Vastine Bondurant – Take That, And That!

Perils of Pauline

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.  — Albert Camus

I’m approaching—with caution—a subject that’s on my mind. It’s on my mind a lot.

Angst. Angst in our writing. My writing included. Remember as I progress that I said, emphatically: MY WRITING, TOO.

All who know me have heard me gripe and moan about my weariness of angst in stories. Authors just can’t seem to write enough of it and readers just can’t seem to read enough of it.

What is it about angst? Why do we like to cry so much? Why are books given a Kleenex rating? The more hankies it takes to get through a book, the better.

Why do we get giddy with anticipation when an author warns us that we’ll need to buy stock in the tissue company when we read this book or that book?

Why do we cheer like lazy, over-fed Roman spectators at a gladiator bout when an author tells us—with a fiendish gleam in their words—that they just off’d a character or maimed them in some horrific way?

Piano Falling on Head

Why is a book that is light on angst called ‘fluff’? (Which I kind of find demeaning, as it seems to imply silliness and emptiness simply because it doesn’t include trauma). When—in all fairness—books in which nothing traumatic and tragic happens are usually as well written and as good as stories with those elements.

There’s a lot of debate on the subject. Some suggest that those who don’t like angst in their books are not in touch with real life and, therefore, cannot take the stuff in their reading either.

On that, I can only say. Whoa. Back up, baby. I know angst, I’ve known angst in my life. Angst and I are old buddies. As a mother who lost her son (son-in-law, but he was a son to me) to a long battle with cancer, I am no stranger to tragedy and trauma. So to suggest I can’t handle constant Kleenex use while reading because I’m not in touch with reality? Nuh-uh. Not so. You take that back.

A confession…

My beta read for one of my WIP’s and questioned me. Seems I’d—oh, geez, I’m blushing—thrown a handicap into the equation and she confronted me. She wanted to know why. She knew my stance on angst-for-the-sake-of angst and wondered why I, of all people, had decided to use this handicap. She cornered me. What did this condition add to the story, she wanted to know? I had to confess. Absolutely nothing. It was, I will admit, for sympathy. I, Vastine Bondurant, confess. I wanted to make it more dramatic.

But the funny part…

My newest novella, Glory Lands, does have an angst angle. I didn’t take pleasure in incorporating the element into the story. And by that I refer to the fact that I see so much joking in the author community about how we enjoy torturing our characters. The worse, the better, I hear. I’m never sure if this pride—a sort of medal of honor—in maiming and torturing is for deep impact, to make the book so shocking you can’t forget it. Who knows? And I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. And, sugar pie, I’m not even going to say I’ll never pull that myself. My earliest and dearest mentor—a lovely Sicilian gentleman—always urged me to kill, kill. They will remember it, he said.

Romeo and Juliet

Camille Death Scene

And now. To the reason I’ve taken a hard look—a very careful audit—of my own motives when I go the angst route.

I got hit with my personal bottom line. My big internal question.

Are my characters compelling enough, can they draw enough emotion on their own—just by being ordinary humans—without suffering additional handicaps?

In my heart, the crucial factor…

Character depth. For me, writing a character without an external angst element—whether it be physical or mental—is almost like walking a tight rope without a net. No props to make him/her interesting. Just the naked, pure, ordinary person. Is my writing strong enough to just take an everyday Joe off the street and get to a reader’s heart without wounding him?

Can he just suffer plain ol’, normal heart aches like any guy and still capture a readers’ heart? Depends on how powerful I can paint him.

But can I do that? Like I wondered, is my writing strong enough? Or does he need a physical ailment to grab a heart? Can he just die inside over a lover and you’ll want to die with him because you love him so much?

Can he just be so very human that you relate to him just because?

