Friday 26 April 2013

Good things come to those who wait

Remember my two little stories “Burn” and “Deliverance”? They were, after Special Forces, some of my very first works in the m/m space. They got packaged into anthologies and off they went. And while I was proud of them at the time—they did represent my skill level and my themes at that point in time—it only took about two years for me to grow to a level where I wasn’t happy with them.

So, recently, I’ve been clawing back rights (Scorpion, Risky Maneuvers, Transit, Clean Slate, First Blood) to fix them up and fix them up good. End-May, you’ll see Scorpion Redux, the others follow when I have time (and the co-writer, too).

Now, both Deliverance and Burn were short stories (6-7k each), but from early on I realised they weren’t. Now, they still had about 3-4 years on their contracts, but I’m an impatient one, and Burn screamed at me, wanting to be a novella (30k+), while Deliverance insisted it’s a novel (and the third part in a series of a three).

Cue me lying awake at night, grinding my teeth over the rights to them. I just hate having stuff out there that should be different, that could be better. I’m the type of author who loses sleep over missed chances and unused potential.

So after a process that took a while for several reasons (me dropping the ball a few times), the publisher of both stories has agreed to me purchasing the rights, and today I received the signed agreement from the other party. While we’ve both agreed not to disclose the terms—wow, it’s weird using one of my old journo phrases for my personal life, but I couldn’t help myself—I’ve bought my rights for the stories and am now sitting on those stories with lots of ideas where to take them. These stories are very close to my heart, so I’m incredibly relieved to have them back.

I’m hoping that both will be out in 2014 in a way, shape and form that’s taking advantage of the full potential in those stories. They’ll be longer, shinier, and completely re-thought and re-worked. I’m really glad about that development and look forward telling you those stories as they should be told. 

Thursday 25 April 2013

Help me celebrate my birthday on 4 May (ask your fav character anything)!

Fourth of May is almost upon us (yes, I was born on a Sunday AND on Star Wars day), and while I will be a little scarce on this blog while I drive the herd home (aka, make tracks on Lying with Scorpions), I just stole an idea from glamourworld:

So, the deal is this. To celebrate, you can ask your favourite characters everything. (They have to be mine, though, so only about half the cast of Special Forces). Post the question in a comment on my blog--both here and on Goodreads and the characters will answer. I'm taking some time off around my birthday, so I should get you the answers in a timely fashion.

Monday 22 April 2013

The unforgiveable crime of family

Every now and then, my life throws up "clusters" of meaning (or my brain turns it to meaning - after all, that's what plotting does - wrench meaning from random events). These are sometimes too random to spark a deeper interest, or even a blog post. Much goes on in my head that's just aurora borealis - impressions of colour, too ephemeral to make lasting expression beyond having been observed but fundamentally without much meaning.

A little while ago I met a reader and we ended up plunging some interesting family depths together. This gave me much to think about, but this review - really mostly the discussion around it - struck a chord today, so that's my blog post. 

Both my new friend and I shared an anecdote of a parent/grandparent telling us we weren't wanted and had contraceptives/abortions been available, we wouldn't exist. In my case (because I don't feel at liberty to talk about my new friend's experience), it was very clear to me from a young age that my existence inconvenienced my father. Essentially, he didn't want me, he never wanted me to live, and gods know whether he pressured my mother (27 years his junior) to do away with the impediment. I'm not putting it beyond him. All my mother's friends CONSTANT, mantra-like assurance "your mother wanted you so bad" and "you were all she wanted" makes sense. You don't tell that to somebody who has not been under threat by a potentially fetus-murdering father.

I may be overanalyzing things.

I also told that "black comedy" moment of yet another large family Christmas get-together going to shit - my family always congregated on Christmas to press each other's negative buttons with sledgehammers for a whole evening, and more often than not, there were shouting matches and old poison being dredged up from childhood ("You broke my doll! I loved nothing more than my doll!" - "Father always loved you most. Of course I beat you up when I could get away with it!"), and during one of those "Hell of Earth is Family" Christmasses, my grandmother roundly declared that if the pill had been around, "none of you would be here." (To her brood of eight children and at that point three grandchildren.)

Somebody essentially retroactively denying your existence - telling you you were a mistake, or an unfortunate development, that, given more convenience and access to funds/medical care/progress, you wouldn't exist at all is an oddly powerful shock to the system. Maybe part of the shock is a blow to our ego - our fundamental narrative that WE are the protagonist of our story, the dragon-slaying hero who'll free the princess, the lightbringer, the Chosen One, or any number of inner narratives that are fundamentally narcisstic and that get often mortally wounded somewhere around middle age, when no wise old wizard has led us to the magical sword and we left our parent's castle largely to be corporate slaves living from weekend to weekend, and we begin to suspect we're not the Chosen One but the Average Joe.

