A Bridge Too Far: Taboos in Fiction

Thanks to all the wonderful readers for their enthusiastic reception of SHADOW WIZARD! Just because it’s so squee-worthy, here’s a fabulous Reddit Gush about the book. Made me very happy!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking about limits. How far is too far in your writing? Is there anything you find taboo?

I think these are two different questions. I mean, they’re literally two different questions, but I think the consideration of what is “too far” for me vs. what I find taboo are not the same at all.

George R.R. Martin once told me about one of his favorite writing exercises to assign when he teaches workshops. He’d ask the students to write about the worst thing they ever did. Some, he said, were clearly fictionalizing. And others couldn’t seem to come up with anything that terrible – which he figured for another sort of denial. But the point of the exercise was to demonstrate that all people – and thus all characters – can do really awful things. I mulled this over, and the conversation has clearly stuck with me, and I’m pretty clear that I do have places I won’t go in my writing.

Some of the reactions to SHADOW WIZARD that I’ve seen remark on how awful some of the high houses in the Convocation are. In fact, some readers tap out on the world altogether, because it is so dark. I want to show in my work what absolute power does to people – it’s a recurring theme for me – so perhaps I’m not so different from GRRM in that perspective. I have shown sexual abuse to the point of rape on the page, so that’s clearly not too far for me. I won’t show the death of a child or an animal-friend, however. That’s just because it’s too much sorrow for me.

As far as taboos, however… I have a workshop I sometimes teach on writing sexual tension, and I delve heavily into taboos, especially as they apply to sex. In short, taboos exist in society for good reasons – they are instilled in us as children to protect our health (no dessert before dinner) and safety (don’t touch the hot stove) and later they come from our larger communities to protect us all (murder is wrong). Because taboos are so deeply ingrained in us, breaking them releases a huge amount of emotional and spiritual energy. It’s freeing to break taboos – which is why breaking sexual taboos (which often don’t exist for very good reasons) can be so healthy.

The great thing about fiction is you can break all the taboos you want to! It’s exhilarating for the writer and the reader. There’s a reason we love kick-ass characters who kill with glee and ease. That releases the same energy in us as breaking the murder taboo, but without social or personal consequences. So… is there anything taboo for me in fiction?

Probably not.

Sex: Always, Extremely, and Profoundly

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Sex in Your Novels: When Do You Use It, How Graphic Do You Get, How Does It Change Your Character(s)?”

I answered the question in my post title, so I guess I’m done and go finish trimming the tree!

All right, seriously, I suspect I’m fairly well known for writing the sexytimes into my stories. I sometimes teach classes in Sexual Tension and Sex as a Tool for Character Transformation. I think I’ve written maybe one or two fiction works with zero sex. Some of this is because my readers expect the sexytimes from me, sure, but it’s also because sex just always works its way into my stories. Come on over for a breakdown of how I use sex in a story like THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN.

Crafting Romantic Tension Writing Workshop!

CVlmXGkXIAEUQg6.jpg largeHey, if you’re in the Orlando area, I’ll be giving a workshop on building romantic tension via conflict. You can register here. I assume the event is designed for people to attend in person. *I* will be there via Skype. If you have questions, though, ask them, not me. I just do what I’m told. 😉

When to Listen to Advice – and When NOT to!

Master of the OperaThose of you who’ve waited (nearly forever!) for a consolidated version of my serial novel, MASTER OF THE OPERA, it starts shipping from Books a Million tomorrow. It’s in paper only. If you want to read it digitally, you still have to by each of the six episodes separately. Good news is that the first episode is FREE. So you can try it out and see if you like the story – then go for digital or paper, as you please.

Other housekeeping items:

The second New Release Newsletter from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) goes out tomorrow! Subscribe to learn about new releases from the best-selling Sci Fi and Fantasy writers out there, AND have a chance to win free books! You can sign up here.

Also, I’m teaching an online class on writing sex scenes starting tomorrow. Getting Away from Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma’am – only $15 for non-members of OIRWA!

Now, on to what you really came here for. A bit of a rant on listening to advice.

So, yesterday I was at my nail salon, getting a manicure. The place is run by two Vietnamese sisters and their husbands. The sisters sit next to each other (which I find fascinating, but that’s another story) and my gal’s sister was doing the nails of a lady who must be a lawyer. The sister’s husband took notes as lawyer gal gave them advice on dealing with a construction/contractor problem on their house. She told them exactly what to say, how to say it and when to escalate.

It was all really good advice and they were lucky that she shared it so freely.

That said, not all advice is good advice. Free or purchased.

The thing to remember is that people LOVE to give advice. I’m not exactly sure why, because it can be a time suck and often you can put a lot of effort in trying to give thorough, solid advice and then the person who asked doesn’t listen. Of course, there are plenty of people who try to make careers of advice-giving. Those are the ones who charge huge amounts to teach you how to write a bestseller or how to be a millionaire. (I’m cynical – I always want to know why they aren’t making money by writing bestsellers or making millions a different way.)

Hopefully this isn’t ironic, given that I pimped my online course above. 😀 However, I didn’t teach writing or give writing advice for a really long time – until I thought I had something solid to give. And my point today goes beyond writing advice, though it certainly centers there. My author loops are full of people offering their opinions, sometimes insisting on the rightness of their advice and battling others to “win.” A dubious trophy, at best. Twitter has the #pubtip hashtag which *anyone* can toss up there – which means the advice can be good or atrocious. Very often the latter.

And people’s friends and families – usually well-meaning – give tons of advice. A newbie writer messaged me recently, apologetically asking for advice on querying agents, etc. I was happy to answer her questions, as she asked very nicely and has supported my books. I was sorting through a bunch of misinformed ideas she had, when she mentioned that her family had told her a bunch of it, particularly regarding the publishing industry and self-publishing. I had to tell her to stop listening to her family. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but their “advice” seemed to be entirely drawn from skewed media stories. Not that self-publishing isn’t a viable option – of course it is. But what the media likes to broadcast and what’s the real scoop can be two wildly different critters.

My point is that, with all things, when listening to advice, consider the source – particularly their motivation and their experience.

As I mentioned above, people have a wide range of motivations for giving advice. Some of the time it’s to make money off of people, which is at least straightforward. A whole bunch of the time it’s to feed their egos. Spreading advice and opinions is a great way to pump up one’s feeling of self-worth and mastery of a topic. I’m sure I’m guilty of this from time to time, but mostly I try to restrain myself to giving advice only when I think it’s because it can be helpful. I believe this is the only motivation to trust.

As far as experience, there’s a Catch-22 in that the people with the most experience and the best advice to give are frequently way too busy to give it. Beware of people with so much free time that they can spend it giving lots of advice. Conversely, when someone with lots of experience in a subject offers you advice, listen to it! The lawyer next to me at the salon knew her stuff. The advice she gave was probably worth $500 and hour and she gave it for free – or maybe for the price of a manicure – and they listened diligently. I’d even add that the advice is particularly valuable if it contradicts ideas you already had. That doesn’t mean you have to take it – but it does mean you’ve been given something you didn’t have before.

And that’s my advice. For what it’s worth. 😀

Happy weekend, everyone!


Eating Me Some Crow

P1012750This is our artichoke plant. The one that I was warned would lose its artichokes to admittedly gorgeous blossoms if we let it go too long. We (obviously) let it go too long. 

We meant to do that…

But that’s not what I’m eating crow about. This week’s topic in the Bordello is: What did you say you’d never do in a book, and then did? Click over to Word Whores to hear my embarrassing story!

Also, I’m teaching an online class in August! 🙂

**CLASS BEGINS** Sexual Tension – Getting Away from Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am.  Presenter: Jeffe Kennedy.   August 1–15, 2015.  Outreach International Romance Writers,   http://www.oirwa.com/forum/campus/#AUG1

Sexual Tension – Getting Away from Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am

Presented by Jeffe Kennedy

Dates: August 1–15, 2015

Deadline August 1, 2015

Fee: OIRW Member $10

Fee: Non-Member $15


Registration: Non Members

Registration: OIRW Members