Trump Has Ruined My Retirement Plans

This is very small potatoes, compared to many of the things he has done, but my immediate retirement planning was structured around being able to make a living writing and freelancing and purchasing health insurance through the ACA.

Suddenly, that doesn’t look possible.

I was aware that some of the point of repealing the ACA is so that people can’t do that. So that they can’t easily move jobs, or work for themselves. That they have a choice between Russian Roulette with their health and being tied to an employer at its sole pleasure. This is, by the way, while bad for everybody, particularly bad for writers.

Which may be some of the point. So that we shut up.

In times like these, artists have an obligation to speak up. Writers and journalists particularly.

There is another, more chilling, reason why my retirement plans are changing. The U.S. suddenly feels a lot less stable than it has in living memory. We seem to be turning into a banana republic by the hour.

One of the most terrifying things that has happened recently, is also, on the face of it, the most trivial. The inauguration crowd flapdoodle, while ridiculous, is blood curdling. The President of the United States insisted that an empirical and fairly easily verifiable fact was not so. That the media was lying about it. That government entities that did not support his version of events would face consequences.

Over an inconsequential, ego-boosting, completely irrelevant to anything actually important thing.

Think about what might happen with the important stuff.

The only time I was ever held at gunpoint was by a Canadian…and other contradictions in my life.

This is a true story. I was seventeen (or sixteen, maybe), we were staying at a cabin in western Ontario, somewhere slightly north of Georgian Bay and my parents and I had decided to wander down the private road the cabin was on.

Bad idea. We were on a teeny tiny peninsula, overlooking Lake Wahwashkesh when an extremely grumpy man, with the look of the hastily dressed, came running out of the fancy house a couple of hundred yards away, brandishing a firearm. As best I can recollect, it was a small caliber rifle, but he was not happy. And he was pointing it at us. In a manner that suggested he knew how to handle it. He pointed out that this was a private road.

I think he was aware that he had accidentally bagged a clutch of American middle-class liberals, but he went into his home to call the man we were renting from (who pointed out that if anyone wanted to make a big deal of the ‘private road’ thing, he could close his, and then the guy would have a problem, and he should not be waving firearms at his tenants).

So… He let us go, with the gun pointing down, and we never went that way again, and life interrupted, so we didn’t rent there anymore.

But…

I use this story a lot, because life does not always fit into neat boxes. Neither do people.

Rockstar Romance, or a new release…

My regular readers will have noticed that of the really popular m/m subgenres (sports, cowboys, police/FBI, etc.) the only one I really write is College/New Adult. This isn’t because I don’t like these genres. I love a good hockey romance, particularly, and cowboys are pretty awesome. I have never really felt like I had the background or knowledge base to write most of them.

Then I had this great idea for a Rockstar story. So even though I’m not a musician, and I did sometimes feel a little out of my depth, I did some research, tapped into my own experiences as a music fan, and buckled down to it. I’m really, really proud of the end result.

Which is Don’t Fear the Abyss, the story of Andy, singer from a legendary but long defunct grunge band, who gets a bunch of second chances. Including one with Evan, his new manager.

All of my books are close to my heart. There are a couple of things I might change about some of the early ones, but I love them all. This one is special for a number of reasons, but particularly because the theme is very much of love and redemption.

Here is the cover, from the very talented Lex Valentine of Winterheart Designs.

dontfeartheabyss_wd

 

