I recently wrote a story with a main character in an enmeshed, codependent relationship with his best friend. Months before the story opens, he begins the long journey to end the unhealthy nature of their relationship while attempting to salvage the friendship. When a new love interest shows up and it gets serious, his friend clings for dear life. He knows he needs to make even more of a change if his new relationship stands a chance.
Sounds like a meaty, angsty book, right? In fact, my story is lighthearted and playful, but it does have that serious subplot that hovers in the background. After all, at the heart of all fiction is a character’s inner journey, moving away from their current identity (living a life where they are stuck) and shifting to their essence (becoming what they are meant to be). If their identity at the start of the story were idyllic, what’s the point of moving past that? And then what’s the point to telling that story?
In my writing I deal with psychological issues (abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, bullying, addiction, to name a few). I went into the therapy field for a reason, but the number of people who are willing to push past the stigma of mental illness and admit they need help is staggeringly low. I had no interest in writing self-help books, though my education and work experience had essentially set me up for that. That simply didn’t interest me.
I knew writing fiction with characters facing these issues head on was more up my alley. I also knew these stories could be helpful to readers, even if all they saw was they weren’t alone in the world or discovered a name for what they’d been experiencing so they could more easily seek out help. We pick up books for entertainment, but those books can also make us think for days about what happened to those characters. And on the very rare occasion, those books have the power to change us.
Some of my books are very plotty (with some angst): Silver Scars, Farm Fresh, Picked Fresh, North Star trilogy, and Tangled Mind. I know not everyone enjoys books with that much depth. So I write light-hearted fare as well.
I still add psychological issues into the subplot of my lighter fiction. In Bent Arrow, one character had PTSD and the other suffered from depression and a fear of emotional intimacy. Fall Into You dealt with grief and depression. Feathers From the Sky addressed the fear of rejection. There was self-loathing in Cheeky Hipsters & Jocks and Risking It. None of those issues were central to the story, but they hovered in the background.
Stroke of Luck is a light-hearted, sweet story with a subplot that deals with a serious, debilitating issue that can cause people to stall out in a relationship that harms them. I show codependency in Cas and Maisie’s relationship without going into overly long explanations. I don’t explicitly tell readers this is the type of relationship Cas and Maisie are in because codependency isn’t the heart of the love story. Cas and Marc’s relationship is, even if Cas is hampered by his relationship with Maisie.
Because of the codependency, I know readers are going to dislike, if not hate, Maisie. She’s the antagonist, after all. I never set her up to be well liked, but she’s not the villain like Tasha was in Fusion and Flare or Ray was in Naked Organics.
On the surface, what Maisie does seems awful, but Cas stuck with her as long as he has to help her. Cas essentially set himself up as Maisie’s protector, and she became dependent on that safety net and expected Cas to always be around, or at the very least, to come back home after he’d had his fun. In return Cas developed low-self esteem and poorly defined boundaries. He easily flew off the handle and struggled becoming intimate with lovers.
People resist change at the best of times, but when that change comes out of the blue, human nature causes us to dig our heels in deeper. What Cas had with Maisie was a relationship both needed to find a way out of. Cas just happened to be the one to light the fuse without telling Maisie that the world as she knew it was about to blow up.
Here’s an excerpt where Cas fully realizes the cost of he and Maisie’s relationship:
Cas had spent the last four months slowly peeling one of Maisie’s fingers after the other off his wrist, but she kept latching back on. And Cas had been so focused on Marc these last few weeks, he hadn’t noticed how tight her grip had become.
He had to escape, but how did you leave the one person in the world who understood you better than anyone? He just wanted the barbed hooks that had been lodged in his heart eight years ago to be pulled free without destroying everything, if that were possible anymore. He wanted to be free to love Marc without the guilt of betraying Maisie.
He’d watched people walk out of his life for so long that he eventually set it up so no one could ever stay. Fucks only on Saturdays so he had to get home for brunch. Not telling repeats about Maisie until the last possible moment, which, of course, made the relationship seem all the more suspect. Eventually there weren’t repeats, and in the last six months, there had only been hookups.
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The fates conspire against Marc, setting up a chain of encounters that bring him face to face with Cas. When Marc and Cas discover they live in the same building, it’s kismet. But Marc has to invite chaos into his life if he and Cas stand a chance, and Cas faces a choice between friendship and love. Luck may be on their side… if they’re willing to risk it all.