It Feels Too Good

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Wanna know why I don’t write?

It feels too good.

It’s not a dearth of ideas or difficulty wrangling the language.

It’s just too much.

It’s the same reason listening to music is such a painful and transporting experience for me, and why I don’t do it as often as I’d like. Sensory overload. Emotional overload. I’m not equipped to process the feelings that flood me, even when they’re amazing.

From what I’ve seen, most people can cry, or meditate, or punch a wall, fuck a stranger–whatever the hell works in that moment. Or, they just don’t get riled up in the first place. Me? When something’s going on in my heart, I eat half the fridge, freeze up real quiet, watch 18 hours of TV, then pretend like nothing happened, even to myself. But inside, where I don’t want to visit, there’s so much going on.

I’m an artist (er, self-styled). I’m supposed to make art out of this shit, right? So what’s the holdup?

Honestly, a lot of the time I don’t–in the WORST way–have any desire to know what’s going on inside me, let alone do anything about it, say anything about it, or write anything about it. Yet when I do tap into it, crack into it, I feel like a ripe pomegranate ripped open, spilling succulent ruby seeds. It hurts like fuck, but it’s the only time I truly feel like myself, feel like I have something to offer that’s juicy and good and has savor to others in this world.

It’s raw. It’s my blood. It’s my heart and it feels like a song. But that kind of good is scary, you know? Like, I’ll be carried away and lose myself, can’t come down to earth when I need to. Can’t regulate when I need to. Can’t put myself back in the toy box when playtime’s over.

Today I wrote something beautiful. I sat in a pretty blue dress in the window of a coffee shop with the sun at my back and I wrote something real in a way that did its subject justice. A construction worker met my eye as he was doctoring his coffee. He stopped still. He said hello as if he hadn’t meant to. I said hello, and smiled, and turned back to my work, my truth, and knew I was unguarded to the world. I knew I was beautiful.

And I am shaking all over, in the aftermath.

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A Romance Novelist’s Existential Crisis

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I spent the past two years in love—the most passionate love of my life, but also the most catastrophic. It ended. And in its wake, it’s left me shaken about the nature of what I, as a romance writer, do.

I sell “forever,” you see—the idea of love so true it lasts a lifetime. I don’t do it cynically. In my heart of hearts, I’ve always believed in it, even if I never quite achieved it in real life.

With Him, I thought I’d found it. Circumstances notwithstanding, I found myself blindly, overwhelmingly enamored of this man. And it was everything you read in the most overwrought of novels. Hot. Intense. Spiritual. Agonizing. There aren’t enough adjectives, even for me.

Since our breakup I have felt disbelief: how could a love feel so incredibly important, and yet be better left to fade? How could a person feel so essential to my breath, my skin, and not end up mine for the rest of my life?

Turns out, in the adult world—the nonfictional world—it happens.

Somehow in all my forty-one years, I had failed to learn that lesson, or simply never had occasion to love that hard before.

Oh, I’d been smitten before—several times.

The first crashed into my life in the most literal way—I was twelve, sneaking cigarettes in my childhood bedroom with a friend when he burst down the door, an older boy roughhousing with my older brother, a golden-blond, blue-eyed boy, a wild and magical maniac who captivated me just at that impressionable moment when I’d picked up those first romance novels by Valerie Sherwood and Laura London and the grande dame, Johanna Lindsey. When he died, ten years later, far too young and in an accident unworthy of his great spirit, I loved him still, mourned him in poetry and in alcohol and in there’ll-never-be-another-like-hims. But he’d never been mine, not truly; never loved me back nor yearned the way I yearned, the way those heroes in the novels loved their forever girls. He only swept me off my feet in dreams, declared passionately for me just the once, in a smoky bar, in a moment I’ll never recall quite clearly.

I loved a bartender next, from across the polished hardwood and the drunkenness that left me inarticulate, indistinct, just another groupie waiting around past closing time. He took me to bed, but did not take the heart I offered, though his handsomeness outshone the models on the covers of the novels I’d just published.

And then there was Him, part one.

It was 2001, the shaky aftermath of 9/11. We met at a little secular Christmas party I’d thrown; me in a slinky silver top that showed too much cleavage, he the guest of a guest of a guest. Struck with lust, and instant knowledge, kindred spirits under the spell of the best-ever blue cheese olive-strewn martinis, we were magnets only pried apart five months later, when he preferred another, as he would (it turned out), always do.

