Embracing the Detour (Jennifer Castle)

On the day I graduated high school, I had this simple Plan for the Future:

1) Have an incredible summer on Montauk, Long Island where I will meet a gorgeous yet funny, smart, and sensitive boy. Fall in breathless and cinematic first love.

2) Leave for Brown University in the fall, where I will have the best four years of my life.

3) Graduate and become a novelist.

4) Husband, kids, piles of money, yada yada.

5) Live happily ever after.

Step 1 was a not-so-much. Step 2 was mostly fulfilled; one year of the four was a crapfest, but the boy part from Step 1 did happen during college.

Four years later, on the day I graduated from Brown, the Plan had been slightly revised:

1) Have an incredible summer in Alaska, cleaning up the Exxon Valdez oil spill, where I will fall in breathless and cinematic second love with some dude. It’s Alaska, so probably one who can rock a parka.

2) Come home and go to an MFA graduate writing program.

3) Become a novelist, but also stay in academia and teach. Because, what? You say there’s meaningful life beyond a college campus? I don’t believe it.

4) Husband, kids, piles of money, yada yada.

5) Live happily ever after.

Alaska didn't work out. Instead, I started production-assisting on a daytime talk show in New York because my mom was one of the producers, and something unexpected happened. I liked not being in school. It wasn’t bad, out in the world. As a writer, I found it really stimulating. Then another something unexpected happened. I became much more interested in writing for television and film than fiction. A friend of mine from the talk show was moving to Los Angeles and suggested I come along. I’d never been there, and I’d always been intrigued. I regretted not traveling after graduation and still wanted some adventure. So I picked up and went West.

I lived in L.A. for twenty years. I did have adventures. I met an amazing diversity of people. I worked for a film studio and a celebrity publicist and then, for myself. I wrote television scripts and screenplays and at least 47 times, came within an inch of selling one. When I gave up on that, I was producing interactive media for kids and teens, and deeply gratified by it. It had never been my plan but it all seemed to be working, except for that pesky hole in my soul that ached to be writing fiction again.

So I tried to satisfy that ache. I started a novel, working in fits and starts as the “husband and kids” stuff unrolled on its parallel track. I finished the novel. Which coincided with a long moment where I realized that for a variety of reasons, Los Angeles was not our home. So we left to start a new one on the East Coast, just as I got a book deal and the “become a novelist” part of my graduation-day plan became fulfilled.

I often wonder about those years I spent as an aspiring screenwriter, living in a place where I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Were they wasted? If I’d never moved to Los Angeles, would I have returned to fiction more quickly? Would I have gone to that MFA program, kept my focus, and been published 10 or 15 years earlier than I had? And where would that put me now, especially when it comes to the, um, “piles of money” area?

So yes. That girl with the asymmetrical New Wave 80’s haircut did become a novelist. She is doing the thing she always believed she was born to do. That’s a neat little story, if I cut out those extra 20 years. But I can’t. Many things would not have happened without Los Angeles: my husband, my children, a rich palette of life experiences and writing craft skills with which I can forever infuse my work.

The detour is part of me and my journey, and I can finally, heartily embrace it. I wish I could go back in time and whisper this heads-up to my graduation-day selves. That, and the fact that there is no Happily Ever After. There is only Happily Right Now, and that's as long as you need.


  1. Love this. You're right about the detours. Sometimes those are the most interesting parts of the journey.

  2. I love the phrase, "Happy Right Now."

  3. OMG, what a great post! Love the line "cinematic love" and am stealing it. :)

    Seriously, I think all those years you worried about wasting were exactly as you say... part of the journey toward Happily Right Now. (Which I'm also stealing.)

    Sincerely enjoyed meeting you on Wednesday!

  4. Thanks all! It was lovely meeting you too, Patty! A great night for great words... ;-)


Post a Comment