Indiscernible, That’s What We Are

Two men are standing outside of an airport.

The shorter, slightly older man is reaching up, holding the taller, younger man’s face in his hands.

They are smiling at each other but the taller, younger man is visibly, though quietly, crying.

Ça va.” Says the slightly older, shorter man to the younger, taller man.

He doesn’t speak French, but the younger man does.

The younger man gives a wet laugh. “Ça va.” He nods.

Do you think that these two men are father and son? Maybe even step-father and step-son? Older and younger brother? Maybe lovers? The very best of friends?

Does it matter?

How two people–two characters–relate to each other, the essence of why they have the relationship that they have is never fully describable to someone on the outside looking inward. Some feelings and experiences transcend explanation. A relationship is explained in both what is said and not said. Body movements and expressions. Actions committed and not committed. The way two people can look at each other and slowly start to smile, knowing exactly what the other is thinking.

When you write a story where one of the central plot points is a strong relationship between two of your characters, knowing how to convey what those characters mean to each other can be difficult. Maybe it is not difficult for people to understand what it means to be spouses, or a child and parent, or a lover, or best friends, or siblings…but all relationships are remarkably different. There are a multitude of ways that two people solidify a bond, regardless of the type of relationship they have. And no one can understand the gravity of the events that led to that bond the way that the two characters/people can.

So, how does a writer fully convey to a reader just what a relationship means for the two characters in question?

Think of your strongest relationship – the one you know will stay true until the day you die. What makes it the strongest relationship in your life?

It’s not the words you say to each other. Or the hugs you give each other. Not the blood you share. Not just the events you have been through together. Or similar sense of humor or interests. The strongest relationships transcend all of that.

The strongest relationships are built on the fact that above all things, these two people accept each other for who and what they are, no questions asked, no expectations, no demands…they just truly understand each other through and through.

And they ask no more of the relationship than that. It’s almost divine, how these two people “get” each other. And it’s not because of the long midnight conversations or talks over meals they’ve had hundreds of times. They are…kindred.

When you write a strong relationship between two characters in a story, maybe go beyond “well, we grew up next door to each other, so our relationship was convenient…”. Figure out what it is that these two people/characters see in each other than no one else sees. Hint at it. Play with that knowledge, and slowly expose it to the reader so that that the depth of that relationship is felt as deeply by the reader as it is the characters.

You’ll be surprised how much more endearing your characters will be to your readers.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

What’s Simple Is True

Lately, I have been trying to figure out whether or not putting my pronouns in my Twitter bio is the right thing to do or if I felt that it was redundant.

I am obviously a man, so obviously I go by “he/him.

That was one thought circling my brain. Then, I saw people tweeting that if you did not include your pronouns in your Twitter bio, you were transphobic, especially if you had the thought I just included above. I do not feel that if you do not lead with your pronouns that you are transphobic by any stretch of the imagination. Like trans people want to include their pronouns so that they are not misgendered, or non-binary people are not called a gender they do not identify with, cis-gender people feel it is natural to assume others will automatically know their pronouns.

Being told I was transphobic if I did not include my pronouns in my Twitter bio made my hackles rise and made me not want to include them even more. I felt I was being bullied into doing something that did not come naturally to me. Intellectually, I know that is not the intent of the people who say these things, but, emotionally, I felt attacked. For better or worse, I am talking about my feelings here–whether they are right or wrong.

Feelings are important. People should be allowed to feel what they feel, process their emotions, and then think things over before they are required to act.

So, I eventually processed my feelings and realized that even if people I saw calling others “transphobic” were truly jerks (I have no idea if they are), I knew that I needed to educate myself. If I was going to stand by my decision to not include my pronouns. I needed to know why it was so important to trans and non-binary people and what it meant to them as people. What it means to their human experience.

I did what I do when I write a story–research. I talked to trans and non-binary friends. I Google’d “should people include their pronouns on their Twitter bio.” Speaking with my friends was very helpful because it was a safe, loving environment where we could speak openly, ask questions, not be judged, and not have everything responded to with anger or frustration. We could educate and enlighten each other.

Also, I found this article on PS Mag by Malcolm Harris:

https://psmag.com/social-justice/good-allies-check-their-pronoun-privilege

It was a good article and made a lot of sense. However, I was still confused as to how I felt. Then, I saw this response to the question on Quora: https://qr.ae/TWhBZj

When Elliot Steel mentioned teachers giving their pronouns making the classroom feel more welcoming and safe, my mind was made up. I was going to include my pronouns in my bio. For the record, they are “he” and “him.” But I will not be offended if you call me something else–as long as you are not trying to be unkind. I reserve the right to correct you, but if you were not being unkind, I will do it with understanding and patience.

