Things that make you go...Do what?
PCT's, PCT's, PCT's, Positive CJ Thoughts, it's what keeps rolling round in my mind. Each week I try to bring some positive moments into my own world and to other's around me. I will tell you, some weeks are harder than others. Today, I want to take a few minutes to talk about authors and the incredible amount of work they do to bring us the stories that melt us, make us think, and occasionally infuriate us. These amazing authors keep us reaching for the next book to exercise our mind and lose ourselves for a few stolen minutes, within the life of the characters we love to love…and hate. Today I'm going to talk to you as a reader first, about the things (that for me) make a good book, one I'll think about for long after I read 'the end'.
I need characters I can picture in my mind, that I can hear their voice and visualize the surroundings. I like to know if the leaves are red and gold and if the sky is a cerulean blue or stormy gray. It doesn't have to be overload. Reading for me is a movie for the mind.
I told my nephew one time, that reading was a way to stretch his imagination to see 'his' version of the story. I won't hate a book if an author doesn’t tell me what color shirt the main character is wearing. BUT, being able to picture the blood red silk, open at the throat, the top three buttons undone to reveal a thin gold chain lying against a tantalizing triangle of bronze skin- yeah, these are the details I crave as a reader.
Words on a page are black and white, life is not.
I love the details. Details that tell me, her eyes were green like spring grass and sparkled in the sunlight. I want to read that as they lay surrounded by shadows and flickering candle light, the desire was overwhelming and that her pupils dilated to reflect that feeling.
Studies show that we view that action, the dilation of the pupils subconsciously. Rarely, when asked, did people note the dilation but, over and over, potential suitors chose pictures of subjects with larger pupils. Maybe it's a sign of the raw need that I can picture, sometimes it's accompanied with the rise and fall of the chest, soft breasts and hardened nipples in full view. For me, if I can't fully picture that her hair was laying across her shoulders in soft brown waves, that it felt like silk gliding through her lover's fingers, it's missing something. I need to be able to feel that silk.
The saying, 'the devil is in the details', applies in spades to me. The details do count and bring everything into brilliant clarity, like a silver white bolt of lightning against a blackened night sky, seconds before that earsplitting thunderous boom explodes leaves the air crackling with energy.
Words have power. The author creates that world with adjectives, vibrant scenes, and detail…wonderful detail.
Weeks and months are put into finding just the right words for that first draft, followed by hours and days worth of EDITING, cutting scenes, reworking lines, rewriting paragraphs and sometimes, completely abandoning ideas. Something, that as a reader, I had no idea about until I took the leap to become an author. As a reader, I have NO doubt, I took this process for granted. I never, ever dreamed of the amount of work that went into putting out a book or considered the author who'd sat for countless hours at a desk or in a chair "giving birth."
As a consumer, I would read through the blurb, look at reviews to see what others liked or in some cases, didn't. I looked at that with no regard to the author. If I liked one book they wrote, chances are, I'd like others. Certain books, I was left with a pure addictive high waiting for the next book and others, I hoped the next volume would answer questions I still had. Now before you say it, I know, not every book is a home run. Not every book is worthy of an award, or a five star review, I get that. Some books could use a good editor and an even better proofer AND yet this exists in main stream literature from big publishing houses that don't focus on LGBTQ literature at all. It happens with publishing houses within this genre, big and small and yes, the Indie section. Does that mean authors shouldn't try to put out the most technically correct book possible? Absolutely not, as a reader, we appreciate it and some readers are rather demanding of that perfection for the $2.99 to $14.99 that they pay.
Stop for a minute and think about the average book length- 60,000 to 120,000 words, no pictures, words only. Magazines range from thirty two to forty eight pages, with pictures, and multiple authors/writers, large font headlines, captions and other wording.
The sections are created by different departments, with numerous editors and the whole thing is put together with staff of hundreds or more in the case of a big magazine. Average cost of those periodicals at the newsstand…$3.99 to $4.99. Most have articles of average length from 1400 for a two page spread to 4000 for a four page or above spread. Multiply all that and you would see that if you read every single word in the magazine, you would be reading a minimum of 70,000 to 90,000 words. A periodical that you are likely to read one time and throw away or give to your local doctors waiting room. If you are like me, you will only read the articles you have true interest in. If it's one about one praising 'the emperor with no clothes', I'm likely to skip that all together.
