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My most popular story, Change of Heart, is being translated into French! The lovely Arumbaya has begun work and the first chapter is now posted. You can read it on Fan Fiction or on a French-language forum called Describe your House.

Just for the hell of it, I ran the first chapter through a translator because my only French is ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, and ‘will you sleep with me tonight’. It’s quite hilarious, not the least of which is that ‘Cut-throat Bitch’ becomes ‘Furious Bitch’! Love it! (Oh and it has nothing to do with the quality of the translation, just the randomness of internet-translator bots, as I’m sure anyone who’s played with them before can attest!)

I’ve said before that I don’t quite understand the popularity of Change of Heart, especially given that reading it back now, after two years more writing practice, makes me cringe at all the things that should be better. But it continues to gain new ‘favourites’ each month and in the monthly stats it is always in my top three stories. I wonder if it is like a snowball – because lots of people favourite it, lots more people notice it and therefore favourite it? I don’t know!

Anyway, I know that I do have French-speaking readers and I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a few of them over the years. I hope that you enjoy reading (or re-reading!) in your first language.

I’m feeling very honoured that someone felt my story worthy of the work that must go in to translating.

I’ve just finished posting the final chapter of my latest fic, Affair to Remember. It’s a story about House, his mother, Blythe, his mother’s neighbor, Emma, and her son, Cameron. As far as plot goes, it’s pretty simple: Blythe’s failing mental health has been having an impact on her neighbor, who’s been forced into a caretaker role. She finally calls House and asks him to come and take care of his mother himself.

From a writing perspective, in this story I was practicing something; I was playing with the idea of “themes”.

If you’re interested in learning more about writing, one of the best writing books I’ve read is Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part instructional guide, it is an amazingly easy-to-read book and would be of interest to anyone (reader or writer) who wants to know more about the craft.

One of the things he talks about is this idea of “themes”.

I’m sure just from high school English class if nothing else, you’re familiar with the idea of themes throughout a book — for example, The Great Gatsby is about a thwarted love story, but the themes in it are rich well beyond that, such as the division between old money and new money, and the destruction of the “American dream”.

Stephen King advises that once you’ve written your book, you examine it for themes and then go back and weave them into the tapestry so they permeate throughout. It’s when authors do this that you have lots to talk about when you discuss a story — there is depth beyond the plot, and meaning behind the actions of the characters. It’s what makes a book good for a book club!

Now I’m not necessarily saying I achieved book club status with this story, but I was practicing with themes and I’d be interested to know if you picked up on any of it. There were two I was deliberately playing with: the nature of an “affair”, and “memory” or “remembering” — just as in the title.

All my characters had an affair — thus the title is deliberately not “AN Affair to Remember”, like the movie . Blythe’s affair was with House’s biological father and, in my mind, was the central “affair” of the title. Emma and House end up having an affair. And Cameron is about to set off on his very first “affair” by having sex with his girlfriend for the first time. Each of these three relationships weave in and out of all their lives, with Blythe’s remembrance of her affair as what sets off House believing that there is something wrong with her mental state.

My take on affairs wasn’t just the sex or the relationship angle though, it was on the “memory” — what does an affair leave you remembering? For Blythe, she remembers a man she loved, who left her with a son and the rest of her life that (to me) never measured up to what she could have had if she’d left John and gone with Tommy. Perhaps this is what is ultimately behind her parting advice to House “not to be afraid” — does she wish she’d had the courage to live her own life differently?

Both House and Emma reflect that they will remember the weekend forever. For Emma it marks a turning point in her life — a decision that she must start to live her life for herself and not just for her son, because he will grow up and leave her soon. Being with House shows her possibilities that she’s not let herself imagine.  This is in contrast to Blythe, who gave her life to her husband and and son. Emma realizes that she needs to change the way she lives or she faces a similar destiny to her neighbor. (And, as a little additional reinforcement of the “affair” theme, in Emma’s back story, we find out that she was badly hurt when her husband cheated on her when Cameron was a baby — that affair, although not hers, left her with memories that kept her from seeking another relationship for many years.)

In contrast to the other characters, Cameron is all about making memories rather than remembering them. House’s final advice to Cameron, to take his time “because he’ll remember it forever”, is opposite to when House first protests that he can’t remember how old he was himself when he first had sex. Cameron doesn’t call him on that, and we can only imagine what the teenager does or doesn’t do with his girlfriend Tori. (Although, I rather hope they have a very special time and end up going out with each other throughout high school until they part to go to different colleges. I liked Cameron. A lot. 🙂 )

House’s journey throughout the story is the one that is most about memories. I’ve mentioned to one reader that I was very much playing with the “Broken” version of House in this story. His relationship with Lydia in that episode was very informative to some of the inner workings of his mind, and in this story, it is Lydia who House remembers, not Stacy: his affair, rather than his relationship. The affair with Emma is more “domestic” than the affair with Lydia, and it shows House how much he misses the day-to-day aspects of being with someone — something he wanted with Lydia but couldn’t have.

House also has to face memories — his mother’s life and her decisions and how they’ve affected him. He also has to face the shadow of his father at every turn — the helpful marines and his father’s reputation preceding him. Although I could have, I didn’t delve too much into this, because this story wasn’t about John House or House’s relationship with his father, it was about mothers and sons. I felt getting into that would have “muddied” my themes by adding in a new one. (Besides, I think the House/John relationship has been pretty fully explored in fan fic, and I wanted to do something different.)

For House, the mother/son relationship dynamic couldn’t happen without some kind of “coming of age” journey for him. His reflections about the parent/child relationship shifting were part of this. I think this is also why he felt drawn to Cameron and found himself liking the teenager. Both of them were going through turning points in their lives: for Cameron it was puberty and losing his virginity; for House it was accepting his role and responsibilities as an adult and becoming a care-taker. House plays this role with each person at different points in the story — he rescues his mother after the accident and applies first aid; he comforts Emma in the hospital and realizes it is a fulfilling feeling; he advises and coaches Cameron on a number of occasions. I don’t know about you, but I liked House as the responsible one rather than the victim, I think he often likes to play “helpless” — with Wilson, especially.

I really enjoyed writing this story, and I feel it is something a little different to anything I have done before. It has echoes of “Rebirth” I think, in that it takes a kind of slow and gentle approach to the story-telling. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

And as a little treat for all of us:

Movie image, An Affair to Remember

*sigh* Cary Grant. Mmm.

As someone who hopes one day to get published, I probably spend as much time learning about writing as actually writing. (And actually writing probably counts as learning too!)

I have a massive list of blogs on my Google Reader, authors, agents, publishers, reviewers, readers, you name it, and if I don’t keep on top of it, the number of posts to read swells to an unmanageable number very, very quickly.

At the moment, though, I’m hanging on every word of Paula Roe, in her blog series A Novel in 3 Months. Her current post (the one I’ve linked to) is about GMC = Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the holy trinity of character development. It looks simple, but when you try to apply it to characters of your own making it’s far less easy.

I’ve struggled with it, and I’m struggling with it in the story I’m trying to write right now. So, I thought, as an exercise, to try to get this concept straight, let’s apply it to Greg House.

Goal (desire or want)

What does House want that he doesn’t have? I think the answer is “personal fulfillment” or “meaning”. He searches for answers in every medical puzzle, in every patient, wanting to understand not just what is wrong with them, but what makes them tick. (At least he used to. Back in the early days of the show). His constant, existential search for meaning came primarily through his medical pursuits and the cases that he solved.

Then things changed and he began to realise that some of this meaning could be found in the more lasting relationships he had with the people around him: Wilson, Cuddy, his team. Of course what we House/OC writers like to imagine is that this search extends to a romantic relationship (something the show has toyed with but never really provided). We like to imagine him finding fulfillment by connecting with a woman (usually) and finding happiness in a relationship.

Another goal he has is to be “left alone”. We see him push people away, over and over (especially prior to his Mayfield visit). He projects through his words and actions an independence that he treasures.

Motivation (what makes him tick)

After five and a half years of getting to know this character we still don’t fully understand what makes him tick. But we certainly do have some idea.

Intelligent, perhaps too intelligent, he has never fitted in — he has often used his smarts to manipulate other people and situations to his own advantage. His family upbringing was harsh, an only child and the product of an extra-marital affair — abuse has been mentioned, but we don’t know exactly what form it took (despite the wild imaginings of many fan fic writers!). We get the impression that he broke away from his parents at an early age, his relationship from them as distant as he could make it.

Why did he go into medicine? Because he saw the respect given to a Japanese man, a doctor of low class, who no one thought counted, until they needed him. At a young age, House saw that the fact that this man had knowledge bridged every other disadvantage he faced. Suddenly we see it: this boy, painfully bright, wants only to find a way to use his knowledge to gain the esteem and respect of others. With fragile self-confidence and low self-esteem (caused by many factors including the abuse and a constantly shifting home as a military brat) House strives to be noticed and to matter at the very same time as he appears to disdain the very notion of such things.  Contradictory? Absolutely! I’m not sure if Paula would agree with me, but I’m figuring that’s what makes him such an appealing character.

His need to be “left alone” is perhaps linked to a deep-seated fear that he isn’t actually worthy of being loved. The breakdown of his only significant relationship (that we know of), left him shattered both physically and emotionally. He doesn’t appear to ever want to risk that pain again, seeking companionship from ‘paid help’ and brief affairs. (Although we’ve never really been privy to an affair other than Lydia, but we can guess there have been others: the nutritionist for example.)

Conflict (tension, roadblocks)

I think conflict in a five-year long TV series is a different beast to conflict in a novel. However this is where internal and external conflict become important. Internal conflict is the emotions, tensions, struggles and hangups that prevent the character from achieving their goals. External conflict is the ‘plot’, the events and the changes that happen that cause the story to develop. In most cases, the patient-of-the-week storyline in House is external conflict — something that stirs emotion or gets in the way.

From a romance writers angle, I’ve heard it described as ‘internal conflict pulls them apart, external conflict pushes them together’. It’s the old ‘cabin fever’ plot device: put two opposing characters into a situation they can’t escape from and see what happens…

The more conflict there is, the more compelling the story becomes (although within reason — you don’t want to test your readers’ patience with unending and unbearable angst). I’m sure you’ve all read a romance or a love story where you absolutely couldn’t possibly imagine how the two protagonists were ever going to end up together and were desperate to keep reading to find out what happened. That’s conflict.

(And, as a side note, perhaps that’s where David Shore is shooting himself in the food with the whole House/Cuddy storyline — the more things get in the way of them coming together, the more those rabid fans weld themselves to that outcome!)

Conflict is the hardest thing to write successfully, in my opinion. ESPECIALLY in fan fiction, where you are restricted in many ways to the character traits, goals and motivations that someone else has set.

A common problem I’ve found in my own writing is that I end up with both the internal and the external conflict pushing the characters away from each other and thinking that sexual tension is enough to pull them back together again. Sometimes it works, but it can make a story feel flimsy. (And editors and publishers don’t like it — trust me on that one!)

Another trap that’s easy to fall into, is making the internal conflict so complicated and complex, that you lose yourself in explaining what makes the character tick without actually showing what influence it has — i.e. why it is important. A great author I listened to speak said that character motivations should be ‘simple and deep, not complex and shallow’. I guess if you have five years to tell a character’s story you have the luxury of making it both ‘deep and complex’.

And perhaps that’s why we love writing fan fic — how else can we get to play with a character that has had five years to tell us his story??

Okay, so GMC in a nutshell: Character wants something. Character has flaws that get in the way of them achieving that. Things happen that help and hinder them along the way. Then, in the case of romance (and stories I like to read) somehow character emerges triumphant.

Hmm. Still sounds simple. Still is really, really, not. Back to reading and writing and learning, for me…

I wanted to write a little more constructively about the process of writing “If you really loved me”, the House fan fic story that I’ve just recently published the last chapter of, but I’m finding that I can’t. (But I will, in a future post.)

I’ve talked to other writers about the strange emotions that happen when you write and publish fan fic and I think that many of us go through the same kind of process.

At first, when I’m writing a story, I’m filled with enthusiasm and excitement for it. I can’t wait to find out what happens and I’m practically obsessed by writing – I simply don’t want to do anything else (eat, sleep, work, go outside . . .). It’s like an addiction, and occasionally just as unhealthy!

Usually, I start to post (publish) a story when I’m about two-thirds of the way through writing it. It’s when I’m still quite excited by the story and I’m bursting to get some feedback from someone and share my words with the world.

Then, a strange thing happens. I work out what’s going to happen in the story. I know how it’s going to end – all that has to happen is for me to sit down and type it out. And that’s usually right when I fall out of love with my story. Sitting down to do that typing feels more like a chore than a labour of love. I also no longer think it’s very good, despite any lovely reviews I might be getting (thank you) and I have a massive crisis of confidence, wondering what the hell I was thinking putting it out there anyway. I no longer have the drive to write that I did at the start.

Generally speaking it takes me two- to three-times longer to write the final two chapters as it did to write the whole rest of the story. Silly, hey?

So they’re the first two “emotional” phases of the process of fan fic writing – well for me, anyway. But there’s a third.

Once I’ve finished writing, I’ve typed the words “The End”, and then I’ve posted my final chapter, a weird kind of melancholy descends. It’s like Christmas Day when you’re a kid and all the presents have been opened and you didn’t get exactly what you’d hoped for. That sad, kind of restless sense of anti-climax. I think it’s because I used to have this ongoing sense of purpose, I’d wake up and know I needed to post. People were out there waiting for it! Not only that, I would get regular emails (review alerts) filled with praise from people – often complete strangers! – about how well I was doing with something. And then, all of a sudden, it stops.

I guess it’s a little like being an addict and having your “culottes” taken away. (That’s a House reference 🙂 ) The “high” that you once had is over. No more nagging to post from keen readers, no lovely reviews – no personal satisfaction simply from seeing thousands of words from your own imagination right there on the screen.

I don’t want to overstate this. It’s not like I’m sitting curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, rocking back and forward. I still have a life to lead, bills to pay, work to do, family and friends to annoy. But there’s this little weird, nagging sense of loss, of something missing, of a gap where something used to be.

That is, of course, until the next story begins . . .

I’m very pleased to have been nominated in the second annual Whiteboard Awards. These awards are run on the Fox Forum (although they are unofficial) and they recognise excellence in House fan fiction across all ships, genres and characterisations. Check out the cool promo video:

Being nominated is very exciting and I honestly don’t care too much what happens next. There are so many wonderful writers nominated (including many dear friends) so the competition is very tough. I will be excited if I win, I will be excited if my friends win. Either way, I can’t lose!

Hope 2010 has started off well for you, whatever you are up to!

Mine has been a great one so far. My story “If you really loved me, you’d let me kill you” is still getting lovely reviews and currently has 247 in total! It’s not quite a record, but it’s closing in fast. An old story of mine, “Change of Heart” has a total of 258 — I’m having my own private and self-indulgent little race to see if “If you really” can beat it!

I’m still not sure why “Change of Heart” is so popular. It still regularly gets hundreds of hits each month. I think it is because it is the story in my list with the highest number of reviews. (Which goes back to my previous post about reviewing.) Other than that I’m at a loss, because I can’t say I think the story is any better than any of my other, more recent ones. It does have a lot of sex, though. Hot, House smut. Maybe that’s it.  😉

I finished writing “If you really” just before Christmas. I’m very pleased with how the ending turned out and how all the threads twisted together. There’s also a very “out there” scene towards the end that just popped in of its own accord, but I really like it and I think it is quite unusual and moving. Not giving anything more away — it will be posted within the next week or so!

We’re closing in fast on the end of the story. And I don’t have another one planned right now. I really want to try to spend some time on my non-House writing this month. My work is quieter at this time (being summer in the Southern Hemisphere) and it’s a good opportunity for me to concentrate. But you never know, something might pop up.

Oh, and before I go, thanks to all the lovely people who nominated me for the “Whiteboard Awards” over on the Fox Forum. It really is such an honour to be nominated along with some other wonderful authors. My only regret is that one of my stories from last year, “Rebirth”, isn’t eligible because I posted it on ff.net, not the forum. It is one of the stories from last year that I’m most proud of. But the rules is the rules!

Sorry, this isn’t a particularly fascinating post, but I just thought I’d pop in, let you know I was still alive, still intending to keep up this blog, and…. well, that’s about it. Promise I’ll be back soon with more of my (hopefully) scintillating stuff. Once “If you really” is complete, I’m planning to publish a post about how I felt about writing it and some DVD extras, “behind the scenes” stuff. Hopefully that might be interesting!

A very intimidating title, there, and one I’m not sure I’m going to completely deserve with this post. However, it is something that has been on my mind this week as I battle with a few of my usual writing demons.

In traditional romance writing, the character arcs of the hero and heroine generally follow predictable trajectories. That’s not to say every character goes through the same thing, but that there are generally recognisable stages and steps that characters go through as we progress through a story. Probably one of the most well-known is the hero’s journey monomyth. (Wikipedia reference) If you want to know what that is, watch Star Wars, because apparently George Lucas copied it. Or so people say. (I haven’t done any actual academic creative writing theory, so for those of you who have, forgive me if this seems primitive.)

However, what can you do when the lead role in your story (whether hero or heroine) is played by someone else’s character – one that your readers know well and love? How much leeway do you have to change that character or to have them undergo some kind of transformational journey? And, if you decide to play things carefully, how do you ensure that your story is still satisfying and that, by the end, it feels like all the characters (both canon and OC) have come to the end of their respective journeys?

In writing House, there are some quite strong constraints around the character which, in my mind, he can’t grow too far from. He can’t suddenly become a submissive, docile man who will go along with whatever the heroine wants (or second hero, in the case of slash, I guess). He also can’t NOT change, because the whole point of the story (in a romance) is for him to find happiness in another human being, which, as a canon character, he finds incredibly difficult. The trick lies in finding a balance somewhere between.

Many fan fics I’ve read seem to go too far one way or the other.

Either House doesn’t change and so the story isn’t satisfying or doesn’t seem believable, because the House we know on the TV show would not be instantly transferrable, unchanged, into a stable, loving relationship. (Yes, we all know it’s there, just under the surface, and that’s why we write this, to explore it, but we all have to admit that he would have to change at least some things in order to make it work.)

Some fan fic writers go the other way and make House into an instantly soft and squishy, passive romantic lead. Yes, he gave Cameron a corsage. Yes, he brought Cuddy’s desk back from her parents’ place. But let’s face it: mostly, he’s still a bastard. He’s a bastard alpha male with a hidden streak of romantic purism and that’s what makes him so damn irresistible as a romantic lead.

I’m not saying that I think I get this balance right myself. It’s just one of the elements that I find difficult about writing House fic. When you write non-fan fiction, your characters are your own and you can invent the backstory and character flaws and past experiences that help to meld the transformation that the character goes through. When you write fan fiction, you are limited by what the canon has revealed and what tweaks you can fit in around the edges.

When a fan fic writer gets this balance right, to me, this is when the pairing or ship or storyline doesn’t matter. If you can take a known character, expand them in a believable way, take them through a journey that transforms them and yet they remain emphatically who the readers recognise, then I think you have succeeded. If you do that, I don’t really care who you have him sleeping with. Agree? Disagree?

Gertrude’s House. As if I didn’t bang on enough in other internet forums, I decided I needed one of my very own.

Basically, I realised that in my efforts to get published in the “real world” , there was no end of helpful advice out there in blog land. But I get a lot of my writing practice  – and, to be honest, my writing pleasure – from writing fan fiction. (Specifically, just so you know, House MD fan fiction. And I primarily write House/OC (OC = original character) romance fan fiction.)

And on that topic, well, there’s really not so much out there. Or, if there is, it’s hard to find!

I know, fan fiction writing is seen as geeky and nerdy and – to use an Australian word – daggy. And often looked down upon as an inferior literature form. Yes, there is some terrible fan fiction out there. But, let’s be honest, there’s some terrible books out there too. I know. I’ve read them.

What I want to do with this blog is:

  • talk about my writing  and what I’ve learned about writing, posting and reviewing fan fiction (because after all, isn’t every blog just a little bit selfish and self-centred)
  • to have somewhere I can interact with my readers outside of the limited review-reply features
  • occasionally get some of my wonderfully talented fan fiction writer friends to contribute their wisdom and advice
  • pass on some of the things I’ve learned to the betterment of my fellow fan fiction writers

I know, it’s not “save the world”, but hey, it’s my blog. And I’m not doing this out of a sense that I am any kind of expert – far from it. I guess I hope that by sharing my knowledge, I might encourage others to do the same and then we all get to learn.

I can think of so many things I want to blog about. A few of the topics I want to cover include:

  • some of the general writing hints and tips I’ve gathered along the way that apply to writing any kind of fiction, whether your own characters or some you’ve borrowed
  • posting fan fiction – how often, how to build a ‘fan base’, how to make readers eager to read your work (not that I know all the answers, here, just a topic I want to explore!)
  • reviewing fan fiction – what authors really want to hear from readers
  • how other writers write, the processes they use, the techniques and tools and tips they have to pass on
  • the specific challenges and opportunities of fan fiction writing and the limitations of using someone else’s characters
  • the decision of whether or not to follow the ‘canon’ of the ‘verse you are playing in
  • how to deal with developments in your chosen fandom within your writing

There. I figure if I can think of seven post topics just off the top of my head, that’s a good way to start. And of course this is where you can add comments and tell me about other stuff you’d like to see me cover — or write something yourself for me to publish – I think I’m going to love guest bloggers if I have any volunteers!

Who knows where we’ll go from here. Drop me a line if you have further thoughts and I hope this turns out to be an exciting new adventure for us all.

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The great and wise Gertrude Stein