I usually stay out of this stuff completely, but…

This time I’m not.

I’m not using names or distinguishing details either, although I’m pretty sure everyone knows what I’m referring to.

Plagiarism is bad.

I sometimes think that there are people who don’t understand what is and isn’t plagiarism. I could believe that a hobbyist, or someone who hasn’t had a lot of contact with other writers, might believe that reworking someone else’s story with different genders and a few distinguishing details, leaving a majority of passages intact, was substantively different work. I have trouble believing that a seasoned professional could believe such a thing was legally or morally acceptable.

That what might be an interesting creative writing exercise is not publishable because it is not original work.

It’s not a gray area. It isn’t accidentally creating a nearly identical plot, which happens. It isn’t inadvertently repeating phrases from a research book or a similar novel that you read ten years ago, which also happens. It’s not even taking the germ of someone else’s idea and running with it, such as when you read a story about someone kissing a statue, mentally telling yourself, “No, that’s not what happens!” and writing a completely different tale. Or even taking someone else’s characters/universe and creating an original work from that as a jumping off place (and determining the exact place where it becomes original is apparently a fine legal tangle).

It’s really hard to construe this as anything but outright theft. Much worse in my mind than the writer who took sex scenes from fanfic, cleaned them up, changed the relevant details, and inserted them into her own work. It was a lazy (and deservedly illegal) shortcut, but the resulting story was still essentially hers.

This isn’t. It’s the entire fabric of someone else’s work. I have no idea why someone would do that, either. It’s a ridiculous risk, in addition to being empirically wrong, and I can’t believe that a seasoned professional didn’t know both of these things.

I have read a few of this author’s books in the past, but even as freebies, I didn’t necessarily bother because I found them very uneven. Some decent, others nearly unreadable. Now I wonder if this is because they were a pastiche of other people’s work.

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Writing history, aka getting it wrong

There’s a famous quote by L.P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Every time I try to write in a historic period, even a very recent one, I take that to heart. I also get it wrong, no matter how careful I am.

The longer ago the setting, the harder it is to make it reasonably accurate, although there is more license. No-one alive remembers what the weather was like in the English midlands  on January 8th, 1818. Mess up Halloween in Las Vegas in 1968 and someone might call you on it.

It doesn’t actually matter, because it’s fiction. It’s a made-up story.

Still. I’d like to think my made-up story could actually happen the way I wrote it. I feel particularly responsible because I’m writing a history, that of queer people, that’s largely invisible.

That invisibility can make it easy to pretend that we showed up out of the blue about fifty years ago, rather than always having been here. So I chase tiny clues out of the historical record, and try not to be tempted to buy very expensive books that are mostly conjecture, because they are also based on a paucity of evidence, no matter how diligent the researcher.

In the end, I do my best. I try to recreate how people thought two hundred, or even forty, years ago, and write a story that is true to that understanding.

What I try not to do, is pull my punches. I may get details wrong. I may even get broad attitudes wrong, although I try very hard not to. What I never, ever want to do, is gloss over historic realities. I can give my Regency-era gentlemen an HFN, or try for an HEA, but I can’t let my readers not realize that our heroes could be hung by the neck until dead for the “crime” of physically expressing their love for one another. Because if I even approach veracity, if this is a story that could have really happened, our heroes never forgot that, not for one moment. My mid-twentieth century guys knew that a less than accepting family and an unfriendly judge could keep lifetime companions away from each other in sickness and death.

I need to remind my readers, and myself, that the past, that foreign country, interesting as it might be, was not always a gentle or friendly place. That it could, at various times, be dangerous for women, for queer people, or for those of color. Or sometimes, for everybody.

More thoughts on the value of negative reviews

As usual, I had a lot of random thoughts in my head that I had planned to blog until they flew away the minute I sat down and started to type. I had also started to write a post about parallel stories, and how the very similar tales of Drew and Jeff (Closer than Brothers, Call it Forever) and Wake and Cody (Indian Summer, A Family Christmas for Wake and Cody, End of Summer) were influenced by age and geography and privilege and general life experiences.

That’s probably still a post worth writing, but I really don’t have my thoughts organized on the subject, so it’s not going to be now.

