Vote.

On Tuesday our blog-mama Shauna PMed me a reminder that I was on the schedule for this week. I opened WordPress and started a new post and….

….crickets…

For the last couple days I’ve done little more than stare at the blank blog page, wondering what in the hell to write. This doesn’t seem like the time to tell people all about my fluffy new romance….which isn’t happening anyway, because I can’t focus long enough to write the words.

No, my overwhelming response to current events can be summed up in two words:

We’re fucked.

The government is kidnapping children at the border? We’re fucked. (See Lyra’s No Kids in Cages post from last week.) The Supreme Court determined the *president’s (blatantly racist) travel ban fell within his scope of authority? We are fucked.

Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, giving the *president another opportunity to stack the bench and putting at risk women’s rights and LGBTQIA rights and many of the other things I consider vitally important?

We are so, so fucked.

Then this morning I read a short essay by a guy named Will Stenberg. He’s a musician, and he wrote a compelling argument against the phrase “we’re fucked”. (Here’s a link if you want to read the whole thing.) His premise suggests that, while “we’re fucked” is a fair initial, first-brush, emotional, response to any given situation, making it the only response is tantamount to giving up.

Basically, “we’re fucked” = rolling over and letting the bad guys win.

And that’s not really me.

The big hook in Stenberg’s essay was that it may be old fashioned and not very sexy, but VOTING has never been more important. We must vote in our primaries and in next November’s election. We must vote our hearts, and our dreams, and our future. Yes, we may not all agree on specific issues, but we must show the world that we value tolerance, and equality, and fairness.

All the Russian interference in the world won’t be able to overcome a thunderous voter turn-out.

If November feels painfully far away, or you’re feeling helpless, I thought I’d share a couple things you can do right now to get involved.

First, you can email info@TonyTheDemocrat.org to sign up for Postcards To Voters. I’ve been doing this for the last few months, and am approaching 500 postcards sent to support Democratic candidates from Florida to California and a bunch of states in-between.

Every time I see a news report that pisses me off, I ask for 20 more addresses and get writing.

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Also, this Saturday 6/30/18 there’ll be a nationwide, coordinated protest called Families Belong Together. MoveOn.org has put together a site where you can enter your zip code and find a list of events in your area. (Link HERE.)

I signed up for a silent meditation that day, but I think my husband and son will be down at the SeaTac Detention Center where some of the asylum seekers (parents, not kids) are being held. If you’re free on Saturday, I hope you’ll look for something in your neighborhood and that you’ll join with others who want to #resist.

Third, you should follow Celeste Pewter. She’s a former political staffer who keeps a close eye on the issues of the day, particularly in regards to how our elected officials are taking action – or not.

Celeste maintains a website – #ICalledMyReps –  where she details bills that are coming up to vote, and she supplies scripts with talking points via twitter and through her website. Our electeds are working for us, right? Calling them, even if it’s just to say “I hope the Senator will support XYZ”, is the best way of informing them of what their constituents want.

The more calls they get, the more likely they are to take action.

So yeah, these are difficult days. Yesterday in particular was a punch to the gut. But…BUT...the fight isn’t over. This country is young enough that we’ve not yet had to live through an authoritarian regime, and this administration is a tremendous challenge to the strength of our institutions.

I believe We The People are up to the test.

Hang in there.

If you’ve got other ideas for how to #resist, please leave them in the comments.

Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies for all the eff-bombs. These are extraordinary times.

 

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Research for Writers

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One of the first things on my to-do list today – well, after opening up WordPress so I could start this post – was to check my account on the Seattle Public Library website. A couple weeks ago I checked out a stack of ponderously thick books that have to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.

New project, y’all!

Actually, I described this project – Havanain last month’s Spellbound Scribes post so you may already know a little bit about it. I’m finally ready to dig in, and since I’m all about the research, I figured today would be a good opportunity to revisit another post I wrote about a year ago. (Check out Pen to Pen: Liv Rancourt on researching historical romances if you’re curious.)

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My twitter pitch for Havana…

In the Pen to Pen post, I outlined a template for my research process. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Step one: Locate the story on the calendar. Pick specific dates, and then study up to get a feel for what was happening at that time.  The key to this is specificity. Whether your story is set in 1955 or 1455, there was more to life than the events on the page. Use what’s already there to add depth.

Step two: In broad strokes, find out what life was like during the time period. This is the bulk of the work, tbh. I look at fashion and attitudes and food and technology and population statistics and whatever I can find to ground the story in reality.

(For some excellent ideas about how to do that, check out my friend Jules Dixon’s post over on the Rainbow Romance Writers blog.)

