Last Saturday, Lead, the finale of the Brazen Bulls MC series, went live, and that represents my last MC romance for a while. After three complete series occurring in the same story world, a total of 27 books, it’s strange not to be actively writing or at least taking notes for a story about bikers. It’s made me feel nostalgic and contemplative, so I thought I’d blog about it.
As I’ve said in various places and contexts, including at least a couple times here on my blog, I sort of fell backward into writing bikers, and romance, and fiction at all. I started writing Sons of Anarchy fanfic because I was grieving Opie’s death and needed a place to put all my feelings. Before that, I’d been reading a lot of fic, but mainly in the science fiction, fantasy, and video game areas. I’d read a metric ton of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly fic, and a hefty amount of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Witcher fic as well, and was a particular fan of romantic/erotic fics. (I’ve even read a surprisingly smokin’ hot Predator fic, and lemme tell ya, I was skeptical, ‘cuz I’m generally not all that turned on by insectile mandibles. But dayum.)
I went looking for SOA fic because I wanted to read a good M-rated romance for Opie—but there weren’t any. Back in those days, there were hardly any non-Jax fics at all. Even Happy, baddest of the bad boys (before Sutter turned him into a buffoon), was only just starting to get some attention.
So I started writing my own–the first time I’d tried to write fiction in literal decades, since my days as a naïve undergrad getting crushed under the ego of a shitty creative writing professor.
I ended up writing novel-length fics for Opie, Juice, Happy, Tig, and Chibs—and even Abel, when my alternate universe lasted long enough for him to grow up. (If you’re interested in reading the stories that taught me to write, you can find my fics here.)
I’m repeating myself here a lot, I think. I’ve talked about my fic days and publishing start pretty extensively, and it feels like it’s becoming a stump speech or something—or like Batman’s origin story getting told and told and told again. But I still get asked about this fairly regularly. So for those of you just tuning in, a quick recap:
I started writing SOA fics to sate a personal need, discovered I freaking loved writing stories and was pretty good at it. By the time I’d built up the nerve to take off the training wheels and write something original, I stayed with bikers because I’d done a ton of research over months, and I was still deeply immersed in the SOA/outlaw MC world. I was writing with friends (yay Freaks!), and talking with them daily about writing and SOA and drooling over bikers, and it was what I wanted to write. It was what we all wanted to write.
Plus, I’d decided I wanted to do better by my very first OFC (Original Female Character), Lilli, who was a bit too Mary Sue for my taste in my very first fic (my Opie story). So I rethought her, gave her a new situation more in keeping with her badassery, and made her the female lead of my first original story: Move the Sun.
So that’s how and why I started this gig writing outlaw bikers. I had no idea “MC romance” was a thing. I’d just written a story I wanted to write and figured that all out later.
You have to give books at least one genre category, but my friends were at as much of a loss as I was. Was it too violent for romance? Too sexy for action/suspense? Too plotty for erotica (which is what I started out thinking I was writing)? Our answer was basically yes to them all, but we decided romance was the closest. I learned about the RWA guidelines later, and then knew we’d picked right.
(DEAR BISAC CODES, WHY ISN’T ‘BIKERS’ A CATEGORY, HUH?? DOCTORS AND COWBOYS AND BILLIONAIRES (oh my!), BUT NOT BIKERS??)
Like I said, I fell in backward. Somehow I landed right on top of the zeitgeist, when self-publishing was catching fire and MC romance as a subgenre was just approaching the peak of its popularity.
And hallelujah for that, because my anxious, depressed, awkward, pathologically introverted ass was able to make a splash on that scene. I doubt I’d have been able to find an audience if I were getting started now, in the current toxic soup that is self-publishing.
Bikers taught me to write. Bikers brought me my dearest friends. Bikers gave me this lucrative hobby/second career, and this creative outlet that has probably literally saved my life on a few occasions, and definitely made me happier and stronger (it’s also depressed the hell out of me, stressed me totally out, and sent me crawling, sobbing, under the bed a few times, but that’s a post for another day, lol). I’ve learned that I have Things To Say and found a way to say those things that fulfills the deepest part of me. I’ve learned that I’m good at this, too, that what I write resonates with readers and makes them feel–and that revelation undid 30 years of self-doubt.
I owe that all to the Night Horde and the Brazen Bulls—and to the Sons, who taught me to ride.
The thought of walking away from my bikers, even for a little while, makes me kind of sad, and a little scared. I also know that most of my readers are here for my bikers and aren’t terribly interested when I write in other subgenres of romance or in genres that aren’t romance at all. That makes me kind of sad and a little scared, too. But it’s okay–you read what makes you happy, and I’ll write what makes me happy, and we’ll get together when we can.
So why am I walking away, even for a little while? Two reasons:
The first, most pragmatically: I know what characters I want to write about next in my biker world: I want to write about the next generations of my clubs—specifically Gia, Bo, Loki, Lexi, Ian, et al. in Signal Bend, and Zach, Kelsey, Duncan, Athena, et al. in Tulsa. But I need a few more years to pass before I take on the next generation of Signal Bend–because Gia, the oldest, is 17 in the year 2030, and my Horde/Bulls world is time-bound. The calendar matters in the stories. Real-life events are referenced in all three series, so I can’t fudge that reality. (Sometimes I regret tying Lilli’s military history to the onset of Iraq/Afghanistan for this very reason, because that’s where everything became tied to the real calendar, but I don’t regret the way it shaped her story and the whole story world.)
When I was writing SoCal and already getting pretty far ahead of real time, I managed to imagine the future by reflecting on the past, looking back ten to fifteen years and measuring how much had changed in that time, and sending that metric out ahead to imagine what would change in the same amount of years in the future. But by the time I finished Nolan’s story, I was already worried that we were in for much bigger changes coming up than we’d experienced in a long while.
And things have, indeed, changed in just the few years since then in ways I hadn’t imagined. Our world right now is in so much flux and upheaval I can’t begin to imagine what it will look like in 11 years or more. I don’t want to write Signal Bend as science fiction, so I need the real world to catch up to my story world, at least close enough that I feel more confident to imagine the future. A few more years, at least.
For one practical matter, I’m really wondering if there will be huge changes in the next decade to the combustion engine–if it’s even still in production by then, for instance. Or hell, even legal. This bears hard on all those Harleys. Maybe that’s too “in the weeds” for the kind of stories I’m writing, and I’m getting tangled up for no good reason, but that’s me.
Because the Brazen Bulls series takes place in the past, that next generation is coming of age in our present (Rad & Willa’s oldest son, Zach, is 23 in 2019, and Mav & Jenny’s Kelsey is 26), so I could (and will) write about them first. But they’re just little kids when the BBMC series ends. I’m still thinking of them as kids. Writing sex scenes this year with a character who’s in grade school in a book that’s just been released now would be a brain-breaking kind of cognitive dissonance.
It was hard enough to write Trey Pagano as a lead in The Pagano Brothers, and there were 4 years of real time (and 22 years of story time) between when I wrote Footsteps, in which he is a 3-year-old shark enthusiast, and when I wrote Simple Faith, in which he is a hot young male lead.
I need a little bit of time before I can imagine, and create in the most powerful, vivid way, the Bulls’ kids making the beast with two backs, lol.
That’s the first reason—I just want to get real time better aligned with story time, and age up the characters a bit in my own mind.
The second reason is bigger, and has to do with inspiration and freshness. I write about outlaw bikers, and I haven’t had much interest in writing about non-1%ers. It’s not the bike that interests me as much as the outlaw. Not that the bikes aren’t hot as fuck, but it’s the fragile balance between bad and good, right and wrong, lawful and illicit, vicious and loving that interests me. It’s why I write so much about violent worlds—Vikings, the Mafia, outlaw MCs: I am keenly interested in people who live in the margins, make their own laws, do dark, dangerous, violent, even cruel things, and yet manage to feel and express love, to be loyal and protective and caring.
