Come At Me, Bro…Kindly

Critique is not an easy thing to deal with for a lot of people. Criticism–whether constructive or otherwise–can really be a punch to the gut for anyone. No matter which industry in which a person is employed, critique is going to be part of the deal.

Every job I’ve ever had, from washing dishes and other people’s messes to the corporate world, has involved performance reviews. Of course, when you work in a “traditional” job with more structure, performance reviews are quite different than when you are, essentially, a self-employed writer.

In a “traditional” job, the performance review involves a meeting, sitting down with a supervisor or manager (or executive) and talking about your strengths and weaknesses. You are graded, reprimanded for the things you might be doing wrong, rewarded for the things you are doing right, or told to “just keep doing your job so well.”

When you’re a writer, your critiques and performance reviews come in a much different format(s).

Reviewers, beta-readers, critique partners, editors (of all sorts), friends, family, and trolls are the barometer for how well you performed your job. It comes at you from all directions in multiple formats–DMs, emails, one-on-one, blog posts, social media…in can be frightening. It can chip away at a creative’s confidence. Also…it’s just not fun to hear that maybe you weren’t perfect, right?

Regardless, critique is an integral component of learning to be better at whatever job you are performing. Everybody should welcome constructive criticism and learn how to evaluate it so that they can learn to be better.

But that’s not what this post is about.

While critiques and constructive criticism are integral to bettering ourselves, there is a dark underbelly to the Writing Community (and any creative community) where reviews, critiques, criticism, and complaints stop being helpful and are simply harmful and sadistic.

Often people equate honesty and rudeness. “Keeping it real” is a phrase often used to excuse socially inappropriate and cruel discourse. “Only the real ones” is another phrase used to try and deflect focus from the fact that a person is just outright obnoxious and cruel. People like to attack other people simply because they didn’t like something.

When did giving a personal opinion about a piece of art become so…personal?

I’ve seen my share of reviews in the past where a reviewer writes 5000+ words (a dissertation, really) about why they hated a book, movie, T.V. show, or whatever. The person writing the review put so much effort into ripping the creative to shreds that one has to wonder what is really going on. I’m not talking about a reviewer discussing cultural appropriation, racism, homophobia, or other problematic elements. They simply hated the story, the characters, the plot, the book cover, they found spelling, grammar, formatting, or punctuation errors. Nothing that should have filled their belly with such hate that they took hours out of their life to discuss these things at such length.

But those reviews exist. A lot of them do.

You’ll see people on Twitter randomly retweeting authors tweets (authors they don’t follow and haven’t tagged them) with snarky captions or outright vitriol. Sometimes they’ll say something that is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise hateful about the author. Sometimes what they say has a ring of truth to it, but it’s just rude for the sake of being rude.

This is where I get exhausted with the idea of reviews, criticism, and critique. If you have to be rude about something simply because you didn’t like it, it wasn’t up to your standards, or you just didn’t enjoy it as much as you felt you should have…it’s time to pause, take a breath, and consider what’s really going on in your own head.

Far too recently, it has occurred to me that there is a growing collective interest in not just giving our opinions, but making it an emotionally/mentally and time-consuming mission to not only make sure that everyone knows our opinion, but they are beaten over the head with it until they begrudgingly agree just so the discussion can end. I HATED THIS PIECE OF WORK SO IT IS NOW MY LIFE’S MISSION TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE FEELS THE SAME WAY AND IF THEY DON’T THEY ARE WRONG AND I WILL MAKE SURE THEY ARE PUT ON BLAST FOR IT!

I mean…aren’t we all exhausted? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just don’t have the emotional or mental energy to take up such a cause. I don’t enjoy a lot of things. But it’s not worth my time and effort to make sure everyone knows it.

Additionally, do these take-downs really serve any purpose other than giving the take-down artist a moment of perverse and evil joy? They’re addicted to it. Once they completely obliterate one target, they’re on to the next. They’re chasing the dragon. And the dragon will never be caught. Take-down artists–rude people with opinions and too much time on their hands–serve no purpose. They rarely get upset about things that are worth getting upset about (at least, not to that degree) but, instead, simply zero in on a creative for an arbitrary reason, and go into attack mode.

To what end?

To ruin someone’s day? Their career? To humiliate them so that someone else can feel good for having humiliated them?

