Sunday, July 31, 2011

Engaging Dialog

When I set out to write Alexios' story, I had a grand vision. He would be a prince who found himself in the predicament in the photo to the left. Not only did I have to find a way to get him bound to that rock, but I would have to come up with a way to rescue him because I hate leaving one of my heroes in a lurch.

Getting him literally between a rock and a hard place was relatively easy. Andromeda found herself in that very dilemma when her mother bragged that Andromeda was more beautiful that a local sea god's children. So it was easy enough to draw the parallel and have Alexios' father make a similar statement about his son and one of Apollo's sons.

Of course, Apollo couldn't let such hubris (overweening pride) stand and Alexios found himself bound to a rock waiting to meet his end. There is quite a bit more to the story than that, but that is the basic premise "Alexios' Fate" is built on.

I finished up my story at about 20,000 words and was rather pleased with myself. It was my longest finished piece yet and there was more set up than is usual with my short stories. Best of all, my voice/style had improved dramatically while writing it.

Reading back over my story, I discovered that it needed more dialog and I wasn't sure how I was going to get more in there. I made a comment to a couple of friends about that concern and Deanna Wadsworth offered to read over Alexios' tale with an eye to fixing that.

And boy, did she! She suggested all kinds of places for me to add dialog. I took almost all of her suggestions and loved what they did for my story. End of second draft had me at 29,000. Lots of dialog and the whole thing flowed so much better.

Further suggestions about getting to know one of the other characters better and adding more of a sense of the mythos have been incorporated. It will feel like reading a modern myth, like Homer has come forward nearly three millennia.

"Alexios' Fate" is now up to 36,000 and I have dubbed Deanna, the queen of gab, because she knows how to use it to good advantage in advancing a story and drawing the reader in. I hope to continue to put what I have learned at her feet to good use.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Blogger A.B. Gayle: A Good Cover Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

“They’ve got it all wrong!”

How many times have you said that when you’re well into a book and then you flip back and stare at the cover? Where’s Nathan’s goatee beard (K.A.Mitchell’s “Bad Company”)... I thought there was only supposed to be a few years age difference between them Tristan looks sixteen and Michael in his thirties instead of 28 (Z.A.Maxfield’s “Crossing Borders”)

It shouldn’t matter, but sometimes you just wish they’d get the finished result closer to the text.

It wasn’t until I got published that I realised that sometimes the cover design is the last thing to be done and many authors, no matter their expertise in the graphics field, never get a say in the finished product.

The procedure varies from publishing house to publishing house. For example, Total Ebound has a few artists on contract and suggested I look at their different styles. Then they sent a list of details they wanted: Where the story is set, Hero Description, Heroine Description and Short Summary of Story. Is there anything you would specifically like to see on your cover or any comments? Is there anything you don’t want on the cover or any comments?

A few cover artists are much sought after and do contract work for a number of publishers: Catt Ford, Reese Dante and Anne Cain to name just a few.

When Dreamspinner Press asked for my input for the cover of my novella “Caught” I was stuck with a problem. My hero was a young Asian guy with long hair. Part of the plot centred on the fact that very few Asian guys have long hair, so when I started looking for a photo, I was stuck. This is where my friendship with Kayla paid off big time.

She thumbed through her vast collection and found a couple of great looking guys:

The last one was perfect but we couldn’t track the photographer down to buy the royalty. In the end, after scouring through literally hundreds of stock photos we decided that this next guy had all the right elements: he looked sufficiently Chinese (though I suspect in reality he may be Korean), had the long hair (vital for the plot), and had beauty without being traditionally pretty (again vital for the character). I’d seen this guy in other poses but they always included weapons and markings. In them, it’s almost as if he’s hiding his beauty. The photo was taken by Raisa Kanavera, a Russian freelance photographer

So by melding it with a photo I had taken of the lighthouse which also features in the story, Mara, the artist at Dreamspinner Press came up with the final result:

 Luckily the text wasn’t fixed in stone, so I was able to insert a few sentences about Daniel removing his shirt and staring out to sea into a scene where they were taking photos near the lighthouse, so the text matched perfectly.

Too often, though, publishers treat the cover as an almost irrelevant entity, designed more to attract a reader because of its perviness rather than accurately reflecting the story or the characters. While the finished product may sell a few extra books, the publisher risks losing readers who get angry when the picture doesn’t match the story.

Even well known authors report they have little control on what finally gets chosen for them. The publisher knows best what “sells” is the standard catch cry.

 Personally, I feel that if they started the process of finalising the cover earlier, text could be tweaked to match if needed rather than the other way around.

The standard of artwork on the covers is improving. Elisa Rolle’s annual LGBT cover competition showcases the variety that is now out there.

Ebook covers also have their own version of Fabio, with Jimmy Thomas now reporting he’s on over one thousand covers! I was fortunate to have him on Silver Publishing’s 2010 Christmas Anthology that includes my story “The Go Between”.

Given that ebooks don’t require expensive printing presses, I believe the day will come when illustrations are peppered through the text, giving a result half way between a straight text book and a graphic novel.

But what about doing the whole process from the other angle though. Producing a cover first and then writing the story to match?

This is the concept behind “Inspired Writing,” a Facebook group started by our very own Kayla. Photos are posted and the 139 members are encouraged to write their own stories based on pictures like these two:
This is a great way for beginners and established writers to fine tune their craft. Who are the characters? Why are they in the position they’re in? Who took the photo? Who else is in the story with them?

The first photo inspired “Over-Exposure” and the second, “Sex, Love and Videotape” both by Kayla writing under her other pseudonym, Kei Chan. Contact Kayla if you want to find out more.

The concept was also adopted on Goodreads this Summer with their Hot Summer Days reads. Established authors and newcomers sent in stories to match photos and a short blurb sent in by readers. The result was over one hundred stories and Kayla’s “Controlled Fall” is the latest:
The brief from Deanna Wadsworth was: I know I'm writing one of the stories but I just found this pic online and DAYUMMM, I wanna know why these two hunks are playing on the side of this waterfall.

But my muse is suspiciously absent!!!

Anyone out there wanna let me know what these two are up to?

Just a quick browse through Elisa Rolle’s covers will show the variety that’s out there nowadays. Some readers love P.L. Nunn and Paul Richmond’s covers with their original artworks. Some like the realism of actual stock photos. Some prefer torso only shots, so that the model’s features don’t impinge on their visualisation of the character.

I’d be interested in getting feedback on what covers work for you and which ones really don’t.

A.B.Gayle is a published Australian author with two short stories about Cedric the Sex Slave cyborg in scifi romance anthologies and two novellas: “Mardi Gras” a tale of Sydney’s Pride Parade and “Caught” both set in her home town. She’s also co-written a book on one of Australia’s wine regions with William Maltese “In Search of the Perfect Pinot G!”. Two other full length novels are at the submission stage. She’s also a regular contributor to the free m/m online soap “Redemption Reef”. She loves talking to authors as well as reviewing their books, and the reviews/interviews page on her website includes some interesting chats she’s had via email with people such as Heidi Cullinan, Jay Lygon, Syd McGinley and Hank Edwards.

Learning to write in POV

When I first started writing, I wrote in third person omniscient. AB Gayle read my slash fanfiction and my cinderfella and left so many comments all over the documents that I was completely overwhelmed. I had never heard of point of view or head hopping and didn't know what to make of her comments. The strict use of POV and the insistence that only one person's thoughts and opinions could be accessed at a time seem to be constructs of the romance genre. It took me quite some while to wrap my head around just what could be considered an infraction of the unwritten rules regarding POV.

Alison was invaluable in all this. She would find my latest offense against the powers that be and explain to me why my character couldn't tell that someone felt that way, instead he seemed to feel that way. The whole thing made no sense to someone who had never read romance before. I noticed that some on the m/m authors followed one character at a time, but I had assumed that was something the author did for effect not because of some all encompassing concept.

Inspiration Photo for "Sex, Love and Video Tape"
I was fortunate that my first original piece, "Sex, Love and Video Tape, only featured one character. I guess you could say that the other characters were virtual characters. Even with what should have been an easy situation to keep in POV, Alison found several places where I wandered back and forth over that line in the sand.

Alison was patient with me and after the next short story, "Over-Exposure," I had pretty much figured out the rules and only made the occasional mistake. She continued to work with me to hone my skills and it seems to have taken me from the ranks of slash fanfiction writer and helped me enter the ranks of published m/m author.

So I would like to say a big thank you to my first editor, AB Gayle.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why I like m/m fiction.

 A few men have asked me why I like m/m fiction.  About half of these men were open minded straight men and the rest were gay men.  Both groups seemed surprised to think that women would be interested in this genre.  I really couldn't say which group was more surprised.  I briefly contemplated the old tried and true, "Who wants a hot guy and some chick when you can have two hot guys."  Trite but true; however, there is so much more to it than that.

 Someone put forward the hypothesis that just like straight men watch "lesbian" porn, straight women like gay porn.  But that is another poorly thought out claim and just doesn't ring true on so many levels.  Comparing apples to oranges doesn't do justice to the topic. Saying that men do "X" so women do the polar opposite is unrealistic. That kind of sophistry doesn't fly with so many other situations so why should it be any different here?

Men who watch lesbian porn are saying to themselves that they want a piece of that and if those girls were with them, they would make them straight.  How do I know?  I've hung out with more men than women and have firsthand knowledge of these conversations.  These same men would never consider reading a lesbian romance.  The only lesbian action they read about is in Penthouse Forums, stories written by men for men. No romance there, just porn waiting for a man to show up and convince these girls of the error of their ways.

M/m romance isn't porn.  It may be very erotic and have a minimal storyline, but porn is different.  Porn is strictly sex with very little pretensions of being anything else.  It has no real redeeming qualities and frequently is between partners that aren't really interested in each other, much less turned on about the sex itself.  Even in PWP (Plot, what plot?) m/m erotica, the partners are at least enthusiastic about the roles they are playing.

I read m/m romances, m/m erotica, yaoi/shonen ai and slash.  It ranges from very graphic to a sweet kiss at the end of the story.  I'm not reading it because I want the fantasy of taking part in the action.  I read it because I like real men who are confused, vulnerable and looking for something important in their lives.  There is a depth to these characters that is missing in conventional romance, where the men are the strong silent type.  Not my kind of man.

Unlike traditional romances where they only question is how we get the two destined lovers together; in m/m romance getting the lovers together is only half of the problem.  They may be in love, but still have multiple obstacles to overcome.  Will one or both of the lovers be able to face their feeling head on?  Will they find themselves in a situation where they won't be able to be true to themselves much less each other?  Will they have their Happily Ever After (HEA) or will they, and the reader, have to settle for Happy For Now (HFN)?

If our two heroes are lucky enough to get an HEA, you know they had to work hard to earn it. Not just have everything handed to them like in more traditional romances. Theirs is a romance fraught with dangers all its own.

This genre offers so much more to both the author and the reader. It allows the author to explore more situations and gives a larger range of characters to choose from. While the characters often find their choices limited, the author doesn't. The men have to carve out their own place in the world. Even though everyone has to do that for themselves, these men have to face and overcome the social mores of their family, friends, co-workers and if that wasn't enough, every person around them. Sometimes they are lucky and some of the people around them are supportive, sometimes not so much. Even the lucky ones still face an uphill battle to keep their place.

Wish I could tell you exactly what I find most compelling about m/m fiction. All I can say is this genre touched something inside of me and hasn't let go.

 I also write m/m erotica and some slash.  I tend to be very graphic in my stories and write the kind of thing that I would like to read.  I try to make the men in my stories men and not some masculine version of the mainstream romance heroine.  Besides horny men are more fun!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Squee! Alexios has a home!

I just got done telling some friends that squeeing wasn't for me, but maybe I will make one little exception. Who am I kidding? I'll make a big exception for this. I just finished the rough draft of "Alexios' Fate" and before the ink was even dry, metaphorically speaking of course, it had a home.

I just signed the contract with Breathless Press and my longest and best work to date should come out later this year!

Part way through writing the first draft of this story, I had an epiphany and suddenly my style improved dramatically. It has now gone through two revisions and exploded from 20K to 35K words. I've had a lot of help along the way, most notably from Deanna Wadsworth and Johnny Miles.

"Alexios' Fate" takes place in iron age Greece. The gods and all their lesser brethren are still very much real.The culture is male driven and the women are kept under wraps so you won't see very many mortal women in my tale. The Muses are a different story. They and the other immortal females were not held to the same restrictions the women were.

The women who do make an appearance in my tale are not the typical run of the mill m/m fiction women. They are neither the supportive best friend who will do anything to see that her BFF catches his man, nor are they the evil bitch who exists to make the man eschew women and crave men instead. My women are women with the cultural expectations for their place in history.

This is the first piece I have written with the intention of submitting it for publication. That effected the way I wrote Alexios' story. All my other pieces were just for fun so I didn't worry about passive voice, "was," "it," "that," etc. I used all the -ly adverbs I wanted. I did however avoid tags so "said" doesn't appear too often.

All in all it's been a totally different writing experience for me. I done more "crafting" of sentences and less just going with whatever I wanted to write. If I typed one of the black listed words, I went back and tried to restructure the sentence in such a way as to do away with that taboo word. Sometimes I couldn't, but often I could. I hope it won't require too much editing to get it up to snuff.

I also had a lot of help from Deanna Wadsworth, the queen of gab. I knew I needed more dialog in this piece and she found places for it I would have never dreamed of. She took a manuscript that I liked and turned it into one I love. She asked me to bring out the paranormal elements and wanted to see more of Apollo. So if you like Apollo's scenes, you can thank her.

I've had lots of help along the way. If you read my first blog post, you will see what a list of people I have to thank for getting here. I'd also like to thank Justyn who read my stories and asked me if I would like to be published. His opinion was the final push needed to get me to admit that I am an author. Now a published author.

Thanks so much to everyone!

Friday, July 15, 2011


Today was the start of a busy week for me. I was interviewed by Seriously Interviewed. I think they may have gotten me to let a few deep dark secrets loose! In a few more days on the 20th, I'll be on Whipped Cream Guest Blog discussing what inspires my stories. The following day I will be part of Erotic Diaries kick off week discussing the origins of slash and m/m fiction. I will be a regular contributor at Erotic Diaries.

I never realize just how much behind the scenes promotional work an author had to do. I was under the mistaken impression that if a book was good, people would read it and the word would get around. But since word of mouth seems to be an unicorn instead of merely a zebra, I will have to do a lot of kicking and shouting to flush it from its elusive hiding place.

All of this promo work seriously cut into my writing time. Now that I've caught up for the moment, I'll get a chance to finish "Alexios' Fate." Then I'm sure the next round of promotional stops will be waiting in the wings. Of course there is this new blog and the free reads that I will have to work on before I post them.

I wonder how much cringing I will be doing as go back over the first thing I ever wrote? I haven't decided what to do about POV in my slash. I'm thinking about leaving it alone, but I don't want people who hate head hopping to get the wrong idea about my current writing style. So I will probably address that, even though I still think that third person omniscient is a perfectly legitimate voice.

I have multiple short stories that I intend to revamp and release as a collection of my shorts. (Still not those kind of shorts, Johnny!) I won't forget Cinder, Rebecca.

So I can see that I still have a lot of work on my plate.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How I got here.

When I decided to do a blog, I wasn't sure what my first post should be. Should I promo myself or my published story "Legends" or should I talk about my WIP? But that didn't sound like the tone I should set from the start. Then it occurred to me that there was an obvious first post topic.

I have a lot of great friends who helped me get where I am. They have come along for the ride, most of them from the start. Several of my friends have gotten out and pushed when I needed it.

I don't know how many times I said, "I'm not an author." Did they ever believe me? No, they all sagely nodded their heads and replied, "Of course..." Now I find myself in the unique and rather unexpected position of saying, "I'm an author of m/m fiction." Mark, I wish you were here to tell me "I told you so!"

I have so many wonderful people to thank I'm not sure were to start. I think maybe I'll start at the beginning.

A couple of years ago I discovered yaoi. At that time there weren't many English translation manga available. Most of what I read were scanlations. While looking for good sources to read from I ran across Sara. She is the source of all things yaoi and a remarkable friend.

My husband published a novel about that time and I told her I was editing for him. Sara asked me to edit some Bleach fanfiction slash for her and thus Kei-chan was born, my slash fanfic writing alter-ego.

I was looking for some Samurai Champloo slash. What I could find only used the characters names, but changed all the other details, including their personalities and the setting/time frame. I was disappointed and said that I could do better. Fortunately for me and anyone who likes my stories, Sara insisted that I prove it. Thus "Infinite Infatuation" came to be written. It took on a life of its own and the one shot PWP grew to be six chapters long.

Sara encouraged me to keep "Infinite Infatuation" going, as did Rebecca Leigh and several fans on the site where I post my fanfic. I didn't think it was good enough to publish, but they said I should keep writing it so I did.

Linda Reilly also read it and suggested that I submit a story for a m/m fairy tale anthology. Since I wasn't an author I didn't intend to sub anything, but I had come up with a plausible story line and Cinder insisted that I write his story. A publisher read "Cinder-garcon?" and said it had potential. I was even more surprised that she felt that way about a nameless writer..

As anyone who followed Kei-chan or now follows Kei-sama on FaceBook can tell you, I have an amazing collection of photos. Most of my friends are m/m authors who have commented on the photographic plot bunnies. So I put together a group based on the idea of writing stories about these photos. Since it was my group I felt I needed to be a good example and write a story. It got some good feedback and AB Gayle started teaching me about POV, a thing that I had never been exposed to before. She probably set my feet firmly on this path at that point. I hope you're pleased with yourself, Alison!

All of my original works come from the photos posted in the group Inspired Writing with the exception of the one I wrote for a photo prompt in the Goodreads M/M Romance Group's Hot Summer Days anthology. Several authors have also gotten story ideas from those same photos. I'm looking forward to reading their published works based on those photos.

I was just toying with the thought of getting something published when an editor saw some of my works and offered to publish me. That is how "Legends" came to be in Breathless Press' anthology Ad-dick-tion and I can now call myself a published author. It all still feels a bit surreal. Authors are important people. I'm just someone who writes.

I'm lucky that I have a good group of friends to answer questions and get advice from. I also have several good beta readers who point out ways my works could be improved. I have some fans who make it necessary for me to keep writing.

I'd like to thank Sara Wright, Rebecca Leigh, Linda Reilly and Mark Bowne who insisted that I write. Thanks to AB Gayle, Johnny Miles, Deanna Wadsworth, Aleksandr Voinov, Tal Valante, Margie Church, Margie Hall, Nicole Hicks and Michele Montgomery for all their help. Thanks to Amara Devonte for promoting me and giving me the push necessary to make this blog and then helping me put it together. Thanks to Kenya Ferreira for being the self proclaimed president of my fan club, setting me up with the lovely bracelets and the iPhone app that I used to create part of this post. And of course, Lea Walker for keeping me supplied with plenty of Travis photos.