Saturday, 1 July 2023

Update (it's 2023 and I'm still here)

 It's July 2023 and apparently - apart from one post about Pride - I haven't blogged here in two years. I'm not sure people still read blogs, but in case anybody does, maybe a general life and writing update.


In August 2022, I benefited from a general staff cut across the whole company and took voluntary redundancy, which involved getting a chunk of money and four months' paid holiday. Also, I knew it was coming, so I was prepared for it.

Over the years, it had got increasingly difficult to stay in that particular industry (shift work, for example, really wrecks my sleep patterns), so that was a really good exit for me. I made the most of the "gardening leave", travelled a bit, tried out a full-time gig as a freelance translator, wrote a book, started another, then in March 2023 started to get a bit restless and applied for a few jobs again, this time only those with good work/life balance. Received multiple offers within two weeks or so, then decided to go work for a gigantic media company, dealing with general data quality stuff. The money isn't the same as in financial services, but it's enough for me, mostly because I paid down the mortgage aggressively during those years with the large paycheck.

I also spend some time getting therapy and worked through some childhood and teenage issues, as well as the death of my mother. I'm not sure I feel "better" - that was my first course of therapy, and I didn't like the snotty crying every damn week at 10:00 on Tuesdays. I'm more aware of some patterns now and know why some stuff hits me in the heart and other stuff I just shrug off.

Job-wise, things remain in flux, though - I've applied for an internal job at my current employer and an external company recruiter has approached me for the kind of opportunity I'd be silly not to go for. I'm already past the first interview stage and expecting further assessment. Job stuff seems to come in waves - I had multiples nibbles and about fifteen interviews in November/December, and always made it to "second place" - somebody had more experience, usually, or in one case the job just vanished. Anyway, I'm happy where I am and could easily stay here and do a few more years working for corporates. If that other opportunity happens, I'll take it and work there for 4-6 more years before I ride into the sunset.

Otherwise, not a huge amount happened. I still live where I lived, live with the same person I've lived with, write with the same writing group (though happily I've met a great fellow writer from Germany who's smart and driven and really brightens my days). I'm back to the gym, lift some weights, walk a lot, and declutter stuff I bought mostly as some kind of stress therapy during the banking years. I also bought a fountain pen I've been wanting for many years as a "getting fired" present to myself. I'm playing a bit on the X-Box, got pretty good at Call of Duty multiplayer ("pretty good" means I'm no longer just target practice for more experienced players) and looking forward to Phantom Liberty. 


I still can't believe Burn this City came out in 2021. I guess time flies when you're working hard. 2022 up to August wasn't a very creative time for me, especially after returning to the office in the first seven months of it. There's something about open-plan offices, shift work and stress that kills my writing mojo.

When I got out, I threw myself full bore into translating - seemed like a great way of doing something creative without actually having to be all that creative (after all, the plot, characters and scenes are already there). For a while, the concept of "travelling around with my laptop, translating" held a lot of appeal, but I still returned to corporate work for several reasons. I'm a good translator and reasonably fast, but I'm not sure I was born for it. What this period did was allow my characters to talk to me again.

I became a member of several libraries (British Library, London Library) so I can access them as places to work/study/look up things, and started working on the concept of my fantasy novel/s. I had only a vague idea in 2022, but fleshed out the conflict/world in early 2023 while travelling.

My old problem  remains - I can't write commercial work fast enough to have a viable career in m/m romance ("viable career" meaning replacing my paycheck), so I'm looking at spending most of my time/energy on fantasy novels, where consistency seems more important than huge volume. It's daunting to start from nothing, but over the past few years, I haven't been able to find any m/m romance I enjoy reading (a few exceptions prove the rule), and I feel alienated from the current trends - or the trends that were current when I looked last. I am a member of various Discord and Facebook groups focused on m/m and the books that seem popular don't do anything for me - and the tropes that are popular don't align with what I like to write. Like, at all.

That said, the book I've finished in 2022 is an m/m romance, and I'm currently working on the sequel. There will probably be a sequel after that, because the characters talk and plan their little plans in my head, and it'll be fun to give some old characters closure, and tell the story of the new characters that cropped up while I was writing about the old characters. I'm ostensibly editing the first book, and there are some re-writes I need to make it really work. The idea is to publish that book and the second book pretty close together and then I'll see if the third book has any legs (it might be just a novella, in the end). I'm aiming to get both out by the end of the year.

This  week, after lots of planning and plotting, I've also started on the fantasy novel/s, and I think those are 2024 releases (we only have six months left, after all, and fantasy wordcounts are usually higher).  I'm curious where this thing will go - I do plot, but the characters usually end up doing something else entirely. I'm also still doing translations, but only occasionally and mostly my own books. 

TL;DNR: expect new m/m releases this year, and fantasy novels in 2024. 

Thoughts on Pride 2023 ("And those who identify as attack helicopters")

My new employer is rated among the top companies for LGBTQ+ inclusivity. That's why I chose them out of multiple offers, all of which actually paid more money. People here are openly queer. We have our pronouns in our work profiles. Everybody uses the "singular they" naturally, even with gendered first names. Nobody assumes because you're a Sarah, you're a "she", or a "he" because you happen to be called Tom.

After two months there, I still have mental whiplash.

See, I've worked in cis-normative and hetero-assuming workplaces so long, I basically can't cope yet. I tread carefully, and I'm almost a little intimidated, fearing that my behaviour, which has been modulated to fit into a cis/hetero workplace, will end up offending people, or I trip up or make a mistake. At the same time, it's liberating. I haven't realised how relaxing it is. It's not just the industry (media) versus banking/finance, it's everything. Everything and everybody is more colourful, open, human and genuine. Possibly the rose-coloured glasses will come off and I find something that annoys me about the new place, or maybe I have some kind of employment-related PTSD that some part of me is waiting for the downside.

So, my employer put on a Pride party (it was organised and run by the LGBTQ+ network), and I went. I didn't originally want to - I'm not much for parties, or alcohol, and the combination of both I find really unpleasant - but a friend (who also now works at the same company) went so I decided to go too. First lesson: queer people getting drunk is much more chilled and fun than cisstraights getting drunk. No unpleasant experiences, in fact, it all felt silly and joyful, as we sat on the comfy chairs on the lawn in front of the main building, I had a virgin margarita, and we watched and listened to the live drag acts. I was honestly surprised how much this heavy introvert liked it. (Plus, it gave me an idea for the book I'm writing, so thank you, Yshee Black and the others!)

But, as the organisers said, "let's not forget that Pride isn't just a party, it's also a protest." The same drag acts we were enjoying are under pressure from threats and closures and cancellations because of the UK's atrocious policies, which are very clearly coming from the very top - the Tories have decided to go full "culture war", and they're persecuting the LGBTQ+ community, and singling out the "T", and in that dragnet they also catch the non-binary folks and everybody who doesn't do "gender" in the way that the narrow-minded among the cis people like.

In the fun (hanging with a friend, sitting chilling on a lawn, laughing about a drag queen's jokes), I couldn't help feeling sad and angry (and a host of other feelings I can't yet verbalise in public, as it were, but it has to do with regret and pain and self-compassion and tenderness).

I mean, these kids make me hopeful. I'm quite optimistic that the arch of human history bends towards justice, not dystopia (and not even species extinction), but the UK, its socio-political climate scares the fuck out of me. I'm historian enough to be hopeful in the long run, and too much historian to not be scared in the short term. 

Healthcare provision for queer people is already a joke. Even 10+ years back when I went to a trans* folk meeting, the way to access care was to "go private", and addresses of places to get top/bottom surgery were traded like some City folks would trade the contact details of their drug dealer (I assume - my life in the City didn't involve drugs). Since then, clinics have closed and accessing gender-affirming care is harder than ever. Astonishingly, my employer offers two years' healthcare support for trans* folks (assessment and accessing care), after which point, you might be able to switch over to private options or other.

On an even darker note, mental health support is possibly a worse issue. If you happen to come out of an abusive environment, or maybe a global health emergency, or maybe just life with any kind of need for support, you're basically screwed. I looked into getting some mental health care, and the waiting list at a charity-supported place was 3-4 months. I didn't even bother trying to go through the normal NHS. If you pay privately, you're seen the same week, of course. If you're poor, or your disposable income has been eaten up by sky-rocketing energy and food bills, or your mortgage just doubled or tripled because of the Tories' irresponsible and social-darwinist policies, you're shit out of luck (I'm glad I got 5 months' of therapy to deal with some stuff that happened in my late teens/early twenties, and the total fuck-up that my family was - and I didn't even scratch the surface of some issues I have buried really deep inside, but I know they're there and for the moment I can deal).

But the thing is, being non-cis (being trans*, or non-binary or just not performing gender as expected) is a huge emotional and mental burden. It's like running the same marathon everybody else is running, but at some point on the first few kilometers or so, the crowd on the sidelines (or maybe one or multiple of your fellow runners) take a metal bar to your ankles and thighs and knees, and you get up again, in pain, and a few kilometers later, it happens again. And behind that curve, on the steep climb, it happens again, and some are lucky and don't get hit hard and complete the race, and others have their bones broken and get beaten to death (look up stats for domestic partner violence against trans* folk if you think this metaphor is hysterical/overblown).

I guess we'd be okay if all runners were like us, or everybody in the crowd, but no, we have to function and perform in a hostile environment at all times, while dealing with the same shit every other person has to deal with: money and career, family, housing, maybe kids, maybe frail parents, except trans* folks struggle accessing support, mental health, even normal healthcare, and public discourse is intensely hostile, further amped up by TERF wizard lady and her cohorts. Trans* folk have fewer resources to deal with (on average) much tougher lives.

It's no wonder most of us are resilient as hell. We gotta be. But we have the bruises and broken bones, and we remember the ones that didn't make it.

We exist in a super hostile environment, and frankly I think cisstraights would rather we just "go away" and "shut up", and belittle our actual needs (toilets, anyone?). It's where the jokes come from: "Oh yeah, and those who identify as attack helicopters" or "litter boxes for those who identify as cats". Those are "jokes" brought into circulation by conservatives - and isn't it striking how humans are either turned into machines or animals - two ways of taking away our humanity (I mean, sure, I wouldn't mind being an Apache - but don't ask me what I'd do with my turrets and rockets, chances are, some bigots would get blown up, and I wouldn't feel pain and I could have a mechanic replace the parts that are beginning to creak/not function as well as they did). 

It's not about "choice", it's identity. The very core part of your being, that secret small part of you that often only speaks while you lie awake at night in your bed and you know is TRUE, when everything else isn't, or is to a much lesser degree.

It's not about litter boxes. It's about seeing - and respecting - the humanity in somebody who is different. I'm still hopeful. I start to believe that the next generations will get this shit sorted. They already know that the cat litter and attack helicopter jokes are transphobic dogwhistles, and not funny at all.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Quo vadis?

With Burn this City done, where will I go now?

I've spent some time working on concepts for a couple mainstream trilogies (non-M/M) I'd describe as historical fantasy - the leads will mostly be female, but minor characters will most certainly be drawn from diverse backgrounds and sexualities, because the last thing the world needs is more fantasy with straight white cismale leads set in heteronormative worlds. I'll now spend some time reading in the new genre to see what's going on and to make sure that my ideas can stand up.

The first new project will be that WWII novel I've had in my head for years and where the leads (one apparently asexual and the other gay) wouldn't have worked out as lovers, which stalled me for a long time. I'm still pondering whether there's a way I can turn that book into a trilogy or series because the concept is huge and might simply not work out as one book.

The second project will revisit concepts and ideas I had in the Memory of Scorpions trilogy and which I never really fully developed to their full potential.

And to be perfectly honest, I'm still trying to find a way to weasel my way out of the genre switch. It goes like this: "But my readers will be disappointed, and I shouldn't disappoint people who've supported me for that long", "What if you throw away a career that didn't work out for another career that also won't work out?", "Maybe you could make it all work out okay if you managed to write a book a month, too, can't be that hard because so many people are doing it", and the classic, "But what happens if you get another M/M bunny?" and "But what about those fragments of M/M books you have on the hard drive and that you've kind of been promising people?" (There's pages and pages and PAGES of that stuff in my journal.)

And yeah, I have a beautiful M/M concept I've been itching to write. There's also Franco's story and Julian's story and both guys deserve some kind of closure. I have another Witches of London romance plotted out completely. I have a 20k fragment of an enemies to lovers/secret baby romance with a decidedly lighter tone that would only need a couple months to make work. That's five M/M books that are in various stages from concept to 30-50% written, and I'm not even talking about that really painful WWII romance that has 50k written and that I promised a friend (who didn't live to see completion - I'm sorry, R). Six novels in total. Hundreds of hours of work already done, thousands of hours of work still to do.

Basically, I have no idea what to do. I might reactivate my Patreon (asleep for lack of time for the time being) to share the fragments, or even to complete the books just to get them out of my head. Any funds raised on Patreon would go towards paying for editing and covers. Not sure a Kickstarter for those funds would work - nothing is more embarrassing than asking for money, and it takes significant energy to promote a Kickstarter.

I could publish those books on AO3 as original fiction - at least that would be a completely free - since it's non-commercial work, my standards regarding editing are lower, so I could just clean them up as best as I can and put them there for free.

What I definitely can't afford is to go on the way I have - burning money on books that just won't earn the money back. I already face pretty large investments on getting those fantasy books edited and covered. I have to have a trilogy ready before I can even make a start in that market, which is very much driven by trilogies and series. It's very likely I'll need two or three trilogies before I even get anywhere there.

So, yeah, I don't know. The rational mind tells me to write off all the work I've already put into the M/M books and not hurt myself by putting out subpar, unedited work or spending thousands of hours on a mission to get those books out there at a financial loss. My rational mind knows what the sunk cost fallacy is. My heart is still in love with those concepts and ideas and characters and wants to give those characters a happy ending.

Nobody said writing was easy. 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Burn this City - ARC stage

I've spent the past few weeks working through the various drafts of Burn this City - all thanks go to the beta crew and my editors who've really done most of the heavy lifting. Rhis book is now as good as I can make it. I hope to fit in a final proofreading pass reading it on a tablet on a ereader, just so that the text appears "new" to my eyes, but ultimately, we're there.

I'd call this the ARC stage, except I'm not organized enough to do ARCs. This is roughly the stage I feel comfortable with handing out if people want to read review copies; except I don't really do review copies - we're two weeks from release, so it's way too late for those anyway.

At 104k words, it's a beast, and, from a writer's point of view, I never again want to write something his long because the editing hurts. But the boys wanted and deserved that much - enemies to lovers needs space - they spend 50% of the book being enemies and the rest of the book they become lovers. So yes, it's slow burn, probably he slowest burn I've ever written. Basically, you'll need to trust me a lot that I'm going to fulfil the various promises - this isn't a fast book or even a very simple one. It'll take work to read.

Below the cover, I'm going to talk about the "warnings" ("content words"), so stop reading before the cover if you don't to see the "warnings".

First though, if you liked Silvio Spadaro from Dark Soul, he's making an appearance, killing people, having fun and looking great doing it.

I consider this my m/m swansong, so that's the standards I've applied - I've worked through themes and characters and dynamics that attracted me to the genre in the first place. There's lots of plot and back story, there's a few nods to other books (a couple Easter eggs). I feel it's a great closing bracket to Dark Soul, which kind of started my journey in the genre in earnest. 

I've deleted some rambling about what I plan to do next, but that should really be its own entry, so I'll publish that next week. For the moment, I'm happy it's done, and I'm exhausted, too. 

The content words are: suicidal ideation, organized crime, threats of sexual violence, dubcon, mental health (depression), minor character death (past, off-page), murder (mostly off-page), grief, bereaved spouse, drug use (voluntary and involuntary), corruption, domestic violence (off-page), bisexual rep, demisexual/graysexual rep

If you react strongly to any of those, chances are, this won't be for you. Personally, I think it's one of the lighter "dark romances" out there. It starts kind of dark but lightens up a lot as the guys find their stride with each other. 

But then, my perception might be completely skewed. What's mild for me, might be triggering to others, so fair warning, all of that plays that role and I'm not adding these lightly. I think that's the first time I have actually provided content words like that - one of my friends in the space recently suffered the loss of a spouse and since Sal in the book is lingering quite a bit on his grief, the last I wanted to do was to toss people into emotions that they can't or don't want to deal right now. But again, it's a HEA in my head and at the very least a HFN on the page. 

Friday, 6 August 2021

Burn this City - cover reveal

 Just popping in to reveal the cover for Burn this City - as usual by the amazing Tiferet Design.

The book can be pre-ordered here and will be released on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on 13 September. I'm still working on some edits to polish the text. This is most likely going to be my final M/M book (I might wrap up some manuscripts that are half-written, but there are no deadlines attached to that and I might just publish them on my A03 account when the time comes) before I embark on a new journey in historical fantasy. I'm really quite proud of it and think it'll be a great swansong. In any case, I hope you'll enjoy it. 

Monday, 2 August 2021

Burn This City - it's a big book

The official second draft of Burn This City is weighing in at 106,531 words. It's been pretty intense "self-edits" - really a misnomer because those were both my edits and I've also gathered feedback from the betas, and some of the feedback had a major impact on what is now the second draft. 

The first draft had about 101k words, and I know for a fact I've cut short scenes and multiple paragraphs to the tune of 7-8k, but ended up with a longer book, so I've probably written around 10-15k new words, and this is before the editors have even touched it. I'm expecting a cover concept in the next few days too. 

I'm still laughing when I think that this  was meant to be a "simple dark romance, no more than 50-60k because I don't really have much plot". You'd think I'd know how this will go by now. 

With the book sent of to the editors, I'll now focus on some translation work and research for my mainstream fantasy trilogy and the WWII book I've been meaning to write for far too many years, but those won't be 2021 news - just the WWII book alone will next probably 6-8 more months, and the trilogy could easily take longer than that. 

Mostly, it'll be good to clear the mafia research books and notes from my desk and think about/work on something different. This pass has been really intense because the first draft was in a very poor state (not going to work like that again), and keeping 106k in my head at the same times is really quite tough. 

But, in any case, it's done and I think it's shaping up to be a good book, and that is what counts. 

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Burn this City update

The edits of Burn this City are taking pretty long (I wanted to be done last week, and then the heat wave just short-circuited my brain, so I'm likely going to need a few more days). But the link is up and I should hit the deadline. This one will be my first KU release. We don't have a cover yet, but I'll reveal it on this blog once Lady Tiferet has sent me the final version.

I've now called Burn this City my m/m swansong a few times and while that shocked me the first time, it's now something I'm increasingly accepting. I think I'm through all five stages of grief when it comes to m/m; I'm not quite at the place where I'm excited about the future, but I'm mostly done with the past at least. And it's not like I've wasted those past 15 years - I've met great (fictional and non-fictional) people, learnt some important life lessons, grown as an artist and had fun. That's worth a lot and I'll always remember that period fondly.

And once the mind relaxes, the Muse brings ideas. So a few days ago, I woke up with an idea.

I spent the morning on a Discord call with a very old, dear friend of mine, and I pitched him my historical fantasy series that's been taking shape. I already have four characters and set a few very broad parameters (technology level, type of magic/occultism, gender relations), and now I'll incubate - that is, gather ideas, plots, read some books, put together an outline, and so on.

Basically, I'll pour everything into the book that I love and have loved for decades. One big change will be that the principal character will be a (bisexual) woman, and love/romance will be a part of the plot, but I'd expect won't take more than 10-15% of the time on page. At this point, I've definitely left my old comfort zones behind.

I think one reason why I've clung to M/M for as long as I have - and may write the occasional book to complete arcs and series I've started, or if the idea is so compelling that it overrides everything else - is just the people. As I explained to my friend, pretty much everybody I know socially is somehow involved with the industry. Almost all of my social media feed comes from M/M and romance people, and the time and focus spent on observing the industry and looking at trends etc have taken a huge amount of my mental hard drive. And re-orientating myself towards my new genre will take time and I'll be the new kid in the school, even though I was around there 15-20 years ago.

I think fantasy in Germany has evolved past all those barriers I encountered there when I started out in fantasy/sci-fi. I went into M/M fifteen years ago because the type of book I wanted to write had no market/space in the genre I came from. It occurs to me I'm leaving it pretty much for the same reasons, so we're coming full circle, and as somebody who thinks in cycles, I like that idea very much.

I keep re-reading the previous blog entry, and I still attempt to poke holes into the logic and reasoning. I guess I just on some level don't love change. I'll feel more comfortable and more excited about the change once it's actually done - and done in the writing game means stories are actually being written. Once I'm halfway through plotting and/or writing the first book in the series (I just know this is a large multi-book project), I'll find my wings again. It's always that way.

I did have to reckon with the reasons why I write the things I do, and why they don't sell enough to make this successful (and financially viable) for me. I'm not going to break myself on the wheel of trying to inhabit the space I've created for myself and which is just not working for me anymore - if it were just about grinding for a few more years, I could do it, but all I see is ever-diminishing returns. A friend in the m/m space said it bluntly: "They've forgotten you." And he's right.

At the same time, historical and fantasy m/m doesn't sell, and I've felt constricted by the m/m part of it for so long (things you're allowed to do and things that people expect, such as a certain heat level and number and explicitness of sex scenes, but mostly how much of the book I need to spend on developing the romance), so going back to a bigger audience that is now much more ready for queer characters makes sense for me. I'm even thinking of "porting over" a couple of my backlist books by cutting back the romance and ramping up the fantasy elements, hey, presto, instant military fantasy trilogy. 

Market research indicates that mainstream fantasy is largely driven by trilogies and larger series, so my friend said, "The faster you can get yourself anchored in the market with two or better three trilogies, the better." So once I've made Burn this City the best I can, I'll get started on that.

I'll have to set up even a rudimentary website for the "new" author, though I don't think I'll do quite as much social media (I just don't have the capacity). In addition, the new books will be written in German and then translated into English. I'm aiming for a very specific voice which will be easier to write in German. 

The "acceptance" stage of grief comes with a huge amount of relief. Dragging all those negative emotions and fighting the inevitable sure was exhausting. 

I'm not yet at "happy and excited", but at least I have a large, complex series to sink my mental teeth into, and my German fantasy buddy is excited about the concept, so I'm off to a good start. In many ways, all I'm doing is coming home.