Horrible People

Characters in a book are easy to make irredeemable, but you try not to, because you get criticized for making them one dimensional. You try to put a bit of good in with the bad to give them some texture because it makes them more realistic. But sometimes that’s not true to life. Some people you encounter really are just that awful.

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I hadn’t given it much thought until I encountered one recently. Generally, if someone is behaving badly you can write it off as a bad day, too much to drink, going through a difficult time in their lives, et cetera. From asking around, it seemed this man was genuinely what he appeared. He was loud, obnoxious and completely unattractive, both externally and internally. Literally there is no stage of drunk you could reach where he would be even tolerable. He appeared to have no knowledge of this though and regaled everyone in shouting distance of how fantastic he was. He was that stereotypical older privileged white male who travelled to third world countries a lot from the locations given for the anecdotes and you can only imagine what he got up to there. With the advent of political correctness and greater understanding of different cultures, I had thought that this type of man didn’t exist anymore. Racism and sexism are generally better hidden than in this throwback to the seventies. And I mean the 1770’s. I gained a new insight into how the atrocities towards the native inhabitants occurred when white people first arrived.

What it made me realise is that when it’s not in your face, you tend to forget stuff like this is still there. If someone isn’t drunkenly shouting absurd and increasingly vulgar statements at you, you can ignore it. A sly comment here or there, an attitude that is slightly offensive to another racial group or a patronising compliment that reinforces gender stereotypes are all easily glossed over. It is easier to ignore it than to confront someone and have your interpretation denied. In one way, it was reassuring that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this man and that as a society we’ve come a long way. But in another, the fact that this person was still invited to social functions shows that he hasn’t had to change and is to a certain extent still tolerated.

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It has made me think about who and what I find entertaining. I often laugh at outrageous things and sometimes I’m the one trying to make people laugh by saying things I probably shouldn’t. But where is the line between funny and distasteful? Between being so careful that you become bland and just being pleasant by ensuring that you don’t offend anyone? I struggle sometimes when writing to not censor the words and actions of a character, in order to avoid potentially offending anyone. But sometimes that means that the writing doesn’t ring true, because that fictional person would have said the wrong thing. Of course not every character I write is me, though I realise by this stage in my writing career that people reading a book will generally attribute any attitude expressed to the author. Understanding what is acceptable and what isn’t is difficult with the increasing globalisation of publication, where your book is available in every country almost instantly with no regard for cultural differences.

I’m lucky that I write very commercial books that aren’t taken that seriously but it has to have an impact on people trying to write works of greater literary significance. With everyone chasing publicity, trying to get their name out there ahead of all the millions of other authors, there’s sure to be someone far more offensive in their writing than I could ever imagine being. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not. These characters might be descriptive of real people, and while they do unfortunately exist, don’t really need more air time. Though they do make excellent villains, as long as they get offed in the end because unfortunately some times, you can’t do that in real life.

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When Authors Struggle – A Call to Arms

Even doing what you love, there are times when you have to question the sanity of it all. So few writers make it big, but like the majority of the actors, chefs, film makers and all gamblers out there, you mostly try not to think about it and keep going, hoping the next one will be the big one. Everyone faces rejection and disappointment, its part of being human, but there’s never a time when its easy.

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Giving away books for free doesn’t bother me much. I just hope people like it and are potentially interested in purchasing more from me. I see it in a similar way to the pirating sites that I appear on. At least they care enough to rip off one of my novels (but not the other one – what’s with that?) What doesn’t feel good is when you do a KDP promotion and while sometimes you get huge amounts of downloads, other times you only get a few. There is nothing worse that the feeling you can’t even give away work that took years of your life.

Publishers you expect to be quite impersonal in their rejections. We all know about it and have for years. The new development is that they now don’t even respond with a rejection. If you don’t hear anything, then the answer is no. This is the equivalent of calling someone to arrange a date and having them block your calls before you’ve even been for coffee.  You have not the first idea what you did wrong.

I’m not alone in wondering sometimes whether anyone wants to read my work and if I should still write. I struggled with this, on and off, until I read something written by the head of a large international literary agency. It got me so irate that I wanted to write just to spite them, if nothing else. The quote is “In all of this, only one thing is guaranteed: there are more and more people writing. I’d like to hope that this trend will be reversed sometime soon, and that only the very best and most talented people write, and the rest of us read, read and read some more!” I get that this was to publishers at a conference and that the speech was tailored to the audience, but what I took from this was basically that any writer who was self-published was rubbish and all those authors should go back to their day jobs and leave it to the agents and publishers to decide what we can read. Oh and that they should just buy lots of books in future to keep profits going, instead of making pitiful attempts at writing their own. It’s a few years on and now that same agency is all about assisting the self-publishing authors, for a fee of course.

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What this tells me is that neither publishers nor agents are in the business about caring for authors. But then again, neither is Amazon. Because they are businesses and their aim is to make money. So where does this leave the author, without whom none of this would happen? Do we give up and stop writing because all the social media requirements are driving us nuts? Or do we persevere, hoping that either we make it big or the situation improves? I think everyone walks the line, hoping that the difficulty of the publishing side is never so bad that it outweighs the joy you get from writing. No matter if you’re successful or …not so successful. And there’s usually someone out there who thinks you’re a genius, even if it’s just your Gran.

