– by Christy Moceri
I have always felt like a freak, and there’s no surer confirmation of my freakishness than watching people try to make sense of my writing. My minister friend pored through pages of obscenity, violence and lustful passion before declaring it “Profane… but meaningful.” (That’s going on my business card.) I write romance, but I’d rather be compared to Chuck Palahniuk than Danielle Steel. Any good love story should have gritty action, a high body count and a heap of conflict. My work has been described as “dark” “intense” and “emotionally exhausting.”
One of my writer friends condemned my protagonist thusly: “She’s a hot mess.”
She always is, I can’t deny it. She is every stupid, self-destructive impulse I’ve ever had. She is my justified rage, the narcissism in my neurosis, the id to my superego existence. Unlike me, she doesn’t give a damn whether you like her or not. She has other priorities.
The problem with writing your guts out is that not everybody gets it. Or wants to get it. Or can stand to look at it. Or even understands what they are seeing. As writers, we constantly have to balance artistic integrity with likability. I think woman characters have an extra hurdle to jump in this regard. I’ve noticed practically nothing my female characters do can escape the suggestion that they are trying to “manipulate” someone. In a recent story I wrote, my female protagonist propositioned a man. “Is she trying to manipulate him?” “No, man, she just wants to have sex with him.” Is it particularly adaptive to proposition a stranger when your lover is on the warpath? Not so much, but it’s thoroughly characteristic of traumatized, desperate, self-destructive people. And these are the kind of people I write about, because these are the kind of people I understand.
Some people read it and immediately get it, no explanation necessary. I have found kindred spirits in unlikely places. These people are my lifeblood. They keep me hustling. At a certain point you have to embrace your weird, maybe even revel in it a little. Maybe the cost of reaching my people is alienating everyone else.
For those who don’t get it… is it a failure in my technique? Some error in my craft? Perhaps. I still have much to learn. But maybe most people have no reference point, no way to enter into the reality that I take for granted. I have a master’s degree in social work, a stable, happy marriage of thirteen years, and a normal (probably boring) life. But once upon a time, I was a 17-year-old legally emancipated minor scrounging nickels in my car seat cushions to pay for gas. I spent one stint in psych ER. As a college student, I took a two-year medical withdrawal in order to teach myself to cope with my constantly overwhelming emotions. I’ve had to fight bare-fisted with my painful childhood for every bit of “normal” I’ve got. I beat back the past, but my knuckles are still bloody. Most people do not understand what it’s like to have your own worst enemy living inside you. Maybe my great task as an artist will be learning how to communicate the nature of that struggle.
Any time I fail to make the reader connect with my troubled characters, it feels like a rejection of my truest self. Last night I shopped my first (EVER) short story to my writers group. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a woman leaving an abusive relationship. I based the dynamic on one from my childhood. It’s good, they said. We like it, they said.
Is there anything worse for a writer to hear? “This is competent.” God. Twist the knife in deeper.
I’m just going to have to work harder, until at least one of them hates it.
Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.
“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Viktor Frankl