Saturday 21 June 2014

Personal demons and exorcism success

Over the last year or maybe a little longer, I've had some interesting conversations with people, which tied into some reviews I've read. People feel I'm becoming "lighter". Less darkness. More hope. More fun, I guess.

I think it's mostly been raised by people who've read Special Forces and then cast about in my work and can't find anything nearly as dark or violent. (Though I think Dark Edge of Honor at least has a very similar mood.) Special Forces branded me as a "dark" author, and compared to the mainstream of GLBTQ romance, I'm possibly darker than most--mostly because I really don't shy away from hurting and testing my characters if necessary (Dark Soul), or write about war (Unhinge the Universe) or excruciating personal journeys (Capture and Surrender).

If I'm doing a very quick count of "light" reads versus "dark" reads, I think I come out at about 50:50--most of the Market Garden books are light, and my co-writes tend to be lighter than what I'm doing on my own (with the exception of Dark Edge of Honor again).

I'm starting to think that some of the secret behind Gold Digger selling so little is that it's a lighter read. Special Forces was non-stop intense and dark and in many ways horrid, whereas Gold Digger shifts gears in a major way and is an uncomplicated romance between two grown-ups who own their issues and resolve them with their resources available. It's a pretty quiet story--no rape, mass graves or torture. Since it's an early-ish book, it kind of went "against type".

People looking for the very dark fix won't get it there. I've seen people look for the very dark fix in the Memory of Scorpions series, too, and while I consider it gritty and dark-ish, it's nowhere near as dark as Special Forces. I do have a couple dark, soul-searching books in my head, and most of them are focused in one way or another on WWII (because, let's face it, it's not the happiest period of human history), but I'll never write anything as dark as Special Forces again. (He said, knowing that the Muse laughs at intentions.) That is, barring major life disasters.

Because that's the well of darkness, where I get the dark water. When I write dark stories, I go to the dark place. I've written some of my darkest stuff while imprisoned in darkness, with exactly two options: kill myself or write. What people read, years later, is me screaming on paper. I've "joked" at times that the only reason why I survived a really dark period in my life is that my characters were telling me that I can't kill myself before I haven't written their story. (Silvio, above all.)

I won't go into the details--what caused it and how I got through it--it's all identity stuff, and as I type this, there is no negative charge attached to it. I'm writing this dispassionately.

As I get older and more at peace with myself, let alone with my life pretty much in place as I want it (minor tweaks are being made), I've exhausted the dark water. At 39, I'm saner and happier than I've ever been in my life. (Saner on a writer-adjusted scale.) If I really tried, I could dig for it, and might be able to get a trickle, or tune into the depression and suicidal thoughts, but that's no longer where my characters dwell, either. They are less concerned with survival against all odds and more about how to live their lives and how to deal with love. I consider this a successful exorcism of my personal demons.

My stories have shifted with my characters. I'm much more concerned with questions regarding power/personal integrity (Scorpion/Return on Investment) and authenticity (Hostile Ground) and forgiveness and guilt (upcoming work). That's not an excuse, just an observation. Usually, it takes me months to realise what any of my works is actually about.

And that's the thing, I can only write what I feel. I still dig deep into the characters, I still test them and sometimes I break them, but the mind that is processing these things has changed in a major way in the last ten years or so. For me, that's a good thing--I actually look forward to a long happy healthy life as opposed to being a tortured genius and dead at 29. (I missed that train anyway.)

So, yeah. Long way of saying, I'm now a happier human being with much more of an appreciation of other human beings, and while I dig deep and don't flinch at whatever I find inside a character, I've run out of darkness. Maybe it was "darkness for darkness's sake", or maybe it was because I had very little light to see a way out of it--darkness as the absence of, the inability to imagine, light.

I know that some readers crave the dark dark DARK stuff, and that's cool. Gods know I did at certain points in my life. There's nothing wrong with it, and I have friends who do an amazing job testing the darkness, and all kudos to them. For me, I think that period in my life is over, and has been for quite a while, and of course that reflects in what I write and how I write. And that's great. I take evolution over being ossified any day.


  1. So glad you're 'lighter', even though the 'dark' did bring out some spectacular stories :) I think age and understanding has a lot to do with it.

    I went through a 'shadow' patch about 30 years ago: going through acrimonious divorce proceedings whilst trying to bring up (sanely) 3 daughters under the age of 10, and finding a job in order to earn enough money to live off. I did it, and amazingly remained lucid throughout :)

    But, (hopefully) we all become 'better' people through dealing with adversity, and in a way, it's something to remind us how brave we've been ultimately.

    So {{huge hugs}} from me :)

    1. Sounds like quite the test of resilience and strength. :) Thank you! *hugs*

  2. What you write makes a lot of sense. I'm working the "Cancelled Czech Files" over right now - a story of our emigration, and a prequel to the dissolution of our family. Funny in the "ignorant immigrant" way, but dark, too. It takes SO MUCH WORK not to take the dark out. I thought I'd redraft it from scratch, but I'm afraid that, 12 years later, it would be a very different read. I want to leave it as it is.
    Glad you're not a 29 year old dead genius. I enjoy your lighter reads, too. And, I loved Nick in "Gold Digger." He was genuine and his issues weren't trivial. I consider that book a re-read. Not everything has to be dark, deep, and angst-ridden. Hollywood endings do have their endorphin benefits.

    1. Yep - there's a lot of emotional work to be done in just about every family. And it's really tough stuff. Good luck!

  3. I admit I first learned of your work through Special Forces, but I continue reading all of your new works because there's just always so much depth in your characters. Even with the Market Garden series there's more to the characters than just great sex. Or without the sex like Skybound. War looms, but ultimately it was touching and intimate.

    And I also loved Gold Digger! While I was interested to see ties to SF, I fell in love with Nikolai's story and was intrigued to see how his story would play out.

    I always enjoy your darker stories, but I love the lighter ones just as much!

  4. There was quite a profound speech made in Buffy the vampire slayer of all places. The mayor said we are the sum of our genes and experiences. The person we are today is not the person we will be tomorrow (or words to that effect). You have had quite the journey and I applaud you for sticking with it and using writing as a form of release. May your future be filled with light and laughter. Awesome article.

    1. Thank you! And I think Buffy resonated with lots of people because there was a lot of emotional truth in the story/characters. Often, the profound stuff hides in plain sight. :)

  5. I found your writings through Special Forces. I was in a very dark place when I read it, but I'm not there now. So much so that I can't re-read SF because of how dark it is.
    Some writers stop writing after they conquer their darknesses. I'm glad you've found other things to write.