Friday, 17 April 2015

Guest Post: Why is writing about Infidelity taboo but writing about Brutal Murder isn't? by Tess Woods


Today on the blog I welcome debut author Tess Woods who has written a frank but heartfelt post on why she chose to write about infidelity in her novel, Love at First Flight.

As I mentioned in my review (which you can find here), "I’m not usually one for enjoying my fiction with a dose of extra-marital affair" but, my "curiosity was compounded by the fact that I wanted to find out what motivates people to do the things they do".

Needless to say, Tess took my emotions on a roller-coaster ride as her protagonist battled her inner demons and, whilst I was somewhat unsettled by the issue, I could see exactly where she was coming from. It's what happens in the aftermath that totally blew me away and made me realise that a marriage is what you make of it!

Tess Woods is a health professional who lives in Perth, Australia with one husband, two children, one dog and one cat who rules over all of them.

When she isn't working or being a personal assistant to her kids, Tess enjoys reading and all kinds of grannyish pleasures like knitting, baking, drinking tea, watching Downton Abbey and tending to the veggie patch.

Love at First Flight is available as an eBook from the following links:

Amazon    Kobo

Go on, read it! You know you want to!!
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So I wrote a story about an affair. It wasn’t something I planned to do. At no point in my life did I think, “Know what I’d really love to write about? A wife who cheats.”

In fact, up until the day I sat down and wrote the first draft of Love at First Flight, at no point in my life did I ever think about writing a book about anything at all. But when inspiration presents itself, you grab it. Well at least that’s what I did. I was inspired by this story, I was inspired by Mel and her struggle. 

Mel’s character came to me, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, and when she came to me, it wasn’t her having an affair, it was her returning home to her husband, walking into her house, thinking she could start over with him and put the affair behind her.  But her husband, Adam, was waiting for her and he knew what she had done. That scene came to me and it’s the very first scene I wrote. The rest of the book had to fit around that scene. 

So from the very start, Love at First Flight was a story about what makes a marriage tick. Mel’s infidelity ripped apart the picture perfect married bliss that this couple appeared to have and that was what I wanted to sink my teeth into. How does a relationship deteriorate to the point where a seemingly together, happy woman goes on a chosen path of self-destruction and then how do her and her husband deal with it? 

I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote until I had delved as deeply into Adam’s and Mel’s marriage as I could. It was at times confronting, painful and raw, especially considering that while writing I was in my own real-life marriage. Writing made me examine my own relationship in terms of what it was about our marriage that was strong and what needed work and I looked deeply into myself. My novel wasn’t a journal or an autobiography, it was a pure work of fiction, but it was written from my soul. And I think that’s why it connects with people. I think readers can see when an author is authentic in their words and I was nothing if not honest with mine when I was inside the story. I wanted to explore the mechanics of Adam’s and Mel’s marriage and I did and I was happy with it.

But then I put myself out there in the world as someone who had written a novel about infidelity and I was stunned at the reaction. I had no idea that the response would be such passionate aversion to this topic. And what I never saw coming was that people would judge me for it. The focus of me stepping out as a writer became the affair. I had dared to write about an affair! Did this mean I wanted to have an affair? Had I already had an affair? The questions came thick and fast. My original inspiration to explore a wife and mum’s struggle with love and duty and self-discovery was lost in the middle of all the outrage about a woman committing adultery and whether that woman was in fact me. 

When I told our family and friends I had written a book that was about a couple’s struggle with infidelity, some of them sniggered and suggested I was living out a fantasy on paper. Why, I wondered? Did Patricia Cornwell fantasise about murdering people? Did Jodi Picoult fantasise about being in an incestuous relationship? Did Harper Lee fantasise about being raped? Why is it that if you write about infidelity it’s because you want to have an affair?

