When authors love their characters *too* much.

To quickly address my loooong absence from this blog, well, it’s been a tough year.  I don’t have much more to say about that, though I do plan to be around more often.

There is something specific I want to talk about today.  Lately, I’ve seen a lot of authors referring to their characters as their “babies.”  I probably noticed this because of my near phobia level pet peeve about referring to anyone over the age of one as baby, but it did get me thinking (and, really, over-thinking, as I’m sure some authors just use it as a cutesie saying) about the implications of this phrasing.  If your characters must be loved and protected–like babies–how can you ever truly explore complex plots that involve emotional and physical trauma…that involve, really, any obstacles at all?

Because would you ever subject your child to, say, a world in which a totalitarian government rules, starvation is common, and children fight in a yearly death match to keep everyone in line?  How about subjecting your baby to an abusive home life, injustice and prejudice, and also pitting him/her against the most powerful evil wizard who ever lived?  Or how about making your kid into one of the weakest, smallest races ever and sending him/her out on a near impossible quest to the most evil place in the world, all while having to resist the subversive machinations of an evil ring?

Yeah, you see what I’m getting at here.  No parent would intentionally put their children in these circumstances.

And the problem isn’t just with too much love killing the plot.  An overabundance of maternal (or paternal, I suppose) feels can also turn your characters into Mary Sues and Gary Stues.  Why?  Because you want other people to love your precious babies just as much as you do, so you pile on the strengths and generally accepted good qualities, then don’t add any weaknesses or negatives to balance things out.

Well, what’s an author to do?

For starters, pretend your imagination is actually an inner eye which grants access to an infinite number of universes.  Your sole voyeuristic purpose–the only thing that brings you any joy–is finding interesting happenings.

So, you spend all your time tuning into different worlds, spying on people, listening to their thoughts, and learning about them as they stumble through their lives.  Who would be fascinating to watch?  What would they be doing?  Once you decide, write that shit down.

By becoming a “watcher” rather than a creator, you lessen the protectiveness that many authors feel toward their characters.  As a chronicler of the trials and tribulations of people that (you’re pretending) exist outside yourself, you no longer have to play it safe in your stories (hey, you’re just telling it as you see it, right?), no longer have to give your beloved characters every virtue known to man (let’s be real–that’s freaking boring to watch), and no longer have to solve their problems for them either (they have to solve things themselves–you’re just watching, remember?).

But if you still cannot help but think of your characters as the most awesome-babykins-who-can-do-no-wrong-and-must-be-adored-by-absolutely-everyone-as-the-precious-cinnamon-rolls-that-they-are, my advice is to find a sadistic writing partner who gets off on making you–and your fictional offspring–suffer.  Then you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Some thoughts on the future.

Not everyone gets a second chance at going to college (especially in their late 30s like me), but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a supportive husband who has seen me through three years so far.  I’m set to graduate in early 2016 with a BA in Graphic Design and Media Arts.  I spent 15 years in the same profession (medical transcription, a job that essentially no longer exists due to the development of better voice-to-text technology), and now I’m going to be facing a new job market, possibly even a move because I live in such a rural area with limited career opportunities.  College is a huge investment, a gamble that I can succeed in the workforce and pay off my loans once I’m done.  Am I up to the task?  I have no idea.

During the last two years, I’ve also been published twice.  After so long writing just for myself, it’s really weird to think that my stories and characters now exist as a separate entity from me.  They live in the minds of readers, most of whom I don’t know and never will know.  This is a concept that I had to adjust to over time, and I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped it yet.  I’ve grown to love the romance genre (gay and other) because of this experience.  My writing has a new dynamic–I used to loathe writing what I considered the “sappy” stuff–but I now realize I was just scared to totally invest, afraid to look stupid and lame, even to myself.  Where will my writing go from here?  Is it something I should focus on and seriously pursue as a career?  Again, I have no idea.

In the midst of the everything else, my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer.  If he’s lucky, he’ll get to live long enough to see 2016, turn 70, and celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary.  If he’s not, we’ll be attending his funeral in the next few months.  It has been a harsh reminder of just how short life is, how ephemeral we humans are.  I may not like to be reminded of this fact, but maybe it’s for the best.  I needed to have a fire lit under me, and this has done so.

Like they say so often in anime, I want to live my life moving forward, with no regrets. That doesn’t mean I’m going to live as if today is my last day (then I’d just laze around watching anime and eating too much sugar).  I’ve decided to live for my future self.  I want to make her smile, laugh, and even cry when she thinks back on me.  I want to give her good memories and horrible ones, but mostly I want her to be comforted by the knowledge that she didn’t let fear paralyze her or despair sap her will.  She pushed forward and really lived, rather than just existing.  Because whether I’m walking there boldly or cowering in the corner, the future is coming.  What will it bring for me?

