When I told my grandfather that I am writing romance, he made a face and said I should rather write something real, and serious. As if stories concentrating on love and relationships aren’t real and something you shouldn’t waste your time with. It’s an opinion about genre fiction you get to hear all the time, mostly without having asked for it. It’s so entrenched that I still felt I had to apologize for writing it when I had long realized that those are the stories I’m drawn to. I end up writing them over and over again. It’s also the stories I have been reading all my life, so no big surprise there.
I was ashamed of reading romance all my life, too. The cheesy covers sure were no help in lessening the stigma. Each time I got a new one at the railway station kiosk or the supermarket, marked down in price for being remaindered, I fixed my eyes on the floor and avoided to meet anyone’s eyes – especially those of the cashier – at all costs. But the thirst was real, and I needed a new romance novel every few days. I still have them all, cluttering the lower shelves of my bookcases. They’re hidden behind more *respectable* reading material. For some reason, I don’t manage to get rid of them. I haven’t bought a new romance book in a while, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pull out some Christina Dodd, Amanda Quick or Eloisa James once in a while and reread my favorites.
Those books made me feel when nothing else could. I found comfort in stories of feisty heroines fighting for their right to love and to live like they wanted. I found strength in their defiance, and, let’s be real, I discovered more than one kink between the pages of paperback love. So why should I be ashamed of my love of romance? Why are the words about love and two people finding each other and overcoming their differences and conflicts lesser in worth than other words? Lesser even than other genre fiction like Sci-Fi or Crime? Sure, not every genre novel is a literary gem, but that doesn’t mean that the genre as a whole is trash. I still think that Anne Golon’s Angélique series is among some of the best books I ever read, and it was marketed as romance for lack of a better label.
Romance novels aren’t just about love and, well, romance. They’re about women, and for women, and that’s probably the thing that makes them *less* than your average fiction written by the average white male dude. Sexism is as strong in publishing as it is as anywhere else – just take a look at Young Adult fiction.
It’s no surprise, I think, that it’s my grandfather criticizing my choices in the stories I write. He’s someone who certainly never even touched a romance novel and judges the genre as a whole by its cover. I found the opinion so deeply ingrained in myself that I defended my writing of romance to a former – male – lecturer from my university with the apologetic words of “Someone has to write it.”
“I know,” he said. He, for his part, is an unapologetic, avid reader of romance.
I’m still working on emancipating myself from prejudice. Now that I accepted my fate, so to speak, accepted that stories about love and overcoming conflict are not only my jam in reading but also the thing I write most passionately about, I had to do some soul-searching. I had to face the root of my hesitance and my prejudices and question their origins. Once I became aware of the systemic sexism in the publishing industry and the underlying devaluation of women’s words and stories, I refused to let myself feel ashamed for it any longer.
I’m no longer apologetic of my writing, and I no longer hide the covers of the books I read.
In Penelope’s Choice, Penelope’s secret crush, librarian Miss Dearly, catches her stealing a naughty book – and presents her with three exquisite punishments to choose from to make up for her transgression. Penelope could just leave, but something about Miss Dearly’s offer is too delicious to be passed up on, and so Penelope has to make a choice.
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When Penelope follows the captivating librarian into the back of the library after being caught at sneaking out a naughty book, she expects to be banned forever. Instead, Miss Dearly presents her with three exquisite punishments to choose from to make up for her transgression. She can either subject herself to one of these disciplinary measures or leave with nothing but a note on her library card and her dignity unscathed. But what will be Penelope’s choice?
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It’s easy to get overwhelmed and disheartened when browsing ebook categories and trying to work out the space where your own story fits. *Knowing your market* can easily drift off into *the market is full already there’s no space for me*. Maybe it’s not that important to know the competition, though. Sure, always do your research, but maybe the most important thing amongst it all is just to WRITE YOUR STORY. So, there are 1001 naughty fairy tales out there… but not yours. And if fanfiction taught me one thing, then it is that the thirst for certain tropes never dies. There are countless variations of ONE idea/trope, but all of them are unique, and they all have their readers. So I will not hang my head. There’s a lot of space in the universe.
The key to writing a story is routine. The key to routine is discipline. Discipline is a concept I constantly struggle with. Is it such a surprise then that I constantly struggle with my self-esteem, too, when I fail so much at this most basic concept?