Believe it or not, to carry that off is not easy. To create a character who is that strong is difficult, not to mention scary. To write him without a crutch, a ‘sure thing’ to grip the mind and heart. Nothing to lean on but his soul.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying physical and mental obstacles are not as real and as huge a factor in fiction as they are in real life. They are, and I use them myself. Remember, I DID tell you I use angst in my writing, too. I truly do.

But…

I crave the challenge of trying to present an ordinary Joe who you just love to love, and cry when he cries, laugh when he laughs. And you do so because you see yourself in him, your deepest self. Not because I threw him off a cliff or cut off his arms or legs to tug your heart. But because I bared open his soul to you, every human bit of it. Warts and all.

He’s YOU when you break up with a lover. You’re not in a body cast, you’re not maimed, but do you hurt like hell.

He’s YOU when you fall in love all over again and your heart is about to bust with the goodness of it. You’re not in physical pain but you cry anyway because you hurt so good.

This quote by Gilbert K. Chesterton hit home with me: Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze. 

It took a while for it to sink it to me. But then I saw it. Normal, just plain normal, is a mighty force in itself and can run very, very deep. The character is the foundation. He’s got to touch us first, he has to be strong enough to make us care (or hate sometimes) all on his own. The angst should only make us bawl our guts out because it’s happening to HIM, not because it’s just angst.

So I wonder about my own writing. Can I make my characters that deep? Can I create a guy who—just by being a guy, a real, nothing-wrong-with-him-except-he’s-100%-human guy—can still grab a reader’s heart?

I’m going to put as much heart as I can into every character I write. I’m going to try to make sure they have enough human element to be recognizable to everyone who reads them. Not their faces, their bodies, their circumstances. But their souls.

Oh, sure, I’ll have angst in my books, too. I like it as much as the next person. But my biggest goal will be the characters FIRST. Make them beautiful enough inside—and by beautiful, I mean nothing but pure, simple, glorious human hearts—and anything else that falls into their lives…well…

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B. Snow – Chats on Pre-Releases, the Writing Process, Hobbies, and Swag Ideas.

Hi, all, Charlie has graciously allowed me to guest blog today!

When I asked her what might be good to chat about, she gave me a whole list of topics (because she’s awesome), so I decided to let my short attention span run free like the wind, and will be blathering about:

pre-releases

writing process

hobbies

swag/craft ideas

And to make the post more interesting, I’m going to randomly insert pictures of our cat.

Pre-releases: not even at the pre-release stage yet. I will have two stories in upcoming anthologies, but I’m not sure what the titles will be yet.

One anthology has the theme of bedtime stories and will probably have that as the title. It will be published by Wilde City Press. My story for that anthology is currently titled “Miles To Go” and is about Joe, his wife, Marty, and their young son, Ethan. Other than having bouts of insomnia, Joe is perfectly content with his life until Marty gets the completely insane idea that he’s gay and moves out. Joe will do anything to keep his family together, including agreeing to Marty’s condition of going out on seven dates with men to see if anything “sparks”. To facilitate these dates, Marty hires a babysitter, Danny, who is smart, responsible, and great with Ethan, but just a little too good-looking and flirtatious for Joe’s comfort. But that would really only be a problem if Joe were gay, right?

The second story is a fundraiser anthology from Less Than Three Press for Project Fierce Chicago, a charity that plans to provide transitional housing to homeless LGBT youth. As you may know, even though LGBT people are at most 10% of the population, LGBT kids make up 40% of homeless youth. Since I’m lucky enough to never have even come close to being homeless, I wrote “Hearth and Home” as a sort of fairytale. It’s also my only F/F story – that just worked better for my idea, plus it’s not just boys that get kicked out of their homes for liking someone of the same gender.

Natasha’s stepmother piles work on her at home, but it’s not bad enough for Natasha to consider marrying a man she doesn’t love, even if he is a prince. When she gets thrown out of the house for confessing that she likes girls, she ends up in the city without a copper in her pocket. She eventually finds a hearth to sleep on and wins people over with her heart and intelligence. She’s smart enough to know that Amelia, a lady-in-waiting she met at the ball, is too far out of reach for a poor girl to even dream about. And yet she can’t stop dreaming about her.

