By Megan Mulry
I’m pretty sure I used to sit at the Smart Table. I was a magazine editor. I knew the difference between my Woolf and my Wolfe (and the other Wolfe). As my dad would have said, I had the advantages. Poor Dad. All that time and effort spent on my education and I go and write a bunch of twaddle about relationships and sex and why the contemporary woman is in a perpetual state of feeling like one of those Chinese plate-spinners.
My first book, A Royal Pain, came out November 1 (please don’t tell my publisher I called it twaddle) and, especially while I was writing it, I’ll confess it relieved me to think that none of my friends at the Smart Table would ever pick it up in the bookstore. Just look at that cover…it’s pink and swirly! It might as well be about cotton candy, it’s so cheerful. I wouldn’t have been seen reading that in a million years.
Turns out, it was more like six years. Around 2006, I changed. Something physical I think—the birth of my son, a cancer scare, I don’t know exactly—but I started thinking “life is too short” in a way that was no longer a bumper sticker. A voice in my head was shouting to get a move on, sister, just do it, and the “it” was the writing of books.
I think the specific catalyst was Lionel Shriver. I adore Lionel Shriver. If I ever meet her in real life, I will certainly embarrass both of us with some awkward declaration of how much I adore her books. But. I will never be as good a writer as Lionel Shriver. I’m not being falsely modest, I just won’t. I know my limits. She has words and thoughts and ways of fashioning them all together that are so far beyond my ken. For years, the realization that I would never be The Best Writer in the World kept me from writing at all. And then the same realization freed me up to write whatever I wanted.
Soon after I finished a back-to-back binge of We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World, I realized I wanted to read Lionel Shriver for the rest of my life…but I couldn’t. It’s too grueling. I wanted Lionel Shriver with a happily ever after. Not because I wanted the cheap thrill of a happy ending, but because I wanted something grand and happy…not something grand and sad. When did grand and sad become covalent? I began to wonder. It was a philosophical crossroads that thoroughly affected my reading (and eventually writing) habits. Where was the well-written happy section of the bookstore?
Around that time, a kind friend gave me a couple of romance novels. The little bag sat accusingly on my front hall bench for a couple of weeks, and I finally realized I was a terrible literary snob. The least I could do was skim one or two of the books. Insert LOL here. More like one or two…thousand. I was hooked. I used all sorts of internal-rationalizations to allow myself this new addiction: Julia Quinn went to Harvard! Eloisa James is a Shakespeare professor! But eventually I just copped to it: I love romance novels.
I now realize they are great books in their way. The brisk pacing, the passionate characters, the way my heart races and my fingers tingle when a good one fires on all cylinders. When I pick up a book—whether it’s Violet Winspear or Virginia Woolf—worlds are upon me. The universe opens up. When people (okay, me…I admit I used to do it), marginalize or minimize the power of reading because it’s “only” a romance or it’s “only” manga, we are narrowing the experience of an entire subset of readers based on the genre of book they read. We are doing a disservice to readers, but more importantly in a way, we are denigrating writers. Randy Susan Meyers addressed this in her September 2011 piece, The Big Tent of Reading, when she quoted Tayari Jones, “other writers do not deserve your scorn.”
As it turns out, my book isn’t total twaddle (thank you, Publishers Weekly). The irony is that I needed to let go of all of my preconceptions of what “smart” meant in order to let it all out. And then sell it. Those ugly words. Repeat after me. Sell. It. That’s when I realized it didn’t matter if I wrote like Woolf or Winspear, I was still going to have to send the query letters, go on submission, and deal with the consequent misery. That agent rejection I received 57 minutes after I submitted my query? That particular misery bound me to other writers in a way that I never could have anticipated. It’s a shared struggle that makes me absolutely love the success of my fellow writers. The literary writers. The humorous writers. The romantic writers. I’ll set up my circus in a field adjacent to Meyers. The Big Tent of Writers.
I now feel almost ludicrously enthusiastic in my support of other people’s creative enterprises. Whether it’s my daughter learning her first piece of Chopin, or a Harlequin writer who is going to release seven (yes, seven!) category romances next year, my response is now always: You can do it! Do it!
Because why not? I mean, with all the misery out there, a little encouragement goes a long way. A happy ending can go a long way.
Megan Mulry writes sexy, modern, romantic fiction. She graduated from Northwestern University and then worked in publishing, including positions at The New Yorker and Boston Magazine.
After moving to London, Mulry worked in finance and attended London Business School. She has traveled extensively in Asia, India, Europe, and Africa and now lives with her husband and children in Florida. Mulry is a member of RWA. Her first book, A Royal Pain, released November 1, 2012.