My Mother’s Not Allowed To Look Over My Shoulder As I Write

I always read a genre before I try to write it.  When I first discovered urban fantasy, there was a lot more sex in the pages than there’d been in the mysteries I usually read.  Did I have a problem with that?  It depends.  I enjoyed reading it.  I’m still not great at writing it.  I have visions of my old Sunday School teacher picking up one of my  novels and dying of a heart attack.  What if my mother saw it?  Or some of my conservative friends?

One of my friends asked me, “It doesn’t bother you to kill people on paper, so why do you get all repressed when your hero and heroine jump in the sack?  Is murder more acceptable than sex?”  The short answer, for me, is–yes.  I can push a man’s car in the river and let him drown.  I can use a crossbow to stake vampires at a distance.  Killing is easy.  Relationships are hard.  Maybe it’s because I started out reading and writing mysteries.  There are lots of crimes that a main character might solve, but few of them are as dramatic as murder.  Killing raises the stakes.  My mother and friends don’t mind bloodthirsty one bit, but they’re scandalized by satin sheets and hanky panky.

My poor mother, these days, has Alzheimer’s.  She wouldn’t remember tomorrow if I shocked her today.   My sisters aren’t readers, so they’ll never see it.  And my friends?  Well, they pretty much love me as I am, so my writer’s repression is beginning to fade.  But my big hang-up made me wonder.  How far am I willing to go as a writer?  How far will I push the boundaries?  The answer?  Farther than I thought.  Because it’s not me doing any of the bad things I write about.  It’s my characters.  And a character with no flaws doesn’t make for much of a story.  A villain who’s too nice isn’t worth the bother.  But still there are places my computer keys have never gone.   I pull back.

I recently discovered a writer who’s new to me that reminded me of my own writing a few years ago.  The words flowed.  The plot was well structured.  The characters were interesting, but I could feel that the author never let loose.  She carefully crafted each scene.  I can be too careful sometimes.  I’ve come to believe that honesty and rawness bring characters to life much faster than endless scribbles about their likes and dislikes.  I no longer care what their favorite color is.  I care about what they’ll do when disaster strikes, who they’ll team up with, what compromises they’ll make.   If I can create a book full of characters like that, I’m going to have a good story.

If my mother could still read, and if she could remember from one page to the next, she might shake her head at what I write.  But that’s better than closing my book because I didn’t hook her.   I’m not talking about going for shock value.  That’s a cheap trick.  I’m talking about making an effort to make my characters real.  And I want to write with an honesty that I’m beginning to grow into.  Urban fantasy helped me with that.  It offered a freedom that I enjoy  more and more.  It’s hard for some of us to open up when we write, to show our characters, warts and all, but I think that’s one of the differences between a good novel and a great one.




13 thoughts on “My Mother’s Not Allowed To Look Over My Shoulder As I Write

  1. I understand your reticence. Writing erotica or including erotic elements is not as easy as I thought. It takes a lot of guts and an obvious uninhibited approach. I am not good at that, but you, I thought you could do everything :)….in the writing area :).


    1. You’re always so kind to me. Thank you, but I’ve been trying to decide why people don’t connect with a new writer’s work in our group when her writing is SO good, and I realized it’s because she holds back. You can feel it. For me, sometimes it’s hard to critique what’s NOT there, what’s missing, when what’s there is written so well. So this was an eye opener for me. I can’t imagine you ever having that problem, you’re so open and YOU. I get an immediate sense of who you are. I think that’s a real talent.


  2. Judy, its been a long time since I’ve heard you read your stories. What you described as “the author never let loose” pretty much sums up how I felt about your writing. Everything else was perfectly beautiful, the flow of words, the descriptions, the settings — everything. I couldn’t then put it into words myself, “the author never let loose.” So wish I were there to hear the new Judy read. How I miss the Scribes!


  3. You’ve struck on an interesting point – I read what I will delicately call “smut” novels without batting an eye – but there is no way on God’s green earth I could ever write that stuff. And… here’s the kicker – what do I love to write more than anything in the world? Yup. Romance. I went back to the old Harlequins – you know from the 70’s? And found what I miss in these new books – romance, love, characters finding themself drawn to each other and taking the time to fall in love before they leap into the sack. I’m not a prude – I guess I just long for the simpler days. Sometimes, it’s okay to let the reader use a little imagination…


    1. When I wanted to read for fun in college, I was hooked on Betty Neal’s Harlequins. Boy meets girl. Doctor falls for nurse, but she doesn’t know. Hearts flutter. Misunderstandings. All the bumps toward romance. Then I found Nora Roberts and a whole different kind of zing. I like them both–and for me, they’re both really different. Have a heck of a time writing either one, but I’m working on it. I think they each have their merits.


      1. I, too, moved on to Nora Roberts! Especially her tales set in Ireland. Now I’m hooked on Amanda Quick – just started her “Arcane Society” series – very cool – a paranormal set in Victorian England . Goosebumps and thrills. Just finished “Slightly Shady” and although I would never be able to write those (clear the throat) “love” scenes, I do like the way she plays the strong female protagonist against the male.


      2. this is my quandry. I love historical fiction/fantasy – thus Amanda Quick, but could never write those – you know- (this is me, whispering) SEX scenes. Most of what I write seems to be YA, too. So, I guess in answer – I do read the genre (historical fantasy), but write it for YA (although some YA are racier than Quick’s novels).


      3. It sounds to me like you’ve found your niche–what you love to write, and you know the market. So I’d say you’re in good shape. I read lots of things that I’d never want to write. It’s fun to read things outside of your genre. It expands your imagination. In my case, I thought I had to write “those” scenes to fit the market I was aiming for. Then I found lots of urban fantasy writers who skirt the sex scenes, so I can too, if I want to. Sometimes, I “fade out” and sometimes I write them. But I’ll never be a Nora Roberts. I must be too uptight. But if most of what you write is YA, I’d say that’s your true love. So go for it!


      4. It’s a funny thing, though – I never thought of myself as a YA writer until I met with a potential agent last summer. She prodded me in that direction. As to “those scenes” – maybe we should create another genre and call it something like “romance for the uptights”. What do ya think?


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