Annoying Things People Say to Writers

I love being a writer. I’ve known that this is what I wanted to do for a career since I was six years old (yes, I’m one of those freaks) and it’s part of who I am as a human.

However.

hate telling other people I’m a writer. This is somewhat problematic because I want to promote my work, but I can’t do that unless I tell people what I do. It isn’t that I’m not proud of what I do because I very much am. The problem lies more in some of the response I get from other people when they hear I’m a writer.

    1. “You should write a book about me! My life is soooo crazy!” No. Thank you.
    1. “Me, too! I once wrote a poem ten years ago, so we’re the same.” I encourage everyone to write if they want to–your’e not a writer unless you write! My issue with this comment lies more in how it tends to be a segue into my career being viewed as a hobby. I’ve been working as a freelance writer for years and I’ve published over a dozen books, both under my own name(s) and as a ghostwriter. This type of comment is also usually followed by, “But, like, what’s your real job?”
    1. “OMG! I have a great idea for a book. You could write it for me!” No. Unless you’re going to hire me to write a book for you, I can’t devote my time to it. This type of comment generally comes from someone who doesn’t want to pay you, but wants to put their name on the book and take all the credit. I’ll ghostwrite whatever you want, but my time ain’t free (or cheap).
    1. “I’m a writer, too, but I’m not like, a sellout.” Often said by bitter, negative people who only want to drain your energy. Just because they have a half-finished novel on their hard drive doesn’t mean they need to go around bashing people who actually finish their projects. I heard this a lot from guys in my grad school program, most of whom stopped speaking to me once I got my first book published halfway through the program. I didn’t miss them.
  1. “Do you wish you’d written Harry Potter?” Nope. Because although I’d admittedly love to write something that successful someday, if I’d written that series then I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy the series as a reader. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be; not a secondhand version of J.K. Rowling or anyone else.

Usually when I hear comments like this, I smile and nod or pretend I have to go to the bathroom and then never come back.

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You can’t control how people react to your profession, but you can laugh about it on the internet.

Or kill them off in your next book. Your choice.

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On Body Hair

A little over a month ago, I stopped shaving my legs and underarms. I haven’t lost access to razors and I’m not trying to make a statement; I just couldn’t figure out why I was shaving my body hair.

It’s always seemed like a foregone conclusion: if you are female, you must remove your body hair in order to be feminine and attractive. Men can be hairy, but women are never allowed to be. In addition to being very limited thinking from a binary standpoint, I realized that I’d never questioned that policy. Why must I shave? Why is it better to pretend that I haven’t gone through puberty? Why do I only view myself as being attractive and acceptable when I’m hairless? Half of my shirts are tank tops, but if I haven’t shaved that day, that means half of my wardrobe is out of commission. Why should my clothes have to have qualifiers?

More importantly, why am I spending so much time thinking about body hair? I have shit to do.

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God Dammit, Gillette

Gillette created the first disposable razor for men in the 1880s. Wanting to expand their market, they developed a razor for women (i.e. the exact fucking thing, but pink) and told women they needed to start shaving under their arms in 1915. Harper’s Bazaar featured the first razor ad in their magazine which said, “Fashion says evening gowns must be sleeveless or made with the mere suggestion of gauzy sleeves of tulle or lace. The woman of fashion says the underarms must be as smooth as the face.” Okay, fine, some people prefer not to see underarm hair. Different strokes for different folks. Marketers then took this idea that hair on women is disgusting and began to perpetuate this idea to sell a variety of other products which eventually evolved to that bright pink area in the Target health and beauty section.

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Then there’s this bullshit.

I’m not going to bother going too deeply into the pink tax here because that’s too big of a topic to be an aside in a blog post about armpits. Instead, I’d rather focus on the fact that women shaving their legs and underarms came into fashion mainly so companies could sell them a bunch of overpriced shit. It became so ingrained in us that now it’s just something we do and perpetuate to future generations. If you think about it, it’s pretty fucked up that we tell girls that as soon as they hit puberty, their natural state is gross and needs to be corrected if anyone is going to ever find them attractive.

Leaving the House

The first time I wore a tank top after I quit shaving, I was very nervous (and not just because I suffer from soul-crushing anxiety). I guess I assumed people would run away, shrieking in disgust. But instead, what happened was . . . nothing. Absolutely nothing. If anyone had a problem with my natural hair, no one said anything to me. And really, why should I care? I’d stopped shaving but I was still spending so much time worrying about how other people saw me. Plus, people pay way less attention to us than we think they do.

