And thus a story is born … maybe

<Begin rambling contemplations>

Typically, in my experience, a story is born by that which we want to write. I mean maybe a story we don’t want to write just now doesn’t let you be until it’s been written, but still it was something you wanted to do.

Every now and again we find ourselves, unbidden, composing a tale we feel needs to be told.

I find myself tonight contemplating just such a story.

I generally take the approach: if I don’t want to read it, I shouldn’t think about writing it. But sometimes our subconscious can make compelling arguments for certain ideas and makes these stories hard to lay aside and forget about.

In my case, I love happy stories. Not just a happy ending, but a generally light-hearted tale. Some exceptions exist in my fantasy collection … and thus is the first compelling argument of my subconscious.

Whatever could I be considering writing?! What could be so terrible? Well, rest assured I’ve not decided to become the next Laurel K Hamilton, Anne Rice, nor Stephenie Meyer. No, I’m wondering over the plot and characters for a story that contrasts Now & Forever.

I don’t know that I could have the stomach and patience to write such a story, nor that I could make it a comparable length series. And by contrasting I don’t think it would be a tragedy, per se. I think, as a Romance, it ought to have an ending that is happier, but then again I have lost count of the times I’ve read Dragondoom despite its ending always leaving me in tears. Same with more than a few of Mr McKiernan’s books.

By contrast I primarily mean in the sense that, where Now & Forever paints the positive side of being a homosexual teen; showing what life can be like for those who have understanding parents, loving and supportive friends, etc. This hypothetical opposite would be the darker side. Both paint a reality. For some, being gay is no bigger a deal to their true friends and their family than being blonde, but for others it can be a nightmare. I never wanted to portray the nightmare. I felt more than enough of the other gay teen fiction out there did a phenomenal job of it, and I should stay out of it; I can’t stand to read it, so let others write it. As I said, I like happy stories, there’s darkness and tragedy aplenty if I read the news should I crave any.

Perhaps I should write this idea. Perhaps, then, I could show … what? What do I gain putting one more dark, teen gay novel on the shelf? What is benefitted by showing the reality of the unfortunate in contrast to the reality of those who fate chose to bless? Ah, but stories needn’t make a point. Nothing need be gained. There’s the crux of it. I have neither reason to write it, nor reason not to. Not according to Logic, but I’ve never cared for logic – I always thought poorly of Vulcans.

So, then, what does my passion, my soul, my heart say? It could be a powerful and emotional story, one that could be an interesting experience. It could be something that really moves people, one that could be a very positive thing in the end – by example of what not to do, I suppose. A very moral tale, something like a fable. I also feel depressed and slightly ill at the thought.

I’ve discussed characters and ideas that won’t go away until you pay them attention, this isn’t one … yet. It threatens to be.

Perhaps an informal poll. Just post a comment. Do you think there’s any call, happy end or sad, to put one more story – fictional or truth – about gay teens whose parents are not supportive, whose “friends” are not understanding, who are bullied and harassed, whose lives are – externally – better if they hide who they are and how they feel, who are found out or who try to be honest … you get the picture? Bleak. Dark. Sad. Tragic. Angst, woe, drama. I could get endorsement deals with Kleenex®.

<end rambling contemplations>

The characters are people, too

One of the biggest question you’ll tend to find on a writers discussion forum is various takes on “How do I make my characters well rounded?”

You’ll find no end of advice in all manner of different formats.  Most popular, these days, involves these strange questionnaire things.  Honestly, I could see the merit in them if it weren’t for the very undeniable fact that I’ve met few people who can answer half of those questions for themselves, let alone their characters.

My approach, and one I suspect a few other more popular authors of using (if I’m to judge by things they’ve said about their writing process) is to approach things from the point of view of Heinlein’s fictons.  Put another way, to make your characters believable and real — well rounded and three-dimensional — simply assume they are real, somewhere.

Isn’t that what the questionnaire is supposed to do?  Or any of the other myriad writing exercises?  Possibly, I couldn’t say, those always leave me scratching my head in confusion at best, or crying in frustration at worst; I leave those methods to their proponents and move on to my paper, my pen, and The Voices.

