- August 01, 2021
- No Comments
There were no gigantic shifts in consciousness that prompted me to take the month off. I was feeling an apathy that most people are well familiar with in a time that’s dragged on too long this past year.
How did I spend the time? I continued with my foreign language studies, read a lot, watched a lot of K-dramas, and, most important, by week three had finally gotten over the block that was making me dig my heels in against working on book two.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly start writing ten pages a day, creativity bursting at the seams. I treated myself kindly, with a daily quota of 100 words a day, three days a week. If I wrote more, great, but as long as I met the quota of the day, I was happy. Building up those writing muscles takes the same amount of time and care as working physical muscles.
So I might continue blogging every Monday or I might skip a week or two. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m writing something, it’s all good. See you next week (maybe).
Let’s say you write a book and get it published. And sales aren’t good and no one really seems to care. And while you know that you write to keep your soul alive, writing to give other people enjoyment is also important (as are sales—let’s be honest). There’s a symbiotic energy that flows between writers and readers and when it works it’s the best thing in the world.
It’s a dilemma, one I faced when writing Magical Ties. The book takes place on Long Island but at one point, the main character, Emily, travels to Manhattan. In a post-9/11 world, I struggled with whether to mention the changes that horrific event created. Ultimately, Emily traveled only to a train station on East 14th Street, so it was unnecessary. And yes, that was deliberate on my part.
In these uncertain times, I’m left with a struggle that’s similar but much wider in scope. I’ve already started book two of Emily’s adventures (but early enough that I can change things). The question is, should I?
Placing characters inside the pandemic or its aftermath can either draw readers in (“Yes, I can relate”) or alienate them (“I’m reading to escape, dammit!”). And the weirdness of time factors in as well. Which will date the story faster? If we can get past this as a painful and difficult period in the world’s history, putting the pandemic into our stories will eventually date them. But if our lifestyles are permanently changed, not mentioning it will also date the stories. (Anyone else feel mildly uncomfortable watching old TV ads that feature large groups of people with no social distancing?)
I don’t have an answer. But I welcome comments.
I’m sure most people have seen the image that went viral recently, that of a toddler in a wheelchair staring at an ad in a Target store—the model for the boys’ clothing ad was also in a wheelchair.
It’s a powerful image. That little boy saw the message: I’m not alone. There are people out there like me.
It’s a connection that feels so good when it happens.
My short stories feature a pair of demons living in middle-aged bodies. They even have sex (off stage, but still). They could have swapped bodies for younger, thinner ones but for some reason I don’t yet know, they choose to remain where they are. And even though they’re demons, I like them because they seem like middle-aged people. They’re not all-knowing creatures simply because they’re older. They have quirks and wrinkles.
My novel Magical Ties includes a minor character named Ro, a smart, beautiful woman, and her girlfriend, Alicia, who’s a mechanic—among other things. Including a lesbian couple into my story wasn’t a “thing” to me because frankly I see no difference between them and a heterosexual couple. They date and go grocery shopping, and I’m sure there will be arguing in future books. But I also remember the time I went into a bookstore with a friend who checked out the LGBTQ+ shelf and sighed. In the entire store, the fiction and nonfiction for that category were lumped together and barely covered one shelf.
Being invisible can be a terrible thing.
So, while Ro and Alicia didn’t have to be a same-sex couple (they could just as easily been Robert and Alicia), I made the decision to include them as they are.
But it’s tricky to add characters simply because they’re underrepresented in books. It can feel forced, and who wants to read something artificial? Not me. Which is why there’s no hard-of-hearing or deaf character in my stories. I’m hard-of-hearing, and every time I’ve considered it, the character refused to form. Maybe I’m too close to get a handle on one. Will I ever? I don’t know.
So, writers, what do you do?
You might think I hesitate because the story (whether traditionally published or indie) could be filled with spelling or grammatical errors and without a track record there’s no way to know. While those are huge factors, that’s not the problem for me.
One of the hardest things about being an indie author is the fact that there’s no external force demanding a due date. You can write when you want and publish when you want. Though the freedom is exhilarating, it’s also hard to remember that writing is a real job—not a hobby (as many like to think), or something we do effortlessly as the mood strikes us.
I’m editing a friend’s novella in the horror genre and what strikes me most is the passiveness of good. (I haven’t finished it yet so that might change but overall, in horror stories, evil has the most gleeful power.)
I live in New York City. Many of the street names are well-known, and placing a character walking along Madison Avenue won’t create sudden visitors in real life tracking the route the characters have taken.
But my next novel is taking place in an area where the towns are miles apart and the population is small. I’m currently writing it with the real names of towns and streets and stores so that I know where everyone is. But in the end, should I fictionalize that part?
What do you do, and why? (And if you’re not a writer, I’d like your opinion too.)
I hate to break it to you, but unless you’ve got a photographic memory, you won’t remember the details of winter if you’re writing about it in the summer. So here’s what you do.
As I said in an earlier post, take lots of pictures. But that’s not enough. Create folders for each season and begin gathering details as you live through them.
What kind of details? Everything and anything. For example:
I once read a book where a woman walked into a diner and ordered an iced tea in the middle of a snowstorm. In fact, I had to struggle to remember that it was winter in the story because the overall atmosphere made me think of the sultry hot days of the Deep South. Get your head on straight! If that perfect scene gets written but is out of place, either change the season or put the descriptions aside for a different story.
Look out your window. Open the door and breathe in the air. Listen to the sounds on the streets, near schools, and anywhere you think your story will live. Write it down, take photos or video, and keep those impressions to enrich your stories.