To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{August 3, 2011}   On writing (with gay lit links and recs)

So, the other day I was headed to SoCal, about to hop on a plane, and I realized I’d forgotten my book. Oh woe! So I grabbed a lesbian romance off one of Q’s shelves, No Strings by Gerri Hill, and proceeded to read.

About halfway through No Strings, I saw the final Harry Potter movie. I quite liked the movie, but was a little disappointed at the lack of a complete Draco character arc, made more obvious when even Neville got a character transformation. (Generally speaking, a full character arc happens when the character’s behavior/attitude/emotion changes: Neville went from geek to hero, Harry had a complete hero’s arc, as did Snape, Dombledore and — well, most people. Ron went from bumbling bafoon to knight, Hermione from bossy brat to person-Harry-couldn’t-have-figured-things-out-without, and together Ron and Hermione went though a romance arc. Draco, I realized, wasn’t likely to have a hero’s arc — though he could have pretty easily — but I figured he’d have some arc. Instead, he’s the same sad little coward character walking out of the movie he is walking into the series. This made me really glum, because of all the characters there — except maybe Voldemort, but obviously his character arc was a mortal one — Draco had the most potential for real change.)

Feeling put out that the character with the most potential for real change didn’t get any change, I emailed DK, who was way into HP back in the day and likes the things I like, and asked for some Draco fic that had a complete character arc so my craving was satisfied. DK delivered! Among other things was an awesome Harry/Draco slash fic. (Slash indicates queer-of-some-sort romance, be it lesbian, gay, or trans.)

So I read this novel-length fanfic that had several complete character arcs (very well done; I understand the author is published now, and I might just look up her books) and was also slash.

THEN I went back and finished No Strings.

I quite liked the first half of No Strings, all the character development stuff and then them getting to know each other. Then the romance-plot stuff kicked in, and I pretty much skimmed through the rest of it. This is normal for me and romance novels; I like the bits learning about the characters, and I don’t really bother with the romance part. I started writing romance novels because I was writing slash, but slash is… different. Reading slash and reading romance right on top of each other really brought it home for me. DK linked me this blog post not too long ago, and most of it I’d already sorted out, but one thing in there — I think it was in there — was talking about how slash isn’t set into a specific genre formula yet, how you can do pretty much anything you want. Not so with romance. I also find it interesting that the lesbian romances I’ve read are definitely romance novel formula, but the gay romance isn’t. Often, yes, the published stuff is, but then you have books like mine. By Degrees is about overcoming major past trauma (the death of parents), opening up your emotions so you can come to grips with the fact that you’re gay and you can have sex and feel again. Oh, and by the way, there’s a romance that is the catalyst for that plot. In the Rough is about dealing with more past trauma (I have a theme, okay? *grins*) so he can get his shit together and take care of his daughter. Oh yeah, and on the way he realizes he’s in love with his best friend, but has been ignoring it because of self-hate due to — you guessed it — that past trauma. Off Trail is about learning how to trust again and letting people in to help, and the guy he lets in to help just happens to be the guy he falls for. This is definitely more romance-novel than anything else I’ve written in the gay world.

Then there’s the Dragon series, which is all action/adventurey, and in the midst of their action and adventure they start to fall in love.  If I look at my fanfic — the stuff I write not to get paid for, but just because it’s fun — while romance features heavily in it, usually the romance is what’s happening around the main plot. Often the romance is either a catalyst or the result of whatever is going on, but the main thing is what’s going on. In Naruto fic that was Kakashi being insane, in Star Trek it was Kirk and Spock on the run while Kirk has amnesia, in X-Men it was Rictor dealing with child abuse and in X-Men: First Class (if I’d ever gotten around to writing that, which I didn’t) it was multi-pronged: Moira finding Charles, Charles dealing with being a paraplegic, Darwin coming back to life, Alex learning to control his powers and Hank coming to terms with his fuzzziness.

I started writing romance because I thought I WAS writing romance, but the more romance novels I write, the more I chafe. I realized, when I read those two books side by side, I wasn’t writing No Strings back when I was thrilled about writing; I was writing Harry/Draco. Not romance, but slash. The closest thing I’ve found to it in published books is a Tanya Huff book, The Fire’s Stone (very awesome; also the heroes are gay, woo hoo!) and various Sharon Shinn “romantic fantasy” books. Which makes me wonder… have I been very stupid?

I’m looking for an agent for my hetro paranormal romance novel right now. I’m sorta-kinda working on the sequel to it; I had a trilogy planned. They all interest me, but none give me that fire fanfic used to give me. I’ve often thought it was just because, well, fanfic is easier. You don’t have to create the people or the world, you can take what’s been given and run, there’s a built-in audience with, let’s face it, low expectations. Definitely easier.

I’m also working on a fantasy novel. I have little hope that it will get picked up or published anywhere, to be honest, because it’s kind of bizarre and not easily niched. Publishers don’t like that. But wow, I think about it all the time. I can’t sleep for thinking about it. I’ll stop writing for a few days because of stress or businesses or whatever, and when I come back it’s easy to just pick up and keep going. I don’t look at the clock a million times or check my word count to see how far I’ve gotten. There’s a (gay) romance in it, but the main point of the story isn’t the romance. This is how I felt about fanfic, but it’s not fanfic: it’s just as hard as creating anything else from scratch.

