In the spring of 2000, Henry and I bought a weekend house in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains (a misnomer on two counts: they do eventually end, and most of them are not really mountains). And in March, we went to Paris to attend a special 75th anniversary dinner for Henry's favorite crossword puzzle, the Listener, published weekly in the London Times. Sitting across the table from us was the then-editor of the Listener Crossword (well known in puzzle circles as the most difficult crossword in the English language). "The" Ross Beresford. While Henry and I had been courting transatlantically in 1998, he'd explained about this fellow who had been all-correct in solving the Listener for so long they'd retired him and made him the editor. Henry (who is the smartest person I know) really looked up to this guy.
Looking at Ross from across the table in Paris, I was intrigued. He seemed very quiet, but not shy -- he stared at Henry and me for most of the dinner. Rather uncharacteristic boldness for a Brit, I thought. And, yes, I had a teeny crush on "the" Ross Beresford. But I knew nothing about him, and we only saw him a couple more times in London when our visits to Henry's parents coincided with the quarterly crossword puzzle get-togethers at the White Horse pub in Parsons Green.
As 2009 ends, of course, everything is topsy-turvy from 2000: I'm no longer a practicing attorney of any sort, I live full-time in the weekend house, and I'm married to the guy who stared at us in Paris.
Here's what I can't remember: What was I reading in 2000? Not so many romances, I'm pretty sure. I do recall having surgery in 2003 and taking all of Susan Elizabeth Philips' Chicago Stars books to read. (A good choice for the boredom of lying in an uncomfortable hospital bed.) I still looked for the authors I'd loved in the 1990s: Jane Feather, Mary Jo Putney, Joan Wolf, Lynn Kerstan, SEP, and Linda Howard, but their output wasn't growing and I wasn't doing a very good job of discovering new authors.
Which is why today, on the last day of the decade, I'm still playing catch-up with authors like Mary Balogh (whom I'd tried a long time ago and not liked as well as, say, Jane Ashford or Elizabeth Mansfield), Jo Beverley, Loretta Chase, and Jennifer Crusie. (It's a bit embarrassing about Jennifer Crusie: I met her in 1997 -- I was her chauffeur to a writing workshop she gave for our RWA chapter -- and then didn't buy any of her books for ten years after that. Trust me, that's not her fault. She was quite lovely; I was quite crazy.) All of that catching up has been in 2009.
I just counted: I've read 107 romances since last May. That's almost certainly more romances than I read from 2000 through 2008. That total includes some re-reads and a lot of books not published in this decade. I'm also counting the Julia Spencer-Fleming Miller's Kill mysteries in that list for two reasons: a) there may not be a lot of romance in them by volume, but the romance in there is sublime, and b) it was reading her books -- a recommendation I got from Smart Bitches -- that got me restarted reading romances. I have 50 novels in my (various) TBR tote bags and piles. (There were also 9 DNFs -- books I started and for whatever reason didn't take to.)
But here's the most significant thing about this decade. I found a voice for what I was feeling. Not just a voice, but a lovely mezzo-soprano. Before 2000, I croaked or whined or just didn't speak of feelings at all. But in the course of making two happy marriages (hey, just because the first one ended doesn't mean it wasn't happy and successful; turns out it had a "Best By" date, that's all) and gently resolving some family problems, I learned to convey what I was feeling.
That voice -- that lyrical expression of love and pain and fear -- is essential to any effort I might make as a writer. In the past, I think I read romances so that they might speak for my heart. Today, I read romances a bit more critically. Best book I read this year was LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory. I first read it close to 20 years ago, but I doubt I noticed the quality of her writing back then. This year: wow! She managed to inhabit those characters in a way I can only dream of doing as a writer.
It's only in this decade that I learned how much of loving someone is knowing how and what to tell them of that love. I'm still learning. But I understand now what was missing in all my previous attempts to write a romance: the ability to give love a voice.