Monday, June 1, 2009

Someone to watch over me

Is someone looking over your shoulder when you write?

Jen started this topic last week and I replied with a terse answer. I wanted to take it a step further.

As I said I don't have much of an issue with readers, mainly because I don't know them, and they don't really know me. If they object to something that I write, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as if it comes from someone I know.

What I do have a problem with, is family. To understand the reasons, you have to understand my upbringing. I was born and raised in Brookings, South Dakota. It's a small college town in the eastern part of the state, right in the middle of the corn belt, and near the border with Minnesota.

The population of about 15,000 is made up mostly of descendents of hard working Nordic, English, or Germanic people. I'm a half Norwegian, half English mix.

It is a very religious part of the country, not in a Southern Baptist way, but most of the residents that live there have deeply spiritual values.

For instance speakers like Billy Graham came around when I was a kid and drew tens of thousands of people to revival meetings held in the local stadiums. If you happened to go to one of those meetings, you would have found me there bored out of my mind. Yes, I was one of the unwilling participants.

Let's face it, when you are a kid, who wants to be dragged, yes dragged, to a church meeting when you could be causing trouble with your friends. There were a hundred other places I would rather be than listening to someone tell me how bad I was and how I needed to give my soul to the lord.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Christian, but the every week same sermon about how I needed to come down the altar and turn my soul over to Jesus, got a little old. I did that last week, and I'm supposed to do it again?

My family is very religious. Both of my parents used to be very active participants at the church, and most of my brothers and sisters still go every week.

So it was with some trepidation that I submitted my entry to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. You see it was a military thriller in which a few of the characters are soldiers. Not namby pamby soldiers, real soldiers. Soldiers that are there to get the job done and run over what's in their way. Soldiers that work hard and play even harder. Soldiers that don't mess around with nasty situations and aren't afraid to swear a blue streak when things go bad.

Yeah, swear words. That didn't go over well with the family.

You know how gossip seems to travel faster than light in a tight family. Well, that's what happened. I posted the story for the contest and next thing I know it's my mother on the phone.

"Your book has swear words in it...."
"I know mom"

"Why do you have to write such stuff?"
"It's what I'm good at and like to write"

"Why can't you write something that's more Christian?"
"Because it would be terrible and no one would buy it."

"I still don't see why you had to swear. What if my friends read it?"

Uh Oh, here comes the guilt trip.

"Mom, it's not me doing the swearing. It's just the character. I have to make them sound real or the story won't work."

"Well I hope that God will forgive you."
"Thanks mom."

So now you see my quandry. It's a daily struggle for me to put it out of my mind, but I do... Uhh soldier on...

The good news is that my latest isn't about soldiers and doesn't contain a lot of swearing. So maybe there is some hope for me after all.

Do you have anyone watching over your shoulder when you write?


  1. LOL This was a great post! My biggest fear is that people I know will think my bedroom scenes reflect MY bedroom scenes. Like I'd really open the blinds for that! Still, I can see people thinking "how else can she know how that feels unless she does that?" Well, I also write about torturing, raping, and killing people, but I don't do that either. Somehow, I think they assume THAT. But it's more fun to speculate about the sex stuff.

    Maybe that's why the ms I'm currently reworking is tame in regards to all those elements. Humph. Just realized that.

    Lynnette Labelle

  2. My cat sometimes watches me write.

    Cat: "Dude, Jesus just killed a puppy because of the grammar in that last sentence."

    Hack: "Uh, hello? Rough Draft."

    Cat: "That's writer weasel speak for 'I'm a lazy shit today'."

    Hack: "You know, some days I hate you."

    Cat: "Meow?"

  3. Ha! Good one,Doug. Yes, I would imagine it's not uncommon to feel our family and friends watching and dread the reacting. Maybe that's why I like writing YA -- can't go too far into the eyebrow-raising zone. But, in the end, writing what's real is what's best.
    By the way, I tried to post a comment on your personal blog re: Writers remorse. I tried several times but couldn't make it stick. So I'll say quickly here that I know what you mean about the daunting task of rewrite. I face 300-plus pages that I know I'm going to make major changes to, and, so, I put it off and blog! Good luck with it, but I think it's ok to let it sit and look again with fresh eyes.

  4. Great post! Yes, I always feel like something or someone is looking over my shoulder. If I could just brush it aside and write! I have ideals and values though, and there are certain rules I follow that happen to be the same rules of those I feel are looking over my shoulder.

  5. My parents have always been great about separating what I write from what I am. I do go to church but its a church that doesn't ask you to "check your mind at the door." But I've never fully settled this in my mind. I was reading a bio of Flannery O'Connor recently and she drew a lot of comfort from a Catholic writer who told her she could have a moral vision that included immorality if it was in the service of her art.

  6. I write Middle Grade and so my 'over the shoulder' thought is my children. I ask myself if I would be comfortable w/ them and their friends reading my work. Sometimes it changes things slightly, but usually not.

    Funny, post btw. Thanks for the laugh :D

  7. Ha, of course! I have the family thing to. But it's nothing bad for me because I'm writing a Christain book, but still it can get annoying! Great post.

  8. Oh, I do so know what you're talking about. I have this total fear thing going about it/when I do ever get published. I was married for years to a man who taught in a very conservative Christian school. My mom & my former inlaws are all very conservative Christians. There will be all of these people out there praying for my lost soul once they know what I have done.

    Oh, the guilt! But, I go on writing. Swear words and sex and all. Took me years to get brave enough though.

  9. LOL!

    I'm with you here! I don't talk to my family (hardly ever, let alone about writing) but I do often wonder what would happen when I had kids...would I change my story style?

    I'd like to think not, but if that ever happens I'll be sure to dig up this post and let you know. ;)

  10. oh believe me, it's ever present in my mind. i remember thinking at one point, there are just some books i'll have to write after everyone's passed on. of course, then i'd be like 90...

    i feel differently now. maybe it's because i feel old myself :) i'm writing YA right now, so that keeps me a bit on the safe side, but if I branched out i'd be more comfortable with the path my characters chose to take.

    at least i'd like to think so.

    Great post, Doug

  11. Loved this post, Doug. Reminds me of the quandry I had when my mother and mother-in-law were alive.

    My mother: put more sex in your books. People like sex.

    My mother-in-law: you're going to put sex in your book? With the Hinze name on it? Oh, dear.

    They've both passed on, but they still still on my shoulders--and not just when I'm writing.

    I guess the battle will rage til I draw my last breath!



  12. Oh, my. My room is crowded with those who watch over me. (They don't even know it!) :-)

    The strongest word I say aloud is "blast." My characters are different. I try to make my work accessible to a family audience; but I also want to be realistic and keep grown-ups engaged. So this means swear words, seduction, blood n' gore, and some nasty psychological twists and turns.

    At first, all I could think of was the people who have known me all my life: "She wrote THAT??" And the people who know me in social media: "mousewords said WHAT?" Or worse: what if they chuckle and say, "That's not realistic," or, "Wow--you can't write after all, can you?" *panic*

    Then the one I didn't expect--distress from some in the Christian community over the fact that my book is a ghost story. I'm a devout Christian myself; having my faithfulness challenged made me second-guess myself every time I wrote a paranormal passage.

    I have my faith; I have my personal moral code; I have my target audience. Staying true to them helped my writing voice become strong enough to drown out the whispers of those who watch over me. But I still hear them, every day. ;-)


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