Hairy and Happy

I asked myself how I felt after not shaving, and I realized that I feel really happy. I can wear whatever I want without feeling like certain items in my closet are “off limits.” More importantly, I feel more comfortable in my own body than I have in a very long time, maybe ever. I think that confidence comes from making an active choice about my own body. I wasn’t doing something simply because everyone told me I was supposed to do it. I feel like I’ve reclaimed my body as my own.

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Pictured: me wearing a hat.

Some people view underarm hair on women to be unhygenic, but I haven’t found that to be the case. In fact, my underarm skin feels a lot healthier now because it’s not all dried out and covered in razor burn. I’ve also learned the hair wicks away moisture and that can reduce the amount of smelly bacteria in your armpit.

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Even so, I still wear deodorant, so I don’t think I smell any worse than I normally do (either that, or my family and friends are exceedingly polite).

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“No, Emily, you smell fine . . .”

You Do You

In writing this article, I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do with their body hair. If you want to stop shaving, cool. If you like shaving, that’s cool, too. The important thing is that it be your decision. I’m not even necessarily committing to never shaving my legs or underarms again. But if I do, it’s going to be because I want to, not because I feel like I have to.


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It’s Not Okay

Hey, Remember That Time . . .

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember a post I did a couple years ago called “Excusing Rape Culture.” I wrote it in response to Trump’s rage vomit-inducing “Grab ’em by the pussy,” video and in it, I told the story of a guy I met in a local bar. I recommend going back to read my full post, but to summarize, a hardcore Trump supporter aggressively came onto me, even after I told him I was not interested, married, and had a child. Then, when he finally accepted I was going to sleep with him, this guy bragged about forcing a Mexican man onto his knees at gunpoint for littering.

“He was disrespecting my land,” he said. “I had to. He was disrespecting my land.”

The guy then tried to segue his story into hitting on me some more but at that point, I was fucking terrified of him. I knew I was safe in the bar but I also knew that I would eventually have to leave the building. I was afraid of doing something that would make him angry and make him want to follow me and possibly hurt me. He clearly had no problem using force and intimidation and I was afraid that I was going to be the next person forced onto my knees.

Since then, I thankfully haven’t seen that guy anywhere in town. However, I’d be lying if I said didn’t check for him, especially when I’m out alone, because I do. Or, at least, I did. Nearly two years has passed since that incident, and I’d finally started to relax. I wasn’t constantly checking over my shoulder and I felt braver.

Of course, as soon as I stopped worrying about seeing him, I saw him again.

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Just replace “bear attacks” with
“encounters with creepy assholes.”

A couple of months ago, I visited my friend while she worked at a local dive bar. It was late afternoon and we were chatting, just like any other day. Then I noticed an electrician working in the bar and I froze. He has a beard now, but I still recognized him. He kept glancing at me, like he couldn’t quite place me, but there was recognition there. I hadn’t expected him to remember me; I’m sure I’m not the only woman he’s scared the shit out of in a bar and he got pretty drunk over the course of our last conversation. Not that the latter quality justifies how he behaved before, but it does explain why my face might not ring a strong bell for him.

“Hey, is that guy staff here or an outside hire?” I asked, trying to suppress my rising anxiety as I gestured towards the guy.

“Outside hire,” my friend said. “Why?”

“What’s his name?” I asked. But, of course, I already knew. My friend confirmed it for me and my hands started shaking.

“Do you know him?” she asked. I explained that that was the guy from the post I’d written about rape culture, the one who had bragged about forcing a guy onto his knees at gunpoint. “Oh, god, are you sure?”

I nodded.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t. She knew I was lying, but she didn’t push it. I tried to slowly sip my drink as I reminded myself I was safe. I was in a bar during the day with a friend on the clock who already knew the situation. I had other friends in the bar. I was fine.

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Except I wasn’t. My hands were violently shaking and I could feel I was on the verge of a panic attack. I wanted to get away from this guy before he remembered why he knew me, but part of me wanted to stand my ground. Why should I have to be the one to leave when I hadn’t done anything wrong? I felt a surge of anger that I should have to modify my behavior because some guy had previously behaved like an asshole, but that anger cowered in the face of my fear. When the guy went into the back of the bar and was out of eyesight, I left.

Two Years Later

It’s been two years and I still feel afraid of what that guy could do to me. Some people might read this post and think I’m being ridiculous; he wasn’t drinking this time, he wasn’t actively threatening me. Hell, he might not have even remembered me. Maybe I wasn’t in immediate danger this time, but that fear doesn’t just vanish. If you get bit by a dog, you’re likely going to be wary around that dog when you see it again, even if it isn’t snarling at you.

