Because no project is truly done. Not as long as I can get my grubbies back on it to correct earlier mistakes. I posted these on my Tumblr first, so I thought I should do it here, too.
I have more about these pieces here.
Because no project is truly done. Not as long as I can get my grubbies back on it to correct earlier mistakes. I posted these on my Tumblr first, so I thought I should do it here, too.
I have more about these pieces here.
A fellow AbsoluteWrite member brought this to my attention. No one’s grandmother should lose her home to fire during Thanksgiving weekend. And if she does, she shouldn’t have to start over without help.
Just completed the initial edit for Maestro. I can say this for NineStar Press: my editor is very good at catching my boneheaded mistakes.
Far from hating the editing process, I loved it. It was like the final render on a difficult digital art project, or the polish of a gemstone or piece of silverwork. A necessary stage. In this case, a fast and enjoyable one. We’re not done, but we’re closer to a real book.
It just highlights why most writers can’t edit their own work to a professional standard. We’re too close to the work, and we may not have a deep enough knowledge of English grammar and punctuation to manage correct usage right away. Or like me, they managed to skate through English in high school and college mostly by osmosis and a long reading career.
I’m as careful a writer as I can be. I still turned in a 16K mms with several hundred punctuation and spelling errors, three continuity mistakes, and a lot of bad sentence structure. Granted, some of that was because I wrote it fast and didn’t really polish it before sending.
My agent and several editors have said I turn in relatively clean copies…which terrifies me. I wonder what they’ve been getting from other authors.
In the pits of self-publishing and uninformed small presses, I have seen what happens when editors don’t know how to edit, and authors aren’t skilled enough to know the difference.
In better news, cover art for Maestro is just around the corner.
It’s ribbon time again! That is, award ribbons for the upcoming Fall 2015 Tempe Festival of the Arts.
The theory is simple: the festival organizers vote on a Featured Artist and pick one piece from that artist’s portfolio to become the festival poster/publicity image. Then I sit down with the organizers to riff on that design, for the sixteen category award ribbons and one Best of Show ribbon.
I know the awards will be made of layers of constructed fabrics (applique, painting, embroidery, beadwork, etc). I know their sizes (16″ x 4″, 20″ x 5″), and that a specific show label and category listing has to be included in the design.
Harris is inspired by his collection of antique tin toys.
For me, his work is an affectionate nod to all the hilariously-corny science fiction B-movies from the pre-Star Trek and pre-Star Wars days. Back when you saw the monofilament line and Scotch tape in the camera view, and you didn’t care. The screenplay might have been written by a master or a hack, and somehow it didn’t matter. The actors might be slumming Shakespeare players in between London productions, or deeply-sincere bit players just trying to make rent. Costumes? Props? Forry Ackerman saved basements of the things, and it goes for big bucks at auctions now. Classic stuff.
(A lot of the colors, shapes, and styles I also borrowed from the artwork of the cartoon ‘Adventure Time‘.)
Individual category ribbons feature stars, moons, rocket ships, and flying saucers inspired by those from Harris. Over a dozen different fabrics combine in applique to form the designs, and a scattering of glass beads adds detail and shimmer.
I take on these ribbon projects because each one is a new beast, and I learn new things from every round. This time, I figured out how to fix a big science-fiction tapestry project that has stumped me for a decade. (And now I want to do the Little Book of Rocketships.)
The short version is “To be a writer, you must write”, which I quote here from James D. MacDonald’s excellent ‘Uncle Jim’ posts on AbsoluteWrite.
Also: “Rejection is nature’s way of telling you to write a better book.”
For those of you starting out, or struggling along in the middle of something, it’s worth reading his posts. They are plainly-written and bluntly simple, but very effective. Stuff I wish I’d had access to – and listened to – when I was just starting to write.
Kate is both a friend of mine from AbsoluteWrite and a fellow Loose Id author…but I have to tell you, I’d plug this book even if those were not factors.
First, there’s the blurb: Buy a whole body…or just the parts.
Then, the cover, from Kate’s blog tour list:
Then the jacket copy:
Special Agent Leo Gale is up a creek. A year and a half of deep cover is about to go up in flames. He needs help – something, someone to salvage the operation and save the lives of untold numbers of trafficked teenagers.
