Wonk-o-Mance http://wonkomance.com "Fooked-up people, bonking? Hooray!" Tue, 28 Jul 2015 22:35:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.18 Wonkomancehttps://feedburner.google.com Telling a Story is Sometimes the Only Next Thing to Do http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/28/telling-a-story-is-sometimes-the-only-next-thing-to-do/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/28/telling-a-story-is-sometimes-the-only-next-thing-to-do/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:03:06 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4356 Continue reading ]]> image7I don’t talk very much about my kid on the open internet, which is less about how I feel about privacy and the internet, and more about how I feel about both consent and future conversation I may have with my kid about when and how I shared my feelings, and shared their life.

However, my experience as a mother is mine, just as my kid’s life is theirs. My experiences as a mother have revealed important perspectives that I have used to frame other parts of my life. Also, my life as a mother isn’t all about my kid. My kid is just being a kid in that way that they do, where so many experiences are for the first time, and can be sorted into rather larger and rough categories like uncomfortable, joyful, general life information. Not that I believe a healthy and privileged kid’s life is simple, just that it is very present, and not yet as interjected with trauma and fear and the past and the looming future as my life experience feels to me. Mothering, then, mothering from a position largely of privilege, isn’t just about my kid, but about whatever in my life intersects with parenting and how those intersections lead me to make decisions, and to feel.

Even parents who parent within paradigms of racism, for example, whose kids have both the intensity of presence all childhoods do and must be parented to recognize sources of danger, trauma, and inequality, aren’t all about their kids. My sense is, mainly from talking to a lot of parents in my work in pediatrics (and so anecdotal and filtered through all my own filters, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about kids and parents, even if my filters may be faulty), is that even for those very preoccupied with parenting, there is always, always a scrabble to preserve self.

I’ve often reminded myself that healthy parenting requires only three things – resources, respect, and the ability to solve problems. This, I think, is the widest possible gate for the greatest diversity of family units to be deemed healthy. Families that are very different from each other – culturally, religiously, politically, philosophically – can be healthy. Also, a lack of any of those three things can be our fault, as a world, as a society, which may mean that helping some families is a matter of social justice. Many times, when I’ve struggled as a parent, I’m able to think about what it is of those three things I don’t have, or is impoverished, and then I’m able to be kinder to myself.

None of this is a disclaimer for one particular perspective I’ve gained, recently, but maybe why I was so moved and enlightened by something that happened with my kid. Lately, I’ve been thinking and thinking about my three things, and if I’m okay, if we’re okay, and also, I’ve been struggling with self. I’ve been struggling with choices, and if I’m making them to my benefit. I’ve been struggling with what has been choice and what has been fear and trauma and resources and my ability to solve problems.

I’ve been struggling and breaking and mending and then cracking some new and unexpected way.

What I’d say about my kid is that they’re the most interesting person I know, and fierce. Sartorially fascinating, anxious, explosively brilliant, huge-hearted, a genuine hero, and for teachers, challenging. So challenging for teachers, actually, that once, one of their teachers asked me out for a drink because she “enjoyed talking with [me] so much,” except, I had never talked to her, she had only talked to me, at length, every day, at school pick up, venting about my kid such that I guess I felt to her like a friend, like company that felt good because I received and processed so many of her bad feelings.

My experience, as a parent, is that every formalized or even vaguely institutional activity will introduce certain kinds of challenges for my kid and their teachers. It will also, unexpectedly for the teachers, introduce joy and singular experiences such that no matter how they have vented, they grow to love my wilding child and my child’s refusal to accept a world for them and their friends that is less than ideal and storied and engaging. Meeting my child, loving my child, is to find oneself unexpectedly aspirational even while exasperated.

So there was summer ceramics. My kid, fully validated by privilege, had a number of these kinds of camps and classes lined up, in between reckless play and hours holed up with books. I was nervous about Art Camp, including the ceramics portion, because I knew there would be many aspects of it in direct and terrifying challenge to known areas of difficulty for my kid. This was partly why I signed them up, even going so far as to lie on the part of the camp application that asked me to promise my kid could handle this kind of environment, to lie with righteousness, I might add, because how dare they keep fine arts from kids who can’t handle the studio environment! Obviously, Art Camp are assholes.

Of course, after the first morning, inevitable pick-up venting rained coldly down on my righteousness, dampening it, leading me to side eye my child, who looked, as usual, happy enough. Afternoon pick-up, though, ceramics studio pick-up, was different.

I like this kid. “Vented” the ceramics instructor. This kid is interesting. This kid created more than anyone else, and destroyed more than anyone else. Created and destroyed, over and over. Are you okay with that? Because I think it’s cool.

The ceramics instructor thought my kid was cool. My kid was so covered in slip and clay they could have been fired to a glossy hardness, and had no project to show for their day, but also, was cool.

Yes, thank you. I think I said, because I couldn’t kiss him.

The next day, I somehow escaped being pick-up lectured after morning studio, and then, I pranced a little into ceramics studio because I was there to pick up my kid who had this entirely new label of cool. Except, when I ran into the instructor, his forehead was wrinkled. My heart went cold and still.

Today was a struggle. He began, and so I went to that place that I sit in my head where the walls are blank and the chair is uncomfortable and I am receiving bad news. When I looked down at my kid, there were tears poised to fall, over blotchy cheeks.

Fuck. I said inside the room.

Today was a struggle. He started again, and then I think it was a while before I actually heard him. . . . which is a thing, right? Struggling. Tells me we don’t have it all right. I was thinking, maybe, that they’re bored. There isn’t anything here for them, right now, but this clay and new information about techniques, but that’s not enough for someone with such a big story to tell. I was wondering, if for tomorrow, they could come with stories. Not an idea, or some thing they wanted to make, but some story they were excited about, that meant something to them. This is a kid that requires stories, and meaning, and to make things with meaning using a story.

It’s hard not to cry when your kid is really seen. When someone else articulates a sense you haven’t put words to yourself yet, about your kid, or someone you desperately love. Even more emotional is when this perspective is entirely new, and replaces venting and “difficult” and “hard work” with a strategy for school and life and work that is based on play, and process, and meaning.

Which is a big revelation to have in response to a handful of sentences delivered off-the-cuff by a guy who looks more likely to be guiding whitewater rafting trips than teaching studio ceramics, but it was the first drink of water in a really fucking big desert, so his words might as well have been delivered by trumpet and seraphim.

My kid was tearful for a while, having absolutely struggled. I was eventually able to ask them what story they’d like to bring in tomorrow. Though I’d been parenting this kid for eight years, and had tried some epic number of problem-solving ideas, my kid immediately, somehow, knew what I was talking about.

I had that dream last night about letters, and the phases of the moon. I think it’s a story. image4

Then they made a series of posters with the alphabet, and demanded I print out a moon chart, and there was something about space hippos. There was also glee and resolve and anticipation.

