Issues Rule!

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?

About Karin Tabke aka Karin Harlow

Award winning author Karin Tabke isn’t just another author with steamy stories to tell, but a cop’s wife who has “seen it all and heard it all.” Karin also writes paranormal romance as Karin Harlow with her L.O.S.T. series hailed as paranormal romantic suspense at its “chilling and sizzling” best.
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23 Responses to Issues Rule!

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    My h/h in my current book are deeply damaged. One is suffering from PTSD after 4 tours in Afghanistan; the other has brain damage because someone tried to kill her. I started with a scene in the heroine’s pov, then one in my hero’s. After I was done, I emailed a friend and said, “Is it odd that my characters both have brain damage and I can easily fall into their voices?” And this is a contemporary with magical elements. With some laugh out loud moments, I hope.

    I just like broken people in my books, sometimes duct-taped together with a few pieces still missing. I think for me the broken-but-still-fighting characters are like the prodigal son. Maybe the one that stayed home was the more solid character, but the prodigal was just more interesting.

  2. Misty Evans says:

    Karin, this post was so good. As a reader, it’s the deeply scarred and damaged characters I enjoy the most. Just finished JR Ward’s Lover Reborn, and I want to read it again. The hero in this story is so traumatized, and this may be my favorite of her BDB books so far.

    I prefer to write damaged characters, too, but I need to go deeper with that. Thank you for reminding me to do justice to my characters and their stories.

  3. Amy Remus says:

    I have had a pretty blessed & easy life so far. Now that I am in my 30’s I have more friends that have difficult situations in their life and parents with serious health conditions. That being said, as you mentioned, many like to read romance to escape our lives and tough situations. However, if there is no struggle, it is too easy to put the book down and I find myself waiting for something more to the story (or looking for my next book to read). It is the stories that have characters travel the rough roads that keep you reading. I tend to like to read about characters in situations that are not in my reality such as many types of romantic suspense, paranormal romance, even historical romance with suspense (loving your book, Michelle!). Those stories allow me to escape my reality but still read a story where rough roads are traveled, characters have to overcome many types of issues and then there is a happy ending. Thanks for the post!

  4. lori meehan says:

    I like both types of romance. The good the bad and the ugly as long as itsa HEA.
    I think everything that happens in your life effects it and the way you live it after that. My father was an alcoholic for the first half of my life and my brother died when I was 21. I had many things to get passed and did get passed. I can’t say that sometimes those old thing creep up but that’s life. I just keep in mind that there are people out there that’s had it worse. Lifes a

  5. Liz Kreger says:

    “Little Bunny Foo-Foo”? Really? There’s a visual. 🙄

    Good post, Karin. While I really don’t find it necessary to have a badly damaged/scarred person in my books or in my reading, people should be portrayed correctly. If they’re damaged, then yes, you have to do justice to their character.

    I’ve been fortunate during my childhood never to have suffered any type of trauma … other than being one of many. I have lots of siblings and the individuality sorta gets lost when it comes to parental love. Plus, my younger sister ended up with juvenile arthritis, so naturally all the attention shifted to her and her care. Never resented that because I could see what she was going through. Wouldn’t wish that on my worse enemy.

    No, my trauma came when I was 35 and diagnosed with breast cancer. Did it change me as a person? You bet. What I would be like if this hadn’t happened to me, I can only guess. But I think it made me more of a person, more sympathetic, certainly more empathic. I can totally relate to people in life and death health problems.

    I guess that’s one reason why I don’t need a damaged beyond fixing sorta character. Got enough of that in my present life. I just need a good story that I can escape into.

  6. I def. like some dark romances with issues! In fact I’m writing one right now and was just telling a friend that I needed some inspiration and here you are listing books with darkness! Perfect!

  7. Dale Mayer says:

    Dark, deep and damaged? YEah, that sounds like my heroines. I do need to make the shit hit the fan a little more often. It’s easy to be tooo nice to my characters.

    Got to be meaner!

  8. Karin,
    I loved your post — and it got me thinking. For me, it’s that drive to understand where the bad/defensive/scared/etc. character behavior is coming from that, so often, compels me to want to write a certain character in the first place. It’s like really getting to know someone, both the gifts and the flaws. I ask a million questions of the real people in my life to try to get at who they really are…and sometimes we end up talking about issues that they’ve faced that are far more traumatic than any I’ve encountered. But it’s their strength of character despite those challenges that make me admire them so much, and I love novel characters who are that way, too. Flawed, perhaps, but still fighting the good fight ;).

  9. Jill James says:

    Okay, with my traumatic childhood I like my reading a little less tortured. I don’t mind a hero or heroine with issues, but the writer better make me believe that this person can be saved and is worth it if they are saved. Hope this makes sense.

    I’ve read one author who has heroes so tortured that I’m yelling at the book and the heroine, “Dump him, move on, life is too short for this crap.”
    Jill James`s last blog was …Writers Retreat

  10. Actually, Little Rabbit Foo-Foo IS quite a dark character! Hopping through the forest, finding all the little gnomes and bopping them on the head. That mallet looked serious, in the book I read my kids. And the good fairy gives him three chances, and when they are up, she doesn’t mess around, she turns him into the small, little ugly green thing I can’t remember the name of. And even then, when he’s changed, there is a definite evil glint in his eye. (There was a reason you remembered Little Rabbit Foo-Foo, of all the childrens characters you could have picked, Karin!)

    And yes, I love it dark and anything from a little bit tortured to a lot tortured. 🙂
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Dangerous Sanctuary available from Pocket Star

    • Michelle, my Little Bunny Foo Foo growing up was too stupid to live. There was a song we used to sing, can’t remember the words but it boiled down to him hopping nonchalantly through the forest before he got whacked. Dark subject but we sang it with smiles and eye-rolls.

      Now, I’m going to go look up your version because I think I’m really going to like it!
      Karin* Tabke aka Harlow!`s last blog was …CAPA Winner!

  11. Cynthia Eden says:

    I loved the tortured characters in Bared To You (just recently finished reading it!). I think the tortured characters are the best kind. 😉
    Cynthia Eden`s last blog was …I’m here!!

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