I really have no idea.  But I’m a little more okay with that than I was before.

All about Sugar Ruuuuuuush!

Yes, I totally suck, and never posted when Sugar Rush officially came out on the 28th.  I have excuses (school, family, writing, illness, um, tumblr, new anime season…Warcraft….gah, I’m a horrible person…), BUT I’m going to hand-wavy things and wow and amaze you with new artwork!  Here we are, another main character from Sugar Rush:  Ren Crestlin.  He is a “hybrid” with both human and wolf DNA.  It took me quite a while to get a face and hair and body I was satisfied with, but here we are!

Ren Crestlin from Sugar Rush

 

And, for your reading pleasure (hopefully), an excerpt!

Sugar Rush

“What do you want?” I demanded with way more chutzpah than I felt.

“Like I said, pull around the corner. We got business to take care of.”

“You’re damn right we do. You owe me for a new stunner and that cookie,” I grumbled, though my hands shook as I crept around the corner under his watchful gaze. The hovercart barely fit between the dirty brick walls of the alley. A dumpster blocked any through traffic.

“I thought we were friends, Sweets. We always been able to play nice together. I got a soft spot for anyone from Wayward House, so I took it easy on ya. Didn’t leave a scratch on your pretty white hide. So maybe it’s my fault that you thought you could cheat me. But I ain’t making the same mistake twice.”

“You wanted the official Sugar Rush recipes, and I gave them to you. Something I could be fired and arrested for, I might add.”

“Yeah, but here’s the kicker. They ain’t the right ones. So I asked around, got my hands on some Sugar Rush from outside of Grimmtown. And whaddya know, that Sugar Rush shit wasn’t right either. And that got me thinkin’. What if our dear Sweets, for whatever crazy reason, changed those recipes when he baked up the Sugar Rush goods for Grimmtown?”

I laughed nervously. “That would be highly illegal.”

Ren shoved me into the display cases, bringing his face alarmingly close. “It’s dangerous to lie to me, Sweets. It makes me question our friendship.”

My eyes fixed on his teeth… teeth that were rumored to have ripped out the throats of many a fool who messed with the Wolves. I jerked my gaze away. I needed to stay focused if I was going to get out of this, and he was close enough now for my last-ditch secret weapon.

If hybrids like Ren had anything resembling a weakness, it was their noses. Their sense of smell was extremely sensitive and heavily influenced their actions. They weren’t slaves to it, but with some effort they could be redirected. I just had to give off the right scent. Fortunately, ball-shriveling terror wasn’t enough to kill my appreciation for a fine piece of man-meat.

“Oh, we’re definitely still friends,” I said. “Maybe I didn’t give you the right recipes after all. I guess I just liked the idea of you pushing me around a little. My pretty white hide could use a little scratching.”

He took half a step back in surprise. I looked him over, taking in dirty jeans tight enough to show off the curve of his powerful thighs, narrow shoulders and well-muscled arms covered in battle scars, pointed ears full of metal studs and a long face that managed to be both human and something other. I thought about running my hands through his mass of gray and black hair, biting the pulse of his neck, nibbling at his thin lips, sliding my tongue ever so gently across those pointed teeth…

 

A Thousand a Day

Just like a lot of people do around New Year’s, I set some goals for 2015.  I’ve had trouble the last year balancing my college and family life with writing.  So often, it is something that gets pushed aside for other things.  I’ve had to focus more on visual art in pursuit of my degree.  I do get a lot of satisfaction from creating visual art, either painting or photo-manips or even photography, but it’s not the same kind of satisfaction as putting words on a page to create a story.

And really, I have more to share.  I have more to say, and I need to be saying it.

So, that leads me to my goal for this year:  a thousand words a day, on any story I want.  This also includes taking notes on my story ideas if I’m struggling to work on the actual prose.  I’m terrible at writing my ideas down, but they fade if I don’t grab onto them when they come to me.

I have one story in particular that has taken possession of me.  I’ve shared quotes a few times via my Facebook page, but I consolidated them here to share as well.

When he moved, I moved with him. I quickly forgot about everything but the tiny world in the closet. A secret world of silk and warm skin, of heavy breaths and soft thumps, of chocolate and erasers and hair gel. A world where the normal lines drawn between friends had vanished.  –A Trunkful of Secrets, Dani Myrick

***

What was I in for now? Maybe some old school blood-letting by leeches? Or something more modern, like electroshock therapy?

