Chasing the past

 

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I’m a bit late with this week’s entry, but my excuse is good. It’s school holidays and we had visitors so instead of writing, I seemed to either be making food or cleaning up. Making food is my forte, cleaning up is not. Especially as our food obsessed cat lowered his whiskers and hoovered up any remains left by children on the floor and then promptly vomited everywhere, adding to the cleaning.

The last time our guests were here, we had an amazingly fun night out (see my earlier entry “Dancing”). Last night we tried to do the same. Now we all know it never works, but yet try anyway. We had most of the same people and a few extras, the same cocktails and pizza, but the magic just wasn’t there. Instead of one of the best nights out I’ve ever had, despite the debilitating knee injury, and stories that will remain untold on pain of death, there were stifled yawns and a few snarky comments from my overtired husband who’d been out to lunch all day, the poor man. Instead of dancing on into the wee hours, we were home by 11.

Fun nights out require spontaneity and a willingness to remove “no” from your vocabulary. More food? More drinks? Nightclub? Dwarves? Yes to all! They’re also one of the few things that practise does not make you better, only worse, as cynicism has no power and familiarity is a dampener. It’s like when you had a great holiday when you are younger and you go back years later and its just not the same. You’ve changed, so has the country and the people you met there have moved on. It would be better to never go back or try to recreate, as all it does is layer over the good memories with less stellar ones. But yet, the desire to go back and try to do it all again is almost irresistible. Just ask all those creepy old men in bars still trying to pick up the 18 year olds or the 45 year olds off their trollies at music festivals. They might be at the extreme end of things, but everyone does it to a certain extent. If I got a call saying everyone was back in town and we’re going out again tonight, I’d be readying my outfit in a trice, despite knowing that the chances of it being another amazing night weren’t great. Really we’re just Pavlov’s dogs slathering at the ringing bell of pleasure.

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Losing the plot

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When books are reduced to their most basic “A” leads to “B” leads to “C”, there are only a few unique plotlines. Buyers in the romance sector are mostly women in the first world, so there are even fewer applicable plotlines and you’re pitching to a relatively tolerant society. Now you can’t just have people meeting and getting on famously like they do in real life, because that’s a very short and boring book. Accordingly, you need to cause conflict. The question is, what? There needs to be an inherent or created incompatibility between the main characters to create tension. Their drives or desires need to be at odds, but at the same time surmountable, because there needs to be a happily ever after at the end.

So what could possibly hold two people apart in a reality based contemporary romance novel, without being too manufactured or done to death? No longer can you just use the Romeo & Juliet excuse of “the families don’t like each other” because that’s not how it works for most people in modern societies. Many people couldn’t pick their cousins out of a line up, let alone generate a deep enough family loyalty that goes beyond their immediate relatives to prevent them from doing anything. Certainly not enough to stop them getting their freak on at the club on a Saturday night.

I had a conversation about this with the always delightful Jennifer Lane, who has a book coming out where the protagonists are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Politics used to be one of those things that you could never talk about in polite company in case you started an argument, but that no longer seems to hold. Politicians don’t have the glamour that they used to have back in the 50’s and 60’s, when they seemed to have almost rock star status. The media’s attitude to them and intrusion into all facets of their lives has taken away any mystery. We know they are all just people with regular people problems and their job seems to have a whole lot of drudgery attached, which is all very unromantic. And maybe it’s just me not really caring too much about politics, but to be honest I don’t really mind what my partner’s political beliefs are as long as I never have to attend another political fundraiser (dear God, those things are as relentlessly boring as a primary school talent show and the wine is usually crap).

Religion? This one’s a tougher cookie and most romance writers won’t touch it with a hundred foot stylus. With this one there is too much conflict and the real potential to offend. When your main aim is entertainment, the last thing you want to deal with is death threats.

Race? Society is generally too tolerant for that to be a significant enough issue to keep people apart. What would once have been scandalous is now commonplace and not even remarked upon. Creating conflict around this would be hard without sounding like a bigot.

Status? Done to death. Cinderella and all those Billionaire books (seriously? Has anyone checked out the photos of actual billionaires before they write these? There are only 23 of them in the world under 30 and they look like Mark Zuckerberg not Robert Pattinson).

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So where am I going with this? Nowhere to be precise. I struggle to create realistic conflict without alienating readers (my second book about an unfaithful wife received very mixed reactions) so I have no answers. The market wants what it wants, which is good looking billionaire alpha males (who don’t seem to work much) seducing impoverished virgins. Given the restrictions on what you can write (check out the list of rules on a lot of the publishers’ websites if you don’t believe me) it’s no wonder many novels sound the same and the market is saturated. Novels like Fifty Shades are great because the conflict was new even though the characters themselves were clichéd. Although those novels were heavily criticised, the fact that they broke out of the Romance novel box should be acknowledged.