But he wasn’t expecting the partner they sent, or his own gut-punch of a response to the man.
Julian worked hard for that FBI Honors Internship. It was supposed to be a foot in the door. He’d never expected it to catapult him into the middle of a major undercover operation. Yet here he is, sleeping on a filthy mattress and using every trick in the book to avoid torture–and worse. He’s never felt so scared, or so alive, in his entire life, and he’s not sure if it’s the danger, or Leo, that’s making his heart race.
There’s no time to think about it, though. The operation is heating up, and Leo and Julian are running out of time and options. As choices become more difficult, they must find a way to take the traffickers down, or risk becoming just another set of organs for sale.
I’ve only read a bit so far, and it’s good writing, fairly dark, and really hot.
Okay, now I can announce the latest happy news: a book deal and another pen name.
On February 2, 2016, the new digital publisher NineStar will be releasing my novella Maestro, a contemporary M/M/M erotic romance. It will be published under the pen name of M. Crane Hana, who will be writing both romance and fantasy fiction in the future.
This is probably not the final blurb, but it was part of my query:
Leo’s birthday is February 13, which has always meant candles on heart-shaped cupcakes and birthday cards with ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ crossed out. To celebrate properly, Leo’s mystery writer husband Andrew arranges a tryst for Leo with Mel, a gifted violinist who is one of Andrew’s biggest fans.
As I’ve mentioned, this novella grew out of a M/F erotica short story that was originally written for an erotic anthology call from fellow members at AbsoluteWrite. My story didn’t make the cut, but eventually I played with gender and expanded the plot…and got three fun characters I couldn’t stop writing about (even though I have other, earlier deadlines to meet, too.)
I’ll post cover art when we have it.
And watch this blog, because I’m going to have a jewelry giveaway leading up to the February launch.
My Twitter feed was all-abuzz today about a post from a rightfully angry YA editor, who’d just heard that certain agents were telling their author clients not to submit diverse books. (Books celebrating non-standard POVs, characters, and situations, regarding race, creed, gender identity or sexual preference.) Or to submit certain kinds of diversity, and not others. (ie ‘Gay male’ is hip, but ‘transgender’ might not be.)
Which is understandably a huge, heartbreaking issue especially in YA fiction. Teen and YA readers of all groups need to know they are welcomed and represented by the literature aimed at them.
Younger authors likely haven’t developed the fuckitall filters that us old fogies grew over a lifetime of being told ‘do this, don’t do that’. In many cases we slowly learned we were better served by going off and doing that advised-against thing anyway. Most of us splatted against a wall of indifference, but some of us became superstars.
I know a little something about agents telling me they just didn’t think they could shop a certain book of mine.
It’s happened to me several times, twice from agents I knew personally. In my first case, the agent was a bit rattled by representing heterosexual erotic romance, not to mention gay male romance stuff. (Even though I know damn well that agent has a star client who did manage to sneak in some of Teh Gay. But the client did it by making the main gay character into a villain. How 1950s conformist…but hey, I’ve done the same, mea culpa.)
In other cases, my manuscript itself was plainly Not Ready For Primetime even though I thought it was. And several agents, including my amazing current agent, told me so in no uncertain terms. So I trunked my opus and worked on other, better stuff. I came back later to the opus and found out the agents were right: that book really sucked. I stopped making excuses for it, and started trying to rebuild it the right way.
So here’s where I get back to that Twitter feed from today. We need to make certain, amid all the anecdotes and outrage, that agents are ‘gatekeeping’ otherwise brilliant books from already-signed clients out of the market just because of diversity issues in those manuscripts. And only because of those diversity points.
I’ve been assured that yes, some agents are doing this. We saw a little of it a few years ago, with an agency asking for LGBTQ main characters to be recast as heterosexual, or at least downplayed.
I’m not happy to hear about this latest agentfail. If a writer has done their absolute best to craft a killer book with diversity as key component…yeah, then I want to know the agent or editor who sidelined it. I want names, so I can maybe avoid those agencies and publishers…and help warn other authors about them.
But at the same time, I understand the agent’s and editor’s POV, too.
