Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Special Snowflake Syndrome

Man, I've seen a lot of this in the past couple of years. Among writers, I mean. Maybe the increase is directly proportional to the increase of authors in the m/m romance genre (the one with which I'm most familiar). Maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of review sites. But yikes, more and more writers seem to be getting inordinately upset over less than Omigod-this-is-the-best-thing-since-toilet-paper! reactions to their published work.

I'm always taken aback by such hand-wringing, which I now seem to be witnessing on a regular basis. So I figured it was time for some unsolicited advice from a DIKless veteran living far below the poverty line -- namely, me. 

1. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Reader sites like Amazon and Goodreads can be little slices of Dante's Inferno to authors. If you've experienced this unpleasant fact, and it's making your follicles lose their grip on your hair, stay away! The cure for your woe is that simple. I use Amazon and Goodreads as resources -- to get the skinny on books that might interest me -- but I never check on my own books. Never. Watching the bouncing ball that is a book's average rating, or seeing how few ratings a book gets, does me no good whatsoever. So I don't keep track of that stuff. Many writers need to adopt the same approach. Trust me; it works wonders.

2. Even if you can stand the heat, stay out of the way. Many readers don't appreciate authors breathing down their necks. So, refrain from being a buttinski. Give readers their space. Let them rave about your books or rant about your books or simply discuss your books without interjecting yourself into their monologues and dialogues. Readers are smart enough to know we appreciate good reviews. They're also smart enough to PM us if they have questions only we can answer. Hovering isn't necessary. In fact, it's kind of neurotic and creepy.

3. Take a reality check. Each of my stories and characters is a Very Special Snowflake. ("Snow" flake -- get it? Heh.) However . . . that's only in my world. More often than not, my Snowflakes aren't even noticed in other people's worlds. And why should they be? They're mere specks in a weekly blizzard of releases. Now don't get me wrong: I'm deeply grateful when they are noticed, and even more grateful when they're valued. But in an era when publishing a book is almost as easy as putting on your shoes, every author needs to tone down his/her expectations. Each of us is less and less "special" by the day. It's a fact of publishing life. Get used to it.

4. Rein in your ego. This is part and parcel of the point above. Don't assume your work deserves praise. Don't assume it deserves a place on every reader's keeper shelf. It doesn't deserve a damned thing, except what it is legally due from its publisher and distributors. Remember, we're writing popular fiction. Genre fiction, in fact. We're not in a race for the Pulitzer or Booker or Nobel Prize. We're not contestants on Top Wordsmith or Iron Author. No matter how convinced we are that we're uniquely inspired and were meant to write -- because God decreed it, or it's a destiny spelled out in our stars, or a gypsy woman murmured a blessing over Mama's pregnant belly -- precious few writers are genuinely and profoundly gifted. Even fewer are as gifted as they think they are. This means we need to put our work in realistic perspective and adopt some humility.       

Consumers' preferences are all over the place and ever-changing. That's just the way it is. And guess what? Writers are in good company. This truth also applies to musicians, actors, artists, film-makers, and anybody else engaged in some creative pursuit. So, for the sake of your sanity and self-confidence, resign yourself to the vagaries of human taste and the limits of your own talent. Definitely keep honing your craft, but save your angst for what really matters.

Now, for a palate cleanser. Enjoy. ;-)


Saturday, April 21, 2012

What to read?

Right now I'm on a miserably strict budget (still need to replace my crapped-out camera, still need a laptop with Word 2010, still need silly little things like groceries, etc.), so I'm trying to figure out how to satisfy my need to read without exceeding $5 a pop for each title.

Thus far I've been turning to dead-tree books I've picked up over the years at a local thrift shop and at library sales. (Most have been disappointing.) I've been feeding my Kindle, too, but only if/when I can find deals. Used print editions of older nonfiction texts are fairly easy to come by at Amazon and Half.com, so that's helped.

Got any other suggestions? I have an enormous TBR of e-book fiction titles, but . . . they all exceed my spending limit. I'll get them sooner or later; just can't do it now. (Seriously, I have to stick to this $5 cap lest my next credit card bill makes me run screaming through the woods!)

By the way, if you have the impression JLA ain't no sugar daddy, you're absolutely correct. ;-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The sky was brass. The earth was ashes."

Whenever I'm feeling glum about the way things are going, I turn to a certain form of therapy that's pretty damned effective: nonfiction accounts of trying times or tragic events in history. It's a surefire way of ending a personal pity party.

Here's what I learned during my most recent adjustment of perspective.

On the night of October 8, 1871, Chicago burned and some 250 people perished. But . . . as spectacular as the Great Chicago Fire was, it paled beside the inferno taking place, simultaneously, just over 200 miles to the north -- a large slice of hell that became the most destructive fire in U.S. history and the nation's third worst natural-disaster of any kind.

Bad enough the two arms of this conflagration devoured well over a million acres of white-pine and hardwood forests, as well as the farms and settlements that had been carved from those forests, and left behind a colorless wasteland. But in the vicinity of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, the fire became a fire storm -- its own superheated weather system, complete with tornadoes -- that made the earth resemble the surface of the sun.

The blaze was so intense it cracked boulders, melted metal, and spun sand into glass. It lifted at least one house off its foundation and caused it to explode in midair. Firebrands shot from the trees. Fireballs fell from the sky. Sheets and waves of fire canopied the land. Buildings and bodies went up like torches, instantly engulfed in flames.  

On both sides of the bay, people were suffocated or charred beyond recognition. Countless victims were incinerated down to small piles of ash. (One father could only identify his son's remains through a pocket knife sticking up from a mound of white powder.) Whole families were wiped out. The town of Peshtigo was annihilated. An entire ecosystem went up in smoke.

In other words, the fires that roared up both sides of Green Bay were nothing short of apocalyptic.

Estimates of fatalities range from 1,200 to 2,500. The Peshtigo River likely kept the death toll from exceeding 3,000. Clogged as it was with people, livestock, and burning logs, the river nevertheless provided the only refuge for the town's inhabitants. They endured it, if they could, for five eternal hours.

Help did not come quickly to stricken areas. Simply getting the word out was difficult. Telegraph lines had been destroyed and roads had been rendered impassable by fallen timber. Wagons had been consumed by flames and draft animals killed or crippled.

The suffering of the survivors was incalculable. Most were burned, or impaired by smoke inhalation. When the worst of the fire had passed, autumn's chill immediately returned. There was no food, no shelter, no adequate clothing to be had. And there was certainly no medical aid. In outlying areas, even water was impossible to find. Therefore, many people who'd made it through the fires subsequently died from their injuries or from starvation or renal failure. Months later, bodies were still being discovered in the scorched woods.

Slowly, Peshtigo rebuilt itself. So did the rest of the devastated region. In fact, when I was a girl, I spent part of each summer in the fire zone. There's a town just north of the city of Green Bay called Little Suamico (you can see its dot on the map above). My aunt and uncle had a primitive cottage up there, and it was my parents' vacation destination for many, many years. Little did I know as I gallivanted around those 40 acres that the most horrific fire in American history had raged over that very same patch of ground.

Right now, I'm not too inclined to complain about much of anything. ;-)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Meet Carny Indigo Jessup.

Okay, so he doesn't have ear buttons (and never will), and doesn't have tats yet (although they're in his near future), but this is pretty much what Carny Jessup looks like. He's the young hero of Carny's Magic, coming May 29 from Loose Id.

Here's his very condensed version of his story:

I'll get right to the point. The best part of my life began when my aunt’s homophobic squeeze smashed his fist into my face. That is no shit.

I already knew a wizard named Jackson Spey lived on my side of town, so I figured I’d turn things around by becoming his apprentice. Problem was, Spey didn’t want an apprentice. He was going through some kind of midlife crisis. All he wanted was to build beautiful furniture and have sex with his beautiful husband, Adin. 

He still took me in, though. Guess he felt sorry for me. And the red paths I’d been seeing in the air really intrigued him.

Hey, I’m only 19, so how could I have foreseen the rest? That I’d fall for a breathtaking boy named Peter, who was at the center of some strange magic tied to Jackson’s past. And I’d have to deal with a sorcerer named Bezod, an evil pig who plagued all four of us and threatened to destroy our relationships.

But . . . sometimes you just have to fight for what’s right. Like love. I might’ve been new to the boyfriend gig and Jackson might’ve been a reluctant wizard, but when the time came, we were ready to kick some supernatural ass.    

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Katrina Strauss, you got some splainin' to do!

Hey. HEY. What's up with this?

And this?
(I'd know those nipples anywhere!)

Girl, if I didn't like your books so much, 
I'd rat you out to Chris at Stumbling Over Chaos!

Friday, April 06, 2012

A bible doesn't have to be banged . . .

I've pretty much been ear-deep in edits lately (for Carny's Magic, my May 29 Loose Id release), so between that, my domestic obligations, and shopping for nonfiction books -- I've recently developed a craving for them -- I haven't paid much attention to anything else. I realized, sort of at the last minute, that I had a release on Wednesday. But since I was on a tight edit-deadline, I didn't pay that much mind, either. (Besides, what can you do aside from letting readers know your title is available? When a book's out, it's out. Pimp-hammering the hell out of people doesn't accomplish much.)

Anyway, my search for new books resulted in the usual link-following. I'll admit I'm easily distracted. :)  A study of the 1856 Mormon handcart-pioneer tragedy eventually led me to Marie Sexton's Between Sinners and Saints, which I've wanted to read since it came out. Like Marie's other excellent books, this one is highly regarded. But plenty of readers still took issue, however delicately, with the story's religious content.

I'd had a little knot in my stomach before A Hole in God's Pocket was released. The knot returned. 'Cause I ain't Marie Sexton.
Often, any m/m romance that centers on the subject of questioning one's faith invites a certain reaction complete with certain words. I've encountered this before, and I'm sure other writers have too. Whether a character is criticizing or defending his (or his love interest's) beliefs, or simply trying to explain the nature of his spiritual conundrum, the author is setting him/herself up for charges of being "preachy" or "heavy-handed"; of "lecturing" or "sermonizing."

This bothers me. A lot.

How can an individual or a couple work through such a profound dilemma without pondering or discussing it? Communication is part and parcel of relationship-building. It leads to understanding, to closeness. Character conversations that center on faith, or doubt, don't mean the author is trying to make converts. They don't constitute either evangelical sermons or atheistic diatribes. They're simply a means to the end that readers of m/m romance are always looking for: character self-acceptance, and intimacy grounded in mutual respect.

Here's an extract from an earlier post about A Hole in God's Pocket. I hope it offers some insights that will allay readers' fears. (And if it doesn't, I'm sorry to disappoint you.)          
What drove me to write the book (in addition to my lifelong fascination with human belief systems) was something I'd read online a while back, an opinion piece by a queer guy who lamented how the issue of spirituality was usually overlooked in queer fiction. He was right.
Authors don't hesitate to cast fundamentalist homophobes as villains, which is perfectly understandable and justified, but not many in the m/m romance genre want to tackle the importance of faith in the lives of gay men and the painful struggle that often results when orientation clashes with theology. None of the so-called Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in nearly all their various sectarian manifestations -- takes a kind view of [deviations from strict] heterosexuality.
So I considered the difference between Christian manifestos disguised as fiction (the Left Behind series, for example) and religious faith as a theme in fiction. Although I still haven't breathed a sigh of relief, the difference quickly became apparent. The aim of evangelical writers is, essentially, to proselytize. Spreading the Word is part and parcel of their raison d'etre. But the rest of us, whether it's Marie Sexton or Andrew Grey or Shelter Somerset or authors of "literary" GLBTQ stories, aren't ideologues. We're simply trying to examine a significant and often troubling issue that shouldn't be ignored.