Reading Tastes Evolving My Writing Style
Question: Do you find your reading tastes evolving as your life changes? (not that any genre is better than another, just differing from before). Please answer this for me via the comments on this blog, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or M&M of Restraint closed group on FB. My curiosity is getting the better of me. I want to know if I’m somehow… broken.
My long-winded answer, with a side of defensiveness over some comments over Good Girl NOT being Erotica: (must never read another comment or review, because to me it’s like telling a mother her kid is homely. I’m sick of explaining myself, as if I have a reason that I should be defensive. My book. My rules)
As a child, I was a reluctant reader. My teachers were beside themselves because I didn’t want to read ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ or other books children my age thought were entertaining. I looked older than I was, and apparently I thought older than I was, as well. This was decades ago, way before Kindles and ebooks. Books for the tween-aged girl were The Baby Sitter’s Club or the classics. Easily bored, it took a lot to entertain me and keep me engaged- still true to this day. My parents were at a loss, so that is when I received my first magazine subscription in my name at age 8: Mad Magazine. <- My father’s idea. ;) Somehow he knew I’d turn out to be a closeted pervert who thought violence was humorous. “Spy vs Spy”
When I began reading novels at 10 years old, I read VC Andrews and Stephen King. Horror, mystery & suspense, with a side of sex, was the only thing that would capture my attention. Too mature for most kids my age, I’m sure. I’m no worse for wear, but highly well-read. Mom wouldn’t budge on Anne Rice, though. If a stranger had found my library card, they would have thought I was a grown woman. Good thing the librarian was my aunt and didn’t bat an eyelash at my selections. I never really thought about that until now… what did my aunt think? “Strange Kid,” I bet.
My early 20s were dedicated to VC Andrews and Oprah’s book club selections. In my late 20s through early 30s, I read Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. Yes, you can thank the over-criticized Twilight for that obsession, and I’m not ashamed. It’s still one of my guilty pleasures. I was entertained; what more can I say?
For some reason I’ve yet to explore, I moved onto Dark Erotica, mixed with Young Adult as a palate cleanser. This is when I began writing. Although I was leaving UF & PNR behind, my first book was UF, and that’s why it’s my first book- the shelved Chrysalis that may never see the light of day. My second attempt was a mix of BDSM and Crime.
Restraint was a whim that I thought would never come to fruition, and less than 3 months after I started writing it, it was published. Obviously after this I read many books in the Dark Erotica and Erotica genres. Yes, I wrote Restraint way before I ever read a book it would be classified alongside. For me it was about control, and the lack of control I felt over my life, and had absolutely nothing to do with sex. Sex was just a metaphor to express how trapped I felt. While I had to categorize Restraint as Dark and Erotica because of its explicit nature, it was never smut. Never sex for the sake of sex. It was human behavior- a cerebral fucking.
Good Girl was another precipice in my life. A hybrid of contemporary and non-sexual BDSM(control over your own life and actions) with playful sex added into the mix. I was no longer reading Erotica or Dark Erotica.
I’m not sure why my tastes have changed yet again. But I can’t read this type of book, and I haven’t for almost two years now. When readers recommend books that are in a similar genre as my own, I try, truly try, to read them. But I can’t. My tastes are now story-driven. It’s why I always liked YA so much. I want 100% story with amazing chemistry between well-fleshed-out characters, not 10% story with repetitive sex. Once sex is introduced, I get bored and check out, or want the story to end.
While many enjoy this: the following statement is about what I enjoy. You can debate me if you wish, but this is about personal preference and how it affects my writing style. What is sex without buildup? If it’s just input a character name here, put peg A into slot B, it doesn’t hold my attention.
A hot, smooth talking dude just makes me groan. Give him some kickass name that I think is beyond ridiculous, make him heavily muscled, borderline abusive, and without any true characteristics, add a whiny woman without any self-respect, and make them screw in between 5 pages of storyline, and then screw again and again and again. Maybe add another cookie-cutter character into a menage. Don’t forget to add the Baby/Babe.
Sorry, no! I can’t swallow it. I just can’t.
I understand the appeal of smut, why readers long to read it. It just doesn’t hold any appeal for me. Erica longs for… more.
In real life, that same douche wouldn’t do a thing for me, either. If he’s the abusive ass, I’d find him as an abusive ass. If he flashes me a bullshit grin… charm to me is false, lies, and highly annoying and predicable. To me it’s like small talk- I don’t have time for that waste of time… I am nothing if not serious. Debate me; that will get me hot and bothered, or just bothered. But either way, you’ll get an honest reaction out of me vs polite bullshit uttered out of social obligation.
When I read a book, I want to be left wounded, raw. I want real- real in all its glorious, pain-filled flaws. I want my emotions warped until I feel what the character is feeling, until the character becomes a true entity, and that is what I hope I achieve with my writing.
So now I find myself reading cheesy Historical Romance. Why? Why the hell would a woman who writes the M&M Series read about that era, an era that goes against her core belief system with its maltreatment to women? Easily answered: because it’s the same as when she was a child; Erica wants to read the opposite of her situation. She wants anti-reality. I’m also reading contemporary. Why you ask: because Erica also wants to read about reality. The mind that creates stories is complex enough to have to read varying genres to fight ennui.
Never fear: nothing will EVER inspire me to write historical. I love it, but just like novellas and short stories, I couldn’t write it if my life depended on it.
What does this mean for my writing future: I don’t know. M&M holds my undivided attention because it is so involved, twisted, character-driven. And as you can see from earlier books in the series vs later books, I refuse to add sex for the sake of sex. Any and all sex is to drive the story.
So I find myself with some negativity on Good Girl, not only for the addiction theme, but for the lack of erotica. Nowhere do I list this book as a sex-fest. I know readers do like smut, and I have nothing against it. I do not enjoy smut, so therefore I cannot write smut. So to negatively rate Good Girl because you are judging it against M&M or books in differing genres, is ludicrous. Good Girl, the Blended series, is NOT erotica, so to judge it against erotica is like judging Harry Potter against Fifty Shades. While Good Girl has sexual situations and themes, because real life has those, it is not a sex book. Never was, never will be, and I will make no apologies for it, either. Other books in the Blended series, the sex will vary by the character. I’m not cookie-cutter. My characters are complex and different than the others. One book will not be a repeat of the last with the names and locations changed.
Is there anything I haven’t written? Any line I’ve refused to cross? I can understand why M&M readers would be blindsided by… borderline normal in Blended, but that doesn’t change a dang thing. I am the immovable object, and the only unstoppable force I will ever concede to is my own mind. Negativity will NEVER get me to move. It will only get me to become even more unbending. I’m always baffled by some comments and emails I get. My characters are dominant beings. Who do you think created them?
While many of my hardcore M&M fans will NOT enjoy Good Girl, the small following of Blended fans will NOT like Restraint. Why, you ask: because Erica Chilson is not a one-trick-pony. I have the capacity to write differing genres with equal fervor. I can write both, and I don’t ask my readers to read both. I’m good with two separate followings with a group of readers who straddles the genres. Just as my tastes have evolved over time, my writing does as well. Just as I was as a child, I am easily bored. I need both anti-reality and reality to keep myself interested… and an interested Wicked Writer writes better books than a writer who feels pressured into writing what readers want.
I thought I would get this out there to those who have criticized my use of addiction in Good Girl. First and foremost: addiction is an issue that plagues every family- it taints and destroys lives. Since the Blended series for me is my first venture from anti-reality into reality, I thought it best to deal with everyday issues that affect us all. If this isn’t your type of read… Don’t read it. I’m not forcing my stories on anyone. Same as I don’t force my cerebral f*ck known as the M&M series on anyone, either. My stories are NOT for everyone, and I’m okay with that…
Secondly: as to whether or not it is possible to become addicted to marijuana (most seem to forget that Willow is dealing with an alcohol addiction as we debate over whether or not you can be addicted to pot, and no one on the planet will say alcohol is not addictive. So I’m sorry if Willow is having a craving. *shrugs*).
Any substance, any action, anything is addictive. Chemical dependency and coping mechanisms through repetitive action. Is it repetitive? Is it a chemical? If the answer is yes, then yes, you can become addicted.
A few of my betas commented on this, whether or not Pot could be addictive. While the main character is struggling with drug and alcohol use, Willow is NOT the source of the addiction in the blended family.
I will stress this: if you can get addicted to food, sex, hugging your teddy bear, washing your hands, Chap-stick, your morning cup of coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, why can’t you become addicted to pot? It’s a substance. It’s something someone takes as not only a coping mechanism but as a drug. Marijuana is called a DRUG, correct? Did I miss that somewhere? I guess the newest legislation spouting how Pot is not addictive and only a gateway is probably to blame. But since alcohol addiction runs rampant, lung cancer is at a all-time high from cigarette smoke, and both are legal….
Ask me about the mother of headache I get without my Diet Coke, and then tell me that my character cannot be addicted to a substance she used several times per day for 6 years. If you removed one thing from your routine that you have performed for nearly a decade, how off would you feel? Now add the fact that the chemicals have altered your body’s chemistry….
I have no idea if these comments stem from people who smoke weed and feel as if I am judging. I am not. It is personal responsibility on your end whether or not you want to imbibe. Recreational use is not the abuse I was showing with Willow- so if you take offense…. I’m sure I pissed off some heroin users later on in the book, too. The Blended series is about a family coming together to overcome the issues within their family, drug addiction just happens to be one of them. My largest goal was to show that enablers were just as at fault as the drug abuser. Note the use of Abuser versus User- yes, there is a difference between use and abuse. Ask someone addicted to food about overeating versus someone eating as fuel. I also have no idea if these comments are coming from someone who has never been around drugs, either. But to say you cannot get addicted to pot is like saying you can’t get addicted to anything else, either.
Excuse me while I refill my glass of Diet Coke. I mustn’t have a headache. And later, I will count while I do everything I do during the day or risk an anxiety attack. But then again, I guess I will allow someone else to tell me if that is a problem or not.
Can You Over-Edit?
Good Girl’s final edit and the beta process have taught me that you can, in fact, over-edit your work. I write in first person, present tense. I am the character as I write. I am in their head, expressing their thoughts and actions on paper. During an edit, I am no longer the character. I become the editor. It’s hard to step back and not mess with the flow. Yes, when you wear your editor hat, you have to check for grammar, punctuation, misspelled and misused words, redundancy, and bad habits, WITHOUT stepping on the other voices. But there comes a point when your characters no longer sound like your characters and begin to sound just like you. It’s called your author voice, and it carries over into everything you create. The line you should never cross is the editor voice. If you find yourself second-guessing words, replacing them- prettying them up, you’ve crossed that line.
Since I completely revamped Good Girl, I sent it to way, way too many people to check over my work and look for mistakes. I entered the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen‘ zone. Betas are invaluable, and I can never express how thankful I am that they are willing to give me their time and opinions. But, at the end of the day, this is my creation. The large grouping of betas gave me great insight into how you can over-edit. A few over-thought the process, becoming head-blind and only noting one thing, to the point they didn’t see anything else. This was valuable to me, because it showed me how I was doing the same thing. It is called a beta read for a reason. They are to ‘read‘ and note anything that yanks them from the story, and I need that. That is what annoys purchasing readers and reviewers. But with too many betas, you begin to have too many ‘voices’.
I am the one who has to rewrite the draft, because I am the only one who knows the characters. I am the one that has to rewrite the draft, because it is my author voice that created the characters. It has been an uphill battle to overlook everything that wasn’t necessary during the editing process. I kept second-guessing myself. “Maybe they are right.” “Maybe this sucks.” And then I realize that the sentence structure was not my sentence structure, that it began to take on the cadence of the beta reader. And that is why it’s not called Beta ‘edit’ or Beta ‘write’.
Whether wrong or right in the eyes of a ‘professional’, it has nothing to do with my storytelling. Two of my favorite authors are without a doubt butchers of the English language. Does that make me love them any less? Hell, no! It makes them unique. Now, I’m not talking sloppy, lazy writing. I’m speaking of their voice and the way their stories unfold, be it the flow of their words or the way they put it to paper. If you handed me a passage of their writing without stating who it was, I could accurately say who wrote it. That everlasting impression is what captivated me and kept me entertained for years. It’s what makes me salivate for their new releases- waiting more than a year per book. I want to be that for my readers, flaws and all.
Voice is more important than anything in my eyes, for without it, everything else just falls flat. It’s when you’re reading a book that is perfect but boring. Currently my character is a flawed 18 year old girl. I don’t care if the dialogue is flawed because what 18 yo, let alone a 35 yo, speaks perfectly? I’m not speaking of a jumbled up mess with shitty editing. There is a delicate balance between allowing your character’s voice to shine alongside the author voice, without infringing upon it with the editor voice.
