Archive for February, 2013

five things on friday

Weeekly wrap-up! It’s been sort of a slow-news week (personally) but let’s see if I can’t come up with five things to talk about.

I’ve had a lot of coffee today, so this might be a little silly. Also, I’m currently wearing unseasonable Santa socks, because they were clean. I have boots on, no one can tell! So now you know a secret. Shh.

Jock week1. I’ll be participating in Jock Week over at Joyfully Jay’s next week. There’s a huge book giveaway, so definitely go check it out. Here’s a preview. (I think my guest post goes up on Tuesday. I bet you can guess what sport I wrote about.)

2. Speaking of jocks, spring training has started! Baseball is coming! (It’s like “Winter is coming” except the opposite because it’s spring and there’s baseball!)

Hey, let’s get the 2009 World Series Champion New York Yankees to cheer!

The World Series Champion 2009 Yankees

3. If you saw my post on Tuesday, you may be happy to learn that I seem to have gotten past my writing slump/rut/whatever and have been giddily typing away at my WIP all week and it’s going well and makes me happy.

4. I’ve been bogged down with reading stuff that is not for fun, so while I finish that up, I’ve been buying books like they’re going out of style. (I should clarify, I’m judging a contest and am reading books for that contest, and some of them have been quite fun, so it’s not all misery here. Just, because of the sheer volume of stuff I have to read by a certain date, I’m not allowing myself to read purely for fun.) So, I saw a special on TV a couple of weeks ago on the historical origins of Robin Hood and then promptly bought a bunch of books on, like, Medieval European history and the British monarchy. Yes, these are things that I will read for fun! Also, scrolling though my Kindle, I see I also bought a book on sexuality in the Ancient World that looks pretty good as well as 3 m/m novels that I REALLY want to read. (I mean, lord save me from 1-click buying on Amazon, because I just sit there and am like, “Oh, sure, that looks good!” *click* So, yes, folks, a decent cut of my royalties gets recycled right back into the publishing industry. It’s like when I worked retail in college and, like, half of any paycheck would go right back into the store. Being around all those cute clothes all day was too much temptation.)

5. Now is as good a time as any to point you toward my events page, which I just updated since somehow I failed to include RWA in July. I’m still planning on GayRomLit; that will I hope be the capstone on a most excellent year.

creativity vs. commerce

I don’t tend to write a lot about craft because I’m fully aware that what works for me as a writer probably won’t work for you. (It very likely won’t, actually; my process is a little weird.) But in an effort to update the blog more than once a week, I wanted to share this revelation I had over the weekend.

I’ve been feeling a little stymied creatively lately. Several things keep happening. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to just get another book done already. (Now that I think about it, the last novel I finished a first draft of was Out in the Field, which was completed about a year ago. I actually wrote the first drafts of Four Corners and Show and Tell in 2011.) Anyway, I’ve been really struggling with where I should focus my energies, and that has resulted in a somewhat crippling lack of focus; I keep starting new projects without finishing them.

(Novel-length projects, I should clarify. I’ve written a handful of shorts and a novella in the last eight months.)

And then I hated everything I wrote for a while. My writing had lost some of its charm. I wrote a story last September that I liked for its plot, setting, and characters, but I thought the prose was too spare and the sentence structure too choppy. I even had one beta say of something I wrote that it didn’t sound like my voice.

What is happening?

I think a lot of it was the pressure I was putting on myself and the panic of seeing 2013 laid out before me with a whole lot of nothing on the pub schedule, and then I think the writing process became more about Getting It Done than anything else, which kind of took away my enjoyment, which in turn made the writing not so great, and so on.

I had a self-imposed deadline of mid-March, but last week, I made the decision to let that go. Getting It Done was much less important than Writing a Good Novel. So, if it takes me the next six months to finish a book and make it good, so be it. It seems arbitrary, but that decision was freeing in a lot of ways.

Look, I’m all for setting goals. Goals are good. Goals keep us on track, goals help us plan ahead. But I think the lesson here is that churning out a book just for the sake of churning it out is not a good strategy for me. I have to feel passionate about a project in order to write it well, and if I’m more preoccupied with the deadline than the story, well, you can guess how that goes. (And as someone who periodically suffers from pretty intense anxiety, I am always going to be preoccupied with deadlines if they exist. It’s why I don’t think I will be selling stories on spec much anymore.)

Which brings me to my current project. I’m getting back to basics and writing a m/m contemporary set in New York. (I just got tagged to do another Next Best Thing post, so I’ll talk about the story more next week, but the gist is that it’s an opposites-attract romance.) I wrote the first 30,000 words in late December/early January and then promptly got stuck. The key issue was that there just wasn’t enough conflict. The characters met, they had some romance and hot sex, and then any impediment I threw at them seemed stupid and easily resolved. So, I got my writers group involved and handed them the first four chapters. They had a number of really good suggestions, particularly for how to introduce more conflict.

I spent a good chunk of this past holiday weekend working on the story. And, honestly, for the first time in a while, working on it felt more like crafting a story and less like churning out words. One of the characters is an opera singer, so I made a playlist of my favorite arias. (Listening to a lot of opera will make everything seem more dramatic.) I introduced a new character and moved some scenes around. I did some research. I wrote about 6,000 new words. I am so in the heads of these characters that I know them well now. And it all felt really good in the way writing hasn’t in a while.

So here’s hoping I don’t get in my own way again.

I think it’s one of the problems of being a working writer. What we’re told—and what I’ve seen in my own royalty statements—is that putting out books at regular intervals keeps readers interested. But how quickly will my readers drop off if I start putting out crappy books?

Like, the other night, I was having a conversation with someone in which the question was posed: What if you had written 50 Shades? I joked that I could retire. But my friend pointed out that I wouldn’t be okay with having written a book that was so critically reviled (I’d never forgive myself for putting out a book I knew was sub-par) and, more to the point, if I made all that money, I could stop writing, but would I want to? No, absolutely not. Writing is super important to me, it’s how I stay sane sometimes, it’s a creative outlet, it’s the thing I’d like to be doing most days. I wake up thinking about my stories and go to bed thinking about them. I would be incomplete if I gave it up.

But then commerce gets involved. Writing is a creative outlet but it’s also a business. I want to write full time, and therefore I need to sell enough books to sustain that. Then again, I think there’s something to be said for making your next book as spectacular as it can be, and I certainly aim for that whenever I’m working on a new project. Out in the Field did pretty well, I think in large part because of word-of-mouth more than anything I did beyond writing the best book I could.

So it’s a fine line. But for the sake of this project, I’m going to concentrate on writing a good story for a while. I’ll worry about the rest later.

five things on friday

2013, man. Not going as planned. Weekly wrap-up:

1. Tentative announcement: ink is drying on the contract for the romantic comedy I mentioned here. I thiiiiink it’ll be out June-ish.

2. The Rainbow Awards are open.

3. I had a very nice day last Sunday; my mom came into the city, and we had brunch and then went to the Met. (I love the Met. I’d go every weekend if it weren’t on the East Side and therefore a pain in the butt to get to.) I got home in the late afternoon only to find that the power on my whole block was out. This was completely unrelated to last weekend’s storm; my roommate reported that smoke and sparks came out of a manhole across the street. So the whole block was out until Monday night. I feel like I’ve been running two days behind ever since.

4. Did anyone else see the episode of What Not to Wear that aired last night featuring a trans* woman? What I enjoyed most about the episode was how the fact that she was trans* was treated like a totally mundane fact. The show handled it like they often do with, for example, women who have lost a lot of weight and haven’t bought new clothes yet. (I actually missed the beginning of the episode, and when I started watching, the woman, Casey, kept commenting on how she didn’t have hips, and it didn’t occur to me that this was unusual, because a lot of women have narrow hips.) Casey was basically every woman who has ever been on the show—she dressed poorly because she didn’t know what to do with her body. (And, really, none of us do, honey.) And she seemed so happy at the end of the episode—like, couldn’t-stop-smiling happy—because Stacy and Clinton had made her feel feminine. I eat that kind of stuff for breakfast—I love a makeover show—so that was really nice to see.

I hope that things like this do something positive for trans* visibility. It’s a good episode; I recommend trying to catch it when it reruns.

5. It’s Friday and I’ve had a headache all day and I feel like my brain is about to dribble out through my nose, so I’ll wrap this up. My schedule for March is a little crazy: I’m going to Philly the first weekend, coming back in time to read at Lady Jane’s Salon on the 4th, and going to the Liberty States Fiction Writer convention in the middle of the month.

Anyone ever been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art? It looks pretty. Worth the visit if I can work it into my 2-day stay?

to the mainstream!

Josh Lanyon has a post up at Jessewave on the mainstreaming of m/m. I started to comment there but then realized I was being crazy long-winded, so I decided to start a new post.

