Mining Your Past

Content Warning: Domestic Violence

I had a whole thing I was going to write about. About how the hosts of #RWChat used to be graphic designers, opera singers, butterfly pinners (we know it’s entomology, but it’s more fun this way), and summer camp directors. The list of things we used to be, before we became romance authors, goes on and on and we’ve all taken pieces of those things forward to make us better at being what we are now—whether it be surviving critique, setting schedules, or designing covers.

That’s the basic idea of mining your past, but it’s not the only one—and apparently I want to talk about the other one, because I sat down to write a funny post about jobs and skills and this is what you’re getting instead. (I’m sorry. We’ll let Robin go back to doing the blogs any minute.)

Once upon a time, a man bought me a house. We barely knew each other, but he said he loved me and he wanted me to live there. I didn’t love him, and he knew that, but I thought—maybe I didn’t really know. Maybe he loved me enough for both of us. Maybe a lot of things, piled up into enough reasons to let me move across the country and live in that house, even though I didn’t love him. …A couple months later, I was being thrown into a dresser because I rearranged the DVDs without his permission.

Once upon a later time, I was living with a boyfriend in an apartment I hated at a very low point in my life. While out shopping for a birthday present for the boyfriend’s mom, I came across my dream kitchen table at a furniture store that was going out of business. It was perfect—bar height, dark teak, square…everything I wanted it to be. It was on sale and I could afford it, if I didn’t buy new tires. The new tires I needed to keep getting to work, so I could keep saving money, so I could get out of the apartment I hated. I bought the tires and I spent days being miserable about choosing practicality over my dreams, because the table wouldn’t still be there by the time I could afford it again.

And then a week later, after an especially long shift and an especially irritating day, I came home and my boyfriend had placed a box in our bedroom. My table, in a box. And he said “I would have set it up, but I know you hate it here, so we can keep it in the box until you’re somewhere you love and I’ll put it together then.”

I’ve had a lot of relationships—good and bad. When I mine my past, I mine it for the things that are truly romantic. The house was just a house, but having someone understand exactly what that table meant to me was impossibly romantic. The boyfriend who bought me a violin serenade over dinner didn’t get that I don’t like being stared at, but the boyfriend who would say “maybe” when I asked him to do the laundry, and then actually do it…fixed the part of me that believes maybe always means no.

I mine my past for the ways I went wrong, and the things that have gone perfectly, surprisingly right. I like to think it allows me to write love stories that feel real. That’s what the other kind of mining your past does, whether you’re pulling character quirks from someone you saw in a coffee shop, inside knowledge of an industry,  or using a feeling you have intimate knowledge of. All of it breathes life into your story, because it’s rooted in truth.

~Kimberly Bell

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