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Happy Improbables Release Day!

  It’s the twenty-second of February, which means that now, officially, Improbables is available at the online retailer of your choice! To be entirely honest, it’s been available for a week and a half or so, but who’s counting? The point is that you can own you very own tale of Abigail Wren and her grumpy werewolf and drunken vampire friend. It’s the kind of thing that’ll warm every fiber of your being, unless you are a cold, heartless individual who hates mirth and fun.

  But, hey, maybe you want to read a couple of chapters just to see if you really hate fun. I’ll wait.

Improbables
Or, you could just buy now and save yourself the trouble.

  Anyway, I figured that this is as good a time as any to reflect on the entire process of getting Improbables from my computer to your eyeholes. All the way back in the halcyon days of 2014, I stumbled across the blog of Jenny Trout, specifically her recaps of 50 Shades of Grey. Between all those fantastic, chapter-by-chapter recaps came “The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch”. Throughout all that wonderful critique and analysis, I was inspired to write a blog post called I Am So Bad at Paranormal Romance, You Guys (You Don’t Even Know).

  The post would eventually become the foundation of Improbables. The major elements are there, of course: curmudgeonly werewolf, a loud drunken vampire, and a protagonist. But those of you who have taken the time to read the original short story will notice that there are significant differences.

  Sure, the character names are different, but the bigger thing is the tone. The short fiction piece is pretty nasty, in my opinion. I mean, I could have been much, much crueler, but the point is that there’s an unnecessary acidity to my original work. I set out to critique, playfully, the common tropes of paranormal romance in an effort to tweak the nose of a genre that’s provided so much entertainment. Upon reflection, it feels more like a shot against the audience and not the medium itself.

  I could very easily blame the limitation of short story as a means to an end, of course. In order to achieve a decent resolution as quickly as I wanted to and say the things I felt were necessary, snark had to be applied a bit more fiercely. Ah, the sweet rationalization of the artsy.

  The reality of the situation was that I was inspired and wrote without much in the way of depth. The characters were two-dimensional and Abigail, our protagonist, was painted very broadly as a caricature of what is a tremendously stereotypical version of the paranormal romance audience. She knew better about some of the weird central moral arcs of the books she read, yes, but she needed to be reminded of it.

  Ugh. Even writing that makes me feel icky.

  Despite this, I was actually interested in this premise enough to start developing the ideas into a larger story. I had the entire skeleton of the required events worked out in my head, along with the key tropes and recurring themes that pop up in the genre, by September of 2014. With that foundation fixed, I set to work!

  And then, 4,760 words in, I stopped.

  Things weren’t coming together the way I wanted them to. The words, when they did come, felt awkward and lifeless. Writing didn’t feel fun, it felt forced. I didn’t really know what the problem was; I wanted to write this story. In many ways, I felt I needed to write it: it was a new genre for me, I had some things I felt I could add to the conversation, and (above all) I had what I felt was a really fun tale to tell.

  But things weren’t clicking. It didn’t help that I was underemployed because a class had fallen through, leaving me feeling aimless and depressed. While 2014 had started off on a good note, by the end I felt that I was limping to the finish line.

  The introspective turn and ever-encroaching specter of financial horror did make me sit on my ideas a bit longer, allowing them to mature. The Spring semester of 2015 picked up with a new class and a return of my lower division course. As momentum picked up and the course load reinvigorating my critical engagement with pop culture, I found my mind returning to paranormal romance. And I realized why I was having as hard a time starting the book as I did.

  I was trying to approach the book from an outside perspective. That is to say, I was trying to appeal to people who didn’t quite get paranormal romance and didn’t really want to. Fundamentally, it wasn’t what I was trying to create.

  While I have given my fair savaging to Twilight in the past, my larger issue with it is the underlying moral heart of the series. Whether conscious or unconscious, intentional or not, one cannot ably deny that both Edward and Jacob are creepy stalkers that are rewarded for their behavior. Bella’s agency is routinely undermined and the whole motherhood-as-gateway-to-women’s-ultimate-form thing is just deeply weird.

  But as a story? It’s earnest and oddly endearing. It validates teenage emotions without calling them stupid or implying that they’re at all wrong. It may go a bit far in justifying actions based on emotions, but that’s hardly unusual for any piece of fiction.

  The point is that the vast majority of dismissive hand-waving for Twilight or any paranormal romance is rooted in one cause: its content made for women. And despite the quality, content made for women tends to be coded as automatically bad by the larger culture. I would wager that the people who continue to post the “Still a better romance than Twilight” memes only do so out of some weird allegiance to werewolves and vampires as “dangerous monsters”—that is to say, “man stuff”.

  When I started my first two chapters of Improbables the first time, I was building Abigail toward what would be a mostly unaltered version of my short story—meanness and all. And what that means is that I’d have to take pains to create a three-dimensional character only to have her revert to a two-dimensional one for the sake of a gag. A gag that, as time was passing, I was realizing was not so much funny as just kind of awkward at best and completely assholish at worst.

  I resumed writing at the end of May, restarting with a fresh first chapter and converting the original into chapter two. From there, it was the process of building Abigail as a character toward a new moment of truth, one that acknowledged the depth of her character while still adhering to an earnest faith in the romance part of paranormal romance. It no longer strikes me as condescending, which is nice.

  Better than nice. Good even.

  The point is that I stopped writing it from the perspective of an outsider looking in. I do earnestly enjoy paranormal romance, even though it’s not “for me”. So why the hell should I have my characters be stereotypes for the sake of easy parody? The things that should be critiqued in the genre have nothing to do with assumed audience consumption. Let the dudebros with their shit opinions handle that. We can have smart satire without having to indulge the people who don’t care.

  They won’t be impressed either way. So fuck ‘em.

  Sorry if that makes me sound pretentious. Although I do think Improbables is the best thing I’ve ever written, I’m also profoundly Midwestern and, as such, terminally unable to think I can do anything competently.

  With that, it was like a weight was lifted. Having never really written a story involving the establishment of a relationship, I found myself really engaged with trying to make it feel authentic. As such, I emphasized a slow build of emotional attachment. It was a challenge, but at the same time the process felt incredibly rewarding. While I’m sure I could have done it much faster (love at first sight and all), I think that the way the romantic interests interact with each other as the pages turn makes the story believable… at least, as believable as a paranormal romance can truly be.

  So here’s my pitch, friends. Buy Improbables. It’s got action, it’s got love, it’s got puns, it’s even got explosions. There’s face kissing and arguments and passion. It’s got grumpy werewolves and a vampire that drinks perpetually. There’s witty dialogue and a reference to Mad Max. There’s a character named Cat who is not a cat and a main character who is central to the plot, not because she’s magic or the chosen one, but because she thinks and is competent.

  Basically, if you like paranormal romance, you just might like this.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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