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The (Very Belated) Next Big Thing – The End of An Era and Moving On

So, back in mid-December I was supposed to participate in the Next Big Thing blog hop. I’d been tagged by Anne Tenino and I had tagged Leta Blake. I failed miserably at it because the week that I was due to make my post, I had about five huge things going on all while I was coming down with a severe case of bronchitis. But I’ve actually reached a point where I feel like I should be making this post.

One of those huge things was that I was due to turn in Velocity to my editor on the day that I was supposed to make my post. That has come full-circle now, as today Velocity went live on all but a couple sites. The “official” release date isn’t until Saturday, March 2, but I uploaded early to account for processing time and it appears the process queues were actually moving very quickly, so it’s live early everywhere except on the sites where I was able to schedule the time it went live for sale in advance (which would be Itunes and Kobo at this point.)

Releasing Velocity is a bit of a bittersweet milestone for me. Derrick and Gavin are, for many, many reasons, very close to my heart and releasing this final chapter of their story into the world, knowing that their journey is done and that I’m not likely to be revisiting them much (if at all) is very sad. But I have had four months since I finished writing Velocity to prepare myself for it and I think I’ve come to some peace with it all.

So. The question is, what next? Well. My goal for this year was to publish at least four works, and I am well on track for that. Velocity is one down, and I already have three other works complete: one short story and two novels, both of which are nearly or more than twice the length of any of the Impulse books.

It’s looking like the short might be the first to see the light of day. Some of you who follow me on Twitter might remember back in August that I jumped feet first on the concept of a m/m Highland story. I wrote it in a little over a week (it was only about 8,000 words when I was finished) and then I let it sit on the shelf for several months as another project and Velocity took precedence. I came back to my Highland tale at the end of December, enriched and expanded it, and I am hoping to have an announcement regarding it in the coming weeks. The title is Honor and Innocence, though I’m not entirely pleased with that and if a bolt of divine inspiration strikes with something that feels better to me, I may end up re-titling it. The title is definitely being redone. Stay tuned.

It’s an interesting tale because when we generally think of Highland historicals, we think of macho, hardened, mature warriors. Instead, my brain went somewhere else. It went to an exploration of young love between two boys who in their day and age have no gay role models and in a world where being an out gay man simply was never going to be a consideration. If you follow me on Twitter you might have even seen me calling it my Highland Twinks story. I wanted to know what they would do, would their love endure or would duty and honor present too big a conflict? I also wanted to explore the rarely-acknowledged fact that frequently in history, homosexuality was often met by people simply turning a blind eye and pretending not to notice, rather than with outright condemnation.

What will probably be coming down the pike after the Highland story is a near-future post-apocalyptic story titled Strain. I’ve discussed this one before, for a while referring to it as my Sooper Sekrit Projekt and finally letting people in on the title and little bits of information about it. Strain is the first story I wrote with the intention of submitting to a press. The first draft was ~65K and I wrote it in three weeks back in September for an open submissions call that closed on November 1. I submitted it in mid-October and just after mid-December I received a request to make some revisions and resubmit it, which I did in early-to-mid January, expanding it to ~103K and generally strengthening it on a number of levels. I am now waiting to find out if it has been accepted. In the near future (perhaps within the next month or so) I will either be making an announcement regarding it, or shopping for a new press to submit it to, or deciding whether to self-publish it. Since it’s been almost five months since I made the original submission, I’m very excited at the prospect of getting this story moving toward publication, however that ends up happening.

Strain is a very different piece for me, in both tone and content. It has a lot of hard edges as it depicts a brutal and desperate world where the characters’ choices are frequently ugly, and where sometimes the best way to save someone you care about is to do the unthinkable. It’s not going to appeal to the faint of heart, that’s for certain. Those looking for sweetness and tenderness will be better served sticking to the Highland piece.

The final story I have written is an amazing piece that absolutely ate my brain this past month. I really…there are no words to describe this story. I could be completely delusional. It may be that this story will not impact the readers nearly as strongly as it did me, though one of my beta readers did tell me that if other people respond to it the way she did, it could very well be my breakout piece, the work that puts me on the map as an author. From my own perspective, it is, bar none, the most powerful thing I’ve ever written. It came out to be 93K. I wrote it in two weeks, revised, edited and proofed it in another week, and submitted it to a press because it’s simply too important a work to be lost in the obscurity that attends a self-published author without a very large following yet.

The working title is Saugatuck Summer (and, like the Highland story, I’m still not entirely pleased with that and may end up re-titling it.) It is meant to be the first book in a series set in a town called Saugatuck on the shores of Lake Michigan. Saugatuck, and it’s neighbor, Douglas, are real place, a very popular vacation and tourism destination for LGBT folk around the midwest, much like Provincetown and Fire Island are on the east coast. Douglas hosts a gay resort called The Dunes that is quite famous and there’s even a gay RV park and campground. Having grown up in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, I’ve taken road trips to Saugatuck/Douglas and admired the beachfront homes and the picturesque town more than once. This series hopefully be very much like the Tucker Springs series by L.A. Witt, Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton in that it will be centered on the sometimes-intersecting lives of characters living in the same town. After all, why base a story in a town with a significant LGBT presence unless you can include lots of LGBT characters to explore?

But back to the story. It’s less of a romance (though there is a romance that develops and there is some, for my money, rather scorching erotic content) as it is a coming-of-age story. If I could manage to not write erotic content, it would probably actually be a perfect New Adult story but let’s get real, that’s never going to happen.

The main character, Topher, is a 21-year-old young man trying to outgrow a history of neglect and abuse and figure out who he is as he tries to rise above the temptation to let all the weight of his past drag him down. Topher is a very personal character to me because everything about his history is biographical of a person I know very intimately. Only the “present day” events of Topher’s life and a few other details are fictionalized, as if he and the person he is based off of diverged just before the time the story takes place. So you can see why it would be so close to my heart.

This is, again, a story that is going to have some themes that will be objectionable to some readers, because these characters make some horrible mistakes and bad choices as part of their journey and that’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. They do the stupid thing, the wrong thing and they face the consequences of their ill-advised choices. They are, in short, very fallible and thus very human. That’s probably not going to resonate with people who prefer the characters they read about to always do the right/smart/good thing.

But for my money it’s the most intense and hard-hitting thing I’ve ever written and I really look forward to putting it out in front of the world.

I am presently at work on the second Saugatuck story, which deals with a couple you meet in the first book, and that one is definitely going to be more of an erotic romance and probably won’t carry the same emotional impact as the first one. But that’s okay, too. Sometimes your characters just want a sexy romp!

So, that’s what is coming in the next year, and hopefully a lot more. I am hoping to write a million words this year. I’m already over 180K so I’m well on my way. With that much going on, I hope lots of exciting things will develop in the coming months!

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What if? (What Writing LGBTQ Literature Means to Me)

For the Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop

(please see end of post for giveaway details)

As a storyteller, I’ve always been drawn to the “what if?” I know I’m not alone in this. For those of us who tell stories, it’s something our minds naturally do, I think. From the novelist crafting an entire new world from scratch to the fanfiction writer putting the smallest twist on canon and turning it into an intriguing alternate universe, this is what we do.

We ask ourselves, “What if?”

For example:

“What if Kirk and Spock were lovers?”

While same-sex romance has appeared in literature throughout the ages, usually very subtly and in the subtext, I think for many who now write LGBTQ literature, that question is actually where it all began. That question is where most of us got our first exposure to the concept of same-sex pairings in fiction. Even if we never actually read a word of the early Kirk/Spock (or other flavors of) fanfiction that was circulated in print fanzines while the internet was still the pipe-dream of a few pioneers, we all heard of it.

Then along came the internet, and with it instantly accessible, low-to-no-means methods of disseminating non-mainstream fiction to a targeted niche audience. Skinner/Krycek. Clark/Lex. Spike/Xander. Garak/Bashir. Paris/Chakotay. Xena/Gabrielle. Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan. Methos/Duncan. Jim/Blair. Mackay/Sheppard. Harry/Draco. The list is, of course, endless.

I came to the gay fiction late, for a variety of reasons. I am and always have been a writer of erotic fiction, yes, but I didn’t want to simply write a titillating story for the pretty mental image of two men together.

Ultimately, the “what if?” that brought me to writing LGBTQ literature was a very simple one.

What if the doubts and questions and insecurities I explored with any heterosexual character were experienced by a gay character?

It’s a ridiculously easy question, isn’t it? And yet it took me years to come at the thought of writing gay characters from that angle. I was so determined not to fetishize or tokenize LGBTQ characters, or perhaps expose myself to accusations of ignorance regarding issues faced by LGBTQ characters, that I was neglecting them entirely instead. Despite my best intentions, I was still handling these characters as “other” still, unwilling to deal with them at all if it meant the possibility of being accused of mishandling them. And in so doing, I was denying a voice to characters representative of a segment of the populace that is all too often denied a voice.

Once I answered that question, others came much more easily. I discovered a lot more “what if?” in exploring questions of sameness and differentiation between heterosexual and homosexual characters. Given any particular situation or plot element, which aspects would be influenced by the character’s sexuality? Which would remain the same, and which would the character approach from the unique perspective of being closeted, passing, or out-and-proud, the victim of oppression or someone who has triumphed over it?

Writing LGBTQ fiction enabled me to approach the same human questions and truths I always explored with my characters from the perspective of people whose life experiences might give them a completely unique worldview. And at times – even more interestingly, I think – it has allowed me to explore a completely mundane and un-unique worldview. It has allowed me to explore areas of sameness as well as areas of “other”-ness.

Writing LGBTQ fiction means I need to be conscientious. I need to do research rather than make assumptions. I need to check my privilege. I need to handle issues faced by gay and lesbian people with sensitivity and respect, avoid stereotypes while still being honest about real problems faced in the LGBTQ community, and avoid putting a heteronormalizing slant on gay issues and relationships.

And that is just a little of what writing LGBTQ fiction means to me.

*****

In participation with the Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop, I will be conducting a giveaway of a copy of my book, Inertia. The winner will receive a 100% off coupon for my book from SmashWords, which will enable them to download it in the format of their choice.

Comment below to be entered into the giveaway, and please be sure to include your email address. Entry cut-off will be  August 27, 2012 at 12 AM. Winner will be selected using The Hat (screencap available upon request) later that same day.

Discussion topic: I’ve shared a little bit about what writing LGBTQ literature means to me. What does it mean to you, as a reader? What do you look for in your LGBTQ lit?

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Coming Friday: Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop 2012 and a giveaway!

On Friday, Rainbow Book Reviews will be celebrating the launching of their site with a weekend-long blog hop. In addition to a lot of publisher-sponsored giveaways over at their site, I’ll be giving away a copy of Inertia. Come back Friday to see my thoughts on this year’s theme, What Writing LGBTQ Literature Means To Me, and a chance to win a copy of Inertia!

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