Sunday, 30 June 2013

Operation Voinov Freedom

My regular readers will know I've written my little black heart out recently, ever since LA Witt and I launched "Operation Voinov Freedom" - or the attempt to get royalties to the place where I can quit my day job while financially independent.

Ever since roughly May 2012, that has started looking like it could be done, but I estimated at least 5 years. Enter LA Witt, who's been an inspiration throughout ever since I met her in October 2012 at GRL. Part of why I've been working incredibly hard, essentially doubling and tripling my wordcount is to diversify and spread my royalties. I can't depend on one book selling well, but twenty books selling all right is a different matter. This is unprecedented - in the old traditional space, getting a backlist that supports a writer can be a life-long dream. I've been emphatically warned by a number of literary agents to never depend on writing.

It's 2013, and the game has completely changed. Looking at my royalty statements, seeing every book contribute a little bit, steadily, every month, is heartening. Overall, there's been a lift in sales. The marketing clearly works. Now, some books even sell that didn't get much support from me (Just way too busy while Quid Pro Quo and Take It Off came out, for example). Looking at the statement, I can see I'm doing all right. Operation Voinov Freedom is not only on track, it's ahead of schedule.

So yesterday night I had another one of those "Talks" with my partner, and we've agreed that I'll be going part-time at about the end of the year. Firstly, I need it. I've been running myself pretty much into the ground--burning the candle on three or four ends. I can sustain that energy for a few more months, maybe even a year, but then something has to give, and it'll be the day job. I see my sales as a continuing vote of confidence on that count.

Secondly, oh, I have SO MANY BOOKS in my head. For the first time in my life, it feels like I can even write almost as much as I have in my head, and I'll trust my readers to stick it out with me and keep reading what I put out. Obviously, the moment that's no longer a given, I'll go back to full-time working, and no hard feelings. But I'm feeling astutely that I want to make more room for more words per day in my week.

Thirdly, my job stresses me the hell out--not because I mind working, but I'm finding working in an office increasingly toxic. My side of the office, people talk. All the time. They talk over me, they talk in front of me, they talk beside me, they talk all the time. They talk loudly, they talk all day, every day, and they talk about things I'm either not involved in (massive IT projects I have nothing to do with) or general life. I'm a graceless small-talker at the best of times, and "best of times" is nowhere near happening when I'm trying to actually, you know, work (aka: edit the things I'm paid to edit). Another major thing is that all the promises they made me at the interview have not been kept. Thankfully, that part is on the record. I've received absolutely no training in 18 months, and I very much doubt that's going to happen, ever.

Since working from home twice a month, my stress level is way down. But it's way up every day I'm in the office. I can happily edit 16 pieces of financial stuff while at home and be completely chilled by the time I'm done and start preparing food. When in the office, due to the incessant distraction, doing just like 3-5 pieces of editing, or even when I have no work at all (happens rarely, but it happens), I'm stressed out and angry when I get home. I'm shattered. Nerves frayed. I'm exhausted. I guess that's the normal price paid by an introvert in a team of extroverts.

Now, I can't really tell people to shut the hell up; the problem is my boss and HER boss, and THEY talk all the time. Right now, both are on holiday, and it's bliss for me in the office. But they're both back on Monday. And I can't even complain to anybody--I have literally NO idea who my boss's boss reports to, but I'm almost positive it's somebody in NYC, and those seem the most disinterested people on the planet, unless it's about real costs and bonuses.

In other words, I gotta get out and ideally go part-time, which I think is an ethical thing to do, too. Somebody can pick up half the work and half the pay and everybody's much happier and still gets benefits. I feel even a bit bad hogging a job that somebody out there is likely desperate for when I don't actually need all of it and soon won't need at all.

I do expect the company to be inflexible, however, so Plan B is to be on the hunt for a new banking job by December/January latest. Banks tend not to need a full consignment of editors all the time, and thus tend to be really flexible when it comes to production. My company--less so. If that banking job happens, the positive side effect is that I'll make a lot more, pro rata, than what I'm making currently, and that scenario would likely be even better; 2.5 days a week for full benefits and private healthcare and pension, covering me completely financially, while I spent most of the week working on putting books out.

So that's the next step. Going part-time is also much gentler on my nerves. I won't be sitting here going "OMG I HAVE TO WRITE OR I'M LOSING THE HOUSE", which, needless to say, will screw with the writing, but can relax somewhat and see if I'm able to write enough to make it worthwhile for my readers and myself.

That said, I'm extremely aware that I owe even the chance to do that to my readers who buy the books and put the money in my pocket that I can even contemplate it. I'm not moaning and bitching to moan and bitch--it's just that I much rather work for you than those people. I honestly don't mind working at all--I need to be productive and finish projects. It's a self-esteem thing.

I feel the support, I see the support in cold hard cash in my bank account, and I will emphatically not bungle that amazing opportunity. Few authors even get to that place, and I'm profoundly grateful. For somebody who's had to fight every step of the way to get where he is now, trusting in that support is huge. At the end of the day, as self-made as every author is, a self-employed author able to pay his mortgage and food bill is not self-made at all--he's supported by hundreds, if not thousands of readers who may be just as unhappy in their jobs and still part with their hard-won cash to reward and support an artist. That's big. It's huge for me. It's real patronage.

I can't express how grateful I am in any other way but to keep writing and working hard to give you what you want (and mess with your heads sometimes when I want to tease you a bit . . .). I have beautiful things to show you. Great ideas, fascinating places and people. As a writer, I think I keep getting better. My ambitions are all out there. Some books will be decidedly odd, others are crowd-pleasers, others will be me just stretching my wings or following a crazy idea I had at 4 in the morning. I'm excited to go to those places and bring back those stories for you. Meanwhile, I'm burning everything I have to make it to December/January.

Specifically, I'm working on the outline of Scorpion 3. I'm expecting the edits for Scorpion 2 in the next couple days. Depending on what level of bloodbath it'll be (don't spare me, editor!), that's a project for July.

On 8 July, LA Witt is coming over to stay with me for three weeks. We'll attend the GLBTQ Meet in Manchester on the following weekend, see some things in London and surroundings that we missed last time. (I cannot wait to show her the Imperial War Museum that should be re-opened.) Then we'll fly over to Krakow (which I can really use for writing Pure Gold), where we'll see the salt mine cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Auschwitz. We'll fly over to Berlin to look at museums there (I promised her the Nefertiti bust and the Ishtar Gate) and then take the train to Dresden to look at the German Military Museum down there. Then back up to Berlin and then London. It's going to be quite a trip for about ten days.

During that time, I'll do my damned best to write Scorpion3, but considering how exhausted my brain is after a museum or five, I'll see how that goes. I did buy a Chromebook to get some writing done in the airport and on the plane. The idea is to finish the book by 1 September, which can be done if I manage to write a thousand words a day.

Once the immediate stress is off, I'll finish up the Birds book and submit that to old-fashioned publishing (agent and so on). Somewhere in there, I'll write Pure Gold (Gold Digger sequel), and the sequel to Counterpunch.

In terms of co-writing, I expect to do more Market Garden. Capture and Surrender will be out as planned, and there's more stories to write that are more serious, and then a number of very hot shorts very much like QPQ and TIO to limber up the brain. (There are days when I'm just in the mood to write sex without much else around it.)

Considering there's only 6 months left in the year, that's plenty. Right now I'm writing things that'll come out in 2014. The newest project is what I'll call the "Fencers book"--both LA and I have fenced foil, so that should be fun. Right now it's slow going, as it's a historical and I like having my research squared away, but even so we did 2.5k yesterday on that. Ideally, I want that done in time for Sochi 2014.

So, if you don't hear/see much of me on the blog. I'm travelling and/or taking the bit between my teeth and pushing hard to get 2014 releases all squared away for Operation Voinov Freedom.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Big news - and "hello!" to my Japanese readers

So that's the big news. Skybound has been released today in Japanese as part of a collection of stories in "Dear +" from Shinshokan. Print run is 10,000 copies, so, wow. Lots and lots of readers. So if any stumble over my blog - welcome! I hope you enjoyed it.

I seem unable to grab the cover from Amazon Japan, but here's the link. 

Also, the story comes with illustrations, and "my" translator, @wintzer on Twitter, was so kind to send me a photo.

It's always strange to see the characters "translated" into the visual medium (my image is always different from anything out there, but I also cannot possibly get it out the way I "see" them in my own head), the illustrator did a fantastic job. There's nothing I don't love about the image. The way it's set up, the way the Messerschmitt looms in the background, Baldur's uniform being as correct as I can ascertain and the way he's both cocky and a little gloomy, and then the look of exquisite bittersweet pain on Felix's face. It's amazing.

Excellent work. I'd put that up in my study if I can/could get my hands on it. (I think it might blow up a bit if you click on it here on the blog).

So, yeah. My day starts off full of excitement. While the publisher is going to send a copy, I'm just that impatient and will go hunting in a Japanese shop (Mitsukoshi) on Piccadilly for a copy. Wish me luck! :)

Monday, 10 June 2013


The word "release" is one of those instances where English pwns German. In German, the word for a book release is "Veroeffentlichung" (making public, so like publication)--and that works too. There's a distinct sense of "right, guys, have at it!" in the word. From the pretty lonely pleasure of, uh, my head, and co-writer and a handful of betas and the editors and proofers, it's out there. Doors/windows are wide open. There you go.

"Release" has the word "tension" built in as the implied pre-state. Tension release. Relief. Also, "hey, dog's off the chain!"--it's a lot more active, in a way, and maybe focused on the moment you press the button--and let it all go. At this point, the story has survived the "You call THAT an idea?" and the "I should be writing something else" and the inevitable "crap, what do I think I'm doing" and "why is this shit so hard" and a million doubts and a hundred moments when I think about taking up golf or something instead of writing.

So, yeah, release. Scorpion is back out. It's actually still one of my favourites, and I readily accept a huge burden of debt to Glenn Cook's "Black Company" (I pay homage in the book several times) and a number of other fantasy novels I've read (some of those have fallen to my horrible memory, but a big influence on me overall was Tanith Lee). I prefer my worlds low-magic, though I can totally see a fantasy world that has a lot of magic. (Actually the world I built while I was running GURPS table top roleplaying games, so that one is high magic and actually pretty damn epic.)

I've told the story a few times, but if you own the first version, you don't have to buy this one. I've cleaned it up (with the help of my great editor, Gordon), but the book is essentially the same. It was pretty strong when I handed it to Dreamspinner in late 2010, it was published in a pretty strong form in May 2011, then got pulled in December 2012, and is now back out, shinier and cleaner than ever before.

I'm tremendously proud of it. It wasn't that I was unhappy with that first version--it was that I wanted to clean it up to write the rest of the series that's most definitely lurking in there. (And I have been doing!) Of course, if you're a completist, I'm happy to take the cash and thank you kindly.

(Also, book 2 is done and handed over to my editor. I'm having a couple days off to relax and EDIT ALL THE OTHER THINGS.)

While If It Flies was more Spencer's journey to realising and accepting not only that he was a submissive but also in love with a prostitute, If It Fornicates is all about Nick, who has to come to terms with giving up his independence. Their story/ies  really took that shape and felt like two very separate entities, so that's how they were written: two sides of the same coin, in a way.

To be honest, after the first one I had some serious doubts whether writing "formal BDSM" is the right thing for me. My guys are usually all about the power exchange, some are masochists, but I've stayed pretty much away from the typical dungeon/club scenario--one of the reasons being that I'm much more interested in character exploration and power dynamics than the usual "whip me, fuck me" fiction, which is a dime two dozen.

There's more coming: "Capture and Surrender" is the first full Market Garden novel and is currently being edited.

Then we're working on a long cop novel (100k), which we're currently cleaning up.

And over the weekend, we started work on If It Drives, likely another novel-length story about two characters who make a brief appearance in If It Fornicates.

So the plate is full, the pipeline loaded. I've done some short fiction recently, but the pendulum is swinging back towards 60k+ now--Lying with Scorpions is pretty substantial at 84-85k, and so are all the other projects. I might need to write a short story to clear out some lingering ideas, but above all, the engine is running and words are being made. And that's really the main thing. Life's too damn short, anyway, so I better get cracking.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

And now for the finale (and an aside on gender/race/cultural diversity in fantasy)

I've been making words on Lying with Scorpions. After a quick re-plot that de-tangled a new plotline from the ending, I can now say with some confidence that LwS will clock in at 82-85k words in first draft. That number can go either way by about 5-10% in edits, so it's going to be longer than Scorpion by a fair bit. (That one has 72k.) Generally speaking, 5% is the more normal mark, but I do have a pair of very good and pretty radical editors on my hands here, so nothing's safe.

In the last two weeks, I also filled up my head/soul/mind with entertainment. I think I hunger most for "outside stimulation" when stressed out of my head and running myself ragged trying to hit a deadline. In preparation of the Books To Come, I finally watched "Band of Brothers", which was amazing (better than "Saving Private Ryan"--the ensemble cast really works). I read some WWII literature written by Germans to pick up the "tone/mood" of the time. Boell's "Silent Angel" was pretty good, but Gert Ledig's "Stalin Organ" has me struck dumb with the power of it; the latter compares with Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front". Both served in the German army and were rather too close to the things they write about in their books. I "gave something back" to Ledig by translating his article on Wikipedia into English--my small good deed of the day. (I have to hold Ledig's book in my head for a character of mine who goes to the Eastern Front. These would be things he's seen/done/heard about. It defies belief.)

I'm also finding that 180-200 pages of chiseled prose and condensed emotion is all I can take. Both books are short--due to paper shortages, one imagines, and also a lack of belief in "doorstopping for doorstoping's sake" - aka to make books large so you can charge a fortune for them, a trend that has made fantasy and sci-fi all but unreadable for me. Give me a great short book I'll re-read over a long mediocre, fluff-filled book any day. I have no patience for authors wasting my time, and it's a rare author who can fill 120-160k meaningfully.

Reading what Ledig, Boell, Greene and Faulkner achieve on 200 pages is humbling. I shall strive to reach a similar level of intensity, but that's a master's touch: shatter your whole world with that one perfect sentence that echoes in you forever.

I haven't recently broken the 100k mark with anything--not on my own. I've hit just over that mark with LA Witt in our upcoming cop story (which I can't wait to show you), but 40-80k seems to be my current sweet spot. And I'm not arguing that Skybound at 13k is the best thing I've ever done. Considering that short stories are harder to get right than novels, I'm really quite pleased.

In good news, I've had a very nice chat with my Japanese translator about the meaning/symbolism of the "basket scene" in Skybound and the overall Japanese market. She's working on a translation of Skybound for the Japanese magazine "Dear +", where, to my knowledge, Josh Lanyon was the first m/m author to be featured. I think I might be number 2, so it's a great honor for me and I'm immensely pleased that that little story gets to travel the globe. :) Clearly, I need to write more about German fighter pilots in WWII.

With regards to Lying with Scorpions--I'm on the last chapter. I've developed total tunnel vision at this point; I can barely think about anything else. Then again, I did write the bulk of it in six weeks. In the last chapter, something unexpected happened that makes something else work much better that I was struggling with. This is a series of books that defies me at every corner and the twists and turns come in so thick and fast I'm not even sure who's writing this book. The Muse is a maniac on this (cue: "Flashdance" video/song). The good news is, I'll wrap it all this weekend, just in time for my extended deadline, then do a polish on it myself (some stuff needs to be moved around) and off it goes to my editor.

More good news: Reese Dante made a breathtaking cover; in my humble opinion, it's even better than the first one. Oh gods, I love that woman. I'm posting a teaser below. The cover features Adrastes, king of Dalman. As you can see, he's very hot and very determined:

 The print version should be beautiful.

The thing I'm most proud about so far with LwS: the diversity of the cast. I have three gender-variant people who kick ass and are neither saints nor psychopaths and most definitely not victims. I have three-ish women as significant characters in the book who aren't whores or virgins and who very much do their own thing (yes, one was raped, but rape is an equal-opportunity crime in a world where power dynamics are played out on the flesh of both genders... it's part of the world and has been from the start. Yet, even this woman won't be defined by the rape and it's not her motivation for kicking ass.)

I have three cultures clashing--two coloured peoples who are so cool that I will have to sex up the white people now or they are losing the plot entirely. The Jaishani kick ass beautifully and very much drive their own agenda. Everything shifted when I decided that the Jaishani were technologically more advanced than the "pale people"--it's a decision with far-reaching consequences, too. For one, they are now perceived as a threat, and guess what, some of my characters turned into racist douchebags. Previously, I'd bracketed out racism, largely positing a multi-cultural society, but that was somewhat too easy. Some people will always feel threatened, and it's my response to the surge of anti-Muslim violence in Britain after the killing of the soldier in Woolwich; it's interesting to see responses unravel on Twitter while brainstorming for a culture clash. So, there. I hope it's not heavy-handed, but it was very much on my mind as I wrote those passages.

Regarding writing all that "diversity" (it's inherent in my world, not me being preachy--once I set some ground rules in Scorpion, this was the logical development), Heidi Belleau wrote a great post about writing characters that are not your ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation.

And I have a brain crush on Kameron Hurley, who examines "women fighters in fantasy". While the Lady Protector, Lady Nhala and Runner precede this, I kept nodding vigourously throughout the post. I have the academic background to know that women have always been fighters. I know real-life women warriors, including martial artists and re-enactors who kick ass and take names. I've seen women run in heavy armor and fight, and fight extremely well. It's what you do with the body you've been given, not the body itself.

I'm bored to tears by "generic fantasy" (white, cis, heterosexual, Central European), and I fully plan to stand and deliver in this genre and work out some issues I feel have energy for me and others. While I hope the Memory of Scorpions series is simply a good read, the world itself allows female fighters (even at times requires it), and gender identity isn't clear cut. In some way, I think that makes it almost futuristic--our own world isn't nearly there.