Tag Archives: writing

In which I planned to pimp Queer Romance Month but performed a self-examination instead

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Having just finished this post, I feel the need to come back here, to the beginning, and include an explanatory note. I had intended this post to simply be about promoting Queer Romance Month, an event I enjoy and think is important. I went in with no real plan beyond, “Hey, everyone should go check this out!” But as I wrote, as I allowed myself to dump onto the page whatever my fingers felt like typing (it could always be deleted, after all) I found that I had a lot to say. Most of it would probably qualify as some twisted, rambling version of journaling, getting my own fears, feelings and thoughts on paper.
It was unplanned, but that often makes something rawer and more meaningful. I hope however, that it doesn’t also make any part of this unconsidered or insensitive. I’ve read it over, of course, corrected my grammar, removed 50 or so commas and cut my perpetual run-on sentences into halves and sometimes thirds. But I want to include an apology too, in case anything I say comes across as less than respectful of anyone. I have the utmost respect for those who live outside of society’s rigidly constrained boxes (even the new ones whose walls are firming even as we speak), as well as those who fight for the inclusion and normalization of further boxes. If at any point I come across as otherwise, please blame it on my words, on my inability to always get the right ones in the right order to say exactly what I mean.
Queer Romance Month
October is LGBT History Month, at least it is here in the US. On a smaller but more international scale, October is also Queer Romance Month and I absolutely recommend checking this site out. This is a second year for the event. I avidly followed it last year and am planning to do the same this year.
Skip & PipLast year there were a number of really moving posts from some  well know LGBTQIA+ authors, as well as some up-and-comers, and I expect more of the same. In fact, I’ve read a few of them already. So, I know there is touching and thought provoking content to come. Plus, you’ll get to see Catherine Dair‘s Skip and Pip, two cute bunnies worth obsessing over.
Now, I don’t consider myself particularly queer. I’m not exactly a 0 on the Kinsey scale. I don’t even know if I’d be just a 1 and I don’t comply with many feminine expectations. But being happily, monogamously married to man it’s all kind of moot at this point*. (At least in this context, identities and numerical representation is important.) But I still love everything about this event.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog over the last couple years will note a significant increase in the number of LGBT books I’ve read and reviewed, the majority of them M/M (though in this too I’m trying to find parity). There are a number of reasons for this, some admirable (I think) and some I’m not all together comfortable with.
On the positive front, I made a commitment to myself that, in both my reading and my own writing, I would be more aware of and actively accountable for representation in my fiction. I’m making a concerted effort to read and write about a wider variety of peoples. And for the most part, I have found this exercise incredibly rewarding. I find that I relate easily to a larger demographic of the human race than I would have expected and I’m pleased by this. (This is in no small part also the result of some stellar writing on the part of authors.)
On the other hand, I occasionally face my own discomfort over enjoying queer romance so very much.  Being a staunch Feminist, I refused to touch the romance genre for most of my reading life. I hate the tropes used. I hate the easy preponderance of rape. I hate the way weak women are presented as strong. I hate the very male version of what is considered erotic in a sex scene and the way keep-calm-and-read-gay-romancewomen are always so damn passive. With very few exceptions, I just basically hate heterosexual romance books. (Though to be fair, I think the dependence of these tropes may be changing.) Queer romance allows me to explore romance and sex without all that baggage. And I’ve accepted that this is important to me, but I’m also very aware and try to be conscious and careful of how close to appropriation this actually is.
I am also learning to negotiate a heavy burden of fear about getting it wrong in my own writing. I want so badly to be part of increasing visibility, but can readily imagine that seeing yourself being misrepresented is worse than not seeing yourself at all. (At least, that’s how I think I would feel.)
I’ve been party to (or perhaps better stated as present for) a number of discussions between male gay readers of M/M romance who state that often they don’t feel included in the intended audience of books ostensibly written about them, or people like them. Penning one of these books is one of my biggest writerly fears.