I have my self-doubt so ingrained in me that it’s hard to get past it. My inner critic is constantly telling me that I’m not good enough, that I will never succeed. That I’m a failure, and a disappointment. My inner critic is a filthy liar, though, and maybe I just have to give him the face of someone I despise so as to learn to unhear him. My inner critic is a cold-hearted man with a burning loathing of those living in a world of words and stories. He begrudges them their dreams and thoughts because he never was allowed to follow his dreams, and no one ever thought he could have even one sensitive bone under his pasty skin, no thought beyond what’s sensible and pragmatic. He calls it reality, he calls it truth, but it isn’t. It’s his grudge speaking out of him, his disappointment with himself.
My inner critic wears a familiar face, and I must not trust him. My inner critic is a liar, and I have to emancipate myself from him. I have to learn to believe in myself. And anyway, even discipline can be learned. All it needs is structure and time. I don’t have structure, but I do have enough time to build it.
After a sort-of-timeout of three years, it’s time to get back on track. I learned a lot in that time, and to be completely honest, I don’t feel ready yet to leave my seclusion. If it was only for me, I would keep writing and posting stories for free on my fandom blog. The publishing process scares me. The thought of actually submitting a manuscript to a publisher terrifies me, and so I keep putting it off. As long as I don’t submit anything, I’m not in any danger of rejection, and I can still cling to my dream of one day. But I am not alone, it’s not only me. I have a real life with real responsibilities, in this case a family in need of a new car. Which means, I need to start making some money. Not a lot, thankfully. Just a little.
I need a plan.
Since I’m so scared of submitting my work to agents or publishers, and I generally like being my own boss, I’m going to take the self-publishing route. At least for a little while. Which brings me right back to my need for a plan. I once took a project management class at university, but I guess I forgot a lot of that stuff, and it’s been a while. But it can’t hurt to make a list so as to visualize the things I need to do in order to reach my goals.
My goals could be divided in long term and short term goals; the latter are smaller and probably easier to achieve, whereas the former involve a lot of work, dedication and practice. Of course the immediate goals require work too, but they’re easier to realize. My passion, of course, lies with my long term goals. I have dreams, and I’m pursuing them.
For now, though, the first step on my way will probably be to finish the stories I’m working on. I won’t need a website or a mailing list if I don’t have the content to go along with it. It’s necessary to learn about publishing and marketing, but it all starts and ends with writing. So back to the keyboard.
(But hey, I’m a procrastinator par excellence, so I guess I’m going to make that list first…)
I developed a bit of a condition here… I’m still on my daily wordcount goal of 300 words, and after I had a bit of a slump, not writing a word for several days, I began to count anything into my wordcount out of sheer despair. Blog posts. Emails. Everything. Then I started a short story that has lingered in my head for a while now, but even this didn’t get the juices flowing. Then I decided to write something that haunted me.
You know how you can develop a so called ship? I didn’t know what this meant until I entered tumblr and somehow slid into the depths of a fandom. Well, I know how it felt to ship a character with another, but I didn’t know there was a whole terminology for it (yes, I googled “OTP” – it means One True Pairing, just for the record). I didn’t know this could happen with my own characters. I mean, sometimes it’s intended to happen (writing romance without a ship is not a good idea), but in my case, it’s not. These two characters can under no circumstances end up in any relationship whatsoever, especially since one of them is the villain (yes, my antagonist is also a villain, happens to the best of us) and the other one is the hero of my story. They’re opposed in insuperable conflict that ends with one of them dead. But I ship them so hard. So I decided to give me some writing practice and write my own fanfiction. Let them get hot and steamy with each other without any intention of ever – ever – including it in the book (let alone let it see the light of day). Without any intention of even fitting it into the story.
And suddenly, I write 3000 instead of 300 words a day. Might be that this is without merit, since it’s written with the specific premise of never seeing a printing press. Perhaps I waste my days. But I don’t think so. It gets my creative mojo flowing, and I try to incorporate some writing exercises. I think it’s not the what you write everyday that is important, but the that you write everyday. (Uh, sorry for any deadly grammatical sins I committed here). The more words you produce, the more likely it is there are some gems among them. And if not, it’s still easier to work with already written words than to produce brilliance from scratch.
