We'll Get There Eventually

When it comes to how I feel about a character in a story I wrote, or how I want a reader to feel about a character in the story, I like things to be vague. Sure, it’s obvious in some of my stories who I think is truly a “hero” and who is really a “villain” through and through. However, in real life, I feel that most people and situations have nuance. Hardly anything is black and white, especially where human emotions are involved.

Even a bully can be looked at sympathetically.

A hero can be greatly flawed.

I’ve been told by people that two of my characters seem almost “too perfect.” Those characters are Will from A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL and Ian from A SURPLUS OF LIGHT. Will is “too patient, too understanding and kind.” Ian is the same but also “too smart, too self-contained and restrained.”

Fair enough.

But here is the nuance. Both characters deny themselves so much in order to be these things. They deny themselves a love life, having friends, experiencing life as they normally would, in order to protect those they love or to keep themselves safe from heartbreak. Will won’t allow himself to have a boyfriend or have a full life because he is afraid it will keep him from being the best brother he can be to Noah. Ian won’t be friends with others or have a boyfriend because he has a target on his back as the “bad kid,” and he doesn’t want to take the chance he’ll be rejected for the same reason. They both have so much sorrow in their lives, they aren’t fully living like other people.

A lot of people see this as heroic and selfless. But is it?

Could it be fear? Could the thing they fear and the way they deal with it be the force field they carry with them through life to stave off any additional hurt that may come their way? Are they denying themselves…or are they terrified of opening their hearts?

When I write a story, I try hard to not beat readers over the head with the message I am trying to get across. The most important thing to me is that the reader is made to feel and think…something. To maybe think about a person who is different from them in a way that they hadn’t before. I want the reader to consider why they feel the way they do about certain topics. To realize that people who look or love differently than them are really not all that different. Additionally, I want them to see that everybody, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or who they love, is a complex creature.

It’s confusing to me that readers see Ian and Will as “too perfect” because I see them as two of my most deeply flawed protagonists. But because they are not flawed in a way that affects others, most people don’t consider their flaws. If a bully calls a character a bad name, people easily see the bully’s flaws. But if a character’s flaws affect no one but themselves, it’s a little more difficult to immediately recognize.

For me, Will and Ian represented the things I hate most about myself. Extreme passivity and inaction that cause someone to be labeled a “nice person.” Being passive and not acting simply because you don’t want to ruffle feathers or hurt feelings is not a strength. While it often makes others happy, it limits the human experience of a person. It makes them incomplete as a human being.

Regardless, I don’t worry about it too much. People can feel that Ian and Will are “too perfect”–or anything they want to feel. Every reader has a right to their own feelings about the work. I won’t begrudge anyone that right. What a person feels is almost always valid.

Besides, as I’ve said, I’m not here to bonk people over the head with the message I am trying to get across in my stories. All I can do is write the stories and people take what they want from them. Good or bad, the reader takes away whatever it is they take away.

That is another reason that I don’t engage with reviews or discussions about my books.

Once a person finishes reading a book, they have their initial thoughts and reactions about what they’ve just experienced. And if they’re anything like me, they will continue to think about those thoughts and reactions for a few days or weeks afterward. Maybe their thoughts will change. Maybe they’ll get to the place I was steering them toward. Maybe they won’t. It doesn’t matter.

Perception is everything. There are a million ways to live, experience, and perceive the human experience. Reading is a human experience. Humans are–as far as I know–the only creatures in the universe who do it. So, who am I to tell them that their perception of a character is wrong?

Advice I would give any writer–if they asked–is that once you release your baby out into the world, let it go. You no longer have control over it. You could have written a story that is technically perfect, that has a perfect plot, and that professional reviewers thought is astoundingly good. But your average reader doesn’t look at those things. They read for fun, to learn, to escape from life. That comes with a different lens that your story will be viewed through. One you can’t control. Letting go is a a deep exhale that you didn’t know you needed. If you’re lucky, maybe the reader will get to the place you wanted them to get to by the end of the book.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Do I Believe Me?

One thing that always jumps out at me when I consume any type of narrative art is that there is always something with which I don’t agree. Whether it’s a character who is *problematic*, a viewpoint expressed that I think is ridiculous, or relationships between characters that seem toxic, it pops up almost every single time I read, watch, or listen to a book, movie, T.V. show, or podcast.