My take is this: 2013 promises to be a banner year for LGBT romance, and the book everyone is talking about is J.R. Ward’s Lover at Last. Here are some thoughts:

Confessions of a Shameless Romance Reader

13570854If you’ve been reading my Friday wrap-up posts, you know I read the entire Black Dagger Brotherhood series last fall. It has some flaws and Ward has some writing tics I wish an editor would disabuse her of, but generally, I find the series engrossing and entertaining and there’s been so much build up in the Qhuinn/Blay relationship that I cannot wait to get my grubby paws on Lover at Last. (Confession: though the series has been on my radar for a long time because so many people whose tastes I usually agree with really love it, my real incentive for finally reading it was the Qhuay book announcement. And I’m enough of a series completist that if there was going to be a huge m/m release late in a series, I better read the whole series.)

In addition to Ward, Lanyon name checks Suzanne Brockmann. Now, I’m a huge fan of Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. The Jules/Robin arc was one of the first (if not the first) m/m plot I ever encountered. That was part of what inspired me to start writing m/m in fact; I loved it so much that I wanted to see more books like those.

It’s All About the Series

Best book in the series, as far as I'm concerned, and there's some great Jules/Robin stuff.

Best book in the series, as far as I’m concerned, with plenty of Robin/Jules.

Brockmann hasn’t been reviewed that well on m/m blogs and I wonder if that’s due in part to reviewers reading the Jules/Robin arc in isolation. I know there are a significant number of m/m readers who will not read m/f and so might not have been as interested in the rest of the series, but to me, the moment when Jules and Robin finally get together is many books in the making. Jules first showed up in, I think, the second book, and his friendship with Sam is one of my favorite recurring elements in the series; that’s something you kind of miss out on if you only read All Through The Night, for example. (I will confess to be an unabashed Brockmann fan. I love the Troubleshooters series. I’m kind of sad it’s pretty much over.)

I think Lover At Last could have the same problem for readers who have been m/m-only for a while. The book falls so late in the series that if this is the only book you read, I can’t imagine it would have the same pay-off as it would have if you’d experienced all of the Qhuay-related angst that preceded it.

The one thing these authors, and Lori Foster who Lanyon also mentions, have in common is that they introduced m/m storylines to existing series. I wonder if that makes the stories more palatable to those who wouldn’t pick up a m/m book otherwise? Readers are already hooked. I don’t know how the new Ward book will play out, but the Brockmann books interlace the Jules/Robin storyline with those of other characters, so there are other series arcs going on at the same time. If a reader weren’t invested in Jules/Robin, s/he might keep reading to find out about Max or Decker or Cosmo or whoever. (And sometimes, the books are what fans are asking for. Apparently Foster’s fans wanted an HEA for a character. I suspect some of the clamoring for Qhuay comes from ward denying us Butch/Vishous (EVEN THOUGH THEY TOTALLY BELONG TOGETHER, but whatever). And the publisher was originally going to relegate Qhuay to a novella, but Ward/fans insisted otherwise.)

I’m pretty certain that Lover at Last will sell gazillions of copies, but would a standalone m/m book be as successful?

Sexy Times

Briefly, I just want to touch on sex. When I met her last year, Brockmann said she wanted to include more explicit m/m scenes in the Troubleshooters books but was stymied by her publisher. (There are more explicit scenes in her more recent stuff: the m/m shorts and with the m/m couple in Born to Darkness.) Ward has said there will be a long Qhuay scene, though. I personally don’t care if sex is included or not—I like sex scenes, but I skim them a lot, too. I think authors should do whatever seems appropriate for their stories. But what IS irksome is when m/f pairings get on-the-page love scenes but the m/m pairing in the same book/series get faded to black. I think Lanyon is right in his post; if a writer is uncomfortable or just in it for the money, it’ll show in the writing.

Predictions

I think two things will happen by the end of 2013. We’ll see a few mainstream romance authors write m/m (or other LGBT romance) and we’ll see a few established m/m (or other LGBT) writers get picked up by “mainstream” publishers. (Examples: Katie Porter is the writing team of Lorelie Brown and Carrie Lofty, both established m/f writers. They wrote a couple of m/m holiday stories that were well-received. ZA Maxfield has a book deal with Berkley.)