It’s rude. It’s cruel. And it does nothing to make the world (or the writing community) a better place. There will always be another writer you hate to replace the one you just destroyed, and there will always be an army of trolls waiting to step up to the front of the line. It’s cyclic, annoying, exhausting, and meaningless.

Rudeness, for the sake of being rude, helps no one. It underlines a deeply-rooted problem with the person being rude for the sake of being rude. Because it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings and so they don’t have to think about all the ways in which they are not perfect either. You didn’t like a book? You hated it? Leave a review that says: “I didn’t like this book.” or: “I hated this book.” Give it 1-star, and move on with your day. If you want to be specific and say “The characters made me hate this book.” then fine. Do that. But move on. Don’t hop on Twitter or your blog or your TikTok or your…you get the idea…and start a take-down campaign.

Might I suggest a hobby? Or a life? Or classes on how to interact with others? Maybe therapy to try and find the root cause of why you want to humiliate the destroy other people?

My feeling about critiques and criticisms of all sorts is this: Come at me bro…kindly. If you want to tell me what I could do to improve, that’s great! If you want to tell me you didn’t like my book and why, that’s great! If you want to point out a mistake I made, that’s great! But if you’re doing it just to be rude (or present it rudely) or to humiliate me, I’m going to be rude back.

Like most creatives, I work hard to create my art. It’s rarely, if ever, perfect (in fact, I guarantee you that it never is). I know that. You know that. But that doesn’t mean that it lacks merit altogether. And it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a living, breathing human being with feelings who deserves dignity and respect in my interactions with others. I don’t expect everyone to be super nice to me or be effusive about how much they love my work–that’s unrealistic. I know my work will certainly not be for everyone--I write LGBTQ+ YA a lot, for goodness sakes!–but I don’t expect to be harassed and treated like shit, either.

So…if anything, I would like to point out, once again, that honesty and rudeness are not synonymous. There’s a way to tell someone that you found multiple spelling and grammar errors in their book without feeling like you have to make them feel like they are the dumbest person you’ve ever encountered. People who want to make others feel like they are worthless are not good people–no matter how they justify their behavior(s) in their head. While someone may be technically right about an issue with a book, doing it in a way intended to humiliate another is not just rude, it’s cruel. And, what have we learned…?

Rudeness is not synonymous with honesty. Just because you were honest doesn’t mean that you’ve acted appropriately in your interactions with others.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

I Don’t Know You

Writing characters can be the hardest aspect of storytelling for writers. Developing a character from the ground up is a nightmare at times, even if a writer is passionate about the person they are pulling from the ether. Even if they feel they know the character inside and out. Or even when the character is incredibly similar to the author.

So, how much harder is it to create a character when the character is antithetical to an author’s beliefs, ideals, and morals?

I’ve encountered this situation a lot over the last 13 years, writing protagonists and antagonists and supporting characters. Sometimes, if a character shares some of my own traits or thought processes, getting inside of their head is easy. Other times, even if the character feels familiar, I find it difficult to figure them out. However, since there is a shared link between the character and me, it eventually works out. However, when I have nothing in common with the character, and I have no idea what would motivate them, I find myself hitting a brick wall time and time again.

It can make writing a single paragraph the most arduous task in the world.

So…how does a writer solve this problem?

While I don’t have a solution for every writer–we’re all so different–I can tell you what works for me.

In beginning to build a character and flesh them out, my first step is always: how do I relate to this character? If I can understand their backstory, their history, their motivation, and their belief structure, it’s pretty easy to hit the ground running. If a character is similar to me in some way(s), I know how they would act and react in most situations. However, not every character I write is like me. For the sake of making my point easily, let’s talk about Zach/GINJUH from my book “GINJUH.”

He’s seventeen-ish, red-haired, has a speech impediment, has freckles, is kind of shy (a lot due to his speech impediment), athletic, and loves working on his grandpa’s farm. Okay, so he’s gay and I’m gay. But other than that, we don’t have a ton of things in common.

So, I started with, well, how can I relate to the things we don’t have in common? Is there some commonality that will help me understand him?

I have an accent. Okay. That’s not the same as a speech impediment, but I know how it feels to have people make fun of the way I talk–or even just point it out and how awkward that can make me feel.

I’m not very athletic–I trip over my own feet. But GINJUH likes to run, so I can relate to that. I understand wanting to stretch my muscles and feel the endorphins and adrenaline rush.

I understand wanting to find someone to love at a young age.

I understand loving my grandparents and wanting to spend time with them.

This made me realize that I can find some common ground with this guy.

I know how’d I’d react to getting to spend time with my grandpa, finding love, having my way of speaking be the center of attention, and know the thrill of a good run. I can understand what motivates him!

What about Oma from JACOB MICHAELS IS…? I’ve never been and will never be a 70-something white woman who is also a witch and lives in an old house in a fictional town in Ohio. However, Oma is mouthy and just says what she thinks–without a care in the world about whose feelings she hurts or what people think of it.

Haven’t we all wanted to just say whatever was on our mind without giving a shit? I could relate to that. Besides, Oma is very protective of the people she loves. I get that, too!

Often, as writers, we’ll find ourselves thinking: I don’t know you. To our characters, I mean. Our creations sometimes feel like strangers and we don’t know how to introduce ourselves to them, to make them seem like an old friend instead of some foreign entity that makes no sense.

The best way (at least for me) to solve this problem is to find common ground. Figure out something about them that helps you understand their motivation–what makes them tick. And even if those things with which we identify don’t resonate with us personally, we can figure out someone in our life they are similar to. We can use that correlation to start understanding how our characters would behave. How they act and react. What gets them out of bed in the morning and through the day.

Even if we find ourselves writing the evilest character imaginable (and, let’s assume, the writer is the nicest person in the world), we can find something about them that we understand. You say this character wants to destroy the world–haven’t we all had a bad day where we wanted to burn it all to the ground? Haven’t we all felt slighted to the point that we don’t really care what happens to everyone and everything–even if only for a few seconds?

Now, it’s important to point out that some differences between the writer and character(s) are just too great to build a bridge and find commonality. A straight white man is never going to fully understand what it’s like to be a Black lesbian, for example. Being Black is a unique experience that one has to live to fully understand. It becomes part of a person’s soul. However, a white writer can find other things that they have in common with a Black character(s) because we’re all human. They just shouldn’t attempt to fully try to explain the Black experience because they’ll miss a ton of nuance (and probably end up being offensive)–and those aren’t their stories to tell, anyway.

Of course, white writers shouldn’t skate over the fact that it’s incredibly more difficult to be Black than it is white and that shouldn’t be swept under the rug, but trying to write as though they understand it the same way that a Black person would is just not a great idea.

This is a great place to advocate for the use of sensitivity readers when needed.

If a writer approaches their characters as simply human from the beginning, they can write anything. However, we have to be aware of where hard lines are that we should not cross. Write characters wildly different from yourself–and do it often because representation matters–but don’t steal the voice of a group of people of which you are not a part.

However, if it’s simply a matter of personality, beliefs, morals, disposition, or something similar, understanding your characters is easy if a writer figures out something about themselves that they can relate to their characters.

Spend a little time introducing yourself to your character.

You might find you have more in common than you thought.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase

Jacob Michaels Is… Book 7

SPOILERS FOR THE JACOB MICHAELS IS… BOOKS 1-6 AND THE SHORT STORY, CARNAVAL, WILL BE DISCUSSED IN THIS POST! IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THEM AND INTEND TO, TURN BACK NOW. THIS WILL BE THE ONLY WARNING!

Oooooookay.

Though I’ve kept fairly quiet about the A Point Worth LGBTQ+ Paranormal Romance series (and Jacob Michaels Is… in general), I know a lot of the dedicated JMI readers are thirsty for news. A few people have threatened my life for details about what’s next for Jacob/Rob, Oma, and especially Lucas. In a loving way, of course.

Well, I’ve got some details for you all.

But first, let me address a question I get often from readers of the JMI series. Well, there’s really a series of questions, but they all basically boil down to this:

Was it all real or fake?

Hopefully, it was clear at the end of JACOB MICHAELS IS DEAD (with assistance from the short story, CARNAVAL), everything that happened in books 1-6 and CARNAVAL was a T.V. show pitch from Jacob/Rob to producers/executives. However, with the final scene(s), it should also have been clear to the reader that maybe some of the pitch was based on Jacob’s/Rob’s real life.

Esther Jean Wagner/Oma is Jacob’s grandmother. Lucas is really Jacob’s boyfriend from high school. Ernst exists. Magic is real.

The rest…well, you’ll have to wait and see. More will be revealed as true or false as the series progresses.

So, what should you all expect in Book 7 (MURDER AT THE RED ROOSTER TAVERN) and beyond? Well, consider this–Jacob’s pitch has been picked up by the T.V. executives/producers he met with at the end of JACOB MICHAELS IS DEAD. Now, they’re going to film the show, on location, back in Point Worth, Ohio.

The same cast, playing different roles, in a new story with a different plot.

Have you ever seen American Horror Story? <insert sly smile here>

Think of JACOB MICHAELS IS… as the first season of a T.V. show…but in book form. Season 1 of A Point Worth LGBTQ+ Paranormal Romance was Jacob Michaels Is... Season 2 is Murders in Point Worth. This second “season” will contain 4 books in total:

MURDER AT THE RED ROOSTER TAVERN
MURDER AT THE DIME A DOZEN
MURDER AT THE MAUMEE MOORING BASIN
MURDER AT THE LAST MAN STANDING

All of the characters you love – Jacob/Rob, Oma, Lucas, Carlita, Ernst – will return. Characters you hate (or love to hate) – Andrew, Jason – will be back as well. New characters will be introduced. Jacob/Rob is still a movie star, down on his luck, returning home to visit his grandmother. But Oma is no longer a homebody, gardening and making fattening meals three meals a day. Lucas isn’t working as a substitute English teacher and hardware salesman. Carlita isn’t a performer in a drag show…and maybe Ernst and the other Kobolds don’t hide in the shadows as much as they did in the first six books. Maybe magic and the paranormal aren’t so hidden away as before?

Maybe Point Worth itself is…different?

Though things are changing, everything you loved will still be present. Love, romance, danger, magic, paranormal creatures, sass, horror, and all the gay, will be slathered all over that shit.

Book 7, MURDER AT THE RED ROOSTER TAVERN, opens with Jacob arriving at the aforementioned tavern. Oma is working the bar and dealing with a drunken Mr. Barkley as the townspeople do what people do in a bar–act rowdy. Before the first chapter ends, all Hell breaks loose and some creature is tearing the place up.

Just to whet your appetite for the next four books a little more, here are all 4 covers in one place:

You can see that Jacob/Rob, Andrew, and Jason show up on the cover for the first 3 books. A new character is on the fourth. Wonder who he is…?

Lastly, there will be some free book swag available with the release of MURDER AT THE RED ROOSTER TAVERN. The Lion Fish Press will have “The Red Rooster Tavern” stickers and Chase Connor Books bookmarks to send out. If you haven’t signed up for the Chase Connor Books Newsletter…you might want to do that soon. It’ll be the first place I tell JMI readers how to get the free swag.

Oh. When does Book 7 come out?

May 7th, 2021.

In the meantime, maybe read (or re-read JACOB MICHAELS IS… THE OMNIBUS EDITION).

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase

Success

Every person, every family, every culture, every country, race, ethnicity, or religion has some definition of the concept of success. Even specific industries measure success with some (or many) type(s) of metrics. From a young age we’ve all had someone or some institution in our lives hammering what success is supposed to look like into our heads. Is it money? Other material possessions? Some milestone such as starting a family or retiring early? Is it autonomy from the machinations of society?

What is success? How do we measure it?

The concept of success is entrenched in the world of writing and publishing. Just like any other industry. Benchmarks and milestones and achievements of what that looks like are presented to us as a way of quantifying and validating whether or not what we’ve managed to accomplish is actual success.

Most of it’s bullshit, to be quite honest with you.

Success is a concept, not a destination. Because what happens when you hit the milestone that means “success?” And it can vary greatly on even a microscopic level–from person to person.

Unfortunately, as with most things that are abstract–such as success–I can’t give you an answer as to how you should decide if you’re successful as a writer. However, I can share with you what success means to me as an individual, and leave you to help it guide you towards your own definition.

For me, success is measured in both quantifiable measurements and by using intangible measurements. It’s a multi-level system of deciding if I’m doing well as a writer that I usually check in on each day.