I’m often reluctant to call attention to negative reviews, because I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining about their existence. They sometimes sting, but they are part of the territory of a professional writer, and grown-up professionals regard negative reviews as someone else’s valid opinion. Even if it’s a DNF, or seems to be about another book entirely. Or if the reader completely missed the point you were trying to make, or never seems to read anything that they like enough to give it more than two stars.

Not only are negative reviews completely legitimate free speech,  even if the review is scathing, sometimes you get a valuable take-away from it. Possibly particularly if the review is scathing, because then you are looking at someone else’s unvarnished truth. They are not trying to be diplomatic, and they are definitely not telling you what you want to hear.

And yes, they may be turning some readers off.

Sometimes though, a really good negative review, by which I mean a scorched earth, take-no-prisoners breakdown of exactly what that reader didn’t like, quoting chapter and verse, can influence readers to pick up your book.

Because their curiosity has been piqued. Two gay men and a lesbian in bed? Really? How does that work?

Or those readers are wondering just how bad the story really can be. Or why some people love it and some people hate it. Or they notice that the reviewer used the word “free” and they’ll download almost any freebie that catches their eye. Or something that was a big issue for the reviewer is something they love to read about. Or who knows what.

I don’t quite subscribe to the idea that any publicity is good publicity, but reviews can be pretty darn close to that. Even if they sting. Even if the reviewer perceives something you didn’t intend, and you then beat yourself up over whether it’s really coming out that way. Even if you wonder about the wisdom of having freebies available, because they always review lower on average than the ones you charge six bucks for (and not, I think because people don’t value what they get for free, but because only someone who really wants to read the book will shell out the six dollars, and plenty of people will download any freebie that might have gay sex in it).

I’m not linking to a particular review, because I can see the potential for mischief and misinterpretation (and while I did have a specific one in mind when I wrote this, it certainly wasn’t the only one I was thinking of). I’m not even linking to my free title, much as I love an opportunity to plug it, because I don’t want to be perceived as posting obliquely to any particular review (and to repeat, even if you think you’ve found the one that got me thinking this morning, this post isn’t only about that review, or even only about reviews of my books, and I would be horrified with a capital “H” if someone challenged a reviewer on my behalf.)

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but I don’t think you can say it too many times. Writers need to be philosophical about negative reviews. Even from other writers, people who are reading out of genre, and furry green pandas. The real underlying reason is the value of free speech, which I think authors have a particular obligation to defend, but the silver lining is the intrinsic value of dissenting opinions.

More Wake and Cody

Some of what I do–some of what most m/m writers do–is giving voice to the hidden. Recreating the lost history of queer people through fiction, or telling the stories of those who are invisible due to culture or age or misconception.

I am currently writing a historical, and while I think it’s important to create them, it is not fun to write. Historicals involve a lot of stupid, nit-picky research and I still usually feel like I’m getting half of it wrong. I bother anyway, because readers like them, and I personally enjoy reading them, and if you look at “official” history, you would think gay people suddenly spontaneously appeared sometime in the fifties or early sixties.

We have always been here, despite the paucity of clues in the historic record.

Which brings me to Wake and Cody. Their story isn’t historical, and it’s a lot more fun to write, because their world is much more intuitive to me, and I love creating big, messy families. However, they are very typical working class men who just happen to be in love with each other. They drink beer, watch sports, and have blue collar jobs. One of them has been married, and the other had a string of girlfriends (in fairness, he is bi, rather than gay). They both found the subject of sexuality so difficult that they didn’t bring it up for years and almost missed out on each other. It’s fiction, and I’m sure I exaggerate the details, but somewhere out there, someone has a story that’s pretty close to theirs.

So, I have a new installment of that story about to come out (late August or early September) and I have a cover reveal. EndofSummer_432Don’t they look like they’re having fun?

A few thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, or the program everyone loves to hate.

Except me. I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That may, or may not, be about to change. Amazon has addressed some of the more glaring issues with the service by switching to paying per page, rather than per download (read past ten percent), because there were sixteen gazillion ways to fiddle that system, plus it penalized authors who put longer works into the program.

It is probably an intrinsically fairer way to pay authors, although the issue is how much are they going to pay per page? Nobody knows that, and Amazon isn’t telling. Some fairly simple math based on published Amazon numbers would suggest that it’s going to shake out around half a cent per page, meaning that for a work to break even with the pay-out for the last couple of months, it would have to be around 220 pages. I don’t know for sure, but this page count is striking me a little high for a median KDP borrow, even with the optimistic KENPC tallies.

