Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Diversity in Fiction, #Gamergate, and the Problem of Meta-Issues

Diversity in fiction is a topic I find continually fascinating in terms of how we approach it as both artists and consumers, particularly in a world where certain cultures, lifestyles, races, and even genders can be the source of controversy in the arts.
This is something that's been on my mind a lot lately with the emergence of the Gamergate controversy. For those who are unfamiliar with the latest buzz in the video gaming world, Gamergate is essentially a discussion revolving around corruption in gaming media, tying in strongly with concerns about the perception of misogyny and sexism within the industry.
While much of the most vocal Gamergate discussion consists, in my opinion, of very shallow and shortsighted views (on both sides of the debate), it has provided a lens through which to examine exactly why people feel so strongly about the topic of diversity in fiction, and what can or can't be done to address it.

The Gamergate controversy is largely centred around gender diversity within the gaming medium, but I would like to talk more about the broader picture of diversity (by which I mean; anything that differs from what we consider the "default") in the arts in general.

So, why is diversity a thing and why do people debate it? Well, in a very broad nutshell, it comes down to the idea of freedom of expression. I think most people would agree that more diverse casts of characters and broader arrays of topics in fiction are good things -- after all, nobody wants to keep reading the same story over and over again -- but contention arises when we start discussing how to make fiction more diverse than it already is. You may have noticed that I used the word "make" there, and that innocent little bit of phrasing is precisely what many people take issue with. Why should we have to make our work more diverse? Who are these people who want to make us do it, and why do they have the right to say what we should and shouldn't be including in our own stories? What if I have no interest in writing a story that involves gay characters, or a multi-ethnic cast, or with an equal balance of males and females?
Of course, nobody has the right to brow-beat artists into changing the nature of their work. The idea of filling a "diversity checklist" is incredibly offputting to many people, both fans and creators alike, and, when forced, it can often feel artificial and pandering (or even worse, lead to token characters and stereotypes that end up doing more harm than good).

But despite that, diversity is still an enriching part of fiction that should be encouraged and treasured. What hamstrings much of the discussion going on in #gamergate is the polarised opinions that topics of diversity should either be pushed on artists to make them change their storytelling, or that these topics should just go away and stop bothering people, leaving developers to keep on telling the same straight-white-male-centric stories for as long and in as great a volume as they want.

So what is the solution here? How do you appease the people who yearn for more diversity in their fiction without imposing pressure on creators to change their artistic vision?
As you can imagine, it's a moderate middle-ground. The reason a lot of content creators shy away from topics of diversity is quite simply because they lack (or think they lack) the experience to do them justice. They simply don't like to step out of their comfort zone, and focusing on making their work diverse is really not what they want to be pouring their energy into when they'd rather be mapping out a great plot or digging into the richness of a compelling character.
And how do you change that? You encourage the artist to stop feeling uncomfortable with topics of diversity.

I have never had any problem with including male, female, gay, straight, foreign or familiar characters in my work. They occur naturally, when and where I feel they are appropriate. I certainly don't hold myself up as a paragon of diversity in storytelling -- I'm sure just as many of my stories lack it as include it! -- but it's there, and it's not a big deal. I put this down to the simple fact that I've been lucky enough to grow up amongst all kinds of different people living different lifestyles, and I've never seen any of them as weird or different or uncomfortable more than they are familiar and similar to me. Once you start to realise that the person living next door to you has just as much potential to be strange and unfamiliar as someone living on the other side of the world, it becomes very easy to start understanding that cultural, ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity are often no more defining as characteristics than a person's job or the choice of clothing they wear.

You can't force people to make their work more diverse. You should not single out artists and point fingers at them for perpetuating the status quo. The status quo is nothing inherently right or wrong, nor does anyone need to be judged for adhering to it; because it is a meta-problem that exists independent of individual artists. When a thousand innocent attitudes converge to create a medium where women (or any other social group) are under represented, no single person should be blamed or made to feel bad for the nebulous collusion of ideas that have all naturally shifted towards one general focus.

All of us want more diversity. More natural, enriching, interesting diversity in our fiction. So have these discussions. Talk about atypical characters. Let artists get to know the rich collection of people who enjoy their work, and let them start to see how a character being straight, white and male doesn't always need to be the default template they start with. Don't approach them with accusations or ultimatums; just do your little bit to broaden their understanding. Because the only way fiction will become more diverse in a natural, meaningful way is if the artists behind it genuinely understand, appreciate, and, most importantly, want to include that diversity. It will start to happen without many of them even realising it. The unfamiliar will become the familiar, until one day artists across the world will be writing diverse stories without even thinking of them as being diverse.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Broken Moon is Finished!

And about time too! I think this has probably been the longest blog/release drought I've had so far, but fear not! The concluding part of Broken Moon is all done, longer than ever, and available for purchase on Amazon and Smashwords!

The Highland Pack is divided, on the verge of breaking. Only a new leader, with the strength to stand up to Hazel and his followers, can save the volatile group of werewolves from the kind of future April has been struggling to avoid ever since meeting Cyan.
But the mantle of leadership comes with a high price to pay, and a toll on April's heart worse than any she has endured before.

It's been a bit of a stumble to the finish line, but we got there in the end! The delays I mentioned were unfortunately due to me getting quite ill over the past month when I should have been wrapping up the serial post-haste, which really ate into the amount of time I could spend writing/editing. I'm starting to get back on my feet now, though, so hopefully I can get back into the proper rhythm of work before too long.

Broken Moon has definitely been a big project. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, it's my first book that I'd consider a "real" novel, in the sense that I knew it was going to be a novel right from the start, planned accordingly, and focused on telling a story I was interested in rather than cramming way too much sex into every chapter!
Needless to say, it's super satisfying to finally see it finished.

So, what's up next for me? Well, I'll be taking a teensy break from writing just to tackle a bunch of businessy stuff that's been piling up on my plate for a while. There are a couple of retailers I really need to get my back catalogue published with, tax forms to file and mail off, advertising opportunities to look into, and blog posts to write. Also I could really use a trip to the optician to get a new pair of glasses.

With all that in mind, I don't have an ETA for when my next serial will begin, but it'll certainly be by the end of the year (probably earlier!). I've been doing so much editing lately that I'm just itching to start writing again on a brand new story, but I'll have to try and restrain myself until all the boring grown-up stuff is done with,

Until the next time, happy reading!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Sex and Intimacy (feat. When Women Were Warriors)

I am forever intrigued by the different storytelling purposes that various authors (myself included, these days) use sex scenes for. It's one of the cornerstones of writing fleshed out romance/erotica, but every sex scene should always have a place and purpose within the story, and this most often relates to how sex lets us explore, understand, and progress the characters involved. Just like any other scene in a good novel, what happens in the bedroom is an opportunity for characterisation and plot progression, and it's often a fantastic opportunity to get to know characters in a brand new light.

There are many different tenets to this, but one that I've begun to appreciate a lot more over the past few months is the capacity for a sex scene to explore the theme of intimacy. It should be a no-brainer, I mean, duh, obviously a sex scene should be intimate, but there's a level of intimacy that goes beyond the norm, I feel.

I've recently been reading the series When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson, and it's a fantastic example of an author using sex in a very specific and meaningful way to feed us information about the characters, specifically related to the idea of intimacy. I haven't finished the final book yet, but so far there have been various sex scenes which all focus very firmly on the theme of intimacy and the bonds it creates (or questions) between characters.

The earlier examples deal with the protagonist growing closer to one of her friends as she is introduced to sex for the first time, establishing a trust and understanding between the pair which is, interestingly, largely divorced from the ideas of romance and partnership. One of the things that makes me love the way Wilson treats sex so much is that these early scenes take place between friends rather than lovers, which beautifully illustrates the idea of intimacy as being separate from both superficial lust and deeply meaningful romance.

