When I write, I come to it as an actor. Last week my partner asked me what was wrong while I was trying to write a scene where Callum (who you’ll get to meet soon, we hope, in The Art of Three) was being pressed to discuss something he really, truly did not want to discuss — mainly his own bad relationship habits. Wrestling with his reluctance, I was definitely making a rather chagrined face.
In fact, characters infect me in all the time and in so many ways. A decade ago there was a three-month period where I was writing 16-year-old Narcissa Malfoy fanfiction and my goodness, I bought a lot of peach colored lingerie during that time. Narcissa likes pink, what can you do?
At any rate, a man just held a door for me. Another man asked me what floor I needed when I got on an elevator. Neither of those things — common, but oft gendered, courtesies — had happened to me in a long time until recently, but they are happening more and more lately.
Somewhere between A Queen from the North (which we also hope to have news on soon), my bizarre day job trip to Davos (ask me about celebrity wives and/or the Canadian Prime Minister), and The Art of Three, I started wearing makeup for the first time in years. My hair is done — even if it’s growing out awkwardly from my lestastic (that’s lesbian + fantastic) undercut — my eyes are bright, and I’m accessorized with a gauzy scarf liberated from my partner and a new bangle from the latest Rachel Zoe Box of Style.
If you’re wondering who the hell I am right now, you’re not entirely alone, even though nothing about me has really changed. Who I am is a person who lives and works and plays in many worlds. I am people who never were and people who will never be, and on some days, I’m even past versions of myself long since bartered away for my freedom and happiness. But what I am, most importantly, is a deeply, darkly, malleable creature who wants as many lives as they can possibly have.
That’s one of the gifts romance writing has given me — a confrontation with a type of femininity that has often felt difficult for me to engage. But as I keep saying lately, my upbringing and the life I was supposed to have because of it was like Pride & Prejudice, just with different dresses. It was beautiful, but it was not pleasant. However, now that I’ve figured that out, why eschew a little perfume and eyeliner when it, among other things, shows me so much about the women Erin & I write?
Because we do write women — as friends and as heroines. The two books mentioned in this post have actual romantic heroines. A Queen from the North is M/F and The Art of Three is an M/M/F poly romance. Erin and I are also in the early planning stages of an F/F (and maybe F/F/F) romance set in the golden age of Hollywood.
Mostly though, as our genre collectively battles through a period of difficult identity politics conversations in the romance genre that at times drift from “some readers find it important to read books about queer people that they know are written by queer people” to “only certain types of people are allowed to write certain types of stories, ever,” it’s important for me to remember that as I am malleable so are other authors and readers.*
For many of us, in fact, that’s one of the reasons we read and write fiction. To have more lives, more freedom, and more possibility.
(* Note: I’m on board with the first, and not the second, but would additionally like to add that research is important, and readers can and do have the right to criticize, especially if you make a hash of writing about experiences outside of your own)