Crawl out of the hole when writing a memoir.

Sitting alone in a crowded hole

Demons possess my inner soul

Caught in a place I can’t escape

The only way is to sit and wait

Fight the thoughts that encompass my mind.

Hurry up, I’ll soon go blind!

Blind to the consciousness of right and wrong

To lose that feeling, everything’s gone

Be strong enough to conquer the worst.

Crawl out of the hole is what to do first.

– from my novel Broken Smiles by Tara Mayoros

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(image found on canyon collective.com)

Sometimes we are stuck in the holes of our own making. We crawl, we fight, and we can emerge from our despair.

Recently I attended an intimate writers workshop. For some reason, many of the attendees have written or are in the process of writing memoirs. Most of the stories were born from past tragedies of life changing accidents, abuse, and thoughts of suicide. Words bring people together. Words heal. There is something uniquely sweet when virgin words are shared. Un-jaded by the industry, those shared moments whittled away at my heart and left me bleeding for their sorrow.

What does it mean to be brave?

Being brave to me, is sharing words that you know will cause a stir, maybe even a hurricane. One woman shared a piece that was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. She had sat on it for months and months, not wanting to offend others or tell her inner most secrets. Maybe it was because none of us knew each other before hand, or maybe she needed to have validation. For whatever the reason, she shared, and cried… and noticeably, a weight was lifted.

The instructor made a very good point when writing a difficult memory… write it with all of the emotion and feelings attached. Do not fight, do not filter your words. It is therapy. Feel what you write, if you want it to be felt by others.

Then, finally, when the story within you has been told, and a certain time and space has distanced you from it, dissect the placement of each word and scene. Don’t be hasty in publishing your final memoir. When writing memoirs, ask for permission from real life characters because everyone has a different side of the story. Or change the characters enough to not be obvious. When writing characters from real life, you run the risk of keeping those people and scenes in the past. You have suspended them in time by publishing them into your book. Do not imprison you and your characters into a book that you wrote fifteen years ago and the situation and people have changed personally.

Expect others to shy away from you. Expect judgements. You must put aside the fear of upsetting friends or family members. It will stunt you if you can’t get past writing the “safe” writing. If your words emerged from a sincere and ernest soul, how could you keep those words inside of you to simmer and boil from the inside? It feels a lot like climbing out of a dark hole, not knowing what the terrain will be like once you have solid ground.

Here are a few ways to dig deep and write a memoir:

Narrow down your life experience: A memoir isn’t your autobiography, it is a peek into your life. It is often one experience that impacted your life greatly. Focus on this one experience to share your message.

Pull out old photos, journals, and objects: This will help bring back the memories. These objects tie you to the past and will help you relive and resurrect the thoughts and feelings you had at the time.

Allow your emotions to flow: Do not write from your mind. Write from your heart. If the memories are scary and confronting, do not close your heart. Your writing will fall flat. I think it is important to write everyday to keep the feelings alive and fresh.

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The silver lining of the long unseen clouds is that your memoir has the ability to change lives.

Many of the authors at the workshop, who were brave and took the plunge of publishing difficult words, shared reviews and comments from readers. The readers said that their books saved their own life or changed how they viewed the world. What better payback is there? No amount of royalties or fame can compare.

Isn’t it worth the fear of being judged?

I have started writing two different memoirs. It is difficult. Much harder than writing fiction or even non-fiction. Quite honestly, I have written fiction to escape what I would put into my memoir. I don’t know when I will ever be able to share my memoir, but in the meantime, I answer the call of my memories and crawl out of the hole which has kept me prisoner… and just write.

I love to hear from you. Please comment if you write memoirs or even blog and journal and have insight.

Thanks,

Tara

“Fifty Shades of Grey”… My $.02 from an author’s perspective

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Two movies are coming out this Valentine’s weekend. Which one will you see?