Embarrassment – the writer’s last frontier

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When you write a book, it’s pretty clear you write about the stuff that interests you. Why otherwise would you bother? It takes a long time, for no definite reward at the end. Most writers, unless you’re a Clive Cussler or James Patterson, aren’t doing it for the money. Even then it’s apparent that Mr Patterson isn’t doing the writing himself anymore. Why bother when whatever you put your name to will be a bestseller? That might sound bitter, and you’d be right. A fine example of this is the man publishing under the name Stephen King, but what most people don’t realise, because they don’t read the reviews first, is that it isn’t the Stephen King.

So I write about stuff that interests me. Unfortunately, I’m not really the sunshine and cups of tea sort of writer, such as Alexander McCall Smith, whose genius lies in making the everyday interesting. The things I write about can get a little embarrassing, particularly when close older relatives want to talk about your book that has some pretty full on sex scenes in it. My standard response is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing the theme song to The Muppets until they give up.  The downside to that is the song gets stuck in your head for days afterwards. I bet its in your head right now, going round and round because, like me, you can’t remember all the words.

I tried something new with my last book. It was clean – no sex or swearing, though still pretty dark, because that’s just the way I roll. I wanted at least one book in my career that I’d be okay with relatives and my kids reading at some stage. I am quite happy with it, and am now waiting, hoping that my agent agrees. So, whatever happens with this one, there is no font for embarrassment, on subject matter at least. The writing may be crap and the storyline line complete rubbish, but there’s no hanky panky or bad words. Because nobody knows about those. Right…

I’m going to admit something embarrassing here, because why else does one write a blog except to expose yourself: I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of some pretty questionable reading material. I’ll read almost anything from space opera to historical bodice rippers, crime fiction to teen fiction. It doesn’t even have to be the best of its genre, sometimes its better when its not. And though I sometimes laugh at the ridiculous premises, I love a good hot alien capturing a human woman whose been done wrong by men all her life. Entertaining shenanigans ensue, because she’s feisty and he secretly loves it. Even though I know from the first page that they’re going to live happily ever after, I can skim the fluffy pages at the end, because that’s not what I read that sort of book for. I just like to know its there.

But what about the not so pleasant stuff? I just finished Tight by Alessandra Torre and though I’ve loved her other books, particularly Black Lies, the imprisoned and torture topic just doesn’t work for me. I realise it was a side line to the main part of the book, but interestingly she referenced the genre that’s out there and quite a lot of women like to read it. It’s one thing to like something in the privacy of your kindle, but the authors who write the stuff are the ones who are really deserve the bravery award. Some of them are hiding behind some pretty obvious nom de plumes, but some aren’t. Are they also having these awkward conversations with relatives? It makes my level of discomfort kindergarten stuff. So even though I don’t want to read about women being tied up and whipped or having sex with Big Foot, I applaud the writers like E. L. James who take their most secret thoughts and fantasies and put it out there.  It can’t be easy when there is a wild and windy plane of mortification to cross, knowing you may never reach the other side.

To self-publish or not to self-publish? That is the question…

It’s that time again, the early months of the year when I have a finished manuscript. This one took a bit longer for a number of reasons, the main one being the first time I thought I’d finished it and proudly handed it off to beta readers to peruse, the feedback was… underwhelming. In the brutally honest words of my husband, who has the dangerous and potentially life threatening dual roles of staunchest supporter and harshest critic, “it needs work”. Cue the arrow straight to the heart. After a year of harsh labour, someone called my baby ugly. Sobbing on the inside, drowning my pain with coffee and a surprisingly good Irish whiskey aptly called “Writer’s Tears”, I muscled up some internal fortitude and completely rewrote it.

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So now it’s done again and off to the beta readers. Feedback has been better, but I’m a bit scarred now. What if it’s really crap, even now? I think every writer has this fear, which makes attempting to market yourself and your work excruciating. We all know those people who are in complete denial about the level of their skills, whether it’s work, sport or ability to pick up in a bar. You don’t want to be that person, ever. That fear can be paralysing though, stopping you from doing anything in case someone, somewhere is laughing at you. Traditional publishing is great in that you can constantly reassure yourself that your book must be okay otherwise these people who don’t know you and aren’t your friends wouldn’t also like it and invest a whole lot of money in it.

 

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 Having been equally unsuccessful with both traditionally and self-published books, I think I have a sound working knowledge of the good and bad points of each. If you have success one way or the other, your perception would naturally be skewed in favour of the way that worked for you and accordingly less objective. Like the purchaser of a thermomix, you tell everyone how great it is, despite the fact there are not that many people willing and able to spend $2000 on a kitchen gadget. If it works for you, it will work for everyone, right?

So what to do with this one? I no longer have expectations of immediate critical and commercial success, which helps. One of the good things about self-publishing is the control, which people talk about a lot. It is probably the best thing about it and comes with good data about how much you’re selling and where, which helps with book promotion and knowing when you’re doing something right. The information is available quickly, so you can be responsive. The downside is that you don’t have professionals get your book polished and out there without major financial outlay and to reassure you when the doubts creep in. You pay for this though, by handing over control and the majority of sales revenue. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on the writer and the book and can only be decided in hindsight. There is no right or wrong answer, but the best thing you can have is options. If publishers are likely to be interested, it’s worth finding out even if you don’t end up taking that path. If it isn’t the sort of book they are looking for, then at least the decision on what to do becomes easier. Just strap on the chainmail before the sharpened arrows start heading in the direction of your heart. And put some make up on your book baby.

 

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