After studio the next day, my child was ghosted over with dried clay and beaming. The instructor was beaming, too, and started saying things like focused, hard working, engaged, productive. Things that are true, but almost never at school. They had a story to tell, and it was important. So important, that neither the teacher nor my kid could stop talking about it. That day, and the days after, weren’t a struggle, because my kid had been given permission to tell a story, and telling stories was worthy of work, and process, and productivity, and engagement.

This is the part where I learn something, not so much as a mom, though I learned a lot there, too, but the part where I learn for the self. I said I’ve been struggling. Struggle is a fight, right? A push/pull one way, and then another. Struggles are within and without and are fertile for confusion in making decisions, and reliance on old ways of thinking, and venting, and fear. They rarely feel progressive, but often are, I think. We say, The struggle is behind me, as if it provided some kind of momentum. Or, It will be a struggle, but then I’ll be better for it, as if it were able to burnish the cracks and broken places with gold leaf.

A struggle the way I have been feeling it, the way my kid’s ceramic instructor described it, is more static — or at least, it is a sign, something we’re able to see and feel if we’re not able to act or engage or work. A struggle is one of the first welcome returns on our living – it says, Okay, I get it, we’ll stop here, but where are your resources? Where is your respect? How are you going to solve this problem? 

For me, for my kid, here’s something to say back to struggle: I have to tell this story.

We don’t get very many chances, or time, and our whole world is struggling. We struggle forward, worrying our resources and respect and solutions in our pockets like polished stones. We dream, we insist on our tears, we look at unlikely people, people in cargo shorts and calf tattoos, with new hope.

image5We tell a story, we create and destroy, we’re covered in clay and ashes, ready for the fire.



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Another Brick From the Wall http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/14/another-brick-from-the-wall/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/14/another-brick-from-the-wall/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 12:00:34 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4350 Continue reading ]]> I’ve been having some anxiety lately.

It’s pretty low grade and often amorphous, although I can usually pin down the source eventually. (Deadlines have a way of making anxiety about them supremely clear as they approach.) Most of the time, my thought processes get more obsessive and spiraly. The same two lines of a song will play on repeat in my brain for hours, days. Not like a song that gets casually stuck in my head for a while. More like a song that my brain is holding onto with a tight grip because it’s hoping not to think about whatever else is hovering in the wings, causing my anxiety.

Yeah, I’d rather deal with the stress than listen to the chorus of “Chelsea Dagger” for forty-eight hours, thank you. (Blackhawks fans will recognize this one. My apologies for the earworm I have now given you.)

Mostly, my anxiety manifests in relatively mild ways, although I did find myself hyperventilating and starting to cry out of the blue while walking from the bathroom to the dining room one day this past week, which was unexpected and new.

I’m about the millionth person to blog about anxiety, and far from the first Wonkomancer, but one of the things I’ve figured out in the past decade of raising my kid is that shared knowledge is a force for good. And my story not being particularly dramatic does not mean it can’t be of use.

Besides, I’ve got plenty of drama to borrow from those whose paths have crossed mine.

Aside from my own experience, I’m familiar with anxiety, and its less friendly cousin, panic, from a lifetime of experience with family members whose efforts to manage their anxiety have been more or less successful over the past forty years.

My dad was the first person I knew who suffered from anxiety, although I didn’t learn about that until I was in my senior year of high school. Before then, I’d known him as a relatively peaceful alcoholic whose drinking broke up his marriage to my mom and eventually landed him in rehab. That’s when I learned he’d been taking Xanax to manage his anxiety for going on fifteen years or so at that point. This explained why his nightly drinking generally ended in a quiet passing out, at the bar or at home, rather than the destructive fights and anger I saw playing out in other families, although we had some of that, too.

Detox from alcohol is stressful on the body. Detox from a decade plus of benzo addiction can cause convulsions that hospitalize you. The open-ended prescription given to my dad by the head of psychiatry from a major university in our city was brought to light, explaining why his years of drinking were so subdued compared to the other alcoholics I was hearing about in Alateen meetings.

(Alateen is the youth version of Al-Anon. I found the meetings more horrifying than helpful at the time, mostly due to my own defensiveness and the always present feeling that my problems couldn’t possibly be considered serious compared to those being shared by other people who had real trouble, i.e. kids who were being abused or thrown out of the house or dragged into drinking with alcoholic parents.)

My dad first went to see a psychiatrist about his anxiety at when he was twenty-six, and that began his spiral of addiction, although the alcoholism would almost certainly have existed even without the drugs. Twenty-some years later, another immediate family member started having anxiety and panic attacks at the same age as my dad had started to experience them. A different family member’s panic attacks kicked in a bit later in life, when she was closer to twenty-eight and began falling out of her chair while on phone calls at the office. It took years to figure out that she wasn’t suffering from low blood pressure or an inner ear disorder, but rather having sudden and dizzying panic attacks.

One of the lingering effects of the shitty psychiatrist who wrote my dad a never-ending script for Xanax was a real reluctance on everyone else’s part to take any kind of psychiatric medication.

We’d seen what it had done, and no one was eager to replicate the experience, despite understanding intellectually that various different drugs would almost certainly be helpful.

So although anti-anxiety medication was eventually tried with varying rates of success, most of the people in my family who experience anxiety, myself included, have tried all sorts of other angles of approach to deal with it.

When I realized my son was having crippling anxiety in certain situations when he was as young as four or five, it was, at least, easy enough to identify.

One of the most useful things we have worked on is searching out our own triggers. For my son, it is often the first day of fill-in-the-blank. School. Camp. Spelling bee. Family vacation. Any experience where he’s going to be out of his element at the beginning triggers his anxiety. Figuring this out has allowed us to apply all kinds of tactics, from pre-gaming with rehearsals (drilling for the spelling bee at home using their rules, visiting a new school to figure out where everything is in advance) to taking advantage of the fact that fresh air always makes him feel better.

“Mom, I gotta wait for you outside so I don’t puke.”

This has made the difference between starting camp by throwing up repeatedly in the car on the way there, to feeling nauseous but holding it together with some deep breathing while we walk, instead of drive to camp. (Cars and anxiety do not mix well for my kid.)

One family member has food and drink triggers. Caffeine and alcohol in particular can send him to the ER with a panic attack that he knows isn’t a heart attack, except he’s pretty sure he’s definitely dying. Another family member gets them while driving over bridges or climbing mountains, a little bit harder to avoid when you are a mountain climber who drives across country to do so. Counting and breathing exercises have helped there.

I’ve read a hundred articles about anxiety and panic. Acquiring information is one of my self-soothing tactics. One of the best things I learned was how neural pathways are formed every time you have a panic attack, leaving a record in your brain of both the physical symptoms and the mental ones. After enough incidents, that pathway is strong enough that instead of being triggered by anxiety, the panic can be set off by physical triggers alone. This explains people who can wake up out of deep sleep in the middle of full-blown panic, because their sleep apnea creates heightened CO2 levels that the body reads the same as those you get from hyperventilating.