I’m a sucker for the “killer with a heart of gold” trope. And I know I’m not alone—that seems to be the whole raison d’etre of this genre I fell into.
I’ve always been drawn to those themes, from the time my father took me to see The Godfather in the theater. It’s why I loved Sons of Anarchy so much, and why most of the shows I binge repeatedly, besides SOA, are shows like Banshee, Animal Kingdom, and Vikings.
Those are the stories that call to me again and again—men and women struggling in the dark with what they do and who they are, who live the hard consequences of their choices and persevere, who find family with others who know their struggle. Outlaws.
Probably no big surprise there, if you’ve been reading my work. I repeatedly return to that kind of story and try to find a new light to shine on it. In fact, I have a few recurring themes, events, and tropes in my work, many of which are more or less accidental–just the way my brain works.
I want to write more in my MC world, and I love to write outlaws, so obviously continuing to write Horde and Bulls stories is what I should be doing, right? Or start a new club, a whole new world, if I’m not yet ready to return to the Horde/Bulls world?
Well, maybe not—not for a minute, anyway. Because I’m bumping up against one other big obstacle: I feel like I’m running out of new ways to think about the world of outlaw bikers in general.
I write a lot, and I write fast, so fast that sometimes people who haven’t read my work think I’m writing for quantity rather than quality, and assume that my work can’t be as conscientious as it is. That’s wrong–I put my full heart and soul into every word. I am simply compelled to write all the time, in every spare moment, and I get anxious when I’m not. That equals a high degree of productivity.
For a few years I kind of thought I wouldn’t burn out even at my pace, because I usually get so much energy and fulfillment from the writing. But the past six or eight months have shown me that I can burn out, and I am getting there. I’ve lived deeply immersed in the story world of outlaw bikers since 2013 (2012 if we add fanfic). I’ve published a whole lot of biker books, almost all of them long novels, in that time. I’m starting to worry that it won’t be long before I’m repeating myself, and damn, that is the thing I fear most–that my stories and characters might become repetitive and interchangeable. Before that happens, I just really need a break, and a chance to see things with fresh eyes.
Lead, which I wrote about a year ago, was ultimately an energizing writing experience. I had tried to start a different story for Becker, with a different female lead (Kendra–I even lightly teased that pairing in Light), but I couldn’t get it to catch. After some panic (OH MY GOD I CAN’T WRITE BECKER’S BOOK I’LL NEVER FINISH THE SERIES I SUCK I SUCK I SUCK!), I realized that Kendra was not the right match for Becker after all. So I stepped back and found a new way in, and once I met Sage, the story just flowed out of my brain and through my fingers.
I can’t tell you how amazing that feeling is. But I can feel the end of my inspiration for these kind of stories looming. It has been taking longer for the spark to catch. I get anxious when it doesn’t catch right away, and that starts a merry-go-round of panic that is freaking exhausting. I need to jump off for a minute.
So, in summary: I need to recharge my biker battery and find some new stories to tell in that genre. Lead is a high note, a book I especially love. It’s a good place to end the BBMC series and a good place to take a break and find my energy and fulfillment writing other kinds of stories for a while. But it certainly does feel strange not to be actively writing, or at least planning to write, about bikers.
And that’s the long and winding story of why I’m taking a hiatus from writing bikers.
Okay, one more blathering post coming up. Next week, I’ll post about the books I am writing and planning, and what you can expect while you’re waiting to see Harleys roaring across my pages again.
And on that note: I am planning/trying/hoping to write Mo & D’s story. That will obviously be part of the Horde/Bulls story world, as it will be the origin story of the BBMC, but it won’t be a biker book, or part of any series. It’s set during the Vietnam War, of which D is a veteran. The fact that he rides a Harley at home will not be especially significant until the very end of the book, when he and Dane start the club. Mo and D’s story will be about a soldier and what he brings back from war, and about the woman who’s strong enough to help him carry it.
Thanks for reading!
PS: I’ve been asked a few times lately for a timeline of the Horde/Bulls world. I’m putting that together as a page here on the blog, and I’ll let you know when it’s published.