Sunday, June 16, 2019

On All the Better Part of Me as a coming-out book

All the Better Part of Me is a coming-out story, a story where a lot of the focus is on sexuality and identity. But it’s probably the only one of that category I’ll ever write.
I have written and will continue writing characters who happen to BE queer (along with straight ones), where the story’s focus is on other things, but it’s true that a focus on LGBTQ issues feels like “not my story to tell.”
Some have told me so. Usually straight liberal friends concerned about appropriation or “getting it wrong”—never my actual LGBTQ beta-readers and friends, who have been enthused and encouraging, while also helping fix my awkward wording in stories dealing with these topics.
I was moved to write a story about coming out and having homophobic parents because of the many, many true stories I keep hearing from LGBTQ folks still being needlessly damaged by the attitudes of others, even in our “tolerant” era, even in “blue states.” 
I wrote ATBPOM to say “I see you and I love you and support you” to them, and, sure, maybe to hope I might change a few homophobic minds if they’re open to changing (ha, well, I can dream). But having written it, there, I step back and leave the issue-book field.
I’ll move on to the cheerier scenario: LGBTQ characters getting to have cool adventures alongside the straight cis characters without sexuality or gender identity being an issue. The way things should be; the status quo we can aspire to. 
It’s daunting as a cis-het white person to write diversity, even when we long to for the sake of fairness and variety and having more interesting stories, even when we get lots of sensitivity readers for it, even when we get a green light from them. We’re going to make someone mad on book-Twitter regardless.
But I know perfectly well it’s scarier to BE any of those minorities. I want it to become un-scary. I want that shining future. I hope well-written diverse books, no matter who writes them, can help open mindsets so we can get there. 
(…Because believe me, if I only wrote characters who matched my own identity—middle-aged white happily-married-to-a-guy stay-at-home writer/mom in Seattle—you’d rightfully gag and then die of boredom.)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Madame d'Aulnoy and contes des fées

When it comes to historically significant fairy tale writers, you've heard of the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and maybe even Charles Perrault, but have you heard of Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy? Writing at the same time as Perrault, she composed and adapted traditional fairy tales, retelling them in literary style to publish and share at salon gatherings. She was in fact the one credited with popularizing the term "fairy tales": "contes des fées."

She was forced into an unhappy marriage at age fifteen, tried to get revenge a few years later by conspiring to have her husband imprisoned, and, when that failed, was forced to flee France for many years, although according to Wikipedia she MAY have worked as a spy for France while living abroad.

Upon returning, she charmed her way back into good social standing with her romantic contes des fées, "where love and happiness came to heroines after surmounting great obstacles." And she ought to know about those things.

Raising my cup of coffee to you today, Madame.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The Four Tendencies: which one fits your character?

In her books about happiness and habits, writer Gretchen Rubin describes the Four Tendencies, the personality framework she created. I realized in studying them that these tendencies are not only a fabulous way to learn about ourselves and our friends, but to flesh out our fictional characters too.

Brief description of the Four Tendencies:

Upholders are people who respond readily to both outer and inner expectations; that is, expectations from others as well as expectations they set for themselves.
Questioners are people who meet inner expectations, but question outer expectations; they’ll meet others’ expectations only if they think they make sense.
Obligers are people who meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.
Rebels are people who resist all expectations, outer and inner alike, but can do nearly anything they truly want to.

Since this framework deals with people’s response to goals, it’s related closely to motivation—which, as every fiction writer knows, is crucial in understanding characters. What are we advised to decide right away for every main character in every scene? Their goal, their motivation. Thus knowing your character’s Tendency will help you know how well they will perform under various challenges.

Is your character’s goal imposed by another person, such as an assignment a teacher gives a student? A student who is an Obliger or an Upholder will dutifully do the assignment even if they don’t like it. A Questioner will ask herself if she has a good enough reason for doing it, and if so (for instance, if getting good grades is important to her), she’ll buckle down and complete it. A Rebel might have trouble getting around to it even if he means to—or, conversely, might have no trouble doing it if he decides that writing this essay is what he wants to do, but he’ll probably bend or break some of the instructions in the assignment.

Or is the goal an inner expectation, such as the resolution to find a new job by the end of the month? In a situation like this, Questioners and Upholders have no trouble sticking to their self-appointed task. Obligers, meanwhile, find it hard to follow through unless someone else is counting on them—for instance, if their family needs the money and it’s therefore important that they find work. As for Rebels, there’s no counting on them unless they’ve hit upon a job that calls out to them and they’re determined to do it, at which point nothing will stop them. Expecting a Rebel to meet someone else’s meticulously laid out job qualifications, however: don’t bet on it!

Once I decided, in my latest novel-in-progress, which Tendencies my main characters belonged to, it helped me see their strengths and flaws more clearly, and thereby made it more obvious what their overall character arc should be. An Obliger might have to learn to break free from the burdensome expectations laid on him by others and stand his own ground. A Rebel might have to learn to shoulder more responsibility for her actions and take fewer reckless risks. A Questioner might have to learn to trust someone else and take a leap of faith. An Upholder might need to learn to loosen up and let his plans change.

Rubin and the contributors commenting on her blog have come up with examples of the Four Tendencies among famous fictional characters. Hermione Granger is a textbook Upholder, turning in every bit of homework on time as well as doing extra assignments she chose for herself. Jane Eyre is a Questioner, not accepting the rules of others until she has thought things through to her own satisfaction—in fact, on the first page of the book, her disapproving aunt calls her a “questioner.” George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life is an Obliger, always tending to everyone else’s needs, sometimes at the expense of his own goals. And Sherlock Holmes is a Rebel, doing exactly what he wants, when he wants, with brilliance and total disregard for other people’s rules and expectations.

How about your characters? Which Tendency do they follow, and how does this illuminate the actions they’re likely to take?

You can take Rubin’s quiz here to find out your own Tendency or that of your characters.

As for me, I’m a Questioner. My thought when that answer came up was, “Hmm, I don’t know, I really thought I was an Upholder. I question the…oh.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Harry Potter and the Flux Capacitor

I finally read The Cursed Child. Thoughts:

1) Wow, people weren’t kidding about Albus/Scorpius being practically a canon couple. I’m going, “sweet! we finally get an on-page HP gay relationship?” …haha. No. Of course not. Truly Johnlock levels of Suspiciously Close Friendship. It’s like Rowling wanted people to write All the Fanfic but didn’t want to actually go so far as to include the gayness in canon.
2) I do not see Cedric Diggory turning Death Eater because of losing the tournament. Hufflepuffs roll with humiliation, plus EVERYONE at Hogwarts gets embarrassing spells put on them, like, daily.
3) I know wizards aren’t that into Muggle stuff, but honestly, they haven’t heard of DNA tests to put this “Voldemort’s your dad” rumor to rest?
4) If you are going to bring Time-Turners back into it, and you feel you must save someone, YOU CHOOSE FRED.
5) Scorpius is darling. Seriously. He makes this whole Harry Potter and the Flux Capacitor episode worth it.
6) I feel so much better about my own plot flaws now.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best male/male romances read in 2018

Looking over my Goodreads list from 2018, I realize I have read a lot of male/male romance. So I figured I’d better make you a list of all the good stuff. 
I’ll only include the smaller-press or indie titles, because, like, yes, I did read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and they were great, but everyone already knows about those and they don’t need a plug from me. So here are others!

On the short side, a few novellas:
Defensive Play by Jamie Deacon: A closeted English football (soccer) player reconsiders that closet when he runs into a cute out player on the opposing team. 
Return to Sender by Roberta Blablanski: A pair of men who last saw each other as teens and had love letters go astray reconnect at last.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant: A Peter Pan/Captain Hook pairing, retold in a way that actually might work better for me than the original, by taking some of the disturbing creepiness out of Neverland and replacing it with lovely sweetness. Fantastical and awesome.
Cinnamon Eyes by Nell Iris: Childhood friends reunite to find there’s something more now, with a lovely music-story backdrop.

And the full-length novels:

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles: If Georgette Heyer had been inclined to write naughty m/m, this might be the result. So fun and endearing (and steamy!). 
Pansies by Alexis Hall: It’s not every writer who could pull off a love story between a former bully and that guy’s former victim, but Hall made it work for me, with plenty of emotion and laughter. (And kinky hotness.)
The Impossible Boy by Anna Martin: Non-binary man with anorexia issues finds love and new friends, in hip London setting.
The Enlightenment series by Joanna Chambers: Fabulous early-1800s Edinburgh setting (I love Edinburgh!), and sexy pairing of lowly working man and rich nobleman (I love class barriers). Requires the whole trilogy for the romance to go through its proper arc, but they’re swift and compelling reads.
For Real by Alexis Hall: Warning: super kinky! I wasn’t sure I was up for this level of BDSM, as I don’t know that scene at all, but Hall is so good at making characters real and relatable (and hilarious) that I got right into it with very little difficulty. Much like with the film ‘Secretary.’ 
Recommend some good reads if you have them, and happy new year!