Step three: Fill in the fine details with first-person accounts. This one gets trickier, the further back in time you go, especially if you’re writing about marginalized groups – like women, or queer people, or pretty much anyone who’s not a white male.  Finding first-person accounts is hard, but not impossible, and absolutely essential to bring your story to life.

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Go HERE to read about M. de St. George. Go HERE to  become a Patreon supporter of the MedievalPOC org, a group that focuses on POC in art history.

 

Since I wrote Aqua Follies (1950s m/m rom), I’ve come across a couple more resources for first-person accounts of LGBT experience in the 20th Century. The University of Washington had a collection of oral histories, biographies and video excerpts from interviews with members of Seattle’s LGBT community – HERE – that I’m really excited to dig into.

I’ve also started reading Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885 – 1967. This is an important book for me, because I don’t want to sugar-coat anyone’s experience, nor do I want to overlook the ways ordinary men and women found to cope with lifestyles that fell outside the majority.

So…yeah. If you need me, I’ll be holed up somewhere with a book in my hands. I just sent L’Ami Mysterieux off to beta readers (m/m rom set in 1920 Paris) and have about a month to do research for Havana.

Color me excited!!

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I made myself a faux-cover for inspiration!

 

 

What’s Cooking?


So my last couple of posts here have been heavy on the opinionating – here’s one and here’s the other – and while both of them were important to me, I don’t feel like I need to turn the world on its ear…today, anyway.

So if you were stopping by to catch up on the latest scandal, sorry!

It’s spring, you know? There are dogs to walk, and weeds to pull. And as always, there are WIPs to fiddle with. (WIP = work in progress.) In the interest of keeping things mellow, here’s a run-down of what I’ve got going…three things, maybe four…

Freshest in my mind is Haunts & Hoaxes 2, the second novella in an m/m romantic suspense series I’m working on with my writing partner Irene Preston. It’s a spin-off of our Hours of the Night series, but instead of vampires, this one’s more along the lines of Supernatural or maybe The X Files…but with naughty bits.

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Reluctant psychic meets skeptical ghost hunter. Shenanigans ensue…

You can grab Haunted (book 1) from Amazon for FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Otherwise bookmark the link and check in on 5/10 – 5/11, because it’ll be FREE for everyone then.

Another project is Benedictus, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene. This is technically our fourth book with these characters – we did a holiday novella, Bonfire, that’s #1.5 – and the plot is definitely thickening! We’re doing our best to tie up as many loose ends as we can, because we left the last book with a bit of a cliffhanger. Fun times!

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If you haven’t read Vespers, book 1 in the series, and you like funny/sexy/scary stories, you can download the first few chapters HERE for FREE from Instafreebie.

A couple other things….last month I participated in Camp NaNo, a mini version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I set a goal of 50 hours work and while I didn’t win, I had fun trying. I started with one project (deets in a minute) then switched midstream to the sequel to The Clockwork Monk.  Monk is a steam-lite novella available from Instafreebie. If you follow the link it’ll ask you to sign up for my mailing list, and I promise not to spam you if you do sign up!! I’ve been working on the Monk sequel for a couple years now, off and on, and am cautiously optimistic I’ll have it ready for beta readers by this summer.

I didn’t meet my 50 hours goal because I got bogged down with another project. I started April with this cool idea for a story set in 1962 Cuba. Here’s the elevator pitch…

On 10/17/62, President Kennedy is shown images of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. On 10/18, a CIA agent is shown pictures of a rogue spy who could set off a nuclear war. The agent is sent to Havana to eliminate that threat, but the spy’s a man he fell hard for years ago. 

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I even made myself a mock-cover for inspiration!

Every time I read that pitch, it makes me smile, because I know the story can work. I just need to do ponder it some more. To that end, I downloaded a couple James Bond audio books from the library. I’m driving several hours south for a day-job-related conference tomorrow, so I’m going to multi-task. Research while driving ftw!

So that’s what’s going on with me. I hope you’re all well and working hard on whatever moves you. Take care!!

Wait!

One more thing! Last week I enrolled Aqua Follies, my 1950s m/m romance, in Kindle Unlimited for the first time ever. If you KU, go HERE to grab a copy!!

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What happens next?

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I was going to title this post “The Whiteness of Romance”, but that seemed a little on-the-nose. Instead, I figure what happens next is just as appropriate, because there’s a lot of stuff going on…

The post I wrote last month – Where is the line, exactly? – was deliberately vague, but now that the issue has resolved, more or less, I want to fill in some of the blanks. I wrote the post about the situation in the world of M/M romance, where Santino Hassell was revealed to be something other than the character in his author bio.

Instead of being a bi dude single father with health and money problems, he/she/they is a husband & wife team with a talent for manipulation and, it seems, very little conscience. In the weeks after my post, the testimonials describing their abusive behavior – in addition to questionable crowd-sourcing support for unlikely health problems – has been really appalling.