So, that’s pre-releases. My process as a writer? Write a little, slowly, then complain about it a lot. No, actually, I think I need to go back to what I used to when I first started: write out the parts that wrote themselves in my head, even if it’s the most major pain in the ass afterwards to string them all together and by that point in the writing, the story has changed so some of those scenes don’t even work anymore. But it would probably still be faster than trying to write chronologically and getting stuck.

What would also help is the weather warming up, so the cat won’t need to sit on my lap and lie across my arm as I’m trying to type.

pic 1 for Charlie's blog-cat across armI can’t be mad at her, though; it’s the first winter since we lost our other cat, and while she didn’t like him much, she did like his warmth.

pic 2 for Charlie's blog - cats getting along

(The cats getting along because winter)

pic 3 for Charlie's blog - cat helping me write

(The cat “helping” me write)

Hobbies! I’m throwing this one out to you all. How do you read and write and watch TV shows and movies and knit and get it all done? I seem to be able to do only one thing at a time, unless it’s a knitting project that’s JUST knit stitches. I can watch or read if it’s just knit stitches, because I don’t have to look or count. So how do you all divide up your time? Schedules? Timer? Color-coded charts like Hermione made for schoolwork?

And a question: do any of you like to read short stories? I have two WIP short stories in various stages of completion. Should I try to get them published? I mean, is there an audience for them? I could put “Emily’s Magical Bejeweled Codpiece” (yes, that’s the real title) up as a free read if I had a few more things out for people to actually buy. Currently, all I have out are these:

What I Learned From My Roommate in Alyson Books’ Dorm Porn 2

DormPorn2cover

From A Simmer To A Burn in Dreamspinner Press’ Cross Bones

Crossbones cover

and my only standalone book so far, also from Dreamspinner Press, A Cunning Plan

CunningPlan_postcard_front_DSP

Really, I don’t know what I was thinking with that one. it’s a Regency with just enough paranormal to piss off historical purists but not enough paranormal for paranormal fans.

Ooh, and swag ideas. I thought about making quilted tote bags as swag for my novella A Cunning Plan, even though I don’t know how to quilt. If you choose prizes for a giveaway, would it be a quilted tote bag, a pair of hand-knitted wristwarmers, or an e-copy of a book? 

Charlie, thanks again for letting me ramble. Time to go get some tea!

Author Christopher Hawthorne Moss: Where do you get your ideas?

Authors get this question all the time.  Well, so I hear.  I’m an author, of GLBT novels and stories, so just in case anyone ever asks me that, I’m ready.  I discovered with my first novel precisely where the ideas originate.

My own experience?  Or perhaps  my fertile imagination?  Those were what I thought at first, writing as I did a novel taken from stories an 11 year old friend and a 12 year old me wrote and turning them into a novel.  (I decided when I was much – much — older that since I had had sex now, I could write about it.)  It appeared to me that since the characters were good friends from pre-teenhood, I was writing through at least their experience and my imagination.

By the time the 600+ page tome was in print I began to realize something, pretty  much a spiritual vision, you could say, about just how that process came about – both times – that only providentially had anything to do with my experience or even my imagination.  I am here today, sisters and brothers, to share with you what I discovered.

You have heard of dimensions.  We talk about the three dimensions, this way, that way and up or down.  I seem to remember someone talking about a few more, of time and min.  I don’t know about those, but I do know about the one that is the source of fiction.  I don’t know what it’s called, but does that really matter?  Labels, labels, labels.  We don’t need no stinkin’ labels.

The dimension I speak of is where characters live.  They wait around from time immemorial for their author first to come into existence and then to get on the stick and draw them out into our own world.  Sad to say most characters are still in their dimension, waiting perhaps for the whole cycle to restart so they get another stab at an author.

