thankful

In the midst of a hectic day preparing for Thanksgiving with friends and family, I want to pause and express my love and gratitude to:

1) READERS: I almost wrote “my readers”, and while I do love y’all especially, in reality I’m just grateful for all readers, every last person out there who enjoys picking up a book and immersing themselves in a tale spun by one of us wacky writers. Thank you for going on the journeys with our characters, for falling in love alongside them, for crying with them, for helping them live outside of the writer’s mind. Thank you, also, for trusting us with your hard-earned money, for trusting that the trip will be worth it, so that we can afford to write more stories for you. Thank you, readers! You make our hearts sing and make our work worthwhile.

2) Beta-readers: These special first readers get extra buckets of gratitude for making sure we don’t embarrass ourselves too badly, for telling us the ugly truths about our babies (books) and forcing us to reevaluate them with new eyes. Thank you for taking precious time away from your family, friends, work, job, and life to read our books (sometimes more than once) with a critical eye and then writing out (sometimes long) emails about how they can be better. Thank you for fighting for our books. You’re our heroes.

3) Editors: Thank you for trying to fix every last wrong thing in our books and for making our books your own babies, too. Thank you for forcing us into the harder edits that we might otherwise resist. We’d be a mess without you!

4) Reviewers: Thank you for loving books so much you tell the world about them! Thank you for doing your best to spread the word about the books you love and for being honest about the books you don’t. Thank you for spending time away from your family, friends, and life to run blogs, promote our books, post on Goodreads/FB/Twitter with so much enthusiasm. Where would we be with you guys? You do so much for all of us authors! Thank you forever!

5) Family and Friends: Thank you for listening to us talk endlessly about made up people. Thank you for giving us the time to write the books, for not making us feel guilty about how often we spend our free hours in a fantasy land, and thank you for understanding piled up dishes, and laundry, and missed appointments. Thank you for holding our hands when books bomb, and for jumping up and down with us when books do well, and for reading books that you might otherwise not just because we wrote them. Thank you for your love, your support, your cheerleading, and your tether to reality.

Thank you! You make our world go ’round!

Know What the Book is About #writing

Reading reviews for Training Season has been a bemusing and fascinating experience. There is, of course, no way to please all the people all the time, and what one reader likes another reader hates. It’s wild to watch many people declare a character real, perfect, amazing and say they’ve fallen in love with him, and then to see another person declare that character boring, badly drawn, or unbearable. At this point, the positive outweighs the negative, and I’m hopeful it stays that way, but, as I said, it’s been a wild ride.

Given that Training Season was in, or hovered around the edges of, Amazon’s Top Ten Gay Romances for over two weeks in December, I think that I must have done something right along the way. And one thing that I’ve been mulling over during all of this hoopla is reader expectations and how they seem to play into the reception of the book. Some readers are disappointed that ranching or skating doesn’t take front and center, though most seem fine with how both things are presented. The thing is, I did a ton more research on ranching and skating than reveals itself in the book itself. And there’s a reason for that.

See, the book was never about those things. Sure, I could’ve written a book about the ins and outs of figure skating, with a lot of competitions, and scenes of skating on the ice. I could’ve written a book about ranching, featuring thrilling moments of escaped or wounded cattle, encounters with dangerous wild animals, or life-or-death adventures on the range. Instead, I wrote a book about something else entirely.

I wrote a book about a romance and about a young man’s emotional growth. I suppose some readers who say this book is more of a coming of age novel, might have a point, though the romance being central definitely makes it a romance in my book. But the book was never about the world of figure skating, or the adventures of ranching. It was always about how a person falls in love, makes choices, processes loss and pain, and moves into a stronger, better place in his life.

There were points when I was writing when I felt like I could take the book in another direction, something more sports or more ranch, but when it came down to it, I realized the book I was really writing and stayed true to it. I think that’s part of why this book has been so surprisingly successful in the scheme of things. Not that readers don’t want books about sports or about ranching! But rather, I think readers want a story that it is told true all the way through, and if I’d wavered from the direction the characters originally set out in, I think the book would have been a failure.

