The Dead Romantics

August 12, 2023

Dear Ashley Poston,

I discovered you a month or so ago at the Champions Barnes & Noble Booksellers because The Woodlands store's without. All the time. And I decided to make the trek to the other store because I have very much needed to escape into some GOOD literature. I always mean to support Jenny Lawson's Nowhere Bookshop. MUST do so, starting now.

When I was in college or when I could hole up in my room without worrying my mother, I read about love and life so I could hope to know both some day. Too sheltered was I, and yet, so lacking in innocence. I disappeared, something I'd never been able to do before, and trust me, I'd tried HARD to be invisible. At some point, though, stories stopped being a solace. Maybe because I'd become too jaded. Or maybe because the publishing industry'd begun its decades-long affair with dystopia and destruction, monsters and mayhem. I'd known enough of that in my life. I didn't need nor want to read about it. So I stopped reading. And then... the store manager introduced me to you.

Reading The Seven Year Slip took a matter of hours, and so eager was I to read more of your work, I rushed to the mall--no time for driving to Champions!--the day after that to get The Dead Romantics. Gushed about the first story to as many women as I could find. Even sold a few copies for you. And made myself wait until today to read this other: The Dead Romantics. Bought it without knowing anything about it. And then read the back, and part of me thought, this one sounds a bit too weird. I worried I wouldn't like it. So waiting a couple days wasn't that much of a challenge. I chose your book, too, to fit a category for Book Challenge by Erin. I started it at nine am. Would've read it straight through and had it finished at half past three, except I had a two-ish hour physical therapy appointment. What I've loved:

Whenever I came to visit the offices, I was always hyperaware of how people took one look at me--in my squeaky flats and darned hose and too-big plaid overcoat--and came to the conclusion that I was not tall enough to ride this ride(page 4).

It was like one day I knew how to write; I knew the scenes, knew the meet-cutes and the swoony moments, exactly how the hero tasted when my heroine kissed him... and the next day it was all gone (page 18).

THIS. SO many times in my life. T H I S. And everyone assumes writing is so easy, so fun, so magical. It can be. I've written pages in an hour before. And then I've sat at my laptop or with my pad and pen for nine hours and written nothing. The last time I felt like writing was seven years ago or so. And I should be. Or so people say. Sometimes so I say. God knows my professors would say so.

It should've been easy--a grand romantic gesture, a beautiful proposal, a happily ever after. The kind my parents had, and I'd spent my entire life looking for one just as grand... I just wanted what my parents had... I wanted that. I searched for that. And then I realized, standing in the rain that April evening, almost a year ago exactly--I'd never have that (page 28).

Ironic that this is on page 28. I lost the only man I've ever loved on April 28. The losing began twelve days before. It was sunny at my San Antonio apartment and sunny at his. But the stretch of 410 between his and mine? It started raining right around the 281 interchange and hailing at I-10. I should've turned around. I should've gone home. Hell, the night he met me at IHOP and we gave each other Tarot card readings and I'd asked the cards (silently, of course) whether he was my guy (because we'd been emailing for about week, and I was already hooked) to have him flip over the Ace of Spades (the death card... Cue Carmen and her deadly music), I should have gone home THEN. Oh but it's Tarot cards and they mean nothing and I LIKE this one. Oh but it's rain and springtime in Texas and I LOVE this one... So on the sixteenth he'd held me, one arm wrapped around me, my hand resting on his shirt, our legs entwined and run his mouth about how he really liked me and enjoyed spending time with me, but he felt like things were headed for serious and he didn't want that... I should've gone home when his answer to my request for tissues was toilet paper, when he'd said after I'd wiped my tears that he was going to frame it and call it Jenn's Tears. Who does that? Longhorned electrical engineers who sucker punch romance writers bleeding maroon. This was two decades ago. No man's crushed my heart so well as he. And reading about the man who crushed Florence's. You did this well, woman. You did this well. And I knew I would never have it, either. Before him. But I'd forgotten. Carmen reminded me why.

could go up there. I could read something I jotted down on my phone a while back. I could put a little bit of creativity into the world that seemed to want to suck it from your very marrow.... because storybook love only existed for a very few--like my parents. They were the exception to the rule, not the rule itself. It was rare, and it was fleeting. Love was a high for a moment that left you hollow when it left... (page 41).