Eventually I found requited love, sane love, sober love; companionship and friendship and evenings spent slaying super mutants on PlayStation with my best friend and loyal Mr. Right, my husband. We had life-love; went to funerals and weddings and sat through each other’s book signings and theater productions the way upright people do. For nine years we were kind to each other, there for each other; until we no longer wanted to be. And it was for the best that we walk two different paths.

It was in the wake of that marriage, adrift, that I crashed into Him again. Twelve years earlier, we’d been almost right, and then pretty damn wrong, but nothing I’d looked back on with more than nostalgia. A moment, a blip in a time with too many other blips, and then gone. I’d looked him up a couple of years before—idly, of course—“Hey, are you the so-and-so I knew?” Then Facebook friended, a few how-ya-beens, ain’t it funny how things change, oh, you’re sober? Ha, me too. Oh, you’re married? Yeah, me too.

But now I wasn’t so married, and an innocent Facebook friendship turned into oh-crap-we’re-in-it-now, and suddenly we were something I’d not known before.

In love, in love, in love.

When I looked into his eyes, stormy beneath beetled brows, I saw a romance novel writ there. He was my eighteenth century pirate captain, the claymore-wielding highlander, the cowboy, the renegade, the dangerous duke to my swooning miss. Perhaps not Fabio—not with his chipped front teeth and his sometimes Stanley Kowalski accent. But when he cradled my nape in his hand, oh, how my knees did buckle.

We breathed each other’s air, and marveled. He read the secret things I wrote, the poetry and darkness I showed none else, and he saw me, saw me, saw me like I’d never been seen before.

We had epic sex. Mean sex, low sex, down-and-dirty sex, even goofy, funny sex sometimes. And then, to my astonishment, we made love.

I may have been a romance writer, but some things are too cheesy even for my purple pen. Sure, I’d written the words “they made love” a dozen times in novels, but I’d never believed in something so quaint, not for myself, not in the light of day. Yet there it was. A revelation, a wonder, a perfect moment held in time. Our eyes met as our bodies twined; we trembled, whispered, “it’s you, it’s you, it’s you.” And in each other’s arms, we were, for a while, one skin.

I fed him soup. I wore girlish sundresses, and slutty leather skirts, even corsets dragged from the back of my romance novel costume closet for our trysts. He came to my door with a spring in his step, a light in his eye, my heart in his fist.

I nursed him when he relapsed; inevitable I guess. I held my own sobriety tight, but I was high, so high, our love the proverbial drug. Soon we were both circling the drain.

I tried, oh, how I tried, to be good for him but I was not. “You opened a door to a part of myself I thought was closed forever,” he said one night, low into my ear. That door turned out to be the lid of a Pandora’s Box, a hatch beyond which lay the monsters of betrayal and despair.

We tried to make the math add up, but every equation equaled heartache. For us, and more than us. And at last, sense returned. For him anyway.

He left me.

And just like that, he vanished, an essential character written out of the script.

There were reasons. Good ones—the best. And I deserved every moment of the pain I’m in.

When I’d glimpsed the tragedy coming, early on, I’d merely shrugged. “It’s only pain,” I said to anyone who’d listen. “I’ve been through deaths, divorce, dislocation in my life. I’ll deal, and damn the torpedoes.”

I had no idea what pain could feel like. But by the time I had to let him go, I knew.

“Surely no one has ever hurt this badly,” I thought. “Not in the history of the world. We’d all be curled up in fetal positions, praying for death if this were what normal breakups felt like. No one would be going to work, eating bagels, checking in on Facebook.” And worst, most urgently, I thought, “If it hurts this badly, obviously it’s wrong that we be parted.” A cardinal sin against all I ever knew, had ever written of romance. He was no appendix, spleen, an organ I could do without. He was my heart, my heart, my heart.

Of course I realize now, there’d be no songs on the radio, no theater, no poetry if we hadn’t all been “there.” And yes, I suppose this is the “normal” amount of pain.

My lover and I have been broken up some months, and it is getting better. More tolerable, breathable, at least most hours of the day. (Don’t ask me about the small hours of the night.) What troubles me now is that I don’t know how to write what I write anymore.