Thank you to all the readers out there–every last one!–who have loved or hated it so far. Y’all are the best. Thank you for letting these characters into your life for even just a little while.

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Training Season can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, ARe, and Smashwords. Coming soon to iBooks.

The Writer

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I was rifling through Rilke’s The Rose Window yesterday, and played that silly game I sometimes indulge in where I close my eyes, ask for some sort of important information about a specific subject in my life, then open the book randomly and read. Yesterday, I asked for some insight on writing, and this is what came up for me.

The Reader

Who knows this stranger who has turned his face
away from life to live another life –
which nothing interrupts except the swift
and forceful turning of each printed page?

Even a mother might not recognise
her son, lost in the world that lies below him,
steeped in his own shadow. What can we know –
who live our lives so governed by mere hours –
of other lives he may have lived and lost
before he looks up, heavy now and burdened

with all the matter which his book contains?
As children rise from play and look around
his eyes now turn to all that lies outside,
towards the world again made manifest;
but yet his face, for all its discipline,
will never while he lives change back again.

— Rainier Maria Rilke

Having spent the last several weeks absorbed in other worlds as a writer, I found it interesting that Rilke chose to address the phenomenon of losing time and gaining unsharable, unknowable lifetimes from the point of view of the reader. I’d love to hear from readers whether or not they often face the accusatory questioning that writers face regarding valid uses of their time. I obviously am both a reader and a writer, but given that writer is my primary identification, that is the place that most outsiders attack with questions of validity. “But if you’re not published yet, how can you call yourself a writer?” “How can you justify the time you spend writing when you haven’t been paid a dime yet?” “What about the state of your house? Are you sure you’re an actual grown-up? It doesn’t appear so. I mean, a quick look around this place proves that!” Okay, so maybe those are my inner demons judging me more than anyone external, but I still suspect those are the kinds of things that people (family) think about me and writing on a regular basis. Who does it help? What does it do? Why can’t we read it?

(Because it’s chock full of explicit sex of the gay and het variety, Mom. And while I know you love the m/m romances and get behind the sometimes kinky-lovin’ in them, there’s something a bit different about saying, “Hey, Mom, I wrote this sex scene!” It’s just…hinky. To me anyway. Much less showing them to my mother-in-law and her bridge friends! Yikes!)

And yet this is what I write. This is my shadow, or my bliss, or some combination of both being written out on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Which brings me back to my question – why wouldn’t I? What’s in it for me – creating other worlds with people in them who don’t exist, where they have a ton of sex, and laugh, and cry, and fight, and screw some more? Obviously it’s something compelling because I keep coming back to it, despite how lonely it can be, despite how it can cut me off from some of the people who matter most in my life, because it isn’t something that they will get to share.

I found within this poem the age-old question that all writers are asked, and all writers occasionally ask themselves: Why? Why do you spend your precious time dallying about in a world that doesn’t exist, and ultimately may never be shared with another human being, or with those human beings that matter most?

It’s a question that, for the writer, can often be answered with the inexplicable explanation: “Because I must!

Why do you read or write? Why do you walk in a world that your mother/spouse/children/grandmother can’t know? And do you, as Rilke suggests, come back changed or altered from your time spent there? Or do you feel that you return relatively unscathed? At times I feel like writing is better than therapy for me, though that is probably because I’ve never had a decent therapist, and I feel like I return from each encounter with creating another world somehow stronger, better, and able to fight for who I am, who I want to be, and to embrace healed parts of myself that maybe I hadn’t even known were wounded. At other times, when the house is adrift with the giant socks of my husband and the small socks of my child, the laundry is backed up, and I turn my back on sleep and dishes alike, I think it’s a sickness that I could well do without. But then, like any addiction, I feel positively ill at the idea of letting my sickness go, or turning my back on it. Which brings me back to its role as healer in my life and how it brings me more in touch with my true nature, and while the house may be a wreck, my soul is getting strong.

What about you, dear readers and fellow writers? How often do you ask yourself the question why? How often do you have to validate or justify your  choice to spend time in imagined worlds with characters who don’t exist outside of our minds?