IWSG: August 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Q: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise?

A: I’m mostly surprised by my characters when they do something I didn’t plan on (but that, in hindsight, makes perfect sense). But I’ve also been surprised more than once by agents responding 1+ years after I queried, asking whether I’m repped yet. Usually in these cases they’d either like to (a) see the rest of the manuscript, or if they had a full they (b) are suggesting an R&R (revise & resubmit). Unfortunately, none of these have ever resulted in representation, so… But it’s nice when an agent shows interest or is encouraging.

Don’t Tell Me

There are a couple of things I hear/read periodically that I find absolutely infuriating. These are false statements that pretend to be encouraging but that actually undercut a writer’s confidence and motivation.

1. If you want it badly enough, you can achieve it.

Not true. You can want something, you can try every possible avenue, and still not achieve it.

2. If you’re talented enough, you’ll rise to the top.

Again, not necessarily true. You can be very good at what you do, but there are other factors. Networking and connections play a big part in success. So does grit. There are many smart, capable people who fail, not for lack of desire so much as lack of motivation. Or even lack of support, since, despite our individualist society, few people are able to make it on their own. And even brilliant people don’t know everything, so sometimes it’s know-how that the person needs.

3. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

You can’t promise that. Unless you have a specific ability to help the person in question—you have connections, knowledge, etc.—don’t say this. I realize it’s meant to be reassuring, but we already have a culture that falsely believes that only good things and people succeed, that the way to judge something’s or someone’s worth is to see if they (a) make money, (b) become famous. Since we all can point to plenty of terrible rich and famous people, you can see this is a flat-out fallacy. We can point to bad books and movies that somehow still get published and made, which again proves that not everything that rises is cream.

Am I bitter? Sometimes. I don’t think there’s any harm in being honest and admitting that. It can be difficult to keep going when the road seems to be one dead end after another. And so many people say the above things to me, which, while I understand the good intentions, I’d really rather have the help and support rather than hollow words.

IWSG: July 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced I would continue to participate in this because I’ve pretty much shut down my writing network. I deleted my author page on Facebook, abandoned my Instagram, and have removed my Twitter app from my phone. I left every writing group on Facebook, too, unfriended a ton of people, and muted several more. I’ve had a real struggle with the lack of support from friends, family, and the community at large, and I’m pretty close to giving up completely.

That said, I do have two good writing friends helping through my crisis. So I’ll post this month, for now, and continue taking things a day at a time.

Question of the Month: What personal traits have you written into your characters?

A: I’m sure several bits of myself show up in my characters, but you’d have to ask those who know me (and have read my work) to point them out. I never intentionally put parts of me into my characters. But I can say I’ve shared experiences with some of them. For example, I based some of The K-Pro on my time spent on film sets. There is likewise a story in The World Ends at Five that is extrapolated from an author signing I attended. In fact, I remember thinking that story up as I walked to work one day. Anyway, I’m sure my characters do have telltale signs of my DNA, but to parse that would take no little time.

IWSG: March 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What am I insecure about these days? Well, I have surgery tomorrow, though I feel oddly calm about it. I think I’m more stressed about our move, which will take place the first week of April. In the meantime, very little writing is getting done, so I’m insecure about that, too—I feel like I’m falling behind on my goals.

Question of the Month: Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I guess I’ve always written from the protagonist’s point of view, though I’m sure it would be fun to write from the villain’s. But I think I stick with the protagonist because to get inside the villain’s head would be to give too much away. I want the reader to wonder, along with the protagonist, what that villain is up to…

IWSG: February 2019

What am I insecure about these days? Getting any writing done thanks to general upheaval. 1. We’re (hopefully) selling our house and (hopefully) moving. 2. My doctor says I need surgery. 3. I’m working with a nutritionist and so am on a new diet… that I hate… I’m overwhelmed and exhausted, and writing has fallen by the wayside.

ETA: We did sell our house, and we have bought a new one! Now all my insecurities can be about the actual move!

Question of the Month: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

I guess it depends on what you consider “creative.” Sometimes when I can’t find words, I go throw paint on a canvas. Just abstract, you know, because I can’t actually paint. I also love to sing. We do family karaoke nights regularly. But I also really enjoy puzzles and big LEGO kits… Do those count?

Have you read Faebourne yet? If not, pick it up on Kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited!) or in paperback!

An Obscure Author?

Back when I would devour Victoria Holt books, there was another author whose works I likewise snapped up: Sara Hylton. She seems to have quite a bibliography to her name, but at the same time, I’ve never heard anyone talk about her. So I don’t know if she’s less well known, or if I just don’t talk to the right people.

I discovered Hylton’s books when I found The Talisman of Set at the library. It was exactly my kind of thing: an Englishwoman who keeps having dreams of Ancient Egypt and then is given a talisman that connects her to (if I remember correctly, though it’s been a couple decades since I read it) a past life. Oh, I adored that book! Found a copy of it in a thrift store and bought it, and I still have it on my shelf. (Well, we’re moving, so my books are packed, but it will be on my shelf again when we unpack.)

I also have a copy of Easter at the Lakes, which is another book by Hylton I enjoyed. Truth is, I don’t often come across her books in libraries or even used-book stores. Not these days, anyway. When I was younger, our library had a number of books by her that I read, often more than once: Caprice, The Crimson Falcon, The Whispering Glade, Jacintha, The Hills are Eternal… I’d say if you enjoy Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier, you’d probably like Sara Hylton’s work as well.

I don’t know much about Hylton herself, but her most recent books seems to have been published almost a decade ago, and she started in the 80s, so she must be older now.

What authors have you enjoyed that you’ve never heard anyone else mention? Are there any you wish more people knew about? Or maybe an author you read years ago that you only recently rediscovered? I’d love to hear all about it!