Years ago when the whole “Shades of Grey” trilogy hit the scene, I was deep into writing my clean romance novel Broken Smiles. In my world, those risqué books seemed to be everywhere and the topic on every woman’s tongue, both religious and not. My employees were gushing over it, their mothers were gushing over it, and most of my friends were googely eyed over the smokey, dark, hero. Curious, I read a synopsis and a couple teaser chapters. Whoa, this is what some of my sixteen and eighteen year old employees couldn’t stop talking about at work?

But… I’m a sucker for romance and some friends said it spiced up their love life, so I teetered on if I should read the books or not. I knew it went against standards in my church and I knew it would mark me with a scarlet “R” for Reader (of sinful things). But… I’m a curious, inquisitive creature and so on my day off, I went down to my local grocery store where I had seen them for months staring up at me saying, read me/don’t read me. Read me/no… don’t. That particular day I finally rolled my eyes, grabbed the first book, and shoved it between milk cartoons and bread and continued to shop for food for my family. I was a crazed author by night, a full time working mother by day, and a broken soul constantly. I needed a get-a-way, and I’d heard this book could give me the escape I needed.

Something happened to me in the produce department. A feeling washed over me. I’m not even going to beat around the bush — no, it wasn’t a feeling, it was the spirit. At that time years ago, I was in a dark, vulnerable place. I hadn’t felt the spirit for a very long time. I was going through a personal, gut wrenching faith crisis. Writing my book was my way of saving me and sorting out who I was. Consumed in the creation of my words. I stopped in my tracks as the burning heat coursed through me. I had felt it before, and recognized its source. A voice came powerfully to mind. “If you read that, it will taint your characters and go against everything in your novel that you have been trying to achieve.”

For a woman who was writing a clean romance, that slapped me across the face. The spirit knew how to reach me. It knew to not scold me, or make me feel guilty. It simply and with profound urgency continued to say, “you can do better. The world needs your books, not this. You need to be a light. Not a darkness.”

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(image found on Uploaded by user)

I placed the book back down and consequently, the debate of reading it or not, dissolved and I didn’t think about it again. In fact I had gained more confidence behind my words and when publishers told me I needed to add more sex to sale my book to their publishing house, I would think back to that day in the grocery store and shake my head and with assured resolute say, no, I don’t. You are wrong for me.

Okay, so fast forward over three years or so. Through a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, two of my books were published, including Broken Smiles. Recently, there was a free book exchange I stumbled upon, and staring up at me again, was a free copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. I honestly hadn’t thought about reading it since that day in the grocery store, although I had heard about it everywhere on the news, in my book clubs, on radio and talk shows. Most of the comments were negative.

I stood there debating, then picked it up. I didn’t have a strong impression one way or another about reading them. In a way I felt numb. I wondered why that was, as I have been actively trying to rediscover my faith in God and sincerely trying to live with the spirit. I stood there a while. This is where some woman would have placed it back down, this is where some woman would have jumped for joy at their free find. But I stood there curious as to what caused this crazed phenomena in our culture – enough to produce a movie and multiple best seller lists. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders. Hey, it was free and my husband was taking the kids out of town, so it found its way home with me.

What. The. Hell. Is that romance these days? I am not that old in body and mind to be that out of touch. No wonder my book sales haven’t been what I would have liked. Seriously, women, tell me, is this what readers want? I know I’m years late on this debate and quite frankly, I’m glad that I am. I read it objectively, without the crazed fans, the whirlwind of promotion, and the opposite seething negativity. I couldn’t get through half of it, not because of the kinky bits or the atrocious writing, but my fierce feminine warrior wants to fight this. The strong, independent woman inside me hated the hero. Hero? I laugh — he is a romantic hero? I would love to slay him. He romanticizes sexual abuse and violence. I did plenty of eye rolls (oh no!) and laughed at parts that were not meant to be funny.

Needless to say, I will not read the rest of the trilogy and I actually threw away my copy because it is not even worth reading if it’s free. It’s different, reading this through the eyes of an author, I think. It shouldn’t be — we should all be able to see it for what it is.

I get why women love to read about romance. A woman I loved very much was a widow for many years. After her funeral, when we were going through her things, we found 13 boxes full of romance novels. We had no idea. I get it, I understand. But these books… these books are a whole other level.

