This is the first glimpse of my new book. Enjoy!
This is the first glimpse of my new book. Enjoy!
After last week’s surprisingly controversial blog, I learnt a key lesson (that’s corporate-speak for stuffing something up). While I am essentially writing about myself, people around me do of course make appearances and some of them might not be happy about it. As a side note, a quick hello to all the Christian groups now following me. I’m sorry to say I don’t generally talk about religion and you may not be interested in the generally fairly mundane musings of a Sydney writer, but welcome!
But back to topic, I got in trouble and much frostiness has ensued with a couple of people this week. I’m not sure if mentioning this will cause problems too, but now I’ll stop the cycle. I’m not an island and it’s very hard to think of topics to write about that don’t contain some interaction with other people. Trying to find something else to talk about this week led me to saying yes to a couple of things I wouldn’t normally agree to in the hopes that it might provide material that won’t start a cold war (we’re very Anglo, so not a word is said directly and we repress like nobody’s business). As a result, this week I have exceptionally long eyelashes and resemble a llama. I have thick hair, which in a trickle down effect leaves me with naturally large eyebrows and eyelashes. Eyebrows – bad. Eyelashes – good. So I’ve never really considered eyelash extensions. At all, not even for a moment. But a free voucher was waved in front of me and I was searching for lack of meaning.
I feel ridiculous and am hyper-aware of them, not just because I can actually see them but also thinking that people are looking at my eyelashes and wondering what the hell happened. And they are here to stay for the next few weeks. I’d love to say that this was the first time I’ve stuffed up a beauty thing, but I’d be lying. Colouring my own hair when I was at uni saved a lot of money, but occasionally I’d get bored and try something new. So there was this one time when I found out why they put the helpline number on the side of the box of colour. No one means to turn their hair khaki. My flatmate literally laughed so hard he couldn’t get up from the floor.
Then there was the time I had a bikini wax from a Frenchwoman. Any one who has experienced this will know what I’m talking about. The rest of you can just wonder and be grateful.
The time I lost a Shellac nail into a cake I was taking to a dinner party. The nails were dark coloured and the cake was chocolate. Needless to say, I peeled the rest off and the surface of my nails along with them. It was too late but hopefully whoever got it thought it was a nut.
I could go on with all the times the beauty industry has done me wrong, making me believe that some new fad can make me the flawlessly groomed beauty that I never seem to have the time or energy to be. But overall, struggle is a good thing – trying and failing is interesting. Being perfect is boring so having characters who make mistakes is essential, but isn’t that easy to do. There is such a strong urge to smooth the edges and polish them up, in a way that is impossible to do with your actual life. You want to make them able to do the things that you never could and vicariously live through them. In the worlds you create, you have complete control so why not try to make it everything you wish your life could be? This is the worst possible thing you can do. What I try to always keep in mind is that even superheroes need flaws and weaknesses, the trick is in giving them the right ones.
I’m really liking the Mary Lambert song “Secrets” at the moment, the chorus being “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are”. Such an incredibly brave stance to take, given the things she’s talking about revealing, and has revealed about her personal life aren’t of the “I like to fart in the bath and pretend its a spa” variety. Secrets like diamonds, can be graded from the hardly any bad bits to bright sunlight and a strong breath and the whole thing fractures into dust. Internally flawless secrets are hiding lollies from the kids and sneaking them in the pantry while they’re not looking. Heavily included secrets are more along the lines of “I murdered someone and stashed the body in the basement”. Not many people would have a problem giving up the first one, but anyone committing the second would tend to keep it to themselves.
But like diamonds, the grade of secret is only part of it. Another big part of what makes a diamond is the size. Similarly, I think part of what leads to secrets being confessable or not lies in the level of fault that can be attributed to yourself. People are much more willing to confess to big secrets as long as it’s not their fault. The more you move towards things that you are directly responsible for, together with the grade of the secret, leads to you being less willingness to be open about it. This is because people are judgemental. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, after all if we didn’t use our judgement we’d be still living in caves ruled over by the thugs with the biggest clubs. Judging things, weighing up the merits of our actions and others, teaches us how we want to live. What we actually want to stop is incorrect judgements about things and people. Being judgemental is natural and fine, what we do about it is more important. Not agreeing with abortion and making the decision that you wouldn’t have one yourself is using your opinion to form a framework for how you live your life. Applying that exact same framework to everyone else, regardless of circumstances, is where the flaw lies.
Gen X-ers like myself tend to think that the next generation are all about exposing themselves. If they’re not sexting, they are posting videos on youtube or endless pictures on social media. I think this is probably a little unfair, given the amount of newly single post-forties people I know on Tinder (no I haven’t looked, given the rumour that most of the pictures are not of their faces. Some things you can’t un-see). Similarly, my facebook feed is constantly filled with pictures of whoever is currently on holiday. I literally have seen every meal they’ve eaten. As a side note, I don’t get this trend. Anyone can order a meal from a restaurant. No effort or skill has gone into it. If you haven’t put the time and effort into making it yourself, I don’t care.
Letting the world know what you’re secrets are is fine and potentially liberating, but I can’t really see myself as someone who would let it all hang out. I’m far more likely to hide the big things away or let them be enacted by a character in one of my books. This is a confession of sorts, but nothing I have to own up to. Cowardly, possibly, but all writers need material and if you give away too much of it in public, there’s less left inside you to put on paper. I find when I’m deep into writing something difficult, it’s hard to stop from bringing it over into my personal life and vice versa. Writing about a married couple fighting in Saint Kate led to several tense moments with my husband but it also meant that what I wrote seemed to many people to be very real, because in a sense it was. So unlike the very brave Ms Lambert, I do care if the world knows what my secrets are, if only so I still have something to write about.
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).
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.