Let’s Talk About Writing Groups!

 Before we get to the discussion today, I’d like to thank any readers who purchased and commented on Warrior, my newly released novel. For those of you who don’t know what it is, you can check it out here. If it looks interesting and you read it, be sure to leave some feedback somewhere. I love hearing from readers.

Anyways, I’d like to talk about writing groups today. They’re an important part of any person’s development as a writer, whether they take place online or face-to-face. Why? Writing groups get you in touch with other people, writers and readers, and people are good for your writing.

We need audiences when we work on our writing. A single person is not capable of looking at their work and seeing all the necessary revisions needed. More importantly, our best work happens when we write with others, not alone.

We’ve all had that one misconception of a good writer. They’re that person who sits in a room lit by candlelight. They peck away at a typewriter for hours, agonizing over each line, and everything they write is golden because that person has something special that no one else has.

This is a false notion. All great writers have a great editor, or a horde of them, that help out during the writing process. When there’s a group of people reading your work, you have the benefit of multiple perspectives on your writing. One person can read your work and have a problem with something. You might not change it. If four people have a problem with the same thing and actually talk their way through what specifically troubles them about it, then you actually have something to work with.

Writing groups are essential for this reason. Your story will never please every single person on the planet, but it can become something incredible by working with the people around you. And writing groups are a great way to get free editing and consulting on your work 🙂

The next big reason you should join a writing group: you will read other people’s work.

Reading and responding to another person’s work will not only let you experience a broader scope of writing, it will make you a better writer. I’m serious. A 2003 study by Jay Simmons examined several classes of high school and college students over the course of three years. Their collective data showed that students who had the opportunity to respond to peer writing the most often also scored higher in writing assignments.

So do yourself a favor and get a writing group together. Make a google doc, meet some locals. If you’ve got an internet connection, there’s really no excuse for writing alone. Try out some websites like fictionpress.com or wattpad.com. If you’re not writing strictly original fiction, join the communities at fanfiction.net or archiveofourown. They’re all great sources for writers to make connections with one another.

So audience, what have your experiences with writing groups been? If any?

New Book: Warrior

Yes, my newest book is now out. Thank you world. It’s finally done. Let me say thanks to everyone who helped me get here, first. Now, let’s talk about how happy I am.

This is my FIRST solo work I’ve ever written and published through a company. Makes me feel a little tingly all over. And the cover is soooooo pretty! *squee* Michael, my illustrator, is an amazingly talented man, and you all should read his comic found here

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this post is going to be highly unproductive. I have no words of wisdom to offer at the minute, just excitement over my book release.

Well… maybe a few words of wisdom.

Speaking of book releases and stuff, a friend of mine is in the process of querying agents for her book, and she is having the worst luck. No takers. Nothing. I’m pretty sure I’d have this same problem if I tried to pimp my novel to an agent. Anyways, she’s struggling to get her book out there, but she’s reluctant to self-publish or try alternative routes. Why?

I suspect one of the main problems is that self-publishing hardly feels like a legitimate route. But it is. Honestly, it is. I probably dislike the whole big-wig publishing system a little too much, but I firmly believe that independent publishing is just as legitimate for a good writer to pursue. It’s just as much work and money to advertise your book as it is to get an agent’s attention. Something I like about small press and independent publishing is that the writer and readers are directly connected. There’s no interference from the massive corporate entity that is best-selling publishing. Oftentimes, the bestseller’s list is predetermined by whoever advertises the most, but sometimes, you see a small-press or independent book break that mold. 

I want to see more of that happening. I want to see more writers flinging their work out into the great cosmos for no reason other than to attempt at having a conversation with another individual. I want writing to be about the connection between a writer and readers, not the relationship between a writer and their marketing campaign. I mean, don’t get me wrong, making money off of your books is the best thing ever (my beautiful car agrees; my shabby apartment, meh) but the book needs to be about more than making a quick buck.

Or… at least… I want it to be.

Let’s have some conversations about writing.

And if you’ve made it this far, here’s the link to my book, if you want it. Buy it or not, I don’t care, but I would like to talk about writing 🙂

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!… In Fiction.

What is your fiction saying about sexuality and relationships? Probably a lot more than you’d think, and I want to talk about the choices we make as writers when it comes to this. No, I’m not talking about how well-endowed you make your characters, or giving people unrealistic expectations about how mind-blowingly amazing sex will be on the first time, every time (but we should talk about that, too… eventually). I’m talking about the gritty stuff: the relationship. The ways in which two characters interact and how that is received by the world. I struggled for a long time thinking of how to start this conversation, but I finally settled on relating an experience to you all from my earlier years as a college student.

A friend of mine wrote an amazing short story about a young man who ends up giving shelter to a woman fleeing her abusive boyfriend. She waits at his house for a friend to pick her up, and then thanks him and heads out with her friend.

When I first read this story, I thought it was amazing. I still think it’s amazing. The emotion and the raw display of humanity in this story felt just perfect. It was a snapshot of real, gritty life, and it just captured so much about our generation (us 20-somethings) in the small details of the story. More importantly, it captured something distinctly human in the characters.

While it was well received by many people in the class, three young men took issue with something: the guy did not get the girl at the end of the story.

Let me break that down for you. The guy (a random stranger to this woman) does not “get” (as in a kiss, a good fuck, a phone number, a date) the girl (the woman who was just beaten by an abusive ex). This bothered them.

Just the thought of turning it into a love story made me go a little berserk. Why? Because the main character, the guy, and this woman were not meant to be in a relationship. For one, the story was not about that. It was about what a painful, messy experience life can be, and sometimes we can actually be a decent person for someone else.

How would letting the guy “get” the girl ruin that message? For one, it has the chance of reducing the female character to a “prize”.

What is probably the worst part, however, is that it cheapens the main character. I liked him as a character, a lot. He was written to be a decent human being, and the reader got to see him struggling in a dilemma of what the right thing to do is. For him, he questioned whether or not to call the police, whether to take the woman back to his house in the first place, and whether or not to confront the much larger and scarier guy she ran from. These are all feasibly real-life problems someone may have to confront, and this character, while he may not have been the most supportive or helpful, did try to help this woman. If his only incentive for helping her is that kiss, or date, at the end of the story, it warps his actions and the audience’s perceptions of what to expect in these situations.

What does it say about how sexuality and relationships are portrayed in media if three guys in my writing class wanted the main character to get the girl in the end? In reality, the last thing a person fleeing abuse wants is to be ravished by a stranger (think about it for a second, you’ll get the ‘creepy’ vibes). Not one of these guys in the class would (hopefully) try to get with a random lady fleeing an attacker. But for them, the story felt incomplete without that promise for intimacy at the end.

I don’t blame them. I blame the formula people establish for so many books, shows, and movies out there. Most fictional works involving a guy and a girl have them get together at the end. Hell, even the gay stories do it. The hero conquers evil and the protagonist wins the heart of their true love. It’s how it goes. It’s textbook narrative structure. I even happen to like this structure, but I think there are some social problems we need to be aware of when we write in it, and that’s what I want to talk about, after that very long-winded introduction.

I recently finished up a novel for publication (Warrior will be out in July! Lesbians and fantasy adventure awaits! Tell your friends) and when revising it, I noticed something… annoying about the main character. Can you guess what it was?

This girl cared way too much about ending up old, alone, and a virgin, and it wasn’t even in a comical way. Why did I write her that way? Why did I make the main character’s drive something as simplistic as “to get the girl”?

I can’t say for sure, but it made me realize that I was saying something with my characters. I was saying what I expected people to act like, I was showing what I expected the hero to act like. And it wasn’t necessarily the best message.

To give the short story, I found redeeming qualities everywhere, and the character was not so far gone to save her. One thing I did pay a lot of attention to in the story was the portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships (the main characters are lesbians, come on guys).

Here is where I break out the pet peeves. I am very, very tired of seeing lesbian relationships portrayed in stories where the entire plot hangs on the acceptance of that relationship as something socially acceptable.

Why? It raises the question of whether or not LGTBQIA relationships are acceptable, and the only answer to that is yes, they are. I understand a need to explore prejudice and struggle, but seeing it played out every time and in every story can make the audience feel as if there is something deviant about these sexual relationships.

And it does not have to be an LGTBQIA relationship. Portraying the female character as the passive damsel, the male character as the sexually dominating force, both of these are perfect examples of how a story’s portrayal of relationships can set a standard for those reading it. These portrayals are not a standard, they are not a norm, but we can begin to see them that way if we are not careful about how we write our worlds, especially fantasy and science fiction universes, where any construct of relationship is truly possible.

I made sexual relationships between characters of any gender a norm in my universe, save for the royalty who are expected to pop out a baby because, you know, babies need to happen. And even then, there were ways around that minor detail that the characters discussed. There are so many other ways to explore relationship dynamics between characters, however. It never just has to be, “the hero gets their true love.” Yes, that’s an important part to a lot of base fantasy narratives, but it does not have to be the defining aspect. Like the main character in my friend’s story, the quality of writing does not have to hinge on the character’s sexual conquest.

What I am trying to get at here is that writers set up what is “normal” in their worlds, and readers pay attention to that. Not every story needs to break out of these molds we created, but all stories featuring a strong romantic relationship should contain some level of awareness.

I’m going to leave my thoughts on the subject there, because any further efforts to expand have left me dissatisfied, and I’d rather tease out more meaning in conversation, if you’d be obliged, readers.

Let’s Talk About “Faking It”

Yes, I mean the new TV show that people are obsessing over a little bit. I held out for four weeks before succumbing to the tantalizing gifs scrawling across my tumblr dash and caught up on the show. And you know what?

It’s not that bad.

What I think charms me the most about the show is how it so perfectly captures the essence of my high school experience in Flagstaff, Arizona, a blue town in a red state very similar to the show’s setting, Austin, Texas. Much like the characters in the show, it was hip to be weird and “different” and there was a new protest of some sort every week. I believe we elected a man Homecoming Queen my sophomore year because we felt like it. And we always strived to buy local whenever possible. My neighbors used to be buddhist monks and owned an antique shop specializing in incense and eastern musical instruments. 

But you get the picture. I was a gay kid growing up in the one place in Arizona it was cool to be like that. I immediately found the show relatable for that reason. After I caught up with it, however, I found myself liking it for more than the nostalgic setting. 

I’ll admit that when I first saw a gif set of two girls kissing from the show, I was a little skeptical. I looked up the plot summary online and got just a little more skeptical. We’ve seen a lot of shows/concepts that toy with the “lesbian-for-the-season” idea. Inevitably, the main character finds her true love, and it’s a guy. There’s nothing wrong with those characters. They’re written as destined for that one dude from the beginning. What I like about this show is that the main character, Amy (though one could argue Karma is the main character as well), is trapped in the dilemma that she’s gay. And while she does attempt to solve her problem by spontaneously kissing a lot of people, the show does not stoop to the pedantic plot device of giving her a boy to try and cling to for a season. Her default is “ladies” and that’s a refreshing change.

It also gives her character arc longevity, because we know from the first episode that she is in a doomed romance. Her love interest will not return those feelings, ever, but it will be a fun ride to watch her get over that initial heartbreak, because that’s something a lot of us dealt with growing up. The character Amy is interesting because we know she will fail to win Karma’s love in the end. What happens after is a mystery.

What I think I’m getting at here is that I’m relieved to finally see a show that does not hinge on the “OMG I’M A LESBIAN AND NEED TO COME OUT TO MY PARENTS, WAAAH” schtik. They got over that in the first couple of episodes. This show happens to be about a teenager handling her feelings for someone, and it’s very refreshing so far. Don’t get me wrong, I am paranoid over television in the first place, and am convinced this show won’t last in it’s glory for more than a season or two, but I’m going to enjoy it for while I can.

In the meantime, I hope that creators will still push for shows that accept being part of the LGTBQIA community (can we switch to spectrum? It’ll be easier) as a norm and then build their characters from there.

And now for some unrelated writing matters – the book I coauthored with Rae, Dark Horizons, will be available at the Golden Crown Literary conference in Portland for purchase if you’re going there. You can also meet our editor, a lovely person. I won’t be able to make it this year, sadly, but some day! My first solo novel, Chronicles of Osota: Warrior is set to release the first week of July. I will be making some frantic edits to it between now and then, but it will be well worth it, I assure you. Me and the editors have been making some tweaks to it over the past couple of months and it’s really coming together.

Anyways, that’s all from me now. Thoughts on the new show Faking It? Spectrum characters in television in general? I’d be happy to discuss in the comments