I, and many of my favourite authors, approach the character development as a process of discovery.  We might start out with something rather flat.  Lauren, for example, started out as just a petite, religious girl with boyfriend trouble — I think I did already know she was a dancer.  Sally started out, mostly, a physical description and hardly aught else.  From there I discovered many things.  Lauren’s a vegetarian, Sally’s Italian/India/Puerto Rican mix.  I learnt all manner of interesting things in the course of writing and, I imagine, I’ll learn more yet.

First off, I find this method more fun.  It means, as I’m writing, I’m just as engrossed in the story as my reader (hopefully) will be, and just as amazed by new bits of information as they.  It has an advantage, too.  One major criticism I’ve seen for many of the pre-writing character development things is that they lead to info dumping.  You learn things about your characters that do not, and will not, have any bearing on the story but now that you’ve taken the time and effort to generate this data you feel inclined to put it in.  By letting the characteristics of the story’s population grow organically in the course of writing them, you avoid this — some.  There are things I know about my characters that aren’t in the stories.  Some are from bits of discarded sentences and paragraphs, others are from the fact that, in the course of writing them I get to meet and get to know the characters and, I suppose you could say, we have our little chats about one another where little bits of interesting trivia get learnt and dutifully jotted down in my little notebook; yes, a really for real little lined blank journal type notebook — cheap, blue, recycled materials, half off at Target.

Secondly I think this keeps the characters people in the mind of the author.  You stop trying to force the story to go where you thought you wanted it to, and let it go where it leads.  This sounds like absolute chaos, oh no!  Right?  Well, no.  You’re still in something like control.  For example, if you want a happily ever after fairy tale ending you work hard to prevent that breakup looming on the horizon — and failing that, you fight like Hell to bring them back together.  The thing is, by letting it all flow naturally so that you’re no more aware that the breakup was going to loom on the horizon than the fact that it was going to do far more than just loom … well, now you’ve added a layer of conflict and drama that, given your fairy tale notions, might never have happened — a new depth and suspense to your novel — you’ve prevented it from feeling arbitrary and stilted.

Oh, sure, we’re all advocates for the way we write and critics of the ways we don’t.  I’ll admit — my way has its flaws.  For one, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve got more trouble with writer’s block than some other authors who take a more organised approach.  Too, it might be said that my story can get away from me, I mean how does one prevent Lisa, Allison, and Sally from turning the entire 400-odd pages of story into an endless game of strip poker?!

The reality is that you do keep ahold of the reigns of the story, even if you don’t hold them tightly.  The other is that you do think about the characters, a lot, but more casually — during dinner, or as you’re drifting off to sleep.  You ask yourself little questions, envision little scenarios and daydreams.  You ponder.  The reasons for this is so you have an idea how to steer reality.  The character might make their own decisions, but the key to keeping them out of the game of strip poker is to give them a little nudge, or hang a carrot from a stick and lead them away.  Helps to know what kind of carrot or stick to use.  So, yes, there is a margin of planning ahead — just nothing formalised at all.

I find it insanely helpful to avoid stereotyping, or at least to avoid accidental stereotyping.  Some people are stereotypes; we’ve all met them.  But by not thinking hard about the character, by not building the character we avoid our own prejudices and expectations colouring the characters.  We can have the rather dense, muscle-bound farmer from Bangladesh who happens to be an avid fan of French operas, makes a mighty mean quiche, and sleeps with a beloved little fluffy teddy bear.  We wind up with the genius computer geek and hacker who uses a stove top percolator, an old fashioned ice box instead of a refrigerator, and makes her own soap from lye from the ashes from the cast iron stove from which she heats her home.

I suppose it depends on your own perspective on what makes someone a complete character.  Me?  I define them in terms of the old greats of Speculative Fiction.  Robert Heinlein was a master of it, in my opinion.  His characters were people.  Lazarus Long, Ishtar and Hamadryad, Andrew Libby, the Rolling Stones‘ family, the fashionly challenged E. C. Gordon of Glory Road, and Friday.  All of these characters were, yes, competent and intelligent.  But they were well rounded.  They were people who wanted families, who wanted love, who had hopes, fears, uncertainties, indecisions, prejudices, hatreds, passions — perfections and flaws.  Maybe you prefer little Nim, of Nim’s Island, or Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit two more characters brought to life by little touches that — generally — come from approaching the characters as people, not as parts of a story.

A question about book habits

I notice I have over four dozen people following this blog, and rather a sizable traffic rate of visitors. I also notice that I’m about a week away from the “if we haven’t replied by …” date for the agents I’ve submitted queries to. Figures, this close and I find a site that may well have upped me from a dozen and a half to almost a gross options – so a little question, call it a market study.

First, don’t hit like. If I can I shall turn off the button for this post. Do, please, leave a comment (they’re moderated to block SPAM and trolls, be patient and your post will show up).

Second, I notice a number of my followers are also writers of various sorts. This means the answers to the questions coming up may benefit you as well, so spread the link, have your friends come by and comment, give the URL to the girl making your mocha if you want. The more that answer this the more data we all have.

The question (well, questions, really):

  • Do you have any tendency to buy print over ebook?
  • Do you prefer self or publishing house books? Are you indifferent?
  • Where do you buy books? Online, in a store? Which shops/e-shops do you prefer?
  • Does genre change your answer to any of this? Maybe you were thinking Westerns, but you’ll read a good Thriller if one comes your way – would you shop for it the same way?


The purpose of this? Simple, to decide if there’s any gain in waiting and to make that answer as public as I’m able to help other authors make that decision. Please, keep to the golden rule here, I really don’t wish to learn how to Ban anyone, but feel free to discuss each other’s answers.


Why write?

I can’t imagine anyone is wont to asking writers why they write any more than I’ve heard of them asking painters why they paint – which is, to say, not at all.

Well, exceot scholars and writers. They come up with Theories: to entertain, to inform, or to persuade.

That sounds so clinical, doesn’t it? I suppose it is true, though it tends to be said in a fashion that could be interpreted as they are each mutually exclusive. That a persuasive piece couldn’t be, also, entertaining and informative. It doesn’t actually say this because, obviously it can be any mix of the three. Though I would venture to say that the idea that a story is meant to be one of these, then it cannot be all of them (or two of them) equally.

It also doesn’t really answer why. That’s more of a category of what: something entertaining, persuasive, or informative. Why is, I think, a need to share.

We need to share our point of view, our knowledge, our experiences, our thoughts, feelings, and even our imaginations. Simply: we have a story to tell. Even a travel guide, in a twisted you-have-to-squint-to-see-it way, is a kind of story that someone wanted to tell about where the best places to eat in Morocco or Jamaica are. It could be written entertainingly – take the Volo’s Guide series for the Forgotten Realms D&D setting (what? I never claimed not to be a geek) as an example, they may be travel guides for a fictional place, but that doesn’t mean they had to be fun to read.

I write, and I think all the authors I’ve met and spoken to agree, we write because the voices won’t go away, won’t shut up. But those voices are the idea; they’re the data clamoring to be free; the ringing, Martin Luther King-esque, gripping speeches and essays; and they’re the epic tale of intrigue, romance, and a hamster in a tutu.

Oh, I’m sure that plenty of people write for a paycheque. Staff fiction writers, certain non-fiction writers, technical writers, etc. How often, though, is the staff written novel as good as the freelance stuff? How often the non-fiction work dry and dull, only able to hold your attention because the data it provides is just fascinating?

Still, even they: we write because we must. Some, it’s to eat. Others it’s to be heard. To more it is because we have to know what happens next.

My own fiction. I can discuss wanting to write a sweet, lighthearted, happy homosexual teen romance because I saw an absence of such and felt this unpardonable. I could discuss how I hoped that Sally and Lauren’s sexuality being treated as secondary to the plot and its events – merely a catalyst for certain conflicts and growth – might show that homosexuality isn’t anything more significant about who a person is than the colour of her eyes. I could discuss how I hope that by showing two normal girls in a healthy, loving relationship that people might get it through their heads that LGBT people are still people. And it’d all be true … to a point. Yes, I saw this lack of bright gay fiction. Yes, I did feel that the story should be about love, friendship, etc. I also told myself I had no interest in trying to write such a thing. The story wanted written … I had a tale that needed told. I had no choice.

This isn’t at all the same as where the inspiration comes from. I think, for some, the voices that won’t let you not write can be bill collectors, yourself, sneering detractors, and other very real voices. These can be rather different voices than the ones that give us fiction authors our inspiration and narrative.

Look at it this way: if I didn’t have thoughts and ideas that wouldn’t leave me alone, I wouldn’t have written this or its predecessors. Some of you might think that would have been a blessing if I hadn’t, but regardless it’s true. These posts are simply a compulsion to share what’s on my mind – well, some of it. I can’t understand the people who feel the need to share their inner turmoil over whether to have spaghetti or stir-fry for dinner.

I haven’t the slightest idea if this posts makes any sense, but I feel better having said all this.

Decisions, decisions …

So the final editing of Love or Lust is well under way.  It probably won’t be done by Valentine’s Day, but it still might.  It is moving at a fair clip, but that doesn’t change that there’s about 140k words and 400-ish pages to get  through.  Too, I have to make a final read through just to make sure that the final buff and polish is done, so that date will likely be missed and was never a very resounding likelihood anyway.

That’s got me to thinking about a few things.

First off, section separators:  Also known as fleurons (and an hundred other things), they do give a certain flair to the page.  They’re also a bloody wretch to figure out how to do.  With Dingbats type fonts they’re a breeze in the PDF, but they start to become an unholy nightmare in the universe of the ePUB and Kindle editions.  Not impossible, mind, but nightmare.  An alternative is to just use a little graphic.  Dear God save me from things that ought to be black on transparent alpha layer but instead are scans complete with random not exactly white artefacts in the white bits!!  Photoshop and I had a lovely row about that.  I did make one.  It was kind of pretty.  Well, that is, until I tried to put it on the page.  That didn’t go too well. Still … I’d appreciate feedback on that.

If you click on the word fleurons above it’ll take you to an example image.  The alternative is good old fashioned asterisks.

The second bit of thinking was just a bit of fun inspired by how another author did a little pre-release promotion.  Seanan McGuire did a Discount Armageddon ABCs thing that seemed kind of cute.  The more I think about it the less I want to do it.  So I probably won’t.  But just in case I do lose my mind and decide to go with this little touch of lunacy … well … you’ve been warned.

Solidly decided things:

  • Publishing, I don’t care if you use a publisher or do it yourself, is a good way to go completely mad with indecision, anxiety, self-doubt, and several other things that suddenly have escaped my vocabulary and are lost in the woods some place.
  • I love my cover art.  I’m, torn between ideas regarding it though.  I’m very much thinking to keep that layout and just change the colour scheme for each book, and then (naturally) the image.  The question is, do I keep finding girl/girl cover art (something I can absolutely do for Ready or Not but is giving me a touch of trouble for later books), or just keep finding pretty images (e.g. the 4th book maybe having a ballet slipper on it or some such).  Ah well, I’m not even done with the second book yet and feel like it needs heavy editing so I’ve plenty of time to consider and reconsider this.
  • The print edition will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of us$10.  Sadly, this is due entirely to length.  It costs more than the retail price of a novel half this size just to print the bloody things.  Which gives me a new found respect for some of the newest Terry Pratchett novels I’ve picked up being about us$10, but doesn’t explain some places charging that much for things like Light Fantastic or Wyrd Sisters!  The eBook, though, will likely be closer to us$4 or us$5.  Compelling enough arguments could see it as low as us$3 (just use the comments or the contact link), but current ‘wisdom’ says the higher price will attract more sales.  We’ll see.

Page numbers.   I’ve just realised I’ve no idea how I should like to do the page numbers.  Centered and unadorned at the bottom of the page?  Unadorned at the bottom corner of the page (obviously this thought is for the print edition only)?  Unadorned at the top?  If decorated, with tildes or a fleuron/dingbat?  Well, don’t ever let anyone tell you self-publishing is easy, or that it’s the lazy way out or any other such nonsense.  That said, going through a publisher is just as bad or worse — you may not have to decide a lot of this stuff, but then you have to worry that your first edition might have covers in “50 shades of mud” and “kept them out of the shops“, among too many other less amusing anecdotes by far too many other authors to mention.

I’ll always argue with someone who says writing is ‘hard work’ — I take issue with the work part.  The hard … that depends on perspective, writing is challenging in terms of telling a good story well and not losing your mind in the process.  Work it is not.  Publishing, on the other hand, I will doubt the sanity of anyone who claims is anything but work and be suspicious of anyone who claims it to be easy.

In other news Puppy Bowl is tomorrow!!  I’ll, alas, be missing it because a) I’ll be at work and b) I don’t actually have any TV service that doesn’t come via my DVD player.