Monday, 24 February 2014

The cruelty of strangers

Today I came across a post urging people to sign a petition to protect Amazon users and Indie publishers from harassment and bullying. Why only Indie was mentioned, is confusing to me. Traditionally published authors get harassed too. I sat there contemplating whether to sign it, not because I didn't agree with the sentiments being raised but because I just wasn't sure this was the way to stop it.
What it comes down to is how people treat other people. Just this week we lost a lovely woman named Charlotte Dawson, a victim to trolls and media. I only knew this woman in the capacity that she was a celebrity from New Zealand, but I found myself very distressed as I read of her plight. It sickened me that there are so many people willing to be nasty to another human being.
I can only relate to her torment on the smallest scale, having had a few attacks from trolls and having suffered a depressive condition for the last twenty years. Just trying to imagine what Charlotte went through had me in tears.
Having my own vulnerabilities, publishing a book was not easy for me. I knew that I would be putting myself in the public spotlight and opening myself to the severest of criticism. I did it anyway because I hate living a life in fear and I love to share my writing with others. The attacks were not long in coming, from completely unexpected origins. It was my own relatives that attacked me, denouncing me for writing what they called "filth" "demeaning to women" and even personally attacking me with comments "severely psychologically disturbed." They attacked me in reviews and on social media.
I kept this to myself for a while, broken-hearted and ready to withdraw my book and never write another word. One of my daughters saw the post and was on the phone immediately to my other adult children and my husband. My dear family often have a fun tease with me for writing my erotic novels but have always been fully supportive. I didn't know just how supportive, until I suddenly saw all my children go berserk at these relatives. How dare they say this about their Mum. My husband even came home from work, so angry and telling me quite firmly that I was not to listen to this garbage, that I was the best writer in the world  and these people were just jealous that I had made such an achievement. I was overwhelmed by this love and knew then that they were the only people in the world I would ever look for approval.
It is a fact that reviews are still one of the best promotional tools for an author, but it's a tool which can so easily be abused. Someone sent me an email once saying they could get me hundreds of reviews for a price. Why the hell would I want something like this? I want honest reviews, but with that comes the chance that my book might be offensive to someone, they don't enjoy my writing style or some other complaint, and it will reflected in a big, shiny one star. Yes, it hurts but some of those one star reviews have genuine criticism. Apart from my relatives, none have been particularly nasty, but I've been fortunate. My heart goes out to authors who have had the most vicious comments made about their books.
To my own detriment, I don't actively seek out reviews. I don't send out ARC copies and with four books I've requested a review only six times. Manic readers allow you to send out your book to multiple reviewers. I did that, but got no replies. Now I mostly go with sites that do a good promo and that's enough for me.
Do I want to hear that you've enjoyed my book? Yes I do. It makes me happy that I've entertained someone for a few hours. Isn't that the point of sharing a story? Do I want to hear that you think my writing is garbage? No I don't, and it won't stop me writing. I'll be tremendously hurt by your comments for an hour or so, but then I'll be surrounded by my loving family and really remember what is important to me.
Rather than what this petition wants, I'd just like to see people stop and think of how their comments affect other people. Do they even realize how much pain they can cause? If the author was standing in front of them, would they still be able to impart their comments? Sadly, I think that some of them could, but I still believe in the goodness of human nature. Maybe next time that you go to leave a review, ask yourself, if the author was sitting across from me, could I still say hurtful remarks without the anonymity of a forum. Authors do want constructive criticism, the parts of our writing that  we could improve. We learn from this. I can also bear to hear what you didn't like about my book, if written in an intelligent and honest manner that will also have me honestly thinking about what you're saying. It could be a very valid point.
I won't ever respond to reviews except to give my thanks to those from whom I have requested one, and I certainly won't feed the trolls.
If you've ever complained about how terrible this world can be, think about what part you have had to play in that. Be kind to one another and don't be so quick to judge others, especially those in the public spotlight or those who are kind enough to share a story with you. Then we won't need petitions and we won't lose people like Charlotte Dawson.    

Monday, 3 February 2014

There's something about Mairead

One of the questions I am asked about my writing is the way I go about it. As every good student of writing has learnt there is three act structure to all good writing, and I suppose that is always in the back of my mind. Another lesson that was taught to me was that you should build that structure with plot points and have a reasonable storyline mapped out in your head before you begin. This is where I tend to deviate.
To me, characters are the most important part of the book. You need to know your character inside and out, right down to their favourite food or colour, their strengths and weaknesses and most essentially, their thought patterns. Before I even begin to write their story, I need to know everything about them so that they will respond to conflict as only their character would.
I took a big gamble on Mairead Kavanagh, heroine of The Finest Line. Through my life I've had the privilege of knowing some wonderfully, wild women whose antics have absolutely astounded me over the years. Though I didn't always agree with some of the things they did, their lives were incredibly interesting and I loved them for it. I wanted the very first character I wrote to be a representation of that, and so Mairead was born. She is rude, bratty, self centred and completely irresponsible, but still has a good heart which is shown in her compassion for the underdog. Circumstances have dictated some of her behaviour in losing her mother at an early age and being thoroughly spoilt by a father who is trying to compensate for her loss. Mairead longs to be good, to be liked by her peers, but only if they accept her as she is. From an early age, Mairead knows that she has a desire to be disciplined, to feel the physical pain of being chastised, something she has never experienced in any parental situation. It is a desire that she struggles with as completely abnormal, which only furthers her ventures into self destruction. To make matters worse, in her mid teen years she is attracted to a man who is every bit her opposite. James is ex military, disciplined, polite and educated. He also has a persona of strictness that is like an aphrodisiac to Mairead. When he first threatens her with a spanking, he becomes the very epitome of everything she has wanted in a man, but she can't harbour these ideas. In a politically correct world, women do not allow men to dominate them in any way. She sees it as a weakness in herself to even want this type of relationship, so she shuns it but can never put out the fire it has sparked in her. She can't believe that James could even want a woman like her.
Mairead is not your normal heroine. One only has to read the reviews to see how frustrating and angry she can make the readers. Fantastic! One reader said she nearly threw her kindle across the room because Mairead had angered her so much. Brilliant!
I never set out to write a sweet girl that everyone could adore, because where's the challenge in that? I set out to write a character that would evoke a whole range of emotions in my readers. My victory has come from those who have gone on with the next two books to watch her growth and have finally fallen in love with her. One reader told me that he dated women like Mairead, too high maintenance for him to handle but as he said, "They are the ones that you never forget."
To me, character is everything in a book. If you have good strong characters to begin with, then it is those characters that will guide your journey. I've heard this referred to as writing organically. I don't know, but this is the way I write. When I start writing I have no idea where I'm going. I just keep banging the letters on the keyboard from one point to the next. It is my characters that decide which way we are going. I've never had such a fun journey than the one that Mairead has taken me on.