And a teaser excerpt–

He’d been sleeping in boxers and a HammerFall T-shirt that had
come from God alone knew where, which was plenty for walking
around his own damn house. Scott had been smart, he had gotten
the Hideous Marys a decent agent before they’d signed anywhere, and
the guy had looked out for all of them. It was in his interest to do
so, sure, but Andy knew plenty of guys screwed over by their own
agents or managers. Vic had been solid, and when he’d told them
to buy houses, keep it modest, and pay cash, Andy had taken that
advice. The writing credits on Abyss and most of the rest of their
catalogue paid the taxes and kept him in Merlot and groceries. It also
let him keep his “manager” on payroll, got someone in to detoxify
his house every week or so, and kept pretty boys or the occasional
girl on tap for when he wanted something else. He was pretty sure
most of the tail wasn’t paid, or not in cash anyway, but it was a lot
easier for Sherry to recruit them when the horny-formerly-famous singer
had pot, booze and a nice place to hang out in.
Orange juice…because coffee didn’t agree with him anymore,
and he could go back to sleep if he wanted. His hand lingered on
the half-empty bottle of Chablis in the fridge, but he left the juice
unadulterated, and popped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster.
The doorbell rang.
What the fuck?
Sherry had a key, and she came when the housekeeper was
scheduled, or if he needed to be somewhere, because he hadn’t driven
himself in years. She was more personal assistant than manager, but
she was smart, she looked out for him and she could use what he
paid her, because while Scott had left her pretty much everything,
she had three kids, and Scott hadn’t taken Vic’s advice about not
buying a big expensive house. There’d been enough equity from the
place Scott couldn’t resist purchasing to get her into a decent condo,
but not much after that, and Andy was sure some of Scott’s estate
was in a trust for Sherry’s youngest, who was Scott’s biological child.
They’d had real managers when they were famous, of course, but
none of them had stayed for more than a few years, and the last one
had left when the Marys officially broke up.
Whoever was at the door had to be someone lost, or maybe an
aging groupie. He should worry about stalkers, but he wasn’t going
to. Andy walked through the living room to the front door and
yanked it wide open. If it was paparazzi for some insane reason,
they could get a picture of him in his shorts.
A hipster kid stood on the doorstep. Clean shaven, floppy hair
with a little suggestion of a duck’s ass and a pompadour, cuffed
skinny jeans, and heavy-framed glasses. He held his hand out. “Evan
Donaldson from Violet Ice Cream records.”
Andy glared at him. “Violet doesn’t exist anymore.”

***

Don’t Fear the Abyss will be out on Friday, September 16th from MLR Press, and available through all the usual channels, and I’ll add buy links as they become available.

I am at work on a sequel. It’s not under contract, but it should (hopefully) be out sometime next year.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Happy Endings are all alike. Except when they’re not.

I was standing around at a book thing last month, talking to other authors I’d kind of been hanging out with. This is, by the way, a cool thing. I never, ever get tired of wearing the author hat. There are days when it’s kind of hard to sit down and be productive, but being a writer is neat, even when it’s poorly paid, which it is for most of us.

Okay, so I’m shameless, and some of the best parts of being a writer are that I get to pull out cards with my name and the titles of a whole bunch of books I wrote, and tell random strangers who ask what I do that I’m a novelist, and even interact on a very semi-colleague basis with people whose books I read when I was in high school. And yes, this interaction involves me becoming a shrieking fangirl puddle, because oh my goodness.

This particular conversation did not include anyone well enough known to make me freak out, fortunately, but it did involve one of my other favorite things about being a writer. Talking about characters. Those imaginary (sort of) people who spring to life in our heads.

So it’s late in the event and traffic in the bookroom has been a little slow, and we’re all getting a little loopy. This is an all genre fiction event (Limestone Genre in Kingston, Ontario, which I highly recommend), and the other people I’m talking to are horror/speculative fiction writers. So we’re talking about characters, and all of the terrible things we do to them. So a couple of the other writers are describing the gruesome deaths, etc. that their characters suffer.

I said, “All my characters have happy endings.” I got some funny looks. I reminded them I’m a romance writer.

I do tend to have more in common culturally with speculative fiction authors than mainstream romance ones (although that’s not an absolute, and I also think it’s fairly common for m/m writers, since so many started in fandom), but I am, at the end of the day, a romance writer.

Happy endings are my stock in trade.

I do dabble in other forms occasionally. Vacancy is really a mystery, not romantic suspense. I’d like to write more Joe Mastronelli stories, and while they will have a romantic element, it’s not going to be the focus. They’re not that dark, but he is meant to be a noir antihero. Here, if anyone is curious.

https://www.amazon.com/Vacancy-Mastronelli-Story-D-C-Williams-ebook/dp/B013KOJTTU/ref=la_B00CAQ7MBW_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472050554&sr=1-12#nav-subnav

I am working on a new one, although I’m not making promises for when it will be out.

I should also have a new romance out within the next month or so, although I don’t have the cover yet. It’s a rock star book, and I’m very excited by it. I’m also working on another in that series.

And yes, they have happy endings. I’m not giving away the particulars, but they’re romance novels. They always have happy endings. It’s a defining feature of the genre. Any good book should have a satisfactory  ending, but in most fiction categories an ending can be almost anything. Even tragic.

Not in a romance. And no, that doesn’t make them boring (unless you just don’t like reading romances, and I recommend trying a couple before you come to that conclusion). I’ve said things before about the telling, rather than the tale, or character rather than plot-driven, and those are true. It’s also true that happy endings are not all alike (any more than happy families are, all apologies to Tolstoy).

Character X may be set up for a romantic pairing with Character Y, and then completely fall for Character Z (or all three could end up in a clinch). They could run away to sea, retire to a country estate, or go into business together. Anything is possible, even with sorrow and despair off the table as permanent options.

