Category Archives: characters

New Release: After Life Lessons, Book Two

Laila Blake and I are excited to be releasing the second, and last, book in our After Life Lessons collection today! Available now in ereader formats, you can follow Aaron and Emily, as well as new characters, in a brand new journey in the life After the apocalypse.

girl goes on rails

Years after the end of the world, the scattered survivors have begun to reconcile with their fate and are starting to build communities from the rubble. Life has been kind to Aaron and Emily, and maybe it is that infusion of hope that leads them on a winter trip to search for Aaron’s family. But the world outside their little haven has grown harsher, the conditions rough and dangerous.

Not everybody they meet on their journey allowed the grim realities to harden their hearts, however. Malachi and Kenzie – an easy-going drifter with a bum leg and amnesia, and a teenage girl who has lost everyone and everything – are on an ill-conceived mission to Mexico, while Iago and his band of nomads work to forge trading connections between the small settlements of the south. All of them will discover new nightmares on the road, far surpassing the threat of the last rotting zombies still roaming the countryside. And now they must come together to fight for peace and justice in the world they trying to rebuild.

This novel contains language some might find offensive, some gore and situations of a sexual nature. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Available at the following online retailers:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords | Ibooks | AllRomance


Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

Are we still not doing “phrasing”?

Forgive the shameless Archer reference. What I want to talk about is word choice, but it was too good to pass up.

dontjudge

After she read After Life Lessons, my mother had a few things to say. She had some helpful criticisms, some thoughts, and then: “You know, I don’t like the word cock.”

This was immediately followed by a conversation about how there are no good words for male anatomy, so “cock,” as it stands, was about as good as we could get it. (Phrasing!) We went through several variations over wine, and ended the conversation cracking up over, I believe it was, “throbbing manhood.”

I love my mom.

Word choice is a funny thing. Given how much we all talk (and type, anymore), it’s not something any of us put a lot of thought into in our daily lives. I have a habit of reminding my kids to “find their words” before they speak but, when it comes down to it, few of us spend more than a split second of thought before words come out of our mouths.

It’s the magic of our brains, really, that ability to follow another person’s speech with our own. Imagine how very long conversations would take if we considered every last word to come out of our mouths. Deliberation over certain words aside, can you imagine deciding if you should insert “the” or buy a vowel or something?

In writing, of course, things are a bit different. We read differently than we listen, and where our brain picks up nuances in speech, it can gloss right over some writing while snagging on a misplaced, or poorly chosen, word. The wrong word can yank you right out of a fictional piece: way back, I had some beta readers call me out on a character referring to suburban homes as “McMansions.” It’s something I’ve said multiple times in my life, but, indeed, that specific character would never use such a description. It was removed, and the passage flowed cleaner, more like him, less like me.

When reading, word choice, as much as– or even more, in some cases– character development, setting, plot, even, defines how we feel about the writing itself. If a character moves and thinks and acts a certain way, and then a word the reader doesn’t associate with them– be it too academic, or slang, or simple– there is a disconnect, and the world the writer has created cracks a little bit. It can be difficult to impossible to reenter a world you don’t feel is entirely truthful.

While a single word isn’t likely to doom an entire story, repeated slips can. To use a tired metaphor, it’s like a plate, where one crack spiders into more and the whole thing falls apart. If your pompous doctoral candidate keeps using flat, simple descriptions, lacking in specificity, his intelligence, his entire characterization, can be damaged. He’s no longer impressive: he sounds like a dumbass.

Some words aren’t quite as problematic. Like our use of “cock”. It was the lesser of a whole host of evils, and fit more with the twenty-something character set. Certainly we could have used “penis,” but there is something weirdly jarring about that word when describing an act of sex. The others (including my mother’s snort-laugh suggestion of “throbbing manhood”) just sounded silly. So cock it is.

I really just wanted to end the post like that. But!

After Life Lessons was released on April 8th and we’ve been so humbled by how enthusiastic and positive the majority of the response has been. THANK YOU. We love sharing Emily and Aaron, and their zombie-filled world with everyone.

We just finished the first draft of Interludes, a series of first-person point of view stories from the same characters in the year following the first book. It will be released (for free!) this summer, as we work on the second part of After Life Lessons. We did a broad plotting session for that last night and I’m very excited about it! It will include some new characters and an expanded look at the world several years after the zombie infection wiped out most of humanity.

If you still haven’t gotten a copy of After Life Lessons, it’s available at Amazon (also at UK, Canada, and more), Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your feelings, either in the comments here, or in a review on your preferred site.

Thanks for supporting indie writers!


Strong Female Leads don’t Cry… or something.

Writing for women is tricky. I don’t want to take away from writing for men or writing for all genders, but in the perfidiousness of patriarchy, we  women seem locked eternally in the act of policing each other and that does add an extra component.

We do this constantly, almost without realizing it. We police ourselves – our bodies, our eating habits, our emotional expression, our sexual experience; and then we do it to the women around us. We write blogs that call for J.K. Rowling to stop writing, stop clogging up the market — while we leave the men and their bulky bibliographies alone. We say this one is too fat, and that one looks too anorexic; this one seeks too much attention and that one just shuts herself in – how can she ever hope to find a man?; this one is a prude and that one’s a slut. Of course all it means, is that the woman polices herself differently than we police ourselves, she has sex differently, cares for her body differently, engages with men or other women differently than we would (or can) – than we have internalized as the right way to behave. And we forget how many strings bind us, how deeply we have permitted ourselves to be locked in the simple struggle of being ourselves.

IMG_6989smallI don’t think men do that. Not like this, not many of them, anyway. Lily Myers in her poem “Shrinking Woman” said something that stuck with me. To her brother, she says “We come from difference, Jonas, you learned to grow out, and I learned to grow in.” We filter, we listen, we modify ourselves and analyze because we were taught to do so from birth. Even my mother – a liberal, a hippie, a stout feminist who struggled all her life because she raised us as a single parent – admitted to me once, after I pressed that she treated us differently. That while she made my brother coffee when he was sleepy, and cut him up vegetables so he’d have something healthy with his pizza, while she left him alone to study (because it’s more important and he was busy), I was expected to eschew pizza altogether (and received sighs and looks when I didn’t), to cook healthy, to be part of the household, to do the dishes and mind her feelings. All of those are good things – but there was no proportion: my brother got so little of these admonitions and I got all the rest. And I don’t blame my mother for this. She only learned from my grandmother, who still does the same to every woman around her. I listen to her talk, and every single one has something wrong with her – from her sister, to my mother, to me, to her neighbor – of my brother she only speaks kindly, tolerantly. And how could she not? My brother is wonderful, he’s the best man I know (and he took all these pictures of me) — but she doesn’t know him at all.

Every single friend of mine has a mother who policed her food, her weight, her sexual identity, the volume of her voice – or any of a million things that we now police in ourselves, the women around us, probably our daughters one day and definitely, definitely the fictional women we read about. And here we are at the reason why writing for women is tricky.

Fictional women have to be just flawed enough not to strike us as too unrealistic, as so much better than us that it becomes uncomfortable – but they also can’t be too flawed or our teachings kick in. She has to be “strong” but not arrogant; she has to be able to accommodate our own ego without leaving us behind.

In what I’ve read and what seems to be well received – this leaves us with two basic archetypes. One is the “least offensive woman possible”. She’s the girl with very little character of her own and  who every reader can project herself into – the Bella Swans, basically. As far as I can tell – and have seen expressed in this way a lot – she is just necessary to play out the fantasy of the perfect guy, but she should be almost negligible in her effect. It’s all about him, the less the reader has to think about her, be confronted with her the better. She can be seen, but not heard, basically.

IMG_7112smallThe other archetype is the “strong female lead”, the fighter chick, the one who won’t cry a tear over some idiot, who knows how to play with her sexuality to get what she wants or eschews it altogether. These girls are tough, confident, sometimes even brash and they yeah, they kick ass.

I like a girl who can kick ass!

But we also ended up, yet again, in a strange position where we constantly pit these two against each other, and that ended us up at a very strange idea of what strength looks like in women, and reversely what weakness is.

In an author group I attend, someone recently proudly reported that she realized how much her character cried in the novel and promptly fixed it all as to not make her look so weak. Another large sheet comparing all the recent YA heroines with each other, marked almost all of them as having “poor self-esteem”.  Talking about feelings, having feelings and expressing those is becoming whiny and annoying and that makes me uncomfortable.

We live in a world in which guys are under this strain all their lives. To show emotion, they learn this from their fathers (and if they have better fathers than that, they learn it hard at school), is to be a girl, a sissy, a momma’s boy. And so they shut it down. We are faced with a generation of men who have no idea what they are feeling, because they were bullied into shutting it down. Men who can rape unconscious girls not because they are cruel, but because they have been taught that compassion and pity and kindness and sweetness is an unacceptable trait in their social circle.

And I don’t want that for women, and I certainly don’t want it for female leads.

That’s not what strength is.

 

I think I’m a pretty strong woman. I have ambitions and I work for them. I stared at a razor IMG_7125smallblade and stepped off the ledge and got help instead because of the people I love. I do things that scare me every day, I am loyal to my friends. I have convictions and I stand up for them.

But I also cry all the time – from a public service announcement about equality, to a movie, to just because I got a bad review or because I’m scared of the future. I have panic attacks and anxiety; I overanalyze everything I do and everything anyone says to me. I secretly think I am terribly ugly and nobody could ever love me.

And I am still not weak. I can be strong and cry. I can be strong and be afraid. I can be strong and quaver at the thought of my crush seeing me naked for the first time. Strength is not the denial of negative, hurtful or worrying emotions. Strength is to go on in spite of them, accepting them and limiting their power.

Strength is to stick up for friends even if that scares you, even if you could never do that for yourself. Strength is to have convictions and to stick to them — but strength is also to alter them when you grow older and learn new things. Strength is to say you were wrong and that you’re sorry, more sorry than you could ever say. And strength is to love and to trust and to be alive and open and vulnerable every day. Strength is to let people in and to show yourself to them, for who you really are.

That’s the kind of characters I want to read about.  Strong women who cry.