That is the whole point, though, isn’t it? Kindness costs nothing. If typing six characters (he/him) into my Twitter bio can make someone feel more seen, safe, and welcome, then why wouldn’t I do that? Even being a cis-gender gay man, assuming others would just know that, is not as important as making everyone feel worthy of respect, dignity, and kindness.

Certainly, I am not going to tell other people how to feel or what to include in their Twitter bios. However, if you are confused as to why this issue is a big deal, please read the articles I have included above. At the very least, they will help you with your interactions with non-binary and trans people in the future. Maybe they will help us all to be more kind.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do

Last week, I participated in an author discussion group called “So You Finished Your WIP…Now What?” for the #WritingCommunityAuthorsPanel on Twitter. I had a really good time and bought a few books from my fellow panelists that I can’t wait to read. The discussion was full of great questions, answers, advice, friendly discourse…it really felt like an amazing amalgam of writers coming together to discuss ideas. I’m so grateful that I got invited to be part of such an amazing event like WCAP.

I mention this because during the group discussion, I said (without really thinking about what I was saying):

A day after “saying” that, I really started to think about what I meant when I said it.

When I thought about it, and discussed it with my best friend, I realized that I was talking about far more than just marketing books. It is true that marketing is an ever-evolving creature when it comes to the life of a book…but I think I was speaking more about what it is like to be a writer and part of the community.

All creatives (people in general, really) have a different path. We all have our individual goals. It is rare when two of us are super similar to each other. Because of this, we will all end up doing things slightly differently from each other. Sometimes the differences will be really big.

If and when you step outside of what is seen as the “norm” for an indie-pub or self-pub writer you might experience pushback – to put it mildly. There are times people may be outwardly aggressive in questioning your actions. You might get some snarkiness from people.

That’s something I wanted to write about.

When it comes to your art, you have one person to worry about – yourself. You know what your goals are, why those are your goals, the reason you create, what your expectations are, and what you are comfortable doing. Maybe you are the type of creative who wants to follow a “traditional” path in finding success–however you define that. That’s okay. Maybe you are the type of person who wants to think outside of the box and try new, even crazy, methods. That’s okay, too.

One thing I want to convey to anyone who decides to take a shot at writing a book is this:

As long as you are not hurting anyone (including yourself), you can do whatever you want to do. And you do not need to make excuses, apologies, or provide explanations to anyone.

Maybe you will find out that your ideas aren’t that great and just don’t work. Maybe they were exciting and fun but they didn’t help you achieve whatever it was you were trying to achieve. That’s okay. Do a U-Turn and try again. You didn’t fail, you just slowed your course. At least you were able to find out if your ideas had any merit. That, in itself, is pretty cool.

Maybe you’ll find out that you’ve discovered a new way of doing things that is just as good or even better than the way everyone else is doing it. That would be amazing, too.

Maybe you do things the way you do them because that is what you are comfortable with. That’s perfectly fine as well. A lot of creatives are introverted or shy and prefer to create but not be the center of the attention. Or maybe they have day jobs and are trying to keep their two lives separate.

There are a million and one reasons why a person chooses to do things the way they do them. Unless someone shares their reasons with others, no one knows what those reasons are but the person they belong to. And that’s okay.

I love when people in a community want to help others – please please please make it known if you want to help people just starting out. Even reach out and offer help to people if you feel they need or want it. Let them know you are there to mentor them if they ever decide they want that type of relationship with you. That’s an amazingly kind thing to do.

But, none of us need to try and make others feel bad for doing things their own way if it is not hurting anyone in any way. Let people create, try things, fail, succeed, and everything in between. One of the greatest parts of being a creative is the freedom to try things that might never have been tried before. It’s part of the fun and excitement of the lifestyle.

There’s nothing more beautiful than someone who zigs when everyone else zags.

It’s one of the most creative things a person can do.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Why I Stopped Reading Reviews

Disclaimer: I would like to apologize in advance if this post seems negative or if I am trying to “call out” reviewers on certain sites. That is not my intention. I merely want to explain why I personally do not search out reviews of my work. Additionally, after this post, I am going to have to write A LOT of inspirational and kind posts to make up for all of this. HA!

This is probably my first post with a really straight forward title, but I didn’t want to try and be clever in talking about an uncomfortable subject for writers and readers alike. Reviews are helpful and hindering – to both authors and readers. They can be a good tool and they can be a breeding ground for negativity, trolling, and hatred. But, they are what they are. So, I’ll explain why I don’t read reviews – specifically on Goodreads and Amazon.

