Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ready or Not

Even if you’re not a football fan, and you can count me in that category, you’ve probably heard the name Michael Sam.  Sam, a defensive end from the University of Missouri, was recently drafted into the National Football League by the St. Louis Rams. Standing at six foot two and weighing two hundred fifty-six pounds he was an All American at Missouri where he’s credited with 45 tackles and ten and one-half sacks. By the way, don’t ask me how you can get half a sack. I know nothing about football, but that isn’t the point.

Sam was a seventh round draft pick. When he was chosen by the Rams, he did something anyone overcome with emotion might do; he kissed his partner. And there’s the rub. That kiss was televised on ESPN and it’s incited a firestorm of controversy because Sam is gay.  Sam kissed a man and ESPN saw fit to televise it. Some accused ESPN of capitalizing on his sexual orientation. Some were disgusted and offended that the kiss would be televised. Some didn’t care or didn’t mind.

I fall into that category of didn’t mind seeing the kiss. It should be pointed out that the kiss was brief and quite chaste. On hearing the announcement, an excited Sam embraced an equally excited young man and then planted a very brief kiss on his lips. The moment was over as quickly as it started, but the controversy had just begun.  Personally, I don’t understand the controversy. This young man was celebrating a major accomplishment in his life with the person he loves. So it happens to be a man. Does that diminish his accomplishment? Not in my eyes.

There are some though, from athletes to newscasters, who disagree. They’ve claimed to be offended and outraged. There have even been a few athletes who have gone on record saying they wouldn’t play with him and insist the NFL isn’t as ready for this as people think they are.  A newscaster on a morning show in Texas was so upset by the televised kiss that she walked off in the middle of her own show when her cohost disagreed with her.

The controversy got me thinking about my writing. In all the stories I’ve written, I’ve had a few gay characters, but most have been supporting characters. I’ve only written one story in which the protagonist was gay and trying to navigate coming out to his religious parents. The story was something I was, and still am, proud of, but it wasn’t as popular as some of my others. Was that because it wasn’t as well written or because not all readers were comfortable with the subject matter? It’s tough to say, but I’ve always wondered.

I recently started a four book contemporary romance series called the Time for Love series. It follows the love story of a heterosexual couple in all its ups and downs. The series has been a lot of fun to write and has spawned several supporting characters that I’d like to have the chance to develop. Lately, I’ve been thinking about making one of those characters gay and letting readers follow the story of him embracing his sexual orientation and finding his first love.

The controversy surrounding Sam makes me wonder whether or not my readers would be interested in that kind of story. It makes me wonder, but I doubt it will change my mind. If you read some of my past work, you know I don’t shy from taboo subjects. I’m no stranger to controversy but that doesn’t mean I want to alienate my readers. I have to ask myself if I would even be having this debate with myself if it wasn’t for the Michael Sam firestorm. There’s no way to know for sure, but like Sam, I have to be true to myself, whether readers are ready for it or not. After all, you can’t please all the people all of the time. So, ready or not, it is coming. You’ve been warned!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Impressive Validation

I know you’ve heard this before, but I’m going to say it again. I’m a writer. I write books. Not long ago I decided to release my work on my own.  I was no longer going to pursue the search for an agent or a publisher. Instead, I was going to do what I love on terms I could live with. It seems like ages ago that I made this decision, but it was only a few months ago. There were a number of different things that went into this decision.

First and foremost, I was tired of waiting weeks on end for responses from editors and publishers only to get rejected. It might not have been so bad if the general consensus was that I shouldn’t quit my day job, but there was no general consensus. One editor would think my characters were great but my plot was weak. Another would love the same story but suggest I didn’t have strong enough characters. It was frustrating and discouraging and quite frankly started to make writing feel like a job.

I already have an established fan base. It’s small, but my readers are fiercely loyal. I’ve always said it was more important for me to touch one person’s life or reach one person with my work than one million. Why not give them what they deserve and have come to expect from me?

There was also the ability to maintain complete creative control. I’m not na├»ve enough to think my writing is one hundred percent perfect, but I’ve been in situations where my work was changed to the point that it was simply my characters and my story idea but not my actual story. Not only did it hurt but it was confusing. If the publisher, agent, editor liked my story enough to offer to represent or publish me then why make such dramatic changes?

Besides controlling content, I wanted to control the cover art. Most of my covers, with the exception of my first novel, have been brought to life as a result of images in my head. Those cover images are as much a part of the story as the words between them. I wanted them to represent what was inside. And anyone who knows book selling will tell you that a bad cover can equal bad sales.

I also wanted to be able to have control over the pricing. I didn’t want to be so worried about my bottom line that I priced my books out of the hands of more readers. As a reader, I can tell you for a fact that I have a really hard time paying the same money for an e-book that I’d pay for a printed book no matter who the author is.  I may not make as much money by keeping my prices low, but I could make more people happy by increasing access to my books.

I know for a fact I’m not the only author striking out on my own, but it sure has felt like it sometimes. That’s why I was so happy and surprised to learn that one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, Erin Nicholas, recently announced she will be releasing her next series on her own rather signing a contract with her longtime publisher. Among her motivating factors was the desire to have control of release dates and the pricing of the books.

This decision by Nicholas, a well-established author with a rabid fan base, has to be one of the most impressive validations of any of my decisions to date; well, any of my decisions related to my writing career that is!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

In Good Company with Bad Reviews

“I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.”

Last week, I heard these words in a song that was playing on the radio on my drive home.  They really resonated with me and have been stuck in my head ever since. 

Armed with nothing more than one line stuck in my head, I set out to find the artist and the song so I could hear it again and offer my support to the artist by purchasing the song. In doing so, I stumbled across the origin of the song. The song is called Fragile and the artist is Tech N9ne who featured the talents of Kendrick Lamar, ¡Mayday! and Kendall Morgan. It turns out Fragile was written in response to a negative L.A. Weekly review of the rapper’s performance at one of his shows. The song details the rapper’s reaction to this and all critics of his work and how and why it affects him.

When I heard that, I liked the song even more. After sitting down and listening to the song again, I liked it even more. Every time I hear the song, I find something new to like in particular and more to like overall.
Even though it was written by a rapper and was aimed at music critics, it reflects the feelings of anyone who labels himself as an artist. And you can count me among that group.

For me, writing a story is the easy part. Sharing that story with the world is the difficult part. Everything I write comes from my heart and means something to me. Letting others read my work is like letting them into my soul.  Whenever I release a new story, I always hold my breath and hope the reactions are favorable.

I can honestly say that I have never received 100% favorable reviews on any of my work. I don’t think any writer has. Bad reviews are bitter pills to swallow. When I get a bad review, I do my best to focus on the good reviews, which is easier to do when the good ones outnumber the bad. Still, no matter how many good reviews I get, it’s those bad ones that seem to stick with me a little longer and always make me second guess my talent. That’s especially true when the bad reviews are nothing short of nasty.

Many of us grew up with our mothers telling us that if we didn’t have anything nice to say then we shouldn’t say anything at all. The advent of the internet and the coming of the social media age seems to have obsoleted that advice. Social media makes it easier than ever to say what’s on our mind and to do it in a way that’s hurtful and that’s probably not going to change.

The lyrics of Fragile are proof positive that I’m not the only artist feeling the sting of bad reviews. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I’m in good company.