The danger of reading my own books

OMD teasingI’ve been going through One More Day, looking for quotes to make teasers.  Advertising tools, basically.  This is the life of an Indie Author.  We don’t have a publishing machine to do it for us, so you’d better learn a little photoshop, 3D modeling, marketing, layout design, and so much more.

But that’s not the rant I want to have today!  No… Today I want to talk about what happens when I read a novel I wrote.  I want to write the next one!  I always think about what happens next, about where the characters end up.  In this case, my problem is a supporting character named Colby.

He’s cute, he’s quirky, he has a mouth like, well, a tattoo artist, and he’s stuck between overconfident alpha male and insecurity.  Getting used by women has a tendency to do that to a guy, I’d think.

But Colby is a great guy, under all the rough edges and ink.  He just isn’t that lucky in love, but he deserves to be.  He deserves to face his demons, beat them down, and reign victorious over his own life.  He also sounds like a character that is going to be a LOT of fun to write.

But, When We Were Dancing is at the top of my list right now.  I can’t do anything until it’s on the shelves – even though I wanna.  To pacify myself, I’m spending my time away from the computer (you know, when I can’t be writing) debating his plotline.  Now, my only question, is if he ends up with the girl he met in One More Day, or if she breaks his heart, too.  Hmm…

Strong Female Characters

Have you ever noticed that a “strong” woman is one that’s almost as good as a man?  Oh, I’m not saying that women are the same as men, but equal doesn’t mean identical.  I’m a strong woman.  I can’t lift much more than 50 pounds at a time, but I can run my own business.  One is not better than the other, but both types of strength deserve to be valued for what they are.

I’m a voracious reader.  In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of female leads.  The Hunger Games, Divergent, and so many more.  Angelina Jolie played Salt.  Ghost Busters is being redone with an all female cast.  Someone has figured out that women can actually do more than wear bikinis and be available for easy sex.  Oddly, that hasn’t resulted in a lot of STRONG female characters.

A lot of “not weak” ladies doesn’t mean they should be called strong.  Here’s how I see it:

A weak female character is the typical damsel in distress.  She’s picked up and held in the tower to further some man’s storyline.  She has no agency of her own.  She isn’t allowed to do anything that might have any effect on anything.  Her only job is to have some nice boobs and fall madly in love with the man who rescues her.  She’s a prop.  She’s no more human than a vase sitting on a shelf, but there’s a good chance that she’s awfully nice to look at.

Then we have today’s modern women characters.  Some people call them strong simply because they have agency.  These ladies can make up their mind and have unique ideas.  The problem is that they can’t do anything about them on their own.  When they are kidnapped and taken to the tower, they say, “I need to get out of here.”  The man in the cell beside them tells them how to do it, then proceeds to hold her hand the entire time.  Without HIM, she never would have managed to get a thing done.  Oh, she’s capable, but only as a part of a team.  She’s the ever present sidekick.  The Harley Quinn to their Joker.

After them are the Strong Female Characters.  These women get kidnapped and placed in the tower, work with the man to form the plan, and then do exactly as much good as him to get free.  They are strong.  They are capable.  Yet, they are never allowed to do a single thing BETTER than their partner.  She kills the exact same number of evil villains as he does.  She frees exactly the same number of people.  If he unlocks the door to their cell, she unlocks the door that gets them out of the tower.  I love reading/watching these ladies in modern stories.  To me, they are wonderful, strong, and such a refreshing change of pace.  But they aren’t MY strong ladies.

When I write stories, I like to make insanely strong female characters.  If the bad guy does kidnap them and lock them in the tower, she’ll be the one that breaks out the hottie in the cell beside her, probably making him worship her in the process.  Then, she’ll save all the slaves, show her boy toy how to get out, using the strength of the person most capable to do it, and send everyone off to live happily ever after – but she’s not done.  As soon as her friends are safe, she’ll blow up the tower, ride to the villain’s lair, kick his ass, get revenge for every wrong, and take part in not only overthrowing the corrupt government, but also instilling a new and better designed one.  After which she goes home to cry on her daddy’s shoulder, introduce the hottie to her mom, and maybe have a wonderful family.

