When Fiction Meets Real Life

Once in a while, authors hear from readers who can personally identify with something they’ve written. Perhaps a character who reminds them of their sibling or a plot that eerily mimics an experience they’ve had. Whatever it might be, the story brings two strangers into the same orbit for a brief moment in time, allowing a connection neither of them anticipated. Magical!

I enjoyed such a moment recently but I need to share some background first.

In my current manuscript, I have intentionally included a person of color. As a white male, writing about a community of white shifters, I wanted to push my own boundaries a little and be more inclusive. Sounds straightforward, yes? Perhaps – if I knew how! I wanted to do it right, so I searched WordPress looking for advice and hit paydirt when I discovered a post entitled “So You Wanna Write a Black Person?”. Here’s a taste of what the author had to say.

“So, you’re a writer, huh? You, as a non-black author, want to write outside of your comfort zone and explore someone black, but you don’t know where to start…. Regardless of race, culture, sexual identity, or gender, we are all unique. However, there is a stigma in the writing community that writing black folks is hard. Writers cry out saying, I don’t wanna get it wrong! I don’t wanna offend….. I believe if you write any person with respect and empathy, you’ve done your job.”

Turns out, this is exactly what I was looking for! With suggestions from the post in mind, I went back to the very first paragraphs of the MS where I introduced the new Black character. There were numerous cringeworthy mistakes, but I set about rewriting and expanding the Prologue to correct them. In the end, I not only fixed the character, but I also improved the overall tone of the story. It felt good to have done it right and avoid offending my readers.

As work on the book continued, a desire to thank the writer of that post grew until it couldn’t be ignored. I wrote to her, explaining why and how her words helped me launch a Black character with confidence. When she responded with appreciation and interest, I sent her the Prologue and asked for some feedback. In those paragraphs, I introduced RJ and his mother, who was about to tell her son that she’d been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. By the end of the Prologue, she had died, leaving RJ to begin life on his own.

Now remember, not only was the post written three years ago, but we were total strangers. I knew nothing of her life or circumstances and had no idea my story would touch her personally. Her response floored me.

“I really enjoyed this. It hit a little close to home since my Mom is in stage four but it sounds like it will be a great book.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading! What were the chances her real-life experience and my fictional story would have included the same sad circumstances? My heart went out to her of course, and with a final exchange of messages, she encouraged me to let her know when the book published.

I realize in the grand scheme of things this might not seem like such a big deal—but it was to me. I’m reminded again we live in a small world, that words have power, and that my stories will touch the lives of people I will never know. The entire episode left me encouraged and feeling as though my writing made a positive difference in some small way. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.

Note – the MS mentioned is Forbidden Moon, Gladstone Shifters book four.

I needed to hear that!

I’ve spent the last month+ going over my first Gladstone Shifters novel with a fine tooth comb. The book was published over two years ago and I’ve learned a great deal since then. A number of issues needed attention, including a re-arrangement of the opening chapters, a thorough search for crutch words, and the correction of wordy sentences and unclear phrasing.

It’s been a frustrating slog, taking much longer than I ever thought it would – not surprising for a manuscript of over 110,000 words! The good news is, I’m almost done! The bad news is, I’m not finished yet! My next novel is nattering away at my writer brain to GET STARTED ALREADY.

One of the discouraging things about this process is that realistically, very few readers will notice anything different after weeks of hard work and significant improvements. So why go to all the trouble? Is it worth it? Wouldn’t my time be better spent on the next book in the series, rather than fixing book one? As I’m sure you’ve guessed, nagging doubts and questions don’t improve motivation!

In the midst of all this, I ran across a wonderful passage in scripture I hadn’t noticed before, and found it incredibly encouraging.

“For the ear tests words as the palate tastes food.” Job 34:3

Isn’t that great? When people read my stories, they test/taste the words, parsing out the various flavors and meanings. The effort to improve my book hasn’t been wasted at all! Rather, it will leave future readers with an even better sensory experience than before. After all, enjoying the dish doesn’t require knowing the recipe.

Even so, as soon as I finish the current project, I intend to get busy writing book four (rather than fixing book two in the series). Since my readers aren’t complaining, I can start that project down the road when I don’t feel so pressed for time. When it’s all said and done my stories won’t be perfect, but they’ll be the best I can make them.

Weekly Roundup 7-25-18 The power of reader feedback.

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

I received a delightful email from a reader this week! You may wonder why this is such a big deal, and to someone else it probably wouldn’t be. In almost a year’s time I have only received a handful of emails, despite encouraging my readers at every turn to contact me, and it makes my day every time.

I cannot speak for all Indy authors, but this one needs affirmation, encouragement, praise or plain old contact with another person. I want to know what they liked about one of my books or how it met a need or spoke to them personally. It boosts my spirits and motivates me to keep going amid the discouragements of life. It validates my efforts in the same way a stage performer feeds off audience applause.

Hearing directly from a reader is not the same as a review, which is usually addressed to fellow readers (unless the reviewer is particularly unhappy with the book!). When a stranger writes to me saying they enjoyed my work, it is humbling to know I made a positive difference in their life or at least provided some transitory enjoyment. Such powerful connections are a wondrous thing and should be celebrated!

Here’s the message I received from an 88-year-old gentleman from NY who appreciated my book Green’s Thumb.

“Hi! Just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this particular book. Since my partner of 26 years died in 2009, I have become an avid reader of m/m romances. I did not meet the love of my life until I was 52, and just five years out of the closet, so am most appreciative of a novel that has more mature MCs. Most are in their 20s and 30s; okay, but not something with which I can easily identify any longer. So the story of Karl and Mitch was a great surprise and more to my taste. Even though I was never married, I identified with Mitch who was more my age when entering the relationship and suffered from the same inexperience. Thanks for this heartwarming story. I shall read it again.”

Wonderful! In my response, I shared that parts of the story were taken directly from my own life. It was great to see how the book meant something to him and met a need. I also told him I plan to include more silver characters in future stories, since older gay men are mostly ignored. The author of this email had no idea how much his simple communication would mean to me, probably assuming it was nothing special. Well, it was, and I am deeply appreciative.

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Update on current manuscript: Traitor’s Moon is gaining momentum! I’m part way through chapter five, having reached over 35,000 words. I’m having fun revealing more of Jack’s history, introducing new characters, and describing the drama surrounding Nolan and his mate. There’s so much more ahead for Gladstone, and I can’t wait to get it all written and to my readers. The feedback from early beta reading is very positive!