Friday, 29 July 2011

Dark Edge of Honor - the "Sergei type"

I've been wrapped up completely in a super-secret little project that is a lot of fun, too. And as it goes when you're having fun, time flies. It's already August, and I do wonder where the previous seven months went.

One of the things I did this year was edit/rewrite Rhianon Etzweiler's and mine "Dark Edge of Honor", which is our military gay sci-fi romance/thriller.

Here's the blurb:

Sergei Stolkov is a faithful officer, though his deepest desires go against the Doctrine. A captain with the invading Coalition forces, he believes that self-sacrifice is the most heroic act and his own needs are only valid if they serve the state.

Mike, an operative planted within Cirokko's rebels, has been ordered to seduce Sergei and pry from him the Coalition's military secrets. His mission is a success, but as he captures Sergei's heart, Mike is tempted by his own charade and falls in love.

When the hostile natives of the planet Cirokko make their move, all seems lost. Can Mike and Sergei survive when the Coalition's internal affairs division takes an interest in what happened in the dusty mountains of Zasidka Pass...?

It's a sizeable novel at 96k (and you can pre-order it here), and it presents a different version of one my favourite characters ever.

See, Vadim Krasnorada of the epic Special Forces series began as a paratrooper character named Sergei, back in 1995, when I wrote one of my first stories with explicit sex. Sergei burst onto the stage, scarred, messed up, clearly traumatized, and in that story I killed him in a restroom in Frankfurt, protecting a man who was most definitely not worth it.

The character has haunted me since then. I call him the "Sergei type", and he feels like somebody I know incredibly well. I used the character in many ways and incarnations. One of my print-published novels was about another "Sergei", in this case, however, he chose love and life rather than death. The main difference? This Sergei was less giving and more taking - but just as stoic as the first one.

One short story and one novel in, I still hadn't exorcised the "Sergei type". There was still stuff to talk about, still things he'd do and I found interesting. When the time came again that I needed a character to write something, I examined the character again and decided to use the "Sergei type" again - but this time, I'd make him a "golden boy", somebody special and admired (the other two Sergeis never were). I also made him very, very intelligent and pretty educated (the other Sergeis weren't - I'd assume one of them was almost illiterate).

That way, Vadim Krasnorada was born, probably one of my favourite characters. The rest is history - one million words of "Special Forces", all free here.

Yet, I *still* wasn't done. In "Special Forces", Vadim is about thirty, and he's already a tough bastard with combat experience and a lot of experienced that have hardened him against the world. He's also aware he's gay, and he's forcing other men to submit to him. He'd an institutionalised rapist when we meet him.

Yet, throughout the book, there's the hint of a different Vadim. One who's softer, more idealistic, who wants to believe in Communism and is all bright-eyed and idealistic. I do love writing idealists, and I do love the conflict between an ideology (any ideology - religion or political identity) and the individual. I can't stay away from exploring themes of honor, identity, duty, and I assume I'll do that for the rest of my creative life.

In short, there was no space to explore Vadim's younger years, his idealism and honor, his struggle with the political system he'd been born into. I wanted to explore those bits of the "Sergei type" - how do we mature and how do we become the people we are?

So, I teamed up with Rhianon Etzweiler (who was starting work on a military novel) and pitched her this idea. She welcomed me as a co-writer, and I brought the "Sergei type", now just "Sergei" - this time young, idealistic, very much still discovering who he is - while she brought Mike.

And this is how "Dark Edge of Honor" was born. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A fractal of images

Of course I've been writing. I've been writing another short story with the characters from "Dark Soul", and I'm increasingly realising the shape of this project. It's less of a series of shorts and more something "fractal" - while time progresses, it doesn't actually have an overarching plot and is more looking at one aspect of the main character. Which brings with it all kinds of potential issues about publishing them.

I can't WAIT for "Deliverance" to go out of contract largely because I want to fix a continuity mistake I've made there. (Well, which means that'll get fixed eventually) In this case, I feel like holding back all these stories until they are all written so I can treat and fix them like one unit. Because in a way, they are.

Of course, writing 13k in 4 days or so has its disadvantages (like a hundred more emails in my inbox that need dealing with) - it's also 13k I didn't pour into the two birds book. As I did pretty much nothing else (that includes the research for the short story, which saw me revisiting, at least in spirit, one of the most beautiful places on earth - Tuscany, Italy), I'm way behind and will have to re-start the two birds book.

As it's reporting season at the bank (meaning, the analysts are writing their little hearts out), I'm pretty busy at work, and fully expect to pull some serious overtime due to the catastrophe about to happen in one of our continental offices, where a big report is heading towards an, as yet, impenetrable wall at breakneck speed, its drivers unwilling to listen to any frantic shouts of warning from London.

We are all foreseeing a prime opportunity for We Told You So, but we all wish we weren't first in line to fix the crash. Lovely.