Now, admittedly, if someone mentions a review to me, I’ll check it out. If someone specifically mentions to me that they reviewed my work – or tags me on Twitter – I’ll check it out. But I do not go onto sites looking for reviews of my books. In fact, I often don’t look at reviews even when a friend says: “Hey, you need to see this review of <blank>.” Even if they tell me it’s a glowing review. Good or bad, a review is often not helpful to a writer. They’re really nice and I’m touched by each one that I’ve seen, but they are not helpful in what my current WIP is, though.

The main reason I avoid reviews is this: I have finished writing my book and published it.

Spelling, grammar, and the like can be fixed and a new file uploaded so that future readers do not have a problem with those issues (I openly invite readers on Twitter to DM me with mistakes they find). But knowing a reader hated a character or disliked the ending is moot at that point. Even if it wasn’t, why would a writer change their entire story because a reviewer(s) gave them a bad review? We’re not all George Lucas, changing our art willy-nilly-like when it suits us. A piece of art is a screenshot in time…changing it makes it less art and more of a consumer product.

Also, art is a product, I suppose (look at me having my cake and eating it, too!). A reader pays their money (or checks the book out) and reads the book. The writer gets paid, the reader gets to read, transaction complete. What can be done at that point? Both parties held up their end of the bargain and a review won’t change any of that – nor will “fixing” what someone disliked. A writer does not write a book with a guarantee that you will love it – just like filmmakers with movies or an artist with a painting. The money a reader pays (or library card or rental subscription they hold) is a guarantee they can read the book – no more, no less.

I also see a lot of SJW buzz words floating around the internet. My favorite is “problematic.”

Things are problematic if they are endorsing a bad behavior or way of life. Say, if a writer endorsed homophobia, racism, misogyny or smoking cigarettes. However, “problematic” gets used liberally by the people who have appointed themselves the SJW Police. I see a lot of “Karens” and “Lindas” – usually white women who have appointed themselves the SJW Police – telling other people how a book is supposed to make them feel about a certain issue. I have a real problem with a person who is not part of a marginalized group telling people in that group how they should be offended by something. Then again, I have a problem with a person in a marginalized group trying to “rally the troops” and getting others to protest something before they’ve even checked it out and made up their own minds about the issue.

At best, these types of situations are a disgusting attempt at censorship.

A writer/artist is describing a way of life, giving you a glimpse into a way a character lives and behaves. Just because it makes you uncomfortable does not mean that it is problematic. There is a huge difference between making someone uncomfortable and promoting dangerous ideas. I often describe different ways of life – but I am not promoting them. What a reader takes from the work is solely up to them.

This is all the “video games cause mass shootings” argument wrapped up in different paper.

You might often see people tagging books “DNF (Did Not Finish)” for this reason. How does the reviewer know if the writer was setting things up for resolution in the second half of the book, to start dialogue and make social commentary about these things? You just labeled the author and the book “problematic” without having the full picture. THAT is problematic. Trying to keep others from reading or viewing something due to your own sensitivities is problematic.

Another thing I see in reviews (especially on Goodreads, since they don’t seem to have any form of moderating going on there) is the reviewer saying: “Could use an editor.” Almost always aimed at an indie author.

First things first – what kind of editor? There are developmental editors, line editors, copy editors…did you mean a proofreader? Without context, a writer has no idea what you found to be a problem. Also, the reviewers who make this simple statement can often confuse stylistic choices for poor editing. If the style didn’t work for you, that’s okay – no offense taken. But if you don’t know the difference, you’re misleading the potential readers who might be thinking about reading the book.

Without a specific example of what a reviewer is talking about, that critique is less than worthless.

Reviewers also make broad, sweeping statements. An example would be to point out one error in punctuation and imply that it was a problem throughout the book…when it was really just in one sentence or section. That’s misleading to the people who are reading your review. And again – that might have been a stylistic choice that you just didn’t like. We’re all different in our reading and style preferences…but that doesn’t mean that what was written was necessarily a mistake.

Furthermore, most reviewers have not read the entire catalog of a writer they are reviewing. One personal example I can think of that was pointed out to me by a friend was a review of ‘Jacob Michaels Is Tired’. A reviewer opined that by my making “the only person of color” in the book come off as racist, that the book itself was, in fact, racist (FYI – the character in question was ignorant to the dining customs in India, not racist). Couple of problems with that. The POC they referred to was not the only POC in the book. There are 5 recurring characters that show up in that first book in the series. One is black, one is Latinx, three are white. The black character is a douchebag and the Latinx character is a fun, wise drag queen. So, their statement is misleading. Additionally, the reviewer is obviously unfamiliar with my work and all of the POC who are portrayed much more positively in my other books. A WRITER CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT MAKE EVERY PERSON OF COLOR A SAINT. Just like making every POC a bad person in every book is despicable, making all of the POC saintly is at the far end of the other side of the spectrum. Just like white people, POC are complex and multi-faceted. To imply that they can never be a villain or flawed human being is problematic.

