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Monday, September 26, 2016

Practicing Self-Love in Front of the World

I was on a roll writing last night. Going to bed very late means getting up very late. But while I'm riding the wave to finish the last three Bloodlines books, blogging may be sporadic the next couple of months. That's not to say I'll be totally quiet...

Who do you write for?

It's a simple question, right? Or is it?

"I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it." - Toni Morrison, author of Beloved

I totally understand where Ms. Morrison is coming from.

Most writers can answer the first question of writing, which is "Why do you write?"

And regardless of the answer, it raises a second question I find most writers, old and new, don't ask themselves. "Who are you writing for?"

Some writers will answer, "For the readers."

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But do they really understand what the readers want?

I see and hear so many writers, particularly the new ones, jump on a particular bandwagon because the subject matter/genre are what sells at the moment. Then they are shocked when their "perfect" story for a subject matter/genre doesn't sell.

I've read some of these stories. There's no passion. No spark. Nothing to set them apart from the crowd. In fact, there's times where the contempt for the subject matter shines.

Want some examples of the badness?

Let me start by saying I love Meg Cabot's writing. Absolutely love her! And I love vampire romances, which is why a friend gave me Meg's book Insatiable for Christmas of 2010. Two of my favorite things should be better than those two-pound Reese's cups Hershey puts out for holidays, right?

Ah, no. If you want to read the Amazon reviews, many readers thought the same thing I did. The characterization was piss-poor, and the heroine's constant derogatory comments about the genre did not sit well. Now, maybe Meg was trying to do a witty parody that fell flat on its face. However, I suspect a gun was held to her head by her publisher and/or her agent who told her to jump on the vampire train or else.

Want another example? Fifty Shades of Gray gives a perverted view of the BDSM lifestyle by indicating something is wrong for a person to enjoy it. BDSM has its own rules, none which were in play in this book. The heroine "saves" the hero from his "bad" choices through her "love" at the end of the series. E.L. James didn't bother to do any research, and there's a tangible contempt for anyone who likes BDSM.

But, Suzan, I hear you say, both of the books you mentioned ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List!

Yes, they did. Insatiable based on Meg's reputation. FSoG because of it's basis as Twilight fanfic and the novelty of a taboo subject.

Now, without going to Amazon.com or any other website or bookshelf, name a follow-up to either of those two books in the same genre that did just as well or better. I'll be extra generous; if you can name one book published after 2010 in the comments, I'll revise part of my opinion and give you full credit.

But the part where these books were painful to read because these two authors didn't enjoy writing them? I definitely stand by that opinion.

And I have to wonder if this is where part of the tortured writer mythos is coming from. You must drag yourself to your desk everyday, crafting a story you neither respect or find desirable to read if someone else wrote it, and only when you write the perfect story, the perfect paragraph, the perfect line, on a subject you hate will you find fulfillment.

I'm a proponent of write what you love. If I'm not having fun, it shows. In fact, I rewrote "Diplomacy in the Dark" after my beta reader pointed out, "This wasn't as good as 'Justice'."

I didn't expect them to point out craft flaws, but I did ask some pointed questions. The response came down to, "It felt like you were going through the motions."

And they were right. The first draft was too much like something George R.R. Martin would write. I was trying too hard to emulate someone else's success. And frankly, I didn't enjoy writing it.

So I started over from scratch. On the second try, I got "Now this reads for like a Justice Anthea story!" from my beta.

And while different people like different characters in the Bloodlines series, the overwhelming favorite is Sam Ridgeway. I have fun writing her, and it definitely shows to the readers.

You see, I wrote Sam for me when I was in a very bad place in my life. Complications from my first pregnancy left me unable to have any more children. My marriage was falling apart. My first business had failed due to economic circumstance truly beyond my control.

What it came down to was I needed something, anything, fun, or the depression would have consumed me. And Sam was fun.

But she was also my lifeline. My inspiration. If she could climb out of the hellhole of her death, I could find a way to deal with my own problems.

So I wrote to entertain myself first. And I continue to write for me. It doesn't mean I don't care about the readers. But if I'm not laughing and crying along with my characters, if I'm not enjoying the story, I know my readers won't either.

My unconscious resentment of writing something I don't like will show in the story.

One of the best piece of writing advice I've received was from Tobias Buckell. At a talk he gave, the subject of his work in the Halo universe came up. He said some writers will produce contracted tie-in stories just for the paycheck. Tobias's criteria was "Will I have fun doing this project?"

I think the fun quotient is important for a writer no matter who signs the paychecks.

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