In other words, I don’t think the ladies can never be better than the man.  Sometimes she’s the brain and he’s the brawn.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  Just like men can be the hero, so can the women.  You see, I grew up playing games, watching movies, and reading books, wishing that I could be bad ass, too.  The world told me I wasn’t pretty enough (no matter how pretty I was, it wasn’t enough), I couldn’t be smart enough unless I was pretty enough, and I would never ever be as good as a man in the same field – unless I wanted to specialize in raising babies.  Problem is, I kinda hate kids.

I would hate to see another generation of girls who grow up thinking that they are almost good enough to save the world.  My stories may not appeal to everyone, but if just one girl reads one and thinks, “Hey, if I put my mind to it, I can do it!” then I’ve done my job as an author.  If one boy reads my books and thinks, “Wow, women are just like me.” then I’ve changed the world – one mind at a time.

Being strong isn’t about how much a person can lift.  It’s about something so much deeper than that.  It’s the strength to fall down seven times and get up eight.  That’s it.

What’s in my Head

Some authors have another world living in their head.  I have a universe.

These range from contemporary romances, like One More Day, to flights of fancy, like Black and White.  I dwell in urban fantasies where djinni and undines mingle with earth elementals called humans, then move to ancient times where Roman-like  citizens learn they are the bastard children of gods.  From princess gladiators to science fiction corporate monarchies, I wallow in them all.

To me, they are all important.  I love strong female characters.  Not “men with boobs” but real women, with real women’s issues, who do real girly things (uh, whatever that is).  I write about ladies who kick ass and ladies who get their asses kicked.  I write about winners and losers, brave people and cowards.  My beta readers never know what will hit them next.  Sometimes they are good guys, and sometimes they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the way a story makes you feel when you reach the last line.

And I love them all.  From Riley to Khellian, my characters take on a life of their own, and I must help them tell the world their history.  For a moment in time, they live in my head, and I have to be true to them.

I never thought I’d be an author.  As a child I liked to draw.  As a teen I loved music and dance.  In college, I tried hard to do what I “should”, so studied biology.  I worked with animals and people.  I had jobs in offices and at home.  For the most part, I was never happy, until I started writing this stupid little story, just to get it out of my head.

And now, I can’t stop.  I typically manage between 4k and 15k words a day (average is about 10k, unless I need to do research).  I let the characters live, usually with a cat on my chest and a dog curled up at my feet, because this – telling their stories – is my job.

Nice Guys are Sexy

One of my biggest pet peeves in Romance are the jerks.  The alpha males who treat women like dirt, and female readers eat it up.  We’ve all (probably) seen the complaints about a specific BDSM book, but it’s not the only one.  Stalking, harassment, verbal abuse… all of this is treated as male dominance, and portrayed as “proof” that a man is interested.  Thanks, I’ll pass.

Where are the compliments, the sweet gestures, the steamy teasing that is really, truly, and honestly HOT?  Sure, it’s a lot harder to make that broke college guy into a sex pot, but are we really trying to convince the world that being a douche canoe with bucks is better than being broke with a kind heart?  Trust me, I’d be much more likely to jump into bed with a guy that makes me coffee every morning than one that told me what to wear.  And if that sweet man remembers that my dog likes this brand of treats over that?  Oh yeah!  Makes my heart pitter patter.

My mother’s generation read books where hunky barbarians raped women – who then fell in love with them.  Yeah, not sexy.  When I was a young thing, the men were workaholics who ignored their women, until they needed some sexual fulfillment.  Nope, don’t think so.  And so, I’m doing my best to write REAL men.

Sexy isn’t just about looks.  I’ve seen some pretty nice looking guys who are a complete turn off when they open their mouths, because it’s nothing but misogynistic comments that fall out.  Hey, bud, I don’t wanna be your little rubber fuck doll, kthxbai.

What gets me swooning are the men who can be the nice guy.  Those guys who get sweaty palms and try to play it off.  The men who may be powerful and worldly, but are reduced to blushing and dorky smiles by the attention of THEIR dream girl.  The men who want to protect their woman, but know that she doesn’t necessarily NEED them, and find a way to do it without treating her like a pet.  I want to read about the man who cries at chick flicks, or the one that sends flirty texts – not kinky ones.  I want to see these guys treated as sexy, not as the wanna be dorkus who won’t ever be getting a piece.

