Here is what kept me alive during that time … romance novels. At the end of an excruciating day I couldn't come home and drown my sorrows in a martini or bottle of red wine anymore. But I could escape to a place where the women were strong and the men were good-looking. Something about their stories of victory over adversity, people following their true hearts instead of society's rules, and the transformational power of love gave me the strength to wake up another day and keep at it.
And yet … I was embarrassed for myself. No one else I knew read romances, or at least admitted to it. In the publishing world, of which I was a member, they were considered trash, drivel that was beneath the nose of anyone who had any intelligence or sophistication. If I had had any taste I would have been perfectly happy reading stories of rape, murder, incest, the meaninglessness and inhumanity of life … much of which is called literary fiction. Occasionally, a Jane Austen book was allowed into this lofty circle, but only if it was read as social satire rather than romance.
The more research I did into the genre and history of romance the angrier I got. Here was the largest selling genre of fiction, and it was completely disregarded by those "in the know" as not being worth the paper it was printed on -- except to all the people making so much money off it and all the women, like me, who found hope and inspiration in it.
Out of curiosity, I attended a Romance Writers of America conference. I needed to see for myself who was behind all this stuff. Were they the miserable outcasts of society? Were the writers ugly, bitter spinsters who never got any for themselves and so had to invent it on the page? Were the readers, as one literary agent had described them, white trash women with cigarette butts hanging out of their mouths laboring over the ironing board?
As I entered the lobby of the New York City Hilton I felt as though I had entered an alternative reality. First of all, I had never heard such a high-pitched buzz of excitement inside a hotel lobby. The chirping was deafening. There were old women, young women, stunningly gorgeous women and not so pretty women, thin women in mini skirts, fat women in long flowing tartan plaids. There were overtly sexy women and a few who looked like those librarians before they let down their hair and took off their glasses and were totally hot. But they shared one common factor -- they all seemed excited, smart, and FREE. They had made their choice to do what they loved, and they were reveling in it.
That was the second time I tripped and stumbled onto the path of pleasure. But I still wasn't quite sure it was right for me … although I was definitely starting to feel more joy and less guilt about reading romances. In fact, I imagined myself as a heroine of my own story. I had learned another important clue to pleasure: Optimism and hope feel good. Cynicism and despair feel bad. I chose to feel good.