Research, research, research. For some, knowing these details might lead to more, heretofore unconsidered anxiety, but for me, knowledge is soothing. Recognizing what is happening, whether it’s to myself or to someone I’m with, gives me a better chance at managing my reaction.

I am not always super successful at this, or so logical in my behavior, alas.

One of my bad habits is manufacturing crises in order to relieve my anxiety. I am great in a crisis. I mean, I am rock solid, the person you want at your side when shit falls apart. Have you just landed in a foreign country, only to get pickpocketed within the first two hours leaving you with no driver’s license, money, passport, visa, or work authorization documents, two weeks after terrorists from your home country bomb your adoptive country’s embassies, where you will now need to present yourself for assistance? I’m your go-to girl, cool and collected and ready to fix the problem. Unexpected injury gushing blood in dizzying fashion? Steady as a rock.

Being needed, being useful, is not stressful for me. I get very calm and competent and it’s almost a relief to be able to focus so intensely on someone else’s problem, while forgetting about whatever problems I have of my own for a blissful period of time.

My apologies, friends of mine, for having been so happy to be involved in your crises. I hope I was, at least, helpful.

On the other hand, give me a potential problem of my own, one that doesn’t exist yet, but might come to pass? I can spiral into a cycle of anxiety and self-sabotage that actually brings the problem about, rather than simply letting it pass me by. Creating crises in other areas of my life has been a less than successful coping strategy for me. But if I have one manageable, actual crisis to focus on (even if I had to force that crisis), I can leave off worrying about the rest of it, so I find myself turning to this strategy far too often.

I’m trying to learn from my family though, and to apply the same kind of sensitivity and awareness to my own problems that I bring to bear automatically on my son’s. I am also, as so many of us are these days, although not enough, yet, trying to talk about it more.

The best thing I have done for my son so far, I believe, is to educate him as thoroughly and calmly as possible on how anxiety works, as far as I understand it and as I’ve seen it in action in our family. As opposed to the seventies and eighties, when no one in our family spoke about any of this, my son and I discuss this openly. And that means both when it’s just the two of us at home, and when we are with other family members or friends or teachers or coaches. We talk about the physical signs that let us know we’re heading into trouble, our coping mechanisms, anything we can think of. We let those around us know what we need from them when we’re in trouble. We share stories out the embarrassing and the frustrating situations we’ve found ourselves in because of our anxiety. And we remind ourselves that we get through it, every time.

Because I’m a storyteller, all of this stuff works its way into a book, sooner or later. Alcoholism showed up in Nothing Like Paris, and I found myself working anxiety issues into my upcoming holiday novella, Real World. I’m sure I’ll continue to work out on the page all my own issues

I needed a Wonkomance column for today, and I wasn’t sure what to write. But this is what I’ve been thinking about lately, so this is what you get. I like to think that every time someone shares their story like this, no matter how insignificant it may seem, it’s one more brick pulled out of the wall of silence that surrounds those who most need help and understanding. I’d love to see that wall crumble into dust someday.

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Be Your Own Heroine and Hero http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/09/be-your-own-heroine-and-hero/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/09/be-your-own-heroine-and-hero/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 06:00:37 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4347 Continue reading ]]> I have all these theories about why readers want romance heroines to be such good people. My most recent is this:

A writer friend told me recently that all romances are hero-centered stories—we read them because we want to follow the evolution of the hero from wounded and incapable of love to healed and fulfilled. If that’s true—and the more I think about it, the more I believe it—then the heroine, although she has some arc of her own—functions more as the hero’s prize for self-actualization than anything else. And okay, if someone is going to be our prize for doing the hardest things in life, they’d better be good. Or, you know, perfect.

There’s this thing people say about romance, that you’re meant to fall in love with the hero and be best friends with the heroine. Makes sense to me. But let’s just stop for a second and think about the dynamics there. If you’re in love with your best friend’s man—which is what I just said—then she’d better treat him well, right? Because the instant—the very first second—she slacks off, you’re going to feel really angry at her. In order for that feeling not to kick in, she has to be better than you. Every time she acts, you have to feel like she’s doing what you would love to believe you’d do in that situation. And not just what you-you would do. What you—your better self—would do, on your very best day.

So we don’t only hold heroines to high standards—we hold them to the way-too-high standards that we hold ourselves to (but rarely actually meet).

And about that. I have this wonderful new friend. I once asked my husband what traits all my friends have in common, and he said that I am drawn to women who (like me) deliver their the contents of their heads in unfiltered fashion. This was a way nicer way of saying what he meant than “All your friends have diarrhea of the mouth” but I got the picture. Anyway, my friend and I get along splendidly because we tell each other all the goopy pointless stuff that no one else wants to hear and help each other make sense of it so we can exorcise it from our overfull brains.

One of the things she has told me is that she has really bad self-esteem. And while she was talking, I pretty much just nodded and said, “Yeah,” a lot, because I knew exactly she meant. You can’t see it by looking at either of us. We hold our heads up high, smile a lot, make friends easily. On paper we both know we’re doing okay—haven’t killed the kids yet, put food on the table an average of three times a day, work hard at something important to us and, by most measures, kick occasional butt, have families who love us. And yet we spend a weirdly disproportionate amount of time picking on ourselves. Like, Oh, GOD did I really say that? And, Shoulda…wish I’d…why do I always…?

I know not all women do this, but I also know many who do. And so I’ve started to suspect that maybe we are only subjecting our heroines to the same scrutiny, holding them to the same unmeetable standards, as we do ourselves.

This post isn’t a call to us as romance writers to write bigger, wilder, pricklier, nastier, ornerier, more damaged heroines, although I love those heroines and I do always welcome them. It’s a call to us as women to notice how must we expect from ourselves and from the other people we judge against those same standards. Just notice. How many times a day you notice what’s still on your to-do list instead of what you’ve already accomplished, how many times a day you pick on the one thing you said wrong instead of marveling at all the things you said right, how many times a day you compare yourself to someone who’s done it better instead of to the way you used to do it, before you got as good as you are.

If you notice enough times, you might find that it finally starts to get old. And then you’ll notice yourself starting to dismiss the self-criticism as just noise.

Because it’s a good thing to want to be a better human being, but it’s a great thing to know you’re lovable, in all your warty splendor—no matter what plopped out of your mouth, what you shoulda or shouldn’ta done, or what wish you’d thought of at the moment.

And you don’t need a romance hero to tell you you’re already a heroine. You can be your own.

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The Finite Well of Shits http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/02/the-finite-well-of-shits/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/07/02/the-finite-well-of-shits/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 23:17:20 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4335 Continue reading ]]> Last year I gave a luncheon speech at the New England RWA’s annual conference, which I concluded by advising my fellow writers to respect the fact that one has only so many shits available to give, and to be mindful to save enough shits for what really matters.