They’re business people, after all. It’s easier to say ‘no’ upfront than to invest time and money into a solid manuscript, while fearing that every good independent and Big Five imprint is going to say, ‘Um, nope, too weird, our readers aren’t ready for this.’ We readers can celebrate social changes both incremental and startlingly-swift. But dollars, not social responsibility, are what drive media offerings.
When publishers and agents figure out that diverse books make money and loyal readers – and maybe that will take a LOT of diverse authors going to self-publishing – those gatekeepers will jump happily on the bandwagon.
In the meantime, it is not ‘diverting the issue’ to talk about quality in diverse manuscripts.
Topical issues should not be excuses for an author’s sloppy writing and lackluster plots, just as technical incompetence should not be an excuse for great ideas and poor execution in the visual arts. Not in YA fiction (although gawdamighty, YA fantasy blockbusters have disheartened me in the last few years!) Not in Adult *any genre*, but especially in science fiction and fantasy. SFF has been a touchstone for the strange, the weird, and the diverse, for all of its several-hundred-year history.
The socially conservative Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies of the recent Hugo Awards debacle would surely cheer every time an agent or editor quietly censors submissions, to keep out all those icky, problematic diverse books about people who are likely not white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon descendants with middle-class problems. (Yes, I know there are Puppies who are none of those groups. That’s another blog post.)
There’s a larger, even more dangerous issue here: the all-too-human tendency to favor affinity groups over strangers, the known mediocre over the unknown brilliant. We make excuses for the things we love, and look for fault in the things we fear or hate.
There’s an all-or-nothing component in affinity loyalty, too. A minor critique is often taken as a deadly insult and call to arms.
On both the right and left sides of many social debates, we in the middle are not allowed to criticize the flaws of the more-partisan, for fear of the accusation of cultural, economic, or religious discrimination.
If I were to name three or four dreadfully predatory and/or incompetent vanity publishers right now, I would get savaged by the very authors those presses prey upon.
These authors have adopted this narrative: ‘I tried commercial publishing and got rejected, or I was afraid to try. Here’s this publisher, who believes the same things I do, uses the same memes and themes I do, and presents themselves as part of my culture. Sure, they’re asking me to pay lots of money to get published…but at least they’re here for me.’ (So are prosperity gospel preachers, sub-prime mortgages, and online payday loan scams, for a shocking number of the same groups within a population.)
In similar fashion, ‘outsiders’ of any stripe are not allowed to ask if a diversity-themed manuscript was rejected or censored because it was diverse, or because it simply wasn’t good writing. We even get dragged into pointless wrangling over the definition of ‘good writing’.
Hint: it’s like porn. You’ll know it when you see it. No matter its voice or origins, great writing drags you dancing into its world, until you really no longer see the words. Anything less than that experience is not, typically, great writing.
So, yes, we can talk about diversity and censorship, on many levels. Discussion is great, since it focuses attention on the real problem of diversity in books. But readers, agents, editors and writers also need to encourage the best possible diverse writing…or we all risk being called out for our insincerity and favoritism.
I’ve had some writer’s block recently (okay, three years of it, off and on). I think I finally broke it this month. I turned a smutty little 5K short story into a smutty 16K novella, and got it delivered to its editor at a new publisher. When they announce it, I will share the happy news.
It was a great experience. I’ve been hitting stop-and-start pacing on Moro’s Shield and The Leopard of Saba, because of day-job exhaustion, financial stress, and how-much-sex-can-people-realistically-have-while-running-for-their-lives? plot problems.
With this little book, I had few of those issues. It’s contemporary erotic romance, so I didn’t have eons of worldbuilding to do. I had a month to think about and work on it, after signing the contract on October 1. It’s tentatively scheduled for an early February 2016 release.
I’d already written the core scene as a 4K M/F erotica short story for a charity anthology; when that was rejected, I rewrote it as M/M erotic romance for two romance anthology publishers, adding more emotional depth with each version.
The antho editors still rejected me. But hey, I got personalized rejections with pointers. That’s kind of a jackpot, for rejections. One, you know you came close because most editors do not write a lot of these. Two, they’re offering to show you why you missed the mark. If you get to the personal-rejection stage, pay attention.
