time I grew up, elevator operators were a thing of the past, replaced by automatic elevators with boring little numbered buttons. A tight rope walker was out of the question, and although Circus Shoes was my favorite of Noel Streatfeild’s “shoes” books, I knew that life under the big top was not for me. Clowns were creepy, tigers terrifying and the music much too loud. The closest I got to movie star was when my friend and I played dress-up in Mother’s discarded clothes and took turns being Betty Grable or Bette Davis.
That left famous writer. You would think that someone with aspirations to be a writer would spend time scribbling in little notebooks all through their childhood, but that was not me. Although I dutifully wrote school papers, once winning third place in an essay contest about Texas independence from Mexico, I never wrote in my spare time.
Years later, during my early days of motherhood, I happened upon a book titled Someday You’ll Write and snapped it up. Someday was a long way off, but in lieu of becoming a famous novelist, I composed some jingles about the joys and tribulations of raising my infant daughter. I sent them off, collected rejection notes, and eventually decided to postpone my writing until Someday arrived.
Some years later, while perusing an airline magazine, I noticed a correspondence course in writing for children given by the University of Arkansas. It cost $35. What a deal. I took the course and wrote a story based on my father’s childhood in Ukraine and his family’s eventual escape from the harsh life there, settling in Texas to live the American dream. I finished my story and put it away. Someday had not yet arrived.
Then one day I picked up a Silhouette romance to read on a bus trip to Austin. Serendipity! That spontaneous purchase was the first of three events that started me on the road to Someday. I read the novel and bought another and another. Soon I was a dedicated romance reader. A few months later I read an article in the Houston paper about an organization of romance writers who were attending a national convention in Houston. They looked like ordinary people, not the glamorous writer in Romancing the Stone. If they could write these books, why couldn’t I? Perhaps the answer was yes, but the time wasn’t quite right because I was writing a dissertation. Maybe when I finished . . .
Soon after, while sitting under the hairdryer at The Beauty Bunch, I thumbed through a copy of Good Housekeeping and came upon a review of a book called Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. I scanned the article and as soon as my hair was dried and teased, I dashed off to Waldenbooks, bought the book, and resolved to follow the author’s advice.
After I finished my doctorate, my family gave me a surprise party and my son presented me with a copy of Writing Romantic Fiction for Love and Money. I located a chapter of Romance Writers of America, joined, and was on my way to writing fame.
Well, not exactly.
Five years passed before I sold my first book, Blessing in Disguise. The heroine, an attractive young widow, worked at a church. When the hero, an investigative reporter undercover as a priest arrived, sparks flew. Would he reveal his true identity? You’ll have to read the book, still available on Amazon, to find out.
Two friends gave me an autograph party to celebrate the release of my book, and when a highly respected researcher in language development who had recently left a convent walked in the door, I cringed.
“Please, Sister Mary Arthur,” I prayed. “Don’t pick up the book.”
But she did, asked me to sign it, and probably tossed it when she got home. At least I hoped she did.
I never became a famous writer although I did manage to write Harlequin romances, squeezing the writing in between speech therapy appointments. After my interest in romance waned, I wrote a memoir, and I still write essays. Although my name has never appeared on a bestseller list, I’ve enjoyed writing fiction as well as essays about real life. I don’t sit at my laptop and turn out masterpieces (okay, pieces) every day, but I’m always writing in my head.