Monday, November 26, 2018

An old sonnet and a new title

I've had a busy November, but delightfully so: I've begun revisions on the guy/guy modern romance featuring a character named Sinter, whom some of you may remember from earlier versions and other posts of mine. 
This book was formerly titled different things over the years through its various revisions: Dramatically Inclined, Boy in Eyeliner, 32 and Raining... And in discussion with my wonderful editor Michelle at Central Avenue Publishing, we came up with yet a new title for it this time around: All the Better Part of Me
This quote comes from Shakespeare's sonnet 39, which begins:
O, how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me? 
It's a love poem, which is apt; and it's one of the many, many sonnets thought to be dedicated to the mysterious Fair Youth (or Young Man), which is also apt. (You can read here, among other places, about the speculation behind Shakespeare's romantic life and the people he wrote the sonnets for.) And of course, my novel's main character, Sinter, is an actor, and lots of Shakespeare references were already in the story, so the apt-ness just keeps on coming.
We'll be doing edits and cover art and other prep work for a while here, but one thing you can do if you're on Goodreads is put the book on your to-read shelf there, as it now has a listing. Here is its back-cover synopsis:

It’s an inconvenient time for Sinter Blackwell to realize he’s bisexual. He’s a 25-year-old American actor working in London, living far away from his disapproving parents in the Pacific Northwest, and enjoying a flirtation with his director Fiona. But he can’t deny that his favorite parts of each day are the messages from his gay best friend Andy in Seattle—whom Sinter once kissed when they were 15.
Finally he decides to return to America to visit Andy and discover what’s between them, if anything. He isn’t seeking love, and definitely doesn’t want drama. But both love and drama seem determined to find him. Family complications soon force him into the most consequential decisions of his life, threatening all his most important relationships: with Andy, Fiona, his parents, and everyone else who’s counting on him. Choosing the right role to play has never been harder.
I'm glad to have this news for my gratitude list as the holidays approach! I hope you all have a long list of things to be thankful for too. Happy reading and writing, especially to those of you brave enough to be tackling NaNoWriMo. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

I had a quasi-conservative phase a long time back. It was as you’d expect: I watched Fox, read National Review, listened to friends who were avid conservatives, parroted their points of view online to other people, picked the most extreme liberal articles I could find and held them up as examples of how crazy liberals were and how they had no sense of perspective or humor.

As should be obvious if you’ve listened to me lately, I gradually got over this phase and am nowhere near it now. But it did take years. And what I want to do today is thank the many people I knew who, despite being liberals throughout, stayed friends with me during that phase. Even while I was repeating arguments I am now ashamed of, they disagreed, but they didn’t give up on me. They somehow kept seeing something in me that was worth being friends with, even at my most obnoxious. These people are awesome for this. I haven’t forgotten.

I’m thinking of them now especially, because I see other friends or family trying on a similar phase, or perhaps not a phase at all; they’ve always been conservative. It’s just that being conservative or liberal in the modern day feels more than ever like taking sides in a deadly war. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t actually have to be that way.

My liberal friends still liked me even when I was conservative, and I still liked them. I still like my conservative friends and family even though I’m liberal now. I’m not going to be the one to cease communications. Others didn’t give up on me, so I won’t give up on others.

The climate being what it is, I do have conservative friends and family who have gone mysteriously silent toward me, ever since I’ve made it clear that I Do Not Like the current administration. I don’t know if their silence is because of my opinion, or if they’re just busy. They haven’t said. But if they’re reading this, I want them to know: I’m still happy to talk to you and know you. I still see plenty to admire in you. If there’s a wall that’s gone up here, you’ve built it, not me.

People talk about grace a lot, and not being religious, I don’t know what exactly it means in a religious sense. To me, though, those friends who stayed patient and kind toward me throughout my changing opinions have displayed the definition of grace. That’s the kind of grace I strive for. I struggle with it still, but it’s what I’m trying to accomplish.

I know plenty of you are on the receiving end of a wall like this, with friends or family who won’t talk to you because of the current political climate. This is happening on BOTH sides. To you I can only say I’m sorry, and I don’t know what you can do other than wait it out and be happy as best you can. But to those of you who are the ones building that wall: please don’t. Consider unbricking it, saying hello again. Talking about something OTHER than politics, something that used to bring you and that other person together onto the same page.

Do we really want to let those idiots in government define who we like? I sure don’t. Think about it. Think what kind of world you want to live in. One where friends have to agree on absolutely everything, or one where friends can wait out each other’s difficult phases with grace. It’s hard, I know. But consider it. That’s all.