I don’t know for sure how many of the accusations are true, but the entity known as Santino Hassell has been dropped by their agent and most of (all of?) their publishers. That’s enough for me.

On the heels of that – like, literally the next week – author Xen Sanders came forward, and in painful detail accused Riptide Publishing of racist practices and sexual abuse. (You can read his full statement here.) His editor has been fired, and a substantial number of Riptide authors have asked for and had the rights to their work returned.

Riptide is (was?) one of the bigger LGBT romance publishers. Their principal editors put out a statement (read it here),vowing to do better, and they’re currently closed to unsolicited submissions.

All in all, it was quite a 1-2 punch for M/M romance.

And then RWA announced the RITA nominees.

The RITAs are the annual awards for published novels, organized by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Think Academy Awards but for romance. As usual, and to the surprise of no one, the nominees are predominantly white. I did find numbers that suggest there’s a small increase in diversity; Alexis Hall’s blog post on the RITAs historical category goes into some statistics. But still.

But still, no black author has ever won a RITA.

And people are speaking up. Loud.

Maybe the shitstorm in M/M and the takedown of Riptide primed the pump, and maybe the #metoo movement laid some of the groundwork. For sure and for certain, the diversity report put out by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore, added fuel to the furror.

This is the second year The Ripped Bodice has put out a diversity report that can be summarized pretty simply. Six of their top ten best sellers are written by authors of color, yet overall, only 6.2 out of every 100 romances published in 2017 were written by an author of color.  That’s down from 7.8/100 in 2016.

Here’s one of their other statistics: “80% of publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color.” Read the whole report. It’s food for thought. They debunk the most common excuses used to justify the disparity, and give credit to Crimson Romance, who at 29% had the highest percentage of authors of color.

Crimson closed the day the report came out. Not joking.

A few paragraphs ago, I said people – authors – were speaking out, but the thing is, I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Go to twitter and listen to the stories they tell, stories about the shit way they’ve been treated by publishers, editors, and the RWA and its members. Follow Courtney Milan, Rebekah Weatherspoon, or Alyssa Cole, and listen to what they have to say. Follow Xen Sanders. Follow EE Ottoman.

And while you’re listening, buy their books!

Because the best way to prove to a publisher that a book will sell it to buy it. To be honest, I think Ripper says it better than I ever could:

All books.

ETA….so what does happen next? I’d like to think we all wake up and start treating each other like Mr. Rogers thought we should. But…

Meanwhile, take small steps. Read outside your comfort zone. Listen to what the authors of color you know have to say. Systemic change will only happen when a critical mass of individuals push for it. Be part of that critical mass.

ETA2..here’s a link to RWAs statement, “Board Commitment to RITAs and Inclusivity”. And for more ideas on what you can do, check out this statement by the POC Queer Romance Authors Community.

Where is the line, exactly?

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So there’s a storm brewing in the world of [redacted] romance. One of the biggest authors in the genre {name withheld because drama} has been accused of catfishing – of creating an on-line persona that is substantially different than who they really are. While the last thing I need to do is throw myself into the middle of that pigpile, I think there are higher-level issues that are worth considering.

Issues around trust, and faith, and how much authors owe their readers.

I write under a pen name, because in real life, I’m a nurse practitioner (just like it says in my bio) and I don’t want anyone googling Amy D-C NNP to have to wade through a bunch of hits about vampire romance. I have two kids, a husband, and three ferrets, just like it says in my bio. (Well, the ferrets are technically my daughter’s, but…)

All that aside, I’m conscious of where I’m posting what. There are private Facebook pages where I’m comfortable identifying my kids by name, and others where I’m not. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve likely seen me tag my kids or husband in posts, or share stuff that names them, but I try to limit that kind of thing. I feel like people who are Facebook friends with Liv Rancourt get the real me, but that’s by my choice, and it’s within my comfort zone.

But what if, say, I was writing in a subgenre where it could make a financial difference if readers thought I was a man? Or anything besides a cis-het, married, middle-aged, woman?

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And what if there were other authors supporting me, vouching for me on social media, and telling readers I really was a [insert imaginary persona here]?

That would totally suck, and if I was found out, it could quite possibly ruin my writing career. (And I’d probably deserve for it to be ruined.)

Needless to say, the ongoing potential-catfishing situation has generated a whole lot of conversation. In the midst of a fairly heated enthusiastic thread, my friend Sadie framed the issue this way…

I find it interesting how much of this thread is actually about the generalities of trusting people to be who they say they are and internet negotiations of identity, not just about whether ________ is _______ or not. I think that’s part of why this situation seems to be such an inferno. Partly because there is someone willing to dig and put ‘facts’ out there for others to consider, partly because a lot of people seem willing to put a lot of emotion into it. But also partly because it hits at an insecurity in a lot of us. We all know we take chances when we trust someone to be who they say they are and scenarios like this one force us to consider where we’d fall if we found we were being duped.

Back in the day – like five years ago – most authors didn’t spend a lot of time on-line. (Okay, maybe ten years ago. Or fifteen. Something.) Regardless of the time-frame, there didn’t use to be the same demand to have a social media presence. If an author met readers at cons or book signings, it was a bonus. They exchanged names, and shook hands, and the author signed their book and everyone went home happy.

If an author was really a middle-aged, cis-het, married, woman she could tell everyone she was a twenty-something, single, ex-Marine and no one would be wiser. She might be found out – if, say, she got big enough that her agent demanded she make public appearances – but the unveiling of her real identity wouldn’t be as personally devastating to her readers.

Unless, you know, she let those readers raise money for her to treat her imaginary war injuries that she never sustained while fighting a fictitious war.

Or she played the James Frey card and faked her memoir and got called out by Oprah on national television.

There’s a line somewhere between the names on an author’s credit cards or birth certificates and the person they present in their pen names and on Facebook fan pages and Livejournals and Twitter and whatever other social media platform you’re into. Sometimes fans lose sight of that line, but sometimes authors do, too. Like Sadie said above, it’s an issue of trust.

Good writers open themselves wide, recording frank emotion on the page, but their honesty doesn’t give their readers to right to know how they think and feel 24/7. On the other hand, creating a safety net for their “real life” doesn’t give authors the right to fake the whole caboodle. I have no idea how this current kerfufle is going to shake out, but I recognize that the conversation is a necessary part of defining where that line is.

Regarding what’s expected of authors, the rules may have changed, but you know, the rules we learned in kindergarten will likely still apply.

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Edits in 3…2…1…

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The other day I had a guest post over at the Rainbow Romance Writers blog. As often is the case, whatever I’m struggling with in my writing ends up in a blog post. It’s like my mind needs to process through my fingers before I can move forward .

The guest post was about editing, and described some of the strategies I use when I’m moving from rough draft to polished product. I have a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo that I’d like to send to my agent, but it needs revision first. I sat down, made my plan, and sent off the post.

But I’ve spent this whole week spinning my wheels, which tells me that no matter how good my intentions, I was heading in the wrong direction.

I’m working with a rough (rough!) draft that has some good moments and characters I like, along with comments from my writing partner and alpha reader, Irene Preston. Irene and I have written two novels and two novellas together, and there’s no one on the planet who knows my writing better.

And let’s just say I’ve come up with stuff she’s liked better.

My grand plan involved writing a synopsis to help sort out the plot threads, then revising scene-by-scene based on a complicated set of steps that I won’t bore you with here. After that, I’d planned to send it out to beta readers, and with their feedback in hand, start grinding down on the words themselves, looking for repeats and crutch words and passive voice.

Yeah, you know, I’ll still probably do most of that, but the synopsis thing was tripping me up. I got talking with my friend Kelly Jensen (who’s also the blog mama for the Rainbow Romance Writers) and she suggested I use a spreadsheet, with lines for each scene and columns for plot points and other assorted details.

And you know what? That’s what I needed to unstick myself. Here’s a quick screenshot of what I have so far…

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It’s not much, yet, but it’s a step in the right direction and such (SUCH!) a relief. If you’re interested, hop on over to the RRW blog for a more detailed look at my editing process. Otherwise, I’ll send you a virtual high five, and TGIF!!

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Oh, and before I go, Irene and I have a new novella that’ll be available as a giveaway this Valentine’s Day! Haunted is set in our Hours of the Night world but features different characters, and a lighter paranormal tone. I’ll put the blurb & Goodreads link below, and if you’re interested, come hang out with us on our Facebook page – After Hours with Liv & Irene – because for sure you’ll get the link for the free download!

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Haunted on Goodreads

Noel Chandler had a good reason for leaving the L.A.P.D. for New Orleans, but when he walks into a burned out Garden District mansion, he discovers there are some things he can’t outrun. The spooks can find him anywhere.

As the resident historian for the cable show Haunts and Hoaxes, Professor Adam Morales keeps an open mind about the supernatural. Or that’s what he tells himself, until he meets a man who puts that principle to the test. Noel’s smart, sexy, and has killer cop instincts. One glance from his bedroom eyes has Adam ready to believe anything.

But is Noel haunted, crazy, or just another hoax?

Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined PostcardsToVoters.org, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…

Bingo.

I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.