Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why would he write that kind of stuff?

I’ll admit I cringed when my first ebook publisher wanted to call my stories “senior romances.” After all, do they still call it that in our October Years---when sixty and seventy describes us? And even it they do, what kind of seventy-plus guy would claim to do “romances”? These books of mine aren’t about muscular Alpha Males cavorting across a book cover in a torn shirt, swooping up a seductive maiden. My tired Beta Males are more likely stumbling toward a late-life connection, resurrecting adolescent memories they had set aside decades before. So from the beginning I set aside the “romance” label and settled for calling them “relational stories.”

Yet, call them what you will, relationships---both casual and deeply personal---are the stuff of life. When they are absent or injured we suffer. We’ve all been there. It’s not a feel-good time. Beyond that, relationships are also the stuff of a good story. So why be embarrassed about writing something that everyone can relate to? Would it be more authentic to focus instead on fantasy or vampires and zombies, spy thrillers or who-dun-its---none of which are part of my personal experience? (Well, I did know this girl once---but that's another story.)

Each of us, based on our own unique experience, knows how complicated, even intimidating, that “relation seeking” process can be. For the October friends I write about it is all that and more. After all, they and their world have changed dramatically since their hormonally-driven first time. Along the way they have learned an important truth---everything looks different through October eyes. Yet, though the world may appear different,  they are seeking to fill the same existential void and find the same affirming affirmation they went looking for as teenagers. 

But even with a new label, it took a while to move beyond the self-induced embarrassment of writing relational stories---to accept that relational episodes are an elemental part of life. More than that, it turns out they are highly relatable. We read a vivid fantasy, a murder mystery, or time-travel adventure to escape the ordinary---a perfectly valid reason. A relational story, on the other hand, will probably include recognizable snippets of our own lives. That’s what I enjoy the most---creating stories about good people in need, hoping for the relationship that will help them heal.

Of necessity, that process has me asking questions I’ve seldom considered before. It’s not enough to relate how two individuals---an uncoupled couple---manage to find each other. I must create a personal story for each of them---one that explains why they are alone, why they want another relationship, and what kind of “someone” it would take to make that happen?

Each “fact” of their story must be plausible and consistent. And, of course, along the way I must imagine, and bring into being, the appropriate obstacles---real, yet surmountable---to place in their way. A story with no obstacles is boring, not really a story at all. It is the “overcoming” that makes the result worthwhile.

Fiction is a favored form of escapism for both readers and writers. Truth to tell, a storyteller like myself, relating life-like relationship stories, is apt to be focusing on the very thing the escapist is hoping to escape. In that case, I can probably scratch that potential part of my audience. And the rest of those fiction readers? How many of them are looking to curl up with an October Years relationship tale ---especially one that addresses head-on the challenges that come with that territory?

Pretty smart of me, eh? Staking my claim in the tiniest sliver of the whole darn market.

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