So I was sitting on a plane on Hawaiian Airlines going from SJC to Oahu, when this much older, rheumy-eyed, fairly tall, vaguely Japanese (perhaps hapa or mixed with Hawaiian) fella turns to me, noticing I am writing on a laptop fervently. He’s probably upward of 60 years, is my estimate.
He says, “What are you writing there? Do you travel a lot?”
“I’m writing a novel,” I answer. “I try to travel when I can.”
“Oh, I love to travel. What are you writing about?”
Authors are delicate creatures
This is the tricky part. I tend to avoid getting into this because then it starts turning into, “Let me share my opinion on what you should be writing / how you should write it / can I read it / here is what I think …” This is the age-old plague of the author, I’m sure it’s been around since the dawn of time. At one point, very few people in the world could read or write, it was a role for clerics and priests. Eventually, lawmen and royalty, running empires and religious states. Only very recently have women come on to the scene with both the education enough to write let alone the freedom to be published — publishing was something that is literally a “digital” phenomenon if you want to be blunt about it, because it’s far easier to create multiple identities and hide yourself behind a laptop, and get yourself out there. Before, you still had to go through a publisher who could still run away for you just being a woman; if you got past that point, they might try to undercut you, steal your content, or whatnot, and if you were lucky and they were legit, then you could publish under a MALE name.
Today, you can just write. But everyone still has this strange idea that, because we live in a world of words and stories, the author must want to talk about what they’re writing, and must want the input of the person they’re in discussion with.
Some writers don’t even like to talk to other writers about what they’re writing, let alone strangers. It’s a very personal topic. Like the color of the underwear you have on, or how often you have sex, or what type of person you plan to marry. You don’t really ask this of strangers, but some people think things are appropriate with strangers. Like rubbing a pregnant woman’s belly.
On writing romance
ANYHOO. Back to the point. I tell the fella, primly, “I’m writing a romance novel.”
This happened to be THE BIG ONE. The one that has taken me YEARS to write and its progress has always been measured by the chapters of which city, country, or state I happened to be in that was not my own. For example, I began it in Hawaii (on a different visit than the one this conversation happened to be on). I made meaningful progress in Singapore. I finished the first draft on Valentine’s Day in San Diego, CA, and then in fits and starts there was more Hawaii, then finally, Montana.
The fella gives me this evaluating look — I was in my 20s at the time — and he looks skeptical.
“And have you ever been in love?” he asks me. I’m slightly offended. Why assume not? Because I’m writing about love? Good grief.
“Yes,” I respond. He doesn’t need to know the details. “I’ve had a great love.”
“I’ve finally found my one true love. Can you believe it? I’ve been married for 30 years. But she wasn’t the love of my life.”
Awkwardly, I pause my writing, and look over at him. He’s demanding attention. FINE. I give it to him.
“Oh?” I say.
He goes, on, “She’s much, much younger than me. I met her while travelling. She’s the most amazing woman. We’ve been together five years now. But I met her in my 50s, you know, when she was 35. And I was married to someone else at the time, we have four kids, and all that, but I’d never been in love. So, how can you write about it, you know, if you’ve never really been in love like that? We so rarely get to find that kind of love. I’m so grateful, every day.”
His eyes tear up.
Wisdom from strangers
I’m on the one hand deeply moved by the wisdom he’s truly sharing — that we so rarely get to have a magical love like that, that it is never too late to find love, even when you’re in your 50s and married to someone else. (erp?!) But in truth, I’m glad he finally found it, because I have never been a supporter of staying in a miserable marriage. I’m a child of divorced parents and frankly very, very happy about that — if they’d been married we’d have all been miserable together in the 9th circle of hell, and I don’t advocate that.
But there’s nothing to say to this fella, who has no idea who I am, and he really just wants to tell his story. On the other hand, I’m annoyed he thinks his wisdom trumps my ability to write a romance novel, which is an entirely formulaic practice that generates tons of readership easily (this was well before “50 Shades of Grey” came out.)
So all I can do, given his age, is say, “Hmm, I’m so glad you found that, sir. I hope you stay happy together for a very long time.”
“Oh, I know we will,” he answers, sagely. “I’m going to love her for the rest of my life.”