Maestro on Monday!

Counting down to the epub, Kindle, etc release of my M/M/M contemporary erotic romance novella on Monday, February 8. I’ll have more on this over the weekend, and more on the necklace featured here on my Tumblr page.

The skinny: comment here or on Tumblr on any of my Maestro posts, from now until March 8, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to get a free copy of the e-book (your choice of several formats) and the rainbow ribbon necklace.

Countdown to Maestro!

Good news, everyone! My release date for Maestro, my M/M/M contemporary erotic romance, will now be February 8, 2016.

That means two things: my teeny little novella will no longer be lost in the stellar glare from the February 2 release of C.A. Pacat’s long awaited third book in the Captive Prince series. (And by then I should have my hardcopies of all three of Pacat’s delicious fantasy intrigues!)

It also means that you, my few but loyal readers, get a little extra time to pre-order Maestro. I really hate doing the ‘Buy My Book!’ shill online, so I’ll keep this at a minimum here on the Blue Night blog. I’ll try to make it worth your while. Comment on this post or the other Maestro posts here on Blue Night, on my Tumblr, or on NineStar’s Maestro page, from now until March 8, 2016, and you’ll be entered into a giveaway for this necklace over on Tumblr.

It’s a small book for a reasonable price from a new publisher, so visibility is going to be everything. Once the book is out, I would be incredibly grateful for any honest reviews, on any forum. I’m a housetrained author: I mostly ignore or giggle at bad reviews if I can tell they’re from obvious trolls…but I do quietly learn from honest critical reviews, too. I actually like them better than gushing-but-empty reviews.

Those of you following this story know that Maestro started out as a M/F 5K short story for a charity anthology, and morphed over two years to M/M. The folks at Nine Star saw it, liked it…but thought there was so much more to be told. And they were right.

 

Handmade or Buy/Sell?

So in (slow) preparation for loading some art on my dormant Handmade at Amazon site, I’ve been doing some research on what’s already there. Some gorgeous, inspirational stuff, worthy of scrutiny. And some…that is not so much.

Apparently, in the rush to sign people up, and with possibly not enough experience in the jewelry/handcraft industry, the jury at H@A let slip in some things that none of the regional art festivals I know would allow through the door as ‘handmade’.

Anecdote to sum up the problem: I know a costume/corset designer who has a small shop with only a few employees: Damsel in this Dress. She designs her own patterns, does limited runs of each design in excellent fabric, and she and her staff work to the upper limits of their considerable skill on each piece. Renaissance Faire workers, theatrical folks, cosplayers, re-enactors, and other costuming wonks know her work and love it. (I plan on buying one, eventually.)

It’s not the highest level of corset costuming, because the founder obviously can’t afford to do a few hundred hours of leather tooling or embroidery on limited-edition pieces that can only sell for a few hundred dollars in her market. But the seams are clean, the rivets and stays are strong, the fabrics are curated with a keen eye toward both beauty and long-term durability, and all pieces are very well made.

She applied, but wasn’t juried in to H@A.

Now, browsing just H@A’s handmade jewelry areas (which are one of the most prone to fraud, industry-wide), I found numerous sites where the only thing that ‘jewelers’ are doing is assembling commercial charms/components with commercial chain. I can even name many of the commercial suppliers. Some ‘jewelers’ are at least customizing some of their work with image or letter stamps, so I can grudgingly say they’re doing some handwork in choosing or placing the stamps. But they sure as hell didn’t make their charm blanks or their stamps from scratch!

Here’s one example that I will call out (and risk giving them some exposure): EnCharmed. The artist didn’t make the silver chain or the little silver animal charms…those are all commercial, right down to the jump rings and spring-ring clasps. Many of the charms ultimately come from two suppliers: Nina Designs, and Sunwest Silver. All the ‘artist’ is doing is assembling pre-made materials, taking photos, and marking up the cost. The same artist offers some pieces that are custom-stamped charms…but again, those silver charm blanks and the steel stamps are all commercial.

It’s cute stuff. It will sell at those prices. Does it belong on H@A? I don’t think so, because there is no real skill or work in making it.

In the upper-level art fair circuit, what EnCharmed is doing is called ‘Buy/Sell’, and It Is Not Allowed. It panders to the casual customer and offers some quick sales, but it also cheapens the work of real jewelers doing real fabrication and skilled, complex assembly.

I expect to see this stuff on Etsy now. Not on Handmade at Amazon, which spent so much time last year touting its exclusive and discerning jury system. I’ll be honest: I feel let down and much more skeptical of H@A’s jury process.

It’s the same reason I’m careful about the brick-and-mortar stores or art festivals where I apply to sell. I don’t want my work to be in the same display space as that of a charm-assembler or simple bead stringer. Because I can’t compete with pieces taking five minutes and $10 to make, and I’m not even going to try. I cannot reach the budget-conscious customers who can’t tell the difference, or show no sign of wanting to learn.

Deactivating Facebook page

On the eve of several business launches, I am deactivating my Crane Hana FB page. Lest that seem counter-intuitive, let me explain.

I barely use it (I might check it once a month). I really do not like a lot of FB’s policies over the ‘Real Name’ issue. Content on FB is not freely available to all users; they must log in to FB to see it, and thus be tracked by FB. So in order to simplify my life, the FB page is getting locked down as of now. I may decide to completely delete it in the future.

From here on out, social media users can talk to me through this blog or my Tumblr site.

Thanks for your patience.

Lottery Fatigue

Well, now that the 1.5 billion-dollar Powerball frenzy is temporarily over in the US, I can admit I’m one of the players that lottery officials hate.

I don’t buy many tickets, and when I do, I buy only one per game. The jackpot has to reach a certain level before I even consider spending money on it.

Over the years, that level has climbed. When our state lottery first reached 5 or 6 million dollars, my friends and I thought that was a big deal.

Our state joined one big multi-state lottery, then another. Now I rarely buy state lottery tickets anymore, and only if the prize pool is higher than normal *and* I’m buying a ticket for a big multi-state lottery. Even though the odds are marginally better on the state game.

I buy fewer multi-state tickets, too, and my prize threshold has risen along with the jackpots. First 45 million, then 100 million, then 200 million. When the recent odds/rules changes to some multi-state games lifted their prize pools even higher, my buying threshold followed.

Now that we know a 1.5 billion prize is possible – and probably likely in the future, given those changes – I doubt I’ll even look at any lottery until it reaches 500 million.

My wallet will be happier. I’ll miss the little thrill of ‘what if’ while I have an active ticket. But my life will have a little less hassle in it, too. I know enough math to be able to grasp that the odds of winning a meaningful prize have gone from merely astronomical to cosmological…if not mythological.

Great planning, lottery officials. What’s your next trick?


 

Maestro Cover has a link!

I’d post it here, but WordPress and I have a media upload issue that is not getting fixed until this weekend. So here is a link to the NineStar Press page for Maestro, where you can see the pretty pretty cover in large size.

I’ll wait with the final blurb until they get their copy up. The novella itself is going on sale February 2, 2016…but they might have preorders sooner.

I’ll post some more pretty stuff over on my Tumbler page in the next few days.

Two Fried Catfish, please

This will be a stub post until I have all my data and editorial points lined up (and this will be an entry in Filigree’s Rule, too). The summary:

If you are a young writer, please don’t engage in elaborate sockpuppet catfishing schemes to get reviews for your novel. At some point it’s going to backfire, and at the very least you will look stupid. At worst, you may endanger not only your writing career, but any future career as well.

If you are any writer, do not respond to one or two-star reviews. Don’t get into flamewars with reviewers. Don’t create sockpuppet accounts to troll your negative reviewers. See above.

If you are best-selling, seasoned novelist, do not do ANY OF THE ABOVE. Or fergawdssake, don’t boast about it at a major writing festival. Or build it into the platform of your identity. Your writing has been good enough to carry the day, why waste your time and energy being Don Quixote and inventing enemies to puff up your self-esteem? Even if you are not dumb enough to out yourself, once people figure out what’s happening, it cheapens your real hard work and genuine achievements.

Just think, you could have been writing.

Author’s note added 1-18-16: I’ve decided I do not want to further reward the two idiots I was going use as examples. No free publicity for them. The information has been added to the Filigree’s Rule list, and this post stays just like it is.

Hello 2016

One month from now, on 02/02/2016, my little M/M contemporary romance novella Maestro will be available from NineStar Press. I’ve seen the cover. It’s gorgeous. In a week or so I’ll start up some cool promotion stuff, including one of my handmade beadwoven necklaces in NineStar’s rainbow color theme.

My fantasy novel Singer in Rhunshan is still out on sub to a couple of great publishers…for several more reasons now, it’s going to be nail-biting time while I wait for responses.

In the meantime I’ll finish off the related fantasy trunk-novel Bloodshadow on Wattpad. It’s gaining a slow but steady surge in readership…something I am grateful for, given that the earlier versions of this book got rejected by over 80 literary agents and several publishers.

I’m getting back into short-story writing this year. I also have my leftover novel-sized manuscripts from previous years to finish.

In 2016 I will get more art done and on sale in various physical and online venues.

I’m starting some interesting new career paths this year, in my alternate persona as a marketing writer.

2015 in review

Yes, the blog was down for nearly a month. An update gone awry and a new more-than-fulltime job can do that. Over the next few months I’ll probably be redoing and streamlining this blog.

What happened in 2015?

I got to help a dear friend come back from a bad bicycling accident, and stand witness to their indomitable will. A humbling experience for me.

I made some book art pieces, not nearly as many as I should have. I’ve worked for some fascinating and amazing people, who have all offered me valuable lessons and inspired my own creativity. I’ve had some progress and setbacks in my original fiction. I’m working with a new publisher. I’m getting ready to re-evaluate my ideas about publishing, but I’m certainly not giving up writing or art anytime soon.

More later in 2016. For now, I’ve got a date with a friend, the BBC Sherlock, some terrible junk food, and wine slushies…

Coming soon: my art on Handmade at Amazon.com

Crane Mosaic -- Dryland Codex medallionYes, I took the plunge, got juried in, and am now building a seller profile and gathering inventory for another online art sales venue: Handmade at Amazon.

My store there will be called ‘Crane Artifacts’.

Looks like the first items I’ll offer there are bead-knotted semiprecious stone necklaces, glass micromosaics, and some fiber art pieces. I’ll have a link here, soon.

Yay for edits

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.

<Shudder>

In better news, cover art for Maestro is just around the corner. ETA 1-16-16 It’s alive! Follow the link.

Rocketships and Robots

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.

Beyond that…well, things can get a little crazy. This season’s Featured Artist is the digital virtuoso Geoffrey Aaron Harris, and the promo artwork is his ‘Midnight Invasion‘.

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.

Tempe Fall 2015 BOS blogThe Best of Show ribbon stars a flying robot inspired by ‘Invasion’.

Tempe Fall 2015 Moons blogFor the Tempe Festival Fall ribbons, we eventually settled on mixed focal designs unified by a dark blue sky and stylized mountains/trees.

Tempe Fall 2015 Stars and Saucers blog(A lot of the colors, shapes, and styles I also borrowed from the artwork of the cartoon ‘Adventure Time‘.)

Tempe Fall 2015 Rocket ships blogIndividual 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.

Tempe Fall 2015 Saucers and ship blog

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.)

More advice on how to be a writer…

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.

 

Flesh Market, by Kate Lowell

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:

kl_fleshmarket

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.

Follow this link to Kate’s blog, the blog tour for the book release, and some of the reviews it’s been getting. Follow this link to Loose Id to buy the book.

Maestro, by M. Crane Hana

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.

Diverting diversity, and other dangers

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.

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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.)

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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.