Deepest Desires

First, I have to admit that the title of this post is “click bait.” I am not going to write about my perverse fantasies in this post (of which I have, maybe, two). Instead, I thought I would write about what my ultimate goal is in writing stories.

If I am being completely honest, right away, I have to admit that I hope a reader is entertained. I hope that someone picks up one of my books, spends a few hours with it, enjoys it, and feels like they were able to forget about any troubles and escape into my characters’ world. I know it is not a popular opinion to prefer to be an “entertainer” instead of an “artist” when it comes to us creatives, but it would be disingenuous for me to say otherwise. I like to entertain people with my stories.

So, first and foremost, entertaining the reader is at the forefront of my mind when I write. I am constantly thinking: does this passage make the story less engaging? Does this or that make the story less enjoyable? So on and so forth. A lot of my stories end up much shorter than the initial drafts because I “kill my darlings.”

Are we all tired of that phrase yet?

Regardless, in conjunction with entertaining, I want to write characters that the readers will have very strong feelings about. Then…just because I am sadistic–like all writers–I try to make the readers see that character in a different way. “Flip the script” and make the reader say “whaaaaaaat?” A prime example of this is the bully “Carson” from A Surplus of Light. Bullies are bad people, right? Well…sometimes.

Often, especially in today’s social media and cancel culture, I find that we are all too quick to judge people for their behaviors. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not want to make excuses for people who behave badly or say terrible things. When people do bad things, they should be called out, educated, enlightened, and they should make steps to improve themselves. Unless they do not want to, then everything I have just said is moot.

However, some people who cause pain do so because they are also hurt in some way. There are things going on in their lives to which we are not privy. What makes a bully a bully? What makes an internet troll an internet troll? What makes a bigot a bigot? Are the things they say just hurtful…or are they building up to actions that can never be taken back? How does this affect the person they focus their hatred and anger on and how does this affect the redeemability (is that a word?) of the person who does these things?

How understanding and empathetic can we all be?

I am not interested in entertaining cancel culture and mob mentality. I am not interested in excusing or pardoning bad behaviors just for the sake of being understanding to a naive degree. However, I am interested in trying to understand what makes people do the things they do–good or bad–and seeing if we can all be more empathetic and create respectful dialogue with each other, and then all of us may learn to be more thoughtful, mindful, caring, kind people.

Consider Will from A Tremendous Amount of Normal. A reviewer once said that the whole book was a “deeply problematic view of Asperger Syndrome.” I can understand that opinion. One can rarely write about a neurotypical person’s view and internal thoughts of their brother’s AS without it being problematic. In fact, it may be impossible–because a person’s inner thoughts are often problematic if they do not deal with the condition another person has. Because they will never understand it on the same level that the person with the condition will. The reviewer said that Will seemed to want Noah to not have AS and the book was about “curing autism.” This, I do not agree with. The book was a rumination on how a character with severe AS suffered from anxiety and depression and made them function at a lower level than a person with AS is capable of functioning at. Noah could not live his best life as a young man with AS because he had not been treated well by his parents and medical providers and did not get all of the early medical intervention that he desperately needed. He needed advocacy–and that’s what Will was desperately trying to provide, while creating a “new kind of normal” for his little family. Will wanted his brother with AS to be able to go out in the world and live as fully as possible while having Asperger Syndrome. He wanted his brother to be able to experience love, friendship, swimming pools, movie theaters–he wanted his brother to be able to do whatever he wanted while learning to adapt to overwhelming situations as a person with AS.

But…I also wanted the reader to realize that this was not just a story of a person with AS who suffered from anxiety and depression. I wanted the reader to realize that the caregivers and advocates have their own struggles. People cannot just stop feelings and thoughts because taking care of someone is more important. While it is wonderful when people want to advocate for and care for a person with a disorder or disease (those people are doing God’s work), it is important to be concerned with who is caring for the caregivers. Who is advocating for them? Who is making sure they get fed, they sleep enough, they take care of their needs? Who is giving them the love they desperately need? The caregivers and advocates of this world are angels–we cannot forget them in the scope of a story of one’s life. Nor should we forget the challenges posed to people who are “other” or strive to find ways to help make the world a “softer” place for them.

