Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Blood, sweat & fears

I’m reserving comment on the whole RWA controversy until after the national meeting next month. In the meantime, for anyone wanting to keep up with news, check out Jordan Summer’s excellent blog.

Today I’m brooding over how precarious publishing is, and how much depends upon what others think of what you wrote. Not reviews, mind you. Bad reviews sting, but they’re like gnat bites. I wince, and move on. Sometimes I laugh at what reviewers write in their snark. This business is so subjective, I know what I write not everyone will love. Vice versa. Reader feedback is more important to me. What matters most is getting a letter, as I did recently, from an elderly reader who apologizes for her poor handwriting, but despite her arthritis, she had to write and tell me how much she enjoyed COBRA.

The worst part of being an author is the angst I’m feeling now. Writing a book that makes me bleed as I wrench each scene out, and being uncertain it will even see publication. I did this with my option book, which is Rashid’s story. His character affected me more than any other I created. When I finished his story, I mentally felt like a carpet hung on a clothesline and beaten with a heavy stick. Even my physical energy was drained. (Rashid is the secondary character in COBRA who was abused as a small boy)

I didn’t feel compelled to write his story. I felt obsessed. I couldn’t stop writing it. It was as if all the mad writing demons were cackling and forcing me to keep writing. Rashid is complex, intense, difficult, ruthless and vulnerable. There are scenes in his story that made me weep as I wrote them.

So now I sit here, wondering if my editor will buy it. The horrid doubts creep in. I love this book, but so what? Just because my gut says it’s the best book I’ve ever written, it doesn’t guarantee anyone else will care.

I have to invest myself emotionally with writing for the day job. That’s what I do – bringing to life the suffering of the needy, who watch their children die from hunger, who are flooded out of their homes, whose pain is reflected in their despairing faces. Sometimes it makes me an emotional wreck when I journey to Haiti, see children with sunken faces and hungry eyes, and recreate their torment to raise money and help them.

But it’s a part of the job I learned to accept. Part of the hazards, like being a hockey player and knowing you’ll get broken teeth or smashed into the ice.

What’s harder now is the romance writing. Before I could, with some effort, separate myself from my books. Not this book. Not Rashid’s story. He’s as real to me as those sad, pleading faces I saw in Haiti three weeks ago.

I know the signs of needing to distance myself from my writing. But damn, it’s like chopping off a limb and saying, “I can work without it. It won’t make a bit of difference” as I find myself bleeding all over my keyboard.

On days like this I want to quit romance writing. But I can’t stop writing. Maybe I can quit writing stories that emotionally batter me. Perhaps I’ll retire Bonnie Vanak and morph permanently into Blair Valentine and write funny, sexy paranormal romances that are fun and frivolous, but ultimately, don’t rip up little pieces of my heart.



Jennifer Ashley said...

I hear you about ripping your heart out to write a story. I can always tell you write from the heart, Bonnie. It's wonderful when such writing deeply touches a reader. Equally hard to think someone will simply shrug and dismiss it. It's a heart-breaking business, but we keep doing it! Either we're crazy or it fulfills something deep inside that we can't get from anything else. Let me know if you figure it out. :)

Tina said...

Bonnie I only recently found you as an author with Cobra's story and I ahve loved reading it. I am so glad you wrote Rashid's. I can't wait to see it published and read it.

Right now what little I have found out about this new genre being accepted in the RWA and the standards that are being put forth to make writing harder on the author I will keep the comments ot myself but as an up coming author trying to break into print this whole business doesn't make me want to become a member of the RWA. Right now I am set against it. I hope things are worked out for the ebst though for the Org. and its authors who write more than straight romance genre.

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks Jennifer...that's sweet of you to say. It is tough some days. You know that as well.

Ah Tina, thanks for your compliments on COBRA. I'm glad you liked the book! Please don't give up on RWA yet. Despite this whole controversy about their new standards, I still think RWA is the best place for a new writer to learn, network and, hopefully, get published. I got published through an RWA contest, learned about romance writing through RWA workshops and it was an RWA conference, my chapter's, that I was inspired to write the book that got me published.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave a speech on breaking the rules when writing romance. I had quit writing for a year and was so inspired I decided to do as she said. That book became THE FALCON & THE DOVE, the book that won an RWA contest and my editor bought.

So RWA DOES have many benefits, despite all the controversy happening now. Give it some time, see what happens, but please, think about it. Don't let one incident turn you away from an organization that might be an asset to your writing. I still harbor hopes that things will be worked out to EVERYONE'S benefit.

Good luck with your writing!