Was there any way of explaining this to her? I had half-ass managed with Erec, but I just couldn’t see pulling it off with Mom. There was no telling when something I might say would make things even worse. Then I’d end up in therapy again, reliving my birth experience to the amplified sounds of my mother’s heartbeat and encouraging yells of the therapist to push on through and seek the light.  –A Trunkful of Secrets, Dani Myrick

***

He licked his lips nervously. “Can I…can I take your clothes off?”

My arms shot in the air. Hell, yeah, he could take my clothes off. In fact, he could put me in pigtails and baby-doll pajamas if it meant his mouth would be on my junk again. –A Trunkful of Secrets, Dani Myrick

***

“Seriously, dude, we’ll get caught!”  Telltale wheezing accompanied his words.

This is your own fault!  I waited all week for this.”  We wrestled over his shirt.  He was stronger, but I had a week’s worth of pent-up sexual tension to work out.  And I had no problem ripping the damn thing off if I could.  “I even researched, and you totally blew me off.  Now, stop making me feel like a rapist and get naked!”  –A Trunkful of Secrets, Dani Myrick

***

I wanted to snarl every time I caught sight of her, as she continued to wiggle her way into Erec’s life. Sure, I realized that part of my newfound hatred might be pure and simple jealousy, with maybe a dash of insecurity. But part of it was the smug looks she seemed to give me, as if she totally knew I was her main competition, and it was a contest in which I didn’t even have the right to compete. –A Trunkful of Secrets, Dani Myrick

Oh, I also said I’d be sharing more Sugar Rush art, but I got sidetracked painting Kuroko and Kagami from Kuroko’s Basketball kissing, so, um, I’m posting that instead.  Feel free to make me feel horrible about this utter betrayal of my own characters in the comments.

Surprise Attack

Sugar Rush available for preorder, plus artwork!

Big news today!  Sugar Rush is now available for preorder from Torquere Press here!  In the spirit of celebrating this, I have some artwork of the point-of-view character, Jamie “Redhood” Lassiter.  He schleps for Granny’s Goodtime Goodies, delivering snacks of every kind to the residents of Grimmtown.  The required company uniform is a red hoodie, so the Triple G drivers are known Redhoods.

More artwork coming soon!

picture of main character from Sugar Rush

Jamie from Sugar Rush

New year, new name, new look!

Just a heads up to my current followers:  this blog is going through some changes.  I’m combining my visual art pursuits with my writing, and it will all be located right here (more for my convenience than anyone else’s).   I won’t be flooding you with posts–I’m looking at once a week posting–so hopefully even if you came for the writing you’ll stay for the digital painting, photo manipulations, and occasional photography that will now be part of the show!

In writing news, everything is on track for the release of Sugar Rush, my retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a cyberpunk, M/M romance twist.  All the paperwork is finished, and the cover has been approved all around.  If all goes well, you’ll be hearing about the specific release date at the end of January, and I will be working on some artwork of the characters this month as a warm-up.

I liiiiive…and other updates.

Yes, I am still a living, breathing member of the human race!  I just suck at balancing college, family, and writing.  This term has really kicked my ass, and I’ve epically failed at keeping up with everything not related to homework, even anime watching!

I do have writing news though.  Sugar Rush, the second novella I signed a contract for, will be coming out in January 2015!  Eeeeeek!  Everything is done but the proofreading and the cover, which is still being decided.  I doubt I’ll do a blog tour, but I’ll be posting about it here and on my Facebook page.

His devastatingly good looks killed my interest, or some thoughts on blurb writing.

So, I read a lot of blurbs.  I run around Goodreads when I’m avoiding homework looking for something to read, and I also subscribe to a lot of review blogs for when I’m avoiding homework checking out what other authors are writing.  While reading a recent blurb, I realized that I had already stopped paying attention after the first sentence.  Understanding why I disengaged after one sentence actually intrigued me more than finishing the blurb, so I reread to see what killed my interest.

It was this phrase:  his devastatingly good looks

Pretty cliché, right?  Not horrible, but that’s where my mouse went a-clicking for the delete button.  And it wasn’t just because it was cliché.  It was because my introduction to this new character consisted completely of his physicality.  I’d have much rather read about his inability to navigate with a map or obsession with hairy moles or about how he knits doilies for his grandma on his days off or how he bakes cookies for homeless people and secretly laces them with poison.   (Also, I prefer the formal definition of devastating, which is “highly destructive or damaging.”  So if I read someone’s good looks described thusly, the next sentence I want to see is regarding how many people they’ve murdered with their appearance.  That would actually be interesting.)

Another word in a blurb that sends me running is “sexy.”  First off, saying someone is “sexy” is pretty presumptuous, as I may think that character is totally UNsexy (possibly just because he thinks of himself as sexy).  Secondly, I’d much rather know why this character is “sexy” than having an author/blurb writer just say so.  If you want to get physical, tell me he’s got rockin’ abs from rescuing so many puppies and kittens from devastating fires (see, that’s how you use devastating in a sentence).  Or tell me he’s sexy because he sleeps naked snuggled up to a teddy bear (okay, maybe some people would think that’s creepy, but at least here it’s up to the reader to decide whether they are down with guys dry humping stuffed animals in the night).