I was talking about finding an energy balance between actual writing and the various other demands of being an author—promo, social media and so forth. But lately this concept of the Finite Well of Shits has moved into a larger context, for me.

As most folks in my social orbit are aware, I am thoroughly knocked up at the moment—precisely thirty-seven weeks, and due to burst around July 23. I’ve been lucky, thus far. It’s been a very kind pregnancy, with no puking, minimal queaze, only moderate aches and pains, and, though I’ve slowed down a lot since entering the third trimester, I still walk two or three miles every morning and feel generally hearty. Don’t get me wrong—I’m ready to be done with gestating, especially given this PNW heat wave. But I’ll miss my gigantic, spherical gut when it’s gone. It’s great fun to ram it into my husband, and I’ve never felt so unapologetic about my body ever before in my adult life. Plus this is the closest I’ll ever come to achieving the figure of a rotundly fat, stick-legged songbird.

But there have been a few developments during my preggening that have thrown me for the unexpected loop, and that loop seems to be affecting only one aspect of my life aversely—my writing.

It’s a perfect storm of factors. Hormones don’t help any—I’m not having one of those wildly frisky pregnancies I’ve heard tell about, and considering that my current work-in-progress is a ménage story that’s roughly 70% sex, I’m coming to realize what a hindrance a lack of perversion is, in this line of work. It’s been a struggle to empathetically muster the preoccupation with boning that my characters are all feeling, which makes the process of writing kinky sex scenes feel disconnected and robotic, sort of soulless.

Add to that a sharp dip in energy, both physical and mental, a long to-do list regarding preparing myself for childbirth and the transition into parenthood, and greatly impaired concentration, and I’m struggling.

Only a couple months ago I had little trouble writing for a few hours in the morning then switching to edits on a different book in the afternoon, but now that kind of gear-shifting sounds all but impossible. I’m so deeply in my own head right now—what with so-called real life suddenly feeling more dynamic than the fictional worlds I play in—it takes a major effort to get inside my characters’ brains and up to speed with what they’re dealing with or, indeed, caring much what they’re up to.

This is a new experience for me. I’ve constructed my everyday life to be pretty chill and minimally demanding, and I’m usually only too excited to go and play around in Fortuity or Darren or wherever my characters are busy messing stuff up and falling in love. Except in two, three, four weeks, something’s going to happen that’ll likely change my life more drastically and more suddenly and more permanently than any other event has or will. And that’s making it a little tough to care about a made-up three-way that needs to go down in Pittsburgh.

I don’t know why I was surprised by any of this. For whatever cosmic reason, it feels like everyone I know, both in and outside of the writing sphere, has gone through a dramatic life change in the past eighteen months. Marriages, divorces, new babies, losses and grieving, illnesses, major relocations and job changes, mental health struggles—you name it, somebody’s been dealing with it. I knew that my writer friends navigating these transitions were finding the day job really challenging, yet also really trivial, set against the dynamism and demands of “real life.” Nevertheless, I hadn’t thought to bank on pregnancy curbing my creativity. My energy, yes, but not my productivity and drive, surely! I would power through.


All of this came to a head three weeks ago, when I found myself crying uncontrollably all morning, while chipping away at my 2,000-word daily writing goal. This wasn’t the first time during my third trimester that I’d cried while writing. It seemed like every other day was like this, and at first I brushed it off as mood swings. But there was no denying that writing now felt like work in a way it rarely had before. The words felt flat, the characters felt wooden, the sex felt dimensionless and mechanical. On good days, I could bank my 2,000 words in a couple hours’ time, and feel relieved that it was over. On bad days, every letter was torture.

I was filled with a self-doubt I hadn’t experienced before, not even back in the summer and fall of last year, when a cross-country move saddled me with a few months of situational depression and I’d burst into tears every time I opened up revisions for Give It All. Back then, once I’d admitted to myself that something wasn’t right, I’d had to do something I hadn’t before—I’d had to ask for an extension.

I think I asked for, like, four days or something ridiculous like that, and my editor gave me three weeks. I was a) super stressed out and despairing and b) an overachieving teacher’s pet, so as a result I felt both deeply relieved and somewhat ashamed, but the pub date didn’t have to shift, so I got over it. And I found the revisions far less painful after that, just having admitted to my “boss” that I was struggling. The isolation had made it all much harder.

This time around, however, the deadline is more complicated. I pretty much needed to finish drafting this book before the baby arrives or bust. Even if somebody handed me an extra three weeks, it wouldn’t help—a person would be falling out of my vagina by the end of July whether I finished the book or not. And while I can be a bit of a workaholic, even I wasn’t naive enough to think I’ll be doing any writing in that first month of new motherhood. I’ll probably be lucky if I bathe myself, most days. But I was more miserable than I’d felt in ages, and when my husband pointed out that this really wasn’t the state to be spending the final weeks of what’s likely to be my only pregnancy in, I saw his point. Physically, it probably wasn’t the best for the baby and, moreover, I really would like to be able to look back on this time fondly, and remember being excited but also calm—not psychotic and frustrated and freaked out over a deadline, and crying so hard I have to keep throwing out my ruined contact lenses.

So I broke down and called my agent, and sobbed snottily into her ear for forty minutes or so. I didn’t mind doing this. I’m not apologetic about my emotions, plus I was sure she’s seen and heard it all from her clients. I told her I wasn’t sure which route was best—to finish this book by the skin of my tear-salted teeth so at least I wouldn’t have it looming over me post-birth, or to ask for an extension so I’d be less stressed now, but then have to deal with the book later this summer. She agreed that neither option was ideal, but we formulated a plan: check in with my editors and see if an extension was even an option, and also ask them to read the half of the book I had drafted so far, as I really had zero clue if it was even worth finishing. My objectivity was nil.

In the end, my editors (who’ve also seen and heard it all) were highly sympathetic. They read the manuscript-in-progress over the weekend and assured me it was perfectly salvageable, if lacking a certain spark—nothing revisions can’t fix, once my brain returns to some semblance of normal. They voted that I take a four-month extension. I was a little terrified, as this not only bumped up the pub date on this particular book, but also two others, and created this big hole in my release schedule and sent me into a panic about fading into obscurity in readers’ eyes. I mean, publishing is tough and it’s tight, and it took years of work and proving myself reliable to inch my way as deeply into this field as I have; I was scared of undermining all that effort by falling down now.

My editors also ordered me to take a couple weeks off the work-in-progress, as I was clearly coming to dread and resent it. Maybe with some time away, I could come back and see the good bits and get excited about the story and characters once more. I grudgingly agreed, and spent those weeks weathering a release day, taking my time with two other books’ edits, tackling some promo, and otherwise doing the part-time-author thing in between midwife appointments and birth classes and general frenzied nesting. And watching three seasons of Law & Order in as many weeks.

