pulp romance

Letting Go: The 90 Day Turnabout

Good grief. It’s been 3 1/2 months since I’ve posted. Well, I, uh, have been writing. But I’m excited to share with you because I have found a new niche and ramped up my earnings to a livable standard. I’ve become a hack writer.

What? You’ve prostituted yourself, you ask. (That’s how several writers reacted today when I told them what I was doing.) But hey, there are no end to the authors in the literary canon who have made their living the same way.

I’m ghostwriting contemporary romances and cozy mysteries. So, my current earnings have just ramped up from $800 a month to $1400 a month, which is a good thing considering my monthly expenses are about $1200.

Several writers sniffed and turned away. But you know what? I got a frightening dose of reality a year ago when I went into a Walmart in an unnamed small town in Northern California. Every-single-store-clerk was about my age. The looks on their faces told the real story–not a single one of them was enjoying what he or she was doing.

I remember having this sick feeling and wondering if I would ever have to do that. But I would guess that the $1400 a month I’m making equals or is more than a single one of them are making at Walmart. And my quality of life has vastly improved.

I wake slowly in the morning, lie in bed for probably an hour before I get up, just feeling the cool breeze and listening to the birds outside my window and other, more distant farm sounds. I slip into my clothes and put on a pot of coffee. Then I go out and feed my goats. I do some weeding, gather the morning’s bounty of purple beans and tomatoes, offer the weeds to the goats. By the time I get back in, the coffee is almost ready. (Yes, my coffee pot is old and slow, like me.) My partner gets up and we spend about an hour talking about our dreams, rehash a movie we might have seen the night before, or discuss the latest headlines. Then we discuss our writing plans for the day and get started.

I love the feel of the day stretching out before me–nowhere to go, no one expecting me, no “job” to dread. I get to spend as many hours as I want that day — sometimes as few as 2 or as many as 12 — writing. The only stricture I put on myself is a strict deadline for my writing. If I don’t have one, I will dawdle terribly. But having had ADHD all my life, I’ve come to enjoy deadlines.

Yes, we’re living in a 5th wheel. No big deal. I’m a minimalist anyway. Once I found out how freeing it was to not have “stuff,” I wanted to downsize even more. Right now, a move takes 2 carloads. Our goal is for it to be a single carload the next time around. (If there is a next time.)

Right now I can’t imagine being here for an entire year, only because I’ve never lived an entire year anywhere in the last 6 years. We keep trying to find our perfect paradise. I think we have at last realized that paradise doesn’t have to be perfect. We are on 4 acres. The owner has told us that the front two acres are ours to do with as we want. That’s why we’re here. The last place we lived was 5 acres, but only about 1/4 acre was usable, and that 1/4 acre was completely bare. Nothing. We were surrounded by saguaros and chaparral and the most gorgeous of Arizona sunsets. But when I tried to imagine becoming self-sustaining there, I was desultory.

I know it is done (I’m familiar with creatio ex nihilo), but it is largely done through modern conveniences and technology. When people first started to settle in Arizona, whether you want to talk about the Native Americans or the early white settlers, they settled along rivers. They didn’t expect to go out into the middle of the waterless 110 degree desert landscape and survive. That’s why there were very few people here before the invention of cooling systems.

But now we live where there is lush grass and 65′ trees. I’m a mile from the San Pedro River. There are already animal shelters on the property to which the owner has told me I could help myself. I want chickens, and milk goats, and permaculture. There are many inconveniences here. I’m finding out just how far my idealism goes. Let me rephrase that: there are many challenges here. But heck. When I was fuming the other day after blowing a fuse, my partner clucked his tongue and said, “What would the pioneers have done?” ‘Nuff said.

Okay. I’m getting WAY off topic. I want to tell you how I came upon my good fortune. We got our feet wet a few months back when we took on the re-writing of an existing published series and the writing of the final book in the trilogy. We discovered that we CAN do more than business writing.

Then my partner got a contract offer to write a contemporary romance. The money was good and we were in need, so he snatched it up. A moment later he turned to me and said, “What the hell was I thinking? I just agreed to write a 30,000 word novella in 14 days, and a contemporary romance at that! HELLLLLLLP!!!”

At first we were going to collaborate on it, but since he is still finishing the last of the aforementioned trilogy, he didn’t see how he could do both. So I agreed to do it. What was I thinking? I had never written more than a few fiction scenes, other than the unfinished novel I wrote for my MFA (30 years ago), and I’m not a fan of pulp romance.

So, here’s the cold hard truth. Three months ago, I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t have what it took to write a novel. I envied my novel-writing friends, but contented myself with the thought that I was really good at the writing I did, and there seemed to be a demand.

As so many other times in my life, I found that when I completely let go of something, that’s when the thing I really want happens. But it seems it can’t just be a nod toward letting go. I have to come fully to the realization that it’s okay that it’s not going to happen.

Then suddenly, a novel project was dropped in my lap. Well, no time like the present to get to work, and no better motivator than needing to eat and pay rent. (I say “no better” because there certainly are more noble motives, but none quite as insistent.)

And that was it. I wrote the first book, she accepted it and hired me (er, rather, my partner) to write two more books in the series. When I completed that, she hired me/him for a second series, and now she’s hired me for a different type of series.

I have never been happier with what I do in my entire life. Beckett, Faulkner, London, Kerouac and many more besides made their living doing hack work to stay afloat while working on their own works as well. I’m in very good company.