Guest Post: Writing Romance in Quarantine
Until March of 2020, I never truly understood the phrase “crippled with anxiety.”
As writers, we all try to make things as visual as possible so our readers are immersed in the story, but that feeling of bricks laying on your chest to the point it’s difficult to breathe, or that terrifying feeling of drowning when you’re not even near water, that was all too visceral and real.
My son’s school closed, and in addition to working full-time and writing part-time, I now had to find a way to teach fourth grade. I still have nightmares of common core number charts and grids, arguments that ended in tears (on both sides, if I’m honest) because my poor son thought since he was home he could just take everything at his own pace, meaning watch YouTube until right before his assignment was due.
The early days of quarantine were a blur of Governor Cuomo briefings, Tiger King, and messaging disaster-type memes back and forth to friends because it was better to laugh than cry.
I’d noticed some readers posting that books weren’t holding their interest, and as an avid reader myself, I could relate. Although I was stuck at home, my free time was limited, and if any kind of entertainment, be it a book, show, or movie didn’t, well, entertain me immediately, I had the attention span of tired squirrel and would discard it quickly. Some of my writer friends admitted to having difficulties in focusing on their works in progress, as well.
“I’m grateful that I already had a book that I was passionate about writing going into quarantine. If I’d had to come up with a completely new idea, I have no doubt I would have struggled.”
Books — for both a reader and a writer — are meant to be an escape, to take you to a world you’ve never traveled to or fulfill a dream or fantasy through a favorite character. Books have seen me through some dark times, but for the most part stories helped me escape to a more exciting life that was different from a sometimes-boring day to day. Now, we were all wishing for boring. We needed an escape from the daily heart palpitations, from the sudden uncertainty of life, and, for some of us, our usual favorite tropes weren’t pulling us in as they always had.
I’m grateful that I already had a book that I was passionate about writing going into quarantine. If I’d had to come up with a completely new idea, I have no doubt I would have struggled. When I wrote No Vacancy in 2019, from the second Joe’s friend Dominic appeared on the page, I couldn’t wait to write his story and it had been simmering in my brain for a long time. While Joe was a brooder, Dominic was a smartass who was hiding all these fascinating layers of hurt that I couldn’t wait to peel back.
My issue with writing was not that I didn’t have the inspiration or the drive, some days I just didn’t have much time.
I turned to a short list of things that gave me joy: finding out the Drizly app could deliver my favorite Moscato within a couple of hours, Beachbody on Demand workouts that I would indulge in so often that a friend who was linked to the fitness app on my Apple Watch (if a friend works out, your watch goes off with an alert) told me that she’d have to disconnect me because it was pinging three, sometimes four times a day if I could fit it in. Staying busy, not giving myself a chance to think, and escaping to Ocean Cove with Dominic and Thea for an hour or two a day was how I got through life for a while.
That feeling you get when you’re writing something and you know it’s good, you’re connected to what’s going on, you feel all the feelings, and you can’t wait for people to read it? I had that every single morning writing No Reservations. Some mornings were easier than others, especially when the group text of friends became a daily report of who was sick or in the hospital or I was just bored out of my mind and wanted to go out but was afraid to, but I’ll always swear writing that book is what kept me sane. In fact, I started to dread release. Not because of the usual, constant release fear, will I disappoint my readers, will it be a success, that was all gravy once I finished. It was what am I going to do after? I was so focused on writing this story, I didn’t know how I’d switch gears to another one or even be able to sit and enjoy it.
“I started to dread release. Not because of the usual, constant release fear, will I disappoint my readers, will it be a success, that was all gravy once I finished. It was what am I going to do after?”
My friend Beth sent me a message early on my release day and told me to just be proud of the book and get the rest out of my head. I got my rainbow bagel in the morning, as per tradition, and tried to enjoy the accolades of the day the best that I could without worrying about what I’d do with myself after.