I guess that’s what A Tremendous Amount of Normal was about–disease and disorder do not have to mean that life stops or that we have to all selflessly forget our own needs and desires. We just have to create a new normal. Learn to adapt. Learn to listen. Learn to be patient. Learn to be understanding. We have to decide to make love and kindness our new normal. Then keep practicing that, and eventually, we’ll find ourselves with a tremendous amount of normal.

What is your name? Well, in case no one has told you today: “You are the best <your name> there ever was.” Be kind to each other. Create a new normal.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Two Drops of Oil

Have you ever read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho? It’s likely that you have since it is such a famous book by such a famous author. However, in case you have not read it, let me tell you about one of the most striking lessons in the book.

A boy, the main protagonist of the story, arrives at a Wise Man’s/Sage’s home and waits two hours in line to meet with him. After hearing the reason for the boy’s visit, the Sage invites the boy to walk around his magnificent home and see all of its wonders–but he asks him to carry a teaspoon with two drops of oil in it as he tours the home. He instructs the boy to not lose the oil. So, the boy takes the tour, being mindful of the oil, and returns two hours later, oil still in spoon, to speak with the Sage once more. The Sage asks him if he noticed his art, his gardens, his tapestries…but of course, the boy hasn’t. He was paying attention to the spoon and the oil. Once more, the Sage sends the boy on a tour with the spoon and oil but tells him to please appreciate the magnificence of his home. The boy sets out again, but this time, he pays attention to the art, the gardens, the tapestries, the architecture…and returns to the Sage later with an empty spoon. Ultimately, the Sage tells the boy that the secret to happiness is taking in all of the wonders of the world but never forgetting the two drops of oil.

Lately, I have forgotten my two drops of oil. I’ve also forgotten to take in the art, gardens, and tapestries. I’ve let my spirit and attention become taken away by things that I cannot control. Rude and demeaning emails and DMs. Personal health issues. People not keeping promises that they have made without so much as an apology. Drama created over nothing. There have been a lot of events over the last few weeks that have almost made me forget who I am as a person and a writer. Luckily, I have amazing friends who remind me of who I am.

Chase Connor is a kind person, a hard worker, creative, loving, adventurous, happy-go-lucky, thoughtful–sometimes a smartass–and wants to lift others up. But Chase Connor has not been these things over the last few weeks. He has let the aforementioned issues make him reclusive, quiet, taciturn, indecisive, and suspicious of the kindness of others.

I don’t want to be that version of Chase Connor–because, again, that’s not who I am. But, I’ve been taking everything in without paying attention to my two drops of oil, I suppose.

Henceforth, I will allow myself to notice the wonders (and the not so wondrous) around me, but keep my eyes on my two drops of oil as well. I will not let myself lose sight of what it is that I want for myself as a person, a writer, a boyfriend, and a friend. I cannot control how the things I say/tweet are taken, nor am I responsible for people assuming that they can treat me a certain way because of those things. I also cannot control that people make assumptions about me due to the fact that I belong to certain communities. Everyone will get the true version of Chase Connor, regardless of the people on the periphery who make that difficult at times.

To my friends in the Writing Community (especially the LGBTQ+ community), the past few weeks have been difficult for reasons I will not make us talk about further. However, I know the greater majority of all of you are wonderful, kind, beautiful, creative people. Don’t lose sight of your two drops of oil because of all of the distractions.

Those things do not define us.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Writing Advice (It’s Everywhere)

Lately, on Twitter, I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the worst advice they’ve gotten in regards to being a writer. It’s a bone of contention for writers–which advice is good and which is bad. Sometimes–especially when you’re an amateur, such as myself–it’s hard to tell. One of my problems is that I believe that people are generally good at heart, say what they mean and mean what they say, and are not intentionally giving bad advice.

Yes. I know that makes me naive. But I refuse to give up hope on people being good at heart, so we will all just have to agree to disagree.

However, the fact remains that there is a lot of advice out there that is bad…well, kind of. Some advice that is horrible for one writer may be a blessing to another writer. Then again, some advice that’s good for one may be horrible for another. The biggest challenge is finding a mentor who understands what you are trying to achieve, who you are as a writer, how you work, your process, and what advice is best suited for you. Sometimes it feels like it is impossible to find a mentor to match yourself up with in the writing world. It definitely takes a lot of searching. I was incredibly fortunate that, after years of writing, a common life event brought a mentor into my life by chance.