Nice guys finish last because we women put them there.  We reward the assholes (and idolize them IRL) then wonder why men treat us like shit.  Uh, DUH!  Sure, nice guys are easier to make into a pushover, but that doesn’t mean they are.  Nice guys are nice.  They fall in love, romance their dream girl, and treat her like a treasure, not something they deserve.  We need more men like this.  If I read another book about some dick that abuses his girlfriend until she falls madly, I’m gonna scream.

Write What You Know

While surfing twitter for a bit this morning (great way to jumpstart the brain.  Add coffee, and it’s the best procrastination), I read a very inspirational blog about writing what you know.  And while I agree with most of it, I disagree with the overall sentiment.  I think that one phrase is among the most misunderstood in the trade of writing.

People hear “write what you know”  and think, “Well, I know how to go to high school.  I know how to work at McDonalds.  I know how to ignore three screaming kids when dinner is late.”  No, that’s not really what it means.

Do you know how it feels to hate someone so much it consumes your life?  What about the crushing pain of seeing someone you love die?  Maybe it’s the thrill of achieving the impossible, or the anxiety that comes just before you present your ideas to the world?  THAT, my friends, is what you know.

Writing is not about words, it’s about emotions.  I will never know what it is like to be a weak woman.  I’m strong willed in the way of a rhinoceros.  These typical characters who let the world walk over them?  Yep, don’t get it, could never write it (and I tried).  I can still write sad, happy, or crazy characters… but they will always have some kind of strength.  Whether that’s Mackenzie’s quiet determination to not hurt anyone with her issues, or another character who deals with her problems by cussing louder and just getting a bigger shovel to dig herself out of the proverbial shit.

I know what it feels like to fall in love.  I know what it feels like to be scared of it.  I know what it feels like to die a little when that love suddenly ends.  The highs, the lows, and the anguish are all things I can close my eyes and nearly taste.

All it means to “write what you know” is to take those feelings, those emotions, and those dreams, and stick them in a framework that makes sense.  Falling in love in high school?  YA.  Falling in love with a billionaire?  Romance.  Falling in love with an alien?  Science Fiction.  Falling in love with a dragon?  Fantasy.  Yes, I’m being hyperbolic, but I think you can see what I mean.

Write what you feel.  Write what you can understand.  If you want to make your readers fall in love with the fantasies that live in your head, write what you know with the kind of clarity that cuts right through their eyes and into the darkest pits of their hearts, and festers.  Write the kind of emotions we long to have in our everyday life, and those that we hope to never feel again.

What makes beauty?

Thinking someone is attractive is a very subjective thing.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.  A beautiful woman with a poisonous attitude isn’t necessarily appealing.  An ugly woman with a heart of gold may be.  It just depends on who is doing the judging.

I try hard to keep this in mind when writing.  In One More Day, Mackenzie finds herself to be chubby, boring, and completely forgettable, but Ryan doesn’t agree.  He sees himself as a loser covered in tattoos, and assumes that every glance is a judgement against his past.  Mackenzie doesn’t agree.  This isn’t a problem that is confined to women, but something we all suffer through.

Society creates expectations.  Boys see impossibly perfect (photoshopped) women, and treat them as the “norm”.  Girls hear that, and think they can never be good enough.  But it’s not just women who fall into this trap.

Every Romance novel cover out there has some beefcake with abs of steel and airbrush.  Faces are stretched, pulled, smoothed, and reformed to be ideal, but look around.  Dad bods and imperfection are amazing.  Women fall for little things, like a twinkle in his eyes, the way he cradles his coffee so gently, or the sound of his laugh, but we never tell men this.  We let society pressure them just as much as it does us, and in the end, we’re all convinced that we can’t be the beautiful hero in the story.

All of my heroes are real people, portrayed through the gaze of someone who finds them amazing.  That doesn’t mean the entire world does.  Read closer, and you’ll see the hints.