The Story Behind the Book
NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT in its author words… how it came about!!
I was recovering from surgery when I got hooked on The Hallmark Channel. In two-hour increments, I dwelled in the hardware stores and bakeries of adorable small towns, watching romances unfold with subtly different storylines. Periodically, in my Tylenol-addled consciousness, I’d wonder, didn’t I just see this one? But maybe last time she was a fashion designer living outside Chicago rather than a ballet teacher from Akron? After the first few, I could predict within a 30 second margin of error, the exact minute that the handsome guy would be suddenly called back to the city, only to have a change of heart and return immediately after the commercial break. It’s usually minute 108 out of 120, if you’re wondering.
The idea for NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT started to bubble as I found myself unable to look away from the very specific female fantasy that these movies were selling. Every one of these women turns her fun hobby into a lucrative career – Cupcake Magnate! Party Planner to the Stars! Custom Wreath Designer! She has easy, lifelong friendships, and she’s widely adored in her community for all the ways she gives back. A slightly-too-handsome man falls in love with her because of, not in spite of, her most off-putting quirk. Her parents are usually healthy, self-supporting and non-judgmental. Otherwise, they’re dead.
After about a week, I became preoccupied by the people who wrote these movies, and I had a few questions. Specifically: what the heck? Also: how can I get that job? I wondered if they were wild romantics, with their offices decorated with dried prom corsages and posters of Peaches and Herb. Or if they were bots just plotting out the same recycled love story, reverse engineered to climax at minute 108. This is where Nora Hamilton came from, my imagined writer for my imagined Romance Channel, who has spent a decade supporting her horrible husband by writing these movies. She writes with a degree of detachment and a bit of eye rolling, because she’s never really been in love.
I wanted to run Nora through a real lightning bolt romance to see how she’d react. I gave her my daily routine so that I could inhabit her skin – wake, kids, run, write, nap, kids, dinner, Wheel of Fortune, wine, bed. Enter Leo, garden variety Hollywood hunk, and we had ourselves a romance. What I didn’t anticipate was how much stuff two 40-year-olds bring into a relationship, and I was particularly surprised at how Nora’s children would infiltrate this story. The children in Nora’s romance movies are incidental, cute and swept off to bed. Nora’s real-life children carry their own heartbreak and their own coping mechanisms.
Which brings me to what I was doing during the ample commercial breaks – raising three teenage boys. No one wants to see their mom in bed, and I could tell that my sons were worried about me. They were watching me for signs of health, visually perking up on the days I showered. The first time I got up and went out for a walk, I saw their collective tension melt away, and it occurred to me just how important it is to kids that their mom is okay. Their quiet worry planted the seeds for Nora’s son Arthur.
A year later, the world found itself in quarantine, and I had an opportunity to do a parenting deep dive. Like everyone else, I ended up spending more time with my kids than ever before, and I felt like I started to know them in a closer, less transactional way. No longer were they driving off with their feelings and leaving them on the basketball court. Everything stayed in the house. Watching them come to terms with their missed milestones and decimated social lives, I started to really think about how children process loss and grief.
It was during this time that Arthur really took shape. I started to think about my own childhood, fraught with abandonment and worry, and about how kids are prone to bear responsibility for things that are not theirs to carry. I remember being a little kid and watching my family fall apart with the breath-holding, intestine-twisting worry of person whose life was in freefall. I thought, surely, with the right amount of pep and self-improvement, I can turn this thing around. Children use all manner of magical thinking to cope with things they can’t control, and I was no exception. I poured all of this into Arthur, who is basically me at 10. Arthur becomes a complicated part of Nora’s love story, and frankly I’d like to give him a hug.
In the end, Nora surprised me by having a love affair with herself and her own career, and I forgave her for writing all those dumb movies. It turns out I do believe in that one big, magnificent love affair that will last a lifetime (I’m in the middle of one myself). But I believe that the breadth and complexities of a real love story cannot be encapsulated in a two hour movie that includes 40 minutes of commercial breaks. And, for the most part, I’ll admit that the fantasy they’re selling is very close to my own: to love and be loved deeply, for my kids to be happy and to make my living doing something I’d happily do for free.