Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Love and Hate and Create

I don't love my characters.

I thought I'd put that out there. Just rip that bandage off in the hook sentence.

I could say that I hate my characters. It wouldn't be a lie. It wouldn't be the truth, not entirely. I don't hate all of them. But I don't love any of them.

Does this shock you?

I think it probably does.

I can't speak for all writers. Or any writer who isn't sitting on the same square of cushion that I am currently sitting upon. I can only speak for me. This writer.

I've written more than thirty full novels.

That's a lot of books.

I remember a time when I thought writing one was damned hard. I remember being so in love with those characters that I thought they'd take New York by storm and I'd be fought over by all of the Big Six romance publishers. And the not big six would come begging me... I was still very young back then. In my 20s. I had big dreams.

That didn't happen.

That first book was terrible. The second books was worse. Seriously. It was so bad I burned it. Seriously, SERIOUSLY BAD!

I still have number one and number three. I couldn't sell them and frankly, I look back on those two books with embarrassment. But I can't remember a single character from either book. I purged book two from my memory... yes, it was that bad.

I have three books that were never published that I still hang on to. I wrote them. They were a part of me for a long time. I put blood, sweat, and tears into those stories. They were horrible but they made me do better. They show the progression from dreamer with a couple of trope riddled 'masterpieces' to a neurotic stress riddled author who learned not to get attached.

I didn't give birth to these people. They're not my babies. I have four actual babies. I'd never die or kill for my books like I would one of my children.

But to say I hate them... yeah... sometimes it happens.

I have one book in particular that I wish had never been written. Not because it's bad. Or because I hate the characters. I don't regret that book. I enjoyed writing that book. I loathe that book because of what the publisher did to me after that book was published. I call it the cursed book. It's cursed. And I hate it. I haven't opened it in years. I won't ever read it again. Never. That story is so tightly entwined with that publisher that I can no longer read that story, I only see that horrible year playing out in slow motion detail. Every email. Every degrading thing that publisher said to me as he stole nearly every penny I earned from that book. My biggest selling book of ever and ever. The book that made Mercy a name.

I hate that book.

I hate other books. All of the Scrimmage books. One of those books is probably the best thing I have ever written, and possibly the best thing I will ever write. Doesn't mean I'm going to crack it open and make myself bleed again.

I write stories. I let these people live in my head rent free for a long period of time. I power through the first draft of their story as they want me to tell it. I mean, seriously, when you have a character sitting behind you telling you that this is going to happen to him... and you argue with a fictional person who isn't real but is riding you like a fucking wet hair blanket... you're pretty much insane. But I wrote it. Because that character said that's what happened to him. He said life isn't pretty. And this is how it's supposed to be.

I wrote an entire book from the single point of view of a man devolving into a nervous breakdown. I had a nervous breakdown right along with him. I stopped writing that book because I got to a point that I couldn't function outside of that story. It was a risky chance. And I took it. Because this person said this was his story. He fell in love with someone he shouldn't have. And it nearly killed him.

I don't love any of my characters. When I finish the first draft of their stories, they cease to exist to me. Unless they don't. So far I've only had one character who wants to hang around. He enjoys torturing me.

I talk like a crazy person.

Oh my god MJ is crazy as fuck.

Do you have any idea what it takes to create entire worlds? Not even going into fantasy or sci-fi world building. Just sticking with plain old contemporary... each book is a completely different world from the one I live in. It's a completely different world from the last book I wrote. I move from the streets of New Orleans, to my own area of Coastal Alabama, to the Florida Panhandle where I was raised, to Georgia, and nowhere eastern Tennessee as if I'm a vagabond looking for a home. I've never been to eastern Tennessee. I've never been to Oregon. The other places I've spent some time in. But I have to breathe a life into this place. And these people. I have to decide if these two people have friends, or family, and who is the antagonist in their stories. I rarely write a true antagonist. Most often I write from the experience that I am my own antagonist, ultimately. Therefore, most of my characters are tortured souls who can not be harmed by anyone more than they can harm themselves. And that involves reaching into my gut and pulling it out of my mouth one inch at a time until this person is satisfied that we've both suffered enough for his story.

I don't fling words down. I don't fling characters around for the fun of it. These are people. I try to make them as real as I possibly can. But when I'm finished with them, I divorce myself from them.
I have books that I can't remember the character's names. I have characters I wish I could go back and suffocate with a pillow. I don't write about sugary people. Because I don't know any.

When I say I hate a book. It means I suffered through that book to the point that those people needed to be murdered for what they put me through. And I suffered again and again through each draft as it was rewritten and edited.

I probably read each book three times the week leading up to release. Looking for anything and everything wrong... I read them so much I became blind to them and their faults. And I'd rather be flayed alive than revisit them.

It's like child birth, in one way. You go through the horrific pain of it all and you swear that you'll never have sex again. That you'll never do it again. That you'll cut a bitch if they get near you with baby making parts. And then you forget. The smell of the new baby. The cute clothes. The curly hair. The sweet laughs... those memories outnumber the times you stayed up all night. Or the times you wiped pee off your face, or spit baby vomit out of your mouth, or had baby diarrhea running down your arms. You forget the trauma that book put you through and you plan a new book and its lovely and sweet and it will have blue eyes and Shirley Temple curls. And you dive right back in... because you're fucking insane and by the end of it you can't stand the sight of these people. And by the time it's published you'd willingly serve prison time for one peaceful night of sleep. And then you let them go.

I don't love any book I've ever written. I don't love a single character. I have characters that I never ever want to see again. I hate some of my characters. I do. I hate them. I hate them because of what demon they represented. I hate the ones who haunt me. And yeah, one day I'll probably end up talking to people who aren't there more than I talk to real people. It's like diving into the pit of some asylum to go playing around in my head. So I don't get attached. And... that bothers people.

I know it does. I've heard your cries of disbelief. How can you not love this thing that I love so very dearly?

I created that thing and shaped that thing, then I released that thing into the world. It's not for me to love them now. I did my best. They're on their own. Free to make friends or enemies as they will. Free to love those who need it.

I have to let them go or go crazy. They're yours now. Love them, treat them right.

I'll go claw my guts up again for the next one and then the next one.

That's how creating something works.

If I couldn't let that first book go twenty years ago, then we wouldn't be having this conversation now.




  1. The more you hate them the better it is for your reader. 😘

  2. You need a +1 button. Do folks still use those?