Saturday, December 30, 2017

Once Again...

...I got nuthin'.

Well, not absolutely nuthin'. I'm still reading, of course. But I've been grazing so much lately that nothing has really stuck to the point I'd write a blog about it.

I picked up some freebie erotica from a new author, just to remind myself that quick smut can be fun to read. It doesn't have to be analysed or studied, it can just be visual and emotional popcorn. I need to write some more of that.

I grabbed an erotic romance featuring a cowboy and an older woman. This book I snaffled from my local library and have delved a few dozen pages into it. I like it so far, and it's a reminder—as if I needed it!—that women (in reading as well as in everyday life) are just as happy as men to get straight down to mentally undressing people they find attractive. And fantasising about more than that. And perhaps gettin' jiggy with it at the drop of a cowboy hat.

I'm still reading a book I wrote about in a previous What Are You Reading blog. It's not that it's been a difficult one to read, at all. I just haven't allowed enough time for reading.

And lastly, I picked up a book on effective story outlining...which I've barely read any of yet! The prose so far has been a little waffling, but I'm hoping the exercises within it will prove effective.

So that's all I got. Catch y'all next time around!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wilder & Wao

 by Daddy X

On Sunset Boulevard by Ed Sikov

I have often remarked on how I enjoy the element of scope in a read. This book has it in spades. Sikov must be a genius. The way he incorporates such disparate elements, from the depths of Nazi Austria and Germany to the heights of Hollywood elite, puts the reader right in the thick of things.

Screenwriter, director, producer, storyteller, man-about-town, Billy Wilder was one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in Hollywood history. From Wilder’s early jobs as freelance journalist in Berlin to script writing for moving pictures, we see a man destined for greatness.

Berlin during the 20’s was the film capital of Europe. Eventually Wilder, as well as many other (read lucky) Jewish film professionals, escaped the approaching storm. Not surprisingly, many wound up in Hollywood. Others, including Wilder’s own mother, (not involved in film) were never found.

On Sunset Boulevard addresses in detail every motion picture Wilder was involved in. One of the things that exemplifies how all-encompassing these accounts are is that if the reader is tempted to skip over details—scripts, hiring and firing of directors, actors, artists and other film professionals—one will soon find they need to go back over the skipped passages for something important which needs clarifying. It’s all there. If you read the whole thing.

Not to say that the book doesn’t have its fictional elements. Mr. Wilder, quite the raconteur, varied his own accounts of events, often altering his stories according to a desired effect on whoever was listening. We are left to decide what is actually real and what may not be quite so.

Some of the most interesting areas are Sikov’s takes on the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of individuals. For instance, it seems that Gary Cooper was something of a dunce. He’d complain about too many ‘big words’ to memorize. Cooper said that because he didn’t even know what the words meant, he couldn’t stay within character while he memorized the sound of the word, because to him it was virtually impossible to decipher any meaning.  

Wilder, a maverick for his times, battled constantly with the authorities of the Motion Picture Code. This was not unusual. During the 30’s the Code had its judgmental fingers in virtually every film made in the U.S.  Apparently Wilder and his perennial but more conservative writing partner, Charles Brackett, had a love/hate relationship that brought out the best of both men, and by association, their wildly popular films. These films were raw, sexy, irreverent, and didn’t always require that bad guys go to jail. Or to hell. The code didn’t like raw.

I’ve only read about half of this 675-page tome, and tend to read it in fits and spurts rather than charge through. (Not the kind of spurts that occur reading erotica.)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar De Leon got his nickname Oscar Wao as a street bastardization of Oscar Wilde. He’s a fat, black mulatto teenager living in Patterson New Jersey who wants to get laid, but he’s simply too much of a geek for it to happen. He lives in a community of other immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Oscar lives on science fiction, comic books and is a fair and dedicated writer himself.

Mostly related by an omniscient narrator who we eventually learn is one Yunior de las Casas, a hip compatriot of Oscar’s, also a writer, but not as out of step as Oscar. Yunior is much more in tune with how to be a Dominican/American. If we put our trust in what Yunior says in his hip street jargon mixed with Spanglish, he actually gets laid.

This sounds at first to be pretty ordinary fare, until we start getting into the history of Oscar and Yunior’s island roots. There is a phenomenon Dominicans call a “fuku” or “Curse and Doom of the New World” that comes into play. The island of Hispaniola has been fertile ground for dictators and strongmen, including the man who may have wreaked as much havoc as Columbus himself: Dictator Rafael Trujillo—culocrat.