One of the many things I like about writing m/m is that it tends to be a little more flexible than traditional romance, and one of the ways is that readers have a much greater tolerance for HFN (Happily For Now) as opposed to HEA (Happily Ever After), which you must deliver in a lot of traditional categories (romantic suspense being a fairly notable exception).

Particularly in historicals, HFN is often the only plausible option, but really, happy endings are not all alike. They’re just happy.

 

 

 

Fiverr, Wattpad, and making a living at this.

I have fans. I don’t have a lot of them, but there are at least a few of them out there.

I am unbelievably grateful to each and every one of them.

There are not enough of them to pay my bills, however, and despite curating a large backlist (which I highly recommend) I don’t attract enough casual readers to really do it either.

Enter Fiverr. As freelance sites go, it has a terribly sketchy reputation (deserved). I see ridiculous things advertised and requested all the time (at least one of which I reported to Amazon, because really???).

It’s also been a decent source of legitimate copy writing and editing jobs for me, along with allowing me to advertise a couple of small sidelines (simple, copyright safe, cheap kindle covers, and checking accuracy in historical fiction, particularly). I am actually shocked by how good a couple of the jobs I’ve gotten off of it have been.

Still, shady. The site, not my jobs, because it’s quite possible to work off of it and adhere to ethical standards.

I’ve dabbled with sites with better reputations. I’m not impressed. I’m still competing with off-shore writers who are willing to work for pennies on the dollar, still giving a sizable chunk to the site for brokering the exchange, and still being offered academic papers and other ethically questionable assignments. The main difference is that I’m going through a lot more hoops, and getting a hard sell on paying for an upgraded account. I don’t know if it’s a better experience for buyers, but as a seller, it’s not the greatest.

So it’s back to fiverr and the small regular clientele base I’m trying to grow. I have accounts elsewhere, but I’m not devoting a whole lot of effort.

So Wattpad. It’s an amateur site, it’s friendly, and all the content is free. I don’t upload a lot to it, but it’s delightfully devoid of stress. By its nature it’s not an income source, and I haven’t had a lot of luck using it for promo (I don’t post first chapters, because that seems mean). It is a great place to throw up a drabble, though.

https://www.wattpad.com/story/80865890-smoke-gets-in-your-eyes

They’re always a great way to stretch the literary muscles, and since wattpad stories need covers, it’s a good way to practice my layout skills a little too.

If there’s a moral here, and there probably is, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe something about books and covers. Or not.

 

 

An overdue, and possibly ill-advised, post

On GFY, OFY, bi-erasure, and bi-visibility. None of which I think it’s possible to write a blog post about without accidentally offending or confusing somebody, up to and including myself. I will try not to.

For starters, I do not like to publicly define my own sexuality, for myriad reasons, just starting with the implication that I might have sex.

I am LGBT, and I do know where I fall on the Kinsey scale, how I define myself, how I personally define straight, gay, bi, etc…

Bisexuals exist. I write them. And I do my darndest to write well-rounded, realistic bisexual characters, if for no other reason than that there aren’t enough of them in fiction and it would be nice to have a few more.

I also write characters who are straight or gay but kind of flexible about it. Not just because Dr. Kinsey called it a scale for a reason, but because humans are funny, sexuality is complex, and I try for characters who are as nuanced as real people. I do sometimes worry that it can come across as bi-erasure.

I don’t think most readers have an issue with a character who has slept  with women, but is not particularly interested in doing it again, defining as gay. It gets more complicated when you have a character who prefers men, but has some interest in women. Is he bi? Is he gay? Does it matter?

Yes, it does matter. Realistically, if we were talking about actual human beings rather than the people who live in my head, some of these men would define as bi, and some as gay, or some might even call themselves something else, such as “queer” or “homo-flexible” or “mostly gay”.

So, I let my characters reflect that, and hope that it comes across as attempting to reflect the diversity of actual experience, rather than as bi-erasure. I especially worry about that when I write a character who had defined as bi at one time and starts to define as gay, because that is something that can really come across as “Bi as a stop on the train to Gaytown.” Which is a terrible stereotype and can lead to invisibility, but is actually also some people’s experience, for various reasons. (Of the two I’ve written, one comes from a conservative religious background and has been trying to persuade himself that his interest in women means that he doesn’t need to do anything about his attraction to men, and the other was under professional pressure to define as bi rather than gay.)

I have never written a character who changed that definition of themselves from gay to bi, but I write m/m. My characters have happily ever afters with men, so it’s never come up. If I wrote menage, I suspect it would be different.

I have certainly written characters who defined as straight, and then started to call themselves bi. Including one who’s not actually very bi, but since he’s with a man and intends to be for the rest of his life, he needs to call himself something, and decides to own the label. Besides, his bi boyfriend might be a little irritated otherwise.

So that’s where I stand on this particular subject. As a reader, I can tell you that I love characters for who the journey isn’t necessarily straightforward, no matter how they end up defining. And I love coming out stories.

Why “write what you know” isn’t bad advice.

It sounds very limiting. I see posts all the time claiming that it’s stupid advice, because then no-one would ever write fantasy, historical fiction, space opera, etc. We’d have nothing but contemporaries about medical billing and timeshare sales or some other very pedestrian occupations.

Of course,”what you know” isn’t really limited to “what you’ve personally experienced”. If you have written a long series about a fictional fantasy kingdom, you presumably have a canon. You know what its geography and topography are like, how people dress and eat and worship, what weapons they use, if there is magic in that world and what rules that magic operates by. It may be imaginary, but you know it.

Same thing with any fabricated universe, or with fictional realities that intersect fantasy with a more tangible world that can be researched and have a more empirical knowledge base.

Sometimes you can’t get it perfectly right, as in historical fiction. You can try, but but it’s never going to be perfect. And yes, writers are working in Romance Land, or Mystery  World, or some other variant of real life where things do not operate by exactly the same rules they do in this reality. In the end, it’s a work of fiction.

That does not excuse sloppy.

It is harder to create a plausible suspension of disbelief  if you play fast and loose with the laws of physics. Or perpetrate the kind of anachronisms that anyone who was awake in fifth grade social studies might catch. Or have an MC go straight from their local community college to some profession where advanced degrees are required. Or drive from New Jersey to Chicago in ten hours. Or so on.

Yes, it’s an imaginary story. It isn’t required to be completely realistic. What it does need to do is follow its own rules. Or rather the ones of the universe it’s set in. The reader doesn’t need every nitty-gritty detail (some of the best world-builders out there do it in a sentence or two–think Jesse Hajicek or Ginn Hale), but the author needs to know where that universe diverges from the one we occupy, in detail, and convey it to the reader where it matters.

If it’s essentially the same everyday world we’re in, follow those rules. Do a little research. If your character is calling from a bus station at 10pm, find out if it’s open. Sometimes you have to use license, such as if there’s any likelihood he’d find a payphone, but if you have a reader who regularly uses that bus depot and knows they close at eightthat little detail will likely pull them out of the story. Ruin their immersion in the world you have created.

The more implausible details you have, and the broader the audience that might notice those details, the more likely that is to happen. There are readers that don’t care, but you’re probably not writing exclusively for those readers, and honestly, you should care. Your craft, your world, your characters.

One of my major pet peeves (and I’m bugged by pretty much any discrepancy in fiction I catch) is how many writers get New York City wrong. New York is probably particularly prone because it’s iconic, hellaciously expensive, and more than a little idiosyncratic, although I suspect authors do it to San Francisco nearly as often, and in similar ways, although I’m not going to be as aware of that since I’ve never been there (hats off to Amy Lane and her Going Up for her representation of six adults sharing a smallish two-bedroom apartment).

Yes, it’s fiction. I write in Romance World, and my character can get a high five/low six-figure job out of law school (since he graduated close to the top of his class at an Ivy League school) and a studio in the West Forties. What he can’t do is make partner in six months, or afford a penthouse, or park his car in front of his building and drive it cross-town to work every day.

The difference is the possible (if not necessarily the probable) and the impossible (assuming that Manhattan island is not twice the size it is in our universe, with half the population and a major shortage of attorneys–and if these things are so, or some other circumstance exists that explains one or all of these wild unlikelihoods, I kind of need to clue the reader in as to why). Yes, I know there’s a certain kind of escapist literature that uses unbelievable material success as its stock in trade, but even then, I think it’s improved by a nod to reality; some rationale for that wild success, and if you’re not writing that particular brand of escapism…

I’ve never thought writers have to (or should) stick to personal experience, which is a terribly limited definition of “what you know”, but when you’re not sure (or occasionally even when you are–I’ve found things I was positive of that turned out to be wrong) research is your friend. Google maps, Wikipedia, vetting it with someone with more direct experience, etc., etc.

So yeah, write what you know, but you probably know more than you think you do.

Addendum: A reader pointed out that someone with a disregard for speed limits probably could make Chicago in ten hours from some points in North Jersey. Which kind of proves the point about even when you’re sure…

Good things come in cans–Potatoes

Unlike most canned vegetables, which just need to be heated to be edible, potatoes aren’t fully cooked, and will be nasty if you don’t attend to that detail. They need to be cooked for at least ten or fifteen minutes. I still don’t really care for them just heated and dressed, but they are good in many dishes and are delicious fried.

Start with a can of potatoes. Duh, but the should be sliced, not whole. Diced will also work nicely, but they’re hard to find. Also pay attention to the quality of your canned goods. Name brand or a store variety you trust, because they are one of those things that the quality of the brand can vary enormously in. I like Wegmans. Aldi is also usually fine, although on the potatoes, I prefer Wegmans. I believe this can cost seventy-nine cents.KINDLE_CAMERA_1446461677000

Open and drain. Some people will rinse them and pat them dry with a paper towel, but I don’t bother. Get out a frying pan and melt about a tablespoon of butter in it. Corn oil would work too. A proponent of a nineteenth or very early twentieth century lifestyle might use lard, but I don’t recommend that. Fry for ten or fifteen minutes, until golden brown, and sprinkle with pepper while cooking.

KINDLE_CAMERA_1446461658000

I served these with breakfast sausage (from the fresh case, not frozen) cooked in the slow cooker on high for about two hours. They will brown, and you can just throw them in there and forget ’em until it’s time to cook the potatoes.

KINDLE_CAMERA_1446462619000

This was for a late breakfast/early lunch. It would work well as a weekend meal for a lot of families. In our case, Dad’s retired and I work from home during the week (I’m a novelist and I have a retail job on weekends) so it’s more of a weekday groove for us.

I served it with an apricot strip. This one was purchased.KINDLE_CAMERA_1446462242000We’re not discussing what it cost, but it’s fairly easy to make something similar with refrigerated dough and canned apricots (that’ll be another post). You could also serve this with fruit salad, or fried eggs, or both.

Happy Nibbles!

A Splendid Jape, and my crankiness with the Washington Post

Because one of their reporters characterized romance as “fill-in-the-blanks”.

Seriously?

Yes, there are genre rules, and some sub-genres/writers adhere more closely to formula than others, but… Wow. Good grief. Merciful heavens.

It is true that a romance novel (as opposed to a literary love story, where the rules are slightly different unless you’re Nicholas Sparks) concludes with a successful romantic conclusion, but it’s all about the journey. The characters and where their path takes them; how they surmount the obstacles to happiness, be they internal, external, or kind of improbable (which is a whole other blog post).

I have gone on at length about the difficulty and importance of writing historical LGBT fiction. I have a story out tomorrow, A Splendid Jape, which is set in 1817. On the whole it’s reasonably light, but I’m aware that it’s also set in an era where sodomy is a capital crime. As in death by hanging.

It’s not easy to turn that into an HEA. I did (and my early readers claimed I was successful) but that’s not exactly fill-in-the-blanks. Neither are other romance stories, even ones that adhere much more closely to formula.

A Splendid Jape Final Front Cover 10 1 2015

I do my own tricks.

Really, my own covers on self-pubs.

This has been something of a learning curve. I can’t draw, but I do think I have a decent sense of design, with the glittery pumpkin drying on my counter to prove it. I also have no graphic design training, so some of first efforts were… interesting.

At this point I’m in a groove, I have sources for graphics and software to make my layouts on, and I usually feel I don’t embarrass myself. The process is still a little more haphazard than I think it is for pros.

I usually go through several versions (which I know is perfectly normal) and sometimes have a couple of quite different graphics. Then, when crafting a cover for my new Halloween story, I ended up with this.NYCAnd somehow, this as well.

Bump!Different look and feel, even a different title. I actually liked the second one a bit better, but I went with the first because I thought it was A) grabbier, and B) fit the story better.

Hopefully my readers agree.

This is last year’s Halloween story. http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Bats-Four-Skulls-Scare-ebook/dp/B00P5D7F5K/ref=la_B00CAQ7MBW_1_17?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445962980&sr=1-17&refinements=p_82%3AB00CAQ7MBW

That one was published with MLR, and they did a beautiful job with the cover (I wish, but I can’t do that).  Unfortunately this year, I barely finished my story in time for a self-pub, let alone a publisher deadline.

I did, however, write a story for their spooky season prompt, which was a masquerade. It’s not a Halloween story, since it takes place in June, but I’m thrilled! Here’s the cover. A Splendid Jape Final Front Cover 10 1 2015

It’ll get it’s very own blog post later this week, when it comes out.

Happy Spookies, Everybody