Thursday, 30 June 2011

Maurice Chevalier on inspiration

"Inspiration comes unawares, from unaccountable sources that have nothing to do with planning or intelligence. Let it cool ever so slightly, and you are left, pen or brush in hand, with no inspiration at all. Gifted people need not, therefore, make a song and dance about being or supposing themselves superior. They simply happened to be born with that fortunate, subconscious equipment of theirs, and the mystery exists independently of intelligence or ambition." - Maurice Chevalier

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Maurice Chevalier on the artistic process

"It all boils down to instinct, good or bad. Artistic creation must be spontaneous. It comes from the heart; it has to pass through the brain; and still one needs the guts, and good old indispensable technique, to bring it to the light of day. That at least is how I see the process, not that I have ever been able to pin it down very exactly in my own case. You hear a voice inside. You obey it, and produce whatever it told you to produce; and then you wait and see. And oh! The trouble you're in for."

(He's part of my reading for the Two Birds book.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I'm behind on everything

I'm behind on everything and will never catch up - but at least the heat and humidity have given way to - much more pleasant - grey and cold and wet outside. At least I can now focus a bit more after barely getting any sleep last night.

The Paris novel is eating my brain. I don't actually care much about anything else right now - even though I should, and I want to. Maybe what I really want is two weeks of holiday to completely devote to my book (and the secret project).

Monday, 27 June 2011

Writer Beware: Do NOT sign non-compete clauses

(I'm returning - briefly - from "holiday" for an important public service announcement).

Once upon a time, I worked for a shabby asshole company in London. Since it was a shabby asshole company that was killing my joy of life, I tried to leave after about 2.5 years. After my days with nose to grindstone at the little self-important hellhole, I had some experience in consumer research.

I went to a company for a job - which did something else, but was also active in retail and consumer analysis - and they offered me a better-paid job.

The moment of truth arrives, when Aleks talks to The Old Witch, AKA Head of Human Resources about having been offered a better-paid job.

There are two responses when a valued employee who's been twice promoted does that:

One is: "How much - and we'll pay that, please stay?"

The other is: "MUHAHAHA, FOOOOOLISH MORTAL! You've signed a non-compete! MUAHAHAHA!"

In other words, the asshole company decided that New Company was its competitor and even though I would have done something totally different there, the non-compete clause effectively banned me from using my skills at the new job, for two or three years (too long to just wait it out in any case).

I was fucked. Two-and-a-half years of hardcore learning down the drain.

But where there's a Taurus and enough anger, there's a way.

I declined the job offer (thankfully - the place went bust a year later!) and immediately blitzed EVERY single headhunter and job agency in London. I was barely at my desk, so busy (and pissed-off) was I, telling them about the non-compete and how I needed to apply my German and language skills in some way that had nothing to do with consumers and retail.

That is how I got into financial journalism, and from there into business editing - making a lot more in banking than I would have had I stayed at the hellhole. Much nicer workplace, too.

The only thing that worked in my favour is that I'm not a one-trick pony. While I'd learned to analyse products, I can also write and I have foreign languages. The non-compete clause forced me to think laterally - leading me to a much more fulfilling, much more pleasant and better-paid job.

For once, the non-compete really helped me.

Non-competes in writing are a totally different matter.

There's a rumour that Harlequin, the world's largest Romance publisher has added non-compete clauses to their "new" contracts.

I'm not sure whether Bob Mayer is making this shit up, but what he says is this:

"Which brings me to the non-compete clause that’s also supposed to be in new contracts. Basically once an author signs with HQ, they can’t self-publish under that name?"

If that's true, that would be utterly appalling (and not just for the very good reasons that Bob cites in his article), and grounds enough to turn down the contract. Basically, I've been told by several sources that Harlequin offers a "take it or leave it" contract. There's no negotiation with the 900-pound gorilla in the space.

What's worrying me is that it's the BACKLIST that authors actually live off. My agent made that very clear: You can think about quitting your day job when the books you wrote 5-15 years ago pay your rent, your health insurance, your pension and everything else and you have a little extra.

The front list (aka: the current release) is nice - another step up the ladder. The backlist pays the rent. Now, nobody sells more backlist than the author - a fair chunk of my backlist doesn't make a penny because I sold ALL my right, FOREVER, to a publisher who let it all fall into oblivion. Those books aren't being reprinted, they aren't issued in e-books - for all intends and purposes, they make nobody any money, not the publisher, not for me.

(Yeah, I've been real clever about contracts in my misspent youth, but that one was a "take it or leave it" contract, too.)

