Adventures du jour! (May 14, 2023)

Happy Space Lord Mutha Mutha Day!…on romances & sucky ghostwriting clients

Happy Space Lord Mutha Mutha Day! There’s a sassy rock song by Monster Magnet that is truly the antithesis of all things Mother’s Day; if you’re having trouble coping with the pablum today, give it a listen. I want to go to the beach today but I’m not gonna. FUCK THAT NOISE. I don’t go out today. I REALLY don’t go out today anywhere near mealtimes. There will be double low blood sugar afoot, Mother’s Day AND church letting out. Just no.

Recent stuff:

–I made coffee jellies! SO YUM! Most of the recipes I found were 4c liquid to 2T unflavored gelatin. Recommend 2c liquid to 2T unflavored gelatin. Sugar and other modifications to taste, cut in cubes, serve with whipped cream.

–I went out to see my favorite tree, a.k.a. Most Favored Tree, a huge live oak in a nearby park, during a lightning storm. I “heard” him talk out loud to me when I tried to climb up into the branches: “No! Down!” FIIIIINE. I went straight home, miffed. My innards were buzzing. My subconscious doesn’t really care if I think I’m sane, as long as I’m not climbing trees in a thunderstorm.

–I got a pull-up bar. I can’t do pull-ups. I learned last night how NOT to use the pull-up bar. I’m fine! I’m fine. I’m also not sore where I thought I’d be sore, although my traps feel like steel wires and I still have the knot in my neck. It’s down in the lower back, bra strap downward really. But I also figured out how to do a new-to-me kick, so who knows. I could just be sore from that.

–Other than that, not much. I’m getting eaten alive by a writing class thing. More on that below.

On romances, truly sucky ghostwriting clients, and learning skills on a professional level. This is already getting wandery and long.

I’m working on a writing class project, and it’s frying my brain. I hit a trigger related to a truly sucky ghostwriting client, and I need to write about it.–I got to the section that triggered me last night and was suddenly “tired,” then unable to sleep, as I tried to block out all thoughts related to it.

The book under review is Nightwork by Nora Roberts. We’re studying Nora Roberts for good reasons.

I’m not a Nora fan, but I respect her craft. If her type of stuff is what you need, none better. She writes painkiller romances, the kind that you read when your heart is dulled down to nothing and you just need to pass the time without suffering.–There are other reasons to read her books, and many people read her books for the pure pleasure of feeling utterly and completely safe in a writer’s hands. Because you are. Reading Nora books probably won’t help you process your problems or make difficult choices; they probably won’t give you a new perspective on big issues; they probably won’t make you bust a gut or seriously worry about whether the characters will be okay. You’re safe.–She writes other types of books, too, but I’m less familiar with them.

The romances I use as painkillers are different. I have ADHD; feeling “safe” that way will not kill pain for me. It makes me feel tired but not rested. For painkillers, I love romantic farces. I adore romantic-farce musicals. I love romantic farces that turn into tragedies (Man of La Mancha!). I love romantic tragedies that you cry all the way through (Hadestown! Les Mis!). Princess Bride is my jam. So is Moulin Rouge.

It’s harder to find those types of books in the Romance categories, though; there’s been this trend of books about characters and situations that are relatable and comfortable (even if they have more money than I do), and I struggle to get into them. As painkillers, these books do nothing for me. I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want catharsis so I can start tomorrow clean and fresh.

(Forgive me, I’m going to slam some stuff you might like. This is about me figuring out what I like, so I can write it, and not about your tastes. YOU can have different needs in fiction. That’s fine! But I get to do me, here.)

Anna Karenina bores me to tears; I don’t care for Jane Eyre or Gone with the Wind. Or Love in the Time of Cholera. That kind of romantic drama leaves me flat. It’s too reasonable. It feels like real people picking at each other, pulling each other apart because they’re insecure and bored and have no sense of humor. The characters come across as mean to each other, their attractions to each other without verve, self-awareness, or delight.

Give me Doctor Zhivago. Give me A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Give me The Time Traveler’s Wife, even.–Like Water for Chocolate, intertwining love and politics. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover. Orlando. Stories where everything goes to shit but the lovers actually care for each other!

In my everyday life, I enjoy the small things. In stories, I want things that are larger than life. I want the way emotions feel huge to be expressed proportionately, somehow.

One of the reasons I’ve been reading so many web comix is that they don’t feel constrained by what passes for “normal” in Western romance novels. Romance web comix are insane, just utterly over the top even when it’s just an office romance. Hades, the video game, does romance better for me than 99.9% of the romance novels I’ve read. I ration out episodes of the anime Kagura: Love is War for bad days and laugh all the harder because of the awkwardness and embarrassment; it’s more like Jane Austen than most of the contemporary romance novels that claim to be inspired by her are.–Including the sublimely snarky narrator.

The best of the romances I love are also exploring what it means to love someone, to really know and accept them, to enjoy their tasty flaws. To accept and enjoy one’s own self.–To laugh at someone without deriding them, with all the world a play, and Lord! what fools we mortals be.

The thing that set me off, while studying Nightwork, was the following section:

None of the process, she thought, really ran along the lines she’d imagined.

“So you didn’t even go there in person to, like, case the joint?”

He would’ve rolled his eyes, but it felt like too much effort.

No, I’m not going to talk about what I learned from that, and I also don’t want to hear your opinion about the words themselves, sorry, you probably don’t have the chops to assess them on a professional level, which means that right now, for this essay, I couldn’t care less. What I want to talk about is how I have to defuse the stupid shit I “learned” about how to be a professional writer.

One of the things that fucked me up was a truly sucky ghostwriting client I had, one of the last ghosting clients I ever took, if not THE last. (I can’t remember; there might have been one or two more.) It was a good cop/bad cop situation. Editor level 1 was the bad cop. Editor level 2 was the good cop. Neither editor was the client. I never got feedback from the client. I was supposed to be writing a spinoff of an existing series that was selling solidly but not fabulously. An easy, one-month $5K job with as much work as I could plow through to follow.

The con went like this: they’d tell me I was a great writer, then tear everything to shreds. “You just need to…” Everything was a moving target. They had extremely specific ways they wanted me to write, which they refused to identify (“Didn’t you read the other books in the series? Just write it like that!”) or even to keep consistent with the rest of the main series. One of them would want something changed; the other one would tell me to change it back. They’d refuse to give me specific feedback, just tell me that it was unacceptable and I should know what to fix. They’d hang onto something until it was past due, then tell me–sympathetically and patronizingly–that I needed to write faster, because I was slowing down the project. Months went by. I finished one book and started another.

Then they wanted me to completely rewrite the first book.

I quit, frothing at the mouth, a month or so before the break with my ex. I think I never really dealt with the situation. I complained about it, but I never really disenfucked the situation in my head.

I thought I had to do things their way. I thought making them happy meant I was writing a good book.–I don’t know that it was possible for me to make them happy. The books were supposed to be thrillers. PATTERSON wouldn’t have made them happy. Part of me wants to go, “If I’d sent them AI-generated text it might have been mediocre enough for them to like it.” They said they liked my writing style when they hired me. I just needed to make a few little changes. What they really wanted was a different writer, though, someone who thought differently. There was no amount of breaking me down that would get them the books they wanted: middle-of-the-road, solidly-selling thrillers that ran right down the center of the Amazon algorithms, books that the average thriller reader would like well enough but not remember particularly. Serial killers that were scary in concept but not tooooo scary in practice; FBI agents with flaws that just made them more romantically interesting, while flirting in the most banal manner possible; side characters who were clearly always in the background and who never intruded on a third-grader’s Ken-and-Barbie plot in the foreground…except when the serial killer infiltrated the team.

It’s easier to see now that what I was supposed to be writing was the thriller version of a painkiller novel rather than what the editors told me, which was that it was supposed to be exciting and full of disturbing plot twists and interesting characters. If they’d started out with “we need you to write completely stylistically blank fiction for the average reader, the equivalent of a news broadcaster’s non-accent; we don’t want you to go to any extremes,” I might have been able to fake my way through one or two books. Mmmmaybe.–At time time I was trying to write for that client, for myself I was writing a horror novel about a rich asshole that tries to create his own private, perfect pocket universe, while everyone else in the real world is freezing to death, starving, and eating each other. So there’s that. Maybe I would have left ghostwriting regardless after I left the ex anyway. Lots of categories I’d put myself in, I could no longer fit, abruptly.

There’s a romance in the horror novel I mentioned; I rather liked it, even though the romance was a minor subplot. The novel originally started out as a regular romance, an exercise in trying to write a category-type historical romance. I failed to do so, spectacularly, although I rather like the finished book. The love triangle survived, even if the genre did not. The style is Jane Austen-meets-Mary Shelley, lots of thunder and lightning, but lots of wit and little narrator jokes, too. There’s a kaiju battle with one of the monsters based on my favorite dinosaur, the ankylosaur. (I can never remember the name, so don’t quiz me on it. I just know what I like.) Tons of references to other sci fi and horror books, just to see what I could get away with. I may have thrown in some Princess Bride quotes. Like that.

At the time I was writing it, I was telling anyone who would listen that I wasn’t where I wanted to be as a writer, and all I needed to do was figure out how to make these fucking editors happy. THEN I could really buckle down and write what I wanted to write. As soon as I proved myself in their eyes.

Yeah. People were trying to tell me how fucked up that was, and I wouldn’t hear them. (Sorry!)

It turns out that–and it hurts to write this–just because someone is demanding of you, it doesn’t mean that they’re helping you grow.

Some of my favorite people are demanding. Snarky, sarcastic, stubborn, able to identify when I’m not giving my best. I love that. I love being held accountable when I don’t even know that I’m trying to avoid something. I feel shitty, but I also feel *known.* The real teachers don’t just demand things of others; they’re driving themselves, doing good work, putting themselves at risk in their own endeavors. The money goes where the mouth is.

Those “editors” who were fucking with me were not doing good work. They couldn’t even hold each other accountable. They did not demand that I grow. They demanded that I shrink.

Same with the ex.

–I need to stop ending this story with: “I’m not a perfect writer, but not even I deserved how I was treated.” I almost typed that out without thinking. AGAIN. What does it say about how I see myself? Another thing that hurts to write: it says that I see myself as a bad writer, that people in general deserve to be jerked around to some extent, that bad writers like me have to tolerate it, if we want to get better.


I *can* shrink. I can actually be so quiet that people who meet me in real life think I’m shy. Which, ahahahahaha. No, I’m just used to getting shamed for opening my mouth while the Real Adults ™ are talking.

I think the sucky editors latched onto my ability to shrink and my desire to learn. It made them feel comfortable with treating me the way they did. They were the client’s trusted subordinates; I was just a freelance writer. They knew how their client liked things; I didn’t (even after 70+ novels for myself and others). I had no confidence and kept reassuring them that I wanted professional-level editors’ feedback. They didn’t treat me with respect, not because they dis-respected me, but because they didn’t have a fucking clue what respect was actually like.

It was safe to see me as borderline incompetent, easy to mold, easy to boss around, easy to be disappointed in. Easy to claim status over.

For them, it was safe to fuck with the instincts of someone who’d written 70+ books, several of which still sell really well (albeit for someone else, because I was ghosting).

And now I’m finding out, studying Nora, that it wasn’t their attitude that was the major problem. It was their actual advice. The snippet of Nora’s writing above, I wouldn’t have written, not even if it had been the perfect solution for something I were trying to write in a scene. I would have been afraid of getting yelled at. I *did* get criticized, ever so patronizingly, for stuff like that, by those editors.

I read those perfectly banal-looking paragraphs by Nora, and, because now I know at least some of why they’re written the way they’re written, I wanted to shut down and cry and avoid thinking about any of this.

Because of my good teachers, I can see it. I can see it in such detail, and with such understanding, that it breaks me.


They didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. I trusted a pair of incompetent assholes with a slick con game. I wasn’t even the victim of the con: that would have been the client, or maybe the readers. I was just incidental to the whole thing.

They pushed the places I hurt, and pushed hard, and owned my creative voice in ways that feel sick and wrong right now. They wanted “me” to go away, in a way that none of the other clients I ever wrote for did.–Other clients wanted different styles, but they told me what they wanted and why. Or they got me to 95% and did the last 5% polish themselves. Or they yelled at me over reader expectations when the twists twisted themselves too hard. They didn’t lie about what they wanted, then refuse to explain themselves and blame me for the end product.

I get to walk a

way from people like that on a professional level, not just because they’re rude and inconsistent and disrespectful. (That part I knew.)

But because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. And I do.




A cute photo of some of Most Favored Tree’s branches. <3


In case you need an Alternative Mom ™, here’s a Midjourney image of your Space Lord Mother Mother. She looks a lot like Debbie Harry, actually. I’m not mad about it.

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