Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Buck Angel Interview over at Amara's

A guy I've admired from afar for a long time, Buck Angel, speaks about trans* issues, outing and other obstacles at Amara's today.

I can't possibly stress how important Buck is for the whole trans* issue. In my head, I've always referred to him as a gendernaut - somebody who goes places most of us never do, and vastly expands our understanding of gender and sexuality. Do go and check the interview out.

I blogged elsewhere & update on Dark Soul

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First of all, I'm really enjoying to see Dark Soul going viral. I don't think there were many stories I've written that have turned out to be so popular, but it's great to see all the reviews and tweets pop up. I consider those motivation to sit down and finish Dark Soul 5.

As an update - Dark Soul 4 is completed.

Dark Soul 5 looks like it'll have five stories, as I have a lot of plot to wrap up and am currently pondering to add a sex scene somewhere. Interestingly, every single story of Dark Soul explores power, and most attempt a mind fuck of some description. (Yeah, I know, I'm slow, bear with me for a moment.) Some of those are tied up into sex, others into loyalty and obligation. The most powerful stories - IMHO Dark Secret, Dark Night and Dark Lady I - combine those themes.

How do I know these are the best ones? They are the stories that I balked the longest over starting. ("The m/m readers will rip me apart if I put a sexy guy into a female dress" was one of the considerations, admittedly.) And they were the hardest to write overall, and at the end of every single one I sat back, thinking, or saying "holy hell, I need a drink/coffee." (But I do keep a bottle of vodka in the freezer for this type of "woah, hell.")

So it's a ride; for me too.

So, back to Dark Soul 5. Two of the stories are written and they clock in at around 13k. It feels like I have most of the plot still to get through, but least, the research part is done, so now I can concentrate on finishing what I've started in terms of the plot arches. As a side note, I did not expect Stefano to have quite that much internal strength, courage and humanity (well, he has to, considering the beating he takes throughout the series).

Overall, I'd reckon DS5 will clock in at 20-25k words, which means the whole series will be around 90k words, which should make an attractive paperback later in the year.

Right now, I don't want to be thinking about "what book next", but I do want to get the second part of William's story finished before I vanish in WWII for a year or two. (Possibly two.)

We'll see what the next year brings in terms of queer writing and in the mainstream.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The "citizen-journalist" and the e-book piracy fallacy (then turns into: patronage)

Today Publishers Weekly tweeted an article from that rather amusing, very mixed bag of a "news source", HuffPo.

It's an opinion piece by Harry Freedman, entitled "Why I'm Not Worried by E-Book Piracy".

I'd say it's worth checking out, only is isn't. The author conflates, in a tangle of derailed logical thinking, several debates: the indie vs trad. publishing debate; the pricing debate; the quality debate; and then tops it all off with the rather lurid hope that continued piracy will make authors "angry" enough so they will turn away from pricing their books at $0.99 - and because it'll make authors angry, e-book piracy isn't really harmful, so Freedman's "not worried". (How much of that is whistling in the woods is open for debate.)

Wow, talk about an intellectual fallacy, naivety and a lack of research (possibly due to a lack of data and experience. According to his blog, Freedman is a relative newcomer to e-publishing, so he might be forgiven).

This is especially lurid in the face of this news item: Piracy Drives One Noted Author to Early Retirement.

So, it's clearly working, Harry, isn't it?

I can state, knowing my own sales, that my sales have stayed essentially flat in the last 18 months. Or, to run some other numbers, I've sold something like 300-350 copies of one story, which is extremely widely pirated. I'd estimate that around 20,000 illegal downloads were made (this number doesn't include torrents, which are very hard to track, and it doesn't include what I call casual sharing, the "here, I bought this, you gotta read it, so I'm sending you the PDF" sharing between friends).

Now, not every pirated copy is a lost sale, I get that. Let's assume that 5% of those downloaders might have bought the book. That's 1,000 people - three times what I actually DID sell. And, no, the $300 total royalties I got from that story doesn't really pay for the (many) hundreds of hours of work that went into making it. And those are peak sales - after the first quarter, sales always drop dramatically - always. Chances are, those $300 are most of the money I'll ever make from the book.

That for a book that has very high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads and ranks amongst the best I've done. Am I worried?

Am I worried that in a growing genre, my sales are completely flat? Am I worried that if you type my name into a search engine, the first links are links to pirated copies of my books? Am I worried that I now have to spend prime writing time on sending takedown notes to websites?

It means less time for writing, no hope ever to be anything but full-time employed, and it also means not only fighting the Muse all the time and my own fears, but the sense of entitlement.

There's a strongly Darwinian streak in this debate, which runs like this: "If you can't make a living off writing even while being pirated, then you're clearly not good enough. If you drop out of writing, you just lost Darwin's race. It's not like there's a shortage of writers - ten more will take your place."

Yeah, at which point, art will return to the palaces of the rich. Every author will have to find himself/herself a patron. Thing is, much of that art was locked away - patrons very often didn't share it with the wider population until way after their deaths. Imagine how many paintings and sculptures we'll never get to see in our lifetimes because they are in "private collections".

Thing is, my genre isn't something that a patron would be interested in. So I'm considering every paying customer my patron, who can all pop a couple bucks into the kitty and in return, I'll do my best to be fun and entertaining (and hot. I'm not forgetting hot).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Writer at University

I've recently talked to one of my co-writers, and realized that writing is really largely overcoming obstacles. They can take a number of shapes, really, most are probably mental in my case. (They can be physical - I knew a writer once whose arthritis was so bad she could only type for 30 minutes per day, talk about serious limitations!)

Thankfully, my ego is pretty resilient overall. It's probably a layer thing. The outer layer is me going "Yes, I'm FUCKING AWESOME". The next layer down holds my insecurities. It's a big layer, and the inner critic lives there, too. That's the place where reviews hurt, especially when the reviewer says out loud what I was feeling down in my guts but didn't know how to fix. This is the place where I keep half an eye on my Amazon rankings and Goodreads reviews.

But at the core of it, deep, deep, down, there's a place that nothing can touch, and that's what powers the Muse. I'd reasonably confident that I'll always write, because I've always made up stories. It's integral to me like the spine or the skull bone. Nobody can remove it. I don't think it could even be damaged by outside forces. If we use the metaphor of a nuclear reactor (I've recently used that in my writing, so it's a close one), the radiation is always there. Whether I turn it into anything sellable is a different matter - and the plutonium core absolutely does not care. It's happily emitting radiation, whether anybody does anything with it or not, it'll just go on doing that because that's its nature. The best answer to "why do you write?" for me is "because I cannot not." It's my birth defect, or my calling, it is really what it is.

Now, a situation I recall from university becomes truly bizarre. I started university studying German Literature (made kinda sense at the time) in addition to American Studies and my major in History. Still getting my head around how this whole writing and novel thing works, so I figured some help from academia might be nice.

So we're doing the "get to know you" bit at the start of a German Lit course. 99% of the people there said they were studying German literature because they always liked to read (or were good in German at school). I, the dissident, admitted to being a writer and trying to learn some tricks from the pros.

Response from the lecturer running the course: "OH MY GOD! You should immediately drop out, because if you stay, you will realize that every story has already been written, and so much better by the Grand Masters of Literature than you could EVER HOPE TO BEEEEE!"

Let's not even begin to talk about how a man (who's made his life and career in academia by talking about the work of writers to the uninitiated) tells a creator to a) either not get involved in literary criticism as it would surely break the writer's heart; or b) give up writing and despair over his own inadequacy at the very start of his career in the face of the masters.

In other words, why play chess; you'll never beat Deep Blue. Why run; you'll never beat Usain Bolt. Why cook, if that Michelin star is WAY out of your league.

And surely, if all stories in all possible permutations have already been told, surely we've run out of stories way before Shakespeare. Sorry, Faulkner, what you did was a complete waste of your time ever since Ovid.

Also, I hadn't been aware that gay military sci-fi romance was so big in the Middle Ages.

Okay, I mocked the asshole lecturer enough now. I just dread to think how many young writers might have believed him, if only for five minutes, thanks to his Position of Authority. But then, writers do it because they must, so the real writers will have been okay, anyway. I'm just sorry for the moments of doubt this guy has left in his cynical wake.

And every story has a moral. I did exactly what the dude wanted: I dropped out of German Literature (now, having dropped out of the German language too, this has an ironic double edge) and turned towards American Studies, where one of my favourite lecturers ran this course: Creative Writing (my first CW course).