I do not wish to offend my friends who are into these books. I am only stating my own experience. In preparation for this blog post, and to attain other opinions, I sent a draft of this post to some of my fellow author friends who I knew wrote erotica and all different levels of heat in romance novels. Some points were brought up that I did not know about and want to touch on here. Click on this link for studies about how the books promote unhealthy behaviors. Click on this link for the numbing effects that this kind of literature has on future generations.

It angers us authors who work so very hard to learn the craft and then this comes along, trumping us all. Here are some of my author friends thoughts: (I have kept them anonymous, although I have their permission.)

“…I wrote a XXX once on a dare, and I won’t do it again. The characters were shallow, the plot lacking in energy and it was boring to write. It did, however, give me a much-needed income boost at the time. My opposition with FSOG (Fifty Shades of Grey) has much more to do with an author who essentially stole the characters, wrote a very badly presented story that needed a LOT more editing, and her lack of knowledge on her subject could be dangerous to the health of those reading it if the try some of the things she portrays. She is an irresponsible author.”

“I write stories for other publishers that want heat in their story lines, too. It is part of the business. I read those three books to see what all the fuss was about when I could not ignore the phenomena any longer. It angers me. The writing is horrible and the storyline… well, a bit of one finally shows up in the third book. The rest of us struggle with our craft to improve it. These books come along and make millions. To each his/her own. I am not a censor. I am not jealous. Just frustrated all writers don’t take the care to do their craft to the best of their ability and give more thought to the readers who will be influenced by what they write.”

“It’s porn, and badly written porn at that. No, no, and no.”

“We struggle to give our readers a quality product and along comes sloppy writing that makes millions. I actually cringe for the dumbing of society to know how many people read it and thought the quality was great.”

“The snippits I have read of it were poor at best. I almost cried when I mentioned the poor writing to someone and she stated that she didn’t notice it and found the trio very engaging and a wonderful read *head desk*”

“I’m a bit more liberal in my reading and writing in that to me it’s just words and it’s about the craft and I either like something and will read it again (or similar stuff) or I hate it and will not. BUT. And this is the BIG BUT here. The author (by her own admission) did NO research into the BDSM culture. Thus, some of the things she portrayed are actually considered DANGEROUS. So on that level, people emulating the book can potentially hurt themselves. As to the writing, well, it’s horrific.”

“I know a lot of NYC authors who really would rather not write sex scenes. But I think the pendulum is going to swing back a bit quite soon.”

“I think it’s a little unfair to fault EL James, though. I mean, she just wrote the book. It could have died on Amazon like millions of other books, but it was something that hit a sweet spot (no pun intended) with the readers and became successful. She gave the world what it wanted at the moment. I think that with the internet generation, we want 2 things: 1) to see horrible stuff (American’s funniest Home videos comes to mind… laughing at other people’s pain) and 2) to be part of the crowd. The big draw to 50 Shades was people saying, “OMGOsh, have you read it?” And no one wanted to be left out so they read it and whether they liked it or not, they said they liked it (most of them) because they wanted to be ‘in’. To be honest, I never even thought about reading it until I kept reading Christian or other author sites talking about how bad it was– and THAT is what got me interested.”

The last comment, especially the last sentence, reminded me of conversations I’ve had over the years. It reminded me of the times that snippets of the books were read secretly between women in church services. I think back to the many hushed conversations I’ve had with guilt ridden women at book conferences, book and critique groups, and small gatherings.

I could have kept my admission about reading this awful book a secret, like so many others, but what good would that do? I’ve always read a massive amount of books — it’s another title on my long list. So be it. The problem is the effect it had on me afterward.

Do I regret reading it?

Yes. A part of me died. A hope in me, dimmed.

It leaves me to wonder what is next in the literary world. What is the next shock factor?

My friend, out of a joke, sent me a link to an article about a woman who writes erotica with  dinosaurs, bigfoots, and sea creatures. Haha! I laughed and laughed until I read the article. People, she makes $35,000 a month selling her books!!! What! That is not funny, that is depressing and sad. Her books have been pulled from Amazon and other online sites because of the questionable material. Oh great, every author knows that if you have a banned book, it is a guaranteed seller. How do these books find interest with people?

That, my friends, is the evolution past “Shades of Grey”. The next shock factor.

I’ve hesitated to hit the publish button on this blog post. Both because of the fear of being marked with a big red letter R (Reader of garbage) and because I don’t want to be thought of as a prude. That has been the story of my life though. I’ve always teetered in grey areas. Maybe it’s the critic within me and being the victim of criticism, that has made me not care what people think of me anymore. Or maybe it is the warrior woman which screams against my skin — that does not see grey when it comes to this topic. I want to slay this ugly, dirty, abusive monster. I have even created a new romance rating system and wish books would adhere to the ratings I have shown HERE.

I want to produce books that can go into epic battle with books that hide in the shadows, but somehow end up on grocery store shelves in plain sight. I am building an army of like minded authors. I have had at least a dozen people contact me after reading the pre-release of this article, encouraging me. There have also been people who have said my words encouraged them to also speak up. That makes me happy and more courageous.

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Who’s with me! I yell in battle gear with sword pointed to the sky. I gaze across the battlefield to the opponent bound in straps and chains, with whips and leather as weapons. Upon my steely gaze they look helpless and weak, but don’t be fooled. It will be bloody, it will demand courage. I know this post has started the war for me. Fiery arrows will come early, followed by cannon fire, then hand to hand combat. But I stand on this pre-war hill with hope and determination that “The world needs our books, not theirs. Be a light. Not a darkness.”

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(image found on fromwingsandthings.com)

I’d love your comments, even if they are different than mine and the other authors on this post. However, I do demand respect, as this is such a heated topic.

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara

Heat Ratings in Romance… should it be like the ratings in Rock Climbing??

I have been thinking about the different levels of heat in Romance novels lately.

There have been times that people told me I needed to add more heat into my novel Broken Smiles. There have also been times that critique partners told me I need to tone down the steam. Where is the balance? I decided to delve in and discover all of the levels of romance and what certain target audiences expect. This is mainly for my reference, and I am glad to share and hope that it will help some of you.

As I was thinking about what rating system I wanted to compare this to, I thought about rock climbing. I love rock climbing and had many friends growing up who were hard core climbers.

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(photos of me, Tara, in Rock Canyon and Mystery Canyon)                                       

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As romance novels become more and more mainstream, there needs to be a definite rating system. I don’t mean to throw the climbing community under the bus by referring to them, but the rating system they use is genius.

By going into detail and explaining each romance category in terms of 1-15a,b,c,d, the guessing game of heat level would be out in the open. There wouldn’t need to be a board of directors or big debates on what should go where when it comes to levels of sizzling heat in romance. We could simply look at it through the eyes of a child. And so that is what I have done…

*No Romance at all would be comparable to the rock climbing ratings of Class 1 to Class 4. These rock climbing ratings begins with:

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Class 1 – Walking on an established trail

Children’s books, picture books

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Class 2 – Hiking up a steep incline

Early Reader, Middle grade reader

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Class 3 – Climbing up a steep hillside

Upper middle grade or Young Adult. Platonic interest between boy and girl.

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Class 4 – bouldering or following a ledge. Sometimes a rope will be used for help.

Young Adult mild swearing or love interest. Internal emotions, but no follow through.

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***The tricky bit is when we get to Class 5 in climbing. This is when ropes are used and technical rock climbing begins. Past Class 5, the climbs begin to become subdivided into categories.***

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Class 5.0-5.4- climbing up a ramp or steep incline with good holds.

Super Sweet Romance – An innocent look, an internal feeling by one or more of the characters. No swearing.

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Class 5.5-5.7 – steeper, more vertical. Still good holds and easily protected.

Sweet Romance – Maybe a brief touch or a steamy look. A walk around a garden alone (in historical fiction) Realistic sexual tension.

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Class 5.8 – Vertical climbing on small holds

Mild Romance – Hand holding, a quick hug. Internal thoughts and feelings of love or lust.

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Class 5.9 – Rocks might be slightly overhung, or smaller hand holds. With practice, beginner climbers can climb with confidence

Clean Romance – A brief kiss. A warm hug. More internal thoughts and feelings described in detail.

***Get clipped in, because it starts to get more intense!***

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(My good friend Emily Ernst “rockin'” American Fork Canyon.

She told me this was about a 5.11a – I don’t believe her 🙂 )

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Class 5.10 – This is where it becomes more intense. A beginner rock climber does not feel comfortable in this range unless they go often or have natural talent. The classifications break down even more into a,b,c,d.

Spicy Romance – a) A more intense kiss, closed bedroom scenes, b) maybe some swearing. c) If lovers do make love, it is implied and not graphically depicted. Much is left to the readers imagination. d) The focus is still on the emotions rather than the body parts.

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Class 5.11 a,b,c,d – Steep and difficult routes with powerful and technical moves. Above average skill.

Steamy Romance –  a) Open door bedroom scenes, some nudity. b) We get heated feelings from the characters, but not in graphic detail. c) Maybe one or two mild love scenes in the novel and they tend to be longer scenes. d) Infidelity.

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Class 5.12 a,b,c,d – Overhanging climbs. Requires delicate footwork on thin holds or long climbs requiring a great deal of balance. Expert level.

Hot Romance – a) Nudity and intimacy in detail. Authors start to use funny words to describe the intimate parts. b) Internal thought and dialogue are meant to make you feel that you are the one experiencing the sensations. c) The focus throughout the book are sexual feelings and desires. d) More description, but nothing wild or kinky.

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Class 5.13 a,b,c,d – Very difficult climbs. Elite athletes.

Erotica – a) Hard core. b) Explicit language and bedroom scenes. There probably isn’t much of a story line at this point. c) The focus is mainly on sex. It probably takes a very gifted author to have a storyline beyond sex. But this is a Billion dollar industry, so there is a demand. I don’t think people read this genre for literary purposes!

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Class 5.14 a,b,c,d – These climbs are among the hardest in the world and very few can even attempt them.

Graphic Erotica, a) Extremely explicit scenes and language. b) BDSM, c) rape, all explained in full detail with all of the feelings described. May include what others consider kinky. This is unlike rock climbing in that this genre is becoming mainstream. It is front and center in grocery stores and gas stations. Movies are being made.

***Often I have seen personally where girls have gone from reading Class 5.0-5.4 to Class 5.14 with no preparation or maturity in between. Imagine the years, the hours, and the training a climber dedicates to this level of skill. You can’t stick a beginner on an over hanging ledge and say “climb.” Nor should you. They would fall, they could die. Why then, is there no rating system to prepare or caution early readers?***

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Class 5.15 – Very few people can climb on this level. I think Spiderman skills are needed.

Beyond Romance and Erotica- Think of the worst or most graphic thing you can think of, combine them all, and this would be there.

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(My awesome sister Traci Stewart rock climbing on Moon Hill in China.

Climbs range from a 5.10b-5.14a)

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In Rock Climbing, when new harder climbs are found, a new number is made. It is impossible to imagine someone being able to find and climb a 5.16. Just as it is impossible to imagine what will be acceptable and written in the literary world. This rating system leaves it open to both. Incomprehensible, but possible.

The thing I have found is that romance in novels can be very subjective. Everyone has different lines they will or will not cross. I have found this as I have been exposed to the romance writing community. There is a definite line that I will not cross in my writing and what I feel comfortable reading. The frustrating part comes when you don’t know what to expect when you pick up a book and then you invest in a story line and it takes you to a place you are frustrated or become uncomfortable with. Much in the same way that a cliff face might look climbable from below, but once you get half way up, you realize you are stuck.

Rock Climbers, I love you! You are genius (and hot!) May us romance writers use or borrow or steal your rating system??

Thanks for “hanging” with me and happy writing –

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Tara