I’m the type of person who wants his mentors to be very blunt with him. I do not like having to decipher hidden meaning in advice. I love that my mentors will give everything to me in a very direct manner–even if it sounds rude to other people. “Stop being a whiny little bitch and get back to work.” was recent advice I got. That kind of thing works for me.

Do you want to know some of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten about writing? Well, if you’re here, I’m assuming you are interested, so I will share some of it.

Girl. Go take a beat, cry your eyes out, then get back to work.” – I had been having a really bad “writing day” and was very upset. But I was told by a writer friend to do what I had to do, but then get back to work. It’s simple advice, but it is good advice. Don’t get dissuaded for too long. You’re only a writer if you write. Take a minute if you need to in order to clear your head, scream, cry, rage, laugh, eat a pint of ice cream…but get your fingers back on the keys (or put that pen to paper).

“You know what’s worse than a really bad review? A writer who thinks they know better than anyone else which books deserve them.” – I think this one speaks for itself.

“If you’ve got enough time to worry about another writer’s business, you’ve got time to write your book.” – This one speaks for itself, too. Don’t worry about what another writer is doing or why they act a certain way. Focus on being the best you that you can be.

Why would you concern yourself with advice from a writer who can sell advice but not books?” – This one speaks for itself, too. A lot of people “know how things should be done” but their books are not selling. It’s not necessarily that their books are bad or they are a bad writer. However, if they aren’t selling books…why would you trust their advice on how to market yourself?

“No matter how much glitter you put on a turd…it’s still a turd.” – This was advice given to me about marketing and writing. If the product you are trying to sell is crap–all the best marketing in the world won’t give you longevity. Consistently putting out decent, good, or great work that a reader feels they did not waste money on will. Spend more time on telling a good story than you do on marketing and things will fall into place eventually. It may take longer if marketing is not your main focus…but once people start to discover you, you’ll start making lifelong readers. That is how you create longevity–not with shiny ads and displays (though they never hurt if your book is good quality). Keep in mind, that I do my best to be open to constructive criticism. That’s why some books have gotten new covers, re-edits have been done, and so forth.

“Sometimes a gem needs more shine.” – This was a caveat given to the previous advice. Even if you write the best book in the world, you have to make it appealing to a potential reader. I’ve had to work a lot and get a lot of advice from really talented and creative people about book covers and marketing in general. I don’t sell as many books as Stephen King or James Patterson (gosh, I hope I do one day), but I have learned that people truly judge books by their covers sometimes. A good book needs a good synopses/blurb and a cover to really drive home a sell sometimes. Is it wise to judge a book by its cover? Well…that’s up for debate. But do yourself a favor and do your best to make your book visually appealing, too.

“Don’t pay to be a writer.” – A friend told me this, basically meaning that if you spend a lot of money on a cover, editing, proofreading, copyediting, formatting, and marketing, you’re probably not going to make any money as an indie writer. In fact, you’ll probably end up paying to release your book. Sure, you want to publish the best product possible for your readers…but don’t go so overboard that there is absolutely no way you will ever make money on your book. Oftentimes, you can find other creatives willing to exchange services. Are you a good proofreader? Maybe a good book designer will create a great cover for you if you proofread their book. Talk to people, network, find people you can work with so that we can all publish good books but not waste our life savings doing it–then everyone wins–especially the readers. Also, it’s surprising how affordable some services are if you work with other indies–and there are so many talented people out there just looking for a way to make some extra money.

Don’t get so caught up in writing that you forget about reading.” – This piece of advice is given by nearly every writer out there. Reading is one of the best ways to become a better storyteller and writer. You don’t read other books to get plot and characters ideas–we don’t want to steal from each other. But you can learn so much about structuring stories, learn new words, better ways to convey emotions and character descriptions, get better at different styles of writing…the list goes on and on. Also, make sure to stretch your legs. Read things outside of your comfort zone. Even though I write mostly LGBTQ+ YA, NA, and paranormal romance, I don’t just read those genres.

