Heartbreak and First Love
I wish I had written this essay sooner. It would have been much easier. I was finishing my second novel, pushing through the first draft, and this essay was next up-to-bat. In the time it took for me to finish the book, there was a violent rampage at The University of California, Santa Barbara that killed six students. I won’t say the shooter’s name or rehash his rhetoric, but I will list his victims: Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang, Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, Katherine Breann Cooper, and Christopher Michaels-Martinez, all in the age range of 19-22. College kids. Hadn’t even gotten started in life.
This is a thing that happens in America. This is a thing that happens so much in America that we have become completely desensitized to it, once the news coverage has finished working us up into a froth.
None of this really put me in a romantic mood. I stared at our August theme: “celebrate romance.” I stared and stared and the news still spun. My little corner
of the Internet seemed engulfed in flames. Yet another shooting in America, this time with a virulently misogynist theme. I thought about logging off, trying to
ignore it, but then the #yesallwomen hashtag exploded on Twitter. I could not concentrate on anything for the next few days, except the pain and grief and
frustration that women were sharing with each other. It was like a dam broke, the public airing of grievances that occurred when the killer’s manifesto and woman-hating video screeds were brought to light. There’s a lot of rancid crap behind that dam: racism, hate, and poisonous ideology. Trying to unpack the vile rants he left behind is not for the faint of heart. This was a misguided, insecure man indoctrinated to hate women and the men “who could get them.”
I felt raw, like I was walking around all open-wound-y. I know I wasn’t alone because all of the female friends I talked to this week felt the same. “It feels like
something broke this time, you know?” I said.
“Yeah,” my friend Alexa answered, without further explanation. “Yeah, it does.”
We were silent for a few moments after that.
Tell me how I could even think of celebrating romance. How could I when my brain was overflowing with the implications of this hideous act? We live in a world where white male shooters are the norm. Shootings happen, there is prime outrage for weeks, then we all carry on. It has actually become a national routine.
This is meant to be an essay about romance.
Let me tell you how I coped this time. I burned through some novels and some candles. I think the Bronte sisters would have been proud. I finished the research for my own book by reading about women and Spiritualism in a feminist context; how women seized power where they could, in subversive ways, when it had been denied to them. I read women writers. I read all women writers. I wrapped myself in candlelight and female perspective. I sped through a Sarah Maclean I’d been saving, a Cathy Maxwell at the top of the stack, and finished Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood (which I had been doling out in tiny bites, because I love her sentences like they’re each a gourmet dish).
You know what misogynists are really afraid of? Educated women.
I bought more books and more candles. Ursula K. Le Guin, Joan Didion essays, and a Ribbonwick, the kind of candle that has a flame like a snake. I added wine and baths at various points and all that helped to not let me sink into total despair. To the computer to buy reinforcements: Patricia Lockwood’s new poetry, the Long Hidden anthology, and a ridiculously expensive candle from the Wicked ‘Negative Space’ collection. (Worth it.) I added some lingerie. (Also worth it.)
I know this sounds like retail therapy and it probably was. But to me, it was about ritual. Like, maybe if I wrap myself with these words and I have this light, then things will be okay. It’s a surprisingly small thing, but effective, and I recommend you try it.
In the interest of celebrating romance in the face of hopelessness, I had to turn to my first love: stories. A dashing fellow, he is, really. Always there, quite literally. Has everything you could possible want. Is ever willing to allow you to rewrite reality, should you find it lacking.
I let heroes seduce me, in the comfort of a genre where I can be assured there will be no sudden spree shootings and love will win the day. No matter what I read in-between, I come back to Romance to boost my optimism, my capacity for hope and to get entirely swept away. Every individual book I get lost in, whether historical, paranormal, contemporary, et al, transports me…I revel in characters’ triumphs and mourn their losses. Celebrating romance ends up teaching you a lot about empathy, too.
That’s my coping suggestion for these times we live in: find the stories that mean the most to you and cloak yourself in them. Search them out and cling to them. They form something of a shell that gets stronger with each one added. They make you a warrior. And warriors aren’t afraid of battling, aren’t afraid of change. If you fall in love with words and stories, they make you better.
Recommendations: Perfect Summer by Katie Graykowski really delighted me. I don’t normally read a lot of contemporary, but her voice is so fun, it’s really infectious.
On the historical side, I loved The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin. It’s both a thriller and a romance, revolving around aristocratic scholars and Chinese courtesans. It’s completely captivating.
Questions for the Author:
Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.
My most daring adventures certainly can’t be described here, so I’ll try for something inspiring. Before I was published, I ran a literacy charity organization in Pittsburgh called Literazzi. We threw theme parties (including two proms and a night of punk rock karaoke) and poetry readings, and gave the proceeds to The Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. We sponsored artists when we could, and I became close with some of my best friends because of the whole endeavor. Doing entirely volunteer work for literacy was extremely fulfilling and I think it also helped me realize how very important reading and writing are to me. I buckled down shortly after that and finished my first novel.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)
I feel like I always knew, like there was not really an alternative. I tried to go to school for film (seemed more lucrative) but I quickly realized that the only thing that interested me about film was writing screenplays.
So, yeah. Still writing.
Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)
I’ll go way back. One of my first favorite books (I still have the original copy that I read when I was a child) was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. If you’re an adult and you haven’t read it, you’ll still get a kick out of it, but if you happen to be parent to a precocious child who likes to read, buy this for them immediately. The wordplay is pretty high-level for (ostensibly) a children’s book, but Juster never talks down to kids and when I was young, I appreciated it. Smart kids are desperately tired of people talking down to them. Plus, the story is just delightful and the drawings by Jules Feiffer complete the journey. I remember flipping back and forth to Feiffer’s map, following Milo’s path, over and over. The lessons it taught me will always, always be close to my heart.
Evelyn has generously offered two copies of her debut novel, A Man Above Reproach. One is for the international drawing (enter here) and the other is for the U.S. readers (entry form below).
Evelyn Pryce writes Regency and Victorian historical romance. Her first novel, A Man Above Reproach, won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in Romance. It was published in October 2103 by Montlake Romance. Her mind is often occupied with etiquette, the 19th century, particulars of the American Revolution, the evolution of human interaction, and cats.
Pryce lives in Pittsburgh with three gentlemen–her husband and two cats. She can be found blogging at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, behind a desk at a university and behind her computer working on her second novel.
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