The whole time we were writing this previous post on fictional romance authors, we here at Olivia Waite had the nagging suspicion that we were forgetting something. And then someone on Tumblr reminded me who it was.
I Always Like the Secondary Characters Best
In 10 Things I Hate About You, a movie which has a great appreciation for the specific beauties of Seattle geography and an appalling lack of actual knowledge about same, Allison Janney plays Ms. Perky, a guidance counselor who is also a romance novelist. She writes sex scenes during unoccupied hours, and often quizzes her students for synonyms in a pinch. Everything about her is pink and feminine and exaggerated like a cartoon sketch of a smutty Jackie O., and she steals absolutely every scene she's in.
I saw this film in California, on a road trip to look at colleges, because one of the friends I was traveling with had an enormous crush on Heath Ledger. (Let's face it, who didn't?) And the instant Ms. Perky appeared, I knew I'd found my muse.
She was picky about her word choice, and I liked her glasses and her pearls and the Georgia O'Keefe-type stained glass ladyparts window in her office. Plus, she was strong and sharp-tongued and unafraid to be a little silly or to swear if such was warranted. And when she was done with someone, she dismissed them with the word "Scoot!" that cut through the air like a bullet.
Ms. Perky was the first romance novelist I ever saw depicted on film. This was the first time I ever saw a romance writer actually working—replacing text, typing the next sentence, and all that. She also managed to squeeze in her writing time between the business of correcting and corralling all the troubled youth of Padua.
Deep down inside me, something went click.
I'd always thought of what I did as daydreaming or spacing out—the moments before I fell asleep, where I put together stories in my head, or car trips where reading gave me a headache so I stared out the window and arranged other stories, or the boring classes where instead of notes I'd be writing poems and stories and sketches, not a one of which was ever really finished.
But looking up at Allison Janney on that flickering silver screen, I knew that what I had actually been doing that whole time was writing. This habit of mine was an actual thing in the world. And it didn't make Ms. Perky crazy, or at least not any crazier than any other adult character in the film. It was just who she was.
It took years—a lot of years—before I was finally able to roll up my sleeves, call myself a writer out loud an in public, and land a publishing contract. None of it would have happened without that small moment of realization in a darkened theater.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a novel to finish.