Monday, September 19, 2011

KICK START MONDAYS: Who are you? Crushing the Stereotype

An incident that happened to me recently made me think about misconceptions, mostly applied to what I do. How often do we generalize? How much do we jump to conclusions?

A truth about me - I'm a romance writer. Most of the writers I'm interviewing for REV UP WEDNESDAYS are romance writers.

And here's a general perception of those who are not so familiar with the genre - All romance writers are women.


As Julie Beard writes in that tome of tomes, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Your Romance Novel Published":

"You don't have to be a woman to write romances. There has been some gender-bending in the publishing industry ever since Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name George Elliot. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of your favorite romance writers may belong to clubs for men only."

Some names Ms. Beard drops are:

1) Leigh Greenwood, a historical writer, is in reality Harold Lowry.
2) Jean Barrett, a category author, is in reality Bob Rogers.
3) Jennifer Wilde, author of sexy historicals (Love's Tender Fury), was in reality the late Tom E. Huff.
4) Andrea Edwards is the pen name of husband and wife team Ed and Anne Kolaczyk, who together wrote over 50 romances.

So, my point is, things are not always what they seem but misconceptions exist anyway. We have rules for everything, guidelines for how people should be, work, think and look like. Perhaps the authors above were afraid of others' perception of them. In this context, what if in society's eyes you would be the least likely candidate to write in this genre? What if you had some executive job or profession that may make it pointless or "unseemly" to go about writing books with sexy scenes in them? Is this all that constitutes a romance novel - a sexy scene here and there and vapid language all around it?

After all, we're not writers of high-brow literature or tragic tales about the human condition. We offer a source for entertainment. A good source, hopefully, one that evokes emotion in the reader. One that may even pull a reader from a bout of melancholia or a moment of desperation. But it's still entertainment.

Now here's the question - Knowing that you really want to be a romance writer despite years of studying for some other profession and people telling you "there's no money in art"... would this stop you from following your dreams? Or would you use a pseudonym and live a double life, so you don't have to explain yourself?

Also, do you think others would wonder why you'd rather be like Sabrina Jeffries than Sylvia Plath, or like Mary Higgins Clark than Maya Angelou? All these writers are amazing in their own fields, so there shouldn't be an issue either way.

I had started by thinking this way, although it feels so long ago when I did. When I first started writing, my focus was on erotic romance. I was a bit ashamed to admit it to others. I figured, I'm a lawyer, I need to keep my writer persona and my professional persona separate. I created a pseudonym and opened a Facebook account. In the meantime, I started writing, and my friends - those who know my real name - started to send me friend requests via my author page. So, I accepted those friend requests. Bit by bit, more people came into my network...people I've known in college (university, as we call it here), who probably wondered what I was doing prancing around Facebook as "Angela Guillaume". Probably thought I was either haughty, loony...or full of pipe dreams.

Now, I've progressed in my writing style, abandoning erotic romance for more plot driven stories - still sexy, though, still emotional, and still with the happy ending. What can I say? I'm a romantic at heart :-). Add to this, I no longer give a flying pig about who knows my real name, and what they think about what I do, but I had to work hard to get to this way of thinking. I had to convince myself that I'm doing nothing disgraceful; and really, I've found that many of the people I've known in my teens and twenties haven't been mean or nasty about it - rather, they send me messages of encouragement every now and then. Yet others say nothing to me, and perhaps it's best that way.

Not everyone can afford the luxury of not using a pseudonym because the world is what it is. There are some areas where judgements are fast made, based on the most banal and twisted of motivations. Prejudice. Envy. Disbelief. Insecurity. Snobbery. You name it. But the great Mark Twain said it well: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." For some of us, the best way to "keep away" is to use an alias.

NOTE - It is understood that pseudonyms are used not only to "hide" an author's real identity. In many cases they are useful as a branding tool, and some writers use several pseudonyms in order to identify their diversified work to their readership. Think Jayne Ann Krentz, for instance.

That clarified, let's move on to the essence of "being" a writer. Many seem to forget that being a writer is not about the glory. It's not about doing something "cool". Those who are in it know that it's nothing but hard work and study. We must plot, build, sweat, research, write, juggle, and dish out. Once we have the finished product, we will keep polishing it, producing an infinite number of drafts. Then, it's all about deciding how to get it out there - shall we look for an agent, publisher, or simply self-publish? Then comes more work - letting people know we exist! Of course, many of us also have jobs and families to take care of, too.

So, where's the glamour? Granted, there is a lot of satisfaction in putting your work out there. Once Teresa Medeiros gave me an autograph that said, "Dare to dream!" Writers take on this dare every day, and work tirelessly to keep it alive. Ultimately, what really brings about the success is constant effort and dedication. Shame has no place here, only belief in oneself, because...

"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy." (Kahlil Gibran)

Back to the name - Because I know what my purpose is, I'm not ashamed any more, except for the fact that I'm a teensy bit ashamed of having been ashamed (do I make sense here?!?!!!). Lol. So, in my case, I've decided it's not so important that people don't know about the real person behind the name. But this is just my situation. At the end of the day, what matters is that I am who I am. I have come to terms with it, and so should others. The real friends, including those who are in the boat with me, encourage me and take me through the challenging times that a rocky journey to publication brings. The distant acquaintances may be indifferent about it. Some may eventually turn out to be not such good friends, after all. Others may still think me crazy or misguided, but fact is, I have no misconceptions.

The bare bones truth is, I'm a romance writer, and my birth name is Natalie. But, you can call me Angela (which also happens to be my middle name). I like both my names :-D.

The author I'm interviewing next knows the importance of separating one's personal life from the writing life. Tune in this Wednesday for an interview with erotic romance author, Cassandra Gold. She's a prolific writer who's published with Cobblestone Press, Total E-Bound, Phaze, Freya's Bower and Torquere Press (hope I didn't miss one!)

~ Angela ~ No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.
"Mile High to Heaven" and "Mr. & Mrs. Foster" available at Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.