How Wattpad Is Changing My Life

WattpadOrangeWattpad is my latest big adventure, and it’s changing my writing life.

I joined Wattpad seven months ago to follow Katie Cross, who at the time had just serialized her novella The Isadora Interviews and was preparing to start Bon Bons to Yoga Pants. I wasn’t sure what I thought about it, back then. Raw, unedited writing? Authors giving away whole novels for free? Anyone can join and post random stuff? Uhh… But I needed an account to read BBtYP — Wattpad is good like that, you can’t read unless you’re registered — so I signed up.

When I read Katie’s blog post about how Wattpad has extended her author brand, I realized that my assumptions about Wattpad were wrong. It’s not all fan fiction and erotica (although those are well represented), and even well-known authors have taken to the platform (all kinds, from Margaret Atwood to R.L. Stine), enough that Wattpad has an orange “verified” checkmark for them. I also had a chance to chat with Jing Jing Tan at Wattpad (honestly, it sounds like the coolest place in the world to work); she was super encouraging, and I learned that it’s truly about connecting readers and writers.

At the core, it’s a social media network, only instead of cat pictures and linkbait, everyone there is sharing and discussing stories. I’m loving the feedback and support and conversation. Where sometimes trying to connect with new people through Facebook and Twitter feels like work, Wattpad is making it fun to reach out again.

But… changing my life? How can that be?

Look, I don’t share my work easily, so I don’t have much to show out there for the length of time I’ve been writing. I find excuses for why I don’t submit stuff, and why I don’t self-publish, but the truth is I’m just scared. Wattpad is making it easier for me.

  1. It’s easier with a buddy or two. E.D.E Bell started three days before I did, which gave me the courage to post my first chapter. T.J. Lockwood said she’d do it if I did it, and we both post on Fridays.
  2. Reads and vote stars are addictive. Yes, it’s true. I now live for reads and those little vote stars (top right corner of each chapter, yo!). Posting a new chapter sends a notification to all my followers so they can read it… and the number next to the little eyeball goes up, and the vote count next to the little star goes up, and I float on a cloud of happiness.
  3. Public commitment works for me. The main page for my work-in-progress says “updates on Fridays!” That’s a promise. No matter how my week goes, and no matter how fraidy-cattish I feel or how I convince myself it’s not quite right and needs more editing, Friday rolls around and that chapter has to go up.

plsvote4me-smlIn the two weeks since I posted the first chapter of A Husband for Deva on Wattpad, I’ve more than doubled my total public word count (TPWC = words available to the general public, whether for free or by purchase). The best thing is, I feel fabulous about it.

Wattpad can’t and shouldn’t be a working writer’s only platform, but as part of a wider author-brand strategy it’s brilliant, and for those who fear jumping into the pool, it’s an awesome way to get our toes wet.

Give Wattpad a try, if you haven’t already!
Share your profile in the comments.
I hope you’ll follow me
and give A Husband for Deva a read.

And remember, on Wattpad you make a writer’s day every time you click that little star in the upper right corner of a chapter.

Forever On My Bookshelf

A few weeks ago, there was a meme going around Facebook: “List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t think too hard about it — they just have to be books that touched you.” And I played along, because BOOKS, right?! But Facebook posts slide down the timeline and essentially disappear, so I’m making a note of the ten books I chose here, and adding a little what’s-special-about-them too. These are in no particular order of importance, but only the order in which they came to my mind as I set out to make the list.

1) Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey — this book was, I think, the first adult speculative fiction novel I ever read; I was probably fourteen or so (can’t remember the exact year), and my uncle gave Dragonflight to me for Christmas, opening my eyes to a world beyond children’s literature and the school library’s painfully appropriate-for-our-students YA selection. Also, telepathic ride-able beautiful dragons — I still want one.

2) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon — this book opened my eyes to the idea that genres don’t have to fit into narrow pockets; it’s a rich blend of romance and historical fiction and fantasy, and it’s hard proof that a book (or series!) doesn’t have to be easily describable or fall neatly into a bookstore category to have a huge fan following and be madly appealing. Also, men in kilts.

3) Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey — this book pushed my comfort boundaries with its BSDM component and people-as-property and sex-without-love and sex-for-money, while being so compellingly written that I couldn’t put it down; the world of Terre D’Ange is so rich and fully developed that I was able to accept and absorb the uncomfortable elements as being part of that world. Also, Joscelin Verreuil.

4) Rivals by Jilly Cooper — this book is my favourite of all Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles, because of Rupert & Taggie, but all of them together showed me that romance doesn’t require a straightforward plot with one obvious hero; it can be complicated, with multiple side plots, and the characters can fall in and out of bed and love with the wrong or right partners along the way, as long as everything ends up all right. Also, horses and television studios.

5) Flambards by K.M. Peyton — this book might possibly be the first “complicated” love story I fell in love with as a teenager; the characters face real challenges of social class and poverty and powerlessness and family conflict and war, and the emotional arcs and relationships are delicately and subtly handled… and it holds up well to re-reading at various ages and stages, so it’s not just for YA fans. Also, early 20th century setting (a favourite era) and history of airflight.

6) Friday by Robert A. Heinlein — many years ago, this book offered my first exposure to a protagonist with non-traditional relationship choices; the political and moral values aren’t perfect, but I’ll always cherish Friday because it was the first novel to take me beyond heteronormative monogamy for the major characters (rather than just token supporting characters). Also, a ninja-superhero-spy heroine with a secret bellybutton courier pocket.

7) Tam Lin by Pamela Dean — to me, this book is the quintessential college/university novel; it so exquisitely captures life in residence, higher-education bureaucracy, and the experience of academic and social exploration (with some dark urban fantasy elements thrown in for spice). Also, rich allusions to so much literature — I spot more every time I re-read it.

8 ) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — this book is a classic, for good reason; it has everything I want from a romance (the need to overcome one’s own genuine flaws and society’s obstacles, an external problem that truly threatens to derail everything, side plots and fully developed supporting characters so it’s not too linear, plus a beautifully romantic ending) and it has stood the test of time. Also, Mr. Darcy.

9) Complications by Atul Gawande — this book taught me that books aren’t only for fiction or school; I’ve always been a huge fiction reader, but when I was stuck with nothing to read (in a time before e-books and instant downloading) and borrowed this fascinating collection of essays off my doctor brother’s bookshelf, I discovered a taste for medical and scientific non-fiction which opened windows into hospitals and laboratories for me. Also, awesome prose.

10) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome — this book (and the series that follows it) epitomizes childhood adventure for me; there’s a character for every child to identify with (I was never sure whether I wanted to be artistic dreamer Titty Walker or pirate captain Nancy Blackett) and a smooth blend of realistic and imaginative elements to their camping and sailing excursions. Also, the food — bunloaf, seed cake, buttered eggs, pies, chocolate…

It would be so easy to over-think this list, to go back and say, “Oh, maybe Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was a more influential children’s book for me than Swallows and Amazons, and maybe I should have put Riders as my Jilly Cooper choice since it’s first in the series, and should I have picked Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth as my representative bit of non-fiction?”

But I won’t do that. This was my list of ten as they first came to mind, and they’ll be forever on my bookshelf.

Red Herring Jealousy

Three of the last five romance novels I’ve read have had jealousy as the major source of conflict that keeps the couple apart… and in all three cases, the jealousy was unfounded, a total red herring to create plot where there isn’t any.

Obviously, there has to be something standing in the way of the couple’s happiness. There wouldn’t be much of a story in a chance meeting that results in a kiss and all those nice tingly feelings, logically followed by a courtship in which the pair get to know each other and only uncover good things, followed by a sweet love scene and/or wedding (order of events to be determined by the type of romance & readership involved). So yes, we need conflict. But I’m starting to have a problem with stories where only unfounded, undisclosed jealousy is keeping two otherwise sensible and loving adults apart.