Let's look at this another way. If you go dinner at, say Applebees, the average cost of a meal, per person is $12.75.
A gallon of milk, $3.29, both we might grumble about the price, but we will purchase and likely, go back and partake of again. Pretty much a one off or an item that there is nothing left of after we consume it. A book that, if we enjoy it, has the potential to be read more than once. If we get the paperback, we might even share it with a family member. That range is close to what I said a book would cost you.
What if we didn't like it? Ever ordered a meal at your favorite Mom and Pop place that just didn't hit the spot? Maybe a new creation they came up with?
Personally, what I won't do as a consumer, is trash them on social media, find their website and leave a horrible or hateful review, then gang up on them more and more until I turn myself into a lynch mob where I'm costing that Mom and Pop restaurant business. In turn, they start losing other customers, can't pay their bills, have to lay off staff, can no longer pay into the local tax base, so my road now can't get paved and eventually have to shut their doors to find some other line of work. And because I've run them out of the business, I'll never be able to enjoy their special brand of awesome cherry pie or their fantastic fried chicken.
They served up 'one' meal that I didn't enjoy and I skewered them. My point is SOMEONE ELSE might absolutely LOVE the meal that I didn't. It could be their number one favorite. Now because I basically didn't like one meal, I ran them out of business, they won't be there to introduce a new generation to the next serving of phenomenal fried chicken and cherry pie. (IF the same Mom and Pop store made me sick or prevented me from ever being able to eat again, we might have a problem.) In my scenario, they didn't. They served me one meal, that wasn't my favorite, and I trashed and beat them up over it so much, they closed their doors.
**** Now take all I've said and change that example to an author writing a book. ****
I'm a big consumer. I read and I listen to audio books all the time. I have a three hour commute and spend endless hours weeding on our farm along with other mind numbing tasks. I've purchased books from authors that I love because of their style, their characters, and the storylines they come up with. I come back again and again.
On occasion, they write one that isn't my favorite. Maybe I didn't like something because it's a personal hang up of mine. I don't like to read about rape, I just don't. Domestic violence isn't my thing because I lived it, and I don't like the word..well C U Next Tuesday. I just don't, not in a description of a body part or as a verbal assault on someone.
The point is those are MY issues, not someone else's and not the author's. Someone else may be perfectly fine with them. There is no possible way for an author to deal with the issues of every single reader out there. The fact is…that would be impossible. If we skewer authors for not writing the books the way we want them to, what incentive do they have to even take that time to write another? And what if we run them out? We lose one more author in our small genre, another voice silenced. Eventually, we'll have just a handful to pick from, or worse, we go back to changing pronouns in main stream literature.
Lately, I've seen so much of "what an author should not to do", "what I do not like in a book", "they need an editor", "they need a professional proofer", "they need a better cover artist", a lot of what an author did wrong. A small thread on social media starts about someone's dislike of a particular "meal" an it takes off like wildfire until it consumes everything in it's path and there is nothing left.
I've seen discord for endings they didn't like with advice that the author should have allowed the 'happy ever after' they were expecting. Remember, it's the author's vision. It's the book they wanted or needed to write. More than likely, if we just wait a bit, the answers are coming in book two.
Most who write series books try to leave enough of a hook that you'll want to know more. Recently a book I loved was eviscerated because the author didn't tie it up in a nice little bow, the story was truer to real life than many I've seen and she was gutted over it. Book one came out in January and book two, that brought much of it together came out ONE MONTH later. One month for the next 60,000 words, proofed, edited, formatted and released. Now, yes, the author could have held the book written 120,000 words and then released it. SHE as the author chose her format, the same format that's been madly successful. And because she didn't have a cookie cutter ending, she was accused of baiting readers to have to buy the next book. Folks, every author that writes a series, leaves enough unsaid that I'm like an addict looking for a fix, screaming at them to write faster even without this unexpected ending. The point is, it was different and readers were angry that the author chose a different route with a story line. I didn't mind the ending because I knew the next was coming. Hell, the author announced it was coming and the timeline to look for it. If we as consumers sledgehammer square pegs into round holes, you'll see the same story over and over with no variation. We can't fence in their creativity or there won't be another book from them. What a tragedy that would be.
