Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rewriting history

I think it was Angela James of Carina Press who said one of the big things for an author to succeed is to consistently put out quality product and make no shortcuts. (I may be paraphrasing.) Carina is good like that - they run seminars for their authors to make sure they're on the right track.

The emphasis is very much on "quality product". It was heavily implied (or that is how I remembered it), that it's better to not publish something that's mediocre or simply not the best one can make it than to publish it and put off readers who'd otherwise happily devour the whole backlist.

In a way, every book/story by an author might be the "first point of contact", and the job of every first contact is to create a long-lasting relationship. I assume a tweet out of line is more easily forgiven than a weak book. The tweet was free, and Twitter is a casual environment anyway (which is why I've locked down my personal Twitter and created an "official one"), but a book costs money and people want their money's worth. Simple as that.

The longer I've been in the "game", the more I believe that's correct. When I started, I was just playing. You might say I was not taking things quite as seriously as I should have. Funnily enough, I think I've kinda grown up over the last roughly three or four years. I went from an easy-going real life job to the heart of European capitalism. From "oh, I want to be a literary agent when I grow up" to the "fixer" type, and, last but not least, crunching numbers and strategies. Before long, I might expand that business into the country of my birth. Writing might be what I was born to do, but in terms of my real life, financially, it's a side show. There's freedom in that. I *can* play without constantly looking at the bottomline.

However, increasingly, some of my books don't represent the standards I've set for myself. They weren't edited to the same standard, or should never have been published for other reasons. They might be deeply, madly, flawed. I don't want them to be the doors that people take into my work, because they are no longer part of the same house in a number of ways. I don't want my name attached, and I don't want people to pay money for them; it just feels wrong, deep in my guts.

I'm the first to say that top-rate work is worth its money, even if it's more than the $.99 people kick their novels out for to trigger the "hunter and gatherer" instinct in their readership. But I'm also the first to say that a book isn't worth its price because the contents are not top-rate. Sometimes it takes me a few years to see a story in that light. An author's attachment to a piece of work can be irrational and also take a while to weaken and crystallize. It's part of the process overall and the self-examination and self-judgment/evaluation that authors do. Well, at least I do. Pretty much constantly.

What does this mean in practice? I've already made moves to pull two backlist books/stories from circulation. I reserve the right to treat them as scrap metal and reuse the good bits (ideas, possibly a good turn of phrase here or there), but with my schedule, I don't expect that to happen any time soon. Over the next year or two, more stories will be pulled and rewritten and reedited in agreement with the other author involved. A series we killed might still happen under a different flag. We'll see. It's a wide-open space once the quality issue is resolved.

That's the miracle of e-publishing. An author has a totally different level of control over the backlist. We *can* take books from circulation and we *can* re-write and re-issue (or simply pull and lock in the attic).

I understand that some of you will want those stories, and I apologize for taking them away. You can always drop me a line and I can email them to you, or, since I'm being very widely pirated, you have my blessing to dig the "pulled" stories up from whatever source you feel comfortable using. Overall, though, I'm going to disassociate myself from that part of my work. What's worthwhile will be kept or rewritten, what's not worthwhile I hope will eventually forgotten and possibly forgiven.

I think the most important lesson out of this was that, indeed, putting out the best quality work you can is one of the biggest goals, and anything short of that simply shouldn't see the light of day.

I apologize for putting them out in the first place, and chalk this up to experience. Lesson learnt. It won't happen again. Let's move forward. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Release day: Country Mouse

Today is the first day that readers can get their hands on Country Mouse - if you pre-ordered from the website, it should be on your bookshelf.

Other than that, a couple things have been happening. I've started work on a story I'm currently calling "SB" or "that pilot story", and I'm about 8k in. I expect it to reach around 15k in total, and the ending (I know now how it ends), makes me swallow dryly. I don't like seeing these things coming, but I guess I don't really get a vote. The Muse will do what he will.

In house-related news, we've received prices for what we're planning to do to the garden, and  it's going to be expensive. In the end, I do have an expensive taste - expensive enough to do the whole thing in a couple stages over maybe a year or two. Thankfully, I'm being backed up by another guy with a paycheck. That helps. There's a lot of rationalization possible with that kind of investment: it won't lower the value of the house, we'll be looking at that landscape outside for a fair few years (I frankly don't believe we'll be moving at all) - so it becomes an "investment" rather than an indulgence.

