Self-censorship is a bitch

There I was this morning, with ten paragraphs of what I hoped would be an insightful, well-documented, though controversial blog post about  ‘(X) affiliation being used as an excuse for predatory/bad practices and substandard work in genre publishing’.

It would have been about one facet of certain substandard small presses, vanity publishers, predatory and/or incompetent ‘literary agents’, and self-published authors. I only started researching it because of synchronicity. Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing this issue crop up multiple times in the publishing forums and posts of Writer Beware, AbsoluteWrite, Preditors & Editors, and other private sites. I had well-documented good examples (of business people being responsible and effective at their work) and bad examples (of people using certain affinities as an excuse for shoddy work – or worse, for openly unethical goals.) I had compelling evidence of how the offenders use similar tactics to other kinds of affinity fraudsters who tend to prey on the same client base.

By the eleventh paragraph, I quietly trashed the post. It’s gone. I’m not going to write about it in detail now, and probably not ever. I recognize that any good I might do in posting will be drowned out by outrage coming from several directions.

After all, I’d seen the same reactions on some of the aforementioned sites, whenever another poster commented even obliquely on the underlying issue:

How dare I write about this thing, since I am not part of the target client group?

How dare I criticize the target client group for being misinformed about how publishing really works?

How dare I write any criticism at all of this nasty side to what are notable and worthwhile advances in publishing? Don’t I know that my negation hurts the whole field’s forward momentum? Don’t I know that my contrary voice amounts to the same thing as the most heinous abuses of the past?

How dare I name names of the aforementioned bad examples and their companies? After all, they claim they are merely providing a service to an under-served market.

So once again, I’m invoking Filigree’s Rule and stepping aside. Because the route for all those under-served writers reaching fame and fortune in genre fiction is not through predatory publishers and agents (or uninformed self-publishing). It’s through research, training, diligence, brilliant writing, a bit of luck, and enough learned common sense to know a scam when it’s first presented.

The future great genre authors will surface whether I write my post or not; they’ll change the publishing world on their own, as previous authors already have begun to do. The authors who probably would not succeed in commercial or self-publishing, anyway, will stall out among their predators – whether I write my post or not.

That ‘(X) affiliation’ could be any one of half-a-dozen identifiers, each with the same approximate backlash, does not escape my sense of irony.

 

Fan Fiction Recommendations (adult content advisory)

I’ve been asked to cite some of my favorite M/M fan fiction writers and stories.

Why do I read them? They’re brilliant. Some of the authors are moonlighting professional authors, some easily could be. They can give me grinding Plot-What-Plot erotica, deep angst, high comedy, and breathless romance – often within the same story.

I also read them because, frankly, the commercial M/M genre hasn’t evolved far enough for my SFF-warped tastes. I won’t name offending authors and publishing houses out of respect for those many erotic romance authors I do love. But some houses and authors really don’t push the envelope much, aren’t great wordsmiths to begin with, never get the editing they desperately need, and have devoted but uncritical readers who either never bitch about bad stories (or do, but keep buying the books anyway.) Note: I’m not just a M/M reader. I’ll happily read great stories with M/F, F/F, or even gen or asexual relationships. As long as they are damn good.

My fan list includes but is not limited to stories based upon Tolkien (Silmarillion rather than LotR), Harry Potter, Highlander, X-Files, Stargate, Sleepy Hollow (Depp movie and Fox TV show), Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunners books, Melissa Scott’s ‘Point of Hopes’ fantasy novels, many books from Tanith Lee, a few delicate revisions inspired by Patricia McKillip, and manga/anime stories like From Eroica With Love (it’s crack and I know it), Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Trigun, Cowboy BeBop, and others.

Those categories contain hundreds of writers I trust based off their previous stories. Too many people to name in one post, I’m afraid. I tend to focus on moderated private sites, which already glean through some of the best of the best.

For the past couple of years, my fan fiction drug of choice has mostly been various interpretations of the Marvel Avengers universes. Probably because the people who dragged me back into fan fiction are Marvel maniacs. Forgive me for using the feminine pronoun ‘She’ for these writers; I believe most are female. Not that it matters. There might be some minor editing issues with the listed stories, but not enough to detract from the ride, in my limited opinion.

The Picks and why I love them (all these can be found on Archive of Our Own):

Venusm, ‘Born From the Earth’. A huge, unfinished Tony Stark/Steve Rogers/Original Male Character romantic thriller so weird and good I blogged a review about it. The story can be found here: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1013991?show_comments=true&view_adult=true&view_full_work=true#main

Amberfox17, ”Wild Ambition Fortune’s Ice Prefers’. A Thor/Loki slow-burn arranged marriage story, but it is breathtaking.  Here: http://archiveofourown.org/works/845183/chapters/1613973
The author’s tumblr blog of gorgeous behind-the-scenes images, fan art, and prose is worth the side trip. Here: http://fortunesice.tumblr.com/

Prairiecrow  http://archiveofourown.org/users/prairiecrow/pseuds/prairiecrow  My god, just anything she writes. Pick the most recent, whatever it is, and hang on.

GhostoftheMotif  http://archiveofourown.org/users/GhostoftheMotif/profile  ‘Will-O-The-Wisp’ crosses Loki/Tony Stark with Hetalia: Axis Powers characters in a creepy, delicious slow-build romance/horror/thriller.

Nonymos  http://archiveofourown.org/users/Nonymos/profile  Her fiction list contains many great stories. She has a Clint Barton/Loki arc that starts out with ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ (I think), that is spot-on for character and worldbuilding, and remains one of the most dark and beautiful hardcore fantasy M/M BDSM explorations I have ever read. It’s really not for the faint of heart (it can rank with Flesh Cartel), and it shows Fifty Shades as a poseur attempt by a lifestyle outsider. Warning: serious, dark adult content on this one.

Everythingispoetry  http://archiveofourown.org/users/everythingispoetry/pseuds/everythingispoetry Known for a number of fan writings, but I’m currently most hooked on ‘If die, only in Manhattan’, which runs with the premise that Tony Stark’s stunt with a dimensional portal and a nuclear weapon left him with terminal cancer. It’s slow, gorgeous, and sad/triumphant, and hits all the tragic buttons in me that The Fault In Our Stars totally missed. Not much sex, mostly emotional roller coasters.

‘Bluescreen’ story arc, by MountainRose and Szzzt  http://archiveofourown.org/works/1013706/chapters/2012828  Pure, sizzling M/M erotic romance with great worldbuilding, characters, and convincing depiction of info-sys engineering. Jarvis/Tony Stark/Steve Rogers, with Rogers and Stark playing sub to Jarvis-as-Dom. If there are errors, I was too busy squirming to notice them.

