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Neverly Ever After (or How to Work During Divorce)

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I never thought I would be a living, barely breathing oxymoron: a (soon-to-be) divorced romance author. When the marriage debacle began, I had recently agreed to write two books in two years for Harper Collins. Scratch that, actually three books, but that last one seemed very far off. How time flies when you're not having fun.

In the wee dark hours many months later -- after writing forty-eight hours straight -- I made a promise to a higher power that if I could be delivered from deadline hell, that I would write a tell-all to help others navigate the tsunami divorce creates in your professional life. After all, I had done my research.

The first three months, the former reporter in me latched onto every romwriter divorcee who could not escape my crosshairs. I was desperate to glean the best way to write a best-selling love story (or anything resembling a story) during the crisis. The answers prove that anyone who thinks all romance novelists look at the world with rose-colored glasses is just plain wrong. A few quotes:

"Hold your nose and write."

"Do not get out of the chair until you've written 3,000 words a day, even if all the sentences are, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' just like in 'The Shining.'"

"Refuse to believe in anything but happily ever after." (This author married, very happily, within a year of divorce. I am not sure I like this person.)

"Stay strong -- and believe the words will come. Eventually. After a very long time. Maybe."

"Sophia, stop asking these asinine questions and take Nora Roberts' advice: Just shut up and write the damn book."

Five months before the book was due, I stopped interviewing and started sitting at Starbucks. I think I stared at the "Debra's Special: Sextuplet Macchiato Caramel McFlurry" chalkboard sign for six hours without pecking out one word. Often, I'd hide in the restroom to cry until the rush hour crowd pounded at the door.

Two months and three chapters later, I contemplated asking my great agent if she would calmly approach my editor to see if I could write a lovely little murder mystery instead. Because really, I was envisioning thousands of romance readers plotting my demise after I killed the hero. But before I could gather my nerve, the nerve in an upper right molar had another idea.

It only took a bill from an endodontist for a root canal to change my perspective. It was very simple: I could afford to keep my tooth if I wrote the book. Right then and there, I decided there was going to be a happily-ever-after come hell-or-high-water.

I suddenly remembered the plethora of heroines I had tortured and forced to walk the walk through mind-boggling rough scenes. Now, it was my own turn to do more than talk the talk. And for the story to be authentic, there could be no holding back, no internal editor and, most importantly, absolutely no flowery prose that would make me wretch. The hero and heroine had to be real, warts and all. This would be no Cinderella story.

It was no coincidence that the first book began with the heroine hanging on the edge of a cliff and realizing that her husband, who went in search of help, was not coming back to save her. The scenario is over the top gothic, yes, but when the very reluctant hero appears, the dialogue has the sort of pragmatic, jaded wit of an old Hepburn/Bogart movie. The heroine never ever does what the hero tells her to do, and the hero's actions, not his words, do the talking. Once I turned in the book, I had four months to write the second. This was when procrastination settled in like the July fog in San Francisco.

During one agonizing period right before deadline (which included transatlantic flights with three children), I alternated between answering questions from attorneys and writing the last 75 pages. There was little romance; instead the language was spare and raw and the emotions all-powerful. The hugely independent main characters had to choose between holding fast to their beloved freedom or taking a chance on a different kind of love without boundaries. It was a close call.

Right now I am writing the third book in the series as I enter the third year of divorce court. Is the creative process any easier? No. But it is starting to feel like the new normal. And I can live with that. Mostly, I've learned that if you can force yourself to just show up for work, do the job, bleed a little, cry a lot, then sometimes, just sometimes, something beautiful happens.