Thursday, 27 March 2014

Core values and beliefs

A couple months ago, I've done some writing-related self-coaching. I was using a self-coaching book and a journal for my answers. NLP talks a lot about core beliefs and values. They drive what we do and what we don't do. I can't go into any meaningful detail about what my core values are--it's really personal stuff to reveal one's "buttons". It's a bit like showing the strings that can make you a puppet.

There's a reason why a lot of NLP is being used to sell people crap they don't want or need. Advertising is never about the product and all about the feeling or all about the underlying value (or insecurity). Romance sells the feeling of love, and can hack into our need to love and our willingness to love. It can also hack into our insecurities about deserving love and being lovable or finding somebody worthy of love.

As an example, I get angry every time I go to the local mall. The reason? There's a lot of advertisement about their pre-paid gift card. You buy the card, put money on, gift the card, and they can spend it in any shop inside the mall. So far, so common. The thing that gets me and sets my teeth on edge is the slogan they're using: "Load it with love!"

In other words money = love. Normally, I see such bald-faced crassness only around Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, and, oh, throughout the three months leading up to Christmas. But that shopping centre has made it an all-year fixture. Because love is such a strong value, it's near irresistible. Give them money to show your love. (Corollary: if you don't have money or don't give money, you don't love them enough.) This goes so fundamentally against everything I believe in, it's not even funny.

And there's the thing. The values and beliefs we hold we tend to think of as universal. It took me ages to accept that some people have different beliefs and are okay with that. Quite a few people place their priorities differently and are happy that way. As I get older, I'm getting better at identifying what's important to other people (yep, that took me a good long while).

This is also true for writers. There are writers who do not want to make a living writing. There are writers who are happy just writing for themselves and not for publication. I used to not really understand that--for me, writing is a lot about communication, and putting work out there means that gets fulfilled. By now, I get it. I know writers who are happy labouring away in their studies and offices and at their kitchen tables, and communicate only with themselves. It's not a "damn pity", as I used to think, but absolutely a valid way to go about it. It fulfills different needs from mine and reflects different core beliefs or different ways to go about them.

I think spending a while thinking about what drives us (ambition, loyalty, independence, love, peace...) is tremendously useful for authors (and other humans). What needs are we fulfilling by writing? If a writer is oriented towards money, for example, is that a tangible, quantifiable measure of success ("I'm succeeding because I'm doubling my royalties every year") or a need for safety ("I can't sleep without solid financial in place. I can't think clearly if I'm dreading the sound of the letterbox announcing an unpaid/unpayable bill"). If it's safety, which other ways can that need be fulfilled? Sometimes, these can be at odds - you might want to make money but can't compromise on what you're writing (and what you're writing is uncommercial). Dig deep and see if there's a way to fulfill the conflicting needs. Some lateral thinking helps. In any case, core values and beliefs are usually ignored at our own peril - I think quite a few cases of writer's block might have their root causes here, but that bears further thinking/exploration.

Anyway, that's me thinking out loud in between editing chapters. I've trimmed >4k out of my 127k novel and still have about 25 chapters to work through. I think I'll end up at pretty much exactly 100k. And it'l be a stronger book for it.

Monday, 24 March 2014

(Not) business as usual

I'm just looking through a ton of paperwork. The whole process of leaving my current company took three months and was about as pleasant as a persistent itch in the unmentionables. But hopefully, after spending five hours or so in a group meeting with lawyers today, I'll be home free. In positive news, I'll get to see how City lawyers live. Yes, everything is research, and all of it is significant in some small way.

I've been reading. There's "Fanny and Stella", about a pair of Victorian crossdressers/transsexuals, which is nicely written and while I'm no fan of the Victorians, I did learn a few new things. I'm also re-reading the The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, which I read in German as a teen, 25+ years ago. I needed a break from "adult fiction" and wanted to see how it's held up against my memory. I'm only about 70 pages in, but it's interesting.