I hate that I left the bar because I was scared. I hate that just seeing that guy again was enough to trigger my anxiety. I hate that my plans for that day were impacted just by the presence of one racist asshole–but they were. I was. I also hate that it’s taken me two months to write this post because I just didn’t want to deal with this guy. But I think it’s important for me to write about this because even though I was afraid, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice. I also think it’s important for me to write this because women’s voices need to be heard. As I said earlier, some people might think I overreacted to seeing that guy again. But this is what it’s like for women to live in a society that excuses rape culture. Despite a change in setting and circumstances, I didn’t feel safe around this guy because he’d already informed me of what he’s capable of doing–and willing to do–to another person. And if I hadn’t left, if I hadn’t removed myself from the equation, and something had happened to me, then those same people who think I’m overreacting now would likely blame me as the victim because I should’ve known better. Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We’re either overreacting or we didn’t react enough. Perhaps–and here’s a crazy idea–it’s not our fucking fault.

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Shocking, I know.

Since my last post about rape culture, a lot has happened. The #MeToo movement has sprung up alongside the Time’s Up campaign, TIME magazine declared the “silence breakers” as the people of the year, and yet things still aren’t fixed. I’m glad to see more open dialogue about sexism and sexual harassment and assault, but that’s only the first step. Real change is slow and one cover of TIME magazine isn’t the end of the journey.

Hold people accountable for their behavior. Call them out on sexist comments. Remind them that rape jokes aren’t okay. Most importantly, speak up about your own experiences. Women need to tell their stories. Just because shit has happened to all of us doesn’t make it okay or acceptable or right. I can’t guarantee I won’t ever feel afraid again if I encounter that guy again or if a man flashes a gun at me in a bar again, but I’m not going to stop talking about my experiences. My voice is only one of many, but together we can work to destroy this ugly, infectious rape culture.


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5 Public Speaking Tips for Your Next Reading

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When you’re a writer, it sometimes becomes necessary to read your work in public. And really, it can be kind of fun. A lot of times, it seems like half the battle of being a writer is getting people to read your stuff, so forcing a room full of people to sit and listen to your brilliance is kind of awesome.

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“READ MY BOOK!!!!!!”

However, if you’re like me and suffer from crippling anxiety, the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of people can be . . . well, terrifying. I want to share my work with other people, but I also want them to stop looking at me.

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I have issues.

I once asked my therapist if I could pull a Sia and stand with my back to the audience or just wear a giant wig so no one could see my face. He told me I could, but he gave me a few other suggestions as an alternative to wearing a wig and a bow the size of a smart car.

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Bows aren’t really my thing.

1. Practice, practice, practice! Read your work out loud before the actual event. You’ll find tough spots that might trip you up so you can iron them out. Plus, you can practice your pacing so that you don’t go too fast; you don’t want to sound like a disclaimer at the end of a pill commercial. If possible, read your work to a significant other or trusted friend who will give you honest feedback.

2. Record yourself. I hate watching myself on camera, but it can be hugely beneficial to your public speaking. Set up your laptop and record a video of yourself reading your work. That way, you’ll notice any nervous fidgeting you do and check your posture. No one wants to watch you read while you’re hunched over like Gollum.

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“This next poem is about my childhood.”

3. Check out your local Toastmaster group. It’s usually free to show up for a couple sessions and you can test out material on an impartial group of people. Plus, public speaking is kind of their thing so they really know what they’re doing.

4. Take a shot. I don’t usually like to encourage drinking, but sometimes a shot of liquid courage will do you some good. But make sure it’s only one–throwing up from drinking and throwing up from nerves is still throwing up in the middle of your reading. Once, before a reading, I stopped at a nearby bar to visit my best friend who was bartending and ordered a shot for courage. Because she loves me and felt bad about not being able to attend, she poured me a triple. I drank it down and realized I had to hurry to get to my reading. It was the middle of summer and very hot outside so by the time I arrived, I was sweating Jameson out of my pores because nothing says professional like showing up smelling like Irish whiskey.

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“I’m here for my reading!”

Don’t do what I did. One shot is more than enough.

5. Relax. Perhaps the best piece of advice my therapist gave me was to remind me that no one shows up to a reading hoping for the author to fail. The audience wants to hear your work and they want you to do well. So take a breath, drink some water, and have fun!