Idiotic Assumptions

It’s one thing when one character jumps to conclusions about the other on relatively solid evidence — things seen or overheard that a reasonable person would interpret as signs of an affair. I’m relatively tolerant of these “misunderstanding” scenarios, particularly if there’s no opportunity for the couple to actually talk to each other about what really happened, and even more so if the character development makes the wrongful assumption more likely.

The idiocy comes in with the idea that any opposite-sex contact must mean an affair.

Even leaving aside the heteronormative and reductionist aspects of that idea, it’s such a weak reason to keep two madly-attracted people apart (particularly when they choose not to discuss it or try to work it out). I mean, when Annie is so distraught she’s unable to eat or sleep because Bobby had a midnight phone call from a female voice she refuses to ask him about, or Bobby is ready to give up on love and enlist in the army that very minute because Annie was seen talking in a corner with an unidentified man — gah!

Which brings me to…

Pride As A “Flaw”

Okay, too much pride is a real flaw, when it causes the person to do things like look down on others and even treat them as lesser beings… self-satisfied pride in oneself, that is, especially regarding born-to-it attributes (see Pride and Prejudice if still not clear). But pride as in having self-respect and dignity? Not a flaw.

Red herring jealousy can only function as a plot device if the couple can’t or won’t talk about it. The minute Bobby tells Annie that the phone call was from his estranged half-sister, or Annie tells Bobby that her best friend’s husband just wanted help planning a surprise party for his wife, there’s no problem and they can move on to happily-ever-after. Now, I guess it can be tricky for the author to arrange circumstances so they can’t talk to each other about what’s bothering them, but far too many romance novels jump right to won’t talk, usually because of pride, of the s/he’d-tell-me-if-it-was-innocent-and-I’m-too-proud-to-ask variety.

Reason #1 that this irritates me: because pride-as-a-flaw conveniently allows the author not to give the character(s) any other more serious flaw. Oh, often it will be combined with “temper” — as in spunky, fiery personality, adding spice to the passion and all that (not a real needs-anger-management-classes kind of temper flaw, of course).

Reason #2 that this irritates me: because the resolution demands that the aforementioned pride be trampled on to sort things out. I’m pretty sure that very few authors intend the message underneath to be ugly, but ultimately it says your instincts are wrong and can’t be trusted, you need to lose your self-respect and dignity in order to be loved, and you need to end up humble and even submissive to qualify as a properly romantic character. Sorry, massive ick factor there.

And all the angst turns out to have been wasted and unnecessary, which is why I say…

Give Me Some Real Roadblocks

Three hundred pages of unnecessary heartbreak? Avoidable if only they’d just talked to each other and trusted each other? As a reader, I end up feeling that I’ve jumped through the author’s hoops like a circus animal — for nothing. Cheated. Miffed. It also makes me want to smack the characters for not talking and trusting like sensible people. As both a reader and a writer, I like real challenges for my characters. When they finally get to that happy embrace at the end, I want them to have earned it.

Even if it makes them not quite perfect, or even really not perfect. With all the communication and trust in the world, overcoming an addiction is a serious roadblock to happily-ever-after. So is rebuilding trust when there really has been an affair or betrayal of some sort. Or what about discovering that you’ve fallen for a con artist or thief or assassin?

And then there are countless ways in which outside forces can cause trouble. Serious illness? Financial devastation? Family conflict leading to a hard choice between love and kin? Military draft and deployment? Career advancement that would mean longer hours, a lot of travel, or a move to another city?

Not to mention all the potential conflicts of values and passions — the road won’t be smooth if the couple are on opposite sides of a polarized issue or hold opposing beliefs. No matter how deep and genuine both people are, how much they trust each other and care for each other, something will have to give somewhere if they’re campaigning for opposing political parties, or one wants a church wedding and baptized babies while the other is a committed atheist.

With so much rich material available, why settle for plots created with red herring jealousy?

As a writer, I’ve definitely come up with ideas that go there; it’s safer and easier than getting my precious characters into real roadblocks or finding anything truly sketchy in their psyches or pasts. But from now on, my reader-self is telling my writer-self to step up… and leave the red herrings where they belong, in mystery plots.

Jealousy is a green dragon, not a red fish.