(The Book is with The Editor, so I’m twiddling my thumbs and don’t know what to do with myself for the first time since 2016. What better way to pass the time than by publishing a manifesto?)
Several years ago, I had a publishing experience that was so wretched, I said, “Fuck it. I hate writing. I quit.” I did quit, but I slowly came to realize what I hate is publishing. In fact, I love writing, I’m miserable without it, and breaking up was a dreadful mistake. But before we got back together, I insisted on setting some boundaries defining who I am and who I want to be (and don’t want to be) as a writer, as well as matters on which I will never again compromise. Sometimes I add to this writing manifesto, but mostly I simply review its message to keep me focused and on course.
This post is a version of that manifesto edited for public consumption. (My own version omits all the backstory I’ve already heard.) These are things you can reliably expect from me as a writer because they’re promises I’ve made to myself that are rooted in principles or simple facts that won’t change. I can’t promise you’ll like my books, but I can provide the geological survey of the bedrock upon which they’re all constructed so you have a general idea whether you’ll at least feel safe setting foot inside one.
1. I’ve been reading romance almost as long as I’ve been able to read because I was desperate for words and that’s what was available in the house. It’s a narrative form I know and love, not one I jumped into in hopes of making a quick buck. Sometimes I stray and write other things for a while, but I always come back. Romance is a huge field and there are certainly parts of it that irritate and frustrate me, but I have a deep and abiding respect for the genre as a whole.
2. The promise of Happily Ever After is honored here, but it will never take the form of a marriage-and-babies epilogue because I hate those. There may or may not be a marriage proposal—as the child of a miserable marriage, I feel no urge to push the myth of matrimony = happiness, but if those particular characters are into it, I won’t deny it to them. “Happiness” will be defined by what makes the characters happy, not dictated by prevailing public opinion about what happiness MUST look like.
3. My life has been rather Dickensian, as have the lives of everyone near and dear to me, and my profession for a couple of decades was helping people in similar straits. Trauma and its effects are what I know best, and that knowledge is reflected in my stories. Because the midst of acute trauma is a terrible place to make life-altering decisions (such as who to spend the rest of your life with), the characters’ trauma will be in the past with some degree of subsequent healing, but they will still exhibit side effects. While the love of a good partner will help them cope with the residual damage, it will not “cure” them because that’s not how any of this works. Scars are permanent.
4. Angst may be my jam, but I also believe laughter is crucial for happiness. No matter how grim their circumstances may be, my characters will make each other laugh and smile and have fun as often as they can to push back the darkness.
5. I believe liking one another is crucial for happiness. Even characters who begin as “enemies” should, at the very least, have respect for a worthy adversary so they have a foundation of something other than animosity to build on. Every couple will end up friends as well as lovers.
6. There will be profanity. My preferred intensity level doesn’t lend itself well to a G-rated vocabulary.
7. There will be sex. I use sex scenes the same way I use every other scene—to develop characters and forward plots. (See here and here for more of my thoughts on this.) They’re not meant to be skipped any more than an argument scene or a declaration-of-love scene is, and I am not responsible for any confusion that results from dereliction of reading duty.
8. I write one couple per book. I will never drag out one couple’s romance arc for more than one book.
9. I loathe sequel bait. Currently, this isn’t an issue because all of my books are completely standalone, but even when I do a series, every word will be relevant to the book in which it appears, not an advertising gimmick to sell future books.
10. I write long. I recently tested if this is still true by trying to outline a novella because I thought it would be nice to have one on standby in case another novel takes 18 months to finish, and the plot grew and grew and grew until it has to be a novel itself. I can’t fit all this angst, playtime, friendship, sex, and swearing into a dinky little story.
11. Aggressive, possessive, jealous control freaks with hair-trigger boners are abusive, not romantic, not heroic, and you won’t find them as protagonists in my books.
12. Dereliction of duty will not be portrayed as “romantic.” A person who abandons commitments in favor of “love” can’t be trusted to honor love-related commitments, either. When pleasure and responsibility come into conflict, grownups aren’t motivated by selfishness.
13. Much more often than not, my heroes will announce “I AM READY FOR TRUE LOVE” while my heroines take the “no thanks, I’m good” position. I know I’m not the only one who watched a woman work a full-time job and then come home to full responsibility for parenting and household upkeep. Consequently, I demand to see proof a man is a value-add and an equal partner, not an additional burden on my hardworking heroine, so the hero had better make himself useful to her in exchange for what he wants from her.
14. I have aphantasia, which means my “mind’s eye” is blind. (This is by far the best account of an experience like mine.) When given a prompt of “beach,” you may picture surf and sand and sunbathers; I have words for sand, shells, waves, sharks, pelican shit, dead fish, lifeguard stations, medical waste, banana hammocks, and a thousand other things that might be found at a beach, but I picture nothing except what’s physically in front of my eyeballs at the time. My imagination is just fine; it simply specializes in conceptualization with words rather than visualization with pictures. When I encounter blocks of description while reading, I skip them because there’s no meaning for me—I read for what’s happening and what people are feeling, not what color the drapes are. Accordingly, when I write, I tend to avoid description because I simply don’t care. I know most readers do care, and I try to find ways to add relevant description that won’t make me scream. My editor knows this is a weakness of mine and encourages me to add more when she gets her say, but there’s only so much filler (as I perceive it) I’m willing to insert. If you like lush, vivid descriptions that paint a photorealistic painting for you, you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. If I write “beach” or “kitchen” or “kindergarten classroom” and you’re able to supply a reasonable facsimile of those settings without a lot of further support from me, we might get along okay. If there’s something uniquely significant about the setting (as in THIS THING HERE WILL BE PLOT RELEVANT LATER), I’ll let you know, but in most cases, your personal experience or a generic Hollywood set will do the job a million times better than this uncaring writer would.
15. I will not write by committee. I spent 17 years being told what to write and how to write it and even what I would be allowed to write, and although being a team player kept me steadily employed, it gave me a backlist of books I can’t fucking stand because they’re full of other people’s cowardice, lack of imagination, and mistakes. Going forward, any failures in my books will be all mine.
16. I will not write another book I’m not excited about. Sooner or later, every book tortures me. It’s not worth going through that for anything less than love. Trends and “requests” and feelings of obligation will only produce more books that I can’t fucking stand. There’s a huge difference between a book that doesn’t live up to my impossibly grand expectations and a book I’m ashamed to be associated with. I’d rather not write at all than write more of the latter.
17. Deadlines don’t make me work faster—they make me stop working entirely. My anxiety disorder gives up on my behalf at the first sign of time pressure because it would rather quit than fail to beat the clock. Deadlines are sabotage that seem like a good idea only during torture sessions I’m desperate to escape. I get more done, faster, and of higher quality when I’m not stressed by arbitrary, artificial milestones of failure. (Same goes for other forms of stress, but most of those aren’t choices within my control.)
18. I am now the master of my own writing, and I accept the consequences that accompany that responsibility.