One of the most common pieces of writing wisdom that gets bandied about is “write what you know.”
One of the things I know–much more thoroughly than I would prefer–is trauma. I have experienced various forms of trauma throughout my life, beginning at a very young age, and I live with Complex PTSD among other diagnoses.
I also live with neurodivergence. I don’t have a formal diagnosis of autism, but several medical and mental health professionals have expressed their belief that I am autistic, and even if I’m not, trauma also alters how one’s brain works and therefore is a form of neurodivergence.
Those things tend to show up in my writing. Many of my primary characters have experienced trauma in their lives, and some are still deeply affected by it while others have received support in learning to manage their PTSD. I write characters whose experiences and way of navigating the world make sense to me, which means that often, they are like me.
Early on in my writing career, nearly a decade and a half ago, I submitted a book to a publisher I’d been working with. This was probably my fifth or sixth book with them; I can’t recall for sure, because it was a long time ago. And like the other books, this one had a heroine (this was when I was almost solely writing heterosexual romance) who had a trauma history and was still being affected by it as she tried to progress in her healing journey and in her relationship with the hero of the story.
The publisher told me I needed to stop writing damaged characters, because readers didn’t want to read about people like that.
The publisher was wrong.
It is absolutely true that some readers don’t want to read about characters who aren’t perfect, especially in a romance story. And that’s fine; those readers are not my target audience.
It is *also* absolutely true that there are plenty of readers who are, themselves, trauma survivors who are struggling with their pasts and how it has affected their minds and their way of navigating the world. And despite what this publisher said to me, I received reviews and messages from some of those readers thanking me for not only *accurately* depicting PTSD in my books but also for showing that one does not have to be “fully healed” from trauma (something I don’t believe is even possible, healing is a *journey*, not a destination) in order to find love, respect, and a healthy relationship.
The other thing my publisher was wrong about is that my characters are “damaged.”
Being traumatized does not mean someone is “damaged.” Living with PTSD or mental illness is not “damage.” (Some people prefer to use that term for their own experiences, and that’s valid; I take issue with the term being applied to *other people*, especially by someone who doesn’t actually have lived experience with these things.) It means that one’s life has been altered. One’s perceptions and understanding of themselves and the world have been changed. But I am not “damaged,” and neither are my characters, though some of them certainly *feel* as if they’ve been damaged.
In my Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series, Tobias Rogan is the Alpha of a very small werewolf pack in Boston. He is also, as we learn as the series progresses, the most powerful werewolf in the United States. He *chooses* to remain with a small pack because he doesn’t want power. He doesn’t want to rule others. He simply wants to make people’s lives better. But his power and dominance are innate, and he uses them to help those he cares about–which eventually extends well beyond his pack.
Tobias is also a trauma survivor. He grew up in an abusive household. He was changed to werewolf at age 15 (in violation of shifter law) in a very traumatic assault. Decades later, when the series takes place, he still experiences flashbacks and other signs of PTSD. Which *affect* him, of course… but they do not render him “damaged.” They do not prevent him from being a fair and powerful Alpha werewolf. And they do not prevent him from finding, accepting, and building a life with his mate, Kyle Slidell.
I did not listen to that publisher all those years ago. And I continue not to listen. I write characters who have lived experiences I understand and can relate to. And I will continue to do so.