As published in the Colorado Romance Writers of America Newsletter
I had just come off of Bertha Pass and was trying to get my favorite radio station to come in through the static. I was one of the lone cars on the road on a Sunday afternoon and to be honest wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit. On the opposite side of the road, a gray, blue and silver trooper car past me, and the trooper had his radar gun pointed at my Nissan Pathfinder. I glanced at my speed. Damn! I was going fifteen miles over. In my rear view mirror, I saw him make a U-turn. I slowed down and pulled over to the curve.
Was this a bad omen on how the Lighthouse Writers retreat was going to start? I worried that some fellow writers would see me getting a ticket and remember me not only as the woman caught speeding, but the silly woman who wrote trifle romance.
The blonde haired thirty something state trooper strolled over to my SUV. I frantically searched for my registration and insurance information to give to him. To my horror, my insurance had just expired. Now, I was going to get a double ticket. I decided to be cheerful and apologetic to the trooper. He saw that I was wearing my seatbelt and in a pleasant voice told me that he was going to let me go. Maybe this was a good omen.
I slowly turned ahead and kept to the speed limit all the way to Grand Lake. I navigated the directions to Shadowcliff Lodge and as usual got lost before I found it. Two wooden log lodges overlooked Grand Lake and about four smaller log cabins were nestled next to a roaring river. I hiked up the stairs to the office and then stumbled into the common room. People were typing on their laptops and frowned when the door slammed behind me. I quickly checked in and headed to my room.
Later that evening, we went to the wooden chapel and listened to the teachers read from their work. Andrea Dupree, the director of Lighthouse, announced that each night at 7:30 pm that she wanted each of us to share something that we wrote. I gasped. There were forty people present and five of them teachers. I had never read out loud from my work to more than seven people. One of the teachers was my consultant and book doctor, Bill Henderson. Would he be embarrassed by what I wrote? When we meet one on one, he never presented that way, but this was in front of his colleagues and experienced writers. Nevertheless, I signed up for Wednesday night with my friend, Katherine and her sister, Sue.
To make matters worse, I met a professor who taught and supervised students at an MFA program. When I told her my genre, she grimaced. Romance was not taught at her program because it had a specific formula. Her tone gave me the impression that students were encouraged not to write romance. Why was I here?
On Monday night, I listened to the first participants read their work. The same scoffing professor read her piece about belly dancing with a bedouin and it was rich, sensual and vibrant. It mesmerized people. Poets read their poetry filled with humor, meaning and rhythm. The only other romance writer read her story about two crossed lovers dealing with the horrors of the Vietnam War. Once again, it was rich description and grabbed people’s attention. Not even hers resembled mine, but how many people wrote about vampires, demons and pirates?
During dinner on Tuesday evening, Andrea was begging people to sign up to read tonight. To my horror, my friend Katherine said that I would do it. I could have said no, but found myself agreeing to go. I frantically rewrote and rewrote my piece. Later that night, I sat in my chair waiting for my turn to present to forty people who would be rolling their eyes at my work. Only five us were reading tonight and found myself going last. The announcer stumbled over my name and couldn’t get out my genre. Not a great start.
I brought my laptop up to the podium and proceeded to read about my demon choking an evil Spanish captain for killing his God’s follower. I didn’t glance up once. I read four pages and then quickly exited to my seat. There was a loud applause but I thought people were just being nice. I mean it’s not like they didn’t have any social skills.
The readings concluded and I grabbed my laptop and ran to Bill. Smiling, he stood there with his hand raised up and gave me a high five. He said I did a great job and liked the changes I made. For the reminder of the retreat, people complimented my work and my imagination. They asked me questions about paranormal romance and the other romance genres. No one treated me like I was a second fiddle and not worthy to be at the retreat. As I was leaving, a man told me that he planned to go to Barnes and Noble and to check out paranormal romance. He was intrigued and wanted to learn more about it.
What did I learn? I discovered that I have a self-doubting harpy that colors my world. The scoffing professor actually became a good friend and someone who supported my work. So earlier did the professor really cut me down or was my harpy distorting my image of her? The many compliments I received helped squash my self-doubting harpy and replace it with the spirit of confidence. This doesn’t mean that my harpy won’t return, but next time I will be ready for her. When she whispers self-doubts, I’m going to step back and watch. Let my work speak for itself. Bill always says that it doesn’t matter what you write as long as it is a well written.
Not getting a ticket turned out to be a good omen. These same writers that my harpy had told me were waiting to destroy me had the same self-doubt about their work as I did and were just as terrified to show their work as I had been. What a fool I had been to look at these people as my enemies. Just like that state trooper, I need to give people a chance before I assume what they’re going to do. What’s that old assuage about assume? I think it’s still alive and well.