Saturday, 15 August 2015

Happy release day: Incursion (redux)

ACX emailed me this morning to let me know that the audio version of Incursion is live - I just bought a copy on, and yep, apparently it's live.

You can get it on Audible (definitely DE/UK/US) and Amazon (search for "audiobook + Incursion", since I don't think the versions will get linked up, considering Riptide is the rights holder of the ebook and I hold the audio rights). Also apparently on iTunes, though I didn't check that (I don't do iTunes...). Also, I didn't set the price - apparently that's all automated.

What would be extremely helpful at this stage is (honest) ratings and reviews. After much agonising, I put Incursion in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy category over Romance. It's strictly speaking both, but I'm taking a chance with the queer sci-fi listeners... and don't want to anger the Romance-focused readers who could really do with fewer space ships/technology babble in their romance. I know the story is an odd duck. :)

Also, ACX will apparently send me a number of promo codes for Incursion, and I'll give some of those away to subscribers of my newsletter (subscribe here to enter the "draw") once I got them (they said "five business days").

I hope you enjoy the new take on an (old) book. :)

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Adventures in audiobooks: Incursion and Gold Digger (covers)

I have two new covers to show you - both by Jordan Taylor, who's responsible for the brilliant covers of the Dark Soul series (and especially Dark Soul 1, which has to rank among everybody's favourites). 

Most of you know that I've been dipping my toes into the audiobook pool. I'm really making lemonade in times of lemons. Basically, if I can't/don't write, at least I can go wide with the books I do have. And Riptide was willing to part with the audio and translation rights of Gold Digger, Incursion and Skybound for some cash, so I bought those back and am currently entertaining myself with Italian and German translations of all of those plus audiobooks. Add to that Deliverance and Return on Investment, and I have five stories to work with.

Return on Investment is going to be the last of those though - because it's so long, doing it in audio is really expensive (same for translations), and will obviously take longer to produce. So I'm hoping to get all of those done in 2015, and then tackle Return on Investment. 

And people have been asking for audiobooks/translations for Dark Soul and Memory of Scorpions, but Riptide is not (yet) willing to part with those rights. I'm hoping to get those back in a year or two when Riptide has had a fair shot to sell those rights.

On the positive side, I've teamed up with an Italian publisher to do Skybound and Gold Digger with them, and from what I understand, they're also interested in Dark Soul. Dark Soul has also received some interest from Germany, apparently, so before I do anything as an "indie/self-publisher", we'll see how all of that pans out.

In any case, here are the covers. 

For Incursion, I hired Gomez Pugh (famous for his work for Jordan Castillo Price), and I'm happy to say that we've wrapped production (well, he did - all I did was listen to it and answer a few questions), and we're now waiting for Audible to approve the audiobook, which can take a few more days. This process will stick in my head because Gomez had some really cool/creepy ideas for the big scene where Kyle "meets" the morph and the the scene really pivots on that idea - it's so cool what you can do with voices that I'd never have considered doing on the page. Also, spoken like he does it, Incursion feels a lot more noire-ish than I remember, which is really cool. Listening to it made me want to write more about the characters and the world. It runs pretty much exactly 3 hrs and should come out before the month is over - Audible willing. 

For Gold Digger, I hired Alexander J Masters, who previously did work for Josh Lanyon and has a lot fewer fiction releases to his name than is fair. I was looking for somebody who can do accents, and Alexander has to run through several in that book - British, Canadian, Hungarian and Russian. He does an amazingly sexy Henri, so I'm quite excited about that. He's started and I think we agreed he'd finish up by the end of the month. I'd expect it to run for about 5 hrs when it's done. I'm shooting for a release in September.

After that, Skybound and Deliverance should follow - and once I have the pennies together that, I'm looking at Return on Investment. That's the nice thing about a day job - being able to make investments like that and experimenting with forms/mediums is cool.

And listening to your words is interesting - what stands out are repetitions and "empty" sentences, and I'm glad to say that Incursion stood up pretty well. There were a few sentences I'd write differently now, but overall the audiobook didn't make me cringe (other audiobooks have). What's pretty clear is that some stuff you do on the page just doesn't work in audio - and that's what fascinates me at the moment.

What would a book be like that specifically written for audio? You'd certainly run dialogue slightly differently - maybe write the narrator with more attitude. So I've been entertaining writing a book exclusively for audio - not sure if anything comes out of it, but it's an interesting idea.

In terms of writing, nothing much is happening, but I've been putting together a plot skeleton/super structure for a book set in 1820, apparently entirely written as letters/diary entries and from a female point of view. I know, right. I don't know if that will happen - though it's an idea that's been at the back of my skull for about 3 years now and it's still there, so that means it has a good chance to happen at some point.

I don't even know what to do with it - but I'll consider it an experiment. It's nothing I've ever done, so that definitely half the attraction.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The basis of the author/editor relationship

Because I see this kind of thing too often - an editor "improving" a text without any understanding of what the hell they're editing - maybe a few words on the editor/author relationship.

I feel I can say something about that because I've been editing for almost as long as I've been writing, and I work as a corporate editor who gets paid for making financial publications look less stupid. Just last week I edited an image brochure that had some serious howlers in there - so, yeah, I get paid a lot of money for making words pretty and improve sentences, and all of that at speed.

Your German analyst can only use one sentence structure and he does that 500 times until your eyes bleed? I fix that shit.

In the bank, it's understood that I write better English than the analyst I'm editing. It's also understood that senior analysts can get away with breaking house style and I tend to explain the rationale behind an edit if the analyst pushes back. But generally, analysts are grateful that I fix their text, since many know they make mistakes or write some awkward stuff as they are under pressure and sometimes work on planes or in hotels or in between a million meetings.

It's all good. It's a positive, constructive relationship, and I prefer editing analysts to editing average fiction writers - there's generally less ego and emotion involved. (I have yet to be called a "Fascist" or told "to die in a fire" by an analyst, whereas that kind of behaviour is pretty common from fiction authors.)

So, the basics of the author/editor relationship, as somebody who's been in both positions:

Author: Ideally, the author looks at edits with an open mind and learns from them. If the editor says a million times "show, don't tell", there might be something to that. Ideally, the author will buy a book on that aspect of the craft and LEARN it - so the author grows as a writer and the future editor won't have to work quite as hard.

This kind of professional development is how I've learned and grown as an author over the last 10+ years. I had great editors taking me in hand and teaching me what I needed to learn.

It's hard work, but by now I'm a strong enough writer than I could self-publish without an editor if I wanted and the end result is readable and may even have less typos than books published by so-called "publishers". (For the record, I still hire an editor or get beta readers involved.)

The author agrees to look at edits with an open mind and LEARN from them. It's better for everybody. Over time, you shape a raw talent into a good, possibly great writer. If that happens, praise be to their editors, because they steered that development and supported that growth (if it's a functioning relationship). I've helped authors improve massively and it's gratifying as hell to see all that hard work pay off.

Conversely, the editor:

The editor agrees to learn their craft as well and only edit inside genres that they understand. (Say, a genre editor without understanding/knowledge of the European literary tradition has literally no place editing that; as a financial editor, I need to understand what the hell the analyst is taking about - I can't edit out words like "human capital" because they offend my sensibilities - it's demeaning for staff/workforce, but that's the convention of the "genre").

An editor working in GLBTQ fiction needs to be aware of GLBTQ issues. An editor who even attempts to edit literary fiction (or work with an author who uses some literary techniques) needs to understand these. Being at least conversant with concepts and applications of rhetorical devices makes sense if the author uses them (and even if s/he doesn't because your next client might).

Also, being aware of and able to apply concepts like the Monomyth ("Hero's Journey"), three- and five-act structure and management of sub-plots are absolutely vital.

I've encountered editors at well-regarded houses who are unable to detect irony or subtext. (Considering how much irony/subtext I use, that's a deal-breaker for me.)

I've had editors who cannot cope with metaphor - metaphor is the lifeblood and colour and energy of my fiction. Scanning back over this blog entry alone, there's lots of metaphors and I wasn't even trying. I speak and think in metaphor.

Say, rhetorical devices - those things have been around for 2,500+ years. They were good enough for Julius Caesar, the Bible and Abraham Lincoln. I've encountered several editors who tried to exterminate them all from my texts - totally ignorant of what they were dealing with.

Subtext and inference - very often, I don't say what's going on outright. That's on purpose. I'm not a bad writer because I don't spell out everything like for a 5-year-old who's still thinking entirely literally.

And I have no business being subjected to edits from "editors" who know less about writing than I do - after 25+ years of getting paid for writing, I know what I do and how I do it, and at the very least I expect an editor to a) understand that and b) respect it.

It's the cherry on top if an editor is good enough that they spot and understand what I was trying to do and then show me a better way to get the same effect - that's where the "needs to know more about writing than I do" kicks in.

Basically, those are absolute basics - I only go to a dentist who's qualified or to a restaurant that can actually serve food that won't make me ill. Similarly, I only let my texts be touched by somebody who knows their shit - my name's on the cover. My reputation as an artist is about as important to me as my teeth. I don't let amateurs fuck with that.

I understand that makes me "snobbish" in some eyes and definitely a "demanding customer" in others, but let's be honest, if I give about 70-60% of my money to a publisher, the very least they can do is source an editor who can edit - because the people who edit for typos and wonky grammar are not called editors, but proofreaders.

And if you think all of this is an exaggeration - there are multiple publishers out there that employ editors who think that "His eyes followed her across the room" means they are *literally* leaving their sockets and rolling across the carpet. I won't  say that's a brilliant sentence (it's not), but it's permissible - it's a rhetorical device and has been used longer than any of those publishers have been in business.

So, the bottom line is this - you've never finished learning in publishing/writing. That's true for authors ("We've all devoted out lives to a craft where nobody ever becomes a master" - Hemingway), but doubly so for editors.

Editors' responsibility is huge - they have to train/teach writers, but they also have to educate themselves - and as authors increasingly take control of their book and its final shape, gods know there's thousands of editors out there and being a decent proofreader is simply not enough if you're working with an author who knows what the hell they're doing.

First rule of Editing Club: First, do no harm.

Second rule: If you can't, get out of my fucking way.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tinkering (and thoughts on not writing)

Both real life (TM) and a couple endless computer games are taking up my time - Dragon Age: Inquisition was eventually beaten senseless by The Witcher: Wild Hunt. While DA:I is kinda pretty and I've built a very gorgeous if somewhat clueless inquisitor, the Witcher is just so much prettier, and I love the Slavic slant to the whole thing. It's also much, much better written.

If anything, both would make me want to write fantasy or something with magic, except that my block's still here. I've done some writing exercises and enlisted a colleague at work (we'll be working our way through a book with writing exercises together), but the thought of sitting down to write gives me a feeling of vertigo. Like I'm supposed to fling myself off a cliff without wings. And I'm no good with heights. Never have been.

One of the writing exercises was to write 10 first sentences, for example, and I could only complete the exercise when I looked at my spreadsheet - all the unwritten novels that exist as pure ideas at the moment. There wasn't a new story among any of them. Though I did it, and of the 10, 7 are workable, and of those, 5 are pretty compelling. But still that sense of "what the fuck am I doing here", that I never used to have.

There's still news. Lori completed On The Clock, the next Market Garden novel, by herself. (I co-wrote the first ca 40% or so, and then the block hit me so hard that I just couldn't go on). It should be out on 13 July from Riptide.

In October, gods willing, Riptide will release my historical novel Nightingale, and that's it from me for this year. I wrote that book in 2011-2014, so none of this is new material.

There's some new stuff - in 2013, Lori and I wrote most (70%) of a historical romance novel together, and we wrote the missing bits a couple months ago. Right now, I'm trying to beat the historical parts of it into shape - I've reached the point of exasperation where nothing seems to fit and I have to go back and hit the research books and find a way to make its internal timeline work. It's much more in the vein of Unhinge the Universe than Nightingale, and one of my favourite co-writes with Lori. I still try to wrap that process by 1 July - which is the date Riptide wants it for a release in mid-February 2016.


