I like writing miserable books. My beta-readers know this. I enjoy reading their increasingly angry / devastated comments and I take great delight in making them cry, because I consider that a badge of success. Several of my books were written simply as revenge after Charley killed a character I liked, in order to make her suffer what I had suffered. (Multiple times. Because I’m mean like that.)
But sometimes I just want a break.
I can’t write miserable characters all the time. I can’t write death and murder and violence all the time. I can’t write bitterness all the time. Working on assassin!trilogy book two at the same time as working on my third poetry collection, a collection that’s intensely autobiographical (while not narrative) and dwells a lot on low points of the past year, was bringing me down. I had to take distance from both of them, just to cheer up.
So I decided to take complete distance from assassin!trilogy for a while, and go back to working on the fourth draft of The Quiet Ones. I know I said I was going to wait until the Scottish referendum had happened but hey, I lied. I figured there was plenty that could be done independent of that knowledge, and when I know what’s happening I can go back and make a few changes as necessary.
This novel is, and will probably always be, a breath of fresh air. My main character is a sarcastic archaeology student who likes to make ‘homo’ puns whenever possible. Her girlfriend and her best friend are in a constant multilingual insult battle. There is sarcasm … well, everywhere. Though there’s a few splashes of angst and tension (it wouldn’t be much of a novel if there wasn’t), it overwhelmingly works out better than it would have done for characters in any of my other novels.
It makes me wonder if I should write more entertaining novels. Spend more of my time making myself laugh with jokes that nobody else will even get. Continue to smush genres together and come up with “contemporary adventure” and decided that that’s now a thing and that’s what I’m writing. Add swords to everyday scenarios. (Swords always seem to be a good addition.)
It’s not like I never get ideas for novels, because I’ve had one knocking around for ages that’s probably closest in tone to The Quiet Ones of anything else I’ve been writing, yet even that’s the kind of story that tricks you into thinking it’s funny and then actually being devastatingly sad in the middle, to the point where I chickened out of ever starting to write it. Most of the ideas that pop into my head are the sort that you call your beta readers to tell them just so you can hear them cry.
Not that I’ve done that or anything.
My most recent idea is a terrifyingly political novel that will take about a thousand years of research — a story that’s worth writing, but only if I do it right. It’s scary because there’s so much I could get wrong, but it’s important to me to tell it. I won’t give more details now, because I haven’t yet decided how and when I’m going to tackle it and it’s kind of close to my heart right now, but suffice it to say that it’s not a happy story.
I think funny books are harder to write than tragic ones. Maybe that’s because I haven’t read enough books with happy endings to be particularly familiar with how to write them, but I think it’s also because of the way conflict drives story. It’s hard to keep it moving without something awful happening to the characters, and often that can lead to shallower, less exciting stories.
It’s genre-specific, I guess. Fantasy, on the whole, doesn’t lend itself to everything working out for everyone, and when you read a fantasy novel where nobody dies it just feels wrong, like the stakes aren’t high enough. Magic seems to create life-and-death scenarios, and it’s fantasy that I spent most of my younger years reading.
I get the impression that contemporary YA tends to lend itself more to sarcasm, pop-culture references, and the kind of humour that I write in The Quiet Ones. Not always, of course, and because I’ve read very little contemporary YA (especially while I was still in school, I couldn’t see the point in a genre that was primarily set in the one place where I was spending all my time, since books were meant to be escapism), I can’t even estimate how much of the genre takes that form.
The other thing I love about The Quiet Ones — the thing that I really enjoy — is that pretty much everyone in this novel is queer. I often write semi-historical books (even if they’re fantasy), and it would be difficult to have a cast like this, since in the majority of scenarios they’d all be closeted and at risk of getting in serious trouble. But these are 21st century students at a university where the LGBTQ society is called Ab-Fab, and it’s refreshing.
Among these characters, there’s no fear or judgement. Of course these characters have different responses to their own sexuality: some are out and proud, others are less confident and unready to share. But the majority of them have grown into who they are — the advantage of writing about older teens / early twenties characters, most of whom have known for years that they’re queer. So I’m able to write all this banter, the kind that my friends and I often exchange, and I think it’s a kind of representation that, as queer people, we don’t often get in books.
Not to mention the fact that by having a predominantly queer cast I’m able to represent different facets of the experience: characters from all over the spectrum, gender included; characters who are entirely comfortable in their skin and characters who aren’t… When you only have one minority character, there’s a lot of pressure to get it ‘right’. But it’s never going to be right for everyone, because everyone’s experience is different. So the more characters you have, the more likely it is that one will resonate with a particular reader, who’ll think, “Hey, that’s like me.”
It’s very common to have a token gay person in a book, because apparently there’s nothing more fun than hanging around straight people all the time. I kind of did the opposite, purely by accident. In TQO, I’ve got one major character who’s straight, and he’s not exactly the epitome of societal expectations of masculinity. Okay, so he’s a knight, ensuring that he’s physically strong and athletic. He’s also Ani’s fashion advisor, a self-professed ‘damsel in distress’ (see above), and an adorable mythology nerd.
So yeah, I’m beginning to discover my love of writing funny books, more light-hearted books, books where some people actually get what they want once in a while and don’t end up losing everyone and everything they love. Maybe I’ll even write more of them.
Ha. That’ll be the day. I’ve got seven more Death and Fairies books to write…