IWSG: January 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Question of the Month: What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

I love being asked about my writing, and I can’t think of any questions that annoy me or that I don’t like to answer. If anything, I wish more people would ask me about my work… Maybe I just like to talk about myself!

I suppose there are offensive questions, but that’s usually based on how the question is asked. I get accusatory-sounding questions about why I make characters gay, for example. “Why did you have to make them gay?” Look, I know that’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes as I’m writing a character, I come to understand things about him or her. I don’t plan it; my characters grow organically as I write. A lot of mine happen to be gay.

When I first started writing The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, I had planned for Peter to be a womanizer. Alas, he had different ideas, and it was Jules who stepped up to chase the girls. (I still have ideas forming in the back of my mind for a book about Jules.) When I was writing Faebourne, I had planned for George and Edward to get together, but… If you read the book, you see how that went.

That’s another thing I do get tired of hearing: “Oh, but you should be in charge of your characters and make them do what you say!” I find that creates stilted characters that are bound by plot. When reading, I can always tell when a writer was determined to stick to their outline because the characters don’t seem to breathe or act of their own accord. They do things that seem out of character or don’t make sense, and it’s usually because the author forced them.

It takes me a long time to write a draft because I’m a bit like Michelangelo, chipping away at the stone block and seeing the story take shape. I have a general sense of the story and what’s going to happen, but my outlines are very loose and free flowing. After that arduous draft, however, the refinement takes far less time. This is why it takes me about a year to write and publish a book: ~9 months of drafting and ~3 months of rewriting and editing.

Still, as long as people are respectful, I don’t mind answering whatever questions they may have.

Embracing It

Today I read an article giving many good reasons not to seek an agent or traditional publishing contract. They were all reasons I’d heard before, but these came from an established author who’d been published by big houses from 1987-2008. He pointed out that the world has changed a lot and… Traditional publishers haven’t. Why keep using a dial-up modem when Wi-Fi is so readily available?

In truth, I still struggle with my desire to have an agent and a book published by one of the “big five.” I’ve done okay with my self-published work, and I enjoy having the control, but… I think many authors are still looking for the validation that an agent and traditional publishing contract seemingly confers. We want to be chosen ones. Even as we know that we don’t have to wait for someone to choose us—we can choose ourselves, believe in ourselves—something inside us still craves it. We’re the girls (or boys) that know we can go to prom alone but deep down still want someone to ask us.

I went to prom with a group of friends—and fellow self-published authors can be that group of friends, too. And the nice thing about my prom photo is that I’m the only one in it. That sounds weird, but it means I don’t have to look at it and think, “That guy.” Not wistfully, or with distaste, or whatever feeling(s) having another person in the picture might have engendered. I can look at that picture and think, Damn, I looked good. And not be sorry.

But maybe still a little sad that I didn’t have a date.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sum total is about embracing being single at prom a self-published author. I don’t want to say “resigning oneself,” because it shouldn’t be that. So many people think of self-publishing as a last resort, but more and more it’s becoming many writers’ first choice. The article I linked to gives several good reasons for that. My reasons have become practical ones: self-publishing saves me a lot of time and agony, and my self-published work has done better than my small press-published stuff. I mean, if I’m going to put in the effort to market anyway, I might as well be getting all the royalties, right? And when I self-publish, succeed or fail, I can only blame (or congratulate) myself. It’s a neatly closed circle, tidy, and I like that.

Just like with that prom photo—if I’m going to be sorry about anything, it’ll be how I did my hair or something, not about who I chose to be with. Substitute agent/publisher for that guy in the photo, and… You kind of see it?

God, this analogy is messy.

Unfortunately, there is still some stigma attached to self-publishing. Though the quality of self-published books is largely rising, there are some bad ones out there. And there are readers (and other authors) who again assume that self-published books are the result of “not being good enough for ‘real’ publishing.” Bad enough that self-pubbed authors have to fight that image on the outside. We shouldn’t have to fight it in our own minds.

But we do sometimes. Or I do, at least. I still sometimes think I’m not good enough and wish a fairy god-agent would appear and sell my work to a big-name publisher. It’s an old dream, deeply rooted in the time when that was the only way to publish. Just like a dog that spent its life in a cage will feel vulnerable when first set loose in a yard, will sometimes want to run back to the comfort of its own imprisonment… We know the dog is better off with more room, though, right? And authors are better off with creative control of their work. It’s just that they’ve been told for so long that the cage is safe. Look at it: gilded, lovely. But still a cage, as those who’ve had the door slammed shut behind them can attest.

So. I’m determined to embrace, however awkwardly, the fact that I’m a self-published author and am likely to remain one. No more querying, wasting time waiting for generic responses (if and when they ever come at all). I’ve been pleased by the success of Brynnde and Faebourne and hope to build on that. This is me, alone in that prom photo. No regrets.

Gay or Not Gay? A Handy Guide

It was really only a matter of time that someone would give Faebourne a low-star review because there is a gay romance subplot. I did try to be clear in the book description, and the novel is placed in a gay fiction category besides, but… Ah, well. Not everyone reads the fine print.

Here, then, is a breakdown of my writing in terms of gay/not gay:

My books that feature gay characters:

  • The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller (main character is gay)
  • Manifesting Destiny (one of the main characters is gay)
  • Faebourne (supporting characters are gay)

Gay-free books:

  • The World Ends at Five
  • The K-Pro
  • Brynnde

Where are the Sherlock Holmes stories? Well, while in my stories Holmes and Watson are not gay, there are hints that Mycroft is. So it straddles the fence, I suppose.

I’m considering publishing a short story of mine called “The Zodiac Clock,” and it has gay characters, too. So if that bothers you, don’t read it.

I hope that clears up any potential confusion. Happy reading!