I’m so Hot!

I wasn’t sure if I should broadcast this over the internet. You know what they say…it’s out there until the end of time. And it’s not what you think either…fooled ya.

I’m at that age where I’ve begun having power surges—also known as hot flashes. They are the most mind-boggling, craziest, hysterically funny things nature ever invented. (Well, maybe not all that, but they sure are interesting.)

About a dozen times a day, for no reason at all, my body ignites with this sudden rush of intense heat. WHOOSH! Thermal imaging would show a living brand. I’m a fireball, flushed and sweating from head to toe, peeling off clothes like they’re in flames, flinging off blankets, opening windows to let the cold wind blow in. If we had snow, I’d be outside rolling in it. It’s that amazing.

Of course, I’d heard of hot flashes, but no one ever told me what to expect. And clearly, I never asked. What’s interesting is that my skin doesn’t feel hot. It’s not like a fever; I feel normal other than the inferno blasting through me. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or wearing; the surges are random, triggered by the sheer whimsy of Mother Nature. They last for five or ten minutes and vanish. All done…go back to whatever it was you were doing…put your clothes back on.

My husband thinks I’ve gone insane.

I can understand why working women find this phenomena so annoying. You can’t exactly strip down to your skivvies in the boardroom, and breaking out into a rampant sweat is considered unbecoming. As a full-time writer, I choose to engage with these new experiences; I’m fine that three lunch pals are fanning me with their menus while I laugh hysterically and dab my forehead with the table linens.

So, why share this weirdness, you might ask. Am I planning to use this bizarre experience in my next story? Probably not. I consider it a public service announcement for anyone as oblivious as yours truly. One of the entertaining benefits of being clueless is the opportunity to have amazing insights about things that other people already know.

Well, there you have it – a little lighthearted break from my heavier posts and an explanation as to why I’m so hot!

Writing Violence

As writers, we often create characters with whom we have little in common. They believe, do, and say things that we would never contemplate, EVER.

Yet, like empaths, we submerge our hearts, bodies, and psyches in their lives. As they journey through the pages of our books, we experience their loves and fears, friendships and loathing, bravery and betrayals, times of great joy and desperate despair. This intimacy is one reason why writing violent scenes can be difficult.

A character’s view of and tolerance for violence (and sex, by the way) may be considerably different from our own. Violent choices, attitudes, and behaviors can easily push us beyond the borders of our comfort zones. How graphic we choose to be will depend partly on our intended audience, but also on our personal thresholds. It’s difficult to write a scene where a character contentedly partakes in a level of violence that makes us recoil, and not have our distress slip through.

In my previous career as a mental health counselor, I frequently worked with young women who were victims of abuse as children and teens. Violence took myriad forms and lefts indelible wounds on innocent souls. What I found hardest to bear was how difficult it was for them to break free of destructive patterns, to believe in their intrinsic worthiness and right to be tenderly loved. Happy endings and sweet love stories were fantasies that played out in the scripted world of television and movies. They weren’t real.

I wrote my first fantasy book, Myths of the Mirror, for them. It’s a non-violent story about acceptance, forgiveness, and the freedom that results from owning one’s life and braving new choices. It’s a story close to my heart, one I needed to tell.

Since then?

My books have become increasingly violent. My most recent novel, The Bone Wall, is pretty darn grim (by my standards anyway). For a time, I wondered why I was writing this stuff. It’s not because I believe that fantasy lends itself to brutality or because I think violence sells. I’ve never written for pure marketability. My stories arise organically and are told the way I need to tell them.

We live in a dangerous world where the depth and breadth of violence continues to astonish me. Network news programs flash mere snapshots and move on. For to see it up close and personal, night after night, might depress us, or require us to speak and act, a possibility that raises the fearsome face of responsibility and choice.

Personally, I’ve experienced only glimpses of violence – in the stolen innocence and lost hope that surrounds me, and in the murder of my youngest brother, an event that still aches after twelve years. I’ve never fought in a war, suffered torture, witnessed executions, seen my neighbors slaughtered, or been sold as chattel, yet those horrors occur daily in our world.

Why? I pen my stories with as much truth as I can tolerate, and that includes violence. I try not to sugarcoat, to glorify, to pretend that violence doesn’t hurt or change those who encounter it as perpetrators or victims. If some readers find it too graphic, that’s okay. I’m willing to risk a scene or two (or more) of violence if it continues to raise the real-world question of why.

Strength of Character

I spent a recent evening chatting with a group of writers about the public’s desire for strong female characters. The simpering, helpless, man-dependent archetype of the past is no longer the paragon it used to be. If any of our female protagonists swoon into the arms of their brawny rescuers, they better be seriously ill or recently wounded in battle. Encountering a spider no longer qualifies as trauma.

Then our conversation took an interesting turn. Someone shared an opinion that the presence of kindness and compassion in a female protagonist might make her appear “weak.” The unspoken implication was that a female character is “strong” when she is more like the stereotypical caricature of a man – as emotionally sensitive as a block of wood.

Yes, I’m talking stereotypes here and the wind blows both ways. Some believe that gentleness “weakens” a man as much as the lack of it “strengthens” a woman. It’s an antiquated mindset that persists on many levels and is slow to evolve.

Pixabay image

Of course, the souls who populate our books must be true to their natures. Both male and female characters (like the rest of humanity) fit into a broad spectrum when it comes to emotional intelligence. Expression can be passionate, volatile, ambivalent, or completely shut down. On top of that, consider that feelings are fluid and slide all over the place along the love-fear continuum.

Emotional texture is one element that puzzles together a character, no different than physical appearance, skills, aptitudes, and social competencies. An emotional undercurrent is one way to enhance complexity, but it’s not necessarily indicative of a character’s strength.

I’d argue that what makes characters “strong,” regardless of gender, is their determination to act upon the world rather than react to it. Kind and compassionate people fall as easily into this definition as ruthless overlords and heroic champions. Strength is demonstrated by conviction, how actively they pursue their goals, overcome their flaws, and engage both the internal and external obstacles that block their paths.

Happy Writing