Culocrat you say? According to Yunior, a culocrat is a strongman obsessed with ass (‘culo’ in Spanish) who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Trujillo was a serial rapist who, when he desired a woman or girl, would make his desires known to her extended family. Somebody had better offer up the daughter, niece, wife, mother, or whoever caught his rapacious eye. Otherwise he’d make the family’s life miserable, if not over.

The culoculture extended to the dictator’s henchmen as well. If a man was in Trujillo’s good graces, he could get away with rape. Or murder. Or worse.

Suffice to say that Diaz does a tremendous job integrating Oscar’s family history into the narrative of a geek boy who can’t get laid. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What I'm Watching

I’m reading a Star Trek book. But I don’t think you want to hear about that.

Let me tell you, instead, what I’m watching.

With a few friends, I recently watched my way through Yuri on Ice.

Yuri on Ice is a one-season Japanese anime series about figure skaters. Yuri is a Japanese skater who has near-crippling anxiety that crops up at the worst times — usually when he’s at an international competition. Victor, a Russian skater, is his idol. When a video of Yuri skating one of Victor’s routines hits the internet, Victor is captivated and decides to head to Japan to coach Yuri and help him win the Figure Skating Grand Prix.

Yuri on Ice might be considered yaoi (as per Wikipedia, “a Japanese genre of fictional media focusing on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically marketed for a female audience and created by female authors”). Indeed, we watched the series because a female friend was raving about the show and the blossoming romance between Yuri and Victor. If it is yaoi, then it has broad male appeal too, as I was totally captivated.

However, what I found interesting was that while the first episode rather blatantly hinted at the sexual component, as Victor is naked in one scene, most of the romantic tension is in Yuri trying to figure out his feelings and what Victor means to him. I’d hesitate to call it a romance since that’s not the primary focus of the show — rather, the figure skating is the primary focus. So, maybe this means it’s not yaoi since romance isn’t the main focus — there is, after all, only one kiss and it’s hidden by Victor’s arms. Meh, whatever. The show is fantastic, despite what genre it may or may not be. (This may sound odd as an erotica writer, but it was very refreshing to see gay romance depicted in media without constant sex and nudity. Instead, it was rather wholesome, which made it all the more fun.)

Since the show centers around figure skating, there is understandably a lot of figure skating depicted in the show. I have never been a fan of figure skating — it’s just not a sport that interests me. This show changed it all. The figure skating was one of the most fascinating parts, made all the more fascinating by the interior monologues of the characters during some routines, in which we learn what drives them and the personal struggle they go through in the midst of the routines. According to Wikipedia, the figure skating in the show was all choreographed and performed by a former competitive figure skater, so the routines are very realistic and beautifully done.

It’s rare that a piece of media completely reshapes what I’m doing in my creative life. Sure, like all writers, I sometimes get influenced by something I watch or read and elements of that something end up in my writing. Yuri on Ice is an exception, as it completely redirected a project.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, I am completely caught up in a giant project — a two-book series that will likely total 400,000 words. The first book is completely planned out and it ends on a bad note for one character. Since what I write is mostly within the realms of erotic romance, it’s quite problematic to finish a book with a protagonist in the situation I’ve got planned. He needs redemption and hope and love. That’s what the second book will be about. Still, though I knew that, I was totally lost.

After watching Yuri on Ice and seeing how figure skating and Yuri’s relationship with Victor was what got Yuri over his crippling anxiety and depression and on a path to healing and success, I knew I had to do something similar. So, the second book of my two-book series will be centered on figure skating and that will be the character’s key to a happy and love-filled future. It won’t be thinly-veiled fan fiction, though, nor would I even really call it an homage to Yuri on Ice, since the characters, setting, and situation are all very different. But it’s very clearly inspired by Yuri on Ice.

So, I have about six months to learn enough about figure skating so that I can write about it in my book and sound like I know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, the Winter Olympics are coming. My Yuri on Ice Watching Party friends are all on board for transitioning to an Olympic Figure Skating Watching Party. (The next “What are you reading?” topic comes up immediately after the Winter Olympics, so I’ll likely report on my self-education!)

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Schoolboy Secrets. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press and a member of the Indie Erotica Collective. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Books I Gave Away

Sacchi Green

Wait, what? It’s Sunday night already? I mean, I knew it was Christmas Eve, and in fact we had our family gathering today because of bad weather predicted tomorrow, but somehow it hadn’t clicked that it was time for me to write a piece for the Grip until just now.

Things have been so chaotic lately that I haven’t been reading any actual books, but it does occur to me that I’ve been ordering and handling quite a few books as gifts for family members, so I’m going to cheat and write about the books I’ve been giving away, chosen not so much because they appeal to me as because I knew the recipients wanted them.

In the case of one brother, retired from a long career as a librarian in a city bordering Boston, I knew because he has a Wish List on Amazon. Otherwise I never would have guessed that he wanted to read How to Mediate Your Dispute by Peter Lovenheim. I do understand why, though. He’s lived for many years in a trailer park that’s become a co-operative, owned and administered by the residents, and he’s been in one or another position on the Board of Directors for quite a while. As with any such organization, there are often disagreements and feuds and general havoc, and I’ve known times when he came to visit me just to get away from all the infighting. I hope the book helps defuse things.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to give him The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs by Ric Edelman, either, but he’d been talking recently about reaching the point where he’s required to take some money out of his IRA account, and by living frugally in the trailer park he’s been able to afford to do some investing, so I knew he had some interest in financial matters.

The third book on his list seemed more like something I might possibly want to read, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. One thing my brother enjoys at the trailer park—possibly the only thing, or at least the only thing he’s mentioned—is being chairman of the beautification committee, with the responsibility for arranging plantings of trees and shrubs around the park. I’m more than a bit dubious about the claims made in the blurb for the book, but it does sound interesting.

My oldest son, who works with computers at a college and is the father of my granddaughter, has always been a great science fiction and fantasy geek. His library and knowledge of such things is extensive, but the books on his Wish List were more of a nostalgic nature than anything breaking new ground. He loves the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, humor, satire, sly political commentary and all, but Pratchett (known to the sf community as “Sir PTerry” after he was knighted) died two years ago, so there won’t be any more of his books. However someone, friends and family, I think, have put together at least two peripheral books, The Compleat Discworld Atlas: Of General & Descriptive Geography Which Together With New Maps and Gazetteer Forms a Compleat Guide to Our World & All It Encompasses, and Mrs Bradshaw's Handbook: To Travelling Upon the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway (Discworld), which expands on a scene in one of the novels.  Maybe these are the quasi-literary form of comfort food.

My younger son is also an sf/geek, and a history buff.  He didn’t post a wish list, but he follows several series by certain writers, and there are usually new books available, so this year I got him The Sea Peoples (A Novel of the Change) by S.M. Stirling; Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town (my son has been disappointed that there have been no new Dresden Files books lately, but I discovered that Butcher has switched to doing graphic novels with those characters, so I got one to see how he likes it,) and Provenance by Ann Leckie, whose trilogy beginning with Ancillary Justice swept all the science fiction awards. On the historical side, I got him Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre, about Britain’s Special Forces Unit that sabotaged the Nazis. He probably knows all about them, since WWII is his area of special interest, but it appears to be well-researched and written, and I think he’ll enjoy it.

Hmm, what else? Well, I gave away four of my own anthologies (or maybe more) as prizes on leave-a-comment blogs, which isn’t the same as actually choosing books for people I know. And yes, I was given a book, too, by my older son: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, about the thousands of young women recruited to work in factories in the Appalachians connected with atomic research and production at Oak Ridge during WWII. My son knows me well. I’m fascinated by stories of women playing major roles in history, especially military history.

I guess none of these books sound like fun to most folks, but I’ll end with a list of books I got for my almost-twelve granddaughter. I’d given her a few of the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary last year, and she requested more. These are humorous takes on history designed specifically to appeal to kids, and I wish I’d had time to read them all. There are titles like: Cruel Kings and Mean Queens, Dark Knights and Dingy Castles, The Rotten Romans, and Awesome Egyptians. Fun, and somewhat informative. I have fond memories of a similar but more adult-oriented book popular many years ago, 1066 and All That, an irreverent, hilarious, and factual take on English history beginning with the Norman Conquest. I’ll have to look up that one for her, but it’s best if you already know most of the history.

So that’s it, a list of the books I gave away without reading (much) myself. Look at it this way, though; if we wonder what kinds of books people who don’t buy our books do buy, well, there you have it.





Sunday, December 24, 2017

Real Life, Lightly Edited

by Jean Roberta

This post is two days late, I know. On Friday, December 22, when this post was supposed to appear, I was frantically reading and marking student essays and exams to get them done before Christmas, AND making up two syllabi (complete schedules for new classes to be taught from January to April 2018). These were due December 20 at the latest, but I had NO TIME before Friday. On Saturday morning, I submitted my last set of grades to the department head, who probably won’t see them until the university re-opens on January 2, but at least I have them off my hands for the meanwhile.

I still have to make up a syllabus for my new Non-Fiction (or Advanced Composition) class, which I will teach for the first time in January. It’s part of the Creative Writing program. A new textbook is on its way. I assume I will be thinking hard about this class between December 26 and January 2. I can only do one thing at a time.

On Saturday, Spouse and I had lunch with Younger Stepson and his new girlfriend, partly so we could meet her. (This is our own version of Christmas lunch at the palace with Prince Harry and his fiancée, Meghan Markle.) Surprise! The new girlfriend is the older student who came to my office to discuss essay-writing and the new class, which she hoped would help her. She is registered in it, so I will be seeing her in class next semester after I see her this evening at the Christmas Eve family supper.

After lunch, Stepson proposed family hugs all around, and New Girlfriend felt understandably awkward to be hugging (or being hugged by) the instructor who will soon be evaluating her writing. We will just have to juggle the multiple roles as best we can.

This is all a prologue to my discussion of what I’ve been reading, aside from student essays.

Several weeks ago, I agreed to review a new novel by Nairne Holtz, a Canadian lesbian writer and librarian I’ve followed for years. Her new book, Femme Confidential, looks autobiographical. (One of the central characters, Liberty, was raised on the Canadian East Coast by expat American Quaker parents, like the author.) It’s all about coming out into the lesbian community of Toronto in the 1980s and continuing to live there to the current time. Many of the characters live in the neighbourhood of Parkdale, formerly rundown but now gentrified, much like Greenwich Village in NYC. (My daughter, her husband, and their kids lucked into a reasonably-priced house in Parkdale earlier in this century.)

Of course, I wonder how much of the novel is based on the novelist’s life, and whether I am less than six degrees of separation from several of the people on whom the characters are based. (Since the early 1980s, a surprising—to me—number of lesbians have moved from Toronto to Regina, Saskatchewan, where I live, but none of them have stayed.)

As a reviewer, however, I have to say that the novel works as fiction, and the sex is seamlessly blended into character development. The book could be described as erotica which fits better with literary fiction than with one-handed reads.

The following scene contains a plot twist which is both logical and surprising. Liberty has been living with her “boyfriend,” David, on the rebound from Veronika, the woman she really wants, but who can’t seem to stay faithful. Liberty has told David she wants to break up. David tells her he wants to become a woman.

David asked, ‘Are you mad?’

I shook my head. Got up and sat on the couch beside him. Felt him cradle my hand. ‘Would you call me Dana?’

He already had a name picked out.

‘Okay.’ I said his new name out loud. ‘Dana.’

David—Dana. . I was going to have to start thinking of her as Dana, as she—wiped at one of her eyes. ‘I’m so glad you’re okay with this. I didn’t think you would be. That’s why I didn’t tell you.’

Tears formed in my eyes. ‘Yeah, but it’s sad we’re breaking up.’

Dana stared at me. ‘Being with me if I transition means being a lesbian.’

Right, okay, why hadn’t I thought of it that way? What she was saying was perfectly logical and didn’t matter—I didn’t want to be with him—her—anymore.

‘That’s not enough, is it?’

‘No.’ I didn’t try to explain. The truth I supposed was I hadn’t meant to get involved with him. I had wanted Veronika and consoled myself with David.

She pulled her hand away from mine and stood up. ‘Fuck.’

I stood up. ‘David. . .’

She turned from me, threw up her hands, stormed into what had been our bedroom, and closed the door.

I read the novel in a brief lull between student assignments, and my review is overdue.

I also picked up Sisters in the Life, a non-fiction anthology about African-American lesbian filmmakers to review for The Gay & Lesbian Review. (The editor regularly sends a list of titles and brief blurbs to the reviewers on his list, and we choose what we want.) This book was published by Duke University Press, which liked my review of an earlier book by film scholar Kara Keeling so much that they quoted three different excerpts from my review on their website.

African-American lesbian filmmakers! Who knew they were a community with a body of work to their credit? The book includes photos, and I look forward to reading about films that I’m sure I will want to see, if there is a way to get them. (I know how to order books from bookstores and through Interlibrary Loans from the campus library, but film is a whole other medium.)

Last but not least, my contributor’s copy of The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty Thirty, Volume 2, arrived in the mail! I also have a story in Volume 1 of this series, but I don’t think that was ever printed. (It is available as an ebook and a podcast.) I will have to tear myself away from these stories to work on the stuff I need to write.

As usual, I have bitten off more than I can easily chew. I’m grateful that my mind still seems to be as sound as it ever was (ha), and I’m able to get from one place to another, even on dangerously icy ground. (A local journalist posted a pic of a slick-shiny street on Facebook to shame the city government which has not sent enough machines with graders and snow-melting salt to make the infrastructure navigable.)

Happy winter holidays to everyone here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

We All Love the Beautiful Stories #CanLit #Storytelling #AmReading

A Post by Giselle Renarde
I just finished reading a novel called We All Love the Beautiful Girls. It's Canadian literary fiction by Joanne Proulx. I don't think I've ever read a book the year it came out (I'm very behind the times that way), but I found it in a Little Free Library near my house. The title and the cover appealed to me. I'll admit, I thought there would be lesbians. Spoiler Alert: there weren't.

But instead of talking about the book, I'm going to talk about my family. What else is new?

Okay, I lied.  I'm going to talk about this book a bit.  I'm going to tell you about something that happens in the book. Something fantastically Canadian, come to think of it. Something that touches on the story of my family.

A boy passes out in the snow.  He gets frostbite and loses a hand.

Now, here's why this story hits home for me...

My grandma loved her dad. When her parents divorced, she chose to live with him. When my grandmother married, he came to live with her.  I think he slept in her kitchen. I know my uncle slept in a drawer. But this was the late 40s, so I guess people were just sleeping all over the place.

I never met my great-grandfather, but evidence suggests he was a kind and caring person. He came here from rural Scotland, where he'd been a farmer. During the First World War he worked with horses, and when he came to Canada he continued in that vein, working in stables where milkmen kept their teams.

He wasn't much of a drinker, as far as I know, but one New Year's Eve he went down to the pub.  I guess he drank much more than his body was used to, because on his way back he passed out in a snow bank.  He wasn't far from home.  My grandmother tells me the snow bank was right in front of the house.  She's the one who found him there the next morning.

I'm telling you the story of how my great-grandfather died.

But I'm making choices about how I tell it.  I could stop right there.  Everything I've told you is true.  However, the implication is that, when my grandma found her father in the snow on New Year's Day, he was already dead.  That's not the case.  It's the best version of the story of my great-grandfather's death, but it's incomplete.

Because, when my grandmother found her father in the snow, he was still breathing.  They rushed him to hospital, where he died of pneumonia three weeks later. He never got out of that hospital bed.

When we're creating fiction, we're obviously making choices about how we tell a story. But when we're telling the stories of our lives, we're making choices too.

Good storytellers choose the best possible version of that story.

This is a lesson I learned from my aunt, who, I now realize, is the person who taught me how to be a storyteller.  When I was a child, I found her stories spellbinding. Now, as an adult, I still do.

In fact, just this weekend she told us a very evocative tale that drew on every sense. Her siblings all agreed that, the way she'd told it? Yeah, that's not the way it happened. Nowhere near.  There was a consensus that her facts were way off.

But does that matter? To me? I guess it doesn't. It doesn't make a difference whether my uncle came in through the front door or the back.  That doesn't impact the heart of her story, and my aunt's choices add nuance and build strong images.

Would it do an injustice to my great-grandfather if I led you to believe he died in that snowdrift, in the wee small hours of New Year's Day? When, in reality, he died in a hospital bed three weeks later?

That, I can't answer.  It's his death, not mine.

Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in nearly 200 short story anthologies. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, In Shadow, Seven Kisses, and The Other Side of Ruth.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Milk and Honey and Born to Run

These days I’m more aware of what I haven’t been reading, in as much as I’ve been reading a lot of job related non-fiction and straying farther and farther from, the soul of me.  I don’t see this as being a healthy thing but as my certifications come up for renewal it can’t be helped.

Still I feel it when I don’t read enough.

My reading, though sporadic seems to fall into two areas, the words of modern mystics and poetry.  I’ve been reading a book I would recommend especially to erotica writers called “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur.  This is a good book for men to read also, as it provides such a window into women’s emotions.  It’s a very sparse read, almost a collection of fingernail clippings more than poetry, but the sparse blasts of words can sometimes hit you hard.  It also reads a little like a novel in as much as there is a progress of story.  It begins with hurt and abuse, moves on to love found, love abandoned and the difficulties of healing,  There is a lot of inner dialogue and push back such as I would imagine a woman losing her love would feel.  Blaming the man, then blaming herself, then refusing to blame the man, longing for the man to come to her, adamantly refusing to allow him back.  It would be a real handful to know this woman in real life.

The good thing, the heartening thing about this book is that it is so remarkably popular.  Every few years or so critics declare poetry to be dead, no one buys it, no one reads it.  Then you find that the form has simply morphed.  Maybe no one reads Yeats anymore, but they read Rupi Kaur and she’s on the best seller list right up there with E L James.  And the street poetry of the rappers and hip hop artists endures and flourishes.  It makes me think how shattering it must have been for the literary types a hundred years or so ago when Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” was published and the invention of free verse burst on the scene.  Poets and critics felt the barbarians were not simply at the gates but had smashed them down and there were no gates of meter and rhyme anymore, only "a kind of excited prose” as one put it.  

I wonder if this will happen to our native genre also.  It’s not that erotica is dead, far from it, it has morphed into legitimacy.  Cable shows like HBO’s “The Deuce” make one nostalgic for the old days when this stuff was poorly filmed and stupidly written, and sold in brown wrappers under the counter, but it had a kind of playful gravity that good old sin can bring to a thing.  A kind of harmless wickedness that seems to have vanished in today’s genuinely frightening cultural reckonings and revolutions that have made eroticism dangerous in a way that isn’t fun anymore.   Rock without the roll.

Which reminds me of the other book I’ve read, “Born to Run”, the autobiography of Bruce Springsteen.  Get the audio version if you can, read by the author.  How he can write!   How he can read!  He writes prose with the same tough talking Jersey warrior poet voice that he brings to his music.  The book is definitely a must read for any young man or woman who wants to make their own music and maybe put a band together.  Along with his own dramatic rags to riches story the book is full of father to son having a couple beers together advice about what rock and roll is all about, what makes it good and what makes a band good and what has to be done right if you want to get the magic working night after night. Mostly what he says, which applies to writing too, is you have to keep it real.  You have to own your voice.  When you make something, it doesn’t have to sound great, but it has to have soul.  That’s also why Rupi Kaur’s simple stuff works too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Power of One-Clickery

At the last count I had something in the region of sixty titles up on Amazon. My first book was published in 2013, so that equates to about twelve titles a year by my reckoning. They’re not all full-length novels, of course, though most are. A cursory trawl through my royalty statements suggest that in any given month only a fraction of these titles actually sell any copies, which is disappointing since as I advance into my twilight years I sort of hoped that my back catalogue might serve as something of a pension fund. If that is to happen, a serious re-think is required.

It’s not enough just to write a decent page-turner. An author needs to be at least as good at selling their books as they are at writing them, or know a man who is. In my early writing career I was touchingly delighted to find a publisher ready to accept my work, and I sort of assumed that they would know how to sell it. Perhaps they do, though over the years since I have seen little evidence to support that belief. Some publishers are better than others, to be sure, but I now appreciate that all writers need to rely primarily on their own efforts to shift books.

A couple of months ago I made the decision to request back the rights to my earlier work which broadly speaking sells particularly badly. I just know I can do better by self-publishing and marketing it myself. These books include twelve which make up the Black Combe trilogies, my first foray into writing about BDSM. My plan is to reunite the trilogies into four substantial novels, and sell them separately and as a box set. Once I have control of my own pricing I can offer sensible incentives. I plan to write some additional content, correct some issues which, in the light of experience, I might handle differently these days, and market the living daylights out of them.

So, I’ve been reading all I can find about selling on Amazon and on Facebook. There are a lot of free courses out there – and some rather pricey ones, too. I’m not averse to investing in my own development, but I’ll exhaust the freebies first. My favourite, so far, has been the Kindlepreneur course on AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) but Reedly is a close second.

Given the obsessive distaste with which the great gods of Facebook look down upon we grimy peddlars of porn in the erotic romance genre I have limited confidence of success there. And Facebook advertising is not for the faint of heart nor for those of mediocre technical abilities such as me. I shall dabble, but I doubt if success lies in that direction.

Amazon though, now that’s a different matter. I’ve enrolled on pretty much every free course out there and read copious amounts on the subject. Technically it all seems straightforward enough, a doddle compared to the intricacies of Facebook. Much hangs, I gather, on selecting the right key words – and loads of them! I’ve read about the most ingenious and painstaking tricks for assembling finely honed lists of words and phrases, artfully engineered to place my books in front of those who might buy them, at the very moment they are perusing their reading options on Amazon, their clicking fingers at the ready. Oh, the power of one-clickery.

Wish me luck. My comfortable old age depends upon it.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reading for Reviews -- #Reviews #Commitments #Community

Stack of Books

By Lisabet Sarai

Since our last “what are you reading?” cycle, I’ve finished all but one the books I discussed. Most of my new reading has focused on titles I plan to or have promised to review. Accordingly, they tend to be in the romance or erotica genres.

I have a pretty significant backlog of to-be-reviewed books on my tablet. They come from two sources. First, I’m a host for an author promotion company that offers review blog tours as one of their products. For these tours, the blog host commits not only to posting cover, blurb and excerpt but also to reading and reviewing the book being featured. I am quite selective about the review tours I accept, but usually I have one or two on my calendar.

Second, I receive many review copies of books from my fellow authors. In some cases, I request them; in others, the writer offers. (I generally ignore unsolicited review copies.)

I have a semi-regular Review Tuesday feature on my blog, for posting the latter reviews. About a week later, I will also put them on Goodreads, Amazon and BN.

I see reviewing other authors’ work as part of our community ecosystem. It’s a way of paying things forward. Hopefully, writers I know will review my books. (I’m always happy to provide copies, by the way. Just ask!)

Reviews also offer the possibility that I’ll expand my own network of readers due to cross-promotion. This doesn’t mean I will post a dishonest review, though. Once a reviewer begins to give every book five stars, she loses her credibility.

Reviewing gets me reading things I might otherwise not encounter. However, knowing I’m committed to a review changes my reading experience. I read more slowly, more consciously, and more critically. I’m less likely to lose myself in a book, because my intellect trumps my emotions. (If a book I plan to review does sweep me away, that’s a really positive sign.)

Anyway in this post, I thought I’d talk about a few recent review books.

Rescuing Prince Charming by Edward Hoornaert

I met Ed (aka “Mr. Valentine”) through our joint participation in the Marketing for Romance Writers group. I was really impressed by his intelligent, humorous blog posts, so when he put out a call for advance readers for his science fiction romance, I volunteered.

I found that his novel was as delightful as his blog posts, written in a sprightly, tongue-in-cheek style but still conveying genuine emotion. I have a love/hate relationship with the romance genre, because so many romances are utterly predictable. This book held my interest and kept me smiling from beginning to end.

If you’re interested, you can read my full review here.

One Too by Sherrie Cronin

I’m more than halfway through this nearly 600 page book, which I’m scheduled to review on February 12th. The genre is a bit difficult to assign (always a recommendation, in my opinion!), but I guess the closest category would be science fiction. Most of the important characters have various super-normal capabilities: telepathy, astral body travel, precognition, the ability to manipulate the flow of time. These powers are treated scientifically rather than as magic. The powers have clear limits. Exercising these powers is physically draining. Also individuals differ in their native abilities, and these abilities can be strengthened through training.

At the core of the book is a conflict between two groups of telepaths with very different values and views of the world. The novel is highly political; although it is set in 2012-2013, the references to the current world situation and media trends are quite transparent. Indeed, this is one of my criticisms so far, that the author wears her politics too much on her sleeve.

The heroine is a break from tradition, a middle-aged mother of three adult children, a scientist and a telepath, married to a high school physics teacher. I like this as well.

The book also has elements of an adventure tale, with kidnappings and daring escapes. At the moment, the main characters are on a tourist cruise ship headed to Antarctica, fleeing the evil telepaths of Enteletechy.

I’m enjoying this read, despite the knowledge that I’ll have to review it. Stop by my blog on the 12th of February to get my final verdict.

No Title Provided...

There’s one dilemma occasioned by accepting review copies from authors whom I know—what if I hate the book? About a month ago, a colleague who publishes with the same co-op I do offered me a copy of her latest novella. I’d read a review by another author whom I generally trust, so I happily accepted. Alas, I really did not like the book at all. The tale is set in a world of extreme lifestyle BDSM, which should interest me, but overall it felt stiff and fake. The main premise and conflict struck me as implausible. The characters, most especially the focus character, had a cardboard quality. I could not identify with any of them. The final straw was a long kink scene between secondary characters that did not advance the plot at all.

What do I do? As I said above, I try to be scrupulously honest in my reviews. If I review a book with flaws, I will try to first highlight the positive aspects. In this case, though, the negative so outweighs the positive that I’ve decided to simply let the book sink into obscurity. Fortunately I didn’t add it to my books on Goodreads before I read it, so there’s no record I ever even opened the file.

I’m not entirely comfortable with this compromise solution, but I guess it’s what I’d prefer if some reader hated one of my books.

And coming up...

The next book I’m scheduled to read for review is called Grinder’s Corner by Ferris H. Craig and Charlene Keel. I was attracted to this because of its unusual setting in the early sixties, in a taxi dance hall. It’s also billed as a romantic comedy, a genre I enjoy but really can’t pull off myself.

Check my blog on February 27th, to find out what I thought.

Meanwhile, in late November, my DH and I visited the semi-annual book sale at a private library near us. These sales feature hundreds of great titles, at rock bottom prices. We spent about twenty five dollars for more than dozen books. Some are by authors new to us, but there are also volumes by T.C. Boyle, William Boyd, Jane Smiley, and Joanne Harris. I’m looking forward to diving into this pool of literary riches.

Tune in next time for my comments!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Where's the line?

My favourite author of all time is Dr. Seuss. Even now I'm an adult he still means the world to me because it was his work which truly turned me from "a kid who could read" into "a Reader™". There is a wonderful quote of his flying around out there:

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love".

For the most part, I refrain from introducing any of the more literal kinds of "madness" in my stories. When I write shifters, there's always the whole "beast taking over" going on, which you could easily view as being a form of temporary insanity. Hell, even the humans get that kind of feeling when they meet their fated mate. That's good fun, and very fitting for the genre. Similarly, even in non-paranormal, the idea of desire taking control of the intellect is rich picking for emotive writing.

I have more than a passing exposure to out-of-the-ordinary mental faculties with my eldest son, who's intellectually impaired. It isn't madness, of course, but it's a non-standard state of mental awareness and ability. I have some story ideas brewing which incorporate those kinds of disabilities and their effects on families. But as they're only embryonic there's not a lot I can say about those at this point.

The one time I did touch on something approaching madness would be with my 2015 release, "The Last Three Days". I say approaching madness because in the end, madness is often a rather subjective term. Is obsession a form of madness? Is addiction? And if so, at what point do they make that particular leap?

In this case, I had the benefit of years of percolation. I originally wrote the story in 2008, and published it under a different title in 2009. I then withdrew it from publication in about 2012, from memory, only tackling it again in the year I published it.

Those extra 5-6 years from initial writing to re-writing allowed me to explore the nature of obsession and addiction, in part through reading but also through observation of people around me.

In this story, I have two people who are dissatisfied with the lives they've built for themselves. And, by taking their feet off their gas pedals, have allowed others to build around them.

What they find in each other couldn't be called love. It's sharp, and it's brutal, and it's completely unforgiving. Yet it's relentless. And while their relationship—if it can be called that—gives their bodies exactly the kind of catch-and-release sex they require, it's the effect on their minds which was more interesting to chronicle.

They both know what they're doing is wrong. They both, in fact, have as many negative reactions as positive to each other, and to the acts they perform together.

Yet they can't walk away. Like a smoker who wants to quit but can't find the ability. Alcoholics, addicts.

Which brings me back to the quote by Dr Seuss. In essence, these two find in each other a weirdness which locks in perfectly against their own. It's indefinable, yet immutable.

And still, they never actually call it love.