In time, I forgave myself for what felt at first like a failure. I admitted that I couldn’t white-knuckle my way through the final six weeks of pregnancy, trying to finish the book. I couldn’t do it physically, and I didn’t want to do it, besides. I mean, did I really want to make myself miserable, and cast that shitty pall over the end of my pregnancy, just to avoid a six-month gap in book releases? Like there’s any chance that in ten years I’m going to look back at this coming winter and spring and think, “Oh right, that was when I let my readers down,” as opposed to, “The bumbles was so tiny back then! Jesus, time flies.”

And so this was my ultimate lesson in how truly finite the Well of Shits is, when we’re dealing with major life changes—adjusting to new relationships, jobs, or homes; leaving old ones behind. Saying hello to new humans and goodbye to dying ones. It’s not just your brain that’s budgeting and spending those shits, I’ve realized—my body has clearly decided that it is needing the bulk of my shits right now, and soon a tiny human will be claiming its share. I guess writing will have to settle for whatever shits are leftover on a given morning for the time being, and that’s just going to have to be good enough.

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Secrets and Light http://wonkomance.com/2015/06/30/secrets-and-light/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/06/30/secrets-and-light/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:27:30 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4326 Continue reading ]]> I was very young when I became interested, so interested in stories of people doing something in secret.

Secret drinking, secret gambling, secret boyfriends, secret girlfriends, secret/second families, secret lives.

I didn’t go to church very often, but I remember nearly eidetically a sermon I listened to when I was fourteen, at a school friend’s church. The sermon was about secrets, and after Ephesians 5:12 — for it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

The idea, said the pastor, is that if your deeds are in darkness, they are dark, and would be a source of shame for those who are in the light to even speak of. I’m not a theologian, so I’m not sure of that pastor’s take, but this idea seemed at once titillating and awful. What I was compelled to do secretly was a compulsion born of the inherent shame of that thing. That anything I did secretly was proofed by the secret-keeping as a sin.

When you are fourteen, you can think of a lot of examples that support this idea.

This was also a time when it seemed like everyone I was growing up with was getting out their maps and finding their direction. My best friend announced she would be a doctor (she is, dear reader, today), a couple of my orchestra-mates started serious studio study, advanced math tracks were taken up by those citing engineering as the future.

I didn’t want to choose, the choices had come to bear too quickly. I wanted college to stay a daydream, and my future to remain nebulous and changeable. As soon as a chose, I felt I was choosing fear.  Fear that if I wanted to be a doctor I would flunk AP biology, or if I wanted to be a musician, I would choke auditions, or if I wanted to be a physicist, everyone else smarter would outpace me, and if I wanted to be a writer, or an artist –

Then maybe I wasn’t good enough for anything else, and how could I even know I was good enough to write books or make art, anyway? No test, no admissions could tell me.

Of course, this is how secrets are born. They are born of fear. The landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States this last week revealed generations of secrets forged in legitimate fear. So many loved, but loved in secret. When their secret was brought to life, so many came to die, or be terribly hurt. When we moved to our house, we were told that the house across the street used to be the home of a couple who maintained they were roommates for fifty years. In their life, they never walked down our leafy street holding hands.

The decision removes the institution’s power to force people into secret, but our government isn’t the only source of fear. The scripture I cited gives us the source of shame – it is us. We force shame and secrets whenever we hate, or dampen, or tell the world or yourself, someone else – you can’t.

My family was lousy with secret artists and writers, on my dad’s side. The aunt who was told by her community college professors to go to art school, but she wouldn’t, because she had a baby, because how would she make money, because how would a community college know if she was good at art, because moms don’t go to art school, because she’s not that good. The grandmother who tatted award-winning lace, and made ceramics, and designed and sewed dance costumes for her girls, and doodled funny cartoons, couldn’t be an artist because she was an immigrant, and had to work for a living, and did stuff anyone could do, and had five children. Another aunt whose house was full of shelves and shelves of books and bought me a Mont Blanc when I admitted, graduating from high school, I might want to be a writer who admitted to me, then, that she fooled around with writing.

I was a smart girl who grew up without money, and every semester, when I signed up for classes, the kind guidance office, when I asked if I could take an art class, take the creative writing class, reminded me that I could always write on the side/take a community art class/join a group if I wanted to do those things, but that it was most important, in my situation, to take the classes that would get me into a good teaching college. After all, then I would have summers off.

If I had been Kyle, who was a boy, and from a nice family, and drew beautifully on his math worksheets, right where everyone could see, right in the light, maybe I would have been encouraged, like him, to take all the art classes in school, to apply to art school. Maybe, like him, I would have had a world-famous art studio and have things that I made in contemporary art museums.

But maybe, also, I was never good enough.

In college, I focused on the study of English and music, and I was strong enough to fence off a few places where I could be an artist. Professors were artistic, and if I couldn’t make it in music, I could profess English. I wrote novels in secret. I wrote poems in secret. I graduated and got two things – a job offer at an elite private high school to teach English, and admittance into a creative writing program based on my written-in-secret portfolio. Summers off, or full-time exposure of my secret self.

Except, it wasn’t that easy. I went to the creative writing program, and then another. I wrote. I published. Everyone saw what I trying to do, all the secret manuscripts that I wrote as a girl weren’t shameful or a waste of time, after all, but practice. However, the bookmaking classes, the hanging around a friend’s letterpress work, the sewing, the needlework, the constant inspiration from museums and films – that was just on the side. It wasn’t real work, wasn’t authorized by an education or talent. Music, too, on the side. In the margins of a poetry manuscript I had finally given myself permission to write.

Then there were other years that meant everything was on the side, and then there were secret manuscripts, secret books, secret poems, secret music, secret etsy shops with things I made with color and string and imagination but were hobbies, their success a fluke.

Proverbs tells us that bread eaten in secret is pleasant, and I think this is true, but only for a few servings.  Eventually, secret bread is going to get stale if just for lack of company. When I came back to writing, it was in secret, and at first, it was delicious, and a retreat – a place to go that was familiar and novel at the same time. It wasn’t long before I started to feel afraid, though, and the fear came in once I realized that what I was writing wasn’t just for me, but that I intended it for the world, and so now it would be brought to light, looked at, and I would have to know if it was good enough.

When it is in secret, it can’t be spoken of, but when it’s brought to light, it doesn’t just belong to you. At what point is the shame, discomfort, and oppression of a secret endeavor a greater pain than the fear of failure?

Well, it’s not just one point, it turns out. Or one year, or one day. Or one event. Or one conversation. Or one person. Fear is overcome by the persistent realization that where you are is not where you want to be. One day you tell one person your secret, and they meet it with joy and it encourages you, or they meet it with their own fear and you are discouraged. In both cases, you’re in a different place. Another day you’ll do something with your work that isn’t a secret, and something else will happen.

My secret-artist aunt becomes a hairstylist, an extraordinarily talented one, but her body can’t do it anymore after thirty years, and she decides to try working the office of a glass arts studio. There’s the day she starts talking to the artists. The day she tries blowing glass.

Things come to light.