The first step will be to dig up the concrete behind the house and lay a sandstone patio, then put in some raised beds and replace 30m worth of fencing along the left side of the property and rip out the bushes and trees and the wall of ivy that hems us in on that side. Once all that is done, we'll "grow into" the new look and decide from there what we'll be doing with the rest of the garden, while squirreling money away to be able to afford it without taking money out of the house.

And next week I'll book an appointment to have a three-piece suit and some shirts made. The tailor is just around the corner from where I work. Happy coincidences. I doubt it'll happen before my birthday, but certainly next month.

So, yeah. I better get writing to earn that cash. (Writing's going well, though. I only bitch and moan when it's not.)

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The gentleman burglar

So, a couple days ago, we were burgled. My partner sent me an email to work and said "Do you have an idea where my wallet and my bag is?" And I thought, how weird, he always puts them in the same place.

So, they'd vanished out of the house. Nothing else was disturbed. No traces. No noises. No broken anythings.

So he cancelled all the cards and makes do with whatever cash I had at that point so he could buy food at work. Then we get a message from the police (like a postcard). He calls them - it emerges his wallet and "man bag" (containing a Molekskine notebook, pens, assorted riff-raff and his expensive super-light glasses) were found in the park behind the house and handed in to the police station.

So the coppers arrived yesterday and we had a walk around the house for some security advice (in short: keep everything locked constantly and out of sight from the windows), and I'm currently in talks with a number of tradespeople to fit some big-ass searchlights in the garden and front (sorry, Mr Fox). Intruder alerts, the works.

The weirdest thing is - and that feels utterly bizarre - is that they must have done that when I was/we were asleep in the house. And the idea of a stranger just walking into my house is one that's not quite easy to stomach. I'm the type who flies into a rage and seriously injures somebody breaking into my house.

But now, the guy (or guys) is just a ghost, a weird type of invisible/unfeelable haunting.

I'm still getting those big lights. Next time might be worse. And the letterbox gets closed up and we'll get one fixed from the outside.

Funny, also, how I've never known anybody in Germany who was burgled, but almost all of my friends in the UK have such experiences. Crazy.

In funny news (kind of), dude just sent me an image to work. He DOES know how my mind works.

And in positive news, looks like I'll be visiting a friend in Ottawa over my birthday.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My m/m moratorium

They say every bad thing has a good thing. I think that's correct, but I'm not going to extrapolate on my *other* lessons. Usually, every single problem or issue has given rise to a good development.

One of the strongest growth drivers are my friends, who have inspired me to work harder and not be lazy, even on the sentence level. Down to every single word.

Sometimes my ex-friends give me the same impetus despite their intentions. In this particular case, two former friends - and their friends, this IS the internet, after all - have inspired me very much to call a moratorium on all m/m writing.

I have had my issues with the genre before, as all regular readers of this blog know very well. I used to have no other way out, so I was kind of trapped. Recently, however, I've developed a number of mainstream ideas that had no chance to flourish because I went for the genre I found easiest to write. Ideas flowed, the writing was easy, publishing was even easier. Easy victories.

What will now happen is this: I will release Country Mouse. Then I will release what I'm currently calling Incursion (it's written, no need to burn the manuscript, although I don't currently expect to sell more than five copies).

After that, I will focus on my mainstream books. I am currently in talks with a German literary agency who sounded interested in my fast-paced crazy historical novel and a possible *punk project (or three - these things come in trilogies).

If these plans happen, they will supplement my other plan of publishing a number of gay historicals in English. All of this will happen under one (or two) new names, and there will be no links or connections to this one.

I may do further m/m books, specifically sequels to stuff that's already out there (I do have more ideas around Silvio), but as of now, these are low priority, which, busy as I am, means that they might not happen or might happen very late. Personally, I don't expect any more m/m stuff this year, and quite possibly none next year. I've created a solid body of work, and I'm looking forward to supporting other writers as a publisher, editor and coach.

I'm very much looking forward to evenings spent on the couch, watching a DVD or simply reading a book - things I haven't done nearly enough in the last two years. It'll mean spending time in the gym rather than race home to answer an email about any of my works, or do some photography or travelling. I might even take up reviewing again, and meanwhile I'm going to write big mainstream doorstopper novels for a different market, bringing to that work the things I've learnt in the m/m genre - all my hard-won lessons on sexism, trans* phobia and the rest.

It's time to move on for me. Whole new ocean out there. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A tale of four novels

Something weird happened today in real life, after two positive things that mean my house stuff is moving in the right direction (one of them: I have a front gate). The unsettling thing has unsettled my partner, so I'm currently in a support role. He's not good at dealing with this. At all.

I'm refocusing my energies on four novels; two to edit, one to write, and one to outline and research, so I'm dividing my day up between them. Research & read while on the train/bus/tube. Edit during dead times at work. Write in the evening. Hopefully, I'll be through the pile of work in the next 3-5 months. I'd like to start the crusades novel in about September, so I better hurry. There's also hope that when my camera arrives and the weather clears up (London: cold, grey, wet) I can go on my long exploratory walks in London again. And if the money gods smile, I'll get that patio sooner rather than later, so I can sit on the patio and edit there (again - better weather, kthnxbai).

After all the crazyness of the last eight months, it'll be fun to be in the writing cave and get actual novels done. I like short stories and novellas well enough, but a novel is a totally different animal. It probably sounds weird, but I'm looking forward to slower writing. Where every sentence is an animal that needs to be caught, killed, and dragged to the cave. I'll indulge those literary delusions, but after working so hard for so long, I think I deserve riding that particular horse. I've even, recently, considered writing a fantasy series - a large one, like A Song of Ice and Fire - but none of my very glancing ideas is even remotely interesting enough to sustain me for a few years. Also, my Muse curls up in horror at the idea of being "trapped" in anything for a year or three (or five). The idea to deliver a shelf full of doorstop-sized books is about as attractive as forced labour in a Victorian prison. On the other hand, it would be nice to build something larger again.

I dunno. Might do that in 2013, Muse willing, and if the idea happens. First those four books and the crusades novel.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Intermission, while I catch up

I'm way behind on just about everything. I have a pile of novel edits here that I need to deal with - that's two novels of friends and one of my own that needs a total stripping & rebuild (just mine, not the books of my friends!). Those being substantial novels of more than 60k, I'll need to stay in my own headspace for a while and focus.

Also, there's the new book. As I keep saying - if I'm silent, I'm busy. When I'm really busy, I'm really silent. Three books is enough to make me shut up for a fair while.

In the meantime, check out "Drive", a film I enjoyed much more than "Cowboys and Aliens", which I saw the day before. Interestingly, both try to pull off the Taciturn Mysterious Stranger Coming in to Rescue the Day, but totally differently. "Drive" works where "Cowboys and Aliens" fails quite horrendously (I actually physically cringed while watching C&A and if it had been a book, it would have been a DNF).

In positive news, I have finished the plotting (main plot and sub-plots) of one of my WIPs and expect to finish the book in first draft definitely in the next 2-3 months. Usually, once I know how it all resolves, it's just a matter of sitting down to do the work. Daily wordcount targets help. Social media tends to get in the way of that. And I'm not even sure how interested people will be in my rambling on about those books - two of them aren't mine, so I can't really talk about them, the third one is a trainwreck, and I'm weird in that I really hate whining about how hard it is and how stupid I was in making those choices. And the fourth one is planned for the mainstream, and from what I hear, publishers and agents hate authors talking about books that are aimed at the mainstream. Also, in the case of number 4, I could be totally delusional, the book sucks and won't work and ends up shoved in a deep drawer.

And, randomly and as a signal boost, here's a link to a contest from the Historical Novel Society. Deadline for the first bit: 30 September 2012. It would be great if rainbow books would make a strong showing. I'm not sure I'll have anything that fits (and definitely no full book that fits the description by those deadline), but it's an interesting contest nevertheless.

On a sidenote, I'm getting really sick of cold, grey, drizzling "spring" weather. It can get spring any time now, please. There's only so many months of clutching a hot tea mug I can stand.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Doing a scary thing

I believe that once you get too comfortable, you gotta reach further. There's this evolutionary crackpot idea that giraffes got a really long neck because they kept stretching for the high leaves.

On some level, I think that makes sense to a Muse that does best when really in doubt where to go next. I'm a literary agent's worst nightmare - I can't really keep doing the same thing. I gotta have those higher leaves. The ones withing reach don't taste as nice.

So I might end up having a really long neck too, eventually. Doesn't matter. My kick is in the stretching.

And the rampant transphobia and anti-women sexism and and anti-bi attitude in "my" genre drives me to reach even higher. Longer neck. It's good for something. At least I tried.

Many years ago, I pitched my agent a story about a duchess solving crimes. I wrote 50 pages or so. It didn't work. I couldn't do it. I had huge issues in the way. That the duchess was modelled after my (dead) mother didn't help. Talk about kicking the legs from under a project before it had any chance to walk. For many years, I used to say that I can't write women. (Which is based on the fact that I entirely failed to connect to femininity on a personal level).

I owe my female friends so much there. They've taught me how they are being women. How they live it, deal with it and how they still kick ass. They've filled a reservoir from which I can draw women for my writing, each one awesome and strong and with their own agency.

I sometimes got asked if and when I'll go mainstream. My answer: when I have a mainstream idea that is as compelling as a genre story. (I actually have one of those already, and I'm keeping it for rainy days. It's very meta, very Umberto Eco. Seems like a book I want to attempt when I'm older and more mature. And feeling more meta overall.)

Now, the last few days, one such compelling idea has arrived. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm telling everybody about it. I'm acquiring research material (there isn't much out there...), above all, the Muse is whittling the idea down into an outline. This seems like a large book, and might even be a series.

And the protagonist? A kick-ass woman.

Due to the blood and gore that seems almost inevitable for this book, I'm not convinced it's a proper mainstreamy mainstream idea. But it's a good shot at one. Possibly. I don't know.

I'm still in the haze of discovery. There's a romance, a triangle, and politics. Adventure. It's set in my least well-known century and requires a lot of research into themes I know nothing about. It's a killer book, and I'm very excited about it, but it's extremely straight at the moment (it might be bisexual, possibly), but I don't actually care whether it'll fit anywhere. The Muse is on fire. In love. He can't wait to get started on this.

Basically, "it" has happened. I'm going "straight" for my next book.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

"Glync" finished

(Welcome, new followers! Hope you're feeling right at home!)

I had a little story that I was playing with over the last few weeks. I call it "Glync" - which is just grabbing some letters each from both words of the title. I rather suspect my editor won't love the title, so I'm not getting overly attached to "Glync".

Interestingly enough, the uproar around some rather ill-considered blog posts in the community have fuelled the writing. There are some Deep Issues in Glync that I've put on the page. I think the story is stronger for it. But even so, I think it works. I think it's totally its own thing (even though it's vaguely related to Dark Edge of Honor - same universe, but different technology and issues and overall themes). It was one of those stories that I began to doubt 10k in, and then the next 10k were a brutal slog with the constant temptation to just drop the project and leave it all be, and then the last 4k just came together.

It's okay, Muse, you always know better than I do. I believe we've established that by now.

During this time, my beta readers kept asking for more. I think they loved it much more than I did (I do love it, but I also hated it while I was doubting it). Sometimes, my beta-readers are my sanity check. You guys owe these people more than you can imagine. If not for them, several of my stories wouldn't have gotten finished or cleaned up or edited or even started.

I wrote this story *for* somebody, and I can't wait to hear what she thinks about it.

At 24k, it has cleansed my palate; a different mood, a different angle, but I did love the characters and the grim humour of it. Also, sign me up to become a shapechanger - those guys and gals are amazingly hot.

Now that my palate *is* cleansed, I might renege on my various ideas and write the sequel to Lion of Kent first. After claustrophobic sci-fi, knights on the tournament circuit feels like the thing I need next, while the Muse chews on the next plot point of my WWII novel. I've promised that one, and I hate to keep people waiting. The Lion of Kent has been a while, so I guess it's about time.
Diving right back in will also prevent that post-book depression.

So, yeah. Either tournament fighters or Nazis. I'd say it's going to be a mood thing and also depend on a friend and co-writer.

In vaguely related news, I've become a member of the Arvon Foundation. I'll be doing a course there in September - a whole week without phone or internet, just writing and thinking. Depending on my mood, that sounds either like heaven or torture.