I turned in a book a week or so ago, which is always cause for celebration for me. Getting to the end of a book is like giving birth and mostly, as in childbirth, we authors tend to forget the labor pains of that last book when we start writing the next one. This one was a historical, a particularly prickly story that took me a long time to finish. Its progress was interrupted, over the course of a year, by several other book deadlines, a personal crisis, an unexpected move halfway across the country, and all the regular chaos of life. And more than once, during that year, I felt like running away from home. No, seriously, I did. But I didn’t run. I stayed at my keyboard and finished that story.
The title, “The Ruination of Essie Sparks,” came to me as I was doing the head-to-desk smack over some character issue, and might just hold some clue about my conviction that Essie was going to be the death of me—or her—whichever came first. My very alpha half-breed Cheyenne hero accidentally-on-purpose steals her from the Indian Industrial School she’s teaching at and drags her off to the wilds of Montana, where they run for their lives from the men chasing them. Essie, who is already at the end of her very frayed rope when this occurs, must choose over and over in this story: to stay or go, love or hate, to live with fear or courage. And inevitably, I fell madly in love with both of them, thank goodness.
But in the middle of writing it this last go round, I was quite shocked to realize this was a sheik-in-disguise book set in the old west. Now, I don’t write sheiks, though some of my favorite authors, like Jane Porter, do and they’re wildly hot and alpha and loads of fun. I write both emotional, adventurous western historicals and on-the-lighter side contemporaries for Tule. But not, specifically, sheiks. This book was, however, that same fantasy at play of being swept away from it all by some alpha male to some other place that is not your known world. Of turning the tables and shifting the power, not just in the literal relationship between the hero and heroine, but in how my heroine perceived herself in the world. Coincidentally, it was a book that I not only wanted to write, it was a book I needed to read. (I jest. There was no coincidence about it!)
As a long time mentor to new writers, I remembered the many times I’ve told my students that theme—or that underlying issue or moral of their story—is something very personal and to expect it to show up over and over in their writing. (They’re always shocked to learn this.) Theme will even show up in your reading if you’re a reader. If you go take a look at your bookshelves, you’ll probably find common themes threading through your favorite books. No doubt those themes will vary at different times in your life. At least, they do on my bookshelf. We read books, novels in particular, to feed our imaginations and often, to work out things we’re dealing with in our lives. Romance in particular, speaks to women’s fantasies and issues, and reading is a much safer bet to resolve those than say…actually running away. And so much less complicated.
Discovering how closely this book allied with my own struggle this year also reminded me that romance serves a real purpose beyond straight entertainment (which I hope it also does.) Romance puts up a lens through which to look at ourselves, our choices, our foibles and even our flaws and helps us put them into perspective, safely. Romance is more than pure escapism, though yay for that! There is a good reason why the genre has such a loyal and die-hard following. If romance also gives us reason to hope that we, too, can find our own power as women, then so much the better.
How about you? Was there ever a book you read that helped you sort through something in your life? Made you feel better about your choices or just got you through your day without running away? I’d love to hear. One lucky commenter will win a $10 AMAZON GIFT CARD.
The Ruination of Essie Sparks will be available for pre-order soon and will release in early March. Thanks again to Lee Hyat for so sweetly inviting me to blog here monthly this year. I look forward to getting to know you all better!