Not just for this author in particular, but I've seen it with other authors too. We, as consumers, expect them to write the book we want or we will destroy them in anonymous reviews and posts behind screen names with dummy profiles. God, what bullies we are.
I've been quietly observing many things of late, seeing readers express unhappiness with a list of things they don't like. Trust me the list is long. And I'm not kidding about that. Something I read the other day, had people adding to a list of things they didn't like or things they thought should be in a book to reflect real life. So here is just a sampling of the list of the suggestions made.
The first one is related to names.
Proper names being shortened to a nicknames, names that are androgynous, unusual spelling of first names, names that are of untraditional or occupational base-(think Hunter), lack of purely female names for both characters, a butch character that forgoes her feminine birth name for something less so (think Lea DeLaria being called Kitty…doesn't quiet do it for her personality does it?), shortening a feminine sounding given name to something that sounds more 'manly' (think Alexandra to Alex). I get it, we are reading lesbian fiction and readers want that reflected. I don't expect to read a romance that has Bob and Ralph making out…and I don't see that happening. I will say that I want the character's name to reflect her personality. To me, if I read about a butch character with the name Alice, it would make me squint…but that's me and if the story was good, it would be the last thing I would focus on. Along the same line, if I read a very feminine character with a name that would have me picturing her with broad shoulders, wearing leather and biker boots, then it would cause me pause. I can tell you I apparently committed several fapiao's with this one in my book since my main characters name was Valkyrie and I shortened it to Val.
I'll say this, in real life, I have friends who were given birth names that they dislike, that truly don't fit their personality, that don't reflect who they are. I also have some who have horrendously long names that are shortened to nicknames. We don't get to pick our names at birth and we can change them if we want to. I don't go by my given name. I've never liked it, but there's also a reason outside of that. As a child, I could tell how badly I was in trouble by the amount of my name they used when they yelled for me. If they got up to using my entire first name (that has seven letters), my middle name and my last- I was a gonner. The only person to call every one of her children and grandchildren, by their properly given name- first and middle, was my grandmother. From her mouth, my name was like honey on the tongue, the rest, like nails on a chalkboard.
Next, we come to actions or phrases they were unhappy with.
A list of things readers feel are unnecessary or that irritated them. The use or at times the over use of something. 'I've got you', 'I love you', arching of the eyebrow, love at first sight, eye rolls, not realizing you're holding your breath, curling heat, belly stirring, intimacy scenes that announce the big moment, characters achieving orgasm simultaneously, kisses that curl your toes or take your breath, and explosive orgasms were all things readers were apparently tired of. Are we asking the authors to write boring sex and not have the characters be in love?
So, I looked at a few of them on a personal basis about myself as a person, not as an author. I can honestly say, yes, I can and do arch one eyebrow-my wife thinks it's weird and for all her trying, she can't do it. It's an inherited trait, my Dad can do it. We do it without thought. Love at first sight. I fell in love with my wife the minute I saw her. You can say it doesn't happen or didn't, but…I was there and I did. She, on the other hand did not. I think it had something to do with my red sunglasses. There have been moments in my life when I didn't realize I was holding my breath until my body screamed 'breath dammit'. Once was when I asked her to marry me, so yes, I think it is possible and I've experienced it. Another was while I was doing CPR on an infant and waiting for him to take a breath that he never did. It can happen.
Now I can't say that I've had toe curling kisses, but I have had kisses that have warmed me through and through, damn near melted me, and in other terminology could be considered earth shattering. In reference to the big "O" statements….I don't kiss and tell.
And then there are the descriptors that they felt were cliche, overused or unrealistic.
Butch equals six feet tall, broad shoulders, dark hair and light eyes. Feminine means light hair and a variety of colored eyes. Slim, trim and six pack abs without daily mentioned workouts, full lips and a wide mouth as a requirement of beauty, and eyes that change color with passion or desire.
Well, I don't know what to say about most of these, I have to work out to keep my abs down to a case because the six pack ain't happening, I don't have thin lips, but I don't look like Goldie Hawn in First Wives Club either. My eyes do change color because they are hazel and depending on what I wear and the lighting, they do look different- or so I've been told. You'd have to ask my wife what they look like when I'm in love…or in lust. I don't think they go from hazel to emerald green though. It's not unusual for eyes to get darker…because, guess what, the pupils dilate and less of the iris is present.
Authors write characters with vivid description for their stories. I won't say I don't see a trend, but to be honest, I don't want to read about a character that looks like me. I have short brown hair, I'm all of 5'5", carrying more weight than I should, have dark circles under my eyes, stray hairs that grow where I really don't want them, and in the winter usually sport a split in my lip from the weather. When I look in the mirror, I am not what you want to written in as your action adventure lead, your romance lead, and definitely not your science fiction character. I might fit as your tragic figure, but certainly not a character you are going to remember.
Next up, we have situations or storylines that readers don't like or real life things that they wonder why don't deserve a mention. Damsels in distress who are saved by someone wealthy who whisks them away from a life of desperation, the cryo-queen who is melted by a warm heart, the 'lets fool our friends with a fake relationship or marry out of convenience' couple that actually fall in love, the simple situations that could easily be cleared up with honest communication, the tragedy brings them together scenario, the secondary parties working to bring the main characters back together instead of them working it out themselves.
All of these are plausible, do they happen every day? No. We call it fiction for a reason. We are asked to suspend a certain amount of belief to allow the characters to travel the path the author lays out for them based on a series of made up events and circumstances.
The library and Amazon are full of non-fiction books. If what we want is more reality, then it seems the easy solution is to read factual events, maybe even biographies in order to have the reality we are seeking. In reference to the communication issues, if there is a single reader out there who can say they haven't experienced some argument with a spouse, girlfriend, parent or child that, with a little communication, couldn't have been cleared up but wasn't, then you are doing far better than I am. That, in my life, is reality. It's led to a few silent evenings in my house.
Now a few that I really had to shake my head at.
The question about lesbian novels that never mention a menstrual cycle happening at the wrong time, or never mentioning it at all. Okay folks, lets stop here for a moment. Is this REALLY what you want me to put in my romance book? You are asking me not to put in explosive, toe curling orgasms but you want me to write about cramping, flooding, changing tampons and pads, the inconvenience of this monthly cycle for someone like me who is not ever going to have children? You want me to write, "sorry honey, we can't make love because I'm on the rag?" Be honest, really? I get that you want some reality but I can tell you right now, I have no plans of writing that. I'm so freaking happy to be in menopause, I'm dancing on the porch to be dealing with hot flashes that melt my skin knowing I'll never have to deal with that again. I can't imagine wanting to read about this in a book, more power to those that do and for those that will write it for you.
There was a whole other discussion about discussion safe sex practices and why promiscuous characters never get an STD. If this is your message or this is your passion, seek out those books. The recommendations are out there. I do write that my characters need to pee, brush their teeth and shower (without having sex), but I will tell you, my last editor had me cut some of it out because they felt it was unnecessary explaining there is a certain amount of accepting that those things are happening without being spelled out. Does it move the story forward to know that they've brushed their teeth, washed their face, shaved their legs, and put on deodorant?
Do readers really want to hear about bratty kids and taking them to day care, not being able to afford or find decent child care, children tearing things up, throwing a fit in the grocery story, getting into trouble over and over on every single day in the book? Do we want to see that in every lesbian fiction book with children to have it more closely resemble reality?
Not all kids are well behaved, but not all of them are little monsters either. I get it, kids aren't perfect and if it adds to the story line or fills a purpose, then include it. To be honest, I have read issues with daycare, sick kids, changing diapers, and kids in trouble. It exists.