Their recompense for all this waiting is that they get to stay once liberated from their Giant Waiting Room in the Ether.  Once an author frees them from Obscurity, they live as long as there are readers, or at least listeners and viewers.  The author shuffles of this mortal coil, but the characters and their stories are forever.  Or for a freakin’ good long time anyway.

I am surprised I did not realize this at first.  You see, the very reason I wrote my first novel at 56 is that I had revisited what my friend and I had called “The Story”.  Since the so-called friend had zero interest – zip – goose eggs – nada – in returning to the story, about which I learned she had never told a single soul – horrors – I’d better write them up and publish them as a novel or they would go the way of all flesh, including brain cells when said flesh was no more.  I fooled myself into thinking that I was the intelligence behind that decision.  Nuh-uh.

I mean, think about it.  Which is stronger: protective instincts or self-preservation?  These characters had once used my adolescent smash on my friend to get a toe in the literary door, only to see that they would slip back out through the same door.  They had tasted liberty, so they had more incentive to clamor for another chance and most characters do.  They found another way to get me, their predestined author, to start writing them again.  And it was then that realized my greater age this time meant they got to have sex.

I had one more reason to have figured this out.  Sometime through the writing of that novel I realized I was at a dead end with the plot.  It occurred to me to ask the characters what should transpire.  They helped wonderfully, at least until the conversation, a sort of panel discussion, inevitably deteriorated into a fist fight between the two rivals for the heart of the lady fair.

This crowd was lucky.  They grabbed my attention before I realized I was gay.  So the flagrant heterosexuality slipped in before I switched to nothing but gay fiction.  Ironically my second book was written when I still thought I was a straight female.  As such I wrote about a woman who felt more like a man, wanted to don a knight’s armor and live as a man.  Oh.  I see.  She’s me.  So now I know I am a gay man, transgender.  It seems like my characters have been writing me as much or more than I have been writing them.

I guess I must be doing justice by them, since they never act smug about my temporariness.  And I am grateful to realize that whatever crumbled pile of ashes I become they will always be here in the minds and, in the case of fan fiction, will continue to live as long as there are humans – or maybe uplifted cats and dogs – to read and write about them.

In other words, I don’t get ideas — they got me.

 

Christopher Hawthorne Moss lives with his husband and their godlike cats in the Pacific Northwest.  His books are:

 

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Loving the Goddess Within, under the name Nan Hawthorne, 1991 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/135121

 

aik-covver

An Involuntary King, the novel aforementioned, under that same author name, 2008,  http://www.amazon.com/An-Involuntary-King-England-ebook/dp/B0029U0X5G/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1381790545&sr=1-1&keywords=an+involuntary+king  You can find his pre-teen stories at An Involuntary King: The Stories http://aninvoluntaryking.blogspot.com

 

Beloved Pilgrim, formerly under the name Nan Hawthorne but soon to be released as a transgender historical novel by Christopher Hawthorne Moss, 2011 and 2014 Harmony Ink Press TBA

 

Where My Love Lies Dreaming300

Where my Love Lies Dreaming, by Christopher Hawthorne Moss published in July 2013 by Dreamspinner Press.  Frankie and Johnny are thrilled to be finalists in the 2013 Rainbow Books awards.  http://www.amazon.com/Where-My-Love-Lies-Dreaming-ebook/dp/B00E99LCMI

 

He reviews one book after another for That’s All I Read http://kitmossreviews.blogspot.com and is an editor/reviewer for GLBT Bookshelf www.glbtbookshelf.com .  You can find a few short stories of his about, including in the anthology Closet Capers, 2013

ClosetCapers

http://www.amazon.com/Closet-Capers-ebook/dp/B00CGU3T1Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1381790364&sr=1-1&keywords=closet+capers.

 

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Learn more about Christopher Hawthorne Moss at www.shield-wall.com and contact him at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kitmoss2012 .