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Authenticity and Writing Life

Tuesday's child is full of grace -- and coffee and not much else!

Tuesdays are hard for me lately. At the moment, I work two part-time jobs outside of my writing job. I work seven days a week, so I never have a full day off, and I did the math recently and realized that if you consider writing and marketing my writing another 'job,' I am working (at least) a 60 hour work week every week right now.

On Monday, I work for both non-writing companies. This means, I get up at 6:45, drive to Kelowna, work an eight hour shift, drive home, make dinner, and sit down at my laptop with my food and put in time for the other company. It's not ideal, but it won't be forever, and I like both of the jobs I do, so for now this is me.

Anyway, after my marathon Monday, Tuesday mornings are hard. This morning, for example, I do not have my car at home. Why, you might ask? Well, that is because my youngest is teaching at a volleyball camp this week, and when she came into my room to let me know it was time to drag my butt out of bed and drive her, I kind of jumped at her suggestion that she could drive herself while I continued to sleep. Last night, having the car home so I could go for a morning swim seemed really important. This morning? Not so much.

And then I got up ten minutes later, anyway. (Had to pee). I let the dog out, put the coffee pot on, fed the cat (accidentally splashed him with water while filling his bowl -- he was not amused), did a load of dishes (manually. The dishwasher broke for the third time years ago, and it has stayed broken since), did a load of laundry, swept the living room and kitchen floors, then sat down and thought, "Okay, you need to write down your goals for this week. What social media posts are you going to need to create?" And my mind went, duh.... we not open for business yet!

There was literally nothing but fuzz and a mild headache going on between these ears. So, I drank half of my first cup of coffee, then opened up the laptop and got to work answering student emails for the art school I work for because that part of the job is time sensitive. Now, on my second cup of coffee, the brain has mostly kicked in, and so I'm here with you.

All of that got me thinking about the authentic life of a writer -- or even just someone who works from home. Because, despite having accomplished a fair number of things this morning, I also am sitting here braless (yeah, baby!) and with my hair unbrushed, and the only makeup on this face is Chapstick (Burt's Bees Salted Caramel -- the best!). I have just drained coffee number two, and all I've eaten was a handful of potato chip crumbs from the mostly empty chip bag which was on the kitchen counter. I snagged a taste before throwing the bag into the garbage. I'd intended to make myself a smoothie for breakfast (honest, I did!), but I forgot I took all my smoothie making supplies to the trailer when I was staying there last week during the worst of the heat wave. I would have gone out to the store and just bought more supplies, but -- huh -- my daughter has my car.

I was talking to my mother about the content of my novels a few days ago. I had to compare my writing style to other novelists for a questionnaire, and I struggled with my answer. I was describing heat categories to my mom, and said, "I'm not a sweet (no sex) romance writer, and never really could do that." Her response was, "No, you're writing is more real than that." Thank you, mom! She gets it! I said, "Yeah, I believe sex is part of the human experience and part of human relationships," and the conversation kind of petered out after that (Odd. I just can't imagine why she didn't want to discuss this with her daughter!). But the conversation made me reflect. My conclusion, yes, I want there to be an authenticity to my stories that readers will recognize. If mom 'gets' me, you all can, too!

I also was part of a romance writer's event last month where all styles of romance writing was represented, and it became very clear to me where my own interests do and do not lie. I'm very middle of the pack, in case anyone wondered. I'd like to say my books are erotic -- but not erotica. They are mainstream contemporary, small-town romances with steam over sweet in both the sexual content and the themes tackled. Oh, and by the way, that's not an actual category! Try coining that phrase to put on a book cover!!

One of the things I like best about being an Indie author is that my books do not have to conform to all traditional romance norms. And since they generally don't -- or at least not easily -- that means I am constantly thinking about things like branding and continuity, and what exactly I am trying to do with my writing. Am I using romance as a medium to educate? Sometimes. Am I simply trying to entertain? Maybe. Am I trying to share with you all the places and hobbies I love so that you might love them too? Definitely. Am I, as an author of contemporary fiction, using pop culture mediums to represent current cultural norms? Oh yeah, and thank you university profs for putting that into my head to begin with!

No, seriously, thank you. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of writer podcasts. There is this one which I enjoy (and I'm not going to tell you the name) where the two hosts take a single author and discuss her entire career. They analyze her books by which ones were written in a given decade. Sometimes when I listen, I can hear that they never went to my university class on pop culture! They will make comments about books written three decades ago and say, yeah, "that" was terrible! They aren't referencing the quality of the writing. They are talking content. Why do all her books in that decade do xyz?

Every time they say something like that, I realize they don't understand the nature of pop culture fiction. A contemporary romance that was written three decades ago, is only contemporary to that time. Now, it is a bit of a historical document. It can still be an entertaining read, but at this point it should show you the values, the focus, the context, the fears, etc. of people in that decade. So, it can't be morally or ethically referenced through 2021's eyes. Standing up to the changing values of society over decades was never the intent of the writing.

So, when I write and try to do it authentically, all of this is inside my brain. I am writing popular fiction. That means, there are going to be things in my stories which aren't reflective of how I chose to live my life, but they are reflective of how some people live life today. (And honestly, some people live more interesting lives than I do!) It also means, not every character can be sweetness and light. A villain's gotta do what a villain's gotta do. But, so does a hero. (or heroine). Even lead characters are 'human,' and so they have flaws, and they have an arc of development, and who they are at the beginning of a story has to be less than who they are at the end of a story. And so who they are at the beginning of a story leaves room for criticism.

You might not care about any of this as much as I do. And, I'm probably thinking through a lot of this because of my new series, Peachland Passions. In book one, the main characters are older than my normal heroes. So, it felt a bit wrong to be voyeristic with their sexual joining. Instead, I threw Monya's daughter under that bus. She gets drunk and brings home a guy she met in a bar and there are sparks! In book two, the main character is a free-spirit, and she has this thing for skinny dipping. When the hero sees her, what else is a guy to do, but join in? And now, in book three, I'm writing about a pair who are having a second chance at love. They have baggage everywhere except in bed. So, currently, they're in bed a lot. I think their bodies know they are meant to be with each other. Their brains just haven't gotten rid of all the garbage fast enough to catch up. But they're getting there. The next book is about an athlete and he's all about discipline, and the book after that is about a woman who has been abused, and she's all about healing, and after that is a big age gap and they have that to bridge, and then we have an ingenue, and her story will be different, too.

Which is the point. My characters have their journeys to take here in the twenty-first century. But I'm just sitting here with my dog at my side, mainlining caffeine, and thinking it really is about time for me to brush my hair.

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Leigh Macfarlane
Leigh Macfarlane
07 Jul 2021

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