With all I've been watching people say they want as reality in a book, readers are asking me to write something like this… The haggard mother of two, screaming at her kids to get in the car right now because she was going to be late to work as the dental assistant, the WalMart checker, the gas station attendant, or the nurses aid making way too little money while her wife is struggling to do the same. The ex-husband pays no child support and won't take the kids for a weekend. The car is a 2001 Ford Escort that leaks oil like a sieve and needs new tires. On the one free night the couple has because the kids are at a sleepover, the 5'5" woman with straight brown hair and split lip, didn't shave her legs and the 5'3" dishwater blonde with chapped hands from the amount of times she has to wash them as a nursing assistant, as a secretary, a teacher, or a sales assistant, is on her period and too tired to even think about it anyway. So, they spring for a cardboard pizza and a RedBox movie.
Now, as close to reality as this might be for many people, it's not what I write and really not what I want to escape into as a book. Please understand that I am not in anyway making fun of any one's occupation, living situation, child care situation, or financial situation. What I am trying to ask is this…Is this what you are asking me to write? And if you are unhappy that an authors book is between $3 and $14 dollars, how many books with this type content do you think I'll sell? I can tell you the appeal will not be widespread. For as much as we all want reality in books, we also want escapism.
Having written more than 4000 words for something that what was intended to be positive, I'll finally get to the positive. We are a blessed generation. There are more lesbian fiction books available than I'll ever have time to read and more storylines than I'll ever have time to write. There are amazing authors out there that you've never tried. Maybe because you've heard someone say, "I didn't like that story." Maybe you'll take a chance and read that book only to find it had an incredible message that YOU got. Are you going to like every book out there? NO, pure and simple. The good thing is, you have the opportunity to find another one. Oh, you want to discuss the price of buying a book you didn't like? Wasting your money? In my quest to find the beer I liked best, I purchased some I couldn’t stand. It was my choice. I asked questions of others that I saw buying it and even with their recommendations, I found some I just couldn't go and had to give away. As a consumer, that was the chance I took to find my perfectly hoppy IPA. I went through a lot of ick before I found my favorite IPA from a local micro brewery. Did I stop drinking beer from that company because of the ones I tried that I didn't like? HELL NO. I kept trying until I found my go to, Mountain State Seneca Trail Pale Ale. I told a friend about it, they tried it and said it was worse than panther piss. Now I asked them how many times they'd tasted panther piss, but they had no answer. The point is my favorite or what I'm looking for, may not be the same as yours. That's okay. That's life and it's full of color and flavor.
Read for the joy of it, try new authors. For heaven sake, download free samples and make connection with the authors before you buy it if you are that worried. I never imagined I'd have the connections I do with my favorite authors. Some I consider personal friends now because of those connections. I have people who have reached out to me and told me the messages in my book got to them, that they felt something deeply by my words and it spurs me on to write more. Then there are those who read my book and didn't like it, it wasn't for them. I think, depressing, boring, and drivel were words I remember reading in a few reviews. There was even a review that said I should stick to what I know. I wonder how those words work out for those who write science fiction or fantasy? Things to ponder. Words hurt folks, pure and simple. I won't lie and if I was teetering on the bridge of wondering if it's worth it, I might never have written another word for some of the mean things that were said…BUT I saw so many more reviews like wonderful, heartwarming, meaningful and other descriptions that urge me on. All I ask is that we, even in fun, be less critical of those who put themselves out there. BE KIND!
If you didn't like it, ok. You don't have to recommend it, but you certainly don't have to make the author regret all those hours sitting at the desk, or in the chair, painstakingly spending hours, days and months putting together something to offer up for someone else's entertainment and in return getting a paid far less than minimum wage per hour. What we can do is encourage authors to put out the best books they can so, that we can go back to well and drink until we are content. I for one say hang in there for anyone who wants to step into the lion's den. Gird yourself well and keep bringing those wonderful characters and story lines to life. For me, I have a ton of editing to do because my first draft is done and it needs a TON of editing.
If you are so inclined, you can take the recommendations of my Amazon reviews and pick up my debut novel, 'frame by frame' on all the usual websites.