I can't yet make sense of it, and I can't pull all this into a conclusion. I'm absolutely in favour of people making choices about having or not having offspring. From that follows, obviously, that some of these choices might be wrong. A tremendeous potential parent might never have kids. A poor parent ends up with a stable full of them (my grandmother surely was an extremely poor, egotistical parent, almost a non-parent, since her brood was taken care of by nannies). But disclosing that we think it was a mistake TO the "mistake"? That's where I draw the line.

In any case, I understand a little better now why in my work I have so many father/son conflicts that often turn into extinction-level crises. It's me telling my (dead) biological father: "And fuck you--because I'm alive."

Saturday 20 April 2013

Fast versus Slow Writers (my $0.02, adjusted for inflation)

When we talk about fast authors versus slow authors, we sometimes might be tempted to think of one as a "hack" and the other the "auteur". The hack vomits up 20k a day, every day, and "floods the market" all by him/herself. The auteur hand-rears the goose that will eventually produce the sacred quill which which he'll write the perfect book.

Truth, I'm finding, is more complex than that. Every author has the same allotted time to work: hopefully about 70-80 years of lifespan, about 3-10 years of learning how to write. Everything else is individual.

Let's take two authors of the same age, who start at the same time. They roughly have the same amount of willpower and health. All "internal" factors are the same.

One of them has small children. Three actually. S/he might have to hold down a day job. Maybe a second one because the economy sucks. Maybe writing is their third job. Income is fickle from that. At least with the other jobs, s/he gets the same amount of money and can budget with that. Weekends are spent with ailing parents to help them stay on top of their house/garden.

The other one has bought a house pre-crash and suddenly finds her/himself in "negative equity" (owing more on the house than it's worth). The only way to fill in the gap is by writing and publishing fast and hard. Nothing says "Sit down and write, bitch" like a car payment or a mortgage or simply needing the money. Maybe essentials are taken care of by a partner who makes more money anyway and is A-OK with playing "breadwinner" while that writing gamble takes off or not. Both are childless and parents are in good health.

Both these authors will have vastly different productivity levels. Unless they share details about their personal lives (and many authors don't), we might not even know why writer A) has consistently delivered one book every year and writer B) publishes one every three weeks.

None of these factors are "their fault", some aren't even their choice, and yet they have a huge impact on how many words get put on the page.

In my case, I'm middling productive. I do more than a novel a year, and this year I'm doing 3-4 novels, and that's just the start. Among mainstream authors, I'm VERY productive. Among m/m writers or romance authors, I'm consistent, but not special by any means.

Factors that support my productivity:

- I'm young-ish and healthy. There are many authors who labour under physical and mental issues that I simply don't have, and I'm not yet feeling age. I'm born with a minor deformity in my lower spine, but considering many authors I know who have terrible back and joint issues, I'm robust and sound. If you spent almost every waking hour typing in some fashion, that's a huge bonus. I wrote not a word when my back was acting up.

- I'm childless. There are authors who have made a different decision and rearing children is Hard Work that screws with pretty much everything else (such as sleep, which has a huge impact on how well you concentrate). I've never had any desire to have children and am not missing a thing. It's a lucky accident.

- My partner is overall supportive and happy to entertain himself most days. Other partners are more demanding. Some can be needy and jealous, even aggressive.

- I have no financial anxiety. Nothing kills my writing faster than worrying if I can pay my part of the mortgage and whether I'll be poor in old age. I've been in that place and it's a place from where I cannot bring books. There are no books here, just black, horrible, soul-eating dread.

- My job is largely a low-intensity no-brainer. A more intense job (running a team, running a news desk or being a high-flying journalist, or joining a financial company in anything but a support role) kills my writing. I could do all that; in terms of brainpower and talent, it's all there, but I chose to work in a job that's only using 25% of my brain capacity at any given time, because 150% of my brain is taken over by writing and I'm essentially running my day job when I have a moment and overall CPU usage is down. This is common--I know highly talented, very smart, educated authors who work in jobs that are way beneath their capacity because their writing is more important. Their ambition is solely directed at writing, not at making the next rung of the ladder. It's the "bread job" and the "author biding their time". I'm definitely biding my time.

Factors that impede my productivity:

-  I'm full-time employed (40-hour week, 2.5-3hr commute three times a week, 2 days working remotely). This means work commitments can get in the way of writing (Christmas part, leaving drinks, work-related social events). Some days do get so intense that the only thing I want to do when I get home is sleep. Sometimes I do. While I might be able to live off what I'm making writing currently, it would mean placing  the vast majority of "breadwinning" on my partner's shoulder, which I simply cannot do; my self-respect is based on me paying my own way and being independent enough to walk away from any arrangement I've made. What I make currently is enough to pay my mortgage (unless interest rates rise, at which point I'm screwed), but nothing else much. No nice research books, no meals out with friends, no travel, and most definitely no US or overseas conventions costing thousands of dollars. Most months, I'd have to beg my partner for things like new clothes, and gym membership and phone contract would have to go.

- My partner (at times, I am spending an evening/morning/afternoon with him, because, damn, I like that guy and it's nice spending time with real MeatSpace people).

- Healthy diet. I've taken up cooking to feed myself better. That does mean some extra work in terms of cooking and cleaning up, but it's a matter of wellness for me now. Pottering around in the kitchen for an hour is a way to de-stress.

- Exercise. Some days, I go to the gym, lift weights or run, and come home and am mellow and tired and just have a shower and do email. This takes time away from writing. Exercise and diet take a significant chunk of my time, actually. I get home at 18:20, and cooking and housework can be up to 19:20ish, which is when my partner comes home. I might go to the gym (another 60-90 minutes) and return home and then be showered and changed at 21:00. At this point, I have 2-3 hours, tops, to write, and ideally I want to be in bed before midnight (though, Muse allowing, that doesn't always work).

- Social life. I like people and I like meeting them and hanging out. Especially book people. They keep my brain awake and focused on the outside rather than the inside. Then some people having birthdays, there are conventions, and some people ask for responses to their emails.

- Other duties. Sometimes, all writing gets choked off by something that might be more urgent. A round (or 15) of edits. Proofing my stuff. A battle with an asshole publisher over my rights (one of them has cost me some very good writing days with their bullshit). Me having promised to help somebody with their book (checking for German, an editing run between friends, a beta read).

I do get a LOT of mileage out of my 2-3 free hours a day, all things considered, and I'm certainly in a lucky and privileged position.

But all writing I do has to fit into the rest of my life, and the truth is, there's a limit to what even a disciplined author can achieve under his/her individual circumstances. Productivity is a balance of a hundred factors, and these are getting constantly re-arranged. My worst enemy might be my insistence on a "cushy" lifestyle, with pension, savings, a mortgage and far-distance travel to see friends, recharge my batteries and attend conferences.

Holding down a day job enables me to keep my dignity and pay my own way, because I don't believe people owe me a living--not even my partner or the state. I'm playing with the hand I've been dealt, and right now, that's the best I can play. I'm a slow author because I only have 5-10% of my time for writing--and I'm a fast author because boy do I get a good wordcount out of a relatively short period of "free" time. Not because I'm a hack or artiste--it's simply how my life is.

Scorpion II update

My attempt to write at least 1k/day is working pretty well at the moment. Last weekend, I had 17k, and now I'm at 25k, so it's moving forward quite steadily. Despite that, as a I move forward, the book seems to be getting longer. I was calculating that Scorpion II would get roughly to the size of Scorpion (72k), but looking over my notes, I have too damn much plot to squeeze it in.

So I'll either have to up my daily wordcount, or restructure the plot. Right now, I'm not entirely sure what makes sense (I don't want to screw up the plot because right now I like what's happening--it has a certain amount of elegance and I hate tempering with something that seems well-rounded and self-contained). The vote is still out, and I might postpone it to the point where I have a first draft, but for the moment, I'm upping my wordcount target to 1,500 and 2,500 on weekend days, just to be on the safe side.

In the next two weeks, I'm expecting my edits for If It Fornicates (long novella) and our WWII novel (70kish?), so there will be days when I won't get anything done at all because editing is intense as you hold the whole thing in your head and fiddle with all the details without losing the bigger picture. Editing a novel can be a special kind of hell. I'll try to at least write a tiny little bit during that period, but I very rarely manage. Editing is usually a dead time for writing. So that'll screw with Scorpion II, no doubt.

In positive news, I've received my biggest ever royalty payment. Analysing my numbers there, some of my favourite stories seem to be getting a bit more love than they used to (I'm looking at you, Incursion and Skybound), and having two Amazon bestsellers really did not hurt (Take It Off and Quid Pro Quo). My workhorse in terms of royalties is Dark Soul, however, which sells steadily and disproportionally. And a few people even pre-ordered the re-released Scorpion (I know several of you already owned the old version, and bought it even though I told you that nothing much has changed--but your support is very much appreciated).

So, to everybody who bought anything, everybody who read one of my stories and everybody who reviewed anything, thank you. That royalty payment was a nice big uplift and gives me hope I can quit the rat race eventually to write more stories. (I might still work somewhere for a couple days a week, or maybe take freelance financial editing gigs when they arise, just to keep my hand in and not lose contact to the real world). Every time I look at a royalty statement, I'm very aware that there are hundreds of people out there who enjoy what I do, and that, in itself, is humbling and awesome. It's also a huge motivator to finish this story and edit all the others, as I know people are waiting.

On that note, I'm back to work. Gotta get to 30k by Sunday night.

Monday 15 April 2013

Where I'm being a wordcount neurotic (Scorpion II)

Okay, I'm now involving you in a spot of wordcount neuroticism. (You're welcome.)

My deadline for Scorpion II (Lying with Scorpions) was set at end-May (2013). Five months ago when we decided on the date, that looked easy. I can write a novel in six months. So I wrote my historical novel, while thinking hard about the beginning of Scorpion II.

You see, more than a year ago, I wrote 17k of Scorpion II in short order and send it to a couple friends whether it worked for them. That proved to be a mistake, because to the Muse, just one person saying "it's boring and crap" can kill a book mid-chapter. I lose confidence and the Muse deflates like a burning zeppelin. (This isn't blame-shifting - my mistake is to hand anything out without telling people "Tell me only the good news. Don't tell me if it sucks." I'm much better taking "This sucks, that chapter is bad, that character is a whining asshole, I really don't care about anybody" when I have a completed first draft and switch over into editing mode. At that point, criticism, even harsh one, is helpful. Mid-stride, I lose balance and falter. Timing, as so often, is everything.)

So, Scorpion II stopped right after what I'd call the set-up. The principal characters are in place. The main conflict is established. Let's launch the middle (the part where the pieces actually move and do things and the conflict gets more and more pressing). Only--I didn't. I did re-read what I'd written, and yep, nothing much happened in the first few chapters, so I made some mental notes to revise.

Last weekend, I suddenly realised that I don't have six months anymore, but six weeks. Cue freak-out. Sales are better when the next book is available. Last, but nowhere near least, I'd promised people they'll get the series. I really want to wrap up the whole thing this year, and we're one third through 2013 already, with very little to show for it.

So I spent the weekend re-jigging the 17k I have, decluttered the first chapter and restructured the ten or so chapters I had into four (long ones). It does change the flow of a novel if the chapters are longer. I made the conflict clearer (somebody's trying to assassinate Adrastes - rather than Adrastes and Kendras just having a relaxed little chat about the likelihood that Adrastes will get assassinated. Which ended up making all the difference.) I established a bunch of characters--two new Scorpions in Runner and Blood, a number of potential antagonists in Nhala, Graukar and the generals of Dalman. All of them have their own reasons for doing what they do, which is easy to keep in mind. To me, they are all alive, especially, weirdly, the women.

Then I added a good 2.5k to what I'd written (not bad, since I cut at least 1k, too). I'm now at the point where I consolidate the set-up and Kendras initiates a new Scorpion and will soon meet Graukar for the first time. So, I've entered the muddly middle, where characters push their agendas and Kendras tries to deal with the hand he's holding and starts to learn politics (not a pretty sight). There are many themes that are emerging: tradition versus innovation, the "burden of command" (Kendras is a weaker leader than Adrastes, so the Scorpions are feeling somewhat more "democratic" than they were in the first book, with people challenging Kendras's assessment repeatedly). It's also about "empire versus leadership" or generally a study in power. Some of these themes might become more prominent, others might bleed into the background. A novel is an iceberg--lots of stuff's present, but you can't see everything. For me, though, it has to be there, lagely to entertain myself.

More importantly, I now have 47 days to write 40-50k outstanding words (the first book had 72k, I don't expect this book to be any shorter), which means a solid 1,000 words a day. That would be easy, but I'm expecting to get hit with a pile of edits this month (our WWII historical is coming back, and there's Capture and Surrender, and, of course, the first editing pass of the contemporary cop story we've written), so I'll try to write at NaNoWriMo speed, which is to say 1,600-1,700 words/day. Count the fact that I'm also attending the London Book Fair and my birthday is in there somewhere, it's doable if I apply ass to chair. How much I'll manage to write of other books I have no clue. The "birds book" is an obvious victim, it pains me to report. I had a good flow going on that, but the research takes a huge amount of time, which I don't have when I'm on a tigh-ish deadline.

Though the really shocking thing is that Scorpion II looks to be the second in a trilogy. I never expected a third book, and I have no idea yet what's happening there (apart from one scene, which at the moment means nothing and hints at very little). Writing that in two months is the thing I'm really scared of, though I'm hoping that writing the second book will give me a clue what it all means and make the third one easier.

So, I'll involve you guys and will keep you in the loop how this project is going in sheer numbers of words. I doubt I'll have anything else much to blog about while I try to keep on top of this. I'll likely install a wordcount bar, and I'm definitely keeping the "order of battle" spreadsheet updated.

Let the games begin.  

Sunday 14 April 2013

Quality versus Quantity (take #342)

My stance on quality versus quantity keeps evolving. Essentially, books take as long as they do--when I'm on my own, a book takes anywhere between six weeks and eighteen months, though the birds book seems to be breaking the record, and so does the other WWII book. I understand why these two are "slow books"--they are both historicals, and it drives me crazy to not know enough, to not know a certain detail that none of our "witnesses" have bothered recording and no historian appears to have had an interest in. So for somebody who hopes to make a living of Making Shit Up, I'm really dreadful at making shit up. Making shit up is my least-favoured option after I've exhausted all others. I'm terrified of making a mistake, even though I know that 99% of all readers likely know a lot less than I do. It's the 1% I'm scared of.

So, yes. Slow book. Research slows everything down, so a fast book is usually a contemporary. You do have a good grasp of your current world, after all, so the research is often minimal. Considering that contemporaries outsell historicals and every other genre by at least a factor of 5-10, you gotta be stupid to write them. Stupid, or just love the book too damn much for your own (financial) good. Thank gods money isn't everything, though it's a real factor/consideration for those of us who rely on writing for income or hope to quit our dayjobs so we can write more.

So from the point-of-view of writing a book for 18 months and then waiting 2 years for its release (this is 12 years ago or thereabouts), I once read an interview with Germany's most beloved pulp author, who writes 64-page pulp novels (really only novellas); the whole series by now has something like 1,500 issues, and most of them were written by that one author. According to that interview, he writes 25 pages a day, which, depending on your page/work count, is something like 5-7k a day. With 100k readers, he's popular, and I was collecting those stories too (for about two years, I think). Essentially, with a weekly need to deliver, you grow very, very, very disciplined.

While Rellergerd (the pulp author) is doubtlessly one of the most productive authors I know in Germany (the other very productive YA author uses 3-5 friends who publish under his name to reach a similar wordcount), he's not the only one who has a huge output. La Nora herself has written 200+ books. I've tried looking up the Most Productive Authors, but then got lost in the internet, so I'm making my argument without it.

When I switched over from "mainstream speculative fiction" to write m/m ("original slash", in some quarters), I wrote some things and they didn't really go anywhere because I wrote them just for fun and had not a hope they'd ever get published. No deadline, lots of other things I was doing = low total wordcount, and nothing finished. Then I wrote Special Forces, which is roughly 1 million words. Let's say my part of that is 500k words written in ~2.5 years. HOWEVER, that's not much, actually. It's roughly 600-700 words a day.

It was mostly written fitfully--many, many words on some days, none on others, which is still pretty much how I write. I do nothing for a week and then have an amazingly productive weekend where I write 4k. I used to calculate "one chapter/week" for anything that had a deadline, and that worked, since a chapter is anywhere between 1,500 and 4k words (though recently I've done micro-chapters which run to 4-5 pages each). I've co-written a historical novel in 4 days--a feat I'd have thought physically impossible, but then, it's just 8k a head a day. Never mind you're emotionally and mentally flatlining for two weeks after and then need a month or so to edit. It's still a novel in six weeks. My physical limit by myself is roughly NaNoWriMo - 1,667 words/day, which means 2.5k days and 5k days and 400 words days all jumbled together, and wanting to kill myself with a spork towards the end of it.

Every book has its own rhythm and speed, too. There are fast short stories (one day). There are slow short stories (2 months). There are fast novels (4 days), and slow novels (1.5+ years). The main difference between "fast" and "slow" for me is genre (historical/specfiction versus contemp) and motivation. (Health, too, though I'm young enough to assume right now I'm mostly physical able to handle the strain of sitting front of the computer for a long time, unless I wreck my back). This might not always be so.

So, returning to my original point. There's sometimes the opinion that writing fast means writing badly. And on dark days, I might catch myself at times wishing that were true--some days, I just envy authors who can write a novel in ten days, because damn, I can't, and damn, they actually have a chance to keep up with all their bunnies and ideas for stories. They don't have to do that merciless triage of "Yes, I'll write YOU, but YOU, you go and die, I have no time for you." So when I see people constantly writing a book a day, at the very least PLEASE GODS LET THEM SUCK. But they don't. The crazy thing is, speed and quality are not correlated in the way that some people think.

I've read books that took 10 years and went through a gazillion drafts, and they were amazing. I've read books that took 10 years to write and they were bad. Like, really bad. So bad you'd want to put it out of its misery, and the poor author, often a hopeful debut author, who tells you that they worked "hard for ten years on this--this is my magnum opus", and you read it (usually online) and it stinks. Not only that, the author hasn't learnt any technique. The author might think that just by virtue of the length of time it took to make, it HAS TO BE GOOD. But it's not.

The difference between a good book and a bad book (we're talking about craft) is not time, and I don't even think it's talent (though talent helps), though in the truly remarkable authors, it's usually there. It's training. A properly-trained author applying him/herself in a diligent, disciplined manner will always outwrite a "happy accident writer" who "felt like it, but not today, ah, no, not today, either, maybe next week, and oh, shiny!" if both have a similar amount of talent and skill. At least that's true at the start.

The truth about very productive authors is that "practice makes perfect" (yeah, that old chestnut). So they write five novels in the time it takes a slow writer to write one. The payoff for being productive: with every completed story, you learn something. Writing five novels, for example, teaches you five different things you can apply to novel number 6 and the ones that come after. Every book teaches you how to write it. The more you learn, the better an author you'll become. The cleaner and more mature the style, because upholding an artificial "auteur pose" (aka: artificial, self-conscious style) is really fucking hard when you're writing 60-100k a month. You can't do it the same way you cannot run a marathon in ten-inch heels. Eventually, the sheer speed rips away all stylistic pretensions, and what emerges is--not your ugly true self, but your Voice. The one that's natural to you. Because that's the only thing left when you work at that speed.

I'm not saying what is written that way is always publishable. Editing is a totally separate step (gods save us from the "published first draft"), but once the text is there THERE, it can be edited. We all need editing, anyway, and much more than most of us are getting. A truly great author is one who edits well--who can clean up that draft (whether written in ten years or ten days doesn't actually matter) and turn it into the best thing it can be. For many, editing takes longer than writing it in the first place. But that is okay. I'd even expect it in a fast writer--it's what I've seen and encountered in my own writing, though by such standards, I'm an author who writes fitfully, but consistently (= medium productivity).

So, slow writers, relax and let it flow; the story knows what it's doing. Fast writers, don't be ashamed of being fast or getting flak for being fast. I'll see both of you in edits, where the book really happens.

Thursday 11 April 2013

The Great Clawback

Finance English has a great many amazing terms. One of my favourite is "clawback", which is a contract term meaning that when a deal or project goes "tits-up" (another common expression in finance English), whoever was in charge (usually a manager) might have to return some of the money they were paid to do the project/deal. Say, you hire a Fat Cat Banker who turns out to be a mouse brain and rams the financial institution against the nearest wall - he might have to pay some of the ££m yearly salary back. I like "clawback" because it's strong, it's ferocious and it's like "tooth and nail" or "teeth and claws".

So I might say I'm "clawing back" my rights of my older work, but the practice isn't really about failure to deliver at all--at least not on the part of the publishers who held those rights. This is old work, and I was an idjit four years ago. I didn't really understand romance, I had big pacing issues, and I misjudged the length of my stories horrendously. What's a short story now (Deliverance) should be at least a series of novellas, or a novella or a novel (Burn). What's a novella now (Clean Slate) should be a novel. First Blood doesn't have length issues, but there are things I want to fix. Risky Maneuvers has already returned to me and needs fixing and maybe a sequel. Transit has a couple pacing issues I want to address.

So that's the backlist titles I'm looking at with the cold, jaded eye of me, four years older. I don't really recognize the author who (co-)wrote them, so I'm assuming I got better. I just know they don't represent me-the-writer very well at present and I want to fix them. Some stories I've pulled entirely from circulation (Blood Run Cold). I'm very pleased with the new version of Scorpion, which was the first story I "clawed back". Again, there was no failure on the part of the publisher--they did exactly what they said in the contract. The failure is mine; I wasn't the writer I'm now. I totally fail at letting this go, too. So, expect to see a mix of "old and new" (previously published by Dreamspinner and Loose Id) in 2014 from me, as I clean up after myself. I also have positive news that I can't talk about yet, but it's related to these news.

So, bear with me--the whole clawback thing is really my neurosis and my inability to let go and write things off. I think all of these stories have a good, decent core, and I'll make sure to make this worth your while, hopefully releasing sequels and related stories as I publish the original story. No waiting for sequels/prequels, I'm aiming at delivering the whole thing in one go. It'll take a while because I'm cramming them into a schedule that's already full of new stuff. I'm determined to make both 2013 and 2014 massive years in terms of releases and productivity, which will hopefully help me to quit my day job in 2015/2016.

ETA: This goes to say, don't bother buying old titles, as the new version will come out at some point. However, if you are a collector and completest (sp?) - and some of you are, this might be a good time to stock up on books I published pre-2011, because many of them are going to vanish until 2014. 

Sunday 7 April 2013

Weekend bullets

The biggest news of the week for me was Sunita retiring her Vacuous Minx blog. Sunita has been one of the voices in the general romance/m/m blogoverse I respected the most. Our takes on books and the genre overall runs pretty much along the same lines--and I was following that blog religiously, much more so that larger or more specialised sites. Sunita could always be trusted to speak sense and find an interesting angle on a story, so I'll miss the blog terribly. At the same time, I understand the need to interact more with "MeatSpace", or the outside reality. I've had bouts of online fatigue and have wanted to chuck it all and take up extreme horseback knitting or competitive rose-breeding. Less neuroses that way, I'd assume. So, farewell, Sunita. Hope to see you in MeatSpace indeed.

I'm pretty proud of myself for not reading reviews for two weeks now. It's a small step for a review-oholic, but I'm already feeling the relaxation kicking in. Staying away from all manner of Goodreads-and genre-related drama has overall reduced adrenaline levels in my system. I don't constantly battle the "fight-or-flight" response and thus wrote almost 30k words in the time I'd have spent fretting. I did "like" a couple reviews, but those popped up randomly on my update stream and were all positive reviews of books that I know are good (such as Skybound). Nothing anybody can say about Skybound is news to me, I've fretted and laboured over that story, and it's the best I can do. Period. A friend called it "your moment of brilliance", and I take it, because I agree. I don't even care how much it sells; it's the highest I've reached. It's like climbing the K2--you really only need to stand up there and look at the other, smaller mountains, and that's it. It's a solitary pleasure, and the dangers and suffering and pain are part of your flesh at that point. Nobody can take it away. It's 150% solipsistic--nothing outside really matters. People reading it and enjoying it is great; the primary battle was between me and that story.

Abigail Roux made the final round of DABWAHA. That event has pretty much seen me "vote-whoring" (oh, I also did it when Goodreads was looking for reader favourites, just remembered that), which is a practice I normally detest (and have gone on record saying so). In this case, I think it's a valid battle, however--m/m has too often been treated as the red-haired step-child of romance, but what it lacks in volumes, sales rank and money (a different blog post for another day), it has in passionate, savvy readership. Cut and Run is the gold standard in m/m, and no book would deserve more to go all the way. (For the record, Josh Lanyon would have been great, too--he's one of the best, longest-established authors we have, and I respect him enormously.) So I'll keep supporting S&S to the final round. If we can get another 2k votes, it's a no-brainer. Even BIG romance authors struggle to mobilise their fan base to the same extent as our genre can kick ass when it's a worthy battle. It's the power of online and network, yo. In addition, it couldn't be a more deserving, lovelier author.

Other writing. Two days ago, LA Witt and I finished our undercover cop story, which currently runs to 100k. I've stayed away from cops because I know nothing about US-based law enforcement. Right now it's "curing"--it's awaiting a couple decisions (exact background of one of the leads), an polish and an overall naming of some minor characters. (Yes, we have a character who is just called "[brother]"--mostly because I want a "speaking/meaningful" name and inspiration hasn't struck yet). I think we'll be able to wrap this this month.

To relax, we co-played Gears of War 4, which is visually beautiful. The plot is kind of thin, but every level and battle is beautifully designed, so it just never got old. It really rewards team-play, so LA and I just busted ass keeping each other alive. Playing this with somebody on co-op made all the difference, too (Apparently, EVERYBODY on Amazon disagrees - but I had fun). Essentially, now I want to write post-apocalyptic hard guys, and hopefully the dialogue will be snappier, too. (Considering this is Baird's game, many of his one-liners were kind of lame, but then he didn't have straight-laced, serious Markus as a foil). And Cole almost had no lines at all, which is a damn shame. (Since I got to play Cole, I was kinda hoping my character would have better dialogue). Biggest triumph: I FINALLY KILLED A BERSERKER. (Berserkers are kind of traumatic for me, as they kept messing me up in all the other games up to now. THIS TIME I KILLED ONE!) I kinda liked Paduk, who's your typical deadpan Russian (and the big scar in his face/arm worked for me too. What's not to love about a guy who goes: "This is not a weapon, it's a comrade!")

So that's evenings/nights spent doing Something Else. Very relaxing. (And inspiring. I'm still working on how to plunge the earth into a nuclear winter and take it from there.)

For writing, I have more ideas and bunnies than I know what to do with. I really want to quit my day job so I can let them all out. Right now, I have no chance of keeping up with my brain, which is a damn shame. I'll be losing a great many stories that way, but it's just physically impossible for me to write 10k a day every day.

And still, it's the people who make it all worthwhile, from readers and reviewers to co-writers and cover artists. I've had amazing conversations in the last week which keep my brain active--there are so many aspects to what we're doing, and I'm still chewing on all the things that Remittance Girl said to me over coffee and panini in Foyles' Cafe last Sunday. (If you haven't visited her site, do. You're missing out on courageous, honest, beautiful and edgy writing. She's the queen of writing a hot edgy hetero scene--I'm studying her writing so I can learn how to write hetero sex, too, but she's the Best at it. Nothing like watching a truly accomplished worksmith cutting to the blood.)

Speaking of which, I'm back to writing the birds book. I have tea and cookies and painkillers, so I should be nice and productive.

Saturday 6 April 2013

"Aleksandr Voinov hates online fic"

I got a weird message today, which essentially ran "it's weird that people say you hate online fiction - you're written Special Forces, after all, and that's kind of online fiction, isn't it?"

So apparently there's an odd perception that I "hate" online fiction (the person said this rumour originated somewhere on Goodreads after I DNFed "Captive Prince", which indeed started as an online piece of writing).

Running back through the last interviews I've done, I can't see where I've given that impression, and to my knowledge, I've never said so. In fact, I admire a great number of "online fiction writers", many of whom are in fandom. I maintain that Gileonnen, for example, is one of the most talented authors I've ever met, and I've learnt a great deal about writing by reading their stories. There's no question about the depth of talent in that particular pool. I've read a great many online/slash/fanfiction stories, and Captive Prince is in fact only one of of many long capture/captivity/slavery stories posted in avenues such as livejournal. The fact it's "not for me" is my issue, not that of the book or the vast field where it originated.

At the end of the day, I've written a huge amount of online fiction, both fanfiction (such as Collateral), and "original slash", as they call it (Special Forces, several short works), and I've done this for literally decades. Some of my 20-year old online stuff slumbers even in a German archive, and I hope nobody ever finds it (I WAS just stretching my wings). I have no idea where that rumour comes from, but it's untrue. I much prefer a well-written fanfiction story to a bad piece of original writing. Quality knows no genre, it's as simple as that.

Captive Prince didn't work for me based on my inner historian and all the things *I* brought to the table - not the book (and possibly based on some narrative principles I'm adhering to and which I struggle to put into words most of the time). But Twilight, Games of Thrones, and the Wheel of Time didn't work for me, either, and those aren't online works or fanfiction or "original slash." Every reader is different, and every reading experience is different, too. An individual brain encounters an individual book, creating a unique experience. You can never read the same book twice they say and that's correct. One of my best friends adores Captive Prince, and I listen to people raving about Game of Thrones all the time. I can live with people liking different things, and I'm not thinking any less of people I love (like my partner, who really enjoys GoT) who love different books from me. I can even love people who don't like my writing, and I can dislike people who love my writing (it's rare, but it happens).

So, for the record: No, I don't hate online fiction. I don't hate self-publishers. There's few things I hate, and often, it's a dislike (oysters are disgusting), not a hate. I'm 37 years old - at that age, I'm finding hate really quite difficult to rouse or maintain. The only thing that consistently gets my goat is authors not respecting their readers or their genre/craft, but these are everywhere, and, thank gods, pretty damn rare to begin with.

So let's all read some awesome books - regardless of where we find them.