Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Emotional Books

I don't generally like sad books. Books are my escape, I don't want them to make me sad. It would be like going on a vacation that's going to make you cry. I understand some people seek out sad books, they enjoy letting their emotions go on that up and down roller coaster. I'm not saying that's wrong, I mean, hey, I crave the feel of the flogger -- I totally understand seeking out an experience others actively try to avoid.

A little over a year ago I came very close to losing my husband. It took seven hours of surgery for the doctors to bring him back to me. It was touch and go for a few days after the surgery, when the doctors and nurses still weren't assuring me he was going to pull through.  I sat beside his hospital bed with my laptop and wrote, the hours turning into days. My parents kept our girls, took them to school, fed them. I saw them in the mornings on webcam, helped them with their homework in the evenings on webcam. I didn't leave his side.

It sounds morbid, but during this time I wrote the beginning of a book that involved a submissive who had lost her husband a few years before. She'd rebuilt her life, rebuilt who she was, and was finally beginning to date. When the doctors finally decreed my husband was going to live, going to make it, I didn't need to write on that book anymore. Couldn't write on it anymore. I needed to focus on the fact that I was going to be able to take him home, eventually. It took months for him to fully recover, but he did.

I recently pulled out the 34,000 words I wrote when I wasn't sure he was going to make it, and began working on it again. It was a good beginning and middle, and I know how it's going to end, now. But last week, as I was writing a particularly emotional part, I cried for hours as I wrote. Not just a few tears, but the boo-hoo balling type of crying, where you have to keep blowing your nose to keep the snot from running down your face (sorry, was that TMI?).

I always wondered why people wrote sad stories, and now I think I have an idea. This one isn't going to end sad though, it's going to have a happy ending. Or, that's the plan.

The book releasing this Friday, Safeword: Matte, is not sad. In fact, it's a pretty freewheeling happy book without a ton of things trying to pull the couple apart. It's the antithesis of the book I'm writing now. A totally different muse was in charge of that one.

 Do you like sad books? Or are you like me, and avoid them like the plague?


  1. I can read sad books but only if there is a positive end. Being sad for it's own sake no. I like to know there is light at the end of the tunnel to use a well worn phrase. An example of a sad book with a great ending is Ice Queen/Mirror of my Soul.

  2. I do like sad books. Of course, I stick to the romance genre, so I am guaranteed a happy ending, even if it is sometimes bittersweet. The only thing that is rough for me is reading a book where a child gets hurt. I picked up a book based on reviews about lots of angst, and then realized that the couple was reconciling after the loss of their child. I decided to keep reading, because it was in the past, but then they did an explicit flashback and I was just -- it was a good book, but that scene is really all I think about when I think of that book.

    I definitely write sad. I can't help it. I've tried writing happier books but actually the quality of writing suffers because I'm not immersed in the story.

  3. A cousin and aunt recommended Odd Thomas to me a few years ago, and I still haven't forgiven them for it. Well, okay, I've forgiven them, but I don't listen to their book advice anymore. That's my best example of a sad book I wish I'd never picked up.

    I loved Ice Queen and Mirror of my Soul, there were sad parts in them, but mostly they were about coping and surviving, and that worked for me. In many ways, I guess the book I'm working on now is about coping and surviving as well.

  4. I read the occasional sad book with a sad ending. But I only read it once. Too much misery is bad for me. And I'm with Amber on the issue of a child being hurt. That's the last thing I want to read about.

    Books in which good things happen are so rare -- not enough conflict, supposedly. Frankly, I could happily do with less conflict, in my life and my reading.

  5. I don't seek out sad books, but if I'm crying while I'm reading, it means that something in the book has touched something within me -- something deep that perhaps wouldn't otherwise be affected or acknowledged. In the same way that obedience, punishment, or pain can break a submissive down into a place that they may have trouble accessing at other times, sad books take me to places that I maybe need to visit, but don't have my own map for.

    And I would always rather feel, than not, even if that feeling is negative. I would always rather know that I'm alive.

  6. acquiexence - that was beautiful. Thank you.

    I think perhaps the reason I wrote it in the first place was because I was hurting so bad, I was trying to remind myself time heals all wounds, trying to convince myself if the worst happened I could survive it. Writing about a character who had survived, was surviving, made it one step removed from myself, helped me find my own map. Thanks for that analogy.

    As for your last paragraph, I feel the same way when it comes to physical sensations. Whether it's pleasure or pain, it's sensation, and that's a good thing. When it comes to emotions, I'm not so sure I feel the same way... maybe it just means I'm not an emotional masochist ;)

    I've spent a decent amount of time in China, and part of learning a culture means reading their literature. Most Chinese stories have horrible endings. We all had to read The Good Earth in school, right? It's a typical Chinese story - they are about heartache and life challenges and fate throwing horrible curve balls at you. In some ways, their stories are all confirmation of Maslow's Hierarchy, the things that are most important to least important when the excrement hits the fan. In many Chinese stories, as bad as it gets in the story, the ending is worse than the story. I couldn't handle them. I read the half dozen or so most well known classics, but then read really good synopses of the other thirty(ish) books on the cultural "must read" list. I'd have been a mental case if I'd read them all.

  7. Candice, thanks for your e-mail about the need to set Masters at Arms aside. I can see why! My gosh, the first scene is Adam grieving over the loss of his wife to cancer. But I also believe in writing as a catharsis for me. (My readers tell me they laugh, they cry, they scream, but ultimately, I write these for myself and my own healing.)

    That scene with Adam was written after coming home from a day filled with depressing news from oncologists telling my sister that her cancer was back. I thought if I wrote the unthinkable in my novel, then it wouldn't happen in real life. (She continues to fight the battle a year later, but the ending is still uncertain.)

    I've spent the past three months working on Damian and Savannah's happy ending. They're my two most broken characters and, as an incest and child abuse survivor myself, writing Savi's story has brought up a lot of things I thought I'd dealt with in therapy years ago. The psychologist who reads my scenes and gives me feedback to make sure it's accurate said Savi's flashback and PTSD scenes were the most emotionally honest she'd ever read. Okay, I may not live the BDSM lifestyle I write about or be a Marine (even though I'm told by those who do live in the lifestyle or are/know a Marine that I get those aspects right), this was simply a case of writing what I know.

    But there have been weeks where I simply couldn't write. Last week, I decided I needed to write the happy ending so I'd know it's all going to be okay (just like my life turned out with my husband of almost 29 years). That's helped. And I don't try to drag people through the mud with the emotions, but the characters just take them there. I still find lots of places for humor, but sometimes I'm crying and laughing out loud in the same scene. That's just the way the characters give me their stories.

    But the reason I can only write in the Romance genre is that I KNOW there will be a happy ending. I don't do schmaltzy endings (okay, with one exception so far ), but I also believe in writing with realism and my characters have never solved all their problems at the end of a book. Sometimes they haven't even resolved the biggest ones, which is why my books are more like a serial to be read in order, than a series of stand-alones with reoccurring characters.

    I'm so glad you've gotten your happy ending, because a writer friend of mine is facing a not-to-happy ending right now and it's breaking everyone's heart. But none of us knows how long we have our loved ones, so it's important to just embrace them every day, love them, and never take them for granted.

    Hugs to you and your family and I actually like reading (and writing) stories with strong emotions--as long as they're Romances. I know the story and characters will take me to hell and back, but that I will get back, and usually to a much better place than they were in the beginning.