A quick digression to an earlier topic: Laura Harner’s plagiarism of other M/F authors for her own M/M self-published books. I established to myself that it was relatively easy to strip and switch a sample text, but I have to add again I would never intentionally do this to another author.
My own earlier work is fair game. Sometimes I can write M/F romance, sometimes I can’t. This novella only took off when put-together blonde Lissa Ellson became impeccably-suited blond Leo Ellson, equally prim in public, equally mischievous in private. Go, Leo!
I wrote 10,600 words in a week and a half, expanding this story. Of course there’s smut; but since I’m me and unable to turn down listening to a character’s sob story, there’s also a bit of plot.
I’m looking forward to editing this one, and seeing what the publisher does for a cover.
Author note: I think I made my accountant snarf coffee out their nose earlier this week, when I asked if pantyliners were a legitimate business expense for romance writers…
…I did not plan for these shoes to go so well with these socks:
Remainder Halloween socks, 2008, Tuesday morning, $2.00. Sketchers’ Shape-Ups, 2015, Goodwill, $6.00. Black crepe linen pants, 2010, Saver’s, $4.99. Black T-shirt with multicolored (orange, red, green, purple, and black Mandala embroidery), Goodwill, 2005, $4.00, similar to this Cafepress shirt but More Orange:
Great Halloween outfit on the fly: priceless.
A debut novel from a fellow M/M writer over on AbsoluteWrite. I’ve been watching the seeds of Bad Magic develop for a little while, and I could tell early on it would be a fun read. When she sold it to Dreamspinner Press, I cheered.
Here’s the blurb:
Morality is relative. At least that’s what young sorcerer Regis Teller convinces himself. He’s done what he must to survive: working for a witch since he was nine, helping her throw the kingdom into anarchy, and taking his only comfort in her mysterious son, Crow. And soon, Regis is going to commit his first murder.
A do-gooder named Jonathan White has information the witch needs, and it’s Regis’s job to get that information and slit Jonathan’s throat. But then Regis actually meets Jonathan. And Jonathan is perfect—a hero with a passion for justice and little regard for civility.
Lucky for Regis, Jonathan has a weakness for attractive men. Lucky for Jonathan, Regis is fast developing a conscience and a heart. But for Regis, keeping both of them alive at their adventure’s end means breaking a magical oath and surviving his ruthless boss—all without telling Jonathan the truth. Falling in love is never easy, especially when everyone involved is lying through their teeth.
(Random snippets of advice I’ve seen this week, and found useful.)
There’s this depressing song-and-dance routine that I keep seeing from so many writers, in several genres: “Oh, this crappy little publisher is treating me soooo badly. I think I’ll leave them and try to find another crappy little publisher.”
Or they decide, like Laura Harner did in 2011, to leave their CLP and self-publish. She’s not the only one to choose that route. Sometimes it works really well, without the author resorting to ghostwriters and plagiarism to keep up the publishing schedule.
There is nothing wrong with informed self-publishing, by someone committed to doing it right. That’s not what this post is about.
Nor are all small publishers CLPs. Some really do a great job, and are worth the business risk.
Choosing to try a bigger, better publisher may not even cross these authors’ minds. A lot of new(er) writers, or writers accustomed to small press business practices, are simply afraid of the Big Five. They think they might not be ‘good enough’ for a major publisher, and are not willing to work at improving their writing. Or they can’t or won’t try to get agent representation, which they need to get through the door of any publisher closed to public queries. Or they’re impatient with the slower-than-glaciers response time and publishing pace of many Big Five imprints.
For whatever reason, by continuing to go small, they are possibly cutting themselves out of much higher earnings and recognition in the long run.
Plus, they are annoying the shit out of those of us who keep watching them do it over and over…
So, over the last few days, a prolific M/M erotic romance writer has been outed as a multiple serial plagiarist.
Since 2010, Laura Harner has self-published 75 books. That’s not unusual in itself, and not a surefire indicator of bad-quality, slammed-out-for-the-bucks writing. I know several legit writers who can keep that pace.
But what Harner has done at least a couple of times is take a published M/F romance from another author, change one character’s gender to male, flip some word choices and descriptors, and publish the ‘new’ M/M romance as her own work.
I’ve seen the comparisons. They are chronically and eerily similar, enough that I’d notice. Because plagiarists tend to run their scams until they get caught, there’s a strong chance that Harner has done this many, many times before. Now her entire catalog is suspect, and people will be doing Google text searches among potential target novels in Harner’s chosen subgenres.
Like many plagiarists, Harner has also not kept a low, discreet profile; she just attended the erotic romance community’s prestigious Gay Rom Lit convention in San Diego last week, where she was on publishing and writing panels. Her website paints a picture of a confident, creative, and happy woman living a good life in northern Arizona.
Jenny Trout has a great overview of the case here.
Why do writers plagiarize openly, when the odds of getting caught are getting better every day?
Some are delusional, and think they won’t get caught. Harriet Klausner died last week. Once lauded as Amazon’s most-prolific reviewer, her career soured as she was revealed to have 1) too many reviews where she obviously didn’t read the book at all, and 2) made a tidy amount of money in reselling for profit the same Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) that she’d been given to review. (You are not supposed to sell ARC’s, BTW.) Even in her obituary, it was clear how much Klausner’s self-image was predicated on her status as the ‘best’ Amazon reviewer…even after that reputation was revealed as largely false. She wasn’t technically a plagiarist, but her mindset was apparently similar.
Some are ignorant enough to think they’re not doing anything wrong. A recent AbsoluteWrite forum thread featured a young writer – or possibly a clever troll – who could not seem to understand that changing names and descriptions was not enough to scrub a plagiarized text. She said this was the only way she could learn to ‘write better’. As a private writing exercise, recopying another author’s work is not a bad way to learn. The danger comes when you claim it as your own…and then start believing it.
In Laura Harner’s case, the pressure was likely financial. Three to four years ago the erotic romance market (especially gay-themed M/M works) was a gold rush for self-published authors. The market is still strong, but there are so many self-publishers now that it’s hard to get market share for a single book. I’ve mentioned before that M/M romance readers are loyal but voracious: to keep their loyalty, writers have to feed their readers’ addictions often and regularly (I’ve been bad about that, but I have Reasons.) So one key to keeping sales strong is to be prolific. Every new book adds to an author’s back catalog, and more sales throughout the catalog.
Publishing over a dozen readable books a year can nearly guarantee a partway decent self-pub income, once the readership’s loyalty has been established. You might not make more than $$ a month on individual title sales, but taken together those can add up to $$$$.
If you are not a prolific author in your own right? You stumble along like me and do what you can.
Or you steal other people’s writing.
I know this dance from art. I worked for a just-on-the-edge-of-respectable company which taught me how to analyze trendy contemporary artists and learn their ‘style’. To the point that I can actually do convincing ‘new’ works in another artist’s style. I don’t.
But I also know how to apply those same tricks to taking hours off my own art production, by using digital art filters to give me brushwork roadmaps of existing photographs (my own, when I’m doing this for money.)
This kind of ‘guided’ plagiarism should involve similar effort, I thought.
I did a quick and dirty estimate last night of what it would take me to write vs. plagiarize a contemporary erotic romance novel from someone else. I’d stick, as Harner has, to contemporary subgenres because they often don’t require the same kind of worldbuilding as science fiction and fantasy. Those latter genres can show ‘author fingerprints’ of style and voice much more clearly, and they’re harder to scrub for plagiarists.
I’m working on a legitimate 12K to 24K M/M/M contemporary romance novella right now, so I have a reasonable time comparison. It started as a M/F 4K short story for an anthology call two years ago. I flipped the romance to M/M (which required serious changes to characters, sex acts, and psychology), and brought it to 4.6K for two romance anthology calls last year. No go, but I got personalized rejections. So I was already on the path toward expanding it into a novella, when a pro publishing opportunity came along, with a new market I’m willing to chance. I estimate that I already have at least 110 working hours into this story. I’m still lacking around 60 – 80 hours to final mms stage.That’s at least two weeks of solid working time.
I looked at a similar novella, commercially published, from a M/F romance author I like (no, I’m not telling you who.) I’m a capable speed-reader, so my first read of the book took only 45 minutes. The chapters ranged around 1000 to 2100 words, and there were a couple dozen chapters. I set up a quick story bible, in which I changed the female character to male, but kept most of her/his physical attributes and mannerisms. Same for the male lead, who kept his gender but became gay and had a different physical description and job. I changed a few other staging/setting details of the plot, but kept the flow of the other author’s writing.
