My Romantic Past

We’re moving this summer from the northeast to the Pacific northwest, and it costs approximately a dollar a pound to move our belongings via reputable van line across the country. So we’re purging. Like mad. I went up in the attic a few weeks ago to see what was in the twenty gallon bins I’d packed a decade ago and never touched. Why do we do this to ourselves? It would have been so much easier to throw it out ten years ago and eliminate the middle man. Trash only gets more sentimental with age.

I found lots of good stuff. Two pillows I needlepointed, one of which was supposed to be my “focal point” during labor with my daughter, only I was too busy screaming and cursing to focus. The white–now whiteish-gray–afghan my grandmother knitted me when I went to college. And boxes and boxes full of newspaper and magazine articles I wrote in high school, college, and my early twenties.

I couldn’t just throw away the newspaper articles I wrote as a high school student. Those newspaper articles were the first time I ever made money writing anything. My parents told me I had to get a summer job or they’d get me one bagging groceries. So I went to the local paper and asked if they’d hire me. They were very kind but said no.

Equipped with the kind of stubbornness I’d had no idea I possessed (and which I have been able to call upon only under rare circumstances), I made a list of ten articles I could write about events at the high school and brought it back to the editor of the paper. He told me he still couldn’t hire me but he’d pay me by the word to write those stories. From there, I began dreaming up ideas for weekly columns and long serieses of articles, until I eventually managed to string together enough work to call it a summer job. Later, they hired me for two summer internships, and after college, I got my first journalism job.

That was a very long aside for the fact that while digging around in a twenty-gallon tub in my attic (picture me with one of those white respirator masks), I found an article I’d written in 1992 called “Institute Helps Writers Pen Romance.” It began (I still hadn’t figured out how to make the truth interesting): “The International Romance Writers Institute at 199 Ethan Allen Highway transforms aspiring writers into published romance novelists.” The institute’s office was run by a local woman, but the institute itself was the lovechild of novelists Molly Swanton and Carla Peltonen–who may be more familiar to you as Lynn Erickson, the pen name attached to more than forty romance novels published between 1980 and 2004.

“The instructors teach students not only how to write, but also how to deal with the complicated process involved in getting a book accepted. Ms. Butler explained that publishers typically read less than three chapters, and sometimes not more than three page …”

I only vaguely remember writing the article, and I’m 95% certain I never talked to either Swanton or Peltonen. Apparently the subject matter didn’t make a huge impact on me at the time. But when I picked up the article, clipped to a July 1992 copy of Romantic Times magazine, my heart gave a little lurch of recognition. It was my soulmate, romance-writing, and this attic meet-cute was not the first time we’d laid eyes on each other! Fate had conspired to bring us to together once before, and what I was feeling now was that strange mix of novelty and familiarity that …

Well, you know the rest. HEA and all that.

This RT magazine contains an ad for B. Dalton Booksellers as well as one that proclaims, “First-time romance novelist Diana Gabaldon thrills critics and readers with spellbinding time-travel saga.” Do you think RT will still send me a 100th Issue Commemorative “special four color hunk bookmark?”