The quantifiable stuff is sales, rankings, feedback from readers, and how much I am able to accomplish that I can hold in my hands (i.e. actual finished products/books).

The intangible is how I feel. Am I fulfilled? Am I happy? How does writing as a career work with my life? Am I doing this for the right reasons still?

The intangible is usually a lot harder to figure out as compared to the quantifiable, measurable stuff.

But let’s start with the things that we can quantify and validate. How do I measure success in tangible terms?

If I’m selling books everyday, I feel successful. If all of my books are rated at least an average of 3-stars, I feel successful. If readers tell me that they enjoyed what they read, I feel successful. If I am able to write at least 5k words a day, I feel successful. If I can publish a book and feel proud of what I’ve published, I feel successful. These are all things–except maybe the pride–that are measurable and can easily be determined as having been met or not.

But let’s talk about each of these. Some authors sell a lot of books one day, very little or none the next. Some sell consistently each day. Some sell a bit here and a bit there. It depends on the author. What feels good to me may not feel good to another author. Consistency and longevity is what I’m looking for in my career, so selling some books each day works for me. Some days the sales are high, some days they’re “meh.”

Only 3-stars makes me feel successful? That sounds crazy, right? Well, I love when readers say one of my books was a 5-star rating for them. And 1-star ratings can sometimes make me feel horrible (which is one of the reasons why I don’t look at reviews unless I’m tagged in them or someone tells me about their review). Also, what someone thinks about my book is subjective, so reviews don’t really help me much. However, if a book has an overall rating of at least 3-stars, I know that my book was average or above for the majority of my readers. I did my job. It’s impossible to have a book be 5-star ratings across the board–unless you have very few reviews–so I don’t even bother shooting for that goal. It’s unrealistic and will only end in disappointment.

Each day, I write for 6-12 hours. At least, that’s what I shoot for each day. In that time, I try to write at least 5k words. They don’t all have to be the best words I’m capable of, I just have to hit that goal. I can measure that. Some days, it’s less. Some days, I write until I feel like I wrote an entire novel (though I’ve NEVER done that in a single day). This goal and milestone tells me if I worked hard during my day. It makes me feel good and accomplished to hit 5k words.

Lastly, if when a book is published, I feel I can stand behind my work, that is a measure of success. The rest is kind of out of my hands–sales and ratings, I mean–so pride in my work has to be a goal I use to measure how I feel about it. So far, I haven’t felt ashamed of any of my work (except the early erotica short stories–and not ALL of them were horrible).

So…that’s the measurable stuff. Let’s talk about the intangible.

Do I feel happy with my career? Does writing fulfill me each day? Does this work for me? My life? Am I still writing for the right reasons?

Well, to answer the last question first–each day I wake up with a story in my head. A desire to pick up a pen, open my phone’s notes app, or hop on my laptop or computer. I can’t not write. Even if no one gave a shit that I was writing, I’d have to write. So, I feel that I’m writing for the right reasons.

I am a writer.

Each day I ask myself if I am still happy publishing. If I’m happy sharing my work, the scrutiny that comes with it, and the hard work that it entails. The answer is always “yes.”

Does writing fulfill me as a career? Do I feel that I’m missing something in life by dedicating myself to it? Always “yes” and “no.”

Does writing and being a writer work with my personal life? Is it causing problems or getting in the way of a full life, good relationships, or reaching my potential as a human? It does work with my life and, other than losing sleep to work into the wee hours of the night, it rarely causes a problem.

So…I feel that I am successful. Have I been on the New York Times Bestsellers List? No. Have I debuted at #1 in my genre on Amazon? Yes. Have I had books in the Top 10 in my category? Yes. Do people enjoy my books? More often than not. Do I feel that this is a career that is sustainable and will be something I can do the rest of my life? Yes.

I feel successful. I feel happy. Why would I get mad at myself if the way I measure success is different than the way another writer measures their success?

Sure, it’d be great to see one of my books as number one on the NYTBL – especially one of the LGBTQ+ YA books (since that’s rare) – but I don’t need that to feel good about my success.

Admittedly, I once felt successful just because I finished a book – JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE – and it was simply published. Just having a book available for people to buy felt like I was super successful. The definition for success may change over time for each writer. But let it be on your terms – not some vague concept society has created and demanded you abide.

Make your success about you. Not them.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase