Writing What You Don't Know

Characters are sneaky things. You're typing along happily, thinking you're heading in one direction, and then BAM--they totally throw you for a loop and suddenly your book becomes something else. We've all been there.

In my current WIP, my main character, Sofia, has a best girlfriend. Camilla. At some point I was writing a conversation between two of them, and it hit me that Cam was not interested in boys. In fact, she's kind of in love with Sof.

So suddenly my main supporting character is gay, and I'm a little lost.

At first I didn't think I was. I know what the obvious stereotypes are to avoid. I have gay friends. I used to live in Chelsea (a predominantly gay neighborhood in Manhattan, for those of you unfamiliar with the area). Even though I'm not gay, I was pretty certain I could do the character justice without offending anybody.

Then a friend of mine was kind enough to let me know that I shouldn't have the character die because that was a cliched and stereotypical literary convention--killing off lesbians because society views them as "bad." I'd never heard of this convention in reference to gay women specifically, although I believe this is a convention that goes beyond lesbians. In traditional literature, women who did not fall in line with society standards would often receive their comeuppance in some fashion by the novel's end. Hubsy pointed out a good example: in Last of the Mohicans, the character of Cora Munro perishes in the novel. (This plot point was rewritten in the Daniel Day-Lewis [yum] movie version for a modern audience). There are differing arguments about this, but one could read into the underlying sexuality written into the character, or the fact she was of mixed race.

So now I'm worried. What other, less-obvious stereotypes of gays in literature am I ignorant of? Guess it's time to do some research. Last week The Rejectionist linked to this 5-series post about LGBTQ stereotypes in literature, but I found the content to lean towards the blatantly obvious (and kind of sad that there are actually people/writers out there who still need to be educated on what I consider to be common human decency).

What about you guys? Do you find yourselves nervous about including a certain kind of character or content in your novel because you are afraid you can't do it justice? If so, how do you overcome that?


Celebrate Dad...and a Good Cause

We all know dads are tricky to buy gifts for. Normally I'd recommend giving books, of course. But in light of current environmental events, here's a great idea that Hubs and I are doing this year: giving Hip-Hip-Humane! donations in honor of each of our dads. With a donation of $10 or more, the Humane Society of the United States will send the old man a card with your personalized message letting him know about your donation on his behalf.

Because really, does he need another tie?


Not-So-Haunted Tales of Boston

Hubs and I did our kind-of-annual trip up to Beantown this past weekend. Which normally brings us immense enjoyment. Not so much this time.

First of all, it rained most of the trip. Including during the Saturday afternoon game at Fenway, which we had awesome seats for. But around the fifth inning when I was soaked to the bone and the score was 12-2 (not really a nail biter, no matter which team you're rooting for), we decided to call it quits.

Most disappointing, however, was the hotel.

We decided to switch it up this time. Normally we go for the modern luxury of the Westin Copley. This time I decided I wanted a more historical, New England feel. So we booked the Omni Parker House, the oldest running hotel in the country. And the Kennedys used to stay there!

A week before the trip, Hubs laughingly informs me the hotel is haunted, sending me a link. I think he thought this would upset me, because I'm a total weenie when it comes to horror movies and the idea of things lurking around in the dark.

To his surprise, I was psyched. Perfect! I thought. This will be great research for my WIP--the main character grew up in a family of ghost hunters. What better way to come up with material than to investigate the supernatural, first-hand?

Among factoids about the hotel were these promising nuggets:

  • Elevators are always called to the third floor (the floor Charles Dickens--CHARLES DICKENS OMG OMG!--occupied) without a button being pushed or a guest waiting for the elevator.
  • In a room on the 10th floor, guests have reported the sound of a rocking chair that kept them up all night. There are no rocking chairs in the hotel.
  • Bellman have reported bright "orbs" of light floating down the corridor on the 10th floor then disappearing

Alas--whether it's because we were put on the plebeian 5th floor, away from all the supernatural action, or the ghosts were simply feeling not up to snuff that evening, the only unlexplained mysteries we were faced with were:
  • How a 4-star hotel could have such tiny, dingy rooms.
  • How a hotel in BOSTON could not include NESN in their TV channel listings (that is the Boston Red Sox channel, for all of you non-New England folk. We were trying to catch Friday's night game on TV after we got back from a hearty, sleep-inducing pasta dinner in the North End)
  • And finally, if the lobby manager's name was actually Seamus for real, or if that was just another one of the hotel's tall tales they propagate to make visitors feel like they are getting the full Boston experience. And if he was really that jolly of an Irishman. Or even actually Irish.

So sorry, no ghostly insights to report. Although I did squeeze a few pages in, as you'll see in my updated word count on the sidebar.



I used to enjoy my day job, to a degree. Meaning I was satisfied with it. Somewhere during the past couple of years, that changed.

It took me a while to put my finger on it. It was a little over 2 years ago I was promoted to a Manager-level position as an editor. I was bright-eyed and enthusiastic, ready to throw myself into the position and learn everything I possibly could to be a great manager.

This winter, I resigned. I just didn't care anymore. I was tired of looking for errors in other people's writing, tired of always seeing the negative. I wanted to create. So they convinced me to stay by offering me a copywriting position. Perfect! I thought. I already write creatively, so now I can get paid to do it 45 hours/week.

Yeah, not so much. There was still something missing. And then I figured it out. This decline in job satisfaction began right around the same time I started to seriously pursue my creative writing and publication. If you were plotting my happiness on a graph, you would see 2 inverse lines veering away from each other: as my progress with my creative writing grows, my satisfaction with my current career plummets.

Yesterday I had one of those awful moments of self-doubt when I was talking to a friend who was going back to school to change careers. Do something she actually wanted to do. And then I was seized by a moment of panic. There isn't anything I actually want to do, except write novels. And be paid for them. Paid well. I don't have another back-up plan. My current job IS my back-up plan, and every day I grow more and more unhappy with it. And it's writing's fault. Because it makes me so happy that it makes every other option seem miserable in comparison.

So that leaves just one solution. I have to become published. It can't just be a dream or a goal anymore. It is a future reality that I just have to find a way to make happen.

I remember a while back I read about the drummer of Blink 182 saying he covered himself in tattoos b/c he wanted to make it impossible to get a normal job. That way he was ensuring that he had to find a way to be successful with his music.

I think he was onto something...


Two Parts Urban, One Part Fantasy

Last week I was discussing my new WIP over the phone with my mother (that
alone should give you an idea how excited I am about this project, b/c I
usually keep things pretty close to the chest when it comes to my writing),
and she commented that I seem to have a thing for paranormal themes.

Don't we all? Judging by YA book sale trends, I'm far from alone.

So what's so enrapturing about this idea of integrating the fantastical with
the ordinary? First of all, it may be a current trend, but it's hardly a new
idea. I've always loved the idea of magic lurking around the corner, the
idea that one moment you can be living an average life and then something
fantastical happens. This probably started for me when I was five years old,
and my sister and I decided to merge the world of My Little Ponies with
Barbie dolls. Who says that, somewhere in between Barbie going to work and
meeting Ken for a date, magical talking horses can't exist?

This theme was strengthened for me when 4 children discovered a wardrobe
that transported them to a world called Narnia. And when a clever spider
saved a pig from being turned into bacon. And when a girl named Meg went on
a journey through space and time to find her missing scientist father.

Life can be beautiful and joyful, or it can fill you with pain. It's full of
surprises, both good and bad. And for all of these reasons, it's rarely
dull. But it is ordinary. And sometimes we all need a little escape. And
maybe, deep down, we all still believe a little bit in magic.