Secrets can be good plot devices because they won’t stay in the dark, and the more life your character lives, the more chances the secret will be exposed. When the character’s life has stayed small, the character can guard the secret and nurture its safety. But then, the character meets someone, goes on a journey, experiences tragedy, or love, or terror. Every experience, every change undermines the character’s ability to protect the safety of their secret. The character’s world gets big, the secret seems so much smaller. They bring it to light and the new world that they have created out of change and experience is able to accept and absorb it.

Which is why, to keep their secret, the couple that once lived across the street from us could never walk down this street holding hands. Except, for their secret to come to light, for it to be accepted and met with joy, the entire world had to change.

I’ve been a secret writer, and a published one. Secretly unhappy, and at the center of change. I’ve nurtured the safety of my dreams because I wanted them to stay dreams, and my future to be free of the fear that comes with declaration, hope, and goal-making. Then the dreams aren’t sweet and pleasurable anymore, after so long dreaming them, and too many things are happening in my life to pretend I can keep a secret.

One verse later, Ephesians says everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

At first, I can tell myself that it’s an experiment. I’ll do this needlework again, but in a new way, without rules. I’ll show it to someone I love. They’ll tell me what I did was art. Then I won’t do it for a while and remember all my other art dreams that have soured, except this time, I tell them. I tell all the secrets, expose all of them. I read books, I visit museums, I buy the kind of art I can’t ever imagine being able to make. I talk to people, one at a time. I talk to one person about it, all the time. My new pleasurable dreams aren’t if but what if. My new dreams are a litany of specifics – letterpress manufacturers and serial numbers, guilds, ink, and paper. Type. My new dreams buoy the dreams that have never stopped resurfacing, and so I write and dream and learn.

And I’ve encountered you can’t. The older I get, the more there is an attempt to force me to shame and secrets. From myself, from others, from communities, from the world.

Except, the point of the sermon is the same as mine — light precludes shame. Telling, showing, dreaming out loud, permitting process, permitting failure. If I had anything to say to the girl I was, it would be you don’t have to. You don’t have to choose, you don’t have to be validated, you don’t have to be ashamed.

We have to be safe, but only as long as we actually are, and a secret is time-limited in its protection. So many times, I’ve been safe until I’ve been miserable. Secret drinking, as an illustrative example, isn’t evocative of safety and fun.  Don’t ask, don’t tell was very good at shame, terror, misery, and harm but very bad at happiness, self-actualization on the job, and genuine safety.

Secretly making is very good at producing beautiful things, but won’t do a good job making a place for you in the world, or making room for yourself, inside of yourself.

You can’t probably comes from someone else’s fear and shame.

This week, I started a chapter in a new novel. I had the pleasure of reading work from another author who has been secretly writing for years, knowing that I would publish her book and make it beautiful. I told a man who volunteers at a museum that I would drive south and load metal type cabinets into our car, and when he asked are you? Are you a printer? An artist? An expert?

I told him – I’m only just getting started.

Only – as if it were easy. As if starting hadn’t taken years.

But I told.

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Running Your Own Startup: Author Version http://wonkomance.com/2015/06/18/running-your-own-startup-author-version/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/06/18/running-your-own-startup-author-version/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 10:00:23 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4319 Continue reading ]]> We are all entrepreneurs! Although romance novel covers are prettier...

We are all entrepreneurs! Although romance novel covers are prettier…

My husband and I have both worked in tech startups in the past and our experiences have ranged from oh-my-God-make-the-pain-stop to woo-hoo-this-rules! Startups are an interesting ride, because as early employees, we’re often required to wear a lot of hats. Like, Bartholomew Cubbins level of hats.

Being an author requires multiple-hat-wearing, too. So it’s probably not a surprise that, a couple months in to my life as a writer, my husband made the observation that becoming a successful (read: making a living wage) author is a lot like running one’s own startup. We started making a list of the similarities, and it’s pretty amazing how many of the points from startup advice/business books also apply to the publishing world. Here’s the initial list we came up with.

  1. Be prepared to invest a ton of your own resources into your product up front. Before you can get outside investors (agents, publishers) interested, you have to show that you’re committed to your product and believe in its importance.
  2. You will earn next to nothing for a long time, although your title might be C-level executive and everyone will think you’re a wealthy rock star.
  3. You might not ever earn anything “reasonable.” That’s the risk you take.
  4. Start with a minimum viable product (a book) and send it out to a test market (beta readers). If it does horribly, start over, but listen to your feedback and adjust early and often, when it’s not as expensive as overhauling a finished product.
  5. Put your product through QA testing (editing) to make sure it’s free of critical bugs before you launch it (release day!).
  6. Invest in high-quality marketing and sales if you want your product to do well.
  7. When you finally do get investment (a contract), remember that it’s only the beginning, and that the next five years are going to be a grind. Do it for the love…and for the hope of a successful IPO.

This is just a starting list, but I’d love to hear any more that you guys can come up with! And if you’re interested in reading more startup books that I think are very applicable to the world of writing, as well, here are some suggestions of works that I really enjoyed and learned a lot from:

The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman: Amazon | iBooks
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: Amazon | iBooks
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: Amazon | iBooks
The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki: Amazon | iBooks

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Women (and Girls) and Music ~ Part Three http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/27/women-and-girls-and-music-part-three/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/27/women-and-girls-and-music-part-three/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 04:56:41 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4312 Continue reading ]]> Finalizing line edits on a manuscript of mine about a musician recently, I thought of my first, serious studio music lessons with my cello professor. I started with him when I was twelve, after three years working with one of his students. I ended lessons with him when I was eighteen, not long before he died at eighty-seven. I studied with other cello professors in college, but what I learned in those studios was much more about music than myself.

He lived in a massive, early Victorian on an older side street near a huge state university. His music studio was the lower level of the back wing – it had a separate entrance that opened onto a wraparound porch where I often waited, listening to the lesson before me finish, always nervous, always exhilarated, too. One fall evening when I was sixteen, the clarity and warmth of light from the setting sun through his persimmon trees, combined with the last few bars of a Bach concerto another student was perfecting behind the door, made me so uncomplicatedly happy that I felt that my entire life would be happy. I would live a happy life, with love and music and light.

I started the cello when I was eight, after a demonstration made at our school by the stringed instrument teacher and a local rental company. I had been taking piano lessons, which I adored, and my piano teacher had talked to the strings teacher to give me extra attention. I felt important, watching the strings teacher demonstrate all the instruments, and fascinated as the rental representative lifted each one from the velvet-lined cases. I wanted. I loved all the colors of the shiny woods, the latches on the cases, the small cakes of amber-y rosin. When they started pulling the cellos out, I loved how big they were, how unwieldy, how if I carried one down the street, into my school bus, onto a stage, there would be no question I knew some magic no one else knew.

