When My House (and Life) Was Falling Down, Grit Helped Me Build Them Both Up

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 4, 2015

Recently I had surgery to repair a torn tendon in my right shoulder. I was told to expect a painful recovery. It wasn’t. I was told the physical therapy would be a long and painful process. It’s not.

What I found instead was that it’s hell being left-handed in a right-handed world. I never knew so many public restrooms had toilet paper holders on the right. I’ve invented new yoga poses contorting my body to reach across with my arm in a sling and my pants down around my ankles!

During the time when my frustration was at its peak, I started binge-watching the HGTV show Rehab Addict. I’d never watched it before but was suddenly obsessed with the show and its blond dynamo, Nicole Curtis, slinging her nail gun and wielding power tools that outweighed her. She’s fierce! And I love her can-do attitude

In one episode, she’s rehabbing a 1910 home in need of a new foundation. Were she to have hoisted the house Popeye-style, sans equipment and crew, it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit. There’s nothing this girl can’t do. Crawl onto a roof and tear down a chimney? Redo an entire bathroom for under $100? No problem! Oh, and did I mention she’s also a single mom?

Once upon a time, I was a single mom, too, living below the poverty-line with my two kids in an old house falling down around our ears. I wasn’t handy but got good at repairs. I installed a shower. I patched the roof when it leaked. Each week I scrubbed the walls behind furniture and inside closets with bleach to get rid of the mold that would otherwise have resulted in the house version of a chia pet.

At the time, I was a struggling writer. Our house wasn’t winterized, so I put my desk and typewriter in the kitchen where I could stay warm with the oven on and its door open (and where I stuck my head should the rejection letters that arrived daily in the mail ever get to be too much). 

I never gave up hope. I believed in myself—believed I’d one day be published. When I look back, I marvel at the young woman I was, swimming against the tide, trusting in the power of my determination.

I sold some magazine articles and eventually became a writer for hire, churning out teen romances for a book packager. I was one of a select stable that helped launch the popular Sweet Valley High series.

Then, finally, I wrote the novel that had been burning a hole in me. I had some dark days when I doubted myself—who was I to think I could pull this off?—but nine months later, I also had a finished manuscript. The day of the book auction, which had three publishers in a bidding war, my dream came true and my belief in myself was validated when the final bid came in: a whopping high six-figure sum.

It got better. Garden of Lies went on to become a New York Times best-seller. Movie rights were optioned. Foreign rights were sold (22 languages in all).

One snowy day, as I stood outside the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in New York, where I live, and gazed in wonder at the copies of my novel piled high in the window, I thought, If I never achieve another milestone in my life, I’ll always have this.

If there’s a moral to my story it’s this: You can move mountains (or a house if you’re Nicole Curtis). Don’t believe naysayers who tell you it can’t be done. Dream it and then go do it. If you fail, it will lead to other opportunities, and at least you’ll have tried. The trick is you have to keep going. 

My career has had its ups and down through the years, but I’m still doing what I love, what I’d do for free if I didn’t get paid. Which is pretty darn cool. With the publication of my sixteenth novel, Bones and Roses, an experiment in self-publishing, I’m also pushing the boundaries as a writer.

“I want brick!” Nicole says when she’s knocking holes in plaster.

What’s your brick? 

How far can your dreams take you? As far as the power of your imagination and motivation…

New York Times best-selling novelist Eileen Goudge is the author of 15 women’s fiction titles, which include Garden of Lies, published in 22 languages around the world. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon.