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.

Postcards To Voters pic

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.

 

Advertisements

No Kids in Cages

Yesterday, Shauna sent me a message to remind me I was up on the blog rotation, and to be honest, I had forgotten. I immediately began wracking my brains for a topic to write about, something to do with my writing process, or the books I’ve been reading lately. But there was only one thing on my mind, and I knew I had to write about it. So today’s post isn’t about writing, reading, or creative life, although it ties into all of them because I’ve been unable to think about much else lately. It’s not full of funny Michael Scott GIFs or self-deprecating jokes or encouraging words.

Today’s post is about humanity.

Look, I don’t consider myself a very political person. Don’t get me wrong–I have opinions (some more strongly held than others) and I read the news (when I can stomach it) and I vote (when it matters). But I don’t march in the street anymore, and I don’t put signs in my front yard, and if someone on Facebook or Twitter confronts me about most issues, I usually disengage because I can’t stand arguing with strangers on the internet. Why? I don’t know exactly, but if I had to guess I’d say it springs from a combination of creeping disillusionment, a little apathy, and–if I’m being totally honest–self-preservation bordering on selfishness.

But this issue transcends politics. The treatment of immigrant children at the borders of this country–the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, a country I love down to my bones–is downright inhumane. Children should not be forcibly separated from their parents. Period. I’ve heard all the counter arguments and I don’t care. What’s happening to these kids is cruel, immoral, unconscionable behavior anywhere in the world, but most especially in a nation whose stated “inalienable rights” are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I will not stand idly by, and I hope you won’t either.

As writers, empathy is one of our greatest and most important tools. Every day, we put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes and walk miles and miles (or rather, hundreds of thousands of words). We must be able to experience joys and sadnesses not our own in order to bring our characters to life. But we must have empathy for real people too–living, breathing, aching humans–who have already endured unimaginable trauma and continue to face unbearable treatment at the hands of our government and law enforcement. So I entreat you, you–writer, reader, friend or foe–to have empathy today for these children. Call your congressperson. Write angry letters to your local newspaper. Donate to your charity of choice. Find the humanity inside you and act upon in, somehow, someway.

Shakespeare wrote, in the Book of Sir Thomas More:

…whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be used thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

It’s powerful, isn’t it? What would you think, to be used thus? Let the day not come that any of us should be driven from this country, but it bears thinking what welcome we might receive anywhere else in the world, if this is how we treat their poor, their tired, their huddled masses…their children.

Ways to Help Right Now:

Donate:

Pueblos Sin Fronteras

Border Angels

Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages

Call your Congressperson and say:  “Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator to denounce Trump’s family separation policy and use all of Congress’ authority to stop it.”

Join a Protest: Check out Families Belong Together to find a protest or rally near you

Research for Writers

Cat Reading gif

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.)

CarinaPitchforHavana
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.

tumblr_inline_o2dxeywJxG1rpr1t4_500
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!!

LAmiMysterieuxBetaCover
I made myself a faux-cover for inspiration!

 

 

Critique Partners in Crime

If you’ve been in the publishing industry for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize the phrase critique partner. For those of you who haven’t, a critique partner (commonly abbreviate to CP) is an invaluable asset to any writer at any and every stage in their career. Usually another author or publishing professional, a CP offers up their time and expertise to critique your manuscript/story/poem/etc in exchange for your time and expertise in doing the same for them. While a CP can sometimes play the role of beta reader (an avid reader who reads your MS and tells you whether it is any good), ideally the relationship is deeper and broader.

giphy1I feel like I’m not explaining this well. Okay, how’s this? A CP is like an unholy (or maybe holy) alliance between a friend, a colleague, a work wife/husband, a therapist, a critic, and a cheerleader. Having and being a CP is messy. It’s complicated. And it is wildly, wildly important to a writer’s growth and success in this often isolating business of being an author.

This week, I experienced both ends of the CP relationship with two different CPs. First, I had the great pleasure of reading our very own Shauna’s forthcoming novel Blackbird (which will incidentally knock y’all’s socks off) and offering feedback. And second, I shared my very recently finished and terribly rough first draft of my Swan Lake retelling with a different CP. They were two very different experiences, but they both reminded me of just how important it is to not only have CPs, but to actually share work with them.

Not all CPs are created equal, but here are a few things I’d look out for when finding someone to share work with!

  1. Someone who isn’t afraid to be honest. It’s literally right there in the name: critique partner. Not white-lie-to-guard-your-ego partner. Not even pull-their-punches partner. You know that one friend who you always take shopping because she’ll actually tell you if those pants make your butt look big? Yeah, that’s what you need from a CP. Because if they can’t be honest in their criticism, it’s not going to push you to be better, or work harder, or be honest with yourself.

    One caveat: do draw the line at nasty. There’s no call to be unnecessarily harsh, that’s not useful to anyone either.

  2. giphy2Someone who will be your cheerleader. Does this seem counter-intuitive? It’s really not. Your CPs also need to love your work kind of unconditionally, regardless off whether it’s a flaming trash pile of a first draft or a polished to near-perfect-sheen soon-to-be published work of art. The ultimate goal of a CP relationship is making each other better–if someone hates your work, what’s the point?
  3. Someone who understands (if not shares) your genre, voice, aesthetic, etc. Similar to the above, it’s a waste of their time and yours if they don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe you write fast-paced action thrillers and they write steamy romance. That can totally work (and might honestly give you a different perspective from a CP who writes in your genre) but if their only criticism is that there aren’t enough love scenes, you might want to reconsider.
  4. giphy3Someone who can brainstorm with you. Now, this is a big ask, and you might not find this in every CP you build a relationship with–and that’s okay! But a great CP isn’t just an editor, or even a beta reader, although it’s certainly useful if they have a decent grasp of grammar, sentence structure, and plot. Ideally, they’re also someone who you can bounce your hair-brained ideas off of, who won’t say “but,” but maybe “ooh, and–!” Someone who spitballs scenarios about your sequel not because they feel like they know better than you but because they’re just so invested in your characters. Someone who sees through the disordered jumble of your nonsense first drafts to the story you didn’t know you were trying to tell.

Now, if you’re read to find your OTCP (One (or several!) True Critique Partner), here are a few resources to set you on your way! (If you’re really at a loss, Twitter is a great place to start, as are writer blogs and genre-specific interest groups! You can never go wrong with NaNoWriMo either!)

Absolute Write

Critique Circle 

Critique.org

Scribophile

 

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.

HauntedDemoFinal

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!

Vespers_3D teaser_available_now

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. 

HavanaCoverMock-up
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!!

AF_NewTeaser

What happens next?

snow nyc GIF by Caitlin Burns-downsized_large

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.

On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?