Nano Prep ResearchFor example, I’m currently hip deep in #Nanoprep research for NaNoWriMo next month and I’m planning on including a FTM transgender as a main character. And while I have no problem with learning the details of surgeries and hormones (why would I normally know that, of course it takes research) and I’ve just plain enjoyed the memoirs and personal accounts of Transgendered and Non-Binary individuals I’ve read so far (I’ve always loved learning about people), but I also feel a certain human failure in needing to research another human being human.
I have a lingering fear that I’m turning someone’s true and meaningful life experiences into a quantifiable, researchable project and I’m disturbed. It feels both clinical and separatist, this idea that you (the vague imagined other) are so different from myself that I have to do research to understand your experiences. It feels like a distinct lack of empathy.
allthesame_mockI seek everyday to reduce this same idea of otherness, to not look at white people and people of color; het people and homo people; sexual people and asexual people; cis people and trans or non-binary people; or able bodied people and disabled people, but to just see people. So the need to get books and do research on a type of person, as if that person were a topic not a feeling, thinking, living individual rankles me.
Logically, I know that respect and acceptance (which I can give freely to someone, even if I don’t understand their everyday existence) and grasping the minutiae required to craft a believable il_fullxfull.209720626character are different, but emotions aren’t always logical and one of my heaviest emotion in this endeavor is fear**. That’s before I even face the mortification of inadvertently including something harmful or insulting or just plain old wrong. None of that is easy to admit. I so wish it wasn’t true and hope there will come a point at which it’s not.
Writing only cis-gendered, straight, white women is safe. I can’t really get it wrong, because even if someone doesn’t like or agree with my representation of such a woman, I’m writing from a place of experience. I’m writing from my social position and I have an unquestionable claim to it. I have an un-denouncable right to say ‘that is a true account of a cis-gendered, straight, white women.’ It may not be the only one, but I can comfortably assert it really is one of them.
An author gives up that couch when they branch out beyond themselves. I think they always have to stand back a little and accept that their claim to be writing a true account of, say, a Native American, Transgendered male-to-female, may not be unassailable. They may get the details just right, but they still need to maintain the humility to acknowledge that they can only use one social position as their own, everywhere else they are a guest and need to behave as such. (Even in this, I acknowledge that I’m intern1-1024x645speaking as a prospective interloper and this is a touchy subject for some. Perhaps someone far more experienced will tell me this is inaccurate and I’ll listen because it’s not yet an experience I’ve had. In the past, I’ve been embarrassingly guilty of being the new kid who thought they had it all worked out, only to later, with more experience, cringe at my own arrogant self-assuredness. I will not make that mistake here.)
So, to cut off my free-flow, almost stream-of-consciousness rambling and try to bring this back around to the Queer Romance event, for me, who is experiencing a bit of a social awakening (not just around romance, but social justice in general, my own place in the world, my own identity, etc) QRM is incredibly important. It’s giving voice to authors who have not always had much of a platform. It’s presenting wonderfully engage-able stories and ideas for readers to ponder. It’s a grass-roots level action on the part of impassioned authors, readers, artists and allies to bring Queer Romance to the masses. And it’s providing role-models and accessible terrane for people like me who are just finding their feet, so to speak. Oh, and there are giveaways! I love it and hope lots and lots and lots of people give it a chance and check it out too.
Lastly, as it wasn’t my initial intention to work out some of my own fears around writing in a post presumably centered on Queer Romance, I hope no one minds me tying the two together here. Even I acknowledge that it’s not a perfect fit. I considered separating the two, but in the end left it as is because it’s a true and  factual accounting of my thought process. It was in considering QueerRomanceMonth.com that I came to the understandings above (some of them new even to me). Just as I’ve left so many of my parenthetical clarifications and addendums that so clearly (if passive aggressively) highlight my own points of discomfort, places I thought others might take issue or find fault. It’s a snapshot of what it means to be me right now, someone in that in-between place where they’ve yet to learn the lay of their new home field. But isn’t this just one more reason events like QRM are important? They prompt thought and introspection.

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*Edit: Since I wrote this, Dahlia Adler has written an absolutely amazing post on this (or a very similar) subject. Go read it.

