Sunday, March 13, 2016

So Bike week has come to an end here in Daytona, and I'm back inside. Happily, I have a few new ideas for stories. One is another in the USG series. It's going to be about Kyle and Theo. We met Kyle during Dan and Billy's story. He's going to take Dan's suggestion to heart and find a way to go to school. Theo is the head of the maintenance department who gives Kyle a job, but, more importantly, helps him walk back into life after some bad experiences.

I also have plans for a story set here in Daytona...a European race car driver in for the 24 hour race meets up with a ROTC student from a local college...things go fast in this one.

Finally, I am working on a sci-fi novel that's full length. It's not a gay romance per se, but it's set in the future when the idea of intimate relationships is different from today. There will be people with a wide variety of beliefs and practices. The key to the story is that feelings of family, commitment, and community can change the very fabric of society. That's why I love sci-fi...absolute potential.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What do you do when you fall for your best friend?

My second book in the USG series is scheduled to come out this spring. It's University of Southern Georgia: Dan and Billy. Dan is...well, he's Dan. He's happy to embody the true spirit of being here and being queer...and he's ready to deal with everyone and everything that would love to shove him back in the closet...but that's already highly organized and completely filled to the brim with what he needs to succeed in theatre management.

Billy is, was, and will be a conservative gay man of the south. He had money growing up, but he also had a multitude of hard knocks. He is cautious in everything and copes with the anxiety of making small choices. When he meets Dan, he meets his own personal force of nature, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Problems: A roommate who hates him, a guy he likes who forgets to mention the boyfriend he lives with, a gay college republican who thinks he's a tramp, and a grumpy best friend who means everything to him...

When Dan met Billy, he saw what he liked. When Billy met Dan, he realized his world didn't have to stay broken...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Chosing Uncomfortable Topics: Who Can Give Consent

Well, the story, University of Southern Georgia: Davy and Tony, is out there, and I've gotten some nice reviews, for which I am grateful. I've also had a few that voiced concern about an adult dating a seventeen year old...and for good reason. The concept of consent in a relationship is tricky when both parties are willing, but one could seriously ask who is capable of giving consent.

Initially, the publishers questioned whether or not I'd be willing to change Tony's age to eighteen, and I seriously considered it because I was uncomfortable as well, but after a short email exchange, and several points came to light, they agreed to accept the story as it was.

While I am truly awed that so many women have embraced this type of story, my main reason for writing is not to entertain or titillate women who find this as an interesting sub-genre of the romance novel primary audience, at least in my mind, is the LGBTQ community. Let me first state that I am not gay, but I have several close family members who are, and I watch them walk through minefields, and it impacts me when they hurt.

I grew up in a small Midwestern town, and I've lived out west, up north, and now I live and plan to continue living in the south. I love the United States, but I'm not blind to the issues we face here. I wrote this story after a particular family incident, and I wrote it for people I love.

Growing up in the Midwest and in the South, it was very common, and it is still very common for small town kids to date someone in high school and get married within a year after graduation. It is also common for teenage girls to be encouraged to date older men and, especially if the guy is in the military, to send letters and packages if he is overseas. I know that because I have seen it with my own eyes.

This behavior raises the issue of the double standard for male versus female in stories. Why are people comfortable with this behavior if a girl were the one meeting and dating the guy? The old line "girls mature faster" is often given, but in this story, I specifically state that Tony is mature. He is, in fact, capable of making adult decisions and demonstrates it. Many people in the LGBTQ community are forced by circumstance to grow up quickly, and they have to make those choices and those decisions before anyone would want to...but it's survival. Because we have two males, we are able to parse out the issue of gender roles, and that is a good thing because THIS IS A FICTIONAL STORY AND NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SOMEONE.

The second, and perhaps more important fact that comes up in the story, is that Davy comes from California, and he is used to the idea that eighteen is "legal"...but Tony comes from Georgia where the legal age of consent is sixteen. The USMJ, the law of the military that would have followed Davy wherever he went, is sixteen as well. Under the color of law, there was no crime, and everyone involved was legally capable of consent...but the current culture in our country is that this was wrong because Tony was young. There should be discomfort for a reader when he or she realizes that, though the laws are arbitrary, there should be some question as to the participants' judgment. The saving grace is that Davy truly had no way to know before he had fallen for Tony...and he was upset and bothered by that fact.

I don't believe that having statutory laws about legal age of consent is wrong. I like that the law is willing to draw a line and say, no, it doesn't matter that you "love" someone if your love is hurting them because they are too young to make a good choice. The laws protect those who would not necessarily be able to protect themselves. The issue is that consent, in the United States, is vague and arbitrary because of our traditional approach to these laws. It causes major issues, and the idea of consent will show up again and again in my stories because it's important to realize you have the right to say no, and you need to be talking to your sexual partners...if you can't open your mouth to talk...well, I want to keep this PG rated, so you get my point.

Another issue I didn't touch on was that the average age for an American to begin having sex is seventeen, Tony's age. That doesn't mean that I think that people should run out and have sex at seventeen, it means that many of them already are. It's important to realize that fact because it means the story is relevant to at least some people. It's also important to realize that sex education often doesn't prepare them for that reality. It's certainly rare in the geographic regions that I am writing about for anyone to give basic information about homosexual sex. It's unfortunately not rare for young people to be kicked out for being LGBTQ or mocked or bullied. What is right for a teenage gay man to know? To do? What's healthy? What's socially, at large, acceptable? What's socially acceptable in the gay community? We are failing these people miserably because we refuse to acknowledge the truth. Why don't we try and change that in a meaningful way?

I don't kid myself. This is first and foremost a a sub-genre...of romance...for gay people. If it gets one person to sit and seriously think about even one of these issues or brings comfort to one soul wondering in the wilderness asking if he or she is all alone in how they feel, what they want, their questions...that's a bonus. Because, frankly, I write for them. I want them to know at least one person out there is rooting for them and wants them to find that kind of love. You know...the storybook kind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Gallery Proof

I've just had the heady experience of reading my story, University of Souther Georgia: Davy & Tony, as an actual digital book. It's awesome in the most traditional sense...I am filled with awe. It's not just a story I put together and then self-published. While there is nothing inherently wrong with self-publishing, it lacks one thing that books from a publishing house have...the collaboration with other artists.

The gallery proof, for those who aren't aware, is the copy sent to the author before publication. It is the last moment available to check that what you wrote is what you meant, that the grammar is just so, that the words are correct. It's the copy with the cover. It's the one that you say, yes, I meant that. It's got its own special kind of weight.

It's also the copy where you see what those around you have contributed. My husband's time where he took up my normal chores, the editor's eyes that said, no, it can better; I can show you the difference between what you meant and what you said. The cover artist's vision of the people you've created...

It's amazingly simple and simply amazing to think that this will be real now. Other people will see it, read it, and think about it. Some may love it. Some may hate it. But, hopefully, for a few minutes or a few hours or a few days, people will think about what your characters said and did, and they will share with you a world you created for them.

Thank you. Thank you. To all those who help the author make it to this day...we can't do it without you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Moving from Storyteller to Professional Writer

As I mentioned previously, I have not written much fiction as an adult. When I was a kid, I wrote all of the time, but somewhere in high school and early college, I stopped. I think I stopped because of how little time I had. I wanted to learn everything, try everything, and go everywhere. I did end up doing a lot, and I'm glad I did because now when I write, I have stories to tell. That said, I missed out on learning technical rules that a professional writer should know, and it's hurting me now.

After the editor sent back the first round of recommended changes, I felt terrible. I had made big, huge, horrible errors. I was embarrassed, and I felt like I had let myself and the publisher down. The editor kindly assured me that, no, it was her job to show me, and, I know, you may say that editors have a special gift for seeing mistakes, but that doesn't mean that storytellers can't become good writers...I don't want the editor going blind by trying to read and re-read and re-read mistakes I should have caught...or never even have made! So, what to do?

I went to the library. They have a little room where they sell all of the old books no one wants any more, and I picked up a copy of The Little, Brown Handbook, a college dictionary from the 1960's, and a thesaurus. The first is a book that breaks down grammar rules. I'm sure there are a dozen different books available out there, but this one is fairly concise, and it targets my weak points. I decided to get a college level dictionary from before the age of computers (or at least our concept of computers) because English has had such a dramatic shift, but the core of it remains the same. I wanted one that was college level or higher because (1) it has more words and (2) it has deeper explanations. I chose a thesaurus because I just don't tend to find what I want online when I type in words looking for synonyms. For $3, I think it was worth the price.

Now, the little story is hopefully going to spin off into a series, and I need to get working on book two, but I hope when I send this one in, it will be a little easier on the eyes of the person who has to edit it.

P.S. I'm also still working my way through The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. It's interesting to see how writers think about other writers and about the process. I still love my brain candy (scifi, romance, and mystery), but by reading heavier works, I feel motivated to tell deeper stories than the standard fluff. I want my books to make people stretch and grow.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Getting Out There" in the Social Media Sense

I have always written for myself, and I imagined that "one day" I would write for publication, but I didn't think I'd be writing what I'm writing, and I didn't think it would happen until I was older...close to retirement age. But, as luck would have it, I have the chance now, and I'm taking it!

That said, I decided that I need to get organized about it. I have no marketing experience, so trying to "get myself out there" is a challenge. What's more, I tend to be a private person, so I don't care overly much for attention. I am one of those people who loves the story and wants my characters to come to life for my reader because I want to say something...feel like it needs to be said...not that I want to be the one people call on the phone to talk about it. So where to begin?

The publishing company sent me a worksheet to fill out regarding where readers could find me:

blog address
twitter address
Barnes and Noble

The next day, I set up a twitter, Facebook, and Blogger account. I plan to eventually make a website, and I need to make some bios for Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. I'd love to use all the media, but it begins to take time away from actually writing stories. Striking a balance will be one of my most difficult tasks.

My interests are not ones where I would necessarily share what I eat, who I talk to, where I shop, etc. I like doing things with a few close people. I was in the Peace Corps, and where other people brought pictures of their families to share, I brought pictures of the Chicago Air Show because it was the last big event I went to with my family. Clearly, I am different from most people out there, but maybe it's time for me to move outside of that comfort zone. Certainly for my career's sake, I need to work on my social platform. So, that said, wish me luck!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Beta Readers

So, you've written something, and you think, man, this is good stuff. But, how do you really know? You have to show someone, and whoever you show it to can give you feedback, right?

Well, the person or people who read your story after you write it up and before you send it off are called beta readers.

I don't like beta readers. No, scratch that, I didn't realize how careful you have to be about selecting beta readers. I've written other things than "the little novel," and I've found that I need to be particular about who is allowed to see my work before I feel it is ready for general consumption.

Once, a few years ago, I asked a friend who happens to be a professor in a local English department to look over a creative writing story I put together. This story was one of the first times since I had left school that I was trying my hand at writing something. It wasn't particularly good, but it was okay. I knew that, but I wanted someone to give a little constructive criticism. Unbeknownst to me, she really either didn't want to read it or didn't have time, but she didn't want to say so because she felt that would be rude. So, she gave it to a friend of hers.

I knew the friend, but not very well. I didn't have a relationship with the friend other than to speak to her if we ran into each other, and, on one occasion, when I'd gotten stuck in her town, I'd slept on her sofa. So, I was caught completely off guard when the woman saw me one day and started telling me that she really didn't care for my story and thought I should try doing something else. I was blindsided, and I was hurt by both the friend who had agreed to read the story and by the woman who felt she had the right to tell me her unsolicited opinion. It was a hard lesson.

Now I'm more careful:
1. I want to know the person has a real interest in the story. If you don't like the general concept, that's fine. I'm not offended, but never say you are willing to read a story if you really don't want to.
2. I expect the person to have a working knowledge of proper English. I believe it's my job to know grammar and syntax, but it helps to have other people read a story and notice if I'm reading over my mistakes.
3. I explain carefully who I expect them to share or not share my stories with knowing that if the person is married or in a relationship, they might talk to the other person.
4. I am willing to reciprocate. If the person reads for me, I have to be willing to read the kind of writing they write, too. I really don't want to get caught agreeing to read something I hate. I don't think that would be fair.
5. I am absolutely clear who I want the intended audience to be, so even if the person doesn't care for the story itself, he or she can form an informed opinion about whether or not they think the intended audience might like it. (And then I try to find someone from the intended audience to read it.)

On average, I write my stories, then I print and read them, then I rewrite them. I wait for a week or so, then I re-read them and make corrections. Then, I send them off to my beta readers (the aforementioned cousin and a sister). I expect that I will have to do rewrites when each sends me their ideas, opinions, and corrections. I always try to mentally stay open about accepting their thoughts.

I am learning this process, but I figure to be a good writer, you have to be willing to look at what you can improve and be willing to do it. And, it's important to learn to whose advice to seek, so that when you get it, you can use it to make your story even better.