I’ve also seen reviews of other writers where a reviewer says: “This is my fourth book by this author and they just keep getting worse!” Or something similar. Okay…how am I supposed to take you seriously now? You read a book, it was bad. I can see giving the author a second chance. It was worse? So you picked up a third book of theirs? At this point, I’m pretty sure you are just looking for things to be negative about or you have a vendetta. Or maybe you just don’t know what types of books you actually like to read. I. Do. Not. Take. You. Seriously.

I’ve seen personal attacks against authors, misogynistic statements, homophobia, racism, violent threats…the list goes on and on. The land of reviews can be a toxic wasteland. I love seeing a review from someone who enjoyed my book or someone who has valid criticisms presented in a “I’d like to help you out” kind of way. I don’t even mind: “This book just wasn’t for me.” But I am not subjecting myself to hatred and hateful/violent behavior of any kind over something such as a book someone did not like. In fact, sometimes, after reading a review of a book I loved and seeing the statements the reviewer made, I often wonder if they actually read the book, just skimmed it, or simply pulled a review out of thin air.

This is especially true when you see reviewers who give War and Peace 5-stars and Twilight 5-stars as well…but then they give Percy Jackson 2-stars. What is your rating method, reviewer? I know reviews are subjective and personal preferences (especially those on Goodreads and Amazon since they are done by amateur reviewers), but there really is no way for a potential reader to quantify and validate the value of the review and the reviewer.

Lastly, I include my Twitter handle (@ChaseConnor7) and my email address (chaseconnor@chaseconnor.com) at the end of all of my books. If a reader has feedback that they feel is helpful to me, they have 2 different ways to reach out to me and provide that feedback. I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback, critiques, and advice from so many readers. I don’t always agree, but I am always touched that they took time out to share their thoughts with me. And it’s always great to “meet” a new person. Approaching a writer with helpful, thoughtful critiques via email or DM is a lot more useful than anonymously putting their ass on blast on a social media site.

Finally, let me be really real with all of you – I know that this post sounds exceptionally negative and bitter. I mentioned on Twitter that I was reticent to write this post because I knew I would come off as a jerkwad. However, I can honestly say I’ve only one read one review over my work that really, truly bothered me. Mostly because the book was based on personal experience and I could tell that the reviewer had merely skimmed the book because the information they presented about the book was really off. The reviewer also erased parts of my identity by making personal assumptions about me. It was hurtful and ignorant. My intention with this post is not to shame or call out any particular reviewer – or reviewers in general. I simply want to point out that reviews are usually used by potential readers to decide if they want to read a book or not. They are entirely subjective and based on a reviewer’s personal preferences and likes/dislikes. Generally speaking, most review sites do not moderate the reviews on their site well and there are sites where people pay for reviews or friends review friends or the provenance of a review is unclear. There are just too many factors at play for me to get too mentally and emotionally invested in reviews and review sites. As I said on Twitter – reviews are a cost vs. benefit situation for me. The costs of trolling review sites greatly outweigh the benefits.

So…if you review a book (not just mine), leave your good, bad, or in between review…and move on to your next book. The writer can decide if they want to engage in any way…though I recommend that they just keep writing.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Country Song, Lead the Way

I like to write dialogue.

I feel prideful and ashamed when I say this – but it is one aspect of writing a story where I feel that I really shine as an author. Please don’t hold my arrogance against me.

Dialogue, the back-and-forth banter between two characters, can really help a writer’s creativity sparkle. Dialogue obviously conveys information to a reader, but it also helps set the tone for the story and maps out the relationship between two characters for the reader. We all know how we interact with lovers, friends, family, strangers, enemies…so seeing how two characters interact tells us so much about them and their relationship.

And writing dialogue is so much easier than description or exposition. Well, for me. Other writers dread writing dialogue. I guess this post would be different with another writer tapping the keyboard keys, but…

There is a caveat to my above proclamation of love for dialogue, though.

Most people (as was pointed out a long time ago by my long-term developmental editor) communicate so much information in non-verbal ways.

Like the country song goes: You say it best when you say nothing at all.