‘All The Leaves Are Brown(And The Sky Is Gray)’ by AvocadoLove http://archiveofourown.org/works/1609838/chapters/3427676
The Winter Soldier kills Howard and Maria Stark, and then takes off with their four-year-old son instead of fulfilling his mission. Not creepy; the Soldier breaks his programming to become James Barnes again, and raises Tony as his own, while they are on the run from Hydra. Minor editing issues, but great writing.

Icarus_chained for so many reasons across many fandoms. She first came to my attention with this unfinished series of nongraphic but dizzying Tony Stark/Loki/Pepper Potts sort of darkfic:  http://archiveofourown.org/series/18482  A bit much reliance upon ellipses for emphasis, but great writing as Stark makes a fearless choice. The sentence ‘I wanted to give him more options…’ still rings in my brain.

”Tales of the Bots’ from Scifigrl47, among hundreds of other stories. This one has mild M/M erotic romance, since it is mostly the committed relationship between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, experienced through the perceptions of their adopted son DJ. Who is really the AI robot Dummy, given shapeshifting human form by one of Tony’s adversaries. This links into a much larger, more explicit story arc. But the ‘Bots’ series is a brilliant, schmoopy kidfic following a unique adolescent finding his place in a very strange world. Like all of scifigrl47′s stories, it’s also funny as hell.   http://archiveofourown.org/series/18990

’1976 Broadway’ by authors Rainproof and Teaberryblue Here: http://archiveofourown.org/works/972937/chapters/1912625 Primarily Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, this mostly nonexplicit epic of epistolary fiction (told through letters and other message forms) is hilarious, angsty, frustrating, and full of plot twists. It’s huge, but it’s wrapping up in September 2014, so you won’t be stranded with an unfinished epic. It’s also spawned a number of related works by Teaberryblue and Rainproof, as well as other authors. Because it was plotted (mostly) before writing, the prose is damn near flawless.

There are so many more, across so many fandoms.

But right now, I have to get back to writing original stories.

Back in the saddle

This week has been about recalibration for me. One writing project is on hiatus while the beta-readers savage it. I’m looking forward to their criticisms more than their praise – harsh reviews have always motivated my spirit of competition, and the work ultimately merits the best I can do.

I’m pushing through a major middle-of-the-book blockage on another novel project. And I sent one short story to another well-paying market, a day after getting a form reject from one of the big venues in short SFF.

Many writers call those ‘revenge queries’.

Twenty years ago, rejection letters made me seethe internally, and often vent aloud. (The Internet remembers my outbursts, alas.) Now, I’m more likely to say ‘Meh, whatever’, do some research on other markets, and get the story back out again ASAP. Or trunk it for further revisions, until I think I can get it right.

Rejection is never ‘easy’, in that it will always sting a bit (Whaddata mean, it wasn’t good enough?)

But it’s ultimately easier to accept that stories get rejected for a million and one reasons, and that’s that. It shouldn’t be an ego thing. There are other markets, other doorways through an apparent wall.

These days, I have a mental file marked ‘self-pub’, for all the stuff I’m fairly certain will never get sold to a worthwhile commercial market. Just having that long-term possible outlet has helped. It transforms my trunk-of-story-doom into a stage, not an ending.

Filigree’s Rule: the criteria (adult language advisory)

I have a list of things that usually lead me to invoke Filigree’s Rule against a publisher, author, literary agent, or other publishing ‘professional’.

When I look at someone now and mutter “Filigree’s Rule”, it’s a personal reminder for me to disengage and walk away. I’ll happily let other people jump into the discussion. I’m done with it. It means you and I are too far apart, for whatever reason. I won’t publicly call you out on your bullshit, entitled ignorance, wishful thinking, First World problems, or obviously devious machinations. And in return, you should probably leave me alone, too. It’s better for both of us.

This list will infuriate some people, because it’s not politically correct by any measure. But it accurately reflects my experiences in publishing over at least the last five years. It’s inspired by the actual online or in-person gaffes I’ve seen from actual companies and individuals. Nor are they publishing-specific: many of the same factors show up in multi-level marketing, the art world, for-profit education, and other businesses.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quicksand_warning.jpg Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Smart & calm people can get out of quicksand. Just like they CAN avoid bad publishers most of the time.*

To recap, here’s the rule: Some authors deserve some publishers, and vice versa, and I will not stand in their way.

The only exception now is if I see obviously illegal behavior that stands to hurt a lot of very innocent people. Then I’ll quietly let the right authorities know.

For the rest, I’ve decided there are very few truly innocent people. Publishing is an odd game no matter what variety an author chooses: true self-publishing, commercial trade publishing, a hybrid mix of the two. But there is now a lot of solid information about publishing available online or at a public library, for anyone with basic reading and research skills. If writers can’t manage that, then they’re probably not publishable authors yet.

I’m now in favor of letting these authors and publishers hook up and waste their time, energy, and money on each other. It may mean slightly less crap in the slushpiles of responsible publishers, and in the catalogs of Amazon and Smashwords. Usually, it just means more obvious crap published, which oddly helps weed out the nonsense, too.

So, the list. One entry here isn’t always a guaranteed ‘caution’, but multiples are.

1. Is this a vanity publisher? Does the publisher make most of its money from its authors – through publishing fees, reading fees, book buying requirements for authors, or any other scheme – instead of from actual sales to wider markets?

2. Has this author published through a vanity publisher before? Multiple times? With different vanity publishers? If so, they’ve probably learned bad habits and/or misinformation about how publishing really works. They are very likely to pick yet another vanity publisher or substandard commercial publisher, shovel wads of money at them, and make the same mistakes again.

3. Is this a vanity publisher founded by an author who was previously disappointed by one or more other vanity publishers, and now thinks they know how to do it ‘better’? Whether they are predators seeing an easy market or genuinely well-meaning but ignorant publishers…avoid, avoid, avoid. These are plague carriers of misinformation and bad practices. They may start with noble intentions. Temptation often looms when they realize they can make more money selling services to authors than in selling books…while still taking a tidy cut of the small income from real sales.

4. Does the publisher’s, agent’s, etc. website or brochure say anything resembling these phrases: ‘We’re here to make your publishing dreams come true. Traditional publishers won’t take unknown authors. We are not a vanity publisher because we don’t publish everything submitted to us. We are a partnership publisher. Authors are their own best sales force.’ Those are important key phrases that often involve misinformation and outright deception. Moreover, responsible publishers rarely make those claims.

5. Is the publisher, author, agent, etc. a vocal and active member of any fundamentalist religion (not limited to Christianity)? If so, their legitimate publishing efforts may be focused tightly on witnessing for that faith, and less on reaching a neutral audience outside it. If you are writing material that doesn’t fit their mandate, you and they might not be comfortable partners. Don’t push to join their club ‘to make them change’, or whatever your social agenda may be. Leave the churchfolk be, and find a club where you and your work are more welcome.

In some cases, the publisher, etc. may be using religion as a smokescreen and a lure to attempt affinity fraud against sympathetic clients. Until the clients realize they’ve been had, there is no point in trying to pierce the cloud of dogma and secret-handshake code words. The victims will only see you as the enemy trying to lead them astray.

6. Is the publisher, author, agent, etc. a vocal and active advocate of certain fringe cultural beliefs? This can include but is not limited to: Flat Earthers, Intelligent Design, Climate Change Deniers, New World Order conspiracy theorists, UFO enthusiasts, and certain New Age healing/lifestyle proponents? They may be literate, intelligent, and a helluva lot of fun in discussions – but a publishing business arrangement might be risky. If they’re crazy, they’ll spread the crazy. If they’re not crazy, you could be joining them in the government crosshairs and information dragnets.

The world is a crazier place than we’d like it to be. But fun as it is, ‘Night Vale’ is entertaining fiction, and George Noory totally bought into a prank call by a bored astrophysicist.

7. Does the publisher, author, agent, etc. show strong indications – in their social media, public appearances, or published material – of a serious neurochemical disorder or physical brain injury? Don’t go there unless you are a trained, licensed medical professional or caregiver doing your job. Unless there are other, less damaged people involved, this is not a good business risk.

8. Closely related to #7: does the publisher, author, agent, etc. engage in long, defensive, and generally ineffective rants online, when faced with any criticism of their business? This may also be Nature’s way of saying ‘Do not touch’ to the rest of us.

Likewise, if the publisher, etc. has a lot of overtly threatening legal copy about defamation, ownership, and Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) on their website or online comment signatures; or makes out-of-proportion legal threats in response to online criticism. If a publisher, etc. appears to have a history of making legal threats, consult the court system in their locality to discover if they’ve actually initiated legal proceedings against detractors, unhappy authors, and/or business competition. Many less than-scrupulous publishers, etc. attempt to scare their authors into silence with contractual agreements barring the latter from any sort of public ‘defamation’.

9. Does the publisher, author, agent, etc. show large numbers of errors in their website, promotional material, or online social media posts? In their published books? Are these errors obvious, chronic, and wide-ranging? When called on it, do the individuals insist that ‘social media isn’t real business, so accuracy doesn’t matter there’? Do not do business with these folks. A real publisher, agent, or – God forbid – an editor tries to present themselves as professional all the time.

10. Is the publisher, agent, editor, or other service provider running a very small, family-owned or single proprietor shop? If so, they may be vulnerable to losing the business after sickness or disaster. Before doing business with such individuals, check their social media presence for indications of chronic illness, family problems, or multiple past bankruptcies or business failures, failed Kickstarter programs, etc. This could be a danger sign for the future, if the proprietors have not laid out contingency plans. Double danger warning if the publisher, etc. has used health, financial, and/or family emergencies in the past as multiple excuses for not meeting contractual goals.

It’s heartbreaking. Some of the nicest, most talented, and well-meaning people can get caught up in financial nightmares. But here’s the thing: unless you are family, those aren’t your nightmares. You’re just the writer – not the therapist, not the enabler, not the venture capitalist. Walk away when you smell trouble, unless you are fully willing to invest not only your story and money, but possibly your sanity in this business venture.

Likewise, think carefully about engaging with a writer who uses their prose primarily for self-therapy reasons. All writers work at the crucibles of emotion. Some elevate the therapy portion of the exercise as an excuse for sloppy writing, and then take criticism of their work to mean criticism of *them* and denial of their trauma. Misery memoirs still have their place. But there are probably a million trunked or self-published ones, in contrast to the fewer numbers of commercially published similar books that reach a widespread audience. So again, unless you are a caregiver doing your job, it might be safest to stay away from such authors.

11. Check the publisher’s current sales ranks on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. See if their works are available through regional, national, and international distributors. If the publisher has multiple pages of strongly-selling books across a couple of big vendor platforms, they’re probably doing something right. If their best selling book is hovering somewhere beyond 1,000,000 on Amazon, it’s probably not selling well anywhere else. What makes you think they can sell your books? If they claim they are selling most of their books on their own website portal, run their site address through www.alexa.com – and see how much internet traffic is actually going there.

12. Does the publisher or agent insist that a fiction author have a strong, well-developed social media presence as a firm condition of being accepted for publication? Does the publisher use language mandating the author’s self-promotion as the bulk of a book’s marketing? Ask the publisher what marketing of their own are they planning to use, to justify their cut of sales. Or walk away. Those kinds of contract stipulations often indicate publishers who already know they can’t effectively market outside their own author contact list.

13. Is the new/small publisher, agent, etc. narrowly focused on a couple of writing genres, or do they appear to accept many genre categories? If the latter applies, the company may be flinging projects at the wall and waiting to see what sticks. They may not have the in-depth knowledge and industry relationships to be an effective player in all their genres. For genre-focused publishers in the romance, horror, and SFF fields, make sure these companies are aware of and attend at least some of the major or regional conventions devoted to those genres.

If they’ve been around for more than two years and they’re still a small publisher – and still doing this – then they’re just farting around. They may not be a vanity publisher, but they’re probably more committed to making many tiny sales off many authors, than large sales off a few authors. The long tail marketing pattern works well for publishers who keep their marketing overhead low, but not great for authors who are making single to double-digit sales per year, per book.

14. Does the publisher, agent, etc. have a verifiable track record in their field? Publishing is not an entry-level position; most publishing professionals will have solid backgrounds in or closely related to their field. If not, consider this: would you trust a brain surgeon who can’t prove she knows what she’s doing? Why would you trust a brand new, unknown publisher?

15. Does the publisher make use of paid You-Tube ‘testimonials’ to pitch its authors books? Be wary: sometimes these are legit, but filmed by authors still in their happy honeymoon phase with a bad publisher. Sometimes, those testimonials are fake from the start. Go here to AbsoluteWrite for a hilarious and shocking bit of crowdsourced detective work exposing a fraudulent ‘publisher’ who keeps making the same mistakes.

There will be more entries on this list, but those are the red flags I’ve learned to watch for.

* Quicksand warning image courtesy of Wikipedia and Andrew Dunn.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quicksand_warning.jpg

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005.

Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Adventures in novella writing

I’ve had an on-again, off-again fling with the idea of self-publishing a fantasy novella. At each stage in the game, the beast grows a little bigger. From the original 6.5K or so short story I started years ago, Singer in Rhunshan is now over 33K.

(As of 7-20-2014, it’s now at 35.5K. I think it’s finished. Of course, the beta readers have yet to weigh in, and the agent will want to take it to pieces, but right now it’s done.)

I had an honest talk with my agent about what worked in the story, and what didn’t. By the middle of June I had homework. The extra 20,000 words I’ve added this year are not padding, but careful efforts to expand the world, fully realize the characters, and strengthen the action scenes.

I tend to write long anyway, so I’ve been balancing that temptation with the firm directive to stay within a novella’s length and simplicity.

It’s a much better story now. It might or might not go out to some bigger commercial publishers. Self-publishing is always an end goal, though. It might be a shame not to use this image, or the brilliant cover designer I have lined up.

Singer cover for blog 7-19-14

But I’m also imagining what a Big Five publisher could do with my story. Fun times ahead, either way.

The MZB scandals (adult content, trigger warnings)

At this point in my life, I’ve realized that everything I say might offend *somebody*. Silence is the only way to avoid that. Sometimes, silence is the worst possible answer.

Author’s note: No matter what I might write about fictional 18+ adults doing to or with each other, I don’t like to write about young children as sexual beings, especially when they are portrayed involved with adults. In the few cases when I will show or hint at child abuse in fiction, I want to frame it as the dangerous crime it really is: life-wreaking and poisonous. And I damn sure don’t tolerate child sexual abuse in real life. I have too many friends whose lives are still being shattered, over and over, by the horrible physical and mental abuse they received as children and teens. I know of at least one, a gentle artist, who committed suicide in 2008 partly because of abuse she’d suffered decades before. I can’t smell fresh homemade sourdough bread anymore, without feeling a wave of grief for her lost potential.

That’s why it took me a month to consider this post.

***

Last month, a series of events resulted in the public revelations that the late science fiction author Marion Zimmer Bradley (hereafter referred to as MZB) not only knew about her husband Walter Breen’s sexual predation on young children, but that she was involved in similar acts herself, as well as the physical and mental abuse of her own children.

AbsoluteWrite has a thread on it here. The Radish Report story begins here. Teleread has a couple of very thoughtful articles here, from Paul St. John Mackintosh. The Guardian has a report here. If you have a strong stomach, they are all worth reading.

***

As a teenager, I admired many SFF authors as distant but inspiring figures. I still recall the foreword to one early eighties-era fantasy anthology of MZB proteges*, which talked about the author/artist commune of her house in Berkeley, California. At the time, it sounded like a wonderful, magical place – even though my early bullshit filters made me think the account was likely sanitized for public consumption.

Some years later, after leaving my little hometown, I interacted with local science fiction fandom and the SCA. Like many young people, I was idealistically seeking a ‘tribe’, a core group of people with whom I shared common goals and beliefs. It never really happened. Turns out, I’m a more of a hermit at heart.

That certainly wasn’t helped when I witnessed some incredibly bad diva behavior at conventions and SCA meets, from MZB herself or a few of her proteges and friends. I was never directly involved or affected – but it was jarring to watch, to say the least. An education in social constructs and conferred power, right out of my college anthropology textbooks.

I heard vague whispers of those allegations back in my early days in science fiction and fantasy fandom and in the Society of Creative Anachronism (25 to 30 years ago). I heard that people who mentioned it in public were criticized by MZB’s supporters, in either camp (she was a founding member of the SCA.)

My involvement then was distant: I rarely traveled to sf conventions or SCA meets where I’d be near MZB or her direct supporters. I didn’t know any of them personally. I had submitted a few short stories to MZB’s fantasy magazine, because it was one of the famous pipelines for new authors in the eighties and nineties. I also submitted pieces to MZB’s famous Sword & Sorceress anthologies. I never sold a piece to the magazine or the anthologies.

I respected MZB as a mentor for many authors, but I never read much of her own work. It just didn’t grab me. Her fiction changed people’s lives, often in what appeared to be good ways. She was one of the first guard of unrepentantly female writers, writing stories from a pro-female viewpoint. Some of her proteges are positive inspirations to me even now, while others have not impressed me favorably. I have fond memories of my last rejection note from her magazine, because it actually convinced me I was on the right track for my own fiction.

I was impressed by the sheer fervor of her fans, both writers and readers. At that time, MZB’s ‘Darkover’ universe was not only a strong original science-fantasy series, but a springboard for unnumbered fan fiction writers. (I owe my first fan fiction introductions to a Darkover fan writer, though not through that fandom.)

Even from the outside, I saw good and bad in those tight-knit communities.

No one ever came up to me and said: ‘That woman and her husband abuse kids.’

Or: ‘Her friends and family know about it.’

I heard a whisper about something called ‘the Breendoggle’; in pre-Internet days, it was some old scandal that was hard to research. The version I heard was little more than ‘MZB married a total jerkoff sleazy guy, and they barely talk anymore.’ I heard whispers about a long-ago pornography accusation against MZB, but never direct case numbers or sources. I heard about autocratic rewards and punishments of hangers-on, depending on how MZB or her associates apparently felt snubbed or praised that day, that event, that convention. I heard ‘Don’t make her mad, she holds grudges.’

I never drifted closer to MZB’s circle.

Some years later, a friend made me aware of some court depositions made by MZB around the time of Walter Breen’s last arrest for child sexual abuse – and the immediate backlash and fannish divisions that once again occurred.

The depositions were not pretty or safe reading. They exposed a lot of unanswered questions. I’m sorry to say that I filed their evidence under ‘nasty allegations, but not my problem’, and paid little attention to them afterward. By that time, I’d largely stopped writing original fiction, attending conventions, or interacting with fandom or the SCA. I had no intention of doing so again.

Now, looking back, I thank whatever random fate and social circumstances kept me out of MZB’s group. I can thank her worst followers for partially jump-starting my skepticism and inoculating me against easy, idealistic inclusion in any social group. My trust and support now have to be earned.

Now I write original science fiction and fantasy with graphic adult content. I could be a target, on either side of the ultra-liberal, ultra-conservative cultural debate. Thus, I should pay attention to the behavior of my fellow authors.

I see so many similarities, on a smaller scale, between the MZB case and the larger travesties of the Sandusky and Catholic Church abuse scandals.

In all three examples, a rigid social hierarchy (in a group largely separate from the public: SFF fandom, college sports, the reluctantly modernizing Church) resulted in the opportunities for hidden (and open) abuse. That abuse was shielded by both public assumptions of innocence, and by the complicity of insiders who knew what was happening but chose not to reveal it.

The outrage and counter-charges are flying thick in the SFF fan community, hard on the heels of other recent but unrelated sex abuse allegations. I’m glad to see conventions have implemented stronger anti-abuse safeguards. I’m glad to see people talking about this and other cases in the open, and no longer shouted down or threatened into silence.

I’m sorry that, in such a charged climate, there exists the real potential for worse backlashes against people who may not have committed the alleged acts, but who are tried and sentenced by public opinion before all facts are made clear. (In MZB’s case, I think there is weighty enough evidence to indicate at least some of the allegations might be true.)

I’m sorry for many of MZB’s defenders, who probably didn’t know this was going on, and are now in the position of redefining their support.

I’m sorry for the millions of readers who took real hope and validation from MZB’s work, and now must come to grips with the question of how far to separate artists from their art.

Most of all, I’m sorry for the victims, who must endure new publicity and judgment while showing an incredible capacity for graciousness and encouragement. I can’t know if their stories are completely true. I’ve seen the debunking of a lot of other sensationalist claims from that same era. Even so, given all the other evidence from multiple depositions, I suspect that there’s more truth than fiction involved here.

***

What can I do about it? Not a damn thing, really. I can buy the books of those MZB associates who seem to be sane and reasonable humans. I can give away or recycle those few paperbacks I still own, written by people who probably knew something wrong was happening. Avoiding MZB’s own work is no hardship, because I didn’t read much of it in the first place. Ignoring submission calls to the next Sword & Sorceress anthologies won’t be difficult, because I gave up on them already.

In the end, this post isn’t as important as the ones to which I’ve linked. Here they are again, so you don’t have to scroll up:

AbsoluteWrite here. The Radish Report story here. Teleread here. The Guardian here.

* That would be this anthology, containing works by MZB herself as well as associates and proteges. It’s a sad contrast now, because there were stories in here that were little gems, and unknown writers whom I adored.

Megan Derr reviews Moro’s Price

…in her Top Ten M/M Fantasy and Science Fiction list, in early April 2014, over at Scorching Reviews.

Which I learned about only last night, via a friend’s email. I’m a little slow on the self-Googling, apparently. If I’d known about the list when the post and accompanying giveaway was live, I’d have happily contributed a prize to it.

Megan Derr is a prolific author most known for her M/M romance novels, as well as being one of the three founders of the LGBTQ publisher Less Than Three Press.

I’m floored. This would be a little like a relatively new mainstream fantasy author getting a short but positive review from Mercedes Lackey or Lois Bujold, I think. When I was new and bumbling around in the realm of published, original M/M romance, Megan Derr was a name I learned early.

Here’s what she had to say about Moro’s Price, in a balanced review that doesn’t ignore my book’s rough edges:

“This book has pretty much everything I usually avoid, and writes it in a way that I’m glad I took a chance. Every last bit of this book is exceptional, and pulls together a premise that could so easily have failed. It’s a bit of a rough story, so heed the warnings and possibly peruse reviews on goodreads.”

Oddly enough, this is almost exactly how I felt when I was writing it.

 

the gods of Random have spoken again

Zoe X. Rider has graciously agreed to cede her win back to the pool, so we have a new drawing today. As before, each comment equals one entry, and I’ll give the winner until 7-22-2014 to get back to me – or we do this all over again!

The new comment list is:

1. Erika Lindsen, one entry

2. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

3. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

4. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

5. Vicky, one entry

6. Evelyn Arvey, one entry

7. Lee Todd, one entry

8. Dee Tass, one entry

9. H.B., one entry

10. Alaina, one entry

The number generator at www.random.org has drawn #3.

Lorna, I know you’re watching this, so get back with me at the AO3 email or here, and give me shipping details. And don’t worry – this is a very lightweight piece, so shipping isn’t going to be a problem.

For everyone else, thank you for being a part of the 2014 AW blog hop. Keep an eye on this blog for late July. There will be more fun stuff. I’m trying to arrange a giveaway where every commenter gets some swag…we’ll see how it comes together.

 

The gods of Random have spoken

I waited through the 11th just to be fair, since I did promise that each comment got one entry chance. Then I drew up this quick list of comment posters on the Blue Night blog between 6-23-2014 and 7-11-2014.

1. Erika Lindsen, one entry

2. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

3. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

4. Lorna Elsewint, one entry

5. Vicky, one entry

6. Evelyn Arvey, one entry

7.  Zoe X. Rider, one entry

8. Lee Todd, one entry

9. Dee Tass, one entry

10. H.B., one entry

11. Alaina, one entry

Now for a quick trip here, to www.random.org. where I’ll feed those numbers into their random number generator. A virtual spin of the wheel, aaaaaannnnd our lucky winner is:

# 7, who is Zoe X. Rider!

Zoe, get back with me offlist to arrange shipping details if you want the necklace. If not, let me know, and I’ll do another spin through Random.org

The rest of you are awesome sports. Don’t go too far: later this month I’ll be setting up for the 2014 Sex Scene Championships sponsored by Scorching Reviews. The Championships are larger than ever this year. I’m planning some new giveaways, including free print and e-books, and well as more jewelry.

 

 

If it is in your power, do something nice for a fellow human being.

Something *they’d* think is nice, not an imposition you force on them out of your own moral or social code. This might require actually paying attention or even – gasp! – asking them how you can really help.

Do that thing.

Then don’t talk about it.

You’ll know. They might know. The rest of the world probably doesn’t need to.

 

Charity, not ego-boost

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 15

Last day! We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog hop. We certainly have. Since it’s been a slightly different mix of authors and publishers this time, I’ve seen some great new books to add to my to-be-read list.

Dee Tass rounds out the roster by interviewing Azalea Moone here.

***

Housekeeping: to make up for some posting delays, the comments list for this blog will remain open through 7-9-2014, to give folks a chance to browse back through the last two weeks of posts. That means the amethyst, garnet, pearl, and smoky quartz necklace is still up for grabs, until I put all the names into Random.org later this week. Yes, this necklace, which I will ship anywhere that UPS or FedEx goes on the planet: Garnet dusk necklace Here’s a closeup pic to whet your interest: Garnet Dusk detail I’ve decided to hold off the ebook copy giveaways of Moro’s Price for a very special separate promotion coming up later this summer, since many of you seem to already own a copy or have read it via lending. Thanks so much, seriously – I’m still amazed every time I see royalty statements for this book. You are the foundation of my street team, and I love you all for it.

Again, please visit the other blogs on our master list here, and leave your comments to enter into their great giveaways, too. We’re talking ebooks and print books, gift cards galore, and even fine European chocolate.

If you’re a writer and you’re not already familiar with the site, we invite you to lurk a bit on AbsoluteWrite, a privately-owned,  moderated, 60,000+ member online community of published and aspiring authors, professional editors, agents, artists, and other great people with interests in all aspects of writing and publishing. It’s free to join. Unlike some other writing sites, you won’t get blind cheerleading for one type of publishing over another, damaging misinformation designed to lure newbies into dangerous business deals, or petty trolling. (We luuurrrrrve trolls. If our mods don’t ban ‘em outright, we tend to eat them with BBQ sauce or a light honey-lemon glaze.)

AW can be a blunt community at times. It’s not for the faint of heart or fragile of ego. But I honestly think I’ve learned more about writing and real publishing there in four years, than in the previous twenty. My fellow members have been my mentors, confidants, challengers, and good friends…I hope we can be that for new writers, as well.

Thank you again for spending your valuable online time browsing our blog hop. At the very least, we’ll be doing this again next year!

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 14

One more day to go!

Today, Evelyn Aster interviews author Dee Tass, who is writing some sparkling, steampunk-style F/F romance.

What’s that? You thought I was only into M/M? Puhleeeeeze, people. I’m a grown-up. Love is love. I come from the SFF side of things where, to quote Douglas Adams:

“In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”

…And in science fiction and fantasy erotic romance, the interpersonal boundaries can get mighty vague. We know from real life that real men can fall in love with real men. Real women can have deep, fulfilling relationships with real women. Jury’s out on the Alpha Centauran small furry creatures, since we haven’t met any, but if they’re sentient and consenting, they get whatever pass they need.

I don’t believe in girl cooties or boy cooties. I respond to emotions: if the emotions seem genuine in a story, the pairing or grouping really doesn’t matter to me.

So, M/M-only readers, you may or may not wish to sit this one out. Everyone else, troop over to:

https://evelynaster.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/please-welcome-dee-tass/

…to read a lovely interview, indulge in some brief but hot considerations about Warehouse 13′s and Defiance’s Jaime Murray, and have a chance to win an Amazon gift card and a Starbucks gift card.

Before querying or submitting work to an unknown publisher, consider checking out how well they’re selling on Amazon. Amazon isn’t the only online vendor, but they are one of the biggest. If a book isn’t selling there, it better be selling like crazy on the publisher’s or author’s website. *

Here’s an easy way to get ballpark figures of current Amazon sales ranks: go here to www.salesrankexpress.com and enter the publisher’s name into the ‘Publisher’ field. Hit search. You’ll see sales ranks for that publisher’s books listed on Amazon. They’re not exact, and are known to be inaccurate for strongly selling books. But those figures seem to be scarily accurate for low-selling books, especially those with estimated single-digit or double-digit Amazon sales per year.

Hint: sales ranks on Amazon are shown in ascending order, ranking all books currently in Amazon’s catalog. The best seller will be #1, the worst way down in the tens of millions.

Why should you check? A publisher with a lot of books ranked over 500,000 simply isn’t selling that well on Amazon, so they might not be good at selling your work there, too.

* There are ways to see how popular a publisher’s site is on the internet, too, if they claim to be selling more from their own site. I’ll cover that in a later aside, or you can go here to learn more.

PSA for writers considering publishers: Sales Rank Express

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 13

Ana J. Phoenix interviews Evelyn Aster today: stop by for their chat on crowd-influenced romance, tropes they love or hate, and a chance to win Ana’s debut novel and some incredible European chocolate.

***

Housekeeping update: be sure to stop by the other bloggers on our master list, before or after their scheduled posts. There’s always something interesting happening with this group!

‘Red Amber’ excerpt

Once upon a time, three inspirations came together: Baltic and Russian red amber artifacts, the Tassili cave art of the northern Sahara, and the Rush song ‘Dreamline’.

amber-red-baltic35

Out of that mash-up, I wrote a fantasy short story set in a Paleolithic world. It wasn’t a great story. I trunked it and forgot about it for longer than some of my writer friends have been alive. Eventually I understood how to tell it properly, in a completely different ‘voice’ than the one I began writing all those years ago. The characters morphed a couple of times, the story grew. A couple of months ago I finally grasped that it was a M/M erotic romance novella about creativity, grief, pride, and lost love.

‘Red Amber’ will be on my intermittent to-write list as I finish up more urgent projects. But I thought my readers might like to see the first draft of the current first chapter, where the amber carver meets the cowherd (Stop looking for smut! No smut yet, they’re *kids* at this stage of the story.)

***

“My mother says cattle are more valuable than amber,” said the willowy blue-black boy, the third time he wandered too casually past Tarhan’s little lean-to beside the docks.

“Does she, now? I suppose if I let you tell me why, you’ll finally go away and leave me alone?” The young carver squinted up from his cross-legged position on his woven straw mat, his lap covered by a thick, soft leather square and pale brown amber dust.

The stranger grinned down at him, a bright flash of teeth and eye-whites in his dark face. “Oh, you don’t want to be alone.”

“How you know that?”

The dark boy spread his arms to indicate the two docks, the shallow rising bank, the busy mud-brick village high above the worst flood levels. “You’re here by choice, to be around people. But you don’t live here. I asked. The market-mistress says you’re the Carver’s son, you’re ten years old, and you live in a big cave two hour’s walk upstream. You’ve set up carving here three days running. Why?”

Tarhan considered the other boy’s directness. It seemed neither rude nor reverent, reactions he was used to getting from the Riverfolk. “I like it here. I can carve when I want, eat when I want, and listen to the people come and go.”

“Don’t you have people?”

“My father Haxa and my mother Eliunet. My mother wants to try for a daughter again, and my father’s sent me out during the day, because the Water Lady’s shamans say conception is better during sunlight these six days.”

The other boy rolled his eyes in a doleful way. “I have four sisters. Best pray for another brother. I always wanted one.”

“What does your mother hold against amber?” Tarhan remembered some market gossip about the new family from their arrival a year before: a powerful woman from a southern tribe, married to a Riverfolk man who’d met her while trading. She was ambitious and already well-respected along the River. Tarhan had the sense from his parents that Haxa didn’t know Keef Manycows existed as more than a customer, and that Eliunet considered her some threat to their own status. Tarhan’s mother might not like him talking to Keef’s son. That made him inclined to do it more, even with the dark boy’s next words:

“You can’t eat amber. It gives no meat or milk, no leather or bone, nor dung for the fire,” recited the other boy, as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.

“True,” Tarhan admitted. “But with amber I can bargain for milk or meat or leather, without having to chase cows under the hot sun all day.” He held up the flawed piece of opaque brown-gold amber he’d been shaping into a crude leaf.

The other boy laughed, more companionably than Tarhan would have guessed. “With what, that? It looks like a squirty little turd.”

To anyone else, Tarhan might have answered similar mockery with his fists. But the dark boy’s jibing was fearless and friendly. And the amber did look a bit like excrement.

“Well, not this piece. It’s only good for practice and burning for incense. But when I get better, I’m going to be richer than my mother and father, from all the pretty amber pieces I carve.”

“Cows are pretty.”

“So is amber.”

The dark boy looked skeptically at the turd again. “Erm,” he stalled, fresh laughter curving his lips.

His pride stung, Tarhan fumbled in his woven grass beltpouch. He unrolled a thin piece of goat leather, to reveal three tiny amber beads of sparkling honey-gold. He thrust his hand out of the lean-to’s shade, so the beads glowed in noon sunlight. “My father’s work. He gave me one bead for each day, so I can buy food from the market-mistress.”

“Beautiful,” admired the dark boy. “And you’re learning to do that? Can you teach me?”

“Can’t. Holy secret. You’re not part of the family.”

“The Riverfolk say your family is the only one who knows how to make amber from woodsmoke and honey.” The dark boy settled into a sideways sprawl in front of the lean-to.

“True. Still can’t teach you.”

“Don’t care about that. I couldn’t teach you the Three Secret Ways to herd cattle. Carving amber, now, that seems a fine skill. I carve wood sometimes when I’m out with the cows.”

The Riverfolk were a placid and peaceable lot, loving their luxuries but not obsessed the way Tarhan’s family was. Tarhan eyed the dark boy the way he was learning to look into a piece of raw amber, to see what could be made of it.

The dark boy was lithe where Tarhan was squat, his face finely-shaped where Tarhan’s was lumpy and broad.  And he had good skin, Tarhan noticed a little sullenly, far better for displaying amber beads than his own ruddy-tan flesh that never browned close to his mother’s shade. The other boy had dozens of skinny black-brown braids parting his scalp, and running down past his slender shoulders. Each braid was tipped with a disc of iridescent yellow shell. They matched the shell-plaque embroidery on his red linen kilt. A rich woman’s son, certainly.

“I am Tarhan Carver. If you show me how well you carve wood, I might be able to teach you about amber. If you keep quiet about it.”

“I am Aio Keefson,” said the dark boy, reaching out to slap a greeting into Tarhan’s free hand.

***

Thanks for reading! If and when this gets finished and makes it to a publisher, I’ll let you folks know.

(And yes, comments here will count as part of the giveaway contest running through 7-7-2014.)

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 12

For American readers, Happy Fourth of July! Today, old hand Tara Quan interviews new author Ana J. Phoenix here. Ana’s debut novel ‘Lab Rat’ s Love’ was published by Loose Id just a few days ago, so she’s another LI newbie like me. Stroll over to Tara’s blog for a great discussion on cover art, inspiration, and the joys and perils of being ESL authors.

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 11

The hop is chugging right along. Today Ravon Silvius interviews the talented Tara Quan here.

***

 

For readers familiar with or interested in M/M romance, here’s an interesting blog post and follow-up commentary from writers and readers.

As a SFF writer dipping my toes into the erotic romance pool, I find the discussions amusing, fascinating, and frustrating. The Balkanization of readerships guarantees me a wide variety of stories. But it also showcases – again – the debate between claiming safely segregated territory and reaching new mainstream readers.

***

Housekeeping alerts: I will be collecting coherent and actual reader comments through 7-7-2014, both for the necklace giveaway and for scene suggestions for the 2015 Sex Scene Championships. Please visit my fellow authors’ blogs for their own giveaways – there’s some great stuff being offered for prizes.

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 10

Day 10. Wow. ‘Herding cats’ is nothing on keeping track of a bunch of writers. But we’ve made it this far.

Today, Kimber Vale hosts author Ravon Silvius here. Check out their interview for another in-depth look at creativity, storytelling, M/M steampunk mysteries, and great giveaways from both authors.

***

As a side note, I’m not alone among my fellow erotic romance writers, in hoping our readers ‘Come for the sex, but stay for the story’, as Kimber says. The sex is all well and good, whether it’s M/M, M/F, or whatever combo rocks our world that day. You won’t find a one of us who is particularly shy about that!  But the stuff we like to write isn’t just skimpy text frameworks linking smut scenes.

Story is sexy. Story is foreplay. Story makes the sex scenes hotter.

I say this because there’s a vocal contingent of erotica authors on Amazon and other online vendors who are all about writing fiction that just helps readers get off, to be blunt. Fast stories with little characterization, setting, or background, just accessories to a moment of pleasure. That’s okay. I’m grateful that I live in a time and place where such things are allowed, rather than criminalized or hidden in the dark margins of society.

But for the AW blog hop authors, we tend to like things a little more complicated, a little richer, with higher stakes. That just makes the inevitable smut all the more fun, we’ve found.

So our readerships might not overlap that much with those for the quick-n-dirty erotica shorts on Amazon. The disconnect can result in Did-Not-Finish when one of their readers stumbles into a book that requires too much set-up for the payoff. Or angry reviews of low quality and derivative story, when one of our readers picks up a smutty wankfest collection that offers little else.

It’s apples and oranges. Both approaches are valid. I just wish that both readerships could accept that, when they launch into reviews. A drive-by one-star review does no one any good, author or prospective reader. Tell us what worked and what didn’t, in your honest opinion. (I’ve had one-star reviews that I cherish, for both good and bad reasons, because they either reconfirmed my opinion of my craft, or they taught me to be a better writer.)

***

Speaking of sex scenes, I’ve just received word that I’m in an even more massive online extravaganza in late July: the 2014 Sex Scene Championship, sponsored by Scorching Book Reviews. Choices, choices, choices: I have to pick a published sex scene from one of my stories, between 500 and 750 words, and aim it against a few dozen of the best erotica and erotic romance authors in the business.

Eeep. I have several hot scenes from Moro’s Price, and one from ‘Saints and Heroes’ in the Cleis anthology.

I’ll be taking suggestions of scenes from my readers, from now until July 7. Bonus: if you enter a suggestion by then, you’ll be entered into my necklace giveaway.

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotic Writers blog hop Day 9

Happy first day of July! Karenna Colcroft interviews Kimber Vale today here, where they discuss sushi, alcohol, wingdings, and M/M romance.

***

Here’s an early excerpt from Moro’s Price, picking up after the last one, as Val and Moro begin to set the parameters of their, ah, experiment…

***

The youth winced. “I know. The worst pickup line ever. But you’d have an almost perfect chance of infection and very low odds of survival. Patrona Cama’s picky. Maybe one in ten thousand outsiders passes her tests. Few of them try anymore.”

Another silent glare from Dogleash made the boy snort.

“What’s in it for me? Are you dim? Just my luck, you’re beautiful and you want to die. I haven’t had a real lover for six years. No human dares on this damned planet. None of them want to chance death from even a kiss. And it’s not like my own kind want to get near me!”

Dogleash gripped the youth’s upper arms, lifted him up, and moved him to one side. Owl-boy was heavier than he looked.

“Wait! Don’t you understand? I’m Camalian,” said the youth.

The thugs had called him “demon spawn” and “elf-whelp.” His spit turned to fire, his blood to poison. What was he?

The youth exhaled a deep sigh. Then he said quickly, “My people carry a sentient colonial symbiont that gives us, er, certain abilities. We can pass it on to non-Camalians. Most often it kills. Sometimes it claims. But if it claims you, you’re a Camalian citizen from then on. You want to try?”

Dogleash looked down at his unlikely liberator. He’d seen the youth’s earlier slyness, had known then what the cost of help would be: Dogleash’s damaged body.

“Look,” said the Camalian. “I promise not to be cruel, not like what’s already been done to you. I just want to touch another human being for an hour or two. You wanted suicide? A few seconds after you die from this, every cell in your body will burn apart to its component atoms.”

Dogleash glared at him, insulted. The fiery spit had been some chemistry trick after all.

“No trick. Watch.” Owl-boy reached up and pulled a hair from the blond forelock half hiding his face. “When it remains within range of its Camalian host, the symbiont is stable.” He turned, his eyes catching the lamp glow when he glanced over his shoulder at Dogleash. Walking backward toward the gladiator, the Camalian opened his hand.

The glittering wisp fell. Tiny gold sparks kindled along its lower edge and flared up in another rush of snuffed-out stars. Not even ash hit the rooftop.

“If they’d killed me, it would have been the same. Just bigger. Maybe a scorch mark on the roof,” said Owl-boy. “No one can bring you back from Cama’s Fire. On the rare chance you survive, you won’t be a slave. You’ll belong to yourself and Cama, and she’s an easy mistress. If you still want to walk off a roof afterward, I won’t stop you. I swear by Patrona Cama herself.” He held out a hand. “I’m Val.”

Dogleash considered him. The youth was rich and beautiful, and probably too inexperienced and high-strung to be much of a trial in bed. So what if Owl-boy lied to gain a few hours of sex? His wealth might keep Dogleash out of Lyton’s reach just long enough for the gladiator to ensure his own permanent escape. I won’t go back to Lyton, Dogleash thought.

Words were useless and just left Dogleash shaking. Words weren’t what Owl-boy wanted. So Dogleash knelt in front of him in stylized obeisance, head lowered, wrists offered up to invisible bindings. A slave’s gesture he’d not often willingly used. Most of his conquerors had had to beat him down first.

The younger man gasped.

For a moment Dogleash wondered if he’d misjudged. Then the youth’s hands gripped Dogleash’s wrists together tightly, fingernails digging into his skin. So Owl-boy knew about arena bonders and their training. Not surprising, given his location so close to the Vaclav 17 casino. Some savior, thought Dogleash. Had Owl-boy seen tonight’s matches and Dogleash’s latest humiliation? Would he recognize him?

“Do you yield to me?” Owl-boy asked, his tenor voice low and rough, his warm hands locked on Dogleash’s wrists.

“I-I-I y-yield,” said Dogleash, amazed to find his aching, exhausted body responding as much to the youth’s voice as his touch.

Owl-boy released him. “Then I claim.”

Glancing up, Dogleash saw the youth twitching a fold of his ragged gray coat around himself, trying to hide the erection pushing out his trousers. Dogleash read shame and doubt on his face.

“I-I y-yield w-with j-joy,” Dogleash said, still kneeling. “M-my ch-ch-choice, V-Val.” When Val looked back at him, incredulous, Dogleash smiled.

Val swallowed. Dogleash saw the effort the youth made as he forced his mind back to business. “We can’t stay here,” said the youth, nodding toward the two float-cycles. He rubbed his hands together as if they stung him. “This part’s easy enough,” he muttered, reaching for something on his black belt.

Dogleash knelt beside the sprawled bodies on the roof. He rifled their clothing for hard-credits, identification, or communicators. He was relieved not to see Lyton’s stylized palm-tree logo anywhere. Why had they been after Val?

Had it been ten minutes since he left Kott? Twenty? He heard nothing from the garden he could no longer see, but the ever-present wind might cover alarms. He left the bodies for the moment, walked over to the float-cycles hidden behind the turbine.

Val worked beside one. Pieces of control panel dangled from wires as he reprogrammed the vehicle.

“W-w-why t-t-target you?” Dogleash asked Val.

The youth laughed, leaning his forehead against the vehicle. “Lots of people would. I’m Camalian on a League planet and running around without my mask. I’m in Cedar University. I embarrass my family at least once a month. I drink more than I should. I have a thing for strays and lost causes. The sun rises, the galaxy spins, and more people hate me. Please don’t be one of them?” he asked, his right hand drifting out again as if unsure of its welcome. He looked up at Dogleash almost shyly.

Dogleash let himself be charmed. “I-I’m M-M-Moro. Moro.” He forced the stammer out of his name and clasped the offered hand. Val’s warmth helped calm his own shudders. Val didn’t seem to notice the jerking, shaking contact. Because it felt proper, Moro bent and kissed Val’s fingers.

I’m Moro again, he thought. I’ll live or die, as Moro!

“Moro,” said Val, huddling against the cycle and holding the kissed hand to his chest. His pale gold eyes softened, pupils wide and stunned.