And then came the literary agents I submitted the manuscript to. One sent me back a rejection letter saying:

“You won’t get anywhere writing about infidelity, nobody wants to read it, especially a book about an affair where the woman is not the victim but the one initiating it. You will garner no sympathy for your protagonist. It will never sell. You’re a talented writer, so forget this book, start over and send me your next book.” 

Hmm, so if infidelity won’t sell, why then were The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer, Tully and The Bride Stripped Bare all such epic sellers?

And this from another agent:

“What a despicable theme. No thank you.”

I wondered about other despicable themes such as child abuse, homophobia, racism and bullying. Novels dealing with these issues were being published so why was infidelity such a taboo?

Thankfully, literary agent Jacinta Di Mase saw what I saw in my characters and understood what I was trying to get across with Love at First Flight. Jacinta believed in my story and went in to bat for me with publishers. The book generated a lot of interest, but Jacinta also came across the infidelity taboo when one of Australia’s leading publishers refused to look at the manuscript because she refused to look at any book about adultery. Again, thankfully Anna Valdinger at HarperCollins also believed in the story and offered me a publishing contract. Adam’s and Mel’s marriage was finally set free into the digital universe!

And then came the readers! I have been incredibly lucky in that the vast majority of readers and reviewers have been glowing in their praise and have seen and understood that my story is not about the glorification of infidelity but the effects that come from the breakdown of trust in a union. I’m so grateful that I persisted with this story and that it has been so well received. But I have certainly been on the receiving end of negative feedback too. I have family members that refuse to read the book, or even acknowledge that it has been published, as they find the topic insulting and offensive and I have readers who have written me hate mail for writing about sex outside of marriage. It hurts, that’s for sure, but at the same time I’m defiant and I’m proud and I stand by my book. I told my truth and if people are going to disregard Love at First Flight because it looks at infidelity, so be it.

If those same readers then lap up stories about grisly rapes and murders and child abuse, hey who am I to judge right?

Tess would love to connect with her readers so, if you'd like to do so, you can find her here:


About the Book

Looking back on it now, I can see it was instant. The second we locked eyes. Boom. Just like that. The me I had spent a lifetime perfecting began its disintegration from that moment. And despite the carnage it brought to all our lives, I still don't regret it.

What would you risk to be with the love of your life? And what if your soul mate is the one who will destroy you?

Mel is living the dream. She's a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, she meets Matt and her picture perfect Stepford life unravels as she falls in love for the first time ever.

What begins as a flirty conversation between strangers quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with disastrous consequences neither Mel nor Matt could have ever seen coming. Mel's dream life turns into her worst nightmare.

Love at First Flight will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.

3 comments:

  1. Wow! What a great post, Tess.

    I write about serial killers. Do I want to be one? No. Have I ever committed a murder? Hell, no! But there it is. We accept murder more readily than we accept infidelity. Go figure.

    Good on you for sticking to your guns and writing something outside the box that makes people think and talk and question. All things that as writers we aspire to do.
    I, for one, can't wait to read Love a First Flight.

    Michelle

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  2. Thank you for this post Tess. I am writing a book at the moment that also deals with the issue of infidelity. My first critique from a professional writer was quite scathing which I now realise was due to the infidelity (of course there were other issues and plot holes naturally). And even now in my writing group some are indicating they are finding it hard to feel empathy towards my protagonist because of her actions. I knew it was a delicate issue, but I didn't realise it was as taboo as it is.
    I know I will have to work really hard at this, but I'm determined as I have faith in my character and her struggles.
    And no, it doesn't mean I want to have an affair either! I really don't get that train of thought.

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  3. Great post Tess. I agree with Michelle and Jodi. I have written short stories for years and I deal with the subject of infidelity in some of those. When I first considered publishing I was given the same advice, so I have steered away from writing them. I wonder why it is a taboo subject, when there is a very high incidence of infidelity, and to deny this would be to bury your head in the sand. My stories are all different, pure escapism, and I am not encouraging infidelity, but why deny its existence when readers do enjoy the heartfelt stories these relationships can bring forth.

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