The Best Decision Ever: Not Listening When My Mom Said I Wouldn’t Make It As A Writer

The Best Decision Ever: Not Listening When My Mom Said I Wouldn’t Make It As A Writer

By Syrie James

My mother, a practical woman with a generous spirit, always said that writing would never be more than “just a hobby” for me and was not a good use of my time. A stay-at-home mom, she read cookbooks, not novels (she was a fabulous cook.) When I was in high school, even though I got straight A's and insisted I wanted to become an author, she made me take a year of Advanced Sewing before she reluctantly allowed me to take Typing.

The sewing course paid off — for years I made my own clothes and costumes for our sons, and today I enjoy creating period attire to feed my Regency and Victorian era clothing addictions. 

But that Typing class I finally took? It changed my life. When I write books and screenplays, it feels like magic as my fingers fly across the keyboard, enabling me to download my plots, scenes and dialog at lightning speed.

I’ve now sold 20 scripts to film and television and have 11 published novels, with the next, Embolden, coming out in October. I’m thrilled to say that my books have been USA TODAY and international bestsellers, hit many Best of the Year lists, won multiple awards, including the audiobook Audie for Romance, and been designated as Library Journal Editor’s Picks and the National Women’s Association Great Group Read.

Is writing a hobby? Not even close. It's not just my profession, it's my obsession.

I gave that same passion for writing (and mother-daughter conflict!) to the heroine of my new historical romance, Summer of Scandal, the second book in my Dare to Defy series for Avon (although, each can be read as a stand alone). The books are set in Cornwall, England (land of Poldark!) and are love stories about smart, feisty American heiresses and high-achieving British noblemen who follow their dreams despite parental disapproval (do you see a theme here?) and the rules and conventions of Victorian society.

In Summer of Scandal, Madeleine Atherton is a brilliant college graduate, determined to become a published author. Charles Grayson, the Earl of Saunders, is a dreamer who works in secret as an inventor. Although they are soul mates, they struggle for good reason against their mutual attraction over a summer that becomes increasingly scandalous, as we root for them to fall into each other’s arms. 

Tons of people across the world have risen above parental disapproval to achieve great things. Florence Nightingale’s parents were adamantly opposed to her going to nursing school, but she went anyway and changed history. Edgar Allan Poe’s foster father disowned him when he was expelled from West Point and wouldn’t go into the mercantile business, but Poe followed his dream and gained fame as a writer. If Robert Zemeckis had listened to his blue-collar parents, Back to the Future and Forrest Gump would never have made it to the big screen. Jennifer Lopez’s parents thought the idea of her becoming a movie star was ridiculous. Steve Martin’s dad actually wrote a bad review about him, which he published in his local newsletter.

And that’s barely scratching the surface. I believe that most parents only want the best for their children; it’s just that they don’t always understand what that means.

Did my mother ever change her mind about my writing? Sort of. Seventeen years ago, I was a working screenwriter and making good money at it. Even so, Mom insisted that writing was my hobby. “Your husband and family are your primary job, and must always come first,” she said. (I couldn’t disagree agree with that.) But she’d come to see that writing was important to me.

Not long before my mother passed away, she said: “Syrie, you should be writing books, not scripts.” Her words hit home. It had been years since I’d sold my first two romance novels to Silhouette Books. Working in Hollywood was exciting, but I suddenly realized how much I missed novel-writing. I took her advice to heart and returned to my true calling. Soon, I had a wonderful literary agent in New York who sold my novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen at auction to Avon books, and I embarked on a thrilling new career as a writer of historical fiction and romance.

Am I glad I didn’t listen to my mother all those years ago? You bet! It’s been my great pleasure and honor to write novels. I’m so grateful to my editors at Avon, and to all the readers who support my work.

Did your parents frown on one of your childhood dreams? Have you buried or put off pursuing a cherished goal? If it still calls to you, I hope you’ll go for it! It’s never too late!

About the Author

Syrie James is the bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels translated into eighteen languages. Designated by Los Angeles Magazine as “The queen of 19th century re-imaginings,” Syrie loves All Things English and is a member of the WGA, RWA, and JASNA. Syrie has addressed audiences as a keynote speaker across America and England and written, directed, and performed in numerous stage productions.

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