The Perils of People Pleasing
When Crystal’s Many Reviewers offered me this opportunity I was thrilled, honoured, and (if I’m being completely honest) terrified. So I did what I usually do when I’m terrified of something – I roped Kelly Wyre into doing it as well. After all, there’s nothing like a sympathetic shoulder when a deadline starts looming on the horizon. We decided that we’d do our posts together, and by together I mean we figured we’d both take up a similar gauntlet (prompt) and see what kind of quest (trouble) it would lead us on. The first one, this one, seemed like a pretty easy one to—
Kelly Wyre: Easy, Henley? Really? Are you sure you’re familiar with the definition of that word? *hands me a dictionary*
—work with. Let me back up in history a little bit and tell you where/how/why I got started writing in the genre of LGBTQI romance.
Kelly Wyre: It was a cold day in the year of our Lord, 1974. Mrs. Henley, bless her soul, was in the throes of a long and brutal labour—
Not that far back. That’s too far.
While I knew that authoring fiction was definitely what I wanted to do with my life—had to do with my life in fact, lest the characters running amuck in my head get tired of being contained and blow my brains sky high in their attempt to free themselves—I had always assumed that writing would be mainstream fiction. Horror, probably, or at the very least ‘that which leaned heavily on the side of the paranormal.’
Then I stumbled across a site (y!gallery) and fell in love with the fiction that I found there. The majority of this fiction was fanfiction but it wasn’t all fanfiction. It was, however, all stories about men that loved men. Colour me enchanted.
Kelly Wyre: *flipping through the dictionary* E… E-n… E-n-c-…
My point being, I loved the concept of y! I loved what the people were doing there – writing romances that were outside the realm of ‘normal,’ using erotica to develop their characters, and doing it all for free. For the fun, the kudos, and the chance to showcase their work. I wanted to be part of that. To make a long story short (if I’m not already too late for that), I started writing gay romance for no other reasons than the fact that I liked the genre, I wanted to be part of the movement, and because I could write whatever the hell I wanted to. There was no publisher, no editor—
Kelly Wyre: *coughs*
But for the editing that I chose to have done on the stories, of course, and even if I took prompts from the people who followed me I made it very clear that the stories would be mine. In other words, give me a song title and I’ll see what happens as opposed to ‘this’ guy meets ‘this’ guy and ‘this’ thing takes place. I revelled in that freedom. It had been a long time since I sat down to write something that was strictly for fun and it really was fun. I loved every story, every thumbnail that I had to create—
Kelly Wyre: *coughs again*
—or get created on my behalf. I enjoyed the comments (even the ones that were simple *flails*) and I can honestly say that I’d never been part of a genre that was so community-minded. This, I told myself, was where I needed to be.
So when the suggestion came up that I consider pursuing publication in the M/M romance genre I grabbed on to it with both hands and didn’t look back.
(And that, your Honour, was when she hit me with the orange.)
All right, in all honesty it took a bit of supportive cajoling (thank you, Kelly) but when I did get going on the first novel ‘for the purpose of publication’, I went at it with the same perspective I’d had with the free writing: this is for me, this is because I enjoy what I’m doing, and I couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks about it. With those happy thoughts in mind I spun off Înflori, I blasted through Honour, and I had Sonata half-finished by the time the first novel was ready for release. I wrote the stories as they came into my head, I was thrilled that LT3 seemed to love them as much as I did, and for the first time I was truly happy with what I was working on.
Then the reviews started coming in.
Now, once again in the pursuit of honest blogging, I have to say that I’ve made a conscious effort to not let a bad review get me down as those who understand my references of titanium armour and Teflon shoulders are aware. You can’t please everyone, a bad review is an opportunity to develop your style into something better, blah-de-blah-de-blah… but those first few bad reviews got to me. I started wondering what I was doing wrong. I started looking at other author’s work and trying to figure out what they were doing right. I made a list of rules that I read as people’s expectations in M/M fiction: Thine top must be a strong, seemingly-emotionless but somehow still angst-ridden critter; thine bottom must be small, sweet, and beautiful. Their roles as top and bottom shalt not intermingle. Their romance must be riddled with obstacles that appear insurmountable but which are overcome by love, sweet love. Thou shalt not mention body functions. Realism is not a virtue. Create characters that are human in form, but remove all aspects of humanity that are undesirable: jealousy, insensitivity, self-doubt and control issues. Thou shalt not vampire. Thou shalt not prose.
Kelly Wyre: There is a limit to the prose, Henley. He walks across the room. Walks. Walks! He does not need to saunter slowly, each footstep falling soundlessly on the polished hardwood floor, whilst gazing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. And learn to comma.
Kelly Wyre: See? You got it. *smiles and tops up our wine glasses*
Anyway… so I sat down with that list in my head. I called up the file for Sonata. I lifted my fingers to the keyboard and… and… I had nothing. It was all gone. Every word, conversation, and sex scene. As I sat there, hoping desperately to please the masses and flame this newly-kindled hobby into a career, I realised that I was right back to where I’d started before I’d found y!gallery. I wasn’t writing for the joy of it, or in the hopes of opening someone’s eyes to the idea that gay romance is as important as any other romance in the industry, I was writing with the expectation of a profit. Worse, I was allowing myself to believe that there was a formula to successful story writing.
I hated myself for that.
I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a young friend of mine that wanted to pursue a career in the music industry. He’d been telling me about a section of their textbook (yes, there’s a textbook) where the great and powerful Theys were explaining the 1, 2, 3s of a profitable album. The Thou Shalts, if you will, of musical creativity. I’d been incensed by the idea, by the audacity of believing that enjoyment could be, should be, whittled down to consumerism. Music, I’d told him, should be about creative freedom and the joy that the creator gets when they connect with their audience.
That’s when it hit me – I’d forgotten why I started writing in this genre in the first place. I’d forgotten that although I want to succeed what I really want to do is tell a story. My story. The way I want it to be written. If others like it, awesome; if they don’t, c’est la vie. Because here’s the thing… I don’t believe that I think any differently from the next person. Most of us have hopes and dreams. Almost all of us fuck up, do bad things, and regret them immensely. The majority of us deserve second chances and very rarely get them. We like to believe in a little bit of magic, but spend more time looking for it then finding it. If I can bring my questioning mind, my less-than-perfect self into a novel, and turn those questions into answers and grant resolution and redemption through my story-telling than I’ve done something that a whole hell-ton of people will be able to relate to.
With that in mind I finished Sonata. Sonata—with its characters that made bad choices, with its “pushy”, “dysfunctional and pathetic” MC—has become one of my best-selling novels and to this day I love everything I did with those men.
I love everything I do will all my novels, in fact—every character flaw, every mistake in judgement—because I write them for me first and foremost. Although, if you love them too, I will be thrilled beyond measure.
Until next time!
About the Author
Henley was born with a full-blown passion for run-on sentences, a zealous indulgence in all words descriptive, and the endearing tendency to overuse punctuation. Since the early years Henley has been an enthusiastic writer, from the first few I-love-my-dog stories to the current leap into erotica. A self-professed Google genius, Henley lives for the hours spent digging through the Internet for ‘research purposes’ which, more often than not, lead seven thousand miles away from first intentions but bring Henley to new discoveries and ideas that, once seeded, tend to flourish.
Henley has been proudly publishing with Less Than Three Press since 2012, and has been writing like mad ever since—an indentured servant to the belief that romance and true love can mend the most broken soul. Even when presented in prose.
For more information please stop by for a visit at afhenley.com.