The worst lesson I ever had with my professor was on a hot spring day, before a state competition. Months before, I had chosen, with terrible bravado, a difficult concerto movement, allegro, clogged with arpeggios. I had been determined to prove my technical prowess when what everyone agreed I had instead was a singular talent for expressive sound. After months of practice, my fingers only just knew what to do, and my brain partially froze every time I played it, braced for the moment I’d fumble and screech. I had nothing to express with this competition piece but fear held barely in check and several decibels of self-doubt.

His studio had been hotter than the weather, and the carved wood paneling and vast, red Turkish rug that were usually so cultured and cozy, just made the room seem hotter. Oppressive. Memorizing pieces had never been hard for me, so there were no music stands between me and his sharp blue eyes. As always, he was wearing a suit, seersucker, because it was May.unnamed-31

I didn’t want to. Hundreds and hundreds of hours in on a single movement, and that afternoon in his studio, I met my wall. I hated how the ribs on my cello were sticking to the insides of my bare legs, I hated the bite against the side of my thumb on the strings as I brought my hand past third position, I hated the smell of carpet dust and wood oil. I hated his metronome, an old German one with a huge brass pendulum that kept time with a thunk that was tightening the vessels in my brain. I was running the most difficult bars for him, over and over, and over and over, and half the time they were wrong.

I started imagining playing for the judges, who were always blank-faced and seemed to receive music like boulders received waves—unmoving. Stony. As soon as I did, I started making more mistakes. I had always struggled with stage fright, which I managed by preparation. Over preparation. This time, all the hours and practice didn’t prepare me. I started to cry, then the fear sluiced over me all at once, and I barely rested my cello on its side and got to the bathroom in time before I was sick, heaving with my nose clogged from tears.

When I slouched back into the studio, his cello had been put aside, too. He leaned back, and crossed his legs, pulled his wire glasses from the dents where they lived on his nose.

You could still hear, even after fifty years in this country, his German accent, which got a little stronger when he reminisced, or when he was feeling something very strongly, or when he spoke with his wife. He told me to pick up my cello and play an elegy I had mastered a long time ago, and was my favorite, and his voice was tired, and accented. It took me a long time for my hands to stop shaking so I could start, but then I did, and he told me to play it again, and somewhere in the middle, I remembered who I was and what I did and what I loved. He told me to put my cello away until the competition.

He was very kind to a twelve-year-old overly serious girl, mostly because he took twelve-year-old girls seriously. He expected me to practice, and to make progress. He expected me to listen to the music I was learning, and to go to chamber concerts and the symphony, if I could. He expected me to be able to talk about the composters who wrote the music I was learning, and to think and to have opinions about the music that they had written. He expected opinions. He expected to hear my voice, every week, and to think about what I wanted to say with my instrument. He expected me to be an artist, and even at twelve, he expected me to be a professional, believed that I could be a professional. He expected me to do things that were difficult, and things I didn’t even know if I could do at all.

I still want to do things I don’t know if I can do. I still want to do difficult things, and expect myself to learn everything I can and have opinions. Practice and practice and practice. Some things I prepare to do for the world will be beautiful, and show the very best of me, and some things, no matter how much I prepare, will make me cry. The hardest thing I do, though, is to start. To try. To stop waiting for permission. To use the voice I thought I had already been given, but somewhere along the way, was told I didn’t have.

We often expect so much from girls, and girls learn to do hard things. They learn to use their voice, and are smart and funny and big. They express their opinions, are expressive and interested. They make things. They try things—identities, subjects, music, science, books. We don’t stop being those girls. We don’t stop. We are the girls we have always been. We are big, and inept, and professional, ignorant. Interesting and opinionated and practiced. We want to make things, and we want to try. We don’t know if we can do this.

We’re doing it anyway.

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yet another post about my forthcoming kinky book http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/26/yet-another-post-about-my-forthcoming-kinky-book/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/26/yet-another-post-about-my-forthcoming-kinky-book/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 17:58:21 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4308 Continue reading ]]> So, um, I’ve still got a kinky book coming out on the 1st of June.

You’ll notice there’s a kind of a theme to my Wonko posts lately but this stuff is kind of on my mind at the moment.

Something I’ve noticed when reading people’s responses to BDSM-themed romances and erotica is that a lot of readers get very put off a text if they feel that the dominant character is insufficiently dommy. “[X] doesn’t work for me a dom(me)” is a phrase I’ve seen a lot. And, obviously, it’s fine for people to like what they like and if something doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work for you. Nevertheless I am, and I know I say this a lot, troubled by the implication that a dom(me) has to be a particular sort of person or behave in a particular sort of way.

At the risk of over-generalising, there’s a strong tendency for romdoms to replicate their sexual proclivities in all areas of their life. Even the ones who aren’t billionaires are usually highly conventionally successful: if they’re not running their own company, they’re pursuing some other archetypically forceful and masculine career, usually in some branch of law enforcement or the military. They’re reserved, yet dynamic, and in control of everything, from the boardroom to the bedroom.

And while this perfectly understandable as a fantasy, it’s fantasy that only works if you take as read that you’re not expected to identify with this character in any way, shape or form. That they only exist as a catalyst for the desires of the viewpoint character—who, by contrast, tends to be aggressively normal. It presents dominance as the natural mode of a certain, very special type of person and submission as the natural mode of reaction to that person. In so doing, it tacitly denies that dominance and submission can exist within a dynamic between two perfectly ordinary people, simply because that’s what they’re into.

A big part of what I’ve tried to do with my forthcoming kinky book (FOR REAL, by the way, I should really get used to calling it by its name) is to … and I acknowledge this isn’t a word, nor should it be because it sounds awful … de-exclusive-ify the role of the dominant.  A quick recap for those who aren’t as familiar with my work as, well, me: FOR REAL is a story about Laurie, a jaded 37-year-old sub and Toby, an inexperienced 19-year-old dom.  It was really important to me to show that doms, like subs, like everybody else, can basically be anyone. That sexual dominance isn’t something you can only be into if you’re 39 and rich. And that submission is a choice based on who you want to submit to, not a validation of another person’s superiority.

Toby spends a large part of the book internally wrangling his own uncertainties and he never shows the absolute poise and control that romdoms are supposed to have. He’s excitable and passionate and occasionally quite overwhelmed by the things Laurie allows him to do. But—to my mind and, perhaps most importantly, to Laurie’s—none of that makes him less of a dom. I’d even go so far as to say that, to me at least, there’s something pretty fragile about the notion that dominance can admit no uncertainty, humanity or passion.

But, don’t get me wrong, there will always be room for tenaciously self-controlled billionaires with bespoke sex dungeons. I just like to think there’s room for the rest of us as well.

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Just Slightly… A Guest Post by Noelle Adams http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/19/just-slightly-a-guest-post-by-noelle-adams/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/19/just-slightly-a-guest-post-by-noelle-adams/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 06:00:44 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4296 Continue reading ]]> Noelle Adams PhotoI interviewed Noelle Adams (in her Claire Kent persona) in one of my first-ever Wonkomance posts. At the time, I’d never read any of her books, but I read Escorted for the purposes of the interview and couldn’t put it down.