I’m a romance novelist, for God’s sake, and I don’t know how to believe in Happily Ever After. I don’t know how to have faith in “forever love,” or “meant to be,” or that feeling of ecstasy when you’re with your “soul mate.” Because now I know you can find the one you think is him, and lose him, and be expected to believe there’s another one out there, who will be right, someday further along in life. How can you perceive something, know it so deep in your bones, and be so very, very wrong?

I suppose that’s why we say love is madness. Blindness. Foolishness. And still we want it again, again, again.

I don’t, right now. I look at love—the concept, the connection—and think, “I don’t ever want to be that wrong again.” That insane. Misguided. Vulnerable.

So how do I write romance now?

I suppose the answer is to place my new protagonist in exactly this dilemma. Break her heart, dash her upon these lovers’ shores, let her wash up, blind and blinking, into an unknown dawn. But I suspect I’ll have to leave the story’s resolution for a later date, when I myself figure out what comes next. What a new kind of Happily Ever After might mean. One that can’t be stolen, because it comes of self, not other.

I’ve never written a book not knowing how it ends before. I hope it may be an adventure, and that I may learn something that helps me grow as much as it will my next plucky heroine.

Stay tuned.

 

That Moment…

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I dunno about you, fellow writers, but there are days–okay, whole weeks, months, and even years–when the writing doesn’t flow. It’s a strain and a slog, and each sentence struggles to be born like a breach baby. Sometimes, for all that, the results are pretty damn good. LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH was frequently that way. When I was writing it, under deadline and distracted by a shit-ton of personal crap, there were days I hated my job and had to rely on craft rather than inspiration, though I still feel it’s the best work I’ve ever done.

But man, the days when it comes easy are what it’s all about.

For the first time in months, I had a day like that yesterday. I’d fought to eke out a single paragraph a day for weeks, and suddenly, boom, five pages in an hour. Five good pages; pages that advanced the story and brought depth and poignancy to the characters. Fuck, that feels good. I wish all days could be like that.  But I’ll take them when they come.

What Comes Next

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I’m thinking about my next book.

I have two really good ideas, very different from one another, and for months now I’ve been holding them up to the light, examining their facets like a jeweler planning how to cut a diamond. I see many approaches, but so far none has shimmered out to me, telling me it’s the perfect way to tell the story. And I don’t want to commit to another hundred thousand words unless my heart is in it, unless I’m 100% on-board and enthusiastic.

One story is wacky, kinda out-there but timely, rife with secondary character opportunities, which is something I love. Some of the research for it feels daunting, however, and I’ve hesitated because I haven’t felt completely sure I’m the right person to tell this particular tale.

The other is the sort of thing everyone can relate to, but I’m struggling to find the best angle to make it fresh and funny, and to decide where my heroine is in her journey at the outset. I don’t remember it ever being this hard to get going on a novel, but I think it’s probably a bit like childbirth–if we remembered how painful it was, we’d never do it again, so our writer-memories protect us by fuzzing the whole process out a little bit.

Nonetheless, here I am, with this big blank slate, knowing my tropes and wanting to confound them; knowing my genre and wanting to out-shine it. And terrified to put my fingers to the keys.

I want to write a story with heart. I want to care deeply about my new protagonist, what she goes through and how she triumphs (yeah, there’ll be a happy ending, that much I know). I don’t want to write something dopey or predictable, and without inspiration it’s all too easy to drift in that direction. Yet I have some ideas that may make for a heroine who’s less sympathetic than the norm, and I wonder if I dare explore them, or if my genre won’t allow for a woman that flawed, one who makes decisions that are morally questionable.

It’s a bit of a crisis moment for me. Writing is a business, and especially so for genre fiction, but it’s also a huge emotional and personal commitment, a creative commitment. I don’t want to ever phone anything in, or deliver less than my best. Yet I need to get to work, and that means making decisions about the nature of this next project.

Fellow writers, what do you do when you’re at this stage?

A Very Special–And Rather Shocking–Shout-Out

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When the dean of your school–a woman so erudite she pens tomes on Homer just for fun–writes you a fan letter, you may be excused for feeling a wee bit giddy.

I kvelled. I plotzed. I had myself a verklempt moment or two.