When I felt comfortable enough to take a walk in the afternoons, I’d venture out to my local Dunkin’ Donuts with an audiobook in my ears. Audio has become easier to take in as I no longer commute to work, reading time is gone and I have to really plan on when I’m going to sit down with a book. With audio, I can go anywhere or be doing anything. Audiobooks like the True North series by Sarina Bowen and the Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez (although I remembered listening to the first book, The Friend Zone, on the express bus home from work and would wax a little sentimental) renewed my love for soaking in a great story.
I’d written a holiday short that I intended to extend in 2020 about another couple I loved with an important message that I wanted to get right. So then started my new distraction. It was supposed to be a novella but it kept getting longer until it became novel number 11. Readers loved it, but I noticed a few reviews had the same comment. It was a great love story, but wasn’t really a holiday story, it just happened to take place around Christmas (even though the grand gesture had a big holiday element to it). Looking back, l think that may have been because as much as I tried, even putting my tree up extra early and having a friend make a custom Grinch wreath to get into the spirit, I couldn’t do it. I gave Anthony and Victoria the best love story to my ability in Pining, and I did have plenty of readers who loved the holiday aspect of their romance, but I’m sure that I would have thrown a little more Christmas at them had I not wanted to say “Check, please,” on 2020 and get to January already.
Every book I’ve written, when I read it over again (and yes, I do go back to visit my people as arrogant as it may seem), I’m always reminded of what my life was like back when I was writing it. Some small reference always sneaks in, a show I was watching at the time or something going on with my son or my family or maybe even something I was working out in my head. I don’t know what I’ll find when I go back to No Reservations and Pining years from now, but I won’t need any reminders in the pages to signify when they were written. I already get a pang for the year they were born just by looking at the covers.
I may not have any banners or accolades next to my name, but they are not the only measures of success as a writer. For every review I received for both of those books that mentioned that I gave a reader an escape, that is a privilege I never took lightly but it has special resonance now. Think of what we depended on to get through the toughest days. Yes, we may have doom scrolled for what the scientists and politicians were saying, but art is what got us through. Streaming movies or shows, finding a new author or narrator and diving into their backlists. Fiction always makes the reality easier to swallow. In my small little corner of author world, having the ability and the means to do that for a single reader is a blessing and an honor. And for that, I always am, and will continue to be, grateful.
“Yes, we may have doom scrolled for what the scientists and politicians were saying, but art is what got us through . . . Fiction always makes the reality easier to swallow.”
NOW AVAILABLE IN AUDIO
“I may have left, but I never let you go.”
Is it too late to correct the biggest mistake of my life?
I never thought I’d be stupid enough to lose the best thing that ever happened to me.
But I was. And I did.
Thea still owned my thoughts, my dreams, and my heart. I never expected to see her again, much less have to work with her for almost the entire summer.
Every minute we’re together, the air crackles between us. Everything I still feel for her, that I’ll always feel for her, reflects back at me in her gorgeous golden eyes.
I should’ve fought for her years ago, and after how much I hurt her, I probably don’t have the right to now.
But I can’t stop until she’s mine again.
Author’s note: No Reservations is an interconnected stand-alone with characters from No Vacancy. It has a broken but lovable swoon-worthy hero, a sizzling slow burn, and all you’d ever want in a second chance summer romance.
FREE WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED
Before she tells the world about us, I need to tell her the truth.
The bad guy never gets the girl…
In the eyes of the law, I’ve paid for my youthful mistakes but I know I can never undo the damage I’ve caused. When I stepped out of my cell, I vowed to live a good life, make the right choices, and avoid temptation at all costs.
She’s not a choice, she’s a compulsion. A craving. A beautiful, brave heroine who walked straight off the pages of the comic books I create and into my life with the superpower of making me believe I could be the man she deserves.
But I’m not.
Can I possibly stay her hero when she finds out that I used to be the villain?
“This book was the romantic holiday escape that I needed!”
ABOUT STEPHANIE ROSE
Stephanie Rose is a bad@ss New Yorker, a wife, a mother, and lover of all things chocolate. Most days you’ll find her trying to avoid standing on discarded LEGO or deciding which book to read next.
Her debut novel, Always You, released in 2015 and since then she’s written several more—some of which will never see completion—and has ideas for hundreds to come.
Learn more about Stephanie and her books at authorstephanierose.com
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