Andi here. So my colleague and fangirl buddy KD Williamson and I decided to do a sort of back-and-forth with each other in which we asked each other a few questions that relate to writing and publishing and see where things went.
We somehow kept it on the rails, which is SO DIFFERENT FOR US OMG. lol
Anyway, here are the results of our chit-chat.
HI, KD! Thanks for agreeing to engage with this rather experimental free-flowing suggestion I pulled out of my nether regions. So I’ll start and ask you a question. Ready?
HERE WE GO!
So, KD, let’s talk romance formula and F/F audiences. You and I have had discussions along these lines in the past, and we’ve both written novels or stories that have bucked what seems to be the overarching expectations for F/F romance. What, in your opinion, are, say, three things that F/F audiences expect from romance and, in your experience, what could happen if an author bucks those expectations?
KD: Great question! And it’s actually hard to narrow it down to just three things but since you asked so nicely, I’ll do that for you. The first thing is that readers seem to expect the MC’s live in a bubble where the majority of the book is spent on the relationship, meaning the MC’s are constantly in each others company somehow and someway. Second, is that the conflicts or conflict between the characters whether it’s from inside or out is expected to be glossed over so the focus is on the attraction or building attraction between the MC’s. A third thing is the expectation that the MC’s are celibate once they meet the ‘love interest’ meaning that casual sex with others is frowned upon.
What happens when an author goes against the grain? Sometimes they get bad reviews and sometimes they just get complaints. Some, not all, readers get up in arms when time is spent on characterization. It is also well known that a majority of people read for escapism and if a conflict goes deeper and further than usual it can be considered too much, too real and a detraction from the romance. The last thing can be referenced back to the bubble as well. I’ve gotten emails and DM’s about these very topics along with a host of others.
Next question, back to you. We’ve also discussed the importance of dialogue. I think that dialogue should be written the way people actually speak and that includes cursing. What is your take on this? Why do you think some readers respond adversely?
Andi: Thanks for that run-down on what readers might expect from a plot, and I agree. There’s an expectation of a “bubble” and the main characters not having any lives, it seems, outside that one person that they’re getting to know, when real life is, like, 99 percent of the time not like that.
Anyway, speaking of bubbles…dialogue is a big part of characterization and also part of plot development, because characters relay info to each other through it. Also, if we wrote dialogue the way people actually spoke, it wouldn’t work because people are constantly going off on tangents, saying “Um” or whatever and repeating themselves. So good dialogue should evoke what people might sound like, but shouldn’t be true-to-life because it would drive you crazy trying to read it.
And yes, because dialogue is part of characterization, a reader should be able to tell which character is speaking based on differences in dialogue and things the characters say, and quirks they have.
AND OMG SOME CHARACTERS SWEAR. I write a lot of swearage, and that may be a function of the people I hang out with (the ratio is about 15 people swear for every 1 who doesn’t in my life). But swearing is also a character quirk, and you can write different generational dialogue depending on the type of swearing they use or if they don’t use swearing.
We’ve also had this discussion, but swearing is gendered and women who swear are traditionally looked down on because swearing is considered power language — i.e. men’s language — and I’ve been policed for my swearing by — wait for it — other women. Queer women, too. I also think that people of color get policed more in that regard, and all of that, friends, is bullshit. I write swearage. People swear. Perhaps thinking it never happens or being uncomfortable with it is part of a bubble one exists in and might consider busting out of now and again. LOL
Okay, QUESTION 3 BACK ATCHA: What is the weirdest thing someone has said to you about one of your books? LOL
KD:: love the way you put things! It’s like you’re in my head. Most if not all of the people I’m around have more education than I do. A common misconception is that swearing is somehow lowbrow when there have indeed been studies that found that swearing is a sign of intelligence and general badassery. I too think that each character should have a distinct voice which is I why I usually write from two points of view.
As for your next question, I could write pages. PAGES. I have to give you more than one. A reader once told me that she could tell I was black from the language I used. I’ve gotten emails and DM’s out of the blue from readers before they read my books asking if they are HEA. I had a reader call me racist. I’ve had readers tell me that they didn’t like my books because they knew too much about the characters. I even had a reader write a review stating she didn’t read past the first couple chapters and then state the sex that didn’t start until the middle was gratuitous and was too explicit. I still scratch my head about that one. I also got a warning that my books were not for children. I’m just giving examples off the top of my head. Like I said. I could go on.
And here’s a question now for you. I’ve been told by many a fellow author that white is default in lesfic because it was part of the overall formula that made it what it is. What is your opinion on this? And what steps would you as an author take as an author to help educate and lead to actual change instead of just change talk?
Andi: First, omg.Thanks for the rundown on strange (and shitty) things people have said either in reviews or to you about your work. And you’re right. Some people associate swearing with “uneducated” people. Which is a load of shit. The swearage is strong with me and I have a bunch of academic degrees, so whatevs to that!
And, second, talking about some readers/reviewers pulling a race card with you provides a good segue.
Wow. There is so much to unpack in that question! I want to preface it by saying that I’m currently reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. She’s an academic and antiracist educator. Anyway, she points out how it’s really difficult for white people to see racism as a system in which they’re socialized, too, and instead they perceive it as discrete acts committed by individuals, which is part of it, but it doesn’t allow white people to see beyond that, and to see how they fit into the infrastructure of racism and help perpetuate it. Nor do many white people understand how socialization works, and how it re-creates the system.