...and you spent the rest of your life chasing that feeling. A false memory, too good to be true... (41).

He said later that he'd thought I'd colored my memories with emotions, and those memories were different for me than him. He'd tried to make me doubt what I'd felt, to belittle it, to deny it, to make me feel more foolish than I was. And oh, was I foolish. For two decades, I've told myself I know nothing of love. Eight years ago, I'd convinced myself this was truth. And then I stopped writing. Hard to pick up the pen again when you know you're a fraud. Can't write what you don't know.

...and I'd been fooling myself for far too long, believing in Grand Romantic Gestures and Happily Ever Afters. Those weren't written for me. I wasn't the exception. I was the rule (41).

"It's not me being stuck unalive, it's you" (page 150).

A few weeks ago, I sat in a therapist's office and let her do some muscle testing on me. She stopped, withdrew a laminated page and all but slammed it down before me. Normally I watch her work but things had gone south fast during this session, and I'd struggled to hold on to the happy I felt. The card made it worse. An ugly red circle, outlined in black and bearing in that same black the word STUCK glared at me. Why was I stuck, she wondered. I could think of a thousand reasons. She'd said I had an idea allergy, and what could that be? I'm stuck in this life. I'm allergic to living. All I've wanted since I was eight years old was death. But God keeps waking me up. I tell myself it's because He wants me to love. I don't know how. I am as unalive as a girl can be without being dead. Mostly dead. I am mostly dead. And your book is about a man helping a woman who is mostly dead. All I've ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew me. The romantic in me wishes a man like Ben could come along and help me believe in love again. But... men don't see me. I've done a remarkably good job of ensuring that.

I tried love. It didn't work. The end. There were bigger things in my life that I had to tackle than something so frivolous (page 150).

Yeah. Those first three sentences are truth. The last is the lie I tell myself that needs to be truth. Because somewhere in some cell that sleeps is the knowledge that love is the thing.

Have you seen a ghost float through, by any chance? Six foot sexy, with just a hint of nerd? (page 152).

"I read a book once that changed me. And I realized I wanted to help writers write more books like that, and find more books like that, and give them the chance they wouldn't have otherwise (page 154).

I studied literature in college but never read any of the assigned texts. I buried my nose in romance novels, so desperate was I to know love, so desperate was I to believe I could love and be loved. One spring I read Nora Roberts' dream trilogy and thought enough of myself and my ability to craft fiction that I made up, eventually, eight characters, four couples. Because I'd wanted to do for others what Nora had done for me. To put hope in someone's heart that maybe someday...

"I don't know how to finish Ann's manuscript."

He cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I don't know how. I ... I don't think I can" (page 155).

I don't know how to finish mine. I have failed my characters, these imaginary friends I made up, some of them as far back as 27 years ago. They became my children when I had none of my own. I want so much to give them their much deserved happy endings, because they ARE SO good, even the manwhore whom I know eventually redeems himself. I gave up on love. And then they gave up on me.

"We've all got ghosts, Florence. You just happen to be the only one who can't handle yours (page 162).

I didn't know exactly what I wanted.

But it wasn't what I had (page 177).

I missed those days. When I could write. When I didn't just sleep all day, and stare at my ceiling all night and scroll through Twitter to see who else in the writing community got book deals and went on tour and hit bestseller lists. It was a certain kind of soul-sucking year I'd had, and I didn't realize how empty I was until I needed to write. 

And by then, I couldn't (pages 186-7).

And the author is tired. And maybe she was never good at writing to begin with. Maybe she never really understood romance. Maybe she's not cutout for love stories--"

He leaned in close to me--so close that if he were alive, I would be able to smell the cologne he wore, the toothpaste he brushed with, the shampoo he used--and he said in a low voice, "Or maybe she just needs someone to show her that she is" (page 190).

The basement door had a latch on the outside but it was unlocked. When I'd been trapped down there for a night, I hadn't been afraid of the corpses in the freezers. They were like shells, and when the person was done with them, the shell cracked and broke (page 195).

I... never thought of myself, my story, my life as anything more than a boring book shelved in a boring library in a boring town (page 213).

Plenty of people would say my life's not boring, that I'm not. Hard to believe otherwise when you crawl into an empty bed every night, and every day is almost exactly as the one before.

But for today, I lived in your story, and it was lovely. Thank you.