Being There For Each Other: A Personal Essay By Kristen Ashley
By Kristen Ashley
It came out of the blue. The email. I wasn’t expecting it. Never dreamed I’d get anything like it.
I was thrown. Humbled. Honored.
It was my first indication of just how huge this thing was. How vital. How far it reached and how deep its meaning. Something I had not even begun to contemplate primarily because I didn’t know it was there to contemplate.
Writing romance novels.
I just wanted people to read my books. I’d been writing for well over a decade with hope after hope of traditional publication dashed. I eventually independently published, and as I often say, I planned for success, but every expectation was for failure.
Even after my books started reaching readers, I had no idea what success actually meant.
It meant what was in that email. An email from a reader that shared my book had not only touched her heart… but it changed her life.
I won’t give details. Those are for her and me.
I will just say that I was not equipped for the power of the author/reader connection. I had utterly no idea this bounty would be offered to me.
You see, I’m a woman that has a lot of friends, most of them women friends. The sisterhood has always — from being born the second child and having a sister come before me who has always been my best friend — to this very day when, not three hours ago, I had a friend who I met through my books help me with things personal and professional that are going to mean massive positive changes in my life.
This (the sisterhood) being of utmost importance to me — slotted in only after my family as the top priority in my life (and let’s just point out here, I consider my cat family) — the fact that I had the opportunity of “being there” for often nameless, faceless women around the globe was surreal.
And there is no word to describe it outside of startingly amazing (okay, that’s two words, and neither does it justice).
It happens all the time. I can’t go to my reader mail or an event where someone doesn’t say, “I read your book through my mother’s illness.” Or, “Your books helped me through the loss of my daughter.” Or, “Your books gave me hope after my divorce.”
There have been others where the story is far longer, and some so horrifying, reading them, I’m glued to my seat, my skin itching with the need to find this person and hold them close in an effort to make it all go away.
One such story went on with me being blindsided at a signing by a reader sharing she was the one behind “that email” and then scurrying before I could get a word out only for her mother to approach and say, with tears in her eyes, “Thank you for saving my daughter’s life.”
Then she scurried.
Years later, I saw her again, a changed woman. No longer meek and bustling away. She was dancing on the dancefloor with her posse of friends, enjoying life.
I did not do that. Make no mistake. I did not. I had no real hand in “saving her life.” She did it. She put that work in. She saved her own life. She just used my books as that force for change.
Can you even begin to imagine?
Readers often thank me.
They thank me.
Thanking me for the honor of making them laugh or think or feel or live?
I have a bracelet (by the by, this bracelet was personalized specifically for me by a reader) that has the letters IAHT engraved on it.
What does that mean?
That means I had another reader who I saw often on my Facebook page, but never met in “real life.” She was funny, upbeat, and really loved my books.
One day I was reading one of her posts and it was funny, upbeat, and at the end, it said she was sharing my books with her friends… because she’d been diagnosed with cancer, it was not looking good, and a girlfriend book club reading my books was how she wanted to spend her remaining time with her crew.
I immediately sent her signed copies of the series she loved the best.
Sadly, not long after, her husband emailed to tell me he buried her with her favorite book from that series.
Her name was Tracy.
I was “there” for her.
But she was also there for me. She, and all those sisters like her, became the true meaning of my writing.
I’m a writer, obsessed with it, I’d do it even if no one read it.
But that, now, is the meaning behind it.
And thus, forever and always, I’ll Always Have Tracy (IAHT).
Recently, I watched the documentary “Love Between the Covers,” and laid on my couch, choked up, when Beverly Jenkins spoke of how her fans reacted to her finally giving stories, and a voice, to African American romance readers. I’ve admired Ms. Jenkins from afar for some time, not only because of this (though also because of this), but also watching what that meant to her and further, how she interacted with her readers.
In other words, it’s not just me. I doubt it’s genre specific either.
I just know it’s profound, and in the beginning, it was unexpected.
And it never fails to throw me. Humble me. And have me close to (if not totally) weeping.
Readers often begin such an email with, “I know you hear this all the time, but…” like their story isn’t nectar. Ambrosia. As if knowing I might not ever meet that person, but my writing touched her, helped her, I was by some miracle there for her didn’t mean the world to me and I could have hundreds of thousands of people sharing like things and it would never, not ever, get old.
It is a precious gift. Priceless. Exquisite.
It makes this vast world ever so much smaller.
It makes this romance community so incredibly tight.
It is an indication of life’s beauties.
You know what I mean.
We all feel it when we’re given the profound opportunity of being there.
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About the Author
Kristen Ashley is the New York Times bestselling author of over sixty romance novels. She’s a hybrid author, publishing titles both independently and traditionally, her books have been translated in thirteen languages and she’s sold nearly three million books.
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