Monday, February 8, 2016

Writing the Hard Stuff

There's nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes I like to read it. Sometimes I like to write it. Occasionally, though, I feel like we, as artists, have to really cut our teeth on some harder issues. I did that with Charlotte and Daisy, to the point where I could only write for an hour or two at a time. I'm a method writer of sorts, and to spend too long in that headspace was terrifying. I decided to chat with a couple of other authors who have also decided to address bigger issues in their writing. Chris Garrison is the author of the Trans-Continental series, among others, and one of my personal heroes. I've been very blessed to be a part of her journey. Brick Marlin was the first Real Live Author that befriended me, and the author of Raising Riley.  I hope you enjoy.

I feel like I addressed a lot of big issues in "Charlotte and Daisy." Depression and anxiety, of course, but I also touched on emotional maturity, government issues, and more. What was your "big issue?"

Chris: My Trans-Continental series is meant to cover what it is like to be transgender, but in a steampunk setting. I hesitate to call this the books' “big issue,” because there's so much more to the main character's life and story than that one aspect of her identity.

Brick: When writing the character of Riley I had to reflect on the child abuse I sent through when I was eleven to thirteen years old. It wasn't easy, since I inserted actual scenes into my book. 

Why did you choose to tackle this? For me, it was like a worm that got into my head. I suffer from anxiety and depression and it seemed important to show others that they weren't alone.

Chris: Overwhelmingly, transgender stories I've seen out there have focused solely on the struggle of transition and fighting against social stigma and prejudice, or have painted trans people as victims or even trickster villains. I wanted to read stories that featured transgender people like me, in more situations than just those. I wanted to see transgender protagonists in science fiction and fantasy stories. Since I found precious few out there, I wrote my own. I think more transgender stories need to be told by transgender authors so our voices can be heard.

Brick: Since this has stayed inside of me for so many years, haunting me, I wanted to expose it on paper, perhaps a therapeutic type of release for myself.

Was your writing process any different? I know I had to take mine much slower so I didn't get too bogged down by what I was feeling.

Chris: Not that I was aware of going into it, but looking back, there were differences. I wanted to tell the story like any other, but with the difference that my main character, Ida, was a transgender woman. I had to work at the way she talked about herself, since in the steampunk world she lives in, there aren't words like “transgender,” and people like Ida are very much in hiding still. Living without contact with other trans folks, Ida had to make up her own ways of coping, her own terminology, her own ways of thinking about her relationships. I didn't want our world's attitudes and politics to creep into the story, it was meant to get at the core of the transgender experience, without labels or preconceived paths and stereotypes. No baggage but her own.

Brick: No, I seemed to have no issues writing this piece. It flowed pretty well. 

Were your expectations different for this work? I have to admit that I'm doing "that thing." After years of a publisher, I warn authors all of the time not to get their expectations too high. But I hope that this one does really well. 

Chris: Trans-Continental was a clean break from my previous series, even though it is set in the same steampunk alternate reality as my Reality Check. I didn't know what to expect when I sat down to write it. The whole concept literally came to me in a dream. In many ways, it's very similar to my other works, an adventure story with a mix of suspense, humor, and action. But this is a more personal story, and one that hits closer to home, so I had hopes that the personal energy I brought to it might make it a more powerful story than I'd told before. Certainly it was my first as an out-and-proud transgender woman.

Brick:Not really. I just hoped to gain a few readers, to be honest.

Are your characters in this done with you?

Oh, definitely not. The series is all about Ida and her partner Duffy. I've written two books in the series, “Girl in the Gears,” and “Mississippi Queen,” and am in the planning stages for the as yet unnamed third book. I have gotten more enthusiastic feedback about those two than any other characters I've created in the past. They've got great chemistry. Ida herself was not created to make a point, her story doesn't begin and end with a single arc. I hope to be writing many more books and short stories about her for years to come.

Brick: My characters will always be in my subconscious, but I probably won't use them again in future novels. 

That's interesting, all of yours stay with you, but you choose to keep their novels limited. Do you think it is important as authors to address issues? To all artists or just you?

Chris: I think it's important to write what you're passionate about, and to include a lot of yourself in your writing, so it rings true. I think that this can be taken too far. I didn't want to write something that beat a drum about a specific topic. I didn't want to be preachy. But I hope by getting to know and love Ida, my readers come to see her issues as personal, rather than abstract transgender issues.

Most of my writing isn't specifically about issues, but my personal views and feelings about friendship, identity, gender, and even reality do permeate my stories whether I set out to talk about those things or not.

Brick: I think it may be a good thing to do so. Expressing certain things you, as an author, go through, may or may not help the reader understand life changes

Anything else you'd like to add?

Chris: When writing about issues, the one tricky bit is that the reader might decide that everything in the story applies to the author as well. While I am transgender like my character Ida, there's worlds of difference between us. I can make her come to life because of some things in common, but she's an extrovert while I'm an introvert, she's an actress where I get stage fright, she's got an overbearing father where mine's never directly interfered with my life and is best known for his sense of humor. I specifically avoided making Ida a Mary Sue, she's got her strengths and weaknesses, and isn't a version of me. I feel that's an important line not to cross in any fictional work.

You can read more from these authors at


  1. Thank you Brick, Chris and DaVur for sharing your experiences with us. It is helpful to see the similarities and differences you each experienced. I've not been willing to tackle any tough issues in my fiction writing as I know it will require a piece of my heart I am not sure I'm willing to open I have tackled a few tough topics on my blog, with the loving, supportive hearts of friends reading it. Your willingness to share your experience has been a blessing to me as I navigate this world of authorship.

  2. Wonderful post! I love what I've read of Charlotte and Daisy, and I can heartily recommend all three authors to readers looking for thoroughly satisfying books! Great double interview, and I loved getting a bit of your take on the questions, too. Well done.