Now, the issue I have is that an adventurous publisher could not only keep you from self-publishing under that name (that name = your whole identity and self you've built on the internet, the only thing that helps people find you and your OTHER books). They could try to force you deeper into bondage - you might be unable to sign up with another publisher, or are forced to sell ALL your romance titles to them.

Ooops. Some publishers are already doing that (via ROFR clauses). I'll talk about THAT brand of "WHAT THE FUCK" some other day.

What is so disturbing is that, clearly, some publishers feel so threatened they are trying to shackle the author any way they can get away with.

There you are, thinking you signed a contract to get editing, a great cover and distribution - and meanwhile, you've signed the rights to YOUR OWN NAME away as WELL AS THE RIGHTS TO YOUR FUTURE BOOKS and HOW and WHERE to publish them.


Do NOT sign your books or your brand into slavery. My age, I hope I'll be writing for another 40 years. I will not - ever - sign my name away or preclude the idea that I'll self-publish or start my own publisher. The publishing space has changed beyond recognition in the last ten years - can any of us predict what's going to happen in the next forty years? Or, you know, what your kids or grandkids want to do with the brand you've so carefully built?

DO NOT sign your rights away - especially not with a publisher who won't negotiate. Walk away. No, don't walk, RUN.

Edit to add: Bob Mayer has since updated his blog post and says "there is no indication that the non-compete will be included in the contracts."

Edit to add - No. 2: Harlequin's official response.

Which is GREAT news. But even if Harlequin is not doing it - somebody out there will try it. Read contracts carefully. Ask people what shit means. Even get a lawyer. With more and more publishers being squeezed and panicking over both the movement towards indie and self-publishing, there are people trying to pull a fast one. I'm glad it's not HQ, but there's a lot of other nasty shit out there, like the ROFR clause, about which I'll be writing in a future post.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

On vacation until 1 July

It's time for an internet break. The muse is singing, so I'm taking 2 weeks off from it all. I'll try to respond to emails, but I won't be on various social networks (I'll check my Goodreads group sporadically).

I'll be back on 1 July, hopefully with new stories.

Have a great time.

The pitfalls of social media (author perspective)

Recently, my mind has been dwelling on social media for authors (hey, throw in some caps and it's a good title for a paper). Obviously, all this is based on my niche inside a niche and my own experiences, and definitely also by observing other authors and the issues they are facing when dealing with social media. (This, BTW, is not a "marketing" post, but really about networking.)

And as an aside, I love social media and jumped into it full force. I don't believe it's a bad thing. I'm just cautioning that it's not always a Good Thing (especially when people use it to gather a pitchfork-wielding mob when anybody is posting an unpopular opinion - then social media helps assemble the torch-wielders that jump on shit out of peer pressure or the heat of the moment).

But I disgress.

So, with those two things out of the way (that I do love social media and that these are NOT just my experiences but an amalgamation of things I've seen over the last months), here are my humble thoughts on the whole thing.

1) Social Media makes you trackable. Say, you get an email and need some time to respond to it and think things through. If you *are* on Twitter, it's very likely that the sender of that email will send you a Direct Message saying "oy, respond to my email", or, subtler "did you get my email?" (Yes I did, "losing email" is usually an excuse, thank you very much.)

This, very often, is totally counter-productive. Social Media exerts pressure on us to do things immediately and respond to everything immediately. I'm not sure about you, but sometimes I like to think things through and discuss it with other people before I respond. Your Twitter and Facebook accounts make this almost impossible. Basically, people can easily bully you into responding AT ONCE.

2) Being "friends" with somebody you signed a contract with - any kind of contact - is at best a double-edged, poisoned blade. All goes well until you get cut. If you get cut, it's really bad.

I do not friend my RL bosses on Facebook, and have asked them not to friend me. It's too awkward. I might want to say something about work, and I can't, or a minor gripe (you know, just venting) suddenly turns into a Disciplinary Issue. I don't need that kind of shit in my life, so I'm not doing it.

The same holds true with publishers. Say, you've promised them a sequel this month, but then you post on Twitter that, actually, you will now write the three-part fantasy epic. If the publisher is switched on, they'll go "Whut?" and what ensues is drama. Since personally, I'm a very bad liar because I can't keep my stories straight, I don't want to follow my publishers anymore and feel queasy if they follow me. Since the rulebook on internet and social media etiquette hasn't really been written yet, this is very difficult territory to navigate. I've seen enough fuck-ups that I'm wary as hell about it all.

3) Banter changes your relationship. Say, you sign a contract with a publisher, you like each other, you banter. Then something goes really, really wrong in either your personal relationship OR your business relationship with that person.

Result: It makes things really awkward. That's why you don't mix business with friendship. If you really like the person, you might be tempted to let them get away with stuff you wouldn't otherwise take (and might end up getting taken advantage of). If you really like the business side of things, it will still get tarnished if the personal relationship went wrong. Fact is, some absolute scumbags are at the same time very good business people, and some utterly lovely people are atrocious at business.

Choose the side of them you like, and stay away from the rest of it. It makes for a lot more sanity in your life. Professional distance is a good thing. You can be friends with your readers, but I highly doubt you can be real friends with a publisher or editor or anybody you have a legal relationship with - amiable respect is probably the best thing that can be achieved.

4) Very often, Social Media creates the same mood and feel of High School (or the German equivalent of it). People *are* petty and childish, there *will* be bullying, there's DRAMAZ!, there is sniping from the back and, definitely, back-stabbing. I don't know about you, but I hated (the German equivalent of) High School. I've also found that this "storm in a tea cup" drama really, really detracts from my writing time and energy. I sometimes come away from Twitter feeling utterly "meh" about writing. Sometimes, sorting shit out and making things right again take so much energy that I'm losing whole chapters to DRAMAZ.

Personally, I don't think it's worth it - or at the very least, I need to think more and harder about how to have more fun and less stress on SocMedia sites.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

On behalf of a friend

Okay, I try not to do this as often as it might be required (there's a lot of scarcety out there). But this one's pretty close to the bone.

My very *very* lovely co-writer 's cat has swallowed sewing thread and needs surgery. Since Gil's a poor student, that surgery is like 1/6 of their yearly income. Gil's already selling off their books to pay for it and getting a second job.

If you enjoyed Collateral or The Trick Is (both here), which are both free and co-written with Gil, and if you have a buck left over, please consider donating it to Kolya's surgery fund. You'd be helping an immensely talented author and a close personal friend of mine who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me through some rather unpleasant times back in 2007.

More info and a photo here.

Thank you very much.

Trust issues

Following up from my piracy post, I am reporting piracy links to my publishers. And I'm only publishing with publishers who send the DMCAs on my behalf. That's why I'm giving them a big chunk of my money: for cover, editing, and maintenance of my rights (and our income streams).

I will not publish with publishers who will not take an active stance there. Which, incidentally, will see me team up with some new players this year and next, and discontinue sending submissions to others. It's as simple as that. If the publisher can't be bothered to defend its (and my) rights, I can't be bothered to submit to them and give them 75-50% of my money.

I have 3 hours or so a day to write. I know authors who spend a lot of their writing time fighting pirates. I prefer to let somebody else deal with it so I have my head free to, you know, actually put words down.

Now, I get sent a lot of piracy links from fellow authors. But one incident shocked me a little. A fellow m/m author sent me a link with a note that basically read "I thought you might be bothered to defend your work" and added "oh, and by the way, your friend X of Facebook is a known book pirate. You might want to rethink your "friendship"."

I emailed "X", asking her very factually and calmly, I think, if she was pirating books. She responded shocked and dismayed. I then didn't follow that one up, but it got me thinking.

Here's what I have arrived at: It's entirely possible that some of my friends and readers pirate my books. Basically, I can't know what people do in their bedrooms at night. Just because I send them free books or wristbands or whatever doesn't mean they are incapable of sharing my book with a few thousand of their closest friends and show their love and support by taking away my revenue and even taking the work for free that I charge for. (I'd think that more than a million words in freebies would be enough, personally.)

After thinking it all through a few times, and I admit I really struggled with writing while fighting my very emotional responses and the knee-jerk reaction of "fine, I'll stop publishing, then and write for myself and fifty or so of my own friends" (yes, that's always a possibility, and I'm not the only one who considered writing only for themselves and their friends) - I got over it. I got over my ego and hurt feeling and trust issues. In the end, nobody but me gives a fuck about my ego, and I better live with that. The stories need to come out.

Also, I simply can't live in a way that makes me automatically mistrust everybody. I can't look at my couple hundred Facebook friends, wondering who might be a pirate. There's no way for me prove who is a pirate and who isn't. Some people might pirate some books and buy others. I can't live my life in mistrust and fear - and anger, never forget the anger.

Writing is hard enough as it is, and complex enough. I can't lose sleep over pirates or fretting over people sending their PDF of one of my books to their friends. I have friends who can't afford my books. Some are frail and poor, others are students and poor, others are jobless and poor. I'm giving a lot of books away to them - because, hey, they are friends. I'm not charging a close friend, who's shared their work and life and writing with me. I'm not a penny-pinching asshole, and I can't imagine a world where I see thieves and pirates everywhere. I can't worry about it, because it would severely hurt the writing.

I can't listen to the paranoid who denounce other people, either. I can't peddle in suspicion and mistrust. It's not why I'm here. I'm here to tell the goddamned story as best as I can (and I leave the piracy issue to my publishers).

/End rant.

Not so generic thoughts on piracy

I've mentioned several times that I have fairly complex responses to the whole issue of piracy. I used to make mix tapes of music, for example. As a student, I ran a fair amount of "handed-down" software and never asked where it came from (but then, Microsoft was "uncool" and the big evil, and I guess I felt a bit cool not giving evil Bill Gates money I didn't have). Hey, we're talking early to mid-nineties here.

My appetite for music certainly exceeded my budget - I still spent more money on music and books than on food, which, BTW, is pretty much a pattern of my life. Granted, my music expenses have gone down since I subscribed to Spotify... I was one of those very heavy users that was "cannibalised" into the subscription model. Basically, the music industry is losing money because I'm on an "all you can eat" plan via Spotify that costs about the amount of one CD a month.

In terms of software, once I had regular paychecks, I went strictly legal. In terms of music, I've bought a lot of CDs I had "ripped" files of, and I'm still buying my favourites. You could call me a reformed pirate, but I grew up in a day and age where the actual industries creating the content I wanted weren't threatened.

Now, true, the demise of the music industry is a lot more complex. One reason why their sales are down is because they were calculating from the very high levels of the years when everybody replaced their vinyl with CDs. It was, basically, unsustainable levels that then went back to normal. We "know" that a lot of musicians were treated badly by those who sell their music. Thankfully, all that is changing. Indie musicians and indie authors are increasingly taking the "fan bases" and thrive.

Well, "thrive" in the author space being a relative term. As an "insider", I know how many m/m authors have holiday homes and yachts. Pretty sure the number is about zero, unless they work high-flying corporate jobs, and *those* have the tendency of eating a person up so much that there's no fiction coming from that mind. Juggling a corporate career and writing is not easy. I've moved out of journalism because it was damaging my writing. And because working for a bank pays me 60% more, but bottom line, because I want to be a writer and need a job that doesn't kill my writing.

Unless with many other m/m writers, I can actually eat (or get my teeth fixed or buy a couple nice steaks) even if I sell no book at all. (For the record, my sales appear to be steadily growing, but at a fairly slow pace. I'm curious if "Scorpion" and "Dark Edge of Honor" will have an impact, one because it's universally well-received, and the other because it's from Carina Press, which has an enormous reach that not many publishers can offer).

I have friends who need the royalty payments to eat. To buy a new (or a better used) computer. Where selling books means the difference between having a roof over their heads and not.

To me, sales are basically validation... the only way I can "track" if I'm successful. Being ambitious and proud of what I do, sales is the main way for me to see if it's "working", but, bottom line of it all is... for me it's a game and not a matter of life and death. I will admit, freely, that I'd like to draw some writing income when I retire, and I hope I can retire before I hit 67, or whatever the retirement age is going to be for Britain. Dragging my 60+ year old carcass through the London commute is not very enticing. Yes, I'd like to retire on writing, but I'm not asking for a free lunch, and I don't believe the m/m genre will ever pay enough to match my corporate salary (with pension, and private healthcare). Also, I can see the holder of my mortgage, HSBC bank, get twitchy about the very uneven income stream of a small fry author. And nothing would give me more serious writer's block than actually *having* to pay off my house with the bucks I make writing.

Lastly, I can't ask my partner to subsidise a writer. That's not how my idea of a relationship works. Everybody is pulling their financial weight. Life as DINKS is pretty sweet, overall, and we can save towards retirement.

What annoys me about piracy then? For me it's a respect issue. It's crazy-making to read on a pirate forum "I love his stuff, he's so talented, can anybody upload everything he's written?" And a few hours later, the "complete Voinov" has 700 downloads. (No, no exaggeration, that's *exactly* what happened a little while back.)

I'm not sure how *you* express your respect and love for an artist, but I don't think stealing from them would be on the list.

Respect cuts both ways. I will write like you guys out there have a brain and can deal with morally ambiguous characters. I'm here to make you squirm, to sometimes challenge assumptions, I'm here to put a smile on your face, but not with a cheap joke. For you guys/gals, I'm writing my little black heart out. I respect you. I'm not dumbing down, not selling out. I'm not getting lazy. I'm working hard to edit, because I respect you enough that I know that a wrong comma or a badly chosen word grates on you as much as it does on me when I'm the reader.

I'm killing books that are not good enough. I will never write cookie-cutters, even though they are easy and fast. I'll never copy and paste my sex scenes from one book to the next. I'll always reach for the heart (and the throat, and the balls). I do that because I respect my readers. All I'm asking is that my readers - and that pirate was clearly a reader - respect me in turn.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Because it's easy - another "Scorpion" review

I wrote 450 words on the "two birds" book. And in my head the "outline" has taken an interesting turn. I think we have a love triangle (which shatters my hopes of telling that story in 30k or so... Godsdamnit).

Anyway, here's something that made me smile at my desk today.

"Scorpion is an outstanding alternate history novel, rich in scope; one that is presented so comprehensively and is written with such authority that it feels as though it might be a historically factual piece. It is a tale peopled by characters who, regardless of how well drawn they are, still have undercurrents and backstories to them that made me want to delve deeper into their lives and their thoughts."

Read the rest of the review here. Thanks, Lisa!

(And I just received a delivery of my wristbands for "Counterpunch" and the "Kampfgruppe Voinov" - both are pretty awesome.)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Quick update on "Scorpion 2"

I just had a rather panicked email from a reader asking me if "Scorpion 2" was, quote "happening at all".

Short answer: Yes, it will happen. Promise.

Long answer: I was sidetracked. I have around 15k useable words at the moment and I have a ton of ideas, and I'm almost sure I know how it ends, but the Muse is still very much in "discovery" mode. That's when books slowly solidify out of that diffuse mist of "ooooh, I want to write" and actually take shape. This is a critical stage that cannot be rushed. There's no way to shorten that period. Basically, it's still incubating. While I have the general "set-up", or the starting situation with most major players in position, I need to get to the main developments/main plots, and while I have a ton of material, I have no real clue yet how the pieces fit together.

What does that mean?

It means that the book will be written. A book will only *not* be written if there's not enough material to write it. If I have no ideas and no passion. For Scorpion 2, I actually have both. There are a lot of secrets that I want to tell and reveal, and I do love my characters (I can't wait to share Runner, Blood and Graukar with you, and shock you with the demise of the high priest - because that'll certainly shock the hell out of me).

Now, what has sidetracked me?

Around a week ago, I had a sudden flash of inspiration. I was finally working on "Scorpion 2" again, and suddenly I had this idea that is about WWII and Paris. And I had the movie. A voice (his name is Yves). I fretted and freaked out, and then my partner said: "Hey, you're not living off writing, follow the energy - do what really excites you."


(It is, BTW, the thing I tell young writers asking me for advice what they should write... I tell them to write the one that keeps them up at night.)

Now, I wanted to be all dutiful and serious and hardworking and give you guys "Scorpion 2", but basically it's not *quite* ready yet, not quite ripe, and I'm being selfish and rather than push "Scorpion 2" through, I really want to write the new story, which I call, affectionately, the "Two Birds" book.

I hope you'll forgive the delay, but I promise you a better sequel if I can play with this one first.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Anybody joining me in licking this guy's neck and throat?

Generous writer that I am, I'm sharing my (and Rhianon's) guys with you. The book is "Dark Edge of Honor" and it'll be out in August from Carina Press:

Ah, just what was missing from the day.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

After the war

I'm still "between books". I've been playing around with "Scorpion 2", but it's still in the teeth-pulling stage. It's moving slowly, 3090-800 words at a time, and some days not at all. I'm writing, kind of, or at least going through the motions, adding words to other words on the page.

Does it grab me and refuse to let go? Not really. Not yet. It needs a lot of faith and momentum to get there. And it's hard to muster the faith if you don't know what shape it is taking. IF it will take a shape. With every book, that's a big bet of dozen of hours of work. Much of the stuff ends up unfinished and with hundreds of hours of work wasted.

My brain is incubating a new, fresh idea, unconnected to anything else. I think I'll let the muse play with that, before I finish the other projects. Right now, it's more important than ever to find that passion and energy. And that's what I keep telling other writers: to follow the energy.

So, I'll start on this pretty soon. These slow periods are times when I plan and plot and think, and do otherwise very little.