How many times do I write one sentence? Dozens- at least. By the time I get the ‘beta copy‘ back from the betas, I’ve already rewritten that sentence again once or twice. That is why I try to stress that I’m only looking for the things that are off, because everything else is never the same. I will use this mortifying example: Panty vs Pantry. Yes, Erica wrote Panty in place of Pantry, not once, butTWICE. Isis gained an evil (good?) twin named Iris two times as well. I had a sLiver tank top versus a siLver tank top. Suz and her ‘inequity’ had me imagining a bunch of lawyers sitting around a table in their den. Iniquity ;) Puts a whole new spin on a den of ‘inequity’, eh? My point being, what is more embarrassing: a missing comma or getting food out of your panties? While some lawyers are sexy, not all of them are. So I don’t think I’d enjoy a den of them, would you?
By the time I get the beta copies back, the odds that the words are shuffled around in the sentence and the punctuation has been fiddled with are about 100%. But the majority of the words remain the same. Those are the words my mind replaced on me. I become head-blind. This is why I need beta ‘readers’ to spot these words. I cannot stress this strongly enough. The editing is done ‘after‘ the beta ‘read’. Trust me; I know. I’ve been doing it for the past 13 days straight, twenty hours per day. (Hell, when was the last time I slept, anyway? I’m not joking. It’s 5 a.m. est, and I’ve yet to shut my eyes from the day before- I’m not writing or rewriting. All of my attention is solely focused on those dang rules- editing. I’ve learned my lesson from past horrors) Number one rule of writing: you NEVER edit while you write. You’ll get nowhere- FAST. It’s only good habits that keep your first three drafts from being a total disaster. There is a highly probable chance that those commas, periods, quote marks, ellipsis, and hyphens no longer exist. The betas receive a draft of many, not the final draft. It was one draft from being the gibberish in my head. That’s why I stress, “don’t over-think it.” Obviously I’m stressing this now for a reason ;) *maniacal laughter*
I found myself going word-for-word, nit-picking, worrying that I was doing it wrong, and I was leaving my character and myself behind. If you look at anything too closely, you’ll find fault in it. A sentence is a string of words with endless possibilities of rearrangement. My character spewed them onto the page, and it is my job to make sure they make sense for the reader. But it is not for me to twist their words until they are no longer ‘their’ words. Writing a sentence is not complicated, unless you complicate it with over-thinking. You are expressing a thought, and nothing more.
What is complicated are the rules of your language, which vary by country, and are all up to interpretation. Writing rules change, and we can debate them to death. Oxford Comma debate, anyone? Chicken/egg? Let’s debate grammar and punctuation until it’s just a string of words that no longer read like a story, shall we? But those rules must also take a backseat to an area’s dialect. I only write characters in the North East for a specific reason- that is my region, with my dialect. If you use rules and forgo the dialect. FLAT. While perfect, it will be perfectly flat.
I cannot even guess the amount of hours I put into Good Girl. Thousands upon thousands of hours- all my hours. So it will be up to me to know what is best for the quarter of a million words that were my creation. I’m sure when it’s completed it will be flawed, that if someone wishes to tear it to shreds for their own entertainment, they will find enough wrong to do so. But as I said, a sentence is a string of words with endless possibilities… string your own sentence together, and then have the balls to withstand an army of backseat ‘editors’ dissecting it. I bet you get the same amount of variants as you do editors. You have no idea the amount of courage it takes to press publish, and how much more courage it takes to ignore the negativity. A writer has to possess quiet dignity and suffer in silence.
Good Girl is a story about a young woman learning to love herself, to be comfortable in her own skin. I had an epiphany this evening as I was editing. Me, Myself, and I get along famously with the hundreds of characters thriving in our mind, so why am I allowing anyone to enter my sanctuary? You can debate my writing style, but you will never debate me about my writing style.
Back to those rules: I play by the rules for the most part or my novels would be impossible to read. Anyone who knows me personally, or knows my ‘voice, should have figured out by now that I do not like being told what to do or how to do it.
I’m a rebel, and I’m perfectly fine with being perfectly flawed.
The Wicked Writer.
Delve into the mind of madness