My Fiction is My Truth

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Therapists often recommend journaling to people dealing with mental illness and trauma. I’ve never liked journaling. Maybe it’s because I get too self-conscious or because even my old wounds often feel too raw to record in some blunt, dry fashion. Instead, I write fiction. I’ve dealt with my trauma through fiction from a young age. I’ve learned to cover my experiences with layers of grit, imagination, and distance to create weird pearls that I hope others will enjoy. This is how I process pain, both personal and existential; this is how I grieve, scream, cry—this is even how I plead for justice or beg forgiveness.

Right now, someone reading this who has read my books is cocking his head like a confused beagle. “Um…your books are romances about kinky people getting it on and fantasies about people with horns. Some are comedies. How, exactly, are you dealing with anything writing stuff like that?”

While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask.

I change people, places, and things—but the emotions and some of the basic building blocks have my soulprints all over them. While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask. I guess it’s like Oscar Wilde said, “Man is less himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

So, while I’ve never lived in a pre-industrialized dystopian empire like Elarhe in Lover, Destroyer, he and I both know what it’s like to be an outcast, to mourn a murdered friend, to be homeless, and to yearn for things that seem beyond your grasp. While I’ve never destroyed an entire kingdom like Kite, his shame and insecurity resonates with me because it’s how I felt when the relative who sexually abused me died when I was sixteen. I didn’t feel as relieved as I did ashamed—like I had somehow killed him with my quiet, clumsy rage.

I wrote the last pages of the silly romantic comedy, His Dungeon Discovery, with tears streaming down my face because a situation reminded me of the death of my beloved emotional support cat, Sand, after his long battle with kidney failure and heart disease. The situation in the book is actually quite different from my real life tragedy, but the feelings are similar.

In Zen Alpha, a contemporary gay romcom, Bradley’s mother is a narcissist who belittles and gaslights him. My own mother was a toxic narcissist who committed murder by proxy, killing pets to frighten and control her children. Bradley’s mom doesn’t seem quite as evil in comparison, but Zen Alpha is intended to be a heartwarming story, and it was more fun to write about a self-absorbed old belle than it was to write about dead animals.

Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

Speaking of child abuse and mentally ill parents, it isn’t a coincidence Petal, the heroine of The Inquisitor’s Gift, feels coerced by her abusive stepfather to live a life to which she’s not suited. I imagine most children who grew up in homes with abuse, addiction, and mental illness know what it’s like to keep secrets and to wrestle with becoming the person they want to be rather than the person the secrets shaped.

Dealing with trauma through writing fiction isn’t some technique I created. J.R.R. Tolkien dealt with his service in World War I, and fears inspired by World War II, by writing about hobbits and magical lands. Rod Serling’s WWII traumas helped give us The Twilight Zone. I believe so many fiction writers through the centuries have been plagued by depression and anxiety, not because they’re writers, but because they write in order process their feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I write. It’s also why I read. Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

So, if you’re a writer, don’t be afraid if your prose is cathartic. I would worry more if it weren’t. And if you’re a reader, thank you for allowing writers like me to don our masks and reveal to you our truest selves.

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An Audiobook with Heat and Heart

My contemporary M/M romance, Zen Alpha, is now an audiobook vibrantly narrated by voice actor, Hugh Bradley! You can buy it on Amazon and Audible. If you subscribe to Audible, you can get it for free. Zen_Alpha

Although ‘alpha’ is in the title, it’s not an Omegaverse story. (No MPREG, no shifters—not that there’s anything wrong with those.) Zen Alpha is a contemporary romantic comedy. I wrote this story shortly after Trump won the U.S. presidential election. I was appalled to hear people around me describe him as ‘strong.’ He’s a chest-thumping, bullying, bellowing idiot. Narcissism isn’t strength. Cruelty isn’t strength. Willful indifference isn’t strength. I don’t know how, or exactly when, Americans started thinking personality defects were virtues, but it makes me sick.

So, I wrote Zen Alpha. No, it’s not a political diatribe or anything. It’s a sweet love story with gay characters and erotic sex scenes, but there’s an allegorical thread running through it. It’s about a young, somewhat insecure, man who keeps insisting that his obnoxious, emotionally abusive boyfriend is the man of his dreams. Even as he begins to develop feelings for his kindhearted, helpful neighbor, he wonders how he can love someone who isn’t an alpha male—the sort of self-centered, uncouth silverback society seems to think is so desirable.