You gotta understand: this is a woman so venerable she can quote Kant, Hegel, and Aristotle at will, in their original languages, and probably has the ghost of Kierkegaard on speed dial. And she took the time to read my little book, and write me a hand-written note (in fountain pen, with the final t’s left uncrossed, just like my mom used to do), praising my novel. She loves it. She’s rooting for Merry and the other characters. She thinks it’s goodhearted (but not sappy) and that the writing is wonderful.

Wow.

See, St. John’s College isn’t exactly known as the alma mater of romance novelists, and I’ve always felt a little embarrassed taking my classics degree and writing about fluffy animals and hunky heroes… but today I’m standing proud. Like, really proud.

So glad I went to Homecoming this year. So honored to do what I do.

Guest Post on B&N Reads, the Barnes And Noble Blog!

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Hey Fans,

I’m delighted to announce that Barnes and Noble gave me a wonderful opportunity to guest-post on their official blog, B&N Reads. Here’s what they had to say about LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH and my little essay.

Hilary Fields’ rollicking new novel, Last Chance Llama Ranch, is the story of Merry Manning, an Olympic hopeful who is forced to completely change careers after a life-altering accident. Told with a fresh and shockingly funny voice, it is filled with endearing characters and set in a very unusual locale. Fields, no stranger to enormous life changes herself, shares her story of a writing career filled with stops and starts, triumphs, and hard lessons.”

The topic is Writing, Resilience, and Reinvention, and you can check out the full post here.

How’m I Doing? No Effing Idea!

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One of the things non-writers often don’t get about being a writer is that, for most of us, there’s no big book tour. Publisher’s Clearinghouse doesn’t show up on your porch with balloons and a brass band on pub day. Unless you throw one yourself, there’s probably not going to be a launch party, if you’re a little, starting-out author like me. Friends ask, “OMG, how was the big day?!” and I want so badly to meet their expectations and tell them there was hullabaloo, the angels sang, and Stephen King blurbed my book.

Instead, I went to my local Barnes and Noble and hunted around until I found my novel in the stacks, beamed and did a modest little dance, signed all five copies and waved farewell to the indulgent counter clerk who probably sees writers like me several times a week.

I went home and refreshed my Amazon sales rank eleventy trillion times. It didn’t tell me much. I tweeted (which I suck at). I beat my Facebook friends and page subscribers over the head ad nauseum with the news that, hey, LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH is available! I beamed in delight when friends who’d ordered copies in advance posted pics of themselves with the book. (See below!)  And I had a very pleasant dinner with a friend at the South Street Seaport before heading to bed.

So, how is LCLR selling? I won’t hear any news for probably a week or two. All I can do is hope it’s charming the heck out of folks who come across it in stores, and that I’ll be lucky enough to garner some positive reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and beyond. Any way you slice it, I’m lucky to do what I do. But there are times I think I’d rather be an actor, so at the end of a “performance” I’d be able to look out over my audience and see how they enjoyed my efforts.

Applause? Crickets chirping? In any case, it’s on to the next project for me as I hope this one lands gently in your hearts. Thanks for your support, friends!

Leanna with LCLR

Eyeing it with dubious delight

Quinn with LCLR

Now that’s how you show it off!

G with LCLR

The littlest of fans

A very serious reader in Santa Fe

A very serious reader in Santa Fe

When Research Kills… With Cuteness!

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Many thanks to RT Book Reviews for posting about my time researching LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH, which drops August 25th. It was indeed a ridiculous amount of fun to write a book about sweet fluffy creatures, and I’ve never had more fun researching a story in my life.

Read the piece at RT Book Reviews here!

Three little alpacas are we...

Three little alpacas are we…

SQUEE!!!! RT Book Reviews Chooses Last Chance Llama Ranch As a Top Pick!

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Four and a half stars, friends. And a Top Pick! As reviews go, RT Book Reviews’ rave write-up of Last Chance Llama Ranch (coming August 25th from Redhook) really couldn’t be better. I’m so thrilled.  To begin with, they said, “Fields’ utterly unique and zany sense of humor is irresistible…” Check out the full review here!

Starred Kirkus Review for LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH!

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I’m so delighted to announce, LAST CHANCE LLAMA RANCH has been given a much-coveted starred review from Kirkus.  They call LCLR “Charming” and “An engrossing story with a unique cast of characters—both human and animal—written in a unique and confident voice.”  I like to think that’s true.

Here’s a link to the full review.  Yay!