As a bonus, here’s a video of me doing a reading for a local literary group. Please note the deep breath and twitchy movements and learn from my mistakes 😉


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Great Closing Lines

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Closing lines are just as important as opening lines, in my opinion, because this is the final chance for the author to leave an impression on the reader. You can have a phenomenal book but if the ending is garbage, your readers will be disappointed and every time they talk about the book, they’re likely to say something like, “It was good, but the ending was disappointing.” It’s like eating a fabulous meal and then finding a hair in the last bite. Sure, the rest of the food was great, but all you’ll ever talk about was the hair. Continuing on the theme of my last post, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of my favorite closing lines in literature. You know, the ones without the hair.

The Great Gatsby

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“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

When one thinks about great closing lines in literature, this particular quote is mentioned more than most. And with good reason–it’s both beautiful and tragic. Nick is reflecting on his time with Gatsby after being consumed by his own alcoholism and depression. He realizes that as people we try to push forward in our lives but we are constantly pushed back into the past by our memories, a statement that is sad and undeniably true.

Animal Farm

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” 
—George Orwell, Animal Farm

Orwell’s famous allegorical novella is brilliant in so many ways, both as political commentary and as an engaging story that invests the reader in the animals on the farm. Perhaps its best component is the way in which it demonstrates how absolute power corrupts absolutely and, as the great philosopher Harvey Dent once said, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The final line of Animal Farm represents this so beautifully in the way the pigs and the humans become indistinguishable from one another as the pigs become what they hated at the start of the rebellion.

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Is it weird that all of my life lessons come from Batman?
Oh, well. Moving on.

Brokeback Mountain

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“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.” 
—Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain

Much like The Great Gatsby, this final line of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain is heartbreaking. It echoes an earlier sentiment Ennis tells Jack after they’re finally reunited four years after their first summer together on Brokeback Mountain. Jack wants to find a way to create a life with Ennis, but Ennis is scared. Ennis is willing to accept his life as it is, but Jack wants something more. Then, at the end of the story, Ennis is left alone with his memories of Jack and Ennis is once again stuck in a situation he doesn’t want, but he can’t change it.  The feeling of a lost love is so universal and beautiful and devastating and the reader is left only with Ennis’s pain.

Like Water for Chocolate

“How wonderful the flavor, the aroma of her kitchen, her stories as she prepared the meal, her Christmas Rolls! I don’t know why mine never turn out like hers, or why my tears flow so freely when I prepare them – perhaps I am as sensitive to onions as Tita, my great-aunt, who will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes.”
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

For a less tragic last line, I love Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. There is something beautiful about how even if someone is gone, they can live on in the love we have for them and the legacy they leave behind. Such is the case with Tita, who continues to live on through her recipes that continue on through the generations of the family. There’s still a sense of loss, like the other closing lines I’ve discussed in this post, but this time it’s more of a beautiful remembrance rather than a painful ache for what once was.

The Book Thief

“A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans.” 
—Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I think I connect to this closing line because even as a self-proclaimed introvert who hides from having to interact with humans more than I have to (I’m clearly well suited to be a writer), it’s true that what we remember most are people. Whether they are alive or dead, humans remain ghosts in our minds, continually haunting  us with what they did or did not do. This seems especially relevant for this novel which deals with the Nazis in World War II and Liesel’s attempt to save books from destruction at their hands. People are made up the stories they tell and the stories they hear; without them, what is there?

The Good Earth

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“‘Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.’ But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.” 
—Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

Because I apparently can’t help myself, we’re going to end on a depressing note. I really should’ve finished this list with the quote from Like Water for Chocolate, but it also seems fitting that I should end with something sad as most of the closing lines I’ve chosen are depressing. The final line of The Good Earth is particularly sad because unlike Like Water for Chocolate, there will be no enduring legacy for future generations. Wang Lung spent his entire adult life focusing on his land and riding the rise and fall of his fortunes. Above all else in his life, he has loved this land and these final lines tell the reader that Wang Lung’s sons will sell off the land and everything their father fought for will fade away.

What are your favorite closing lines in literature that I didn’t include (maybe a happy one I should’ve mentioned)? Let me know in the comments!


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Great First Lines

I can’t remember when I first heard this, but I was told once that the key to writing a good book was to be able to hook your reader on the first page. This has subsequently given me a lot of anxiety over my opening lines, but I also think this statement is true, at least to an extent. When I’m browsing a bookstore and find a book that looks interesting, I’ll pick it up and read the back cover. If I’m undecided as to whether or not I want to purchase it yet, I’ll open the book to the first page. If the writing doesn’t impress me on the first page, I will put it back on the shelf.

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I know, I’m a cold hearted snake.

There are some books, however with opening lines that grab the reader and suck you into the story and make it impossible to put it down. In honor of those glorious first lines, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites for you to enjoy.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray 

Picture of Dorian Gray

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

I remember the first time I read this book because the opening line smacked me right between the eyes. Wilde’s ability to paint such an evocative picture with words was like a revelation to me. Each time I read this, I swear I can smell flowers. I keep expecting the power of these words to diminish over time, but it hasn’t happened yet. Probably never will.

The Valley of the Dolls

“The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming–an angry, concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell. But she didn’t mind the heat or the littered midway called Times Square. She thought New York was the most exciting city in the world.”

The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann isn’t exactly most people’s idea of brilliant literature, but don’t let the hot pink cover fool you. Personally, I find Susann’s character development to be some of the best I’ve ever read. You watch these characters as they start out young and naive and hopeful and watch them turn into unrecognizable monsters. It’s brilliant writing and, for me, my love affair with this book started the moment I read these opening sentences. The description of New York City as an angry, concrete animal is an image that has stuck with me since I first read it at age 14. It’s also brilliant foreshadowing of the story to come; Anne is in love with New York from the start, her one true love, and yet it promises her nothing in return but rage and sharp teeth.

The Girls

“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The Girls is based on the Manson family and the Sharon Tate murders and tells the fictionalized account of a 14-year-old girl, Evie, who spends time at the family compound with the Manson family, both a part of the cult and apart from it. The opening line of this book is simple, but sometimes simple is best. Evie’s whole world revolves around these girls and in this opening line, I also want to see the girls who are laughing.

1984

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“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I love the opening line of 1984 because with the small detail of the clocks striking thirteen, you are immediately introduced to the idea that something is not right. Of course, as this dystopian novel progresses, the reader soon learns that there are a lot of somethings that aren’t right.

Less Than Zero

“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.”

I think I enjoy the opening of this Bret Easton Ellis novel because it resonates with me. I freaking hate driving in LA.

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Pictured: me after I drive two blocks in LA.

What are your favorite first lines of novels? Let me know in the comments!


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Picking a Genre: Do I Have To?

The Short Answer

Nope.

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The Long Answer

When branding yourself as a writer, there’s no need to pick a single genre if you don’t want to. If you’ve primarily written romance or mystery and you want to branch out into true crime, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so. Fans of your writing might prefer when you write one genre or another, but your creativity shouldn’t be limited to one style of writing if you don’t want it to be.

Neil Gaiman

Perhaps the best example of a prolific author who hasn’t let himself be pigeon holed by one genre is Neil Gaiman. He is probably best known for his darker fantasy and sci-fi works like the Sandman comics and American Gods, but he has by no means limited himself. Gaiman has written everything from comics to novels to nonfiction essays to music biographies to TV episodes to movie scripts to children’s books.

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This is one of my son’s favorite books.

Gaiman’s bibliography goes on and on and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. His attitude seems to be one of if he thinks of an idea for a story, he goes with it. He doesn’t appear to stop and worry if something isn’t “on brand” for him as a writer; by doing what he wants, that becomes his brand.

Stephen King

Another excellent example is Stephen King. I know, I know, why am I referencing the master of horror? Or rather, the “king of horror” if you will.

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See what I did there? . . . I’ll show myself out.

Stephen King has said repeatedly that he doesn’t consider himself to be a horror writer, despite the fact that he is often characterized that way. His stories tend towards the dark side, but he’s written across a variety of genres outside of horror including thrillers, crime procedurals, fantasy, literary fiction, and YA. In fact, one of my favorite books of his, 11.22.63, would be best categorized, in my opinion, as a time travel love story.

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An English teacher goes back in time to attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Another of his books, Joyland, has a framing storyline about a murderer at a theme park. However, for the bulk of the book, that almost seems like an afterthought to the more important story of a young man who befriends a terminally ill boy and his mother. King’s true skill is in writing well and creating engaging, realistic characters that make for a compelling read, regardless of genre.

Lola Black

I don’t by any means consider myself to be on the level of Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, but I have personally written across a wide variety of genres, both as a ghostwriter and as a regular author. Romance and erotica are the obvious genres I discuss most on this blog, but I’ve also written sci-fi, post-apocalyptic fantasy, psychological thriller, literary fiction, historical YA, and humorous nonfiction.

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Well, at least I think I’m funny.

Lately I’ve started working on my first murder mystery novel and although it’s uncharted territory for me, it’s really, really fun to try something new. And, honestly, life is too short to prevent yourself from exploring new methods and ideas in your writing. After all, if Neil Gaiman and Stephen King can do whatever they want, why can’t you?


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