An Audience of One

Who do you write for? It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot over the past few weeks. It’s something every writer has to ask at least once. Most of us probably ask it every time we open up a file or pick up a pen. Every word we put down has been chosen for a reason. It carries more weight than its place in a sentence.

My first answer to this question was myself. I remember feeling quite virtuous as I said it, as if I were giving the only right answer. I’d skipped to the end of this particular lesson.

My second answer to this question was a more subdued echo of the first. As I read some of the not so nice reviews of my first published book, Less Than Perfect, I needed to remind myself of the fact the story had been for me. I also consoled myself with the fact that someone other than me had seen value in my words, my characters, my vision. Someone had chosen to help me rewrite it, doubling the length of my original submission, improving it, then covering and producing it.

But I hadn’t written it for them. Or had I? Maybe just to prove I could? I certainly hadn’t written it for anyone who might read it, not then.

What about my second published book, Chaos Station. Who did I write that for?

Hence the third time I had to answer this question. I wrote it for myself, damn it. And maybe for Jenn. Because the guys we nicknamed space boys had been kicking around both our heads for a while. If we didn’t let them out, give them voice, they were going to start leaving bruises. I guess that means we also wrote it, in part, for them—for our characters—and oh how that answer complicates such a simple question. Or, maybe the question isn’t as simple as I thought it was.

So who did I write Lonely Shore for? Well, we had a contract, so I had to write it for Carina Press. I also had to write it for the guys, because Chaos Station was only the first chapter of their story. I think we both also felt we might be writing for readers at that point. Surely they’d want to know more? Overwhelmingly they did. By the time we got to Skip Trace, our readers also had criticisms and suggestions in the form of reviews.

You can’t please everyone. Often you can’t please anyone. Does that mean you should change your story? Yes and no. Reader expectation is a thing and, unless you’re Stephen King, you have to take it into account. Also, with every book, particularly when you’re writing a series, you’re laying out the terms of an agreement. You’re fulfilling a contract to a certain point, with some clauses still under negotiation. As a writer, I have an idea of how I want every story to end. The points I want to hit along the way. But if a reader posts a review of book three pointing out something they’d like to see in book four—that is not a part of my current plan—do I listen?

Yes. But only if what they’d like to see makes sense. Because, well, I’m supposed to be writing these books for me. They’re my art, my form of expression. The message within (if any) is mine to share.

I wrote Out in the Blue for myself. Jared is me (in an alternate reality). Same with Paul from When Was the Last Time. These guys are expressions of self I use to explore ideas. Is it weird I chose to represent myself with a male character rather than female? No. Changing the gender of my main character helps me maintain distance, to write someone who is not me. Also, I’m fascinated by men. I love writing them. I almost always choose a male avatar when I’m gaming. I prefer to read books with male leads.

We’re not going to examine that in further detail.

So, what brought on this post? Well, it’s a number of things. It’s a reaction to some conflict in the romance writing community. It’s me questioning the validity of my work and the desire to continue writing love stories. It’s me wondering if I should submit the sequel to a book I currently have in edits now, or wait to see if anyone likes the first one.

It’s the answer to the question of should I be scanning the MSWL hashtag for project ideas that will sell, or should I be writing that post-apocalyptic Christmas love story that’s been kicking around in my head for way too long.

Seriously, who is going to read that?

I would—and that’s why the answer to my question “Who am I writing for?” always has to be me. Myself. Because for a lot of what we do, we’re only going to have an audience of one. So shouldn’t we strive to make them happy?

In a word, yes.

(This post was also inspired by a post by Dan Blank called Why We Create.)

Snappy Comebacks and the Limitations of Time

(This post might be part of a series of rambles dreamed up at four a.m. on the imperfections of self)

I am not stupid. I actually think I’m pretty smart. I test quite well—or did as a kid. No adult in their right mind continues sharpening pencils and filling out answer blips. Unless they’re taking Buzzfeed quizzes, which are ridiculously awesome.

Thing is, Buzzfeed quizzes are not timed. You can take as LONG as you like to pick your favourite food from six items. And there are pictures! Not weird little paragraphs of something that might be the description of a doughnut. The thinking involved is tied to measuring the pool of saliva around your tongue. Not trying to remember if immersed means in or on.

BuzzfeedDoughnut

Time is the limitation on my intelligence. I am the person in the group who is still scratching their head after a joke. The one who says, “I don’t get it.” It has to be explained to me.

Sometimes I still don’t get it.

It’s not that I’ll never get it; it just takes me a while.

I failed my first year of college because I couldn’t think fast enough. Graphic design isn’t really art. I wanted to study art. I was convinced by certain parental units that I would starve and be found rotting in a gutter if I pursued a career as an artist. And graphic design did sound sorta cool. Graphic designers got to wear jeans to work and their glasses were always trendy.

(My congenital lack of trendiness is a whole other post)

I loved the drawing, the photography, the writing and the precision of layout and finished art. But I couldn’t design anything, because I wasn’t hip enough for my jeans and cool glasses. I didn’t have my finger on the pulse of society. I rarely kept up with current affairs, I didn’t read dying poets, and I hated abstract art. I had very little idea what was happening in the world beyond the fact the café sold Wagonwheels and that if I had enough cash, I could have one EVERY DAY. And Derek had invited me to work with him in the dark room on Tuesday. Alone.

Basically, I wasn’t mature enough for the course, and—even more basically—the wrong kind of thinker. It’s not that I’m stupid; I just have to think things through a bit. Sometimes.

Most of the time.

This is why I love writing. Unless it suits the plot for them not to, my characters always get jokes and they always have snappy comebacks. None of this waking up at four a.m. with the perfect retort tickling their tongue! They complete Buzzfeed quizzes in the blink of an eye. They can hear one strum of a guitar and know the song, artist, album, year the band formed and if they’re still together. Obscure Star Wars trivia comes to their call without the use of Google. They’re inventing black holes (yes, I said inventing), and curing cancer. They can be a walking Wikipedia of knowledge, edited and annotated by experts.

They can build IKEA furniture without looking at the instructions.

ikea-instructions
http://www.collegehumor.com/post/6340023/if-ikea-made-instructions-for-everything

Obviously, no one is actually that smart. Well, some people are. But not a great proportion of us. There are a bunch of you out there who are just like me. Not dumb, just a little slow on the uptake. And, honestly, my lack of intellectual punctuality doesn’t bother me the way it used to, except in one case: Twitter

Losing sleep over why I don’t really ‘get’ Twitter is pretty stupid. In the grand scheme, Twitter is unimportant. I could never visit again and no one would probably miss me. But there are so many cool people on Twitter and I do like connecting with them. I enjoy reaching out to other writers and telling them how much I love their work. I really love hearing from people who have read my stuff. Twitter is a great medium for that quick and meaningful comment. “Hey, I see you! Thanks for being there.”

I just wish it didn’t all move so quickly. While I’m staring at the blank reply space, trying to think of something clever to say (often, I’m staring at the blank search space because I’ve clicked the wrong damn thing again), the feed has updated. Relevant tweets have slipped from the public consciousness and the collective mind has moved on.

I am lucky in that the other half of my co-writing team LOVES Twitter and is (maybe) surgically connected to it. So I have a sort of presence there through her. Jenn remembers to tag me on all the good stuff, and strives to keep me attached to this twenty-first century scene. She even does some of my thinking for me, for which I am ever grateful.

So, I’ve reached the point of this ramble where I should sum up my point and get out of here.

Um.

Yeah, I’ve read back through and I got nothing, so I’ll leave you with the title of my next piece in my series of rambles about my foibles: Schizophrenic Spelling. Until then, happy thinking!

 

 

Cellular Memory

My fascination with cloning borders on the morbid. It’s akin to my terrible habit of looking up my symptoms on WebMD and diagnosing myself with meningitis. The ‘what if’ factor is just that extreme. I’m not alone, however. Cloning is the subject of much fascination, in fiction, television, and political debate.

Why do we find the idea of replicated humans so…creepy?

I think expectation plays a large role. As a whole, human beings are not fond of change. New science is often regarded with suspicion. It’s all dark magic until it becomes an indispensable part of our lives. Techniques such as artificial insemination are still considered immoral and unnatural by many, even though the term ‘test tube baby’ is no longer much of a slur.

Photo credit: Marnix Bras (freeimages.com)
Photo credit: Marnix Bras (freeimages.com)

But creating a whole human from a skin sample? It’s fascinating and scary. Fascinating because—wow, we can do this? Yeah, we can. Someone, somewhere, is cloning someone. They’ll be doing it to prove they can, because someone paid them to do it, in defiance of prevailing attitudes and laws, and because part of being human is exploration. Most of us are born with the need to see what’s over there, on top of that, and off the edge of the map.

Who they’re cloning, and why, is the scary part. I think the biggest question about clones, however, is identity. Who will they be? Kelly v2.0 or Kelly (July 21)—assuming my clone is born today. Or, will the new Kelly actually be dated from the skin sample (or cells) used to create her?

I was reading an article in Vanity Fair (August 2015, “Game of Clones”) about cloning polo ponies. The first page had a picture of a beautiful horse—and yet I couldn’t look at it without feeling slightly uneasy. The article is fascinating and when it lands on vanityfair.com you should check it out. The most interesting aspect, however, was the idea of cellular memory. The breeders noted that cloned foals seem more self-aware from a younger age. For instance, they can’t be kept with the other foals because they might try to fight or mate them—well before the age where hormonal behavior should become apparent. Another cloned horse is as afraid of garden hoses as her original.

These instances (and more) are cited as part of the reason this particular operation will not consider human cloning, despite having been approached by determined and wealthy individuals. Think of the implications of cellular memory in a newborn:

“Can you imagine having a baby that is born with memories of extreme happiness or extreme sadness? I think what you may do is have a child that is born insane because it cannot process what’s up there”…

(Alan Meeker, “Game of Clones”. Vanity Fair, August 2015)

Sobering thoughts, eh?

In a light-hearted example, Kelly 2.0 might have the memory of many, many stupid accidents. Kelly 1.0 is clumsy. Will this make my clone more or less careful? Will the memory (or not) of a few concussions (yes, really) prompt her to never leave her crib. Ever?

OrphanBlackI’d rather not examine my mental foibles and what they could mean for a just-conceived version of me. I think that’s something we can all ponder on our own—and the process might be similar to looking up our symptoms online. Imprecise and frightening. Or, we could read a book (“Send in the Clones!” Tor.com, July 7), or hit up Netflix for past episodes of Orphan Black. Perhaps really scare ourselves with The Boys from Brazil. Ninety-four clones of Hitler, anyone?

It’s interesting to note that clone stories are almost universally cautionary tales or simply tragic. Of more personal interest is the fact I’ve read over half of Tor.com’s list of thirteen books about clones. I must really like scaring myself—it’s the concussions, I know. Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is one of those books that has haunted me since I read it, some thirty-five years ago. And thhough John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War does have fun with cloning, the essential message remains the same: who are these people, and what rights do they have?

The clone story that will always stay with me, though, like a bur under my skin, is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book saddened me, the movie adaptation wrecked me. I think if ever there is an argument against cloning, that story is it. But, as I said before, we are explorers, and if we can think it, we will do it. Someone is already doing it—and they might be living in the United States, because while seventy countries have outlawed human cloning, it’s still legal here.

It’s not all bad. Cloned organs are saving lives. I don’t think I need to spell out the significance of that, however. Someone really needs to write a good, positive cloning story. If you’ve got one, or heard of one, I’d love to hear about it. 🙂

(Featured image for this post was sourced from freeimages.com and is credited to Flavio Takemoto)

 

The Hearts of Men

I’ll never forget the first time I broke a guy’s heart. Yeah, I said first time. Unfortunately, I’ve done it twice. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I hope it never happens again. I don’t think it will!

(I can hear my husband sighing with relief in the other room.)

The first time genuinely surprised me. His reaction was so intense and sorrowful. If I’m honest with myself, I had expected him to be upset, but I hadn’t quite connected the dots between his impending sadness and me. He’d be sad he didn’t have a girlfriend anymore, sure, but would he be sad about losing me in particular? Apparently so. I’d hurt more than his pride. I’d broken his heart. It was awful.

Why did I find that so surprising? At the tender age of twenty-one, I had naively assumed that men and women were vastly different beings. I really thought men entered relationships for the sake of sex and convenience. Companionship at best. Women were the ones who scribbled their married name in the margins of everything and daydreamed about what their children might look like, right? And because I wasn’t imagining his and my future together, I had supposed he wasn’t either.

I liked him a lot. I probably loved him, in as much as someone who doesn’t really know themselves can love another person. I loved the time we spent together. He wasn’t perfect, but neither was I. We were having a lot of fun—right up until he started picking out our children’s names and talking about what we’d do after we got married. You know the next part of the story. I broke his heart. When I told him it was over he cried. I felt his pain and it hurt! He looked so lost and disillusioned. What I couldn’t fathom was why. Not just why did he look so broken up, but why had he been so invested in a future I couldn’t even picture?

I guess saying this was a defining moment would be a bit of an understatement, and also not quite true. It wasn’t until much later that I thought back on that night and understood what had happened, and the significance of it. He had been in love with me. He had wanted a future with me. He’d been the one scribbling our married name in the margins of his notebooks and thinking about our future. Him. The guy. The one who was supposed to be in it for the sex and companionship.

And so I discovered men had hearts too.

Now that I’m older, I can curse my naiveté and shake my head at the ignorance of my younger self. How had I got to twenty-one without knowing men could be just as emotional as women? It’s not my intent for this post to be about the supposed emotional differences between men and women, about the disparity of expectation, about feminism and masculinity, and/or the war(s) between the sexes. But it would be naïve of me again not to acknowledge that a lot of what I’d been taught (and exposed to) in the first twenty years of my life shaped who I was in that relationship—what I brought to it.

Breaking someone’s heart shaped who I was going forward. I’m not going to detail my romantic history here, or tell you about the other heart I broke. That’s another story entirely. I will say that the most successful relationships I had afterward were with men who could have been that guy, however. Men who wore their hearts on their sleeves, for better or worse. I had found my type, and after I grew up a bit and had my own heart shredded a time or two, I looked for him.

I didn’t find him very often. I had mostly stopped reading romance novels because they rarely featured him, the guy who was simultaneously masculine and emotional. I wasn’t interested in seeing the heroine’s heartbreak, I wanted to see his. Not because I’m some sort of sadist, but because I knew it was possible. Not all men were rakes! Not all of them were callous and uncouth. Not all of them were in it just for the sex and companionship.

Ultimately, I found my husband and…he’s going to hate me for this, but you want to know what sealed the deal? On our second formal date, he took me to dinner and a show. We saw Rent. He shed a few tears near the end—and I fell in love.

Which brings me to the point of this ramble. (Yay! She has one!) This is why I enjoy reading and writing male/male romance. (Yes, I’m female and my husband his male, but that’s totally beside the point.)

The rise of the beta hero in heterosexual romance is one of the best things ever to happen to the genre, in my humble opinion. But in male/male romance, it doesn’t matter what type of hero the guys are, they both have to show their hearts or there will be no happy ever after. What makes me happier, though, is the absolute abundance of men in gay romance actively pursuing that happy ever after. Maybe that’s a female perspective on the genre—but maybe not. I’ve read male/male and gay romance by male authors where the hero/heroes are looking for more. They want a partner for something more than sex and companionship. They’re looking for their soulmates too. It’s not just a girl thing. And, often, because of the messed up nature of our society, they have to work so much harder to achieve their goals. Sometimes the sacrifice is greater, the risk higher. And they do it all for love! It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

So here’s to the hearts of men. May they remain sweet (hidden or not), ready to be shared, and beating for the one they love.

This picture is by the awesomely talented NaSyu. Click on the image to visit her gallery at Deviant Art.

ever ever after by nasyu
Ever Ever After by NaSyu