I decided I was going to be a writer when I was in the sixth grade after I won first prize in a fiction writing contest at my elementary school. I found the thrill of creating people and situations out of thin air (in this case a woman who is cursed by a gypsy and turns into a panther and kills her boyfriend when he declares his love for her) greater than being chosen the winner.
That summer, I bought a typewriter at garage sale and pecked away writing short stories sitting on our sun porch while the other kids went swimming. By the time I was in college, my sorority sisters and I would talk about what I’d write about in my first novel. They even gave me a blank hardcover book at graduation inscribed with encouraging words.
I did become a writer. Just not the kind I’d imagined. I spent decades writing newsletters and press releases. I named perfume and wrote taglines for advertising campaigns. I penned speeches for Elizabeth Taylor. I co-wrote a book with Nancy Grace. I wrote a fashion book on Princess Diana.
In other words, I wrote everything but a novel.
I don’t know what it was that held me back from going after my dream all those years. I had the usual and most convenient excuse – there was never any time. My “real” jobs were always too demanding. The experience of writing Nancy’s book the same year we adopted our daughter from China had been so emotionally draining I needed to step back from writing books. I wondered if I’d ever get around to writing my novel.
That was 12 years ago. I haven’t a book since – until now.
This week, my first novel, Imagining Diana will be published by Metabook. Writing the book was, without a doubt, the most satisfying experience of my career. Everything about the timing was wrong. I wrote it in the course of the past year which was my busiest at work (my office is a room off my kitchen) since the great recession.
Our now 12 year-old daughter required my daily chauffeuring services to a host of activities and six months ago we rescued a sweet but extremely high-maintenance dog who has the uncanny knack for needing emergency vet care any time an important deadline is looming.
I wrote in fits and starts between cries of “Mommy! The dog just threw up” and fielding calls from my other clients. On the weekends I’d write for six hours straight both Saturday and Sunday. Whenever the house was empty I was glued to my computer.
It was heaven.
There is never time to do the things you want to do until there is. I know that now. When I was asked by my publisher to write an “alternate history” novel which imagined what Princess Diana’s life would have been like had she survived the crash, I was at first fearful that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Even though I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, I almost talked myself out of it. There was no way I could manage it with everything else that was going on. A week after I received the offer, my college roommate, who I had not seen in over fifteen years, got in touch and we made plans for dinner.
That night I told her about the offer I’d received to write the novel and she was thrilled.
“We’ve all been waiting for you to write your book, Diane,” she told me. “You have to do it.”
Once I started, there was nothing that was going to stop me.
As someone who has made an entire career out of putting words into other people’s mouths, I can hardly find ones that adequately capture the joy I feel having rediscovered – at this stage of the game – the same passion for writing fiction that sixth grade girl felt when she won that contest all those years ago.
Rather than regret that it’s taken me so long to get here, I am choosing to celebrate the incredible gift I have been given in reconnecting with a lifelong dream I almost let slip away.
I became a novelist at exactly the right time. Now.
Photo courtesy of Claire Buffie for Metabook.