**As it happens, since posting here, I’ve also read this post, but Liv Rancourt on this very subject.

NaNoWriMo update…I won!


Yesterday afternoon, around 2pm, I passed 50,000 words in my current NaNo novel. There was no dancing involved, though it would have been well deserved. I was halfway through a scene that I calmly remained seated to get down, finally stopping at a respectable 50,540 words. That also gave me a nice little buffer, in case there was a discrepancy between my Scrivner word count and the NaNo word count validator.

This was the first time I’d done NaNo and I came into it completely intimidated. If you estimate 250 words to a page, it’s roughly 200 pages…in a month! And I did it in 20 day! (Yeah, that deserves a second exclamation point, even if I’m usually stingy with them.) I really surprised myself. Not only because I made it to 50k, but because this is what my graph looks like throughout the month.

my graphNice and steady, no peaks, no valleys, no gaps; I set a target of 1,700 words a day and I hit it, every damn day. That makes me all fluttery inside.

And I’ve rewarded myself too. I’m going to have an exciting mail week. I ordered myself this beautiful wooden bookmark and this pair of comfy, loungy pants. That’s important, since I do most of my writing sitting cross-legged on the couch. Jellyfish bookmark

Mum pantsOf course, 50,000 unedited words is only about half a novel, so I’ve thought ahead and picked out what my 100,000 word rewards will be. *claps excitedly.* When that day comes, I’ll allow myself the following:

Wooden ruler Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 08.02.09

Yes, that is a beautiful wooden ruler (I’m a sucker for all things hand-crafted and wooden.) and a Dune-inspired bracelet. And if I’m really honest, I’ll admit the hour or so cruising Etsy to pick it all out was a reward of sorts too.

As excited as I am about goodies, completing this challenge wasn’t really about the things I would let myself spend my meagre income on. In a very real way, it also wasn’t about writing any particular book.

It was about writing in general. Writing is something I enjoy, torturous as it often is. But I’d fallen out of habit. I’d let myself become the classic ‘one day writer.’ That well-intentioned, but ultimately unfocused author who recognises the plot bunnies as they frolic through her mind, but never actually sits down and writes. Rather, I always intended to do it one day.

Doing NaNo this year was about making today the day, and then tomorrow and the next. It was about once again establishing the habit of ssandcastlesitting down and putting words on paper, even if they’re crap. I spent a lot of time reminding myself of this during the last three weeks. And I expect once I’ve reached my 100k, the first thing I’ll do is reread it all and cut a third. But better that than having nothing at all.

This is especially true for my current work. I really think it needs to be written. Unfortunately, I also kind of wish the muse had passed it on to someone a little more experienced and given me a quick bit of monster-erotica or something. This is hard.

It’s the first time I’ve written anything that isn’t wholly fantasy, meaning I can’t just make it up as I go. Plus, I’m dealing with some heavy and probably controversial issues, while trying to respectfully address cultural practices that are largely foreign and frightening to Americans. I have suddenly become painfully aware of my own Western gaze and how much of what we take for granted as givens, in fact aren’t for a lot of the world.

And the one thing I don’t want to be accused of at the end of this is Recognizing-Unconscious-Bias-The-Impact-of-Identity-on-Behavior-300x300presenting Western mores as universals, when they patently aren’t. But this means teasing out which of my own closely held beliefs are culturally specific, which ones I learned so early and so slowly that I never noticed. This is not easy and it’s uncomfortable. But it’s necessary and both my book and I will be better for it.  *sigh*

But I digress. My point is that this work would be especially easy to continue to put off, because, for me, it has a lot of added challenges. I’m absolutely convinced that if I hadn’t started it as a NaNo project, with the ridged structure necessary to hit 50,000 words in a month, I would still be tiptoeing around the idea of eventually writing it. Now I’m halfway through a rough first draft…and feeling like a total badass.