I say this because white people don’t think of themselves in racial or “raced” terms — because whiteness is the default for everything in our society, and since we’re talking about representation in a particular medium here, yes, white is the default in lesfic. Maybe that was because a lot of the women who initially started writing it and publishing it were predominantly white, but it’s also part of the larger media world, in which white has always been the default in our society.
Having said that, I’ve started really examining my own responsibility in perpetuating the racist system in which we exist, and looking at how my privilege (I’m white, educated, able-bodied, cisgender) plays into all the aspects of my life.
So I’ve started trying to write more diverse characters, but I can do better, and I’m going to do it in spite of comments I’ve seen in the lesfic community in which white women readers expressed no interest in reading lesfic books that feature characters of color, and often said it’s because “they couldn’t relate.”
Which I think is a bullshit argument. If a character is well-written, you should be able to relate to said character regardless of their circumstances or background or race or ethnicity or abilities. I mean, people of color have been relating to white characters in popular media and culture for decades because there was no other representation for them, and there are numerous barriers to changing that. People of color write wonderful, engaging stories and create all kinds of art, but racist systems are barriers to their full participation in them, and as long as those barriers exist, then the default remains white.
So what I’m trying to do is write more diverse characters, promote authors of color, authors who are differently-abled, authors who fall in a variety of places on the queer spectrum, and promote books with diverse characters and the authors who write them. I’m also pushing organizations and review sites to do the same, and to be more proactive about inclusion and working to dismantle barriers that have kept people of color and people from many different walks of life out of participation in media so we can all engage a broader, more diverse audience and not do the “just add people of color to tired tropes” and call it “diversity.”
Because the more authentic stories and the more people telling them, the better for all of us. And it’s time for white people, especially, to start pushing for that kind of inclusion, too, and to educate ourselves about how we fit in this system, how we benefit from it, and how it excludes so many people. And then we need to bring that shit down and help make something better.
All that said, there’s gonna be a lot of talk and no action, and a lot of (white) people resistant to change, but it’s absolutely urgent that we move beyond talk. It’s imperative.
Whew. Okay, so back to you!
How has your writing evolved over the years, from fanfic to the novels you’re publishing now? In terms of the types of stories you tell, what’s different now and why has it changed?
KD: Well, goddammit I’ve heard of that book and I honestly think it should be required reading for everyone if there was such a thing. We could all learn from it and in turn learn from each other. You go beyond change talk and actually have a plan. That’s an excellent start. I also think the publishing world should take another giant leap forward and not just have white authors writing diverse characters and hiring sensitivity readers but to also have WOC write their OWN stories as well.
As for your question and it’s another goody. Yes, my writing has changed drastically. When I wrote fanfic I was just starting out. The more I wrote. The more I learned and the more I improved. I think in terms of fanfic I used to write a lot of fluff. I was careful to keep to the popular tropes that seemed to draw readers even though I was using my own blend of words. I don’t always do that now. I tend to gravitate toward the grittier, emotional stories that are not always pretty. I don’t always do HEA or tie everything in a bow. I’m good with HFN because sometimes the story and the characters call for it. I’m more comfortable in my skin as a writer so I write what I want.
And along those lines, since I know you write both fanfic and publish novels where do you feel the most comfortable? Do you write your fanfic differently than your published works? If so, why?
Andi: FIrst, YES to publishers contracting WOC writers to write their own stories. I am behind that 1000 percent. And if a publisher would get behind those writers, and reach out to new audiences, they’d expand their reader base and everybody wins.
Second, I like HFN stories, too. I like me a big bowl of fluff, but I also like messy and complicated, because it’s REAL and I like knowing that even people in books have shit to deal with. Solidarity!
Third, and in answer to your question, omg, I do shit backasswards, KD. I wrote and published fiction for years before I really started seriously writing and posting fanfic. I’m pretty exclusive currently to a particular fandom, and I think the one thing I do differently in fanfic is that I go long, baby. I mean, I tend to write long anyway in my published work, but I do double and triple that in fanfic, and it doesn’t freaking matter because it’s fanfic! I write both fluff and grit in the fanfic world, and I do that in my published work.
When I first started publishing, I called what I do fluff with an edge because it didn’t always go according to trope, if you will, and in some of my work, I leave it open-ended about whether there’s an HEA. And, as previously discussed, my characters swear (as do I), in both fanfic and published work. I’ve gotten shit for it outside the fanfic world but never in the fanfic world for it, so I feel a bit freer in terms of expression in the latter.
Regardless, I like pushing beyond tropes. Cuz that’s life, friends. Relationships don’t always work out. And omg, people have sex with people they don’t want to marry or shack up with. And maybe they don’t EVER want to get married or shack up, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d like to see more unconventional love stories–open and/or poly relationships. And Ace relationships. Relationships between people who don’t fit the binary, however they express and identify. Because that, too, is life. And it’s messy and complicated and beautiful in its complexities.
I feel much freer to explore complexity in fanfic, because my income doesn’t depend on it. I do that for the sheer love of writing and participating in a fandom. My writing styles are the same for it as for my published work, but I just let shit roll and flow in the fanfic much more than I do in my published work, which I’m more stringent and rigid about. It’s interesting, actually, and that question has made me think about how I approach things. Fanfic — I just love telling stories, and it’s like being a writer on a TV show or something, and offering up my takes on the characters and settings.
And that’s something I’d love to do, is write for a TV show!!!! So in some ways, fanfic fills that need, I think.
WHEW! Thanks for the chat! Let’s do this again! Catch you later, and happy Thursday!
And thank you, dear readers, for hanging out with me and KD!
Hit us up with thoughts in the comments. We’re not too scary. (muah ha ha)