What I’m going to do is keep writing it, finish it, and start looking for an agent for it. Then I’ll decide whether to pick back up the romance sequel or write either a sequel to the fantasy (already plotted…) or a new fantasy. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. On a practical side, it means I’m probably going to remain training dogs to pay the bills… and I’m so tired of that. I just want to be writing. On the emotional side, at least I’ll be thrilled about what I’m writing, rather than in this occasionally-excited, kind of pleased, wondering when I’ll be done state. I’ve really missed being thrilled.

Maybe it’ll work out. I don’t know. I’m just feeling a little frustrated, I guess.

(cross-posted to my everyday life blog)


If you’re still replying to comments on this – and I don’t mean to be quite as dumb-sounding as this is going to be, but I guess I’m wondering what you mean by “have I been very stupid?” Do you mean: you weren’t happiest writing the romances you did because you thought you had to write a certain thing a certain way (without necessarily knowing)? Or you should have been writing slash (and in that sense, how does one write original slash – wouldn’t it just be gay romance/fiction then?) with prolonged character development arcs? (I’ve been thinking about this a little bit myself, and the definition of slash moves around a fair bit, so please forgive me if my usage isn’t your usage.)

I have had thoughts on writing fanfic as well – how easy it is, how low the expectations are, how grateful the audience is, how there is a community, how much I like turning on an inside joke. It’s nice. But you’ve made the great leap – gone pro (and probably a long time ago, given how much you’ve published). And that’s great. It’s also great you haven’t deleted all your fanfic. (Because I have read and loved some of it.) But the audience for pro stuff is so big, and the opportunities to write what you want to so great, and publishers so small-minded that maybe it’s daunting? But how can that be? You’ve already done so much. I’m still so pleased for you.

I have a friend who is very happy for me that I am writing (after a rather long hiatus) – and so I will use her sentiment. Anything that makes you happy, that moves you, that causes you to create is a good thing and should be encouraged. First, because happy people are awesome. Second, because whatever it is that you create, you will touch people.

(Yeah, I know. The good feelings of a stranger on the internet – take it for what it is – a drive-by smile, wave and thumbs-up.)

JB says:

Hi! Let me first define a term, so we at least know we’re using it the same way here. 😉 Slash – a story wherein the two main characters of the same sex are An Item. It may or may not be the focus of the plot. (That’s pretty much the loosest definition I came to use when writing fanfic, because, as you said, the definition moves around a fair bit, but it seemed everyone could pretty much agree on that! In original work, trans gets thrown in there, too.)

Okay! Let’s see… What I meant by “have I been very stupid?” had multiple meanings, I guess.

Have I been very stupid in thinking that I was writing romance, when that isn’t necessarily what slash is?

Have I been very stupid in thinking that I needed to write romance, when that wasn’t what made me happy?

Have I been very stupid in continuing to write romance even when I realized that wasn’t lighting that fire under me?

Looking at it now, after some time has passed, none of them are fair questions to myself: I was doing the best I could with the information I had. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating to realize that I could have been writing fantasy, and being happier with my writing, all along!

(and in that sense, how does one write original slash – wouldn’t it just be gay romance/fiction then?) Yes! *laughs* Rarely do you hear the term ‘slash’ in the gay romance world, but the gay romances don’t have to follow romance plots — they have the same loose guidelines that fanfic slash does. It’s more like slash than romance, in that sense.

But the audience for pro stuff is so big, and the opportunities to write what you want to so great, and publishers so small-minded that maybe it’s daunting? Well… yes and no. The audience for pro stuff, in both fantasy and gay romance, is actually quite small — especially in gay romance. Take the very tiny portion of fanfic slash readers who will make the leap to reading original slash, and then the tiny portion of those people who are willing to pay for it, and that’s almost the entire audience. Fantasy is larger, but it’s still one of the least selling genres of published works out there, and it doesn’t have the built-in community that fanfic has. In fanfic, people actually rec stories on their blogs and things. That doesn’t happen in published works; if you’re lucky you get reviews, but just this last winter I’ve had more pings letting me know that someone linked one of my fanfics than I’ve had reviews on my published works. And only once have I ever been pinged because someone posted about one of my published works on their blog!

In fanfic, people let others know what’s good. In books, that doesn’t happen. It’s amazing how much that matters!

On top of that, the opportunities to write what I want to write are severely hampered by what a publisher will buy, market, and sell — and you’re right, they’re very small minded. And even then, if I write what I want to write and the publisher doesn’t like it just because, it’s still not going to get picked up. If I want to make a living at it, I have to hedge the odds by writing what seems to get published — which diminishes those opportunities even more. For instance, the fantasy novel that I reference here, I finished — and haven’t even bothered editing. It doesn’t fit in any genre easily. It isn’t marketable. I can’t do a damn thing with it, really, though I’ll hang onto it for a while in the hopes that after I’ve been published someone will take a chance on it. So, sure, I can write anything I want — but I can’t do anything with it.

All that said, I am very happy to be writing, and very happy to be published and making money off it — even if it’s not much more than enough to pay for my car and health insurance! 😉 I’m still very lucky, and working toward bigger things. Cross my fingers, I might actually make real money at this some day! And it’s ALWAYS fun to hear people are still enjoying the fanfic. ;-D


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