Often, it makes me wonder about the person who created the thing that I am consuming. Is this indicative of their innermost thoughts and feelings? Do they hold the beliefs they are conveying through their characters or narrative? Did they feel that what they wrote was acceptable? Does this creative believe anything in their work, or is it just an expression of an idea that was cooked up in their brain?

Let me say this:

Life is about nuance. Most everything is gray, not black and white. That’s because humans are imperfect beings who are able to change and adapt. Once a bad person, a human can become good, and vice versa. Someone who does something bad in the moment is not necessarily a Bad Person. The same can be said for someone who does something good.

It is said that a person who dies committing a good act will be admitted to Heaven. One who dies committing a bad act will be sent straight to Hell. At the end of days, when all is said and done, God will open his book and cast a final determination on all souls. Those who lived a great life but did the bad thing will be brought up to Heaven. The bad person who did a good deed will be cast down to Hell. All people will be judged on the entirety of their life–not just one act. Balance will made.

I don’t know if I believe any of that, but whether it’s true or not proves that a person–a life–must be examined as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong–Nazis are bad. Racism is bad. Rape is bad. There are many things a person might say or do that might automatically and permanently get them labeled as “bad.”

But what about theft? Is theft bad? If a person steals to feed their family…where is the crime? A person goes against morals and ethics so that others do not starve–who is the criminal? The thief, or a society that creates thieves? If a person once stole to keep their family healthy…are they a bad person forever? Were they ever really bad?

If a person insults another in the heat of an argument, are they bad?

If a wife/husband commits adultery during a particularly rough patch in their marriage…are they bad?

These thoughts make me consider my stories and my characters quite often. Much of the time, I am not writing with my voice, but the voice of the character I have created. See, my characters are not me. They are not possessed with my thoughts, feelings, morals, and beliefs. They are their own “people.” Their way of living is not Chase Connor’s way of living.

When I write a story, I’m not endorsing a way of life–I am describing one.

I can’t speak for other authors, but I can speak for myself–I am not advocating that anyone behave, feel, think, or believe a certain way. A story idea and the characters that comprise that story manifest in some magical way in my brain, and I tell the story. My job as the author is simply to tell the story. At best, I tell it in a way that makes the readers consider which, if any, moral can be found in the story.

I write to not just tell a story, but to make readers think.

The best stories do not leave a reader’s consciousness upon closing the book. Hopefully, for days, weeks–or even longer–after the story is read, the reader is left to ponder how they feel, whether they agree, and what they would have done in the same situation. A great story makes a reader think critically, to become more empathetic, and be more open-minded. The best stories inspire readers to create change in their lives. This is not always achieved with characters comprised of puppy dogs and rainbows, either.

So, does everything I write reflect my own beliefs? Absolutely not. I can honestly say that in many scenes found in my stories, Chase Connor would react much differently than his characters. (It’s okay that I am writing about myself in third person since I use a pen name. Promise.)

I’m not as patient, understanding, and kind as some of my characters. Neither am I as cruel and mean-spirited as others. I’ve rarely followed a clear path in life, knowing where one event would lead or what was coming next. My life has been a series of twists and turns, “what the fucks” and “well, I’ll be damneds.” Like almost everyone else, I kind of make things up as I go. Life is like that.

If every situation we encountered in life had solutions that were black and white, it would be much easier. If people could clearly be labeled “good” and “bad,” life would be easier. But there’s more “gray” than anything. For the most part, we all make our choices, hoping they’re right, hoping that what we won’t totally screw everything up and we won’t be labeled as a bad person. Characters in a story should be allowed the privilege as well.

The next time you open a book or turn on the television, remember that stories are open to interpretation. A way of life is being described, not endorsed, and keep your mind open to consider everything that is presented to you. You might just be surprised with how that changes your life.

For all my fellow writers out there–do your absolute best to change the world for the better through your art. But don’t be afraid to tell a story that needs to be told simply because someone somewhere might have a problem with it.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Shake It Off

It’s an occupational hazard for many writers that when they write a book, and they finally are done with it–the first draft, second, third…the edits, the proofreads, the book is released–they find trouble moving onto something else. If they were writing a light-hearted rom-com and then want to write a dark twisted horror tale, they might have difficulty. How do you switch from something light and fun with sunny, personable characters to writing possibly twisted and unlikable characters, without it being a real shock to the system? For writers who often stay within one genre and have one specific type of book they write, maybe not so much of a problem there. However, for a writer like myself (and many, many others), who like to genre hop, it can be debilitating.

Normally, I am not the type of writer who has trouble finishing a project, getting it published, and then immediately jumping into another project with my foot to the pedal. Often, I’ll start on a new project while the previous one is still in edits and proofreading. I like to work, what can I say? However, I’d had many writer friends tell me that they had trouble clearing characters and storylines out of their heads before they could move on to something else.

They were exhausted by living with those people and that story in their head for so long. Those things had to be moved out before they could move new things in to work on. I always thought that was sort of odd.

Until recently, that is. Within the last six months, I finished a project and then started working on the final edits of another project. The second project was actually fully written, had gone through numerous drafts–it just needed editing, proofreading, and then final edits. I didn’t even actually have to write much.

And I could not make that work for me no matter what I did.

I felt, quite literally, paralyzed. The characters I thought I was finished with, the stories I had told, would just not get out of my head. And I needed to get into the mindset of the other characters and story quickly. I found it nearly impossible to do. In fact, I was pretty sure that it was impossible. The deadline was coming for both projects, too.

I was horrified.

Genre hopping is something I do. I’m used to moving from one type of story to another. Sometimes I write in a very straight forward manner (JACOB MICHAELS IS… series) and other times I like more lyrical or poetic language (BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE). It depends upon the story, really. So, I feel that I can mold my writing to whatever situation is called for in each story.

Not this time.

Paralyzed from having your head (possibly permanently) inhabited by a previous story and cast of characters might be the scariest thing for a writer. For me, it made me wonder if I had written my final story. Had I written something that I felt embodied who I was as a writer so completely that my brain was telling me: “You’re done, Chase.”? It also made me wonder if I had spent so much time with one type of writing and one way of telling a story that I could no longer function in other genres or methods.

So…I did something that I have been notorious for never doing. I read my previous work. For pleasure.

I opened the book and read it like a reader would. I wasn’t proofreading or editing as I went…I just read the story as it was meant to be read. I allowed myself to experience something I had written as it was meant to be experienced. The story unfurled as I read, I was introduced to these characters, they told me their story. Straight through, in one sitting, I read the book. It was like sitting down to watch a movie–done in one go, no stopping or starting.

When I closed the book…well, I don’t have words for how I felt as now the writer and the reader.

Then I went and sat on the couch and reached for my laptop. I didn’t get that far. Instead, I cried. And I allowed myself to cry.

When a writer writes a story, becomes friends with these voices in our heads that we call “characters,” and then spends months (or even years) with them and their incredible stories, it’s like making new friends. Every waking moment of your life as a writer is devoted to them. They feel like family in a way.

And then they’re gone. You may never write about them again. Never spend any time with them and their unique voices and comforting stories.

Like the loss of anyone who meant something to a person, a writer sometimes needs the time to mourn the loss of these people and their stories. So…I grieved.

Maybe things are different for me. Most of my stories are not horror or fantasy or science fiction. They are–with the exception of JACOB MICHAELS IS… series–realistic. I often borrow things from my life or things other people have told me. So, maybe the loss of my “friends” and their stories feels a lot more personal. I put so much emotion and feel so much responsibility to get things right (even if I don’t), that when all is said and done, I feel as though I’ve ridden a rollercoaster up, up, up and then ridden it all the way down. There’s a build and a sudden release. And I feel empty.

New characters and their stories fill that emptiness or void that the loss of the previous ones created.

Sometimes–or, at least, in this one instance–there wasn’t anything to fill that emptiness. That emptiness demanded that I feel and experience it.

So…I sat on the couch and mourned the loss of people who were never there.

When I was done crying, however, I had shaken off those feelings. I felt like I had given those previous friends and their story a proper send off. The next day, when I reached for my laptop, I didn’t feel paralyzed. I felt ready to revisit old friends.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase