What, you thought I was just talking about romance and starry-eyed sighs at the moon whilst thinking of only purest thoughts of the way one’s true love brushes his (or her) hair back away from his (or her) face?
Eh, not quite.
One reason I use the term “mushy stuff” and not “romance” is because romance often conjures up two images: ooey-gooey daydreaming at the moon or hard-core sex scenes. Or both in the same book, sometimes.
I don’t write either of those. But I dig mushy stuff, so much that I can’t keep it out of any of my stories if I tried.
Sex and romance and butterflies and the rest of that wonderful, life-ruining cocktail is just too much fun and too essential for me to skip right by it.
Now, I respect those who do opt out of showing any kind of mushy stuff in their stories, and certainly I don’t judge a book by the presence or lack of romance (and lack thereof won’t keep me from reading a story). I mean, I grew up partly on military science fiction here (and I still love a good military science fiction). 😉 And my first foray into fantasy was Lewis and then Tolkien (although The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales definitely aren’t the same as LOTR–I would argue they’re better).
And then puberty fully hit, and I realized three things:
1.) Physical attraction is a thing. No kidding, right?
2.) Mental attraction is even more of a thing. Sexy brains and all of that.
3.) Emotional attraction? That happens too.
I majored in Cross-Cultural Studies at Geneva College instead of writing for a reason: writing is about characters. About people. And while craft was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed my writing classes, I flat-out told my adviser that if I was going to write about people, I needed to spend my time learning about people, because that’s one thing you can’t fake, and one thing that will keep readers coming back no matter what. My adviser agreed with waving flags.
Coming back around to mushy stuff. Four major areas of a culture are childhood, coming of age, courtship/mating, and death. Three of those made sense to me.
You guessed it: courtship rituals was the outlier. And when I dove into studying that, I was flat-out amazed at the effects of any kind of romantic entanglement, even imaginary, on the psyche. Even the lack of participation in those rituals revealed so much about a person. I was astonished at how precious and fascinating and downright messed up all that mushy stuff could be. I grieved over the misuses and horror and brokenness. I cheered at some of the incredible ways couples connected to each other.
So yes, like any true nerd, you can partly blame the textbooks for my fascination with the mushy stuff, and for the ways it will always be integrated into my stories. Because I learned something through those studies.
- People have emotions and sex drives and the existence of such wasn’t inherently evil or wrong. But attitudes towards and actions involving love and sex and mushy stuff can cause major evil and harm, as well as major awesome. And while the mushy stuff (or lack thereof) certainly doesn’t define a person, ignoring it wholesale is ignoring one part of what makes us human (and yes, I know this is genre-specific, but you’re on the MM&M blog, so here we do acknowledge the mushy without shame).
Now, my mushy stuff isn’t be gratuitous or super-gooey (or if it is gooey, I’ll definitely balance that out with plenty of snark because yeesh, I’m a salty bacon girl, I can’t handle that much sweet, it’ll give me a cavity). But it’s there, because it is quite frankly one of the best ways to ruin characters’ lives, and I just can’t help myself. Plus, I believe God created all things good, including sex, so it should definitely be included in stories.
In fact, writing mushy stuff is a reason I’ve unpublished a book. You may or may not have noticed that Storm Warden has disappeared from Amazon, and that it was seemingly taking me forever to go through the proof copy (considering I’m a professional editor).
Welp, it turns out when you keep stopping every other paragraph to cringe and say “man, I should have explored that more” and “what the heck? Where is this going?” you don’t get very far. Now, Storm Warden was a novella, so naturally it didn’t go into much depth, and it still worked fine as a story, with good craft and all of that. But I wanted more for it.
Plus, as I started drafting Shadow Warden one morning during my “write anything to wake up your brain” time, I realized that the mushy stuff was going into directions that were very culturally interesting and wonderfully messy and awkward and just plain fantastic.
And I realized that I was going to have to destroy everything (cover, title, major arcs) to realize that vision, plus I would need to add all of the world-building and additional plot and everything else that demanded to be added. Thankfully, this is the whole reason of experimental indie projects! 😉
And for fans of Storm Warden, the essential plot will still be there, more or less(ish). Just taken up twenty notches, with more danger and death unicorns and heat and awkward and difficulties and at least another 20K of words (yes, twenty IS one of my favorite numbers).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish Lawless revisions. Which have all the monsters and the misfits and the mushy stuff. Plus steampunk and dragons. And possibly a–NOPE! That would be telling. For that kind of exclusive information, you’ll have to sign up for my newsletter or join the MM&M Facebook group. Or both!