I’m excited to welcome Annabeth Albert – author of the Out of Uniform and Gaymers series – on Queer Books Unbound today! Her new book Arctic Sun released on Monday with Carina Press, and she’s here to talk about how handling difficult topics helped her grow personally and as a writer!
How tackling difficult topics can help us grow as writers
Thank you so very much for having me today. My latest release, Arctic Sun, is out now, and this LGBTQ romance features two opposites-attract men in a hurt/comfort romance. The hurt/comfort trope is one of my favorites because of its ability to heal wounded souls and provide lasting love even for those who believe themselves too broken for romance. However, today I wanted to talk about how this trope often brings to light difficult topics, and consequently, it’s not simply the characters who grow over the course of the book but also the writer.
As a reader, one of things I love most in books is angst, and the hurt/comfort trope usually has this in spades. But with angst often comes difficult topics to write, talk, and read about—abuse, self-harm, loss, PTSD, addiction, trauma, and more. Some of these subjects can be triggers for some readers (and writers too), and this is why you often see a content warning when these subjects are a major focus of the book. Not everyone wants to confront these topics in their romance reading, and I respect that, but as a reader, I love seeing difficult, even painful subjects handled well.
And as a writer, the number one thing I want to do is to handle sensitive subjects in such a way that validates the core of who a character is without minimizing the difficulty of a particular challenge. Fear of handling difficult subjects poorly often holds us back as writers. I know for myself that I wanted to write a story where sobriety was a major topic for years now. I touched on it a little in All Note Long, Baked Fresh, and Danced Close, but none of those really centers addiction and all are lighter on the angst scale. I wanted to push myself as a writer into really delving deeply into the topic and also tackling another issue close to my heart—eating disorders. I wanted two heroes, each struggling mightily with their own issues, and I wanted those issues to really be an integral part of the plot.
In writing Arctic Sun, that challenge really came to define the drafting process of the book for me. But what no one told me was how much I would learn about myself in the process. I expected a hard writing journey and expected to shed tears in the process as I delved deeply into their hurts, but what I didn’t expect was how personally I would take their struggles. Without getting into specifics, writing the book forced me to tackle my own past, pain I thought I’d long since forgotten and challenges I thought I’d overcome. In writing River, in particular, I had to confront my own grief and my own issues surrounding food. Griffin, likewise, made me dig deep into old beliefs and hurts surrounding addiction.
I firmly believe that doing so not only made a stronger book, but it also made me a stronger human being. Writing difficult topics isn’t easy, but it is worth it because if you are willing to be honest with yourself and open yourself up to emotional growth, it can be deeply healing and cathartic. Now, I have to add that I would never advocate writers tackle topics that might trigger a dangerous spiral for them—such matters are probably best left to professional therapy, but if one is able to venture into challenging territory and really do the personal work, the benefits are absolutely worth it.
Specifically, this book forced me to go deeper into backstory than I’d ever gone before—repeatedly asking myself “but why” as I figured out little bits of characterization and traits and character choices. For subsequent books, I could feel myself going deeper and deeper into characters, reaping the benefits of my growth over the course of this book. It also challenged me to balance realism with the need for a happy ending. Finding that balance is something I’m really proud of. Finally, it taught me how to separate my own biases and hurts from those of the character—healing myself first and then letting the character really have their own unique journey, and not one that I imposed on them.
In sum, tackling difficult subjects isn’t easy. It requires a great deal of personal reflection, careful use of research and sensitivity readers, and a commitment to the editing process. But in addition to any personal benefit to the writer, it is also worth it to those readers who desperately need books that realistically and sensitively show these challenges on the page. Whenever I tackle a difficult subject, my hope is that I show that everyone—every single person—is worthy of their own happy ending, no matter what has happened in their past or what demons they are currently battling. And I hope I show the power of love without making it seem like love is a magic cure—love heals and uplifts and motivates, but it alone can’t make trauma disappear. Rather, love says that we are all worthy right now, this moment, exactly where we are on this journey called life. Being able to write stories that attempt to do that is a true blessing, one I don’t take for granted.
Title: Arctic Sun
Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts, #1
On-sale Date: eBook on-sale April 1, 2019 / MMP on-sale April 30, 2019
He’s built a quiet life for himself in Alaska. But it doesn’t stand a chance against the unrelenting pull of a man who’s everything he shouldn’t want.
Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in superhot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. And that can only lead to trouble…
River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still—until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.
With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.
Publisher’s Note: Arctic Sun deals with topics some readers may find difficult, including sobriety and eating disorders.
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.
Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.
Genre: Contemporary Pairing: M/M Publisher: Carina Press Tag: Guest Post Tag: Hurt/Comfort Tag: Military / Uniform Tag: Opposites Attract Tag: Part of a series Annabeth Albert Arctic Sun Frozen Hearts series