Saturday, July 15, 2006

Whatever happened to the cupcakes? (or: It's about connections)

It was my birthday, Friday, July 14. Being a summer birthday, I never had to bring any cupcakes or cookies to school like I do for my daughters (September/March). But it wasn't my birthday this past week that made me reflect. I don't really celebrate birthdays. I get the discount coupons in the mail (happy birthday, here's 10 percent off to celebrate) and my daughters and Mom usually give me a card or something, but for the most part, having birthday parties for me ceased many, many years ago.

On July 11, I attended a memorial service for my former step-grandmother. She died in June 2 and on July 11 she would have been 102 years old. (My mother had been married to her son for about 20 years, and this was the first time I'd seen anyone in that family since the divorce, about six years ago. My stepbrother and I had even shared an apartment for a while, so it was great to catch up with him.) The thing that impressed me so much about Alice's service was the people who shared their stories. My grandmother had touched so many lives, including mine. Even though we too had lost touch, she'd still had so much influence over who I am. I cut my irises back the other week, something she'd taught me to do. She celebrated when I sold my first book, never once saying "write something besides one of THOSE books." She was like me, stubborn, and it's only now that I can look back on all those times we butted heads and realize that I didn't know it all, and that I grew from every experience.

As I get older, many of my friends and I have simply grown apart as our lives go in different directions and our children take all of our time. No longer do we get together and celebrate over cake and cupcakes, but we instead see each other at funerals and weddings, of which the latter are few and the former are becoming more frequent. (American Beauties spoiler alert: I start my series at a funeral, and it ends at a wedding.)

When I wrote my first miniseries, which kicks off with The Marriage Campaign, I put four friends in four cities, just like my friends and I are. I miss them daily. I wish we talked more. I know that they'd be here for me in a heartbeat, and that I live in their hearts as they live in mine.

Romance novels are about connections. A book's character's connect with us and resonate deep inside. This is why we laugh and we cry. We see ourselves and we see others. We feel nostaligic and hopeful. We celebrate the happily-ever-after when we may not have our own. Romance novels are not so much, IMO, about escapism, but about delivering a great read that reaffirms that love indeed conquers all and that people can connect on that level that matters most, love.

My grandma's friends who were there with her at the end reported that my grandma wanted not to be mourned, but to be remembered only for what she'd taught. She left two final readings, her final messages to those remaining behind. She wanted her life to be celebrated, and for everyone to celebrate theirs daily. She has a legacy that lives on. Through books, each writer also has that. Each reader has that. And between the pages, they connect.

Now where are the cupcakes?

Michele Dunaway
The Marriage Campaign
Harlequin American Romance, August 06


Nancy Morse said...

Happy Birthday, Michelle!

JoAnn Ross said...

What an absolutely lovely story! Thanks for sharing it and a belated happy birthday!

Cheryl Bolen said...

Oh, Michele, I so related with the cupcakes. My birthday is July 8. I never had cupcakes with schoolmates, never had the class sing Happy Birthday, etc. And the very worst part was that my big birthday present every single year I was growing up was ...getting a new swimming suit! I used to think, if I didn't have a summer birthday, I'd get a swim suit anyway and wouldn't have to waste a present on it.

This brings up how much things have changed since my childhood (in the fifties and sixties) before the days of room-sized closets and kids having every designer lable and whole rooms for toys.

But are the kids of today really better off? Look at the epidemic of childhood obesity of which computer games is a large contributor.

And when these kids grow into adulthood, many of them are likely to pack on huge credit card debt -- because they've been raised to get whatever they want.

My own kids included. I never wanted my kids to "want." Because of that mindset, I was horrified when I saw a TV bio on John D. Rockefeller. His wife (when he was already one of the richest men in the country) would ask her kids what they wanted, then she took perverse pleasure in denying it to them!

In closing, I want to wish a happy birthday to all of you with July birthdays.

JoAnn Ross said...

Raising my hand here as another July birthday girl. But my whole family was Irish (my mother and father were first generation Americans) so my mama used to always take cupcakes with green frosting to school for St. Patrick's Day. My son's birthday is Aug. 15th, so I continued the tradition.

Michele Dunaway said...

My dad's birthday was July 8th, so happy belated.

My kids do think they are so entitled to things. My credit card debt--we won't go there. Right now it's really high--but quite a lot of it is adding carpet to the basement, the graduate classes I needed last year, and then this summer's travel.

I do think there has to be a balance of some sorts, but at least I am saving money for the future!

On a side note, I am throwing my own celebration party (for 5 years in one place, my birthday, and my 15th sale) just so I can get all my own friends together--to reconnect. That's in September, so I can invite my work friends too. We'll see how many drive to the country. And I'm probably going to serve at least a few cupcakes. :)