Sunday, 22 July 2012

The killing blow for "hottie of the week" blogs

Copyright is serious business. It is. Authors want to get paid for their work. We waste many perfectly good writing hours sending DMCA takedowns to sites that pirate our work. Every author in our genre is passionate about piracy (leading to some meltdowns and some diatribes and some indignant rants, some of which I've written).

And I believe firmly we're in the right if we reserve the right to decide *which* story we charge for. I've given away years of work for free in Special Forces, so people who only want "free" can have those one million words. I believe it's an attitude that's largely consensus in our industry. We want to get paid. Some of us rely on royalty cheques for groceries, utilities or making car/house payments. So, many of us *need* to get paid.

A while ago (= years), I came across the freshly-relaunched website of an erotic romance writer. The first thing I saw was that the blog was peppered with, among others, images by Luis Royo - who, you can see on his official page (do go!), is pretty sexy and pretty awesome. She must have had like 30-40 images on there. And her newest blog post was a vicious rant on piracy - surrounded by all the stolen Luis Royo images that I can guarantee she did not acquire licenses for, because at Royo's level, that's really expensive. I mean "display those images or buy a house"-kind of expensive. It shot her credibility to pieces. How can she expect to have her copyright respected when she doesn't respect the rights of one of the most easily recognizable visual artists alive?

Now, for a long time, I was told that those "pictures are public domain" - they aren't. High-end erotic nudes are not public domain, at least not in 99% of all cases. To look that good, models want to be paid, photographers are spending thousands of dollars on equipment, fees, and it takes hundred of hours to get that good. Years. If you like looking at it, it's most likely the work of a pro, and pros like to get paid.

Another argument was "well, everybody does it" (yeah, and everybody can get fined for it).

Another was "but the man candy pics are the most-viewed entries, I *need* them, and it's just harmless fun" - well, look at all the e-book piracy sites who live off traffic selling advertising - people come for pirated content they can't get elsewhere, and they, too, believe it's "harmless fun".

I don't want to get all sanctimonious. I, too, like looking at "man candy" images. Who doesn't. But recently, I hear more and more stories of photographers suing and fining blogs (that includes the owners of Tumblrs and Pinterests) - and the fines are not small. If you think you get slapped with a $50 fine for one Royo, well, add a few zeroes. Keep adding. I'll tell you when to stop.

Back in the days when I was covering start-ups as a biz journalist (4-5 years ago), I covered some tech start-ups that were developing programmes that crawl the internet and do pattern recognition. Basically, they can compare images and find unauthorized content and then point the copyright owner at it. The "reblogging" tail in Tumblr? Very easy way to track everybody who reblogged a photographer's image. Every single display can be fined. We're talking hundreds and thousands of dollars for every single image. Those IT programmes are out there, and I hear more and more stories of fines and taken-own sites and blogs and I think this is really just the start. Music piracy was first, now it's e-book piracy, and piracy of images is coming right after.

As authors, the very laws that protect our copyrights also protect the rights of photographers. Please respect them. I'd strongly advise every single blogger to go through their entries and very carefully consider whether you actually own the image or have the right to display it (hint: your book covers should be OK). If you keep images of unclear source, be prepared to pay top whack for every single  one. Personally, I think the risk is not worth it. This is money most of us can't afford - or at least spend on much nicer things.

And here's the link that prompted it all. Do take the time to read the comments from the photographers. Please respect their work in the same way you want others to respect yours. Thank you!

Thursday, 19 July 2012


(Apologies to David Bowie for the title).

It just occurred to me how dramatic the changes are that people go through in their mid-thirties. My guy's best friend (female) just had a child. And from here on, I self-censor. But I'm going to use some of that in a book at some point. It's definitely interested to see the culture clash of the childless with the culture clash of the first-time parents.

Then, we're off to Coventry/Birmingham tomorrow to go to a wedding - my guy's cousin marries, which leaves him in something like shell-shock ("I remember her a knobbly-kneed kid!"). Yes, we're getting old (we're both 37) - DINKS (Double-Income-No-Kids) and unmarried/partnered. The main thing that ties us together is he 28-year term of our mortgage, and we both have the spending habits of young adults with paycheques. The good thing about being a "functional adult" - you can actually afford to buy all those books/computer games and nobody tries to stop you, in fact, the Western Economic Model depends on you consuming, consuming, and working hard so you can afford what you consume. (Though I hold it buying books is actually the best way to be a ravenous consumer - at least some other authors might make a living...)

Then, over the last 2 weeks, I've been contacted again by very old friends. One was a childhood friend (I'm speaking of forms 1-6, after which I moved and we lost contact). I still remember her mother very well. I remember the house they lived in and that they had a CD player in the mid-eighties, when CDs cost like a hundred bucks each. The shelves were full of them. I realized that these people were financially rather more comfortable than I was with my mother, who lived in subsidised housing. I remember wire trees made with precious stones, and a life-sized bunch of grapes made from amethyst. I would pick it up very carefully and marvel at the weight and heavyness of it, how cold and perfect, and how weird and wonderful that people made those things and bought them. I remember the light carpet that I could only step on after my shoes were off. Maybe I felt a bit like the grungy, semi-neglected kid that I was, though I didn't feel like it. They were also the only (first) people I know who had a bidet. And the bathroom was stocked with really expensive toiletries (I believe her mother was a cosmetics tester). It's there that I had my first sniff of "Poison", the perfume, which I found unpleasant.

Well, I learnt the mother died last year. The generation of our parents is on the way out - especially if they were heavy smokers - and her mother was. Though I wish her mother had seen what cancer did to her friend, my mother, and stopped smoking - to be there for longer for her daughter and maybe get to meet her grandkids, which didn't happen. (It's minor tragedies like these that really resonate.)

Then I got an email yesterday from a friend I made in my late teens/early twenties. She's now a doctor, on the career path to become an uber-doctor (running stuff, like a clinic or something). She's actually younger than I am. Her father, a very heavy smoker, also died last year. I begin to think there's a pattern. I remember being small and powerless and the world of adults was a complete mystery. Well, that hasn't changed, though to my innocence I've added a ridiculous amount of education, more than anybody really needs, and a big bucket of cynicism (definitely more than anybody needs), but the inner working of everything are still mysterious to me - I can't imagine that people would do such things, and it's a sense I keep getting when I read the news. My soul must be from Alpha Centauri - all this stuff here sometimes feels so weird. 

In any case, I get a weird sense of destiny, of passing time, maybe even of mortality. I hear a rush of wings, I see the big pattern, from our grandparents fading away to now our parents (well, mine are long gone, but my mother died too young and my father was much older). The next generation on the line is us. Rather like better-aimed artillery shells, they are moving, and they are moving in our direction. I'm not afraid of mortality, thought it's one of those things that don't seem to make sense. You spend so much time "becoming" who you are, and then you fade. 

But first I have a few books to write.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The genetics of our writing

Once upon a time, it was received wisdom that, as a young writer starting out, you should use a gender-neutral or male pseudonym (I'll talk about pseudonyms later). Some female authors even invented the rest of it - the whole gay identity (fuelled, in part, by the desire of readers to "know about us" - in some small way, we're public people, we need to blog, and we need to talk about us, because to some degree, being a writer is almost as much about "being cool/interesting" than it is about writing half-way readable stuff).

Thankfully, that's a discussion that appears to be over. While there are gay biologically-male authors (the ones born with a penis) that have a celebrity status largely because they have a functioning penis and balls that they've been born with (and some know that and are a bit embarrassed that that seems to be a huge factor) - no longer is being female and/or using a female pseudonym an impediment to large sales.

For every reader who chooses to read "from bio males only" (assuming greater "authenticity", which is a fallacy), there is at least one who will avoid it because "gay porn" has a slightly different "flavour" than explicit m/m romance.

The "flavour" of the author's writing is, in my theory, dictated by whatever writing tradition s/he belongs to.  It's the beauty of our genre that there's a great deal of influence from gay/queer fiction, slash fiction, and het romance, and hence we have a huge range of flavours and traditions and attitudes to choose from.

To explain: People who read a lot of gay porn (male-written for male-reading) will use the terms and phrases and traditions of that. I used to joke that if you learn the exact number of inches and circumference in play in the first paragraph or, at the very least, on the first page, it's written by a biological gay male (that's the tradition as far as I'm aware of it). There are simply things in gay porn that are very rarely picked up in explicit m/m stuff (like underwear-sniffing and watching a man piss as a voyeuristic pleasure). That said, I know that non-genetic males have picked up on those traditions and crotch-sniff and pee-watch with the best of them, so take anything I say here with a grain of salt.

Other traditions are from het romance. My favourite? What I call "The Bruising Touch" - you've all read it - it goes like this: "he gripped her so hard she'd be bruised in the morning".

That's a "tell" (as in Poker) that either, the author is biologically female and speaks from experience (because women on average bruise much easier - the connective tissue is simply not as strong. OR, the author comes from the het romance tradition, where this kind of bruising is very romantic, somewhere between a hickey and overall soreness "to remember him by". The alpha male is so strong he can't control his strength, but she *loves* it.

These are just a couple examples of traditions. "Cool stuff" we catch in what we're reading ("Oh, wow, he's got 1111!!!!eleven inches! Need to put that into my next story!" or "God, that brusing thing - SO HOT!"). We're learning how to write sex and intimacy from the material we read. Few of us make notes while getting down and dirty with our partners, because ideally, we're too busy to notice exactly how his balls draw up or that even a firm grip doesn't have to lead to brusing. Also, there's the stereotypical gay porn dialogue: "Are you ready for me, baby?" - "Yes! Give me!" - "Ungk!" - "Groan!" - "Are you all right?" - "Yes, I need more!", which by now makes me laugh. Seen it too much, read it too often, it's been done so much for me it's absolutely dead and boring.

What we read and how we read defines who we are as authors and how we handle our material - FAR more than the biological gender or even our pseudonyms. The biggest sellers in our genre are women. There's no difference in talent - or emotional content. I think some of the cruellest, psychologically most fiendish authors are biological women (Manna Francis, I adore you!) and some of the sappiest, saccharine, "he kissed me and I asked him to marry me and adopt three orphan children!" books were written by biological males.

On a personal note - the reason why I'm sometimes accused of "not really" being a romance writer (I can disprove this with a rock-solid argument drawing on my literature degree) - I haven't actually read much het romance - hence I don't have that "flavour". I don't know how it's done, the traditions of "what to do/not to do" was never absorbed into my creative DNA. (One of the reasons why I read "Dear Author" religiously? Filling in that gap in my education.) I was never aware that you get bruises during sex, for example.And I can say I've never read enough slash fanfiction - beyond what my friends wrote and the few stories that were recommended to me - to know those rules and tropes. Essentially, I wrote fantasy and sci-fi (and horror) and mainstream fiction that happened to be about characters who happened to be gay or bisexual and happened to have a love interest that they pursued. The only difference in what I'm doing now to what I used to do? Look more at the relationship (far more), have more happy endings, and put the sex on the page.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Editing is the punishment for writing

There are writers who love editing. I'm not one of them. I have a friend who claims that the editing part is when the book happens that she had in her mind, as the draft/s before are just "raw material". I wish I had that disposition. I'm a one-draft writer. I may tinker and tighten and expand as I go from first draft (V.1) over several versions (V.1.1, V1.2...) to the draft I submit (V.2), and I rarely have much stuff left to deal with, because my first draft is *the* draft. I rewrite and edit as I write (which is one of the reasons why I'm physically unable to write 5k or 10k a day), and work in feedback from my test readers and peers, but generally speaking, it's rare that I rewrite a great deal.

And then my delusions of grandeur ("I'm a strong self-editor") hit reality in the shape of a hardcore editor. Incursion really became a totally different beast under Kristen's care, and my new story, Skybound, which I'm editing right now, is changing in subtle ways as Tiffany challenges everything that's not totally watertight. Once a good editor went through the text, I feel like a bloody beginner, a complete greenhorn.

Could I really be repeating "face" fifteen times on a single page? Could I really have five hands involved in a sex scene, even though we only have two guys in bed? The answer is usually yes. At some point, I get blind to the text, and then shit goes wrong, and that's when an editor catches me out before a reviewer catches me out and tells the world what a lazy idjit I am. Seriously, editors are my last line of defence against disgruntled reviewers and readers. Opening up my edits is always a test of faith and courage. As I scroll through the thousand comments and all the bits where I've been an idjit on the page, my heart sinks and I need a strong drink. Coffee, because it's going to be a long night.

Skybound is special, because it's short, and it's dense, with metaphors and images and meaning layered on top of each other in one tight, poetic package, and tinkering even with a sentence feels like it affects the whole. At just over 13k words, it does. Stories that are that short are much more like poems. As a friend who writes everything from novels to haikus once said: A novel can survive one bad chapter, a novella can survive a bad scene, but a short story really suffers from one bad sentence, and one bad word can kill a poem. I've found that to be very true (the reason why I don't write poetry? I'm not good enough to crystallise so much meaning into such a small space).

Skybound is like that short story. Editing this feels like brain surgery. It's going to be a tough sell in any case, so I'm working hard to get it just right, knowing that's impossible. But my editors at least nudge me into the right direction.

In vaguely related news, the co-project is moving along, my penicillin course is done (and funnily enough, once the pills were done I became productive again - maybe my Muse manifests as little bacteria in my blood - kill too many of them and I'm simply not writing...), I feel a great deal more perky.

But now I have to tackle the last 15 pages of Skybound.