But somewhere along the way, I put aside many of my tears. I think this is a natural progression in a woman’s life, as she learns to love not just as a girl, or as a life-partner, but as something akin to the archetype of the crone, like a grandmother. Love takes on the ability to be unstoppable, beady-eyed, ruthless and unsentimental later in a woman’s life.
So when I hitched up my courage and took myself to my first RWA National as an unpublished author, I read the advice of the Big Girls, “you will go to your room and cry at least once,” with something between scorn and amusement. That was for debutantes, and I would never be one of those again.
Except… while I was peering around in discreet terror at the frenzy of my first National, I got word someone I love very much was back in the hospital, struggling hard to hang on to enough mental health to maintain basic liberty and functionality. I considered ditching the conference—I hate crowds and I can’t do the sorority vibe—but decided my loved one was as safe at the hospital as a person can be, and that me flying in on a panic would not send a helpful message.
But oh, the guilt… the uh-oh feeling flooding back out from where I keep it stashed away, the dread every time my cell phone rang, the God-awful aloneness of dragging myself around that twittering, hopeful, busy crowd while someone I loved was at bottom again.
The meals were the worst, dealing with strangers and their well meant, predictable questions, but at lunch Eloisa James was speaking. I loved her dad’s poetry before I loved her books. I could sit through her talk. I felt I owed it to her.
She talked about being raised without TV—I was raised largely without TV as was my daughter. You’d be surprised how people react to such a disclosure. “What are you, some kind of freak?” was how one friend put it.
She talked about people at National throwing “EJ Bashing Parties,” though she did not linger on this shameful behavior.
She talked about trying to write the story of a woman dreading a miscarriage while Eloisa’s own daughter was struggling for life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She talked about crying her way through certain scenes, and about how that book was her first bestseller.
I lost it, friends. Started bawling right there at the dadgummed lunch table. Cried for women who cry, for women who can’t cry, for all the struggle in that gathering to realize our dreams, for all the children in all the NICUs. I was overdue, of course, and I’m happy to say all turned out well for the person I was so worried for (and for Eloisa’s daughter).
But what kind of heroine is that? A person who can pat me on the shoulder amid a crowd of 2000 strangers and connect that genuinely? A woman who can say out loud, “Love heals the shame.” That is not pithy, that is profound, it speaks to the place where romance novels brush up against wisdom literature, and I know of nobody else who can illuminate that juncture so convincingly.
This is not just an author to admire, or a woman to admire, this is a human being to admire. I am proud to say I write romance novels in part because it puts me in company with Eloisa James.