Consider this scene from one of my LGBTQ+ YA Books, A Surplus of Light:

Against all instinct, all nature or nurture, I found my hand sliding slowly through the water to Ian’s.  He looked down, surprised as I grabbed his hand.  Then he looked over at me.  His eyes looked black in the dark as they met mine.  But as my fingers slid between his, he accepted my hand.  We stared at each other for a very long time, then turned our attention back to the bats, our hands still together.  The bats fed for several minutes.  And it was the most glorious and exhilarating minutes of my life up until that moment.

Do you think this small part of a scene would have been helped at all with dialogue? I did. This scene was ten times longer in the first draft. Not kidding. I felt that this scene was more powerful with the characters describing what it was they were feeling, discussing it…it was embarrassing when I was told to cut 90% of what I’d done and to “get your head out of your ass.”

I get told that a lot by my DE. It’s only fair. I tell him “go fuck yourself” a lot. Sometimes I say it in French. Just to give it a little “Razzle Dazzle.”

In rewriting the scene (and pulling my head out of my ass), I realized that sometimes, actions committed in a vacuum of silence are so powerful. What happens when a person caresses their lover’s cheek and stares into their eyes lovingly, desperately wanting to feel other parts of them?

How does one express how they feel when they stare across a busy airport terminal to see that their spouse, whom they haven’t seen in a year, has come back from war?

What could a character say as they are standing in a church, their hand laid on the closed lid of their mother’s coffin? What would be more moving? A soliloquy about their mother…or a shaky exhale and downcast eyes as they desperately will themselves to not fall apart?

Sometimes…words just don’t do life justice.

It’s a tightrope walk, deciding whether dialogue or description is best. How much dialogue is too much dialogue? How much isn’t enough? When do you stop describing things?

The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is: when it feels right. Honestly, when you get to a point where you feel that you’ve said/described just enough to make things clear to a reader, you should stop. Reading, fundamentally, is about imagination. If a reader did not want to fill in some details on their own, they would watch a movie or television show.

But, if you pay attention, even characters in movies and T.V. shows do not express everything through monologue/dialogue. Sometimes all it takes is a simple look to convey an infinity of emotion.

Try it with your characters. See if something they said can be conveyed better with a simple action. You might be surprised at how much more moving the scene is and how much it emotionally resonates with your readers.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Sunday Q&A Wrap-Up Bonus Post

You may or may not know, but I did an author Q&A for the #WritingCommunityAuthorsPanel on Thursday, August 1st. It was an AMA (Ask Me Anything) style affair that was a little chaotic but so much fun! However, after the fact, I realized there were a few questions I didn’t get to answer. In fact, my lovely friend Dee only asked one question and I missed it! ARGH! So, as a bonus post for today, I thought I’d answer the “straggler” questions I didn’t get to Thursday night. Here we go:

Q: Do you know the ending of the book before the story is developed? (Dee’s question)

A: Sometimes I work from the ending backward – weird, I know. However, I often go into a story without a clue where the characters will end up and decide along the way what seems like the most natural conclusion to their story. As an example – in ‘A Surplus of Light,’ Mike and Ian weren’t supposed to have the ending that they did. It was the exact opposite. But my DE talked me out of that. LOL

Q: Where did the name ‘Ginjuh’ come from? (Teresa did not get her answer to this)

A: My husband is a redhead. My best friend used to scream “GINJUH!!” at him in a British accent to irritate him. When I was writing a story about a redheaded character with a former speech impediment, it just worked well.

Q: Which of your characters is your favorite, and why? (Bahar’s question)

A: I answered that, if forced, I would choose Eli from ‘Gavin’s Big Gay Checklist’ but I forgot to tell her why. I like that he was a devout, religious straight teen who accepted others, was kind, caring, was not biased or prejudiced, and saw God as something where love emanated from and not something meant to give people an excuse to hate. I also loved that he had no problem being a straight teen with a gay best friend and was more than comfortable with that.

Q: Is there anything you’ve come across while researching that’s led you down a rabbit hole? What are some of the most intriguing or out of the ordinary things you’ve researched for your upcoming books? (Dakota’s question)

A: I think my favorite “rabbit hole” moment was when I was researching the “Strawberry Moon” for ‘A Surplus of Light’ and I found out there is a whole society of people who don’t believe in the moon. So…I spent maybe 3 hours watching videos of people explaining why they thought the moon doesn’t exist. I still believe in the moon, so don’t worry. LOL I was just fascinated by someone even having this theory. The most intriguing or out of the ordinary thing I’ve researched for an upcoming book was all of the new drugs available for cancer patients. It could be depressing at times, but it is really amazing all of the new chemo options for people getting treatment – it doesn’t have to be as brutal for the patients as it once was, though it is still not a good time. The most fun thing I have gotten to research was pop culture and music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Anytime I get to listen to good music and call it “research,” I’m very happy.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase