Guest Blogger – December
Writing Outside the Lines by Mia Kerick
I have a tendency to write outside the lines… Let me fill you in.
I’m always pushing the envelope in terms of my writing, and not necessarily in ways that lead me to the traditional standards for innovative success—like book sales and a sense of awe in the writing world. But still, I push the limits in terms of rules—the mechanics, as well as in conventions of romance writing—readers’ stylistic preferences, and in the levels for which I write (by this I mean reader levels). My irreverence regarding rules and norms doesn’t end there; in my writing I have other “habits” that can bubble over the top and stream down the sides. This can be messy.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS of WRITING
Let’s start with my tendency to break rules in terms of the mechanics of writing. I’ll first focus on grammar, with an example. When I wrote Clean, my desire was to reach into my main character’s suffering soul—so deeply that I could express his pain exactly as he felt it. I wanted to show how Trevor’s thoughts developed in his gut, and then crept into his mind and emerged in his thoughts. To accomplish this, I used a stream of consciousness writing device. Wikipedia defines stream of consciousness as “a device that depicts the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind.” Here’s an example of stream of consciousness in Clean, with Trevor’s narrative:
“Why the hell not?” I unscrew the cap and take a long swig “me first” me first like a kid would say… I gotta take care of me first nobody else will. His fingers are twitching it looks like he’s fighting not to pull the bottle outta my hands. Go for it Lanny snatch the bottle… I dare you to go for it cuz you know how bad you want to… come on dude think “me first” for once in your damn life grab the bottle of booze… I dare you…what do ya have to lose? But instead “here ya go, dude” real gentle pass it into his hands and he’s drinking like a baby from a bottle eyes closed and humming before I can even blink.
Unfortunately, this style of writing—without the use of punctuation and proper sentence structure—confused some readers and reviewers. They wondered if I actually knew how to use the instruments of proper mechanics. However, plenty of readers and reviewers got it, and experienced Trevor’s thought process as if it were their own. Yes, I strayed outside the lines, but my goal was achieved.
BUCKING TRADITIONAL “RULES” OF ROMANCE
Sometimes I push back on the traditional romance conventions. I like to write stories of polyamorous love, which is not a complete deal-breaker in terms of pressing against the boundaries of traditional romance, but I write it in my YA novels. To many, this is an unexpected effort, and one that must be impossible to achieve because of the nature of YA lit. In other words—you can’t go there in YA. But I did. More than once. And I’m pretty sure I did what I set out to do: I portrayed a true love relationship between three high school boys in YA Us Three, and again, in my June 5th release, a New Adult/Coming-of-Age, It Could Happen. Most readers expect MMM stories to contain abundant and heated sexual activity, which is in direct conflict with the premise that in YA the graphic details of intimacy should not be the focus. So, my YA MMM novels focus on the emotional experience and growth of the three teenage characters. The sexual aspects of the stories are less significant and support the action. For some readers with more traditional expectations, a high school gay polyamorous relationship pushes the envelope too far. But, in my opinion, I support and expand the notion that LOVE IS LOVE in these novels.
MY ANNOYING USE OF SELF-CREATED DIALECT
Next I’ll talk about one of the areas in which I am most often criticized— where I possibly stretch the limit too far—yet I do it time and again.
True confession #1: I’m into dialects. Big time.
It started with the first book I ever wrote: Beggars and Choosers.
Here is a reader’s comment:
“Good book, but Brett’s ‘hick speak’ nearly drove me out of my tree for quite a bit of the book. To supposedly be from New England, he sounded like some sort of redneck from East Bumblefuck… But it was a good book. : )” – Todd on Goodreads
I did a “creative lingo” thing in Love Spell, too. Sometimes readers like it….
“OMG, yaaasss! This book is totes adorbs, fucker-nelly sick and reviewing it is going to be a pie-stroll. My only dooza-palooza is going to be keeping it to a reasonable length. You’ll probs be like – whoa, yapper-halt, B – but you’re gonna have to deal cause I laaaaove this story! Kk? – Donna on Goodreads
I am sometimes criticized for using dialect that seem to spring out of thin air, but actually comes from the place in my mind where my characters whisk me away, hold me hostage for as long as it takes to tell me things in their unusual voices. But after I absorb the mixed reviews of my use of language and dialect on Goodreads in a certain book, I promise myself I will never again use heavy dialect. Then those persistent character-voices start up in my brain again, and I go back to writing unusual speech patterns. (It’s not a crime.)
Here is an example of “creative vocabulary” in Love Spell.
The stage doesn’t wobble, but my knees sure as shit do. Okay, so I’m a freaking honest diva and I tell it like it is. And I’m what you might call a wreck. Nonetheless, this brazen B takes a deep breath, blows it out in a single gush, and starts to strut. I mean, this boy’s werkin’ it.
Smi-zeee!! Yeah, my smile is painted on, just like my trousers.
While I’m writing a book that includes dialect, my character’s speaking style becomes so ingrained in my head that I start talking like him.
“That there Trump White House ain’t nothin’ but a fuckin’ farce! It ain’t done nothin’ good up ‘til now, and it ain’t gonna do no good no time soon, far’s I can see…get what I’m sayin’?”
“Um… what did you say, Mom?”
CHALLENGE: YA, NA, and MG—OH, MY!!
Sometimes I write books that don’t tie properly into established age groups, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult. This makes it tough when I query literary agents because they like it when you stay inside the age group lines.
My first Middle Grade novel (unpublished at this point, thanks to this challenge) reads too much like an edgy YA, despite the fact that the characters are twelve-years old, which is within the target age for MG. Here is a parental comment with regard to The Princess of Baker Street. Keep in mind that my goal is to open younger children’s eyes to the diverse experience of others, but not to overwhelm them.
“This is a complex book…. I find the language, bullying, broken homes, and adult-child violence (real or threatened) objectionable. That these aspects may affect real student’s lives may be a sad fact, but it’s not something our daughter experiences or something we are ready for her to read about in this form. Although the characters are middle schoolers, I feel the content of this book would be best for a more advanced age group.”
Furthermore, my June 5th release, It Could Happen, is about three 18-year-old high school seniors, best friends who fall in love. It straddles YA and New Adult. In fact, most of my books that fall into the New Adult category (due to the characters’ ages) do not contain the traditional heavy amount of sex that you find in most New Adult romances. I recently completed a book about an eighteen-year-old transgender man who is a fifth-year high school PG (post grad) student at an elite private academy. Is this YA or NA? I would like to go the YA route, as the narrator’s voice is young and the sexual intimacy is nonexistent, but will the agents I have queried see it the same way?
MISCELLANEOUS OUTSIDE-THE-LINES I FIND MYSELF IN
There are other areas in which I push boundaries in writing, to the point that I invite criticism.
*True confession #2: I am obsessed with reader emotions.
My singular goal is to make my readers laugh or cry, but usually cry… LOL. (Maybe it’s because I LOVE to cry when I read a story.) Sometimes I miss the mark in trying to elicit tears, though, and I find myself heading in the direction of angst. My books have been described as “A big angsty, angst-fest!” and readers have cried out (on Goodreads), “Holy angst-ville!”
Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but I can make you cry for real, too.
*Another area in which I admit to being a tad excessive is in my use of… naughty words
True confession #3: I rarely curse aloud in public, but I constantly swear silently to myself… you know, inside my head… with regard to… just about everything.
“What the fuck were you thinking, asswipe, parking so goddammed close to my MF’n Volvo?”
“Who the hell left all this shit on the living room floor? Jesus Christ, my freakin’ kids need to pay some god damned attention to the fucking rules around here, get their lazy asses off the couch and…”
Please don’t tell my kids about this.
*And then there’s my little repetition habit—but in my defense, only repetition of certain words I happen to enjoy. Such as bro and dude.
Reader comments with regard to Intervention:
“And if I ever hear ‘bro’ or ‘dude’ another one time, I won’t be held responsible for my actions…. It all irritated me immensely.” Sheziss on Goodreads
“…I can’t listen to Kai say ‘dude’ one more time. Just FYI, the word ‘dude’ appears in this book 238 times…” Amy on Goodreads
True confession #4: I’m not perfect; I never claimed to be.
A NEW PLACE TO PUSH THE ENVELOPE
The most recent place in which I may possibly be stepping into a deep pile of it, is in poetry. You see, I’m now a poet. Really, I am.
In It Could Happen, each of the three young men use literary different vehicles to narrate. Henry’s viewpoint is told in first person present tense. Yes, this is traditional for YA. Brody’s narration is through a journal device that he spends the entire book trying to give a title. But Danny… well, Danny is “the creative one.” And all of his entries in the book are in free verse poetry.
I know you are dying for a sample, so …I’m gonna give you one that’s in the spirit of the holidays, dude. It is December.
String lights sparkle,
Tree stars glitter.
All that shines was made from litter.
Caps and corks from kitchen trash,
Last year’s candy—prices slashed.
Our tree I dug, our nest secondhand,
But nothing that they see is bland.
Gray eyes see hope,
The dark fear God.
My light ones only see the flaws.
But in the gentle Christmas glow,
All things wicked we forego.
We face ourselves.
We face each other:
A family without a father or mother,
Thrown away, cast-off in the storm.
Still there’s beauty in things well-worn,
And what is dull, that which is frayed,
I’ll paint, I’ll sew,
I told you I was a poet.
With each new endeavor, I seek to move beyond the established lines and reach my readers in a whole new way. Sometimes when your big toe creeps over the line, it gets rolled over by a dump truck. But other times, it works and is great!