“No two writers have the same goals. It’s okay if writing is something you want to do for a living and it is okay if it’s just a hobby.” – If you’re fine selling a few books here and there and you are not trying to make your living as a writer–there is no shame in that. It is okay if you are happy having just published a book and checked it off of your Bucket List. And it’s okay if your goal is somewhere between “working writer” and “hobbyist.” Don’t let anyone shame you for doing things your own way. Don’t shy away from advice and help…but if it is not advice or help that works for your particular situation, you can ignore it.

“Not everyone is trying to set the world on fire. Some people just want to be able to pay the gas bill.” This was not necessarily advice, per se, but a friend told me this as a way of saying: “Don’t judge other people if they are not as ambitious as you think they should be.” Some people are happy to make a living doing what they love and do not care if they are ever the “next J.K. Rowling.” And that’s more than okay. It’s also remarkably similar to the previous piece of advice, but I won’t hold it against the person who gave it to me…

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Ode To A Nomadic Muse

Do all of you have the same problem that I have with finding your inspiration? It may happen that for a day, days, a week (or more), writing and coming up with writing ideas seems like a faucet has been turned on inside of your head. Other days you may find that the well has run dry. I’m pretty sure that my Muse is a petty, nomadic jerk.

I guess it is important to talk about how I find inspiration. Well, for certain books, I sometimes just find that a story pops into my head while I am in the shower, eating a meal, working, shopping…they just come to me out of nowhere. One minute I’m squeezing shampoo into my hand and the next I am rushing to finish my shower so I can outline the idea that came to me at an inopportune time. Though, I suppose there is never a bad time to receive inspiration. It’s just inconvenient when a pen and paper are not at hand.

Sometimes I will find I am reading a quote or listening to a song or listening to people talk in a cafe, or looking at art…and an idea comes to me. For example, I had been toying with an idea of writing a coming-of-age romance between two boys from different backgrounds but couldn’t find the “hook” for the story. Then I read this quote from ‘The Glass Castle‘ by Jeanette Walls:

“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”

Immediately, I wrote down two thoughts:

Two boys from different worlds who fall in love gradually over the course of high school. They are only friends during summer because there is more light to see each other for who they are.

When I started typing…I couldn’t stop. There was never that moment where I had to delete a paragraph or use the “backspace” key excessively. The words just came to me. When I conceived of the characters of Mike and Ian–I just knew who they were. I knew these boys inside and out. I knew why they were the people they were. I knew why Ian chose to work hard to be kind and patient and guarded–even though he could have been a very different person based on his circumstances. I knew why Mike refused to let Ian push him away, why he was nicer than other boys of his status, why he gave Ian so much leeway in their relationship–even though he could have been a very different person based on his circumstances. I knew that from the outside looking in, the relationship might make people scream: Oh my gosh, Mike! Tell Ian to go fuck himself! I knew why Mike wouldn’t do that. But I also knew why Ian wouldn’t have hated Mike if he chose to do so. These were two incredibly layered people who knew that life is messy. Life is not simple. Things are not black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. Sometimes, you have to peel back layers of a person, see them in all seasons and all types of light to truly understand where they are coming from. People, like life, are never as simple as we try to make them out to be. So…writing these characters was one of my greatest thrills as a writer. I honestly miss writing them. But…I’m glad that they ended up in a good place.

So…my muse was with me from inception to the last word written on ‘A Surplus of Light.‘ And I am so grateful. That book and the experience of writing it are two of my greatest joys. The fact that a healthy number of people have enjoyed it makes the experience even more precious to me.

Having said that…sometimes my muse flips me the bird and dashes away, begging me to play a round of “Hide & Seek” with her. Those days, frankly, suck balls. But it’s just part of being a writer, I suppose. My brain can’t be overflowing with creativity and ideas every single moment of every day. Sometimes, I just have to figure out where my muse is so that I can join her there. I find that if I play the game by her rules she is much more generous.

I would suggest to anyone to not force your muse. If you’re having a bad writing day, don’t get too frustrated. Maybe your muse is trying to lead you somewhere. Don’t refuse to listen. Absolutely–write write write. Don’t not write because you “aren’t feeling it.” But don’t squeeze your muse for inspiration. Search her out. Read a book. Read quotes. Listen to music. Go to a museum. Go to a coffee shop and sip your favorite drink and listen to and watch others around you. Have long talks with friends. Just spend time being human. Characters and ideas will spring forth–your muse will jump out at you. That is the most important thing I’ve learned as a writer, I suppose.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase