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’.

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, shovel wads of money at them, and make the same mistakes all over.

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.’ 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.

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.

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 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.

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 makes out-of-proportion legal threats in response to online criticism.

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. 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 and/or family emergencies in the past as multiple excuses for not meeting contractual goals.

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?

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 part of the wider marketing for a book? 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.

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?

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 mother 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.

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 8

Wow, we’ve made it this far, folks.

Today, Kate Lowell interviews Karenna Colcroft here. I have no idea what they’ve cooked up between them, but it’s sure to be fun and spicy. While you’re over there, make sure to register for Kate’s Rafflecopter giveaway.

Remember, if you’re into jewelry, I’m still running my own giveaway on this blog: post a comment on any of my entries here between 6-23 and 7-7, and get a chance to win this thing (see Day 1 entry for description):

Garnet dusk necklace

I’m not as good at some art as I want to be. But I thought this older digital sketch of Moro and Val (and a scene that didn’t make it into Moro’s Price), would still be a good teaser ending for this post. Who’s actually against a wall, here?

Moro and Val pose 3

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 7

Today, I bring you LGBTQ erotic romance author Kate Lowell. You very nearly had a very silly bogus interview between me and her squirrel shifter character, so be thankful Kate answered the call, instead.

Author’s note 7-14-2014: I am so out of it I didn’t realize until today I had the wrong book. And Kate has been too nice to call me on it. It should probably be this book (pay attention to the squirrel on the dude’s arm.)

forgottenmenagerie_500-e1380536245705 (1)

 

Nathan and I were gonna play beer pong with unshelled pecans, I had it all planned out…

Me: Have you ever written outside the romance genre? If not, do you ever plan to?

Kate: I have written science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal/urban fantasy, and plan to continue to, but I’m having a lot of fun in the romance genre right now, so it might be a while. The genres blend well with romance, so I can still get my scifi, fantasy, and spec fic fixes, while giving readers their Happily Ever After.

Me: Do you think LGBTQ romance is growing in popularity?

Kate: I think it is–I hear more and more about it all the time. Large publishers are looking more closely at it, and it’s getting airtime/screen time with larger websites and television stations. I’m not sure we give the human race enough credit for the open-mindedness and curiosity this shows. Sure, there are jerks and self-centered idiots out there, with enough fear inside them to drive the world to Armageddon in the wrong circumstances, but most people are just wrapped up in their own lives, without much time to go searching for new experiences. This is the job of artists–writers, painters, filmakers, chefs–to push these boundaries and make these experiences accessible to others.

Given the opportunity, given well-written, sympathetic characters, most people are open to experiencing life through another set of eyes. Curiosity, you see. The human race is curious; we don’t always know what to do with what we discover with that curiosity, but we do like to know things. And what is more universal than falling in love, riding out the bumps and struggles that occur in any relationship, and finding your happy ending? As more good literature makes its way out into the world, more people discover it.

I like the fact that we’re pushing the boundaries on this. Our world is a kaleidoscope of different people, and it makes me happy that people who have been marginalized (and here, I’m talking about POC, disabled, and all other marginalized groups as well) are starting to find fiction written for them, about people like them, and that they have the opportunity to have their stories told. Or to tell their stories themselves. And I’m very grateful for the people who push this and help others discover it as well, since these stories also deserve to be told.

Me: What are you reading now?

Kate: I’m reading Night Terrors, by Tim Waggoner, published by Angry Robot books. The basic premise is that sometimes people dream so hard, it opens a portal between the dream world and ours, letting nightmares through. The two main characters are ‘cops’ who are in charge of taking these being back to the nightmare side. I’ve got mixed feelings about it. It’s an interesting world, but I haven’t connected with either of the two main characters yet. In fact, I have more sympathy for the bad guy they just collared than for either of the two MC’s. The blurb wasn’t entirely accurate to what I’ve read of the story so far, but I haven’t finished the book yet, either. I’m hoping it will redeem itself shortly.

I’m also reading a craft book, called Story Trumps Structure, by Steven James. So far, I’m impressed, though he comes at everything from the viewpoint of a thriller writer–which he is, so no surprise there. But the basics are good. I chat about it with Zoe X Rider and Ana J Phoenix in our column Three Dirty Birds Talk, if you’re curious about it.

Me: I’ve read the James book! (My fellow writers, go find it in the library, or somewhere. It may change your life.)

What genre do you write mostly and what appeals to you most about your genre?

Kate: Right now, I’m mostly writing paranormal, with a side of classic low-magic fantasy and contemporary. I love the idea of there being a world that not everyone is aware of. It parallels to a certain degree how our society is actually structured–there’s the surface that everyone sees, hints of something less perfect that you notice if you’re watching, and then there’s the reality. I very much enjoy playing with the concept of  ‘nothing is as it seems’ and twisting it as far as I can. I think we tend to lose our sense of wonder as we grow up, ground down beneath the daily routine of keeping a roof over our heads and our kids decently clothed and out of juvenile court. Paranormal/urban fantasy reminds us that the world is a very different place, if you only change the way you look at it.

Me: If you haven’t yet, check out the secret-world books by Charles deLint. He introduced me to the first wave of urban fantasy in the late eighties, and he’s a master at portraying wonder in familiar situations.

Back to the interview, how hard is the editing process? Self-editing, because we all know working with an editor is another world entirely.

Kate: I find it both harder and easier than writing the actual story. Easier, because a lot of the decision-making has already been done; harder, because now I have to make everything fit. It’s a little like building a piece of furniture from a picture in my head. I create the basic parts, then shape them and tweak them, shaving bits here, building up bits elsewhere, until it all fits together like it grew that way on its own. Sometimes it requires throwing parts away completely and starting with a new block of wood. This is the time period when I need to hold the whole story, and all its details, together in my head–a delicate balancing process that often squeezes out any new material until it’s done.

At the same time, there’s an incredible sense of satisfaction when you start plugging plotholes and can watch the story come together, growing gradually closer to the image you had in your head when you started. Adding a paragraph in one chapter, changing how something is worded in another. Peppering the piece with subtle foreshadowing, until, at the end, your reader reaches the ‘surprising, but inevitable’, conclusion. Tweaking characterization, laying the groundwork for sequels and offshoots.

Editing is fun. :)

Me: Chalk another one up for the ‘masochist’ list, then. I’m there, too.

What do you love about being an author?

Kate: I love the control I have over the story, to take it in whatever direction I want. I love the choices I have over how I spend my work day, whether I spend it writing, reading, watching documentaries, or doing promo. Being able to follow whims, to research whatever catches my fancy, and then twist it to suit my interests or the story’s. The process of putting together a character, of exploring the world through someone else’s eyes and experience–they are all part of the excitement that brings me back over and over again to the creation of fiction. Putting together all the puzzle pieces that make up a story, though, is probably the best part.

Me: What do you hate about being an author?

Kate: Promo kills me. There’s such a push to be different, entertaining, get yourself noticed. The hours that I spend on promo–I’d much rather spend them on a new story, or smoothing out the rough patches of one in the works. I’m not particularly outgoing either, and promo feels like going to a big party with all sorts of people, most of whom I don’t know and am rather intimidated by. Besides, I’m not sure I’m all that entertaining anyway. :)

Another thing is the constant uncertainty–am I good enough? Is this next story good enough? Did I catch all the mistakes? All the weaknesses? Worrying that you’ve written something that someone already wrote and you just haven’t seen it (happened already to me once). If you’re anxious at all by nature, this feeds the anxiety monster all the yummy things it most particularly likes.

Oh, and waiting. The waiting is…*screams and flails* Yeah, that.

Me: The waiting. Yeah. That’s when I get into the most trouble, too.

When did you start the adventure of writing?

Kate: This is going to sound ridiculous, but about two years ago, in mid-summer of 2012. My contract ended at what had to be the absolute worst job I’ve ever had. I was exhausted, burnt out, and ready to chuck it all. So I gave myself a couple of months to recharge and try something I had very occasionally played with during my preteen years–writing my own stories. I was going through a phase of reading MM romance at the time, so that’s where I started. The first story I attempted to write hasn’t been published, or even finished yet, though I have every plan to do so. Just waiting for the skillz I need to do it justice.

Me: What’s the funniest scene you’ve ever written?

Kate: I would say it would have to be the kitchen sink scene from Nuts About You. Imagine you’re a weresquirrel, and you’ve been caught by this really hot guy you’ve been spying on for months, and he’s got you in his house because he hit you with a shoe. But–escape is nigh. There’s a window over the kitchen sink, and a tree outside the window. If you can just reach it…

Me: Hang on, we have that scene, folks. Enjoy!

***

Vince walked by, shirtless and talking into his cell phone. “No, I know it’s just a squirrel. It’s still a living creature.” A pause, as Vince listened to the person on the other end of the line. He turned toward the table and Nathan froze again. “No, he’s just sitting there, kind of—stiff.”

Oh, you have no idea. Dammit, turn around so I can go for the window!

“But what if he’s bleeding internally?” Another pause. Vince ran his hand through his hair and stared at Nathan with a frustrated expression that made Nathan’s ears twitch. “Never mind, fine, he just moved. Don’t worry, I’ll look after him.” He hit the disconnect button with more force than was necessary and jammed the phone into his pocket. “Well, I guess you’re all mine now. I promised you peanut butter, didn’t I? You sit quiet and I’ll get some out for you.” He turned his back on Nathan and opened a cupboard.

Now! Nathan bolted, leaping the space between the table and the countertop, and raced for the window.

“Hey!” he heard Vince exclaim, but the window was right in front of him. He braced his feet on the edge of the half-filled sink and jumped.

An invisible force stopped him and threw him back into the kitchen.

Flyscreen! he thought despairingly as he tumbled into the cold, soapy water in the sink.

***

Me: Cue wet squirrel.

Kate: And that’s my sense of humour. :)

Me: Where can we find you if we want to know more than what we’ve read in this interview?

Kate: Well, I have a blog, which is updated on an irregular basis, at thebluntinstrument.wordpress.com. I’m also on Twitter, @Kate_Lowell, and on Facebook (somewhat neglected) at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008313548018

Me: Thanks for the thoughtful, in-depth interview, Kate!

And now, one wet squirrel, courtesy of a site called http://unclemacsgardenshed.blogspot.com/

squirrel_swimming

2014 AbsoluteWrite Erotica Writers blog hop Day 6

Hi, everyone! Gail Bridges interviews me today at her blog.

Because I have no snippets for you today, have some cake. Or at least the recipe for a good one.

***

Gluten Free Coconut White Chocolate cake

½ cup light olive oil

¼ cup softened unsalted butter

2 eggs or egg equivalent

1 tsp real vanilla

¾ cup white sugar or sugar substitute

½ tsp salt

2 cups Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix (my normal GF flour, you may have others)

1 cup shredded coconut (can be toasted beforehand)

1 cup white chocolate morsels

½ tsp milk (dairy, soy, almond, or coconut)

Directions:

Beat oil, butter, eggs and sugar together. Mix in vanilla, salt, and milk until batter is thick but smooth. Add ¾ cup shredded coconut and ½ cup white chocolate morsels; reserve the remainder for topping. Spread into greased 9”x 9” pan and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes in preheated oven  (or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.)

While still in pan and hot, sprinkle white chocolate chips over top of cake. To speed melting, place back in warm oven for 1 minute. Spread melted white chocolate over surface of cake, then sprinkle on remaining coconut. Cover and chill for several hours, then cut and serve.

***

Disclaimer: totally not calorie-free, or even particularly healthy. But it is delicious with tea, after an all-night writing session.