The Outsider: A Guest Post by Bonnie Dee

We’re happy to have wonktastical author Bonnie Dee back this week with another guest post, this time on “The Outsider, a mythic romantic figure.” Take it away, Bonnie!

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A fish out of water tale is just about my favorite subject to read in romance or any other genre. I love a story containing a clash of cultures or anything in which someone considered an outsider is forced to deal with a foreign-to-him group. This trope can take a number of different forms, and there’s something to enjoy about each one.

Time Traveling. Can’t get much more out of water than that. As long as the older time period is depicted more-or-less historically accurately, I’m satisfied, but the grittier and more realistic the better. This way you get a historical and a contemporary rolled into one. Sort of like Certs. I could go the obvious route and point to books like the Outlander series or The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I’m going to suggest some less familiar reads.

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser entranced me in the 70s, and Time and Again by Jack Finney was a big favorite in the 80s. I want to also recommend some writer friends’ books: Summer Devon’s Futurelove about a sexually repressed visitor from the future, and Totally Tubular by Gwen Hayes, in which a girl is transported to her mother’s high school experience. Good times!

The Social Outcast. Cinderella is a prime example. She didn’t really belong at that ball, though it could be argued that her lineage due to her father was purer than that of her stepsisters and their questionable social-climbing mother. People love seeing the rise to power of someone who’s been cast down, the revenge of someone kicked to the curb, or the triumph of any social reject. Variations of Cinderella’s story are always popular. My OC (tv series) obsession was in large part because of the theme of the outcast (Ryan Atwood) trying to make a place for himself in a society he’s not familiar with (Orange County social scene).

My own writing niche includes many social outcasts, such as Jim in A Hearing Heart, Tom in Bone Deep, Jason in New Life and Mason in Beloved Healer. Hah, I just realized I gave them rhyming names, and their girlfriends are, respectively Anna and Ava. Real original there.

Cross Cultural. I’m immediately hooked by almost any book that has East meeting West or some other combination of cross-cultural connection. Check out the charming Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson… Ah, I see why I couldn’t find the link at Amazon, the author retitled it Prince Charming Wanted. Probably a good idea, but I liked the original title. When a traditional Indian woman’s cousins from Canada come to visit, cultures clash big time.

I don’t know exactly how cross cultural this next one is, but I really enjoyed The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington for its depiction of a former monk who moves into the apartment below a single mother. Romance ensues. My own romance Captive Bride features lovers coming to each other from very different cultures, China and the U.S.

Bad Boys. This is a variation on the social outcast, but in addition there’s an element of redemption for former bad deeds factored in. I love my bad boys of fiction to have been seriously BAD, no mere lip service. I want to see them have to really dig their way out of a very dark place to come to the light.

I know a lot of romance readers need that “he’s nice to puppies” moment early in the story to convince them this is someone worth saving. I’ve even written that moment when I really didn’t wish to for readers’ sake. But for myself, I actually don’t need to see that touch of grace in an anti-hero—at least not until later in the book when it illustrates growth. A prime example of a baddie who was a stone-cold killer is Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He had no redeeming qualities, except maybe extreme loyalty (read “obsession”) to whatever woman he was in love with, and yet many viewers adored this character. And at the end he achieved complete redemption, sacrificing self to save the world. *sigh*

I won’t even begin a list of Bad Boy books. This seems to be the most popular outsider type of all, and such bad boy heroes are too numerous to list.

So, there you have a number of seemingly different tropes all tied together under the umbrella of the outsider seeking their place in the world. I think the theme speaks to that square-peg-round-hole feeling we’ve all experienced. A little outsider lurks in everyone, whispering we’re not good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, nobody likes us.

 

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How to Survive Authorhood

I had a weird sort of slump for the past month and spent a lot of time refilling the well, so to speak. And out of those many odd hours of doing random crap just to pass the time, I spent one or two reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned as a writer. Now, I’ve only been officially published for ten months. I know I still have a lot to learn…and these lessons aren’t even that serious, even though they’re mostly true. But above all else, I’ve learned that in the world of publishing, just as in any other endeavor, there will be ups and downs and, in the end, those peaks and valleys make for a much more fulfilling ride. So…

…here it is, my list of lessons learned, entitled How to Survive Authorhood.

Lesson 1: Don’t compare yourself to other authors.

Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for unhappiness. Sometimes you’ll be on top. Sometimes you…won’t. But your success as an author isn’t actually a reflection of your value as a human being. So don’t do it. Don’t compare. Just be you.

Lesson 2: For the most part, editors are your friends.

Sometimes it might not feel that way, but–again, for the most part–editors really do want you to succeed. They really are trying to help you. They really are your friends, at least in the professional sense (just go with it). So don’t abuse them.

Of course, there will also be editors you don’t get along with. There will be fellow authors you don’t get along with. Hell. There will be readers you don’t get along with.

But the world of publishing, and especially romance publishing, is tiny, which brings us to:

Lesson 3: Don’t be an ass.

But…

Lesson 4: Don’t be a pushover, either.

Sometimes, you’ll be asked to do things to and with your book that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, those things are for the best, and you should totes break out of your comfort zone. But other times, they’re wrong wrong wrong and you should Just Say No and go do whatever you feel like you wanna do.

The thing is, writing is a difficult, unpleasant, and lonely job. It can consume you if you’re not careful, so…

Lesson 5: Make sure to prioritize things so that you have time off to do something every day other than watch your soul bleed out of your fingers write.

Speaking of feeling murderous…

Lesson 6: Don’t read your reviews. Especially if you think there is any chance at all that you might respond to, comment on, or feel any less valuable as a human being (see item 1) if you read a review that is less than stellar.

This is not new advice. Many, many authors before me have said this. There is legitimacy to this suggestion. And with any luck, you will have so many reviews that you won’t even have time to read all of them. But in the meantime…back away from Goodreads, y’all. Go have a cup of coffee and chillax. Mmm, coffee.

Lesson 7: Coffee will become your mascot.

It doesn’t even matter if you don’t like coffee. If someone offers you a cup when you’re on deadline, you will stop what you are doing and drink it at any moment during the day and night. You will be excited to go to sleep at night simply because it means that you can wake up and have coffee again in the morning.

Lesson 8: You won’t make any money.

At least not at the beginning. Or maybe even ever. Sorry.

But you know what? A lot of other authors are in the same boat. And what’s great about Romancelandia is that it is full of smart women who are capable and wonderful and interesting and so many other great things!

There will be many whom you look up to and adore and fangirl all over at conferences. And without being creepy…

Lesson 9: Go ahead and tell them that they’re fab. Don’t hold back your kindnesses.

Because when it’s your turn…when you get a “good job” note from your publisher, an “I like you” message from an author you respect and admire, or fan mail from a reader, you feel like a fucking boss.

Lesson 10: Save those messages. Come back to them.

You will need them, even on good days, because they mean you’ve touched someone with your words. It means that your work meant something good for a fellow human being. And even though the success of your work doesn’t dictate your value as a person, it still feels really, really good.

And with any luck, you won’t just survive. You’ll thrive.

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Summer Lessons

Balance doesn’t come easily to me.

I suspect I’m not alone. I suspect what I’m about to describe is common, not only to many writers, but to many creative people.

I love to write, and once I start, I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to exercise, shower, get dressed, meet the bus, or help with homework. I don’t want to grocery shop, make dinner, or talk to my best friend on the phone.

(Of course, once I stop, I don’t want to start again, but that’s a whole other problem, for a different post.)

What’s more, I love romance. I could write it all day long and read it all afternoon and evening, and I’d only have to take a break once a month or so (flogging myself all the way) to read a book club book so I can have the pleasure of my friends’ company for an evening. (The whole time I’m doing it, though, I will be thinking about whether I could start a romance book club …)

On top of that, I love the romance community. I love Tweeting with romance readers and writers (some of whom are the same people), reading reviews of new books, hearing on Facebook from fans, and exchanging emails with my writer friends. Recently, I’ve even made some local romance-writer friends, which means I can take walks, eat at the pub, and have girls’ nights with romance writers. One of my neighbors is an avid romance reader, too, and always happy to talk about her favorite books.

One nice thing about writing romance is that if you have other writer friends who write brilliant books, they send you their manuscripts to read, which means that when I’m not writing romance or reading romance just for fun, when I’m not chatting online with romance writers or taking a walk with a local romance-lover, I can read and critique manuscripts that are every bit as wonderful as the books I buy or take out of the library, and then I can send emails and have conversations about these wonderful books, which always makes me think really interesting thoughts about how to make my own writing better.

In short, I love what I do so much that the trickiest part is not to do it all the time. And when I say all the time, I’m really not exaggerating. Last year, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., stretched (because I’d given myself repetitive motion injuries by, yes, writing and reading), and started writing. I wrote all the time, except when I was tweeting about writing, posting to Facebook about something I’d written, emailing someone about writing, reading other people’s posts and emails about writing, or—you know, taking a walk with a writer friend and talking about writing.

It was glorious, but it had its price.

At some point, I realized that I was having trouble conversing with people who didn’t read or write romance. I would cast about in my mind for something to talk about, something I’d done other than read, or write, or talk to readers, or talk about writing, but—

Luckily for me, summer, which has opinions of its own, intervened. Summer delivered to me two children who are not remotely interested in romance, and—though avid readers—do not particularly want to be engaged in a lengthy discussion of what they’ve read.

Summer delivered to me three separate trips—a road trip to Yellowstone Park, a trip back east to hang out with the family and friends I left behind when I moved to the West cost, and two vegging weeks at my in-laws’ beach house. Summer delivered three sets of house guests.

It also delivered invitations to the pool, opportunities to eat dinner on the beach (we live on an island in Puget Sound), a weekly “all-comers” track meet, summer sandlot baseball, the discovery that we can fill a 64-oz metal insulated flask with draft beer from our local brewery and take it wherever we want, and an assortment of other things calculated to wake me up and make realize that I’d lost something.

All the other parts of me.

This summer, I spent a ton of time talking with my kids. I played board games with my son, shopped for a back-to-school wardrobe with my daughter, took visitors to one of the prettiest free beaches I’ve ever had the luck to live near, talked with friends, read fantasy and sci-fi, listened to NPR. I kayaked with my family, saw mountain ranges I’d never seen before, walked five miles on the beach from one town to another, kids in tow.

I wrote, too, half a novel, snuck into the tiniest interstices of my otherwise brimming (but not crowded) life.

It was glorious.

I can’t do it all the time. Summer is special. It has its own rules, and as much as I want to keep “summer brain” as I head into this jam-packed nutso school year, it’s just not possible.

The best I can do is remember how it felt to be reminded of how big my little corner of the world is, and how my job as a writer is not only to write, but also to live, so I can write bigger and better, richer and broader, so I can come back to my people and my community with stories to tell and advice to give, and—most of all—a heart wide open to what you all are telling me, too.

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