As a reader, I’m totally judging your book based on its blurb, and I have the patience and attention span of a goldfish on crack.  I’ll look past an iffy cover, but if an author puts his/her stamp of approval on a blurb I’m assuming it’s the best they can do.  So, it had better be something friggin’ fantastic, as I’ve never once read a poorly-written blurb and thought…Well, that was pretty crappy writing, but I’ll buy it anyway and give it a shot.

As an author, I realize that there is a temptation to shortcut the blurb-writing process (after three rounds of edits on His Familiar Scars, cover art back and forth, and more paperwork than I do for my yearly taxes, I was so ready to just slam a DONE stamp on the whole thing by the time the blurb writing rolled around).  However, I’d like to point out that the blurb is likely the second thing a potential reader is checking out, after the cover.  So, it’s in your best interest to nix those cliché phrases and generic descriptions and showcase what’s truly awesome about your story.

What?? I’m a YA romance author?!?

A while ago, I had a conversation with my eldest daughter that went something like this.

Daughter:  Mom, I can’t believe you ended up being a YA romance author. *snigger*

Me:  What?  I am not!

Daughter:  *laughs more* Your first published story is about two 17-year-olds in a relationship.  That’s YA, and that’s romance.

Me:  *mentally* What the fuck?

So, yeah.  I had a slight identity crisis then.  I mean, weren’t YA romance novels about clumsy, pretty-but-doesn’t-know-she’s-pretty girls in love triangles?  And why would I write YA anyway?  I hated adolescence.  My teenage years were some of the worst of my life (for a few reasons why, check out this blog post).  So, how did I end up writing about adolescence, and in a contemporary setting no less?

I had to do a little self-discovery, which is never pretty, but I did come up with some answers.

First, adolescence is a unique time in people’s lives (okay, one could argue that every age is a unique time in people’s lives, but roll with me here), which combines the needs of adults (for freedom, power, sex, etc.) with a kid’s mental capacity for pursuing those goals.  Not super practical, but blame it on evolution.  And health care.  From the 1500s to 1800s, life expectancy–at least in Europe–was 30 to 40, so people matured and married younger.  In fact, those crazy kids could get married as young as 12 (if a girl) and 14 (if a boy) with parental permission.

So, what’s my point here?  Well, with longer lives (we’re each getting about 80 years on average these days), we have more time to mentally mature into adulthood, but our hormones are still on the timetable of ancestors who were croaking at 30 or 40.  This means that sexual maturity hits us before we’re mentally prepared for adulthood.

This also means that lots of very horny teenagers do it in the backseats of cars before they ever get to a marriage bed.

And as much as some adults want to pretend we were all asexual beings before we married, and then only copulated because it was our duty to continue our species, we really all know better, don’t we?  Teenagers think about all sorts of naughty things.  In fact, they think about them a lot.  And they do all sorts of naughty things, too.  It happens, people.  Get over it already.

So, my first reason for writing about teenagers is that I really wanted to showcase the juxtaposition of adult needs and kid-like brains, and even the sexual bits that go along with this.  If I was gonna go there, I was gonna go there all the way.  Because I write dangerously (see how I did that, linked it right to my blog name?  I’m feeling damn clever today).

My second reason goes back to what I was saying before about having shitty teenage experiences.  While I didn’t realize when working on His Familiar Scars, writing about a couple of kids who meet that one person or have that one thing happen that eventually turns their lives in a positive direction…to find love and acceptance when they didn’t ever really think those things existed…you have no idea how satisfying that is.

I’m seriously tearing up just thinking about it.

Now after His Familiar Scars, I didn’t plan on writing another contemporary.  I really prefer sci-fi and fantasy settings.  Also, I was going to steer away from crazy under-18 teenagers since not all publishers will take stories that have sexual contact between minors.  So, guess what kind of story hits me next and won’t let go?  Yeah, another contempoary YA romance with under-18 teenagers.  I think, okay, I’ll bang out this short story idea, release it as a freebie, get tons of loyal fans, make millions, blah, blah.  But it didn’t happen that way.  As soon as I got the short story done, I wanted to know where they would go next.  What would happen to these two once I left them alone?  How could they find their way without me creeping on them figuring out the rest of their story?

So, I’m now in the process of writing my second contemporary romance about teenagers and have decided to finally stop denying it.  My daughter is right.  I am a YA romance author.

But the best thing is, I find I’m really, really happy to be one.