Siren Exclusive author, Gabrielle Evans, grew up in a small town in southern Oklahoma. We are talking one red light that may or may not work depending on the day of the week. She married her high school sweetheart and the rest is pretty much history. They have two very active boys and one high-strung wiener dog that keeps her constantly on the go. For now, she parks her car in central Indiana, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.
WORDS HAVE POWER
I spend most of my day living in a fantasy world with imaginary people. My poor laptop is normally operating to combustion for 16-18 hours a day. My passion is words. One misstep is the difference between a moody though loveable character, and a character everyone wants to hang by his toes in the town square.
Authors are limited to a certain degree. An action that would take three seconds on the movie screen will often take us an entire paragraph (or more) to describe. There are no visual cues in a book. There is no Exit Stage Left. For the reader to visualize a person, room, forest, or the ladybug sitting on the windowsill, authors must paint that picture with expressive and vivid detail.
A good villain is essential to any story. The suspense and drama is what propels a story forward and leaves readers flipping pages with baited breath. These bad guys are awful. We root for our heroes to thwart them. We cheer when they get their comeuppance. Their main purpose within the story is to create tension and be as heinous as possible.
Villains are intolerant, homophobic, racist, prejudice, discriminatory, selfish, sadistic, or any combination of these traits. What fun is a bad guy who secretly likes to cuddle puppies and hand out soup to the homeless?
Why do I bring this up? You guessed it. Words have power. They have the ability to change perception and make us question reality.
My bad guys are molded from the dark and seedy trenches of questionable establishments. Perhaps I should be flattered that I have written such a convincing villain that he must come from a place of familiarity and firsthand knowledge. Alas, this just isn’t true. Bad guys are bad guys. We love to hate them. However, I don’t hold the same beliefs or morals as these dastardly evildoers.
Ah, but what about the heroes?
By definition, heroes are heroic. They fight for what is good and just. They will always overcome evil. They will always win. At the end of every story, they will have a happily-ever-after.
So, if we already know this, why do we even bother to read the book?
Every journey is different. Sure, we know our heroes are going to end up riding off into the sunset together, but from their first meeting to that ultimate fairy tale ending, each page is an adventure. We cheer for them. Our hearts break when they hurt. We get angry and want to punch them in the face. Yes, I sometimes want to punch my heroes in the face. They may be good guys, but they’re still human. They make mistakes. They stick their foot in their mouth. Sometimes, they let their emotions overrule common sense and end up doing or saying something stupid. It happens.
How does a hero rectify his mistake when he screws up?
Actions speak louder than words. We’ve all heard it a million times. While I believe this is mostly true, sometimes we just need to hear the words, “I’m sorry.” The hero can attempt to make up for his slip with all the romantic gestures in the world. However, it lacks something—feels hollow, some may say—if he’s not willing to admit he’s wrong and offer an apology.
It may be unfair, but the hard reality is that what we say matters. Our actions should define who we are. Mostly, I think they do, but one misspoken word during a moment of anger can change the world’s perception of how they view us. Don’t believe me? Think about it.
During a Q & A session once, I was asked if I wrote anything other than M/M erotica. Instead of simply answering the question, I made the mistake of clarifying that I wrote M/M erotic romance, not erotica, which inevitably led to the question, “What’s the difference?”
“Well, erotic romance is a romantic story involving two or more people who fall in love and live happily-ever-after. They just happen to have hot, steamy sex that is explicitly detailed. Erotica has little plot and focuses primarily on sex without the relationship involvement or happy ending for any one couple.”
I was unaware that the moderator was an erotica author. Needless to say, this did not go over well. Now, what I meant to convey was that if you take the sex out of erotica, there is little story left because the story is about sex. I’m not calling it porn, either. Let me explain.
Erotica is primarily defined as an account of one character’s sexual journey. That is not to say that it is sex for the sake of sex, but it does use sex to propel the story and elicit strong emotions. It is about one person in one snapshot of time and their exploration of self-discovery. As the story focuses on only one character, you are unlikely to have a committed romantic relationship or a traditional happily-ever-after.
There is nothing wrong with this. I have nothing against erotica. Even if the story is porn, with two raunchy sex scenes and nothing else, that’s okay. I’m not judging. I just don’t write it.
I apologized and tried to explain myself, reiterating over and over that I did not mean to offend anyone. The damage had been done, though. One unthinking statement had now labeled me as intolerant, ignorant, and arrogant. Was this author wrong to judge me in such a way? It depends on whose point of view you’re looking at.
I had said something that was unintentionally offensive. I didn’t mean it the way it came off, and I certainly don’t think I’m better than anyone else. Could what I said have been misinterpreted? Without a doubt, and for that, I am sorry.
During interviews, there is one question that I am almost always asked. “Do you have any tips for new or aspiring authors?”
My standard response is usually something general. “Read, read, read. Read some more. Study other authors. Research the genre, publishers, and find out what readers want.” On and on, things you’ve heard a hundred times over from a hundred different authors. What makes me qualified to tell anyone how to be an author? What works for me may not work for someone else.
Right here and now, I’m going to give a real, honest, and hopefully, useful answer. Are you ready for it?
Use your words.
Sculpt your characters and create your worlds with care and precision. As writers, our words are all we have, and what goes down on paper is all readers see. There are no second chances to explain what you meant to say. There will not be an opportunity to delve into your thought process or to tell readers why you wrote someone or something the way you did. With each book, you get one shot, so make it count.
Are you going to screw up? Yes. A lot. Every time you sit down at your keyboard.
I’m not trying to be discouraging. We are human. We make mistakes. The point I’m trying to illustrate is that there is always room for improvement. I began this journey nearly three years ago, and I’m still learning. I still mess up. Keep moving forward, forgive yourself, and strive to do better next time.
Find your comfort zone.
We all have things we do well and areas that need improvement. I have my own limitations. I know there are particular things I do not write as well as others. That doesn’t mean I will never write those things again. It just means that I’m not “there” yet. This specific nuance of writing is still challenging for me. M/M paranormal is my “comfort zone.” When you are relaxed and confident in what you write, it shows.
Sharing your labor of love, your “baby,” that you have poured countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears into is daunting in the first place. No one wants to send their children out into the world to be judged and ridiculed. Finding your comfort zone, the area you feel most at ease, is the best place to start. Once you get some experience under your belt, then challenge yourself. You wouldn’t expect a first-year medical student to perform open heart surgery. Why berate yourself for not excelling at everything on day one?
At some point, every author is going to get a negative review that leaves them huddle in the corner, sucking their thumb, petting their hair, and contemplating if they really have what it takes to be a writer. Your characters are flat. Your world-building is lacking. Your dialogue is juvenile. Your storyline is unrealistic. Ask any author. We’ve heard it all.
These negative reviews are not the majority, but they are the ones that stick with us. It is easy to fall into the trap of, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.” I’ve done it. I’ve read a review and thought, “Oh, he/she just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand my character.”
Defensiveness is natural. It’s a lot less painful to blame someone else. However, once the initial heartache has worn off, I have to take a step back and think. If this reader/reviewer didn’t “get it,” there must be a reason. It is my job to make them understand, to paint a picture as clear as looking through a window, and leave no shadow of doubt as to who my character is and what he represents. If someone doesn’t “get it,” that’s my fault. Not theirs. Accept constructive criticism graciously and learn what you can from it.
Let it go.
Yes, you will receive reviews that are nasty for the sake of being nasty. Someone will say something to or about you or your book that hurts. Let it go.
So what if someone said that your book was the worst piece of drivel on the market? It is one person, and they are entitled to that opinion. It doesn’t mean there is something “wrong” with you as an author. It simply means your style and story are not for that reader.
For every person who doesn’t like it, there are ten more who will love your work. You will never please everyone. You will never write a book that is unanimously beloved by all who buy it.
Reacting to negative reviews is the surest path to self-destruction. We want our books reviewed, but we want people to only say nice things about them. Well, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. No matter if a reviewer liked your book or not, they took the time to read it and give their opinion. By publically attacking them, you are sending the message that you can’t handle criticism, and other reviewers will be less likely to pick up your books in the future. If you never get feedback, how will you ever progress?
Furthermore, you are not only representing yourself and your book. You are representing your publisher, and to a lesser degree, your fellow authors at that publishing house. Once there is a bad taste in readers’ mouths, it’s nearly impossible to wash it away.
Take a couple of deep breaths, think before you speak, and let it go.
Ask for help and accept advice.
No matter how long you’ve been writing or published, there is always someone who has been doing it longer. I could write for the next fifty years and still not know everything about everything.
As a good friend of mine likes to say, “You only know what you know.”
There is no shame in not having every answer. If you are unsure, ask for help. Most seasoned authors are happy to give you a gentle nudge in the right direction. Remember, though, there is asking for guidance and there is asking for an “easy button”.
Not every piece of advice you’re given will be useful to your situation. As I said before, what works for me may not work for you. There is no right or wrong way. There is only the way that suits your circumstances.
So in conclusion, realize that there is always someone listening. What you say today while you’re frustrated may bite your bum tomorrow. Respect your readers. They are the foundation that holds you up, the reason you are able to do a job you love.
Be mindful of how you choose to express yourself.
Words have power. Use them wisely.
Comment below for a chance to win Books 1 and 2 in the Guide to Armageddon Series: Accepting the Impossible and Be Courageous.
Contest ends midnight on the 29th and the winner will be posted on the 30th here on this blog.
Contest ends midnight on the 29th and the winner will be posted on the 30th here on this blog.