Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.
A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.
A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.
A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.
I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.
I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.
I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?
These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.
Go big or go home, right?
I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.
Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.
First, a bit of news: What Happens On Tour is officially done! It weighs in at 58,124 words. Not my biggest baby, but still a nice healthy weight—especially considering how much I struggled with this damn book.
I slogged through writing it during a really hard time when all I wanted to do was quit. I didn’t believe in myself or the story. My own characters felt like strangers to me. I couldn’t get a handle on Poppy. She was so indecisive in that first draft. Even worse, Poppy and Griff seemed to have zero chemistry. No lie, I hated almost every second of writing this book. When I typed “The End,” a relief washed over me. I put its binder on my shelf, convinced that I’d have to scrap the entire thing and rewrite it.
Months later, when I read through it for my first round of edits, I was actually surprised. It didn’t suck as much as I’d thought! And I knew how to fix it. By the time I got it to my critique partner and editor, I liked it. Both Molli and Christina gave me excellent notes on making it even better. I can’t brag enough about how fantastic my CP and editor are. Still, something about this book was bugging me.
My first rule as an artist is do no harm. Maybe not all authors feel this way, but I see art as a sort of social highway. I write as a way of processing the world around me, and since that world is very diverse, it’s up to me to portray it fairly. Though I’ll never experience racism, I have experienced sexism, homophobia, and ableism. And I’ve been relatively lucky! At first glance, I almost fit into the cookie cutter. On a day when I don’t need my cane or braces, I can nearly pass. Still, I know what it feels like to have people make assumptions about you, so it’s extremely important to me that I don’t perpetuate any stereotypes in my writing—especially since I write about characters who have mental illnesses and disabilities, are LGBT+, and are people of color.
When I wrote the first draft of What Happens On Tour, I left out any information about Poppy’s dad. There were two short scenes with her mother and grandmother, and her relationship with these two women influenced many of her choices, but the central conflict was still about Poppy struggling to balance her dreams with her reality. I didn’t want to bring her dad into it because I also had a subplot (South of Forever going on tour with their nemesis King Riley). Since I write New Adult, I try to keep parents out of the equation as much as possible. It’s all up to my fledgling twenty-somethings.
I truly didn’t think much of Poppy’s dad not being in the picture, because plenty of dads have a “Whereabouts: Unknown” status. I’m one of the few people I know whose parents aren’t separated or divorced. I decided not to get too into detail because I didn’t want to curse poor Poppy with resentment or abandonment issues. In my author-head canon, Poppy’s dad was somewhere out there, no hard feelings, and her family was a matriarchy. Girl power! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d inadvertently contributed to a long-running stereotype: the absentee black dad.
It’s a bullshit stigma. It’s unfair and untrue. And the last thing I want to do is misuse my words and hurt anyone.
It’s a difficult balancing act. I know I can’t please everyone ever, and there will always be people who misunderstand me. Being a writer is overwhelming sometimes. But even though there’s always a possibility that someone out there won’t like my work for whatever reason, it’s still extremely important that I carry the intention to do no harm. Throughout the entire writing process, I ask myself if I’m representing my readers fairly, if I’m portraying my characters justly.
In the final draft of What Happens On Tour, Poppy’s dad still isn’t physically present in her life, but he’s a positive part of it. There still may be things I screwed up in this book. Those are all on me; my CP and editor are goddesses and helped me work out so very many knots.
But to the best of my ability, my Poppy is a boss woman—the kind of character I want to see in more books. She’s not perfect and she has some tough lessons to learn, but she works hard to be a better person and kick ass at her career. I think she’s pretty damn cool.
What Happens On Tour is coming soon! I just need a wee bit of help getting the cover designed. If you could spare any extra change, I would really appreciate it. Click or tap here to donate.