I've also wrapped "the damn book", and I'm currently cutting paragraphs and sentences and individual words from the financial thriller/coming-of-age/romance novel. I've cleaned up 5 chapters out of 34, and cut 3k words from 127k. At this level of redundancy, I'll very likely hit my target of cutting at least 17k, and I might even hit 100k wordcount overall, without losing too much. It just occurs to me how hard it is to write a book that's 70% set in an office. There's only so much lunch to get and coffee to drink to break things up. Much like corporate life, come to think of it.

With the 127k monster going strong, I'll have a decent track record for 1Q 2014; re-vamped a novel, edited another novel, reducing it by 30k (ideally) and co-wrote one book with LA Witt. April will very likely be Suckerpunch, though that depends on a few external factors. May/June is my "literary" WWII novel, and after that I'll write my historical paranormal.

Mentally, the fog is lifting. I'm less stressed, and more optimistic than I've been in a long time. Overall, "real life" is a lot more fun. I got to see friends I would have struggled to meet, and in April, I want to travel over to Germany and touch base with a few more (as well as some family). I have two leads for full-time jobs, one with the largest asset manager on the planet, and one with a small house. The latter came through my network, so I owe my contact drinks at the very least, as she was "thinking of me". Nothing beats personal recommendation.

In writing-related news, LA Witt and I have won an EPIC Award, category Short Fiction - Romance, with Quid Pro Quo. Not bad for a little story we wrote because I was bored witless and would have otherwise committed terrible crimes.

So, yeah, looks like the universe is telling me something with all these awards and awards finals and being generally productive and happy.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Wrapping up the damn book (and other)

I'm just in the very final stages of my fantasy novel, which has given me an unexpected 2.5-month battle, but it's coming together. In any case, setting a deadline (15 March) should help. I have three full days now to wrestle the last 40-50 pages into submission, which is really quite generous.

Yesterday, I signed up for Yoga and Pilates classes--while I have decent core strength (important if you have a "weak" back, especially as a writer), you can always be stronger there. Most of all, I'm missing the energy flow after a good stretch/exercise. There's definitely a certain luxury in booking classes that are at 9:30/10:30 in the morning on a weekday. They are nice and cheap, too. I had a tour of the place and there are no aggressive "gym bunny" types there, but instead a refreshing amount of middle-aged and elderly. It's not crowded on a weekday and the music isn't so loud you cannot hear your own thoughts. Perfect.

Tomorrow is my first Pilates class. I've done some Pilates years ago, but ended up dropping out because my work hours weren't really compatible (journalism and its addiction to long, irregular hours--nuff said). And then it's easy to not go back. While I did it, I liked it.

Real-life-wise, I'm looking at a number of skills to acquire over the next 3-4 years, which is hypnosis (happening in September/October), sports massage (likely from May), counselling diploma (after the foundation course) and acupuncture (after massage). All in all, it's about £12,000 ($18,000) to stump up, so that's where my money's going to go for the foreseeable future. I think it's a worthwhile and complementary skillset to have, and it should get me out of the house and in contact with people. I'm also looking at NLP and Reiki, though these are currently lower priority. I just need to research requirements and starting dates. I'm also looking at becoming a British citizen this year, but that's more a personal commitment than a skill.

A friend of mine (GB Gordon) went through that 127k monster book that's one third coming of age story, one third thriller, and one third love story, and we had a three-hour chat about how to tackle the beast. I think I have an idea now and look forward to editing it once I'm done with this book.

I've had a few chats regarding going cold turkey from corporate life to freelancing, and apparently it takes a few months to a year to a) clear the corporate fog from one's mind, b) find a workable structure, and c) reach an agreement with the Significant Other that both can live with. Now I don't feel so bad about floundering a little while I make the transition. I am a little spooked about my salary stopping at the end of the month, especially since I only accomplished a fraction of what I set out to do when I was put on "gardening leave". That my payout is quite pathetically small and that they make me jump through lots of hoops to get it is not exactly helping. Waking up with the thought of "I have to write X amount today to earn my keep" every morning puts a lot more pressure on the writing than I'm used to. At the very least, I want to double my usual wordcount, and triple it ideally mid-term. After all, I do have all that time now, I better use it.

In industry news, DABWAHA is open for nominations. Make sure you nominate your favourites published in 2013. (Last year, I got quite far with Dark Soul, only to be soundly beaten by Josh Lanyon, who was subsequently vanquished).

Right, I have a bunch of mercenaries on a ship planning a stealth operation requiring my attention. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Old treasures and Lambdas

I received the news that Capture & Surrender is a Lambda Awards finalist this year (Category: Gay Erotica). My co-writer on the book, LA Witt, is also running in the Gay Romance category.

I'm obviously pleased and proud. Now that I'm a full-time writer, recognition is doubly nice, but the Lammies are quite special, as they are traditionally more grounded in the NYC type queer publishing scene, which is still somewhat separate from the m/m e-pub scene and much older. In any case, I'm honoured and would love to win an award that issues "desk candy" (aka, a tangible trophy), but honestly, being nominated is already huge, and it's for one of my favourite books, too. So, thank you, judges!

I've spent the last two days going back to a novel I have in the drawer and that might be worthwhile to polish up. As I write this, a number of betas and friends are looking at the book, which clocks in at an impressive 127k. It's been written before I knew or even cared about any of the rules of romance, so it's not a romance. It's a coming of age story more than anything, though it's relationship-focused and has some extremely hot sex.

I submitted it to a publisher around four years or so ago, and they turned it down, telling me the book was "immoral". Well. Drug use and unsafe sex and suicide attempts are the least worst things these bankers get up to just before the financial Apocalypse of 2008, but whatever. In the end, I am glad they didn't take it.

With 4+ years of hindsight, I can now see myself that the book has a few issues and I can fix them. I try not to lose too much. It's a crazy ambitious book, written way before I'd read much m/m, so nothing about it feels like m/m. But it's very much me. Boy, this is pure me, my voice, my hang-ups, my issues circa 2008/9. It's already gone through a number of edits, so the writing's strong, and, in some cases, even brilliant. (I say that without vanity--good writing very often happens despite me getting in the way.) Above all, I love the characters.

Last time I touched this was in 2010, so I'd forgotten almost everything about the book. I spent two days re-reading it and doing a short outline of chapters and scenes so I know what's going on, with a view to cutting what's not necessary. It's too long--the received wisdom in publishing is to keep novels under 100k, so that would mean cutting almost a third, which . . . I don't see happening. I'd lose too much of the stuff I really care about, and I'm emphatically not cutting the side plot around the trans* guy, who's the only well-adjusted, sane person in the book.

In other book-related news, I'm working on the the last 10% of the developmental edits of a fantasy novel (I had to re-write the last 20-30% or so, and feel I'm getting somewhere now, and add 15k, out of which I've already added 11k and look to be on track for 15k+), adding a thousand words here and there, and hopefully finishing around middle of the month.

Once that's back to the editor, I'll throw myself into Suckerpunch, which should be a quick and easy novel compared to the ones I've recently written. Above all, I have a very clear image of the book in my head, which helps with regards to sheer speed. I'll have to re-read Counterpunch to make sure I don't have any continuity issues, but after keeping MoS 1-3 consistent, these shortish novels shouldn't be that difficult. (Famous last words.) Suckerpunch is my April project, after which I'll wrap up that 127k monster and get that submitted. It's not a very commercial novel--I might have to self-publish it, but right now, all options are open.

Then it's time for the Birds book, which should happen in May/June. I'm excited like crazy about that one.

In real life news, I've made a deal with my partner to report to him how much I've done every day. It'll help me stay on track, too. I'm also looking at courses to pick up some qualifications, and do the numbers how much it'll all cost.

Anyway, I'm just going to finish my first 1,500 words session of the day and then head to London to drop off a couple Capture & Surrenders in the bookshop. My rockstar lifestyle. :)