Strangers reading the book – well, any of the books – makes me happy. People I know reading the book makes me nervous. In part because of this pervasive rumor that authors write themselves into books. Unfortunately, some of us do. I’ve seen several author interviews where they talk about how the main character is just like them – same occupation, same racial composition. This lends itself to a confluence, or an assumed confluence, between the author and the story. It is a legitimate conclusion to draw in some cases. However, it just isn’t the way it works for me.
This question gets to a question of legitimacy: can we legitimately write from the perspective of people who aren’t us? Or is the only legitimately-tacked character one that is you with a thin veneer of obfuscating details? Can I write a convincing man? Am I allowed to have a character with a different racial composition? Am I presuming too much? How much imagination am I allowed to have here?
Because the whole book is the product of my imagination and a bunch of critical insights and suggestions made by my editor and my story consultant. As mentioned elsewhere, the book does betray of my aspirations: I’d love to be an old lady like Morrigan, or to drop everything and wander across the country like Willow, or carry around half of Ianthe’s bravery. I admire Miles and his clinical logic. I have grudging respect for the compromises Warren makes. There are few characters in the book that don’t have something that I like or would like to have myself.
But I’m not them and they’re not me. Where this becomes most uncomfortable is what happens when we get to the sex part. Because people in the book have sex. And yes, I imagined up the sex, and then I wrote it down. But that doesn’t mean that what happens in the book reflects what I have done, what I want to do, or what I could be talked into doing given a nice enough bottle of wine. Human sexuality is critical for creating well-rounded characters. For people to live and breathe on the page, they’ve got to have all the same dimensions of someone that you’d meet in the real world. That includes sex. And not everyone experiences human sexuality in the same way.
I’m writing The Camellia Reckoning. I’m writing sex scenes for Miles. If you met me, you’d know I’m not Miles at all, but here I am writing about what Miles sexual history might look like. What would it take to get someone that analytic to lose control? I don’t know, I’m not that logical. But I have to figure it out because I wrote him and now he’s got a life of his own. His fantasies are not my fantasies. What it takes to push him over the edge isn’t what it takes to get me there.
When you write, when you’re in the state of flow, your ego kind of fades away. All those boundaries and memories and opinions that make up an identity get lost as imagination and empathy settle in and let you cross the dividing line between yourself and someone with a history that is not your own. Coming back to yourself can be disorienting. Then you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the hell just happened and what went wrong in your life that you can come up with this twisted little scene – sexual or otherwise.
Honestly, I don’t know where this shit comes from. But if you know me in my real life and you’ve read the book… assume nothing. If I ever get around to book signings and interacting with book clubs … still assume nothing. No single character is a self-portrait and there is no scene anywhere in the book that is autobiographical or has a direct correlation to things that I have done, will do, want to do, consider doing, refuse to do, or think about doing. This isn’t 50 Shades of Grey where I have turned an extended sexual fantasy based on some other book entirely into a trilogy. Honestly, there’s not that much sex in the book, even with the reviewer that said it is Hunger Games, X-Men, and 50 Shades rolled into one.
I mean, I should be so lucky. All of those franchises were incredibly successful.
Still, don’t get any big ideas. I’m not Willow, and you aren’t Ven.