So the other day my bff Sylvia Day and I were having one of our marathon phone convos, yanno the ones that begin with, “Hey, I only have a sec but wanted to check in,” but turns into one of those switching out three handsets because the batteries died convos. Syl and I do not have quickies. Anyhoo, we were talking about her remarkable recent release, BARED TO YOU, which she self pubbed and has hit the NYTimes best seller list two weeks in a row and the USA Today bestseller list two weeks in a row as well as countless other lists. (I’m sure it hit again this week!)
Her characters Gideon and Eva have issues. Deep dark issues. Instead of running away from them as they have all their lives, in BARED TO YOU, they have a connection that defies logic and they are willing to fight for it albeit with self-preserving flak jackets and grenade launchers. It ain’t easy, but it’s what makes their relationship so special.
As we were talking, I mentioned a few other titles of Syl’s that really grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. Titles where years later I still remember the hero and heroine’s names! They too had issues. Big ones.
Of course in talking about Syl’s characters’ with issues, I naturally thought of mine, and it occurred to me that the stories I’ve written, the ones I love the most are the ones whose characters had severe issues. My first book that really dove deep into them was JADED. The second book was MASTER OF TORMENT, then along came Jax and Marcus in ENEMY LOVER. Marcus and Jax. What can I say? Those two will forever be my friends. Selena and Nikko in ENEMY MINE had their fair share of torment, and then, I wrote BLOODRIGHT. Lucien is the poster child for angry alpha, but where there is an out of control wild fire there is a man who is so emotionally torn up he makes shredded wheat look whole. I loved writing that story. I still think of Luca and get goosebumps.
Here’s the thing about writing characters with deep seeded issues: as their storyteller we have to get it right. Do them justice. They deserve us not f*cking up their story. They’re screwed up enough for crying out loud. Let’s not add insult to injury. And it has to be believable when they do something stupid or desperate. Because how many of us can honestly say that in the throes of love and passion our insecurities from our past haven’t triggered a response that tears us up inside? How many of haven’t done something stupid and desperate in the name of love?
This is hard for me because I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting. While I have some things I need to work on, I didn’t suffer any childhood trauma. No young adult trauma either. All of my emotional trauma has come within the last 15 years of my life. Some of it avoidable but some not. I wonder had these events occurred earlier in my life how I would be now? I’m grateful really that when the shit hit the fan I was mature, fairly balanced, somewhat sane and objective when it came to dealing emotionally with these issues. Have I come out unscathed? Yes in that I have no lingering post trauma issues, and no in that losing two people in the last two years that I loved dearly and whose deaths have deeply affected people I love, saddens me to my marrow. But it doesn’t have an effect on my life decisions. Does that make sense?
Not only did I not grow up peppered with traumatic events, the people I grew up with didn’t either. Not that I was aware of anyway. So for me to write deeply scarred and flawed characters I have to dig deep. But in today’s age, when everyone is talking about the good the bad and the ugly, openly and without shame, I don’t have to look too far to see people who struggle daily with pain and trust issues born of trauma suffered.
I also watch shows like Intervention and some of the rehab shows. I have learned to understand that depression afflicts people I care deeply about. I understand the cycles of addiction, of emotional and physical/sexual abuse. No, not as if I had survived it, but as a person who has taken the time to understand it. And who also has dear friends who as trusting children have suffered at the hands of deviant adult. Dear friends who have trusted me enough to share their pain, confusion and their struggle to move past it.
Taking the time to understand what drives the people around me, and what triggers them has made me a better writer because no one is interested in reading one dimensional characters. I mean even fairy tales have evil queens/stepmothers/wizards in them. Life is not a picnic.
And while most of us read romance to escape the hardships of our own lives, reading vanilla Little Bunny Foo-Foo romps through the forest is pretty damn boring.
Falling in love is easy, staying in love is hard.
Life is gritty. Life is tough. Our character is defined not by how we react to adversity but how we kick its ass and move on to the next bitch. It’s how I roll and how my characters roll.
And let me tell you, there is never a dull moment! Not between the pages and not in my own life.
How about you? Do you like edgy rough roads traveled to an HEA or do you like your romance smoother, less fraught with conflict and dark issues?