So, though I don’t have a complete work in my hands at the end of this experience, I have some things I consider even more valuable. I have a reinvigorated dedication to my writing. I have a project that is well enough on its way to feel real and accomplishable. I have my passion back. For these things, I’ll thank NaNoWriMo and imagine this won’t be the last time I sign up.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, wanna join me?

Participant-2014-Twitter-ProfileI’ve known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for just about forever. I’m fairly sure I even signed up one year. But I’ve never made a concerted effort to participate before and I’ve certainly never been successful. 50,000 words in a month is a hefty challenge.

I consider writing much like any other challenge. It’s easier to keep going once you’re already going. And this is an important point for me. You see, I have two plots bouncing around in my brain right now. They’ve been there for a while, each growing slowly as I ruminate over them. Neither one has made it from my head to my computer, however. This means they are unlikely to ever make it to readers.

Best intentions are funny things. No matter how much I seem to want to birth these stories, I’ve found myself stymied at every aborted attempt. I’m left wondering how I ever even managed to get my first book to print. (Actually, if I’m honest, I know it happened because I never allowed myself to acknowledge that I was writing an actual BOOK and therefore avoided all of the author-centered self doubt that so compromises me now.)

Then, here comes NaNoWriMo, supposedly the perfect prompt. I even live in a moderate sized city. There are numerous pre-nano workshops and kickoff parties (even a midnight affair Halloween night) within an easily drivable distance from me. There are three separate weekly write-ins on three separate days that I can attend (more if I was willing to drive a bit farther). There is a fairly active Regional Forum and even a live chat room I can visit (and hopefully not use to procrastinate). There is a lot of support in this city.

I still face challenges, even with so much local activity about though. I have children at home, which means that daytime meetings are generally off-limits. Then there’s dinner and the guilt associated with dumping said children on the husband as soon as he drags it in the door from work, making evening meetings difficult.

All topped off by my amazing social awkwardness in real life. I went to one of the kickoff parties, for example, and hardly spoke to anyone, Kickoff at The Book Housejust hovered around looking miserable and wishing I hadn’t worn knee-high boots. (Ok, I must have spoken to someone. That’s me in the yellow, with my hand anomalously in the air. I can only hope I was making some salient point and not just helplessly flailing.) Either way, I’m a mess meeting new people and I can easily see myself talking myself out of going to write with other people.

And yes, those are excuses, mental hurtles that I know I can find a way around if I just try hard enough. So I’ve taken the last week or so to get ready, to psych myeslf up.

I’m trembling in my metaphorical boots, but I think maybe I’ve got this. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new moleskin and fancy pens and pencils. (I work best when actually scratching paper.) I’ve put all the write-ins on the calendar, with popup notifications. Look, I even got the T-shirt. Because obviously one writes better when properly attired. Riiightt. Don’t argue. Just roll with it for me.

I’ve registered on the website, read the NaNo prep page (apparently I’m a Pantser, good to know). I’ve checked out the Map-of-the Month and the blog. I’ve joined a Goodreads NaNoWriMo group, liked the NaNo Facebook page and followed NaNoWriMo on Twitter.

I’ve also picked out my non-write-in, out of the house writing hole and given it a test run to make sure the lattes and Cafepastries are up to par. (If you’re a Webster Groves/Kirkwood/Maplewood/Sunset Hills/etc local and want to meet up, feel free to toss me an email to find out where I’ll be.) So, yes, while I’m still scared silly that I won’t bring the story I’ve chosen to focus on to life, I’m doing what I can to set myself up for success.

And herein lies the point of this post. What I don’t have but need is a team. I need friends and writing buddies who will not only inspire me, but nag me, needle me, look at me with sad disappointed eyes if I don’t make enough of an effort, maybe even cuss at me on occasion. In exchange, I’ll do the same for them (you?). In the end, isn’t that the whole point of the NaNoWriMo event? I’m registered under Saussy and I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

If you, like many of the visitors to this blog, are here seeking a book review, all the policies still apply. But be advised that for the next 30 days my reading will be sharply curtailed and it’s unlikely I’ll read anything new before December.

Here’s hoping for the best. Keep your fingers crossed for me.