What I do know is that I regularly publish short stories to Amazon, and even before Unlimited, I would put them in Select so I could periodically promote them for free, mostly to generate buzz, and partly because while I know plenty of readers are okay with paying ninety-nine cents for a five or six thousand word story, plenty aren’t, and I’m interested in courting at least some of those readers. The theory is that if they like what they see, they may be willing to pony up for longer work. The KU payments, while they lasted, were kind of a bonus. I was getting over a dollar on twelve to fifteen page works with royalty payments of thirty-five cents when the work was purchased. I wasn’t complaining, but I’m not that surprised it isn’t sustainable. It does kind of suck for everyone who was making good money off shorts, but I can see the profit potential if you write door-stoppers.

The other thing is that the program only works for Amazon if they can get authors to participate in it. Particularly authors who write things that subscribers want. I probably won’t pull my stuff (and I’ll explain why in a little bit), but lots of people who were used to making that dollar-plus on each borrow will if they’re reduced to receiving pennies instead.

Buried in the Bezo-speak of the notice was the intelligence that they are changing the bonus structures as well as the payouts. Since we’re dealing with Amazon, I don’t know how exactly, any more than anyone else does (except for three high functionaries in Seattle who are sworn to secrecy). I suspect, although this is just a guess, that some of that restructuring is geared towards rewarding writers who have a high proportion of borrows that are read in full.

One of the things that I haven’t really seen mentioned is that the fraudulent and semi-fraudulent crap that was clogging up the program isn’t just defrauding Amazon. It’s defrauding us, the writers who put material into Select in good faith. And I’m not talking about the short erotica or even non-fiction articles that a lot of writers put out to take advantage of the structure, even the very poorly written ones. I’m talking outright scammery, such as the same illiterate “story” published twelve times under twelve different names. Two pages of material (sometimes plagiarized) followed by ten pages of gobbledy-gook (literally random qwerty strikes). Copyright violations up the wazoo (which Amazon probably had enough trouble with already). Ad infinitum. Since we, the authors of KU, are paid out of a pool, the payments for that chicanery came out of our earnings. I’m all for restructuring that discourages that, and I’m hoping that when it all shakes out, those “good faith” authors get well compensated.

Now, why aren’t I threatening to pull my books from the program, even if it does come to pass that I’m making six or eight or ten cents a pop on most of those short stories? And it’s not just the promotional benefit, although that can be significant.

I’m also a KU subscriber. I borrow all kinds of things (and sometimes read them all the way through) that I would never, ever have bought. I do still buy books, and it’s a nice bonus when something I would have purchased is available on KU, but probably ninety-five percent of my borrows don’t fall into that category. I’m a voracious reader, and my appetite far outstrips my pocketbook. There are writers I regularly borrow who write good books that I like but don’t fall into the “absolutely must have” category. I’m betting my books are the same way for some readers. I’m also much more willing to try writers I’m not familiar with if I don’t have to pay for each individual borrow. I check my numbers frequently (although now I can’t see individual borrows-just pages read) and I can clearly see patterns where one or more readers borrowed everything (and sometimes bought non-KU titles too).

So, while I’d rather have my old payments, pennies are better than nothing, which I think is mostly what I’d have if KU disappeared. More to the point, I’ll take the increased visibility too.

The dudes who say “dude” are back.

Several reviewers sort of riffed on the great deal of “dude” that went on in the first book, “Closer Than Brothers”. Because my characters did kind of use that word a lot. And this is not a criticism of reviewers, who absolutely have the right to say anything they want up to and including “this is the worst book I have ever read” (and not necessarily that politely, either), just that I was kind of amused by how much everyone remarked on the “Dude!”. Plus some of those remarks were very, very funny.

I might have gone a  little overboard (and I did try to tone it down a little this time), but I thought the word was an utterly perfect description of my Drew and Jeff, two very typical young men who just happened to fall in love with each other, somewhat to their surprise. A lot of the stuff I write isn’t angsty exactly, but it isn’t really sunny either. I’ve depressed myself reading over “Mistake” or “Doors That Remain Closed”.

These guys are pretty light, and they’re an enormous amount of fun to write. Not that their lives are free of sorrow or burden, because nobody’s ever is, but they’ve been pretty fortunate. Supportive families, bright futures, and not a lot of baggage.

This story is releasing early this month, and the timing with the SCOTUS decision couldn’t be better, as far as I’m concerned. CallItForever_432 (2)Because not only do my guys get their forever, at twenty-two, surrounded by their families (including a couple of members who were a little difficult about the whole thing), no-one can take it from them.

Less than five years ago, when I was writing “Unexpected Gifts”, and marriage or civil unions between two men were possible in only a handful of states, my Nick and Leon were trying to figure out legal ways to ensure that Nick would never be shut out of a hospital room by Leon’s family. Suddenly, that reality is the “bad old days”.

Yes, I know they’re fictional characters, but I get attached to them. I’m thrilled to launch Drew and Jeff into a long, rich lifetime together where their marriage is recognized in all fifty states.

I went to NYC Pride yesterday.

Despite a messy house, a number of projects I should be working on, and a few other things.

I wanted to be there, because the SCOTUS ruling is a very big deal. I broke out the bottle of champagne we’d been saving since before Christmas on Saturday night, to toast it, along with my Dad’s eighty-seventh birthday.

I whole-heartedly support marriage equality, and really, it was about time. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have told you that I wasn’t going to see equal marriage in all fifty states during my lifetime. Even five years ago I might have told you that.

This is a huge victory for equal rights. It is very much a triumph of love.

As I’ve blogged before, I am a Christian, and have been one for many years. I am from a fairly liberal tradition, but I dress very modestly, for a number of reasons.

Last time I went to Pride, I felt a little self-conscious. So I thought about putting on pants, so as not to stand out.

“Wear what you’re comfortable in,” my sister said. “Do you want to wear pants?”

“No, I’m not comfortable in pants. I’m much more comfortable in a skirt.”

So instead of an outfit that I’m marginally okay in public in, I put on a long cotton skirt with a slip for opacity, and a t-shirt with a modest neckline and embroidered fishies on it. And felt every bit as much myself as I hope the long-haired and bearded man next to us in red lipstick and a black and gold caftan felt like him, her, or ey-self.

Because, at the core of it, I think that’s what Pride is about. Being able to live like yourself, and love, without fear or shame or apology.

The joy I felt yesterday, or on Friday when I read the good news on my Facebook feed isn’t entirely unmixed, because I keep wishing this had happened five or ten or twenty or even fifty years ago. That it had never been a big deal. That the lack of this kind of equality under law had never led to so much injustice. That no one had ever had to suppress who they were because they wanted marriage and family. That…

I could go on and on. But love wins.Love wins

First time right, or “all I really needed to know about writing I learned from a journalist.”

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration.

For the record, I am not, and never have been, a journalist. All of my professional writing is fiction. My degree is in English Literature.

I took only one writing class in college. It was non-fiction, but not specifically oriented towards journalism.

I have read very little on writing, although that little has generally been by journalists. My parents had a background in magazine journalism, and I’m sure that has had an influence both on my writing style and how I think about writing.

The thing about newspaper journalism (and to a lesser extent, writing for magazines and the internet equivalents of both) is that it does not have the luxuries of either space or time. It must be concise, and it must be produced quickly and competently, because it will not get more than a cursory editorial glance. I don’t know if this is true, but I have been told that the standard, at least back in the day, was twenty minutes from AP wire to press-ready copy.

First time right. You don’t get a second chance.

Fiction writing is in many ways different, and not just because space and time are not the same kind of luxuries, but that “first time right” is sound advice.

I see a lot of advice on self-editing, including some that suggest it isn’t really possible. I do, by the way, think it is possible, but not everyone can do it, because that kind of objectivity is hard, and no matter how competent, it’s not a substitute for a decent professional edit.

A clean first draft isn’t a substitute for that either, but it will save you time, and if you’re paying out-of-pocket for editing, it will save you money.

Some writers can’t work from an outline (I’m one of them), but if you can, it’s usually worth making one. It will give you purpose and keep the story arc of your draft tighter.

Turn on the grammar and spelling highlighters in Word (or whatever else you’re using) and pay attention to the little underlines when they pop up. Acquaint yourself with a style manual (Chicago Manual of Style is the one commonly used in publishing). If the writing program you are using does not have spelling/grammar checkers, get one that does. Seriously. You’re a professional, get professional tools. Even if you are a former spelling bee champion who has strong grammar and punctuation skills, you have idiosyncrasies and you make errors when you type fast. The highlighting saves time and spares you from sending out manuscripts with stupid errors. Keep in mind that spell-checks are not substitutes for a careful read-through. Notoriously, they don’t catch homophones. Sooner or later your heroine will bear her chest or bare her children if you rely on them, and you will be embarrassed.

Stop and look over what you’ve written every ten pages or so. Fix any errors you’re aware of. Some writers will go over the previous day’s work every day. I usually go over the whole thing every ten thousand words or so and adjust as necessary, particularly for consistency. Now there are some writers who can’t work that way, either because they get bogged down in the minutiae of revising, or they’re so tired of their own work that they don’t want to look at it anymore and give up halfway through.

If you can, it will usually result in a tighter draft. If you can’t because it stifles your process, it’s still worth trying to keep the spelling and grammar, particularly sentence structure, as clean as you can without becoming so fixated on the technical details that you forget what you were trying to write about.

Why?

Particularly since a lot of writing advice focuses on worrying about creative stuff in the early stages, and leaving the technical details for later. There is also no wrong or right way to embark on process. Some of us write at six in the morning with coffee and some of us write at midnight with wine. Some do both. Or neither. There are hacks that produce clean copy and brilliant writers whose drafts are a red-ink worthy mess. Both are probably exceptions, but they exist.

Not only does that clean draft save time in the edit and revision process (always a worthy goal), a finished looking manuscript is easier to read. Easier for a beta to find the holes in your plot. Easier for an editor or an agent to see if they might have potential interest in your work. Easier for you to figure out if what you put on the page is actually what you meant to say. For at least some writers, probably easier to produce a better book.

May, December, a couple of new projects, and my boxset story.

A couple of months ago I was facebooking constantly about a story I was working on for a charity boxset. It was kicking my butt. It seemed simple enough. The story was supposed to revolve around a Pride festival, and I already had a little bit of a plot bunny from when I went to NYC Pride in 2012 with some extended family.

Then some stuff happened to my plot bunny. Then some more stuff, plus I was working on BoardwalkBoardwalk Final Front Cover 1 29 2015

while I was writing it, and some of that spilled over… And, and, and then I finally realized I was writing an enormous age gap. Huge. My poor MC was falling in love with a man old enough to be his grandfather. Ack!

How do you make that not creepy? The answer is “very, very carefully.” So that’s why the story was kind of kicking my bottom, because I kept going over again and again in minute detail, because it could so easily have veered into “Eeeewww!”. I think I’ve been successful. I hope I’ve been successful. I’ve always been a “pantser” kind of to the extreme, but every now and then my characters get these notions into their heads…

The end result is “What the Heart Wants” and it is about to be available in this limited edition set.

11393262_1610815519188150_2124506859436953645_nI don’t have the buy links yet, but it’s up on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25665642-finding-love and I am incredibly excited. I’m still really stoked about every new release, plus it’s very flattering to be invited to something like this, and I’m in some great company.

And it’s for charity. That’s actually the very most important part of the whole thing. All the proceeds go to The Trevor Project. I can’t stress enough how vital their work is. We’re losing our kids. Because they don’t believe it gets better and they don’t know anyone else like them and sometimes teenagers just get tunnel vision because they can’t believe it isn’t always going to be this awful.

Will, my MC in “What the Heart Wants” doesn’t have the easiest relationship with his parents, but he’s old enough and grounded enough and has enough other support systems that it’s not awful for him. I write fiction, but what happens to Jared in “Another Gift”, or to Leon and his first boyfriend, or to Blake’s childhood friend in “Where Least Expected” are close to reality for some LGBT youth. LGBT people and allies need to stand up for these children and do something. This well-respected charity does, and I’m delighted to be part of this, and to try to make a difference.

I have a couple other things cooking too. I’m working on a bunch of stuff (always), including a couple of period pieces. “Call it Forever,” the sequel to

71TBETuZTsL._SL1425_is due out July 3rd and I’m very excited about that. I also just finished another Wake and Cody story. It’s been submitted, but I don’t yet know if it’s going to get picked up or if it will end up as a self-pub.  I also have at least one Halloween story in the works, and there is no way I’m ever going to let a holiday season pass without at least one Christmas story (and maybe a Thanksgiving one, possibly Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve…)  So more coming, I promise. And thanks for putting up with me.