Since then, I have devoured and adored many more of Noelle/Claire’s books. I love her voice, which is lovely and unpretentious and stark; the way her books submerge me emotionally; and the fact that she writes sex the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.

I remembered that Noelle had mentioned to me that she never tried to write in any particular way, that any wonkinessshe exhibited was unintentional, and I was curious to hear more about whether she’d ever tried to be less wonky and what that experience was like for her. Here is her guest post in reply:

The first romance I submitted to a publisher was a Regency. I was sixteen years old.

I’d been reading Regency romances for a couple of years, since my mother was a fan. She’d devour them and pass on to me the ones she thought wouldn’t sully my mind. When she wasn’t around, I’d dig through the big laundry basket she collected them in and find the sexier ones to read too.

I’d been writing novels since I was twelve, but I decided I was born to write a Regency romance. This was before the internet was available for copious research on publishers and submission requirements, but I knew, even back then, that I would have to follow the formula that publishers wanted. So that’s what I wrote. Feisty, virginal heroine. Dashing, slightly jaded hero. A tangle of conflict intensified by the social restrictions. Some sort of minor adventure plot to move things along. I worked all of it in. I spent a couple of summer months completing it, and then I went to the library to consult the literary market guides to find appropriate publishers to submit to.

I was sure I’d followed the formula perfectly. I was sure it would be published.

I never heard anything back—not even a form rejection letter. I reread the book recently, and it’s really not as bad as I imagined. Clearly, it was written by a sixteen-year-old, and no one but me should ever read it. But what I noticed was, even as a teenager, I couldn’t get the formula right. I had all the items on the checklist ticked off, but they didn’t come together the way they were supposed to. For instance, I had a minor misunderstanding in the first chapter, and instead of letting it grow and fester and intensify the main conflict, I made the couple have a conversation in the second chapter that completely resolved it. I know why I did it that way. It just felt like something two real people would do. But it made me realize that, from the beginning, I was writing books that were just slightly off.

My long history of failed attempts to get published only confirms this reality. My books are always just slightly off.

The first book I shopped that was actually good enough to be published was when I was twenty-one. I got an agent and had an editor really want the book, but it never got picked up because it was so unmarketable. I learned my lesson. Write for the market. So I wrote a book with the market in mind.

And another book. And another. In each one, I carefully followed what was popular and used the formulas publishers seemed to expect. I didn’t want to write a ground-breaking work of literature. I just wanted to get published. But, no matter how hard I tried to follow the rules, I couldn’t seem to do it.

I could get an agent. I could also get editors who really loved my writing and sometimes wanted to take on my books. But every attempt ended the same way. The book was “not the right fit for us.”

Just slightly off.

Eventually, I gave up and wrote books I wanted to write, assuming they’d never be published. So I ended up with a large number of completed, unpublished romances—some close to formula, some totally wonky.

I wrote Seducing the Enemy, trying desperately to follow a formula, as my last ditch effort toSeducing the Enemy cover get published. But that book was rejected numerous times before it was finally picked up, and even then it took several complete overhauls and eighteen months before it was in a state to be published.

That was when I decided to self-publish. I’d thought about the possibility and dismissed it several times in the past because I never really wanted to do my own thing. I was always trying to be a fit. But it seemed clear that the only way I was ever going to find an audience for my slightly-off books was to publish them myself.

At first, I tried to follow the romance rules, since I wanted my books to sell. But, by the third one (One Night with her Bodyguard), I just gave it up. That story features a heroine with intense social anxiety and a hero with all kinds of insecurities, and it has a weird, rambling plot structure. But it sold better and had better reviews than the previous two. Maybe that was just because I was slowly finding an audience, but it encouraged me.

Then I put Escorted—a book I thought could never be a fit for any market or niche—on the free promotion days on Amazon, and people started to read it and like it. Even with the bald hero, the non-passionate sex scenes at the beginning, and the odd absence of secondary characters and world-building.

So I figured I might as well publish what I want, since I couldn’t get the formulas right anyway, and maybe there were people who wanted to read what I write. So I threw all the odd stuff out there—detailed, realistic pregnancy sex, the dying seventeen-year-old’s bucket-list marriage, the sweet hero who is so in love he has a problem with coming prematurely, the m/f romance that starts in the context of a threesome. Some of it worked with readers, and some of it didn’t. But one thing is clear.

There is no correlation between the popularity of my books and their level of weirdness.

A Negotiated MarriageI don’t really think I take a lot of risks in my books—not really. A Negotiated Marriage has sold the most of all my books, and it’s a billionaire marriage-of-convenience story. Nothing risky about that. It is slightly off, though. The conflict is very understated, and the powerful, CEO hero gets nervous before business meetings so he takes his shoes off to prepare.

Maybe the riskiest thing I’ve done is the Willow Park books, romances about genuinely devout Christians that are intended for the mainstream audience and include sex and language. I guess there’s something wonky about that. It’s certainly almost never done. But the books themselves are really quiet, so it seems to me that they’re just slightly off, like everything else I write.

I did an interview with Wonkomance a couple of years ago, after Escorted took off, and Serena asked me why I wrote wonky books. My answer then is what it is now. I never wanted to write wonky romance.

From the time I was sixteen, I was trying to follow all the rules and write in the established, marketable formulas. I just couldn’t do it.

A lot has changed since then, but my books are still just slightly off.

Noelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.

She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances.

You can find her at:



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Wonkomance, LIVE! http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/08/wonkomance-live/ http://wonkomance.com/2015/05/08/wonkomance-live/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 15:30:53 +0000 http://wonkomance.com/?p=4276 Continue reading ]]> Win_Lose_WONK copyNext week the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention is going down in Dallas, and Wonkomance is going to be there! On Wednesday at 2:30, A.J., Amber, Cara, Shari and Shelley are going to be hosting a fun event for readers called Win, Lose or WONK, and we’d love for you to join us! The room will be divided into two teams. Us Wonksters pick a pair of index cards at random—one quirk, one occupation, inspired by some of our own books—and draw, Pictionary-style, the resulting mash-up romance protagonist (i.e., “nudist billionaire” or “narcoleptic pilot”). Whichever audience member shouts out the correct answer first wins a signed book, plus a point for their team, and the team with the most points at the end of the hour wins the game! Fun, right? Plus there’s going to be free candy and shit. We can’t wait to see you there!

Even if you’re not coming to RT, we still want you to participate. We’re soliciting suggestions for quirks and occupations from your favorite wonktastical books, ones that’ll be fun to draw and make for wacky character combinations. For quirks, think adjectives—unusual personality traits or habits. For occupations, think nouns—actual jobs or things like “zombie.” Just toss them in the comments, and be sure to mention which book they’re from. For example, “Beekeeper, from Ruthie Knox’s Truly.” Have at it, kids!

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