Anyways, the 13k short is done, just needs editing, and I'm now back to my birds and working out in my head what I want the other short stories to look like.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The time, the time

Currently I'm tied up in the massive Sekret Project that we can hopefully announce pretty soon - which means all the grey matter in my head is engaged, leaving very little space for things like socialising (I AM socialising a lot with my co-conspirators, of course).

But I'm still there.

It's 4 weeks until the launch of "Dark Edge of Honor", which I'm pretty excited about. I read the file on my e-reader the other day and actually couldn't stop. It's rare that my own books develop such a "pull" on me. After all, I still kinda remember what's going to happen.

And that's the year done (and we still have five months to go). Which means, basically, I have to get cracking on the marketing, the "promo", but I try to think of it not as advertising, but as telling all my friends about my new book. Marketing itself is soul-crushing for many writers, but these days part of the package.

In my real life, we've had some excitement - the financial markets were going/are going through some jitters at the moment, focusing on Italy. As the bank I work for has been caught up in that, last week at work was interesting and actually really quite stressful. I don't believe I'm losing my job, but senior management has announced "changes". Banks are slaves to the markets, and the markets don't behave in a rational manner. The more I know about the financial markets, the more I'm in favour of much, much harsher controls and some practices actually outlawed. We'll see if politicians ever grow enough balls to do that... I'm not positive.

Last week, we also got new windows and doors installed at Casa Voinov. We used to have really badly converted Victorian wood-framed box sash windows in a few places (one of which was really badly rotted underneath the paint) and two doors (garden and front) that were basically just a pane of wood and single glazing - the kind of door a vigorous child could kick down. Well, that's over now - with all the additional locks and bolts (all inside the door), we're locked down pretty tightly now.

The last remaining single-glazed windows were replaced with PVC windows that actually open (hence you can even clean them - I know, the marvels of progress), and which should prove a lot warmer in winter that the others. With last year's "cold snap", some of the rooms in this house were so cold that I didn't actually want to stay inside them for a long time. Which is unfortunate if you're talking about the study where I write or the library where I do my research.

Meanwhile, the "two birds" book is continuing - slower again, and slowed down by a short story I just need to throw onto the paper and hope to finish this weekend. I've taken today off to do that. There's also an editing project that needs doing by Monday, and a novel to feedback next week.

Life's busy, but that's good.

Friday, 8 July 2011

More shelves, new windows and doors

For months, the inhabitant of Casa Voinov have been pouring money into the shared account that we use to pay the mortgage. I guess you're really "partnered" when you have a shared bank account and low six figures of debt together.

Watching the sum grow nicely, I then realised that we should actually start putting some of that money to work, so I got a windows/doors sales guy in a couple weeks ago.

Well, the Big Day has almost arrived, so on Monday, we're getting two new doors (kitchen and front door) and two large new windows installed. The possibility of being really fucking cold next winter too has diminished considerably (the roof seems to have some insulation). I'll also have a fire escape from the top floor.

Also spent two mornings in the company of "Simon the Carpenter", who replaced two busted floor boards and installed two sets of bookshelves into the recesses of the study. All tailored, exactly to spec, and they are brilliant - I hope to spend some time on the weekend rearranging my books by theme/topic/time period.

In case you're curious, the main categories in my flat are: fiction (classics), fiction (contemp), gay history, generic military history, ancient history, medieval history, modern history, locations (especially Afghanistan), espionage, encyclopedias, WWII, and creative writing books & books on writing. Smaller category: trophies (author copies of books I've written and those I've edited/feedbacked), friends' books, and medical history. There are also shelves and shelves and SHELVES of roleplaying books which I should really sell as I'm not doing anything with them.

The idea is to sort them by theme (they mostly are, but the system's not *perfect*) and then by proximity. The books for the "two birds" book should be nearest to my desk, whereas books I bought for books I want to write at some point in the future would be correspondingly more distant. This would mean reshuffling with every finished book, which would actually help with closure.

The carpenter also fed me ideas about nailguns as weapons (he said Hollywood's Doing it Wrong).

In writing-related news, the "two birds" book has progressed to just under 16k. Any hope that this is a short story has been soundly shattered, so I might just as well live with it. I don't believe I'm halfway in the plot. It's more like a third. Or will soon be a third. We're quite possibly looking at another short novel - in the area of 50-60k. On the positive side - I do believe I know where it's going, or at lest I have an idea for an ending/resolution and several important scenes that might just get me there.

On the negative side, the book's been devouring my brain completely and all other projects have stalled (apart from the secret project, which continues, if slower than I'd like). I'm on the line to write a short story for the group over on Goodreads, and not a word is coming. I have half an idea, but it's only half an idea and it would need way more research, and I don't have the time - or headspace - to do it. Next time, I won't sign up for that kind of thing. My own muse demands 100% obedience and won't have it any other way.

With Monday taken off work, I'll have three days to do stuff. Not that I expect to do any writing with the builders taking out and putting in windows and doors. I do hope to get a little bit of work done, but right now, I've beta-ed and edited mostly. But that's mostly because while I can edit when work's slow at work, I really struggle writing emotional scenes while at work.

In any case, I'll post some photos - before and after. :)

Hope everybody has a great weekend!

Monday, 4 July 2011

A book of three birds

I've been joking that my current book is the tale of three birds: a nightingale, a hawk, and the albatross of an author trying to get the thing off the ground.

For weeks, I've been writing 300-500 words per day, and some days nothing at all. Well, yesterday I wrote 3,700 words in one day, which, I guess, is my Muse's way of apologising or ensuring I'm not throwing the towel.

The story now stands at just under 13k, the pieces are mostly in place (I'm missing one major character), and, to stay with the albatross image, the bird is hobbling along and seems now to have moved on from ungainly running to a hint of sailing. Ideally, there will be an uplift or a cliff or something that should help with gaining altitude.

I assume this will end up at 40k+, so definitely novella length. The related research is fun and never ceases to amaze me.

Today, work at work is extremely slow, so I did some fact-checking and very light-touch editing. The beginning will need some rewrites, but I think the overwhelming majority of this is as solid as can be. I really would liket o finish it this month, or maybe August. And after that - more historicals.

On a sidenote, I watched "Cabaret" yesterday, which is three years older than I am. Very surprised to see a m/m/f menage in there and a bit bummed that it didn't work out. Loved all the nods and winks to other stuff, like Otto Dix's paintings. Well worth watching, with an awesome Liza Minelli.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Dirty fans - or why I'm a Klitschko guy tonight

Tonight I'm going to watch the world heavyweight title unification fight between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye.

I'm between the chairs here. I do like Klitschko more as a person (by all accounts he seems a nice guy, is big in charity projects for kids, and I kinda like big, stoic guys - like you wouldn't have guessed). What I didn't like was Klitschko punning on Haye's name, turning it into, yeah, "gay".

Thanks, Wladimir. Way to make me go "thanks for that piece of homophobia, Wladimir, your gay fans pay for your tickets and merchandise too, you know."

David Haye is a bit of as loudmouth, but without the personality of Ali (I read he called his son Cassius - yeah, there's a Cassius Haye growing up, nevermind that Ali disowned that name as his "slave name" - he just couldn't resist. David, that is).

Arguably, Haye's almost hysterically claiming he'll do nothing that Klitschko wants him to do seems pretty juvenile to me. But all that can be discounted as "trying to sell tickets". Nothing sells more tickets than us, the audience, believing that those modern gladiators actually do hate each other.

So, I'm between chairs, as I said. Haye is the more exciting and interesting boxer by far. And he's right, Wladimir is "robotic" and uninspired and thanks to the Klitschkos, heavyweight boxing has never been so dull.

So, I was watching the weigh-in on BBC just now. Here's the video.

If you listen to the end, you'll hear a song. A song you'll hear anytime a British team/sportsperson is facing a German opponent. You can make out the words towards the end: "Destroy the dam, destroy the dam, destroy it."

This would be slightly puzzling (for me as a German it was), before I did some research.

It's the Dam Buster Song, a song from the film The Dam Busters, which in turn is inspired by Operation Chastise, the bombing of a number of German dams and subsequent large-scale flooding that killed almost two thousand people, among them Soviet forced labourers, but most definitely women and children and civilians - and strategically speaking, not very efficient, either, let alone a "death blow" to the Third Reich's war economy.

Let's really savour that thought - English hooligans and "fans" sing a song glorifying the death of civilians WHENEVER they face a German opponent. It can be football, or boxing (nevermind that the Klitschkos are Ukrainian), or really anything - and a horde of asshole fuckwits shows up, singing "destroy the dam! Destroy it!"

I'm from the area that was flooded. My family was subjected to aerial bombing - both in Dresden (father's side) and in the Ruhr area (mother's side).

And I can't think of anything similar that the Germans would do. We don't have a "Dunkirk" song (then again, Dunkirk involved no civilians), or a "Blitz" song.

I can see the uproar if we HAD a Blitz song and dared so much as think of singing it. The British media would be on that like a pack of hellhounds.

It's this fuckwittery of David Haye's fans that makes me want that Klitschko wins tonight. (It won't happen, Haye is an amazing boxer, and he bought down bigger guys.) But I won't be able to cheer him on for that, like I can't cheer on the English football team, either - regardless of their opponent. I'll be able to cheer for them on the day those fucknuts stop singing about civilians getting bombed and drowned.

This is the effect of dirty fans.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Blog post and a funny

This is something that came through Twitter: stuff people say in bookshops.

Me, I've taken half the day off work to celebrate my/our end of our probationary period - my partner's been three months in his job, and me six months. We're heading out to a restaurant in North London that serves Afghan food (the alternative was Russian, but I wasn't in the mood for that).

The "two birds" book is moving along just fine. Only 150 words yesterday, but that's OK. I do expect to write a bit more tonight and over the weekend - I should hit 10k at least.