Because a good romantic comedy needs a few teary scenes, Zen Alpha has some drama. But it’s a romance, so, of course, there’s an HEA (happily ever after.) If you hate Trump like I do and want to escape the toxicity of our current age, or if you just love steamy M/M romance, give Zen Alpha a listen. I hope it makes you smile and takes your mind off your problems for a bit. We all need more joy in our lives.

 

Zen Alpha Audio Book!

So, I’ve been doing some other things besides wanting to strangle Facebook and WordPress for their horrible lack of support regarding GDPR. (They could really learn a thing or two from MailChimp, who provided tools and easy to follow instructions for their users. I LOVE MailChimp!) But I’ve actually been focused on more than just GDPR. I’m creating an audio book!

Zen_Alpha

Soon, my M/M contemporary romance Zen Alpha will be available as an audio book. I found a wonderful voice actor to narrate it, Hugh Bradley.

This is my first audio book, so I’m really excited! Working with Hugh has been fabulous. If you’re an author looking for someone to narrate your book, you should check him out. He not only has an attractive voice, he has a great sense of timing and seems very versatile.

Zen Alpha should be coming to Audible soon!

The Most Romantic Thing

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Some people roll their eyes when you mention romance. They don’t consider it serious literature. They probably don’t consider it very important in their relationships. It’s frivolous, right? It’s a box of chocolates and some rose petals.

I don’t think so. I write romances, mostly gay romances, so maybe I’m biased. There was a time when I didn’t believe much in romance, either. But I married a terrifically romantic guy who has convinced me that romance is real. Here’s possibly the most romantic thing he has ever done.

We bought a large glazed pot with a beautiful interior. The interior was so beautiful, in fact, that we chose not to plant anything in it. It sat out on our back porch and looked pretty. One day, I noticed the little dried up husk of a lizard in the pot. I was horrified. I love animals and hated the thought that this little creature had died in agony, trapped in my beautiful pot, unable to climb out the slick sides. I told my husband, in tears, about my grisly discovery.

The next day, I found a strange collection of junk in the pot. Someone (my husband) had made an escape ladder out of stones and sticks. I’ve never loved anyone more than I loved him at that moment. I felt heard, validated, and loved. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Romance doesn’t have to be awkward poetry and candlelight. It’s about listening to someone you love, making his needs important, and taking action out of love. These things are powerful. They keep our hearts open to the people near us, making our relationships stronger.

So, no, I don’t think there’s anything frivolous about romance. I think it’s vital to a healthy relationship and important to life, itself. I think it’s significant as a genre, as well, and every bit as important as fantasies or mysteries or sci fi or whatever else.

Following a Story Where it Leads

magicalhorseSome writers are pantsers. They ‘fly by the seats of their pants’ and write what they feel at a given moment. I’m more of a plotter. Usually, I come up with a couple of characters and start imagining situations they could be in. I mull things over until a few scenes really gel, then I make a rough outline and start writing. I’m a control freak. I need to have some idea where all of the bits and pieces go before I can lose myself in the writing.

The new story I’m working on has decided to make me crazy. I’ve never written a mystery, but I thought it would be fun to write a gay mystery romance. I’ve never written a historical. So, why not a gay mystery historical romance? I actually did a significant amount of research for my epic fantasy series, and I enjoy research, so I thought researching this new book would be a lot of fun. Ha! The story had other ideas….

I thought I understood my story. I thought I knew what it was going to be about. I had a spiffy outline that told me what I wanted to hear. But my research turned up new things. Horrible things. Things I thought I knew, thought I understood, but….um…no. The world I’m writing about is so much darker and more frightening than I imagined–and I chose the area because it always frightened me as a child. I chose the era because it seemed like a spooky period, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My research turned my pathetic little outline on its ear. The story is morphing, growing into some hungry new beast. It’s thrilling, honestly. Is this why pantsers get so starry-eyed when talking about their process? I, because I’m still a stodgy control freak, am slavishly bleeding out another outline. Being thrown into the briars was fun, however.

I have an ambitious project to tame. I imagine it will throw me again when it feels bored. For the moment, I’m excited by where it has taken me.

 

The Fur Coats

Authors often talk about what music they listen to while writing, but what do their characters listen to? In my new gay romance, Zen Alpha, the two main characters get their blood pumping with the pop punk sound of Austin’s The Fur Coats. Ward listens to them every morning before work, where he teaches autistic children. On this particular day, he and Bradley listen to them after a long night looking for a lost cat.

Check out The Fur Coats here and wake up!