I’ve nearly finished my third book, which like my first is paranormal. I’m often asked why I write books with supernatural elements, and this is the reason. Aliens, vampires and dystopian stories appeal to a lot of writers as new conflicts can be created because the rules of reality don’t apply. When you spend around a year writing about something, you need to make it interesting and internally coherent for yourself or the delete button starts singing its seductive siren song.

 

Minions Required

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Fuck me, I need a drink. And a minion. Maybe a host of minions (is that the collective noun? No idea but I’m going to go with it.) If I had a host of minions, there’d be one just to get me a drink and another look up the collective nouns for things. The rest would be hard at work, doing all the shit that I either don’t have time for or the necessary fucks to give one away willy-nilly. I might even dedicate one to swearing for me, as it’s unladylike and my mother always thought it important that I be a lady, not that I think that’s been overly successful.

I like writing. I enjoy it and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. What I am quickly coming to not enjoy so much is the other stuff that you have to do. I’m sure it’s been raised by other people, but if you’re responding to facebook and twitter constantly, when exactly are you supposed to write? What about joining groups? Start up a conversation, with witting sayings inserted in appropriate places, until everyone is madly in love with your writing style and will instantly download your book. Excellent strategy, except everyone else is doing that too and once everyone does it, the forums quickly becoming extraordinarily boring with everyone trying to market to each other. There really is nothing more desperate that writers trying to get other writers to buy their stuff.

Host an event! Invite people to attend and they will invite their friends and soon you’ll be famous! Another excellent strategy except I have no idea how to do that. The only parties I’ve held successfully have involved darkened rooms and lots of alcohol. How can I be witty and exciting when, being on the other side of the world, it’s the early hours of the morning and I can’t see anyone’s face? Hmmm… actually maybe that does have some possibilities. If no one knows what I look like, I can be Batman!

Rant over, I do need to knuckle down and listen to my lovely PR person, who is only trying to help. The market is saturated at the moment, so I’m given to understand, and it’s hard to stand out. And dressing like Batman really won’t be enough. Damn it!

 

Freedom’s Illusion

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As a parent, I hear a lot of “When I’m 18/38/45, I’m going to … and you’re not going to be able to stop me.” Though I’m explained it many times as best I could the fact that when they’re an adult, I wont be telling them what to do and that its entirely possible when they get to 38/45 (but hopefully not 18) they will have children of their own that they will be stopping from having a slushy for breakfast or sliding down the stairs on a cardboard box using their brother as an airbag.

As a writer, I look like I have a lot of freedom as I spend most of my time in coffee shops. Not just because they bring me caffeine and tasty treats, but also I find it a good place to get writing done as I don’t have internet access or a host of other procrastination opportunities. I go to places where I won’t run into anyone I know and start to chat and therefore if I’m not writing, I’ve got nothing else to do but stare at a wall (which I also do a lot of regardless). To an outsider, this looks ideal and for the most part its a pretty great job. I get paid to do something I genuinely enjoy, which is not something I can say about any other job I’ve had. Given I was doing it for years with no income being generated, that’s pretty telling. There’s no other job I would have done for free. But it’s not always fun. It can be frustrating when I know what I want to say, but can’t get it to read the way I want it to and lets not even talk about the excruciating boredom of the endless editing that is required to polish a book before anyone can see it. Like any job though, it has to be done. What freedom I have lies in the when, not the if.

This is the case for most things as an adult. Sure you get more say in how your life runs, but there are a lot of obligations. Unpleasant things that you have to do. You can put them off as long as you like, but when no one else is going to clean out the fish tank or the kitty litter, there’s only so long you can put it off before it moves to a whole new level of gross. Grocery shopping needs to be done, as does the laundry. These are all only a matter of time and as soon as you finishing doing it, the clock starts ticking on when you’ll have to do it again.

I know people who pay other people to do a lot of life’s less pleasant tasks, though there is usually a trade off somewhere. Even friends with more money than they know quite what to do with still have obligations. If they earned the money themselves, they’ve usually got a full-on job that takes up all their spare time and energy. If they’ve got it from family or from marrying it, they are usually beholden to the person who is providing that money and seem to be on call whenever that person requires them and have to adjust their lives to suit someone else’s whim.

Is there really any freedom beyond the superficial? Ironically, children who appear to have the least amount of control actually have the most freedom. They can wear a pink tutu with purple spotted leggings and no one will judge them. They can skip down the street singing the national anthem backwards and no one will have them committed. Still, I have no desire to go back to being a child and not just because my childhood wasn’t that great. Life is in the details and I decide the when and the where, even if not always the what. As the ever quotable Meatloaf said, “two out of three ain’t bad”.