And it helps me to free my head from any haunting shipper feels that could invade my story. They’re all packed up now, neat and tidy, in their own folder. And hey, if you never write just for your own fun, why you’re doing this at all? Yes, being a writer includes seeing writing as your job, but what good is it if you have absolutely no fun in your job? Right, you’re likely going to quit or develop a serious stress disorder.
So, have fun, stay positive and write your own fanfiction.
Ok, a while back (and it really is a while, was it last NaNo or the one before that? Anyway), the peeps of my favourite Office of Letters and Light asked about our dreamcast, should our novel be made into a film… While I’m not harbouring any hope (well, at least only a teenytiny one) of that ever happening, it can be worthwhile to give your characters a face. Of course you should know how they look like, at least roughly, because it’s never going to sit well with your readers if your hero starts out with green eyes and ends up with blue ones. They notice these kind of things.
Nevertheless, I never really pictured my character’s appearance in great depths. I knew: This one is red haired and has really white skin. The other one has green eyes with golden flecks. And the third is dark haired and big. Period. You think this is not enough? Possibly. But their appearace is not my main focus. I focus on character voice, on how this characters sounds and speaks and thinks. Add a memorable detail (ah, yes, the glass slippers of every story), something that sticks out – Harry Potter had his scar, his always broken glasses and his disheveled hair – and you’re done. Characters take their shape in the readers imagination, through their voice and actions.
Of course, sometimes there is a face that is just perfect. An actor that incorporates every trait you’ve given your character. That’s fine. I’m sure, you could describe said character (with this person’s face) in every last minuscule detail, and he could look completely different in your reader’s mind.
Point is: Your characters have to be as vivid and alive as they can be in your head, to enable you to bring them down onto the page. But that doesn’t mean they require an actual face. You don’t need to paint them in oil. Looks can be means to an end, but your character should not rely only on his outer appearance. There will be people who yell at this “Noooo, you have to picture them down to the last chappy toenail, you have to seeee them, how else can you write them!?” I say: trust your gut. Only you know how much appearance and looks and chappy toenails you need to envision your character. I know how much (or more, less) vision I need. As I said, I’m pretty sketchy with looks. That doesn’t keep my heroes and villains and protagonist and antagonists from being very much alive and distinct, at least in my imagination.
Now, as sketchy as the looks of your character can remain, his bearing – the way he presents himself, the way he moves and gestures and mimics – is something totally different. This is essential. Part of his voice. But I’ll come back to this.
I’m procrastinating. Again, I know what I have to do (oh, and I get to introduce another character, yay), but I’m just a little bit…not motivated. I hoped I could finish my draft in april. But I spoke with a Chemist this week to clear up some of the science-stuff in my book. I learned that a quick and even a not so quick Wikipedia check isn’t going to do the trick if you have no idea what you’re writing about. (Well, I kind of knew that before, since it was the reason for speaking with my Chemist in the first place). Real people explain a lot more a lot better than even the most exhaustive research can do.
But now I know I have to change another large chunk of text. Which is good, really, because I felt that particular strand of my story being a bit thin and shallow and altoghether insufficient. And that talk gave me lots of fresh ideas and input and helped me to give my story more believeability and stability. But right now I’m too sluggish to get it done.
I still could finish this draft in april. I really could. I probably should. Guess I’m riding the downward slope again.
One of the TV shows I’m obsessed with has a saying: “Magic is Power” (You’re wrong, Cersei Lannister would say: Power is Power). I’m not arguing against neither saying.
For me, Words are Magic. Words can wield power. Words can seduce. Words can evoke the fluttering wings of hummingbirds, brushing against the inside of your belly. Words can arouse. Words can devastate.
Words are magical, that’s why it is possible for a poem or a song or a book to bring you to tears. George R.R. Martin has the power to build worlds out of words that are so real you can smell and taste and feel them. Fiona Apple writes songs that clench my stomach to little knots, and twist and turn them upside down. And Robert Carlyle (don’t get me even started on his perfection) has a voice that can turn the most ordinary words into something oscillating deep inside you, something resonating with your diaphragm, like dew glistening in the first light of morning and deep breaths of clean air.
I may be a bit florid here. Point is: Words are Magic. Words touch you where nothing else can touch you, inside your brain, inside your heart. Inside you.
That’s why everyone wielding the power of words – singers and songwriters, writers, actors – has my utmost respect. In some cases my eternal devotion (yeah, that’s why I said don’t even get me started – I may miss the appropiate gateway to leave the conversation with my dignity still intact).