Welcome to this week’s Writers’ Wednesday. I’d like to welcome Sharon Bidwell to my blog; she’s a relatively new friend, one of many author friends I’ve met via networking on Facebook, a quirky, funny woman who has a thing for grouting. She’ll say she doesn’t, but don’t believe her. It’s her first love. Her second love is writing, and she’s here to tell us just how she got into writing, and why…
How Did That Happen?
(Or: How I Came to Write All Sorts of Things, Including Gay Romance.)
Sharon Maria Bidwell
I always say I write as I read, meaning anything and everything. From the first time I picked up a book, I wanted to experience as many adventures as possible.To paraphrase a quote I once read (but alas, cannot remember to whom I should attribute it), “Why live one life when you can live thousands?” It amazes me to hear some people have read none of the classics. Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were my first ‘adventures’ at an age when I also read authors such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
I started writing when I was sixteen, but never seriously. Some part of me wanted to, but if I ever made applicable ‘noises’, too many people sneered. I can’t say I actually listened to their scorn, but I was too busy with other things in my life and set it aside as many people do, as a dream to be realised one day or to prove unattainable. I continued to write, but years passed before I allowed others to read my work, and I have to admit the stories I showed them weren’t very good, even though those readers responded with sounds of encouragement. I have wondered whether they were biased and being kind, but looking back on those initial attempts, no matter how poor the writing, I realised I was still ‘storytelling’. The idea of being a storyteller harks back to the times when I was too young to read far more complex novels than would have been possible for my age, so I begged people to tell them to me.
I eventually studied a couple of writing courses, and subsequently began to submit to small press magazines. Many authors have started this way and I always joke that I had fewer rejections than Stephen King before a first acceptance. I’m not counting the dozen or so things I sent out prior to those courses. The internet didn’t exist back then; not many people owned computers; I hadn’t learned enough to be successful. Even those failures were returned often with positive comments, and any writer will tell you it’s unusual to receive a rejection where the editor has taken the time to add a personal note. That’s when I stopped sending things out until I had studied this pursuit of writing and found the best and correct way to submit to publishers. Consequently, the first story I sent out was accepted by the second publication I submitted it to. Even the magazine that initially rejected it pointed me to possible markets for its publication, so in a sense the story was an immediate success.
Since then I’ve had moderate success with short pieces, poems, short stories, and articles, both fact and fiction. The problem I faced was simple. When was I going to produce a longer work? I had projects, but nothing that was ready for publication. One can approach writing in one of two ways, by writing what one likes and trying to find a market for it, or writing with a specific market in mind.
I believe my main problem has always been one of my personal strengths – I write as I read, ‘anything and everything’. Much of my work crosses genres and that provides me with a rich world of storytelling, but work difficult to categorise can be difficult to place. There’s no point sitting around wishing for good fortune, so I decided if I wanted a longer work published, I was going to have to make it happen.
Now those who have seen my eclectic book collection wouldn’t be surprised to spot the occasional romance, but if they’d only read the darker short stories I like to write they might be surprised at where that decision led me. I’d read a couple of books by authors such as Angela Knight. This led me to discover Loose-Id who publishes sexy romances for women – very different romances from the type I had read as a teenager. (Please note: as a teenager I was reading romances as avidly as I was reading Stephen King and James Herbert – I have said my book collection is eclectic, and I’m not exaggerating). I thought, ‘I can do this’, just prior to mild panic when I accepted I had never written something so explicit. Even so, the motivation remained and I had nothing to lose by trying.
They rejected my first submission. On reflection, two of their reasons I agreed with, one I didn’t, still don’t, but that’s irrelevant. They were right to reject that book at the time. In a strange way, it gave me more confidence to believe what they were saying when I did manage to write a book they wanted to accept.
Squirming under the sting of rejection, I started reading in earnest, trying to study the market. I’d never previously considered writing romance, but I liked the variety of stories available, from vamps, shape-shifters, westerns, and sci-fi: if you could envision it, a book existed in the romance industry.
I grew increasingly frustrated. I wanted to write for Loose-Id, but I needed something special, something different. One of their books featured stories where two men loved one woman and each other, but that still hadn’t clicked in my head. Then I noticed that m/m (man on man) books began to appear with increasing frequency. I read one and loved it. It was my first true experience of a gay romance outside of more mainstream books. The love scenes were very much part of the story and just plain fun. The snappy dialogue appealed and would influence the way my characters spoke.
If I were struggling to write an explicit hetero romance, how did I think I was going to write a gay one? It started with a vague idea with no real direction or richness to it. I pictured a man sitting on a bench and a thief creeping up on him. I had no idea as to their identity or sexuality. A few days later I came across the name ‘Shavar, meaning Comet’ and suddenly I knew who the man was and why he sat there, seeking peace and solitude. I had found the perfect story because it swept me up in it. I wrote the draft in about eight weeks starting in June one year. I had subbed it by the beginning of the following year, received a request for the full manuscript within two days, and had it contracted a month later. The Swithin Chronicles 1: Uly’s Comet appeared the following August.
While the first manuscript was shelved awaiting my personal edit, another idea came to me, this time for a m/m contemporary work. I was able to work on it totally focused with no interruptions, and as it has a largely winter setting, writing it during winter seemed appropriate. I wrote it because, again, I had a story that nagged at me, but in the back of my mind I tried not to hope and told myself Uly’s Comet would be rejected. I needed another work lined up to send in when it was. That book became Snow Angel, my most successful work to date. I’d just finished that when Uly’s Comet was contracted… and the publisher asked if the ‘comet’ book were to be a series.
Panic. I had never envisioned it as more than an isolated book. I had never envisioned writing more than one gay romance. Imagine the contrasting and sometimes hilarious reactions when telling your family and friends you have had a book contracted, and then having to explain that not only is it an explicit romance, but a gay explicit romance; not only that – the publisher wants more of the same. I know in a perfect world it shouldn’t matter, but I had jumped in the deep end without the ability to swim… or so I thought.
This time I didn’t have to search for a story – books two and three came to me. I understood these characters so well, the biggest headache was making sense of the hundreds of notes, some amounting to only a single sentence, scribbled on whatever I had to hand: even on napkins and toilet paper. I can laugh at that and now always carry a notebook with me, but my head was so full of these stories that even snippets of conversation would just pop into my head when least convenient. As for any possible embarrassment, if in doubt, brazen it out. I was proud of my work and willing to say so.
I never set out to write gay romances or to be a spokesperson for equal rights, although I quickly realised I had a perfect opportunity and little option but to stand for my beliefs. I have no agenda, but it’s obvious that anyone capable of recognising emotions are universal believes in equality. I was also to discover that the reasons why women write and read gay romances were as varied as the authors and books available, but to cover that topic would take another blog entry.
I envisioned a race that freely took lovers of either sex, in a society where, as long as no one was hurting anyone else, people lived as they pleased. The ultimate Utopia? No, for there are still those who will harm others for political reasons and power.
The trilogy is at heart m/m romance (I should say m/m/m romance) but there are a few m/f scenes that may lead people to believe otherwise. By the end of book three all becomes clear, but book one can be read as a standalone novel. One can also read from book two, but if one reads book two the chances are curiosity will make the reader look at book three. The sex is also more explicit, and there are more intimate scenes in books two and three, and the pace is faster, but book one was needed very much to set the stage and it was my first romance novel. I still love that book, even though one day I will likely subject it to a ruthless edit.
Someone described my Swithin ‘comet’ books as prince and the pauper crossed with Arabian nights. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a fun comparison. Markis, the Swithin Prince, not only has two men in his life but a princess, and the reason is simple. Markis is a prince and needs to marry. However, there’s no need to think of them as a true quartet and my little princess finds her own kind of happiness by the end of book three, I promise. As well as the trilogy, there are to date three Swithin Spins and there may be more in the future. This series is particularly special to me because if it weren’t for that first novel my father would never have seen a longer work of mine published before he died, and that is priceless!
Reading influences would be too many to mention, and none are exactly direct. Mostly, they are works that have sat in the back of my mind where small pieces have come together to create something new and whole when I had the right story for it – stories that helped me explore a vivid and contrasting landscape. Team all this with a visit to Italy and I had the scope to create a rich background and setting. The world of the Swithin is a mix of Arabian and Mediterranean influences. Think of crisp white marble, terracotta tiles, fairytale castles, pale desserts, soaring cliffs, and deep valleys filled with rich and abundant foliage (all things you’ll find in Italy) and you’ll begin to glimpse their world. This is offset by poorer districts with muddy bandit-infested alleys, but this isn’t the world of the Swithin, merely parts of a planet on which they live.
Take a race who freely takes lovers of either sex, a prince with a problem, his personal guard who loves him and manipulates him for his ‘own good’ without apology, a princess who needs rescuing from a backward nation, a war to avoid, and throw a street thief into the mix to steal the prince’s heart. There you have Uly’s Comet, the first of the Swithin trilogy, and the first of many gay romances I’ve written. I don’t intend to abandon the other genres I love, and those twisted stories many know me for, but I will always follow a story wherever it leads me, even if it does leave some people wondering, “How did that happen?”
For a taste of the Swithin world you’re welcome to read a short story on my website: (Please note: the events in this story happen between Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 of the novel, The Swithin Chronicles 1: Uly’s Comet); At What Moment.
A whole host of Sharon’s work can be purchased at Loose-id.
Text © 2010 Sharon Maria Bidwell Covers © 2010 Loose-id, All Rights Reserved