There’s already momentum building for m/m. Rainbow Romance Writers did a survey last year, and one of the takeaways was that a significant number of readers discovered m/m via a mainstream writer like Brockmann or Ward. It’s the most popular genre at All Romance eBooks. LGBT romance has been reviewed in RT since last summer. It’s been a hot topic of conversation at every romance convention I’ve been to in the last year. That will continue and Lover at Last will certainly keep the conversation going.

This is good news. I believe LGBT romance deserves to reach a wider audience. Certainly, the LGBT romance world has writers who deserve wider recognition and more accolades, who should be on the same shelves as the best m/f romance writers.

As the future president of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA, helping to usher LGBT romance (the whole rainbow, not just m/m) is a big part of my agenda. As writers, we want to be respected and taken seriously.

But the bad news? Could m/m be the new Twilight knock off? Will the market be flooded by fly-by-night authors and publishers looking to capitalize on a trend and make money without necessarily putting out a quality product? Will there be a glut of terrible books? How can we ensure that the good books in an already flooded market get recognition?

Probably all these things will happen.

The Big Question

Personally, I’m a reader of all kinds of romances, and I’ve been spending more time in outside of m/m-exclusive spaces. Part of this is due in part to my involvement with RWA and going to romance-related events and conventions that are open to everyone. I’ve been greeted with nothing but enthusiasm for the last few months. It’s been really great!

But I always, always get asked, “Why m/m?”

And I get that. I understand why people are curious. But it gets harder to answer that question every time I’m asked it.

I’m not sure why. It’s a lot of reasons. It’s no specific reason. I love romance as a genre and have been reading and writing it for years. The why is easy. Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved love stories. I like reading about relationships. I like the reassurance most romances provide that things will end well. Why gay romance? That’s harder to answer. Part of it was that I read a few gay romances that I really loved back when the books were few and far between, and I wanted more so I wrote one for myself. I wasn’t really expecting all of my subsequent stories to also feature gay characters. That’s just sort of where my muse has pointed me, though. (I’ve always kept my bio a little vague. I’m not an m/m romance writer, I’m a romance writer period. All of my published books just happen to me m/m. I’ve written other kinds of pairings but haven’t tried to get any of those books published; maybe I will or maybe I’ll stick to m/m. I’m not sure what will happen. I like to have options.)

This may seem neither here nor there, but I think we’re going to start seeing this question a lot more. Why do you read that? Why do you write it?

I’m scheduled to attend RT and RWA Nationals this year, and I’m expecting all of this to be much discussed. I’m not really sure what the future holds, but I look forward to it!

five things: all that jazz

You may have heard that the northeast is about to be covered in snow. If the weather reports are anything to go by, you’d think brimstone was about to rain from the sky. Well, here’s my weekly wrap-up post. Call me if you see locusts or whatever.

1. ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be reading from Show and Tell at Lady Jane’s Salon on Monday March 4. (7pm at Madame X, Houston b/t Thompson & LaGuardia, NYC.) It would be fabulous to see you there.

2. ANNOUNCEMENT 2: I’m helping to spread the word that the Rainbow Awards are looking for judges in all genres of LGBT books.

3. One of my many works in progress is an m/m novel set in the Jazz Age that I’ve decided to seriously try to finish soon. While Googling for something related to that, I learned that there’s an exhibit on Prohibition in Philadelphia (here’s a review), so I just booked a trip to Philly. You know, for research.

Actually, I’ve been wanting to do two things related to this for a very long time. First, the last time I was in Philly was for a convention in 2003. I spent three days stuck at my company’s booth in the exhibition hall and didn’t get to see much of the city. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since.

Second, I’ve been wanting to do a writer’s retreat weekend for myself, and it’s one of those things I keep saying I’m going to do without doing it. It means getting out of New York and away from my usual weekend obligations. I decided to book myself a room in a swanky hotel (at which I got a pretty good deal) and I’m going to relax and go to museums and be a history nerd for a couple of days. This is basically my treat for myself before everything gets nuts this spring. (My calendar looks terrifying starting the day after I get back from Philly.)

So. Anything I should do in Philly while I’m there? I’m staying in Center City and will only be there about 36 hours, so I may just have time to check into my hotel and go to museums.

Although, DID YOU KNOW, there is an iPhone App for Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show The Layover. If you’ve never seen it, he basically gets a 30-something hours in a city and then eats and drinks his way across it. I happened to catch the episode on Atlanta a few weeks ago and filed that info away for later, since I’m going to Atlanta twice this year. Looks like he did an ep on Philly, too.

4. I’m having a writing dilemma, sort of. The aforementioned Jazz Age novel starts off gritty but I’m noticing the latter chapters are a little bit sugary. Like, once the main couple is Together, they’re so crazy in love that they get a little mushy. Now, I like this sort of thing, which is why it finds its way into my books, but I’m thinking some of this is too much. It’s a tricky thing to think about/compromise on. It’s a problem I’ve been having a lot lately, worrying my romance stuff is too saccharine. I think in the Jazz Age novel, I have to tone it down. (It’s funny, wondering if I have to balance what I like with reader expectations. In this case, I don’t think the sappy stuff is appropriate or thematically consistent, so that’s not a hard choice to make, but sometimes I write things and can hear reviewers saying, “This is silly,” and edit myself accordingly. It’s a fine line to walk, doing what you want vs. what you think people want.)

5. I had another one of those weeks wherein not a lot happened, but I did watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, so there’s that. I didn’t have a dog in that fight—I didn’t really follow football this year and I’m not a fan nor did I have much antipathy for either team—but it was fun to watch. (I root for the Giants or whoever is playing against the Patriots.) My brother and I switch off hosting duties every year, usually depending on who can make the better argument for who has the best space. I’ve actually hosted the last few years because I can fit more people in my living room than he can in his, but he just got a new surround-sound system, so he won hosting rights this year. I guess I have to up the ante. Or, you know, let him host, since then I don’t have to cook or clean up afterward.

And I guess the good news is that, after a brief bout of laryngitis earlier this week, I seem to be mostly healed from being sick. (I avoided the fate of a guy I know, at least; he was diagnosed with bronchitis and then had a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics his doctor put him on. He’s okay now, but that was scary.)

five things: ah-choo!

Weekly wrap-up!

1. I’m a big sniffly, sneezy, coughing mess and have been all week, as I’ve been struck with a fairly nasty cold—not the flu, knock on wood—that is persistent and terrible. So most of my week involved a lot of unpleasantness and was not that interesting. But I shall endeavor to come up with things to talk about now!

2. The Boy Scouts of America made the news this week because they are considering amending the policy on gay scouts and leaders—not that they would even officially allow gay scouts/leaders but that they would leave it up to individual troops.

It’s a close-to-home issue in some ways. My youngest brother was an Eagle Scout. So was my dad, and one of his retirement hobbies is to act as a district leader for Boy Scouts. Because he is great, my dad has been quite outspoken about his opposition to the ban on gay scouts for a long time. We’ve talked about it a bit recently, particularly in the wake of BSA reaffirming the ban last year. He thought that lifting the ban was unlikely given that so much of scouting is supported by the Mormon and Catholic churches, but it seems to me that if enough corporations pull their funding, Boy Scouts will be forced to make a change. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what has happened.

If the Boy Scouts change the rules, gay scouts and leaders will totally be allowed in my dad’s district, which I suppose is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough.

And here’s a great irony: my brother’s old troop almost got its charter revoked last month. Why? Because the charter was held by a church whose minister happens to be a lesbian, and she refused to sign paperwork supporting an anti-gay organization. (Can’t say I blame her, frankly.)

3. I’m reading like a fiend! During the beginning of my infirm last weekend, I read almost all of Outlander, which was then discussed at my book club Monday night. It’s one of those romance classics I just never got around to reading but always kind of wanted to. (I wrote up my review on Goodreads, if you’re curious for my thoughts on the book.) One thing I will add is that the book highlighted how little I now about Scottish history, which is something I intend to rectify soon. I’ve read not one but TWO books this week that referenced the Battle of Culloden but I had no idea what it was about. Time to fix that!

I also signed up to judge the RITAs, and so I will be devoting the next few weeks to reading those books. I can’t tell you what they are, but I can say that it’s a really interesting mix, mostly in genres I don’t usually read. (A couple look really good and one is by an author I’ve been wanting to read for a while. It’s not all bad, being a contest judge.)

I am VERY CURIOUS about how all this shakes out. I entered a book this year, and though I feel like the odds of me finaling are slim, I would be elated if any LGBT book made one of the short lists. I think we might be close to that happening.

4. Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training!!

5. Despite the fact that I am going through a kind of creative drought at the moment, I have two stories out for submission at the moment. Fingers crossed!

Also an admin thing: a few legit comments got snagged in the spam filter, and because I’m slow about cleaning it out, they sat there for a couple of weeks. Sorry about that! Non-spam comments all went through this morning!