I was able to hammer out three semi-convincing M/M romance chapters in less than two hours. The problem was the difference in my writing ‘voice’ and the original author’s: areas where I used more of my own input jarred against spots where I mostly copied hers. Anyone could see there was a discontinuity of style. I figured another hour per chapter, and I could have ironed out most of the style alert markers.
I touch-typed my entries and read from another screen. I could have cut that time down further by copying digital text or scanning the text directly from print books, then editing that copy.
Say, twenty-four chapters. Less than an hour to skim the original book to see if I could ‘stripmine’ it for a plagiarized text. Twenty-four to forty-eight hours of working time to take out all M/F references and put in M/M ones. Another day to do edits (I don’t know if Harner hired freelance editors; I sure as hell would if I were self-publishing!)
There are rumors now that Harner hired ghostwriters and ‘scraping services’ to create and collect texts…and ‘they’ were the ones who plagiarized. Bullshit. Judging by the scale of the theft, Harner had to know what was going on. (And I’m not even getting into my complicated feelings about ghostwriters and text mills.)
Let’s say that in a week I could have a ‘new’ M/M manuscript ready to self-publish. Depending on the publishing services I used, it could be posted and earning within a day or two. It would be returning money in one to three months.
I can manage to legitimately write about 6,000 to 8,000 words a day at my best, but there’s a lot of rewriting and editing at the end stages. I wrote most of Moro’s Price in around 4 months in 2011, and that seems to be my best rate of production: around 25,000 words a month. Of course, I don’t have residual income or write fulltime, so that figure is just my potential word count. It’s taken me all of October to add 8K to this ‘real’ novella I need to deliver.
I could easily steal three books a month myself, not counting what I can pay a scraper to collect. I’d research targets and spread them around (I wouldn’t steal all books from one author.) Fifteen published in a year? Easy.
Why do authors feel that pressure to perform, right over the cliff of unethical behavior? Money and reputation. By staggering those ‘new’ releases over the year, the plagiarist ensures that at all times she has exciting new debuts and steady royalty earners.
Her readers want a fix, which is a Good Thing, really. But they often don’t seem to care about quality, originality, or underlying little things like ethics in writing. So as a reader of M/M romance, I’m at fault for greasing that machine, too.
The accuracy of a writer’s or artist’s self-assessment on how new, original, and groundbreaking their work really is…is likely proportional to their skill and experiences in that field.
The new artist who thinks they’re invented a metalworking technique known for hundreds of years. The erotica author who wants to invent a ‘new’ form of erotic writing that is actually the oldest and most standard form. Anyone who excuses obvious flaws as a necessary part of process.
A form of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, folks.
The over-the-top red necklace is (mostly) done, even though I might play around with the clasp a bit more. It and I came to a compromise on its name: Dragonfire Cameo.
I talk about the genesis of this piece here.
In keeping with my life’s apparent current theme of ‘rebuild and rewrite’, this necklace mirrors the general path of my fiction. Each project starts out terse and overly simple, maybe with a lot of clunky elements, then gets refined over the revisions.
At any rate, I rather like this monster.
Materials: Czech pressed-glass button in ruby and gold, blue-green dichroic glass cabochon, pressed glass navette dangles (red), pressed glass knife dangles (iridescent blue), 4 luster red beads from a cannibalized Avon necklace, seed beads in various colors and sizes, red and tawny beading nylon thread, and a lot of coffee.
Techniques: Right Angle Weave (RAW), Cubic Right Angle Weave (CRAW), one-drop and two-drop gourd stitch (peyote), ladder stitch.
Just because someone graduated from a well-known MFA literary writing program, doesn’t mean they can write coherent and convincing science-fiction and fantasy.
In my 40 years of reading the stuff, it usually means they can’t.*
We do these authors a disservice by hyping them with huge advances and gonzo marketing, instead of sending them off to Clarion, Viable Paradise, or some of the MFA programs actually geared toward speculative fiction.
* Usually, they claim they love SFF and read a lot of it. Which doesn’t explain the number of stupid and/or lazy tropes they use in their own work.