It does feel like I need to reinvent myself in some way, do things differently, but I'm not getting any answers in what way, shape or form. Holding the course and waiting for things to change hasn't worked during the last two years. So the search continues.

I should probably make a list of everything that I feel is impeding my creativity, and then separate those into factors I can control (targets, goals) and the factors I can't control (low sales/expectations/the whole publishing process/rights/sub-rights). I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I don't get the same pleasure out of writing that I used to. The problem might be simply that everything that happens *after* the writing (the editing, the marketing, the publishing, the selling, the reviews, the "industry") has become entwined with the creative process. I used to enjoy all that - but now it all looks like endless drudgery. I still enjoy interacting with readers, but the whole rest of the process could go to hell as far I as care.

So it looks like I'm in danger of turning into the very thing I used to sneer at - the writer who's living in their garret and wants to "only write". (That same writer is usually in danger of selling everything to an agent or publisher when they promise him, "We'll deal with the business, don't worry your pretty little head, and go write" - which is usually a disastrous decision as they run away with rights, money and all control.) And how can I can be that writer if I have zero motivation/urge to write?

I've turned and twisted this around several times over. I could start a new pseudonym and write something else  - one way to escape the aspects of the "industry" that I find increasingly oppressive. It does mean to start over from zero, in a field where I'm a nobody, and I can't fall back on any of my old contacts. Say, if I were to self-publish with that new pseudonym, I'd need to really keep that a secret to avoid the whole thing catching up with me again - new editors, new cover artists, new formatters, etc. Not that I think people couldn't keep a secret, and more for a clean break away.

And how fair is that to the readers who tell me, "I'd read the phone book if you'd written it"? The people who are there for my voice and less for what I'm writing about? I'd leave those behind as well.

And there's no way I could support another "me" - website, blog, Twitter, social media presence. Not to sell, mind you, but to connect to those readers, too. I'm already doing a pretty lousy job just being two people.

I've been looking at a few mainstream ideas, and maybe they'll happen. Both of them are ideas that require months of research - possibly years, considering how little time I have these days.

And starting again anywhere new GLBTQ fiction - that's the problem. My voice is its own thing. I've spent 25 years cultivating my "voice". Readers tell me at conferences, "you sound exactly like in your book/blog/twitter". There's power in authentic, from-the-heart speech. By my voice people will recognize me, regardless of the name on the cover. All those years I've written about things that are close to me and therefore revealed a lot about myself. I can't write under a "mask", as it were. Suppressing "voice" once you got it is damn near impossible, at least for me.

There is, of course, the option to write but not publish and go back to "writing just for myself". But I've usually had at least a few people I shared my stuff with. People I really wanted to read my stuff. People who kept me on track, sometimes, or at least somewhat accountable. People who wanted to know "how the story ends". They certainly weren't the reason to write, but they were part of the reason to write harder - to produce somewhat consistently.

See, I can enjoy the company of my characters simply in my own head. I don't have to "do" anything with them. On any given day, I have Silvio up there and the eagle guy, and sometimes walk-ons, like Franco or recently Armin (the latter is better at snark than Franco). A couple days ago, Martin showed up, just dropped in and told me that he and Francis are doing really well - it was vivid enough that it almost felt like a scene I could write (though it had no plot). I don't need to turn any of that into stories - I'm Legion up in my head, and the guys are keeping me entertained.

So it comes down to - why publish? And, on a deeper level, why write?

I used to say or think, "because I can't not write", but clearly, I can. I have been very successful at not writing for a good 12-18 months now. Many people go through life and never write a word.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

I'm taking 2015 off

Looking back over the first quarter of 2015, the only writing-related thing I've achieved was to edit the Bird Book. I didn't find the heart or energy to write anything else. There's a few thousand words of Dark Heart, but it's been a hard, fruitless struggle after an initial burst of energy.

It's hard to ignore that little voice that tells me that I don't have to write. Nobody forces me to write. Certainly not for money. That battle's been waged and won.

For about ten years or so, writing's been almost the sole focus of my life. Arguably longer than that. I've always defined myself as a writer. I've since learned that nobody is ever just one thing. We're much bigger than that. It's pretty much a miracle that I've achieved anything besides writing. I'm almost curious what else I am outside of writing. All my friends are writers or reader or reviewers, too.

Writing was that thing that kept me enthralled so much I didn't find many other pursuits interesting enough to focus on them. But recently I've been wondering - about drawing, painting, or doing more (much more) sports, or possibly doing something semi-professionally in terms of academia/research. (I do love my research.) Volunteer in a museum. Learn how to be a tour guide. I have two thousand years of history right outside the door, and it's something I have a passion for that nobody could attempt to take away.

Above all, I don't feel the lightness, energy and passion anymore. I used to be obsessed with my current book. I wrote Return on Investment that way, in one glorious rush of energy. And these days, it's all bogged down, polished for the market, targeted at a certain readership; I spend more time editing, polishing, thinking of proper blurbs, keywords and millions of marketing blog posts than I've recently spent writing.

So, for about three months I've been beating myself up over not writing, but I'm pretty sure the Muse simply refuses to play because it's simply not fun anymore. Having to earn a living strangled the fun out of it, and the patient is now on life support. It's alive, but tremendously weakened. If you entered that emergency room, you wouldn't recognize it as what it was.

So I'm not sure whether I'm sending this as a letter from Burnout Country. Mentally and emotionally, I'm actually in a good space. I just feel a bit like I've just woken up and asking myself, "Wow, freaky dream. Why am I doing this to myself?"

And yeah, I did this to myself. I worked hard, crazy hard, in fact, chasing that "dream" that's "quitting the day job/living off writing", chasing other dreams, too, but over the last 12 months or so, I realised how quickly a dream can turn into a nightmare. How quickly a whole-hearted commitment can be used to beat and humiliate me, and how easily I can exploit myself with that carrot-and-stick combination of money and guilt, and how every failure to hit targets just ramps up the guilt.

I guess I have a fair amount of Boxer from Animal Farm in me.

I will work harder.

I will work harder.

I will work even harder.

I will work even harder than that.

So Boxer's out to pasture. Animal Rescue got to him in the nick of time. They'll feed him properly and won't let him get anywhere near work for a year.

I'm regrouping and changing things around. Focus on the "real world". Enjoy the sunshine. About all, I'm getting off the guilt train. I will honour what commitments I have left (I will run my workshop, attend the conferences I've booked, and I'll talk to my co-writers, who know the situation), and I will continue to do all kinds of coaching, as that is something I truly, passionately enjoy.

Writing - I'm not even going there. The Bird Book is on the way to market, and it should come out in October. I might oversee some translation and audio projects (which is where I'll invest the royalties I'm still earning), but in terms of new books, I'm off the hamster wheel.

I'm taking 2015 off to think things through, pursue other hobbies, look after myself, and towards the end of the year, I'll re-evaluate what I'll do and how I'll do it. Part of me will always be a writer, I guess. I also think it might just result in the passion coming back, but that's not the intention behind taking time off.

I'll greatly reduce my exposure to social media too, but you can still reach me through there, or at conferences/workshops or good old email.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Where to start?

If you guys are anything like me, I get confused when I'm interested in a new author and they've got more than, say, one book out. Where to start?

Well, I have nearly 30 current releases going, and I get some very confused readers who "have heard of me" or "are interested", but have no clue where to start. So I thought about that problem and while all the information is out there - blurbs and excerpts - it's never really in one place. And to access it, people have to be online to access publisher websites or Amazon/B&N or whatever place they go to for that information.

So I decided to make it easy and create the kind of little helper I wanted to see myself. And it was a few days' of work, so originally it was supposed to be a birthday present from me to you, but there's no way I'm waiting until 4th May to present this beauty.

Taster Volume I combines all my currently available releases with excerpts (always from the beginning, and usual several chapters) and blurbs. But what's even better, I've added some author commentary for each work to make it interesting even for people who've already read the books, and a chronological list of releases. This anthology is up to date - from Deliverance to No Place That Far, so roughly end-2009 to beginning of 2015.

You can get a PDF version, an epub and a mobi on my website here. I've done the conversions myself, so it won't be quite professional grade, but they seemed clean enough for me.

All in all, it's nearly 170,000 words or almost 500 pages. And needless to say, feel free to share the file with your friends, too. I hope you'll find it useful and entertaining.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The way forward

I've been extremely fortunate again - yesterday, I received an offer from the investment bank I was interviewing with and I've taken it quite happily and proudly. It took three rounds of interviews to get there - this was literally the most attractive job I've come across in four years (and four years ago, I landed my favourite job in my whole career), and I clicked with the culture and people working there.

I've recently done quite a bit of work around my "values" (the stuff that's driving us), and found a company that aligns with those. I like efficient, focused places - in fact, I need those to do my best. Very few companies are focused like investment banks. I'm also quite interested in the capital markets - business, the flow of money, company research, stocks, the big economic picture - and it'll be good to go back to all that.

And some of that research has made it into books - both Gold Digger and Return on Investment were cut from the real-life financial shenanigans going on.

I've already received some worried messages about what that'll mean for my writing. At the moment, it's hard to say. I was productive in that other investment bank (writing in the ebbs of the workflow), but it seems this place is too efficient for that - the workload seems to be significantly larger, and I'll have more responsibility actually managing projects.

The hours are VERY early (I'm a night owl, so I'll need to re-train my brain and try to get sleep when the opportunity arises), but they aren't outrageously long. So there will be time to write.

I had a fairly ambitious plan of writing five novels a year. That won't be happening now. I have some fragments I want to finish up this year (Suckerpunch, Dark Heart, and a couple co-writes), but I've been drifting away from gay romance and erotic romance. I don't write the books that sell huge numbers, don't write the kind of plot people are very interested in, and all that means that I don't make enough money to live off writing.

So, for the moment at least, I'll consider writing strictly a hobby. No deadlines, no "I should do this", no expected minimum income, no production plan. I've considered taking a year out and focus entirely on other stuff (like a martial art, or switching to a different medium like sculpting or painting) to refresh the Muse. I might still do that.

I want to finish Suckerpunch and Dark Heart because I promised those and people are waiting. Mostly, though, I want to finish my WWII cycle - essentially more books in the vein of the Bird Book. The nice thing is that the bank job means I can afford to write books like that. It'll be a huge relief to not have to plan my release schedule or genres according to what sells and might allow me to pay the mortgage. It also means if a book needs a year or two, I have that time while I'm employed.

Basically, I can now afford to not care if anything sells. I'll just put them out there and write the next one. If they make money, great, if not, at least I wrote them and hopefully evolved as a writer.

Those books will still likely have a love element, but I don't feel I'm a writer who delivers the typical (lucrative) romance plot very well, so I'll stop trying. If it happens, great, but I won't focus on Romance by any means. I'll focus instead on stuff I'm good at and to create more balance in my life, which has been out of whack - working too hard and too much and being totally focussed on just one thing will do that.

I want to learn new things, maybe write some non-fiction, write the books that keep me up at night and not the books I *should* be writing or the books that "sell". More historicals, fantasy, sci-fi, maybe horror. I might even write "straight" books under a different name, just to see if my skills are still sharp and because I have a Templar bunny that wants out.

I'll be attending the European conferences in Bristol and Munich, but I don't foresee travelling much beyond that for writing-related things - I have limited holidays and it would be nice to spend some of that time with my very patient partner.

So, it's a major shift, really. It's not a retirement - obviously not - but while I can afford to do so, I'll write the weird and wonderful books I've pushed aside for too long, at a speed that suits them and me. I've had a good run so far, but it's time to switch direction and focus on other things. I want to grow as a writer and person - and leaving the little comfortable corner I've made for myself will achieve that.

For me, that's the way forward and I've shied away from that for too long - I like my comfort zones, too. But I'm sure I can trust the Muse and there will be wonderful books in the future - whatever their genre.