This ties in later to the themes of trust and vulnerability, and the pivotal sex scene at the climax of the second book (this time between the protagonist and the person she truly loves) allows the characters to be completely exposed and honest with one another, baring their souls so completely that we see them in a very different light for a brief moment in time.

Funnily enough, this scene was a large part of the inspiration for the big love scene in my most recent instalment of Broken Moon, in which the hero coaxes the heroine to finally let go of all her worries and doubts, allowing the pair of them to be completely free with their emotions for the first (and perhaps the last..?) time.

This type of intimacy is an emotional state that I think lends itself incredibly well to being explored via sex in literature. It holds so many visual, emotional, and social connotations to the act of sex that's it's hard to think of a different type of scene that illustrates the same themes on such a universal level.

Equally, the lack of such intimacy in a sex scene is an incredibly powerful storytelling technique as well. It can reveal hidden depths to a character and barriers that their partner, the audience, and perhaps even they themselves never knew existed.

I have always tried to make my pivotal "they're in love" sex scenes revolve around this idea of complete openness and honesty, where two characters bare their souls to one another and reach a new level of trust and understanding in their relationship, but at the same time sex can be used to explore very different types of intimacy, such as the bonds of friendship, which is something that I'm hoping to touch on in my next planned serial.

So if you're looking for a way to explore the theme of intimacy in your writing, why not try throwing a good sex scene in there!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

(the brand new) Broken Moon Part 4 Published!

It's been a while! Thankfully that just means there's more than twice the usual serving of Broken Moon ready to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords!
Just as a reminder; since the series has now been condensed down into five parts rather than nine, this is the "new" part four, continuing on from where the original part six ended.

In the bloody aftermath of his attempt to leave the Highland Pack, Cyan faces punishment, exile, and perhaps worse. With no allies left amongst the people whose hands his fate rests in, and with Hazel yet again eager to turn the situation to his advantage, all seems lost for the wounded alpha. But despite his apparent betrayal, April still has the power to intervene. Secrets are revealed, truths come to light, and bonds of kinship are broken as the inner conflicts within the Highland Pack finally come to a head. The world is about to change for April and Cyan, and neither of them will emerge from the conflict unscathed.

Things are starting to get dire for our hero and heroine as the drama ramps up in this penultimate instalment, laying the groundwork for the big climax!
Broken Moon is already looking to be the lengthiest thing I've written, and with one part still to go it's definitely going to end up on the "long" side of the novel spectrum. Much longer and I could've gone ahead and split it up into two complete novels!

On the planning front, my next upcoming project is looking strong. Characters are coming together, scenes are taking shape, and I'm super hyped to wrap up Broken Moon so that I can sit down and start writing it properly!
Also tentatively on the "things that might happen" noticeboard is an idea for a novella that will serve as something of a prequel to my existing Wild Instincts serials. One of the ideas I had floating around for my next project was a prequel showing Cyan's early werewolf days with the Mine Pack, a time period that gets referenced quite a lot in Broken Moon, and which was clearly responsible for turning him into the nasty person we met in Wild Instincts.
Unfortunately the idea never really gelled with me, though. A story like that would almost certainly end up being pretty dark, and after Broken Moon I could certainly use a break from characters having to deal with harrowing emotional trauma. Besides which, another novel set in the same fictional werewolf forest as my last two might have started to feel a bit samey (at least so soon after), so I put the idea on the shelf.
However! I still feel like a Cyan prequel would be a cool story to tell at some point. He'll probably not be the main character, but a short novella following some new characters in the early days of the Mine Pack is definitely something I'd be interested in doing. There are a couple of familiar faces I have in mind to fill out the lead roles, but the Ifs and Whens of this project are still very much up in the air.

Anyway! That's what's coming down the pipeline in the near and not-so-near future. Final part of Broken Moon, brand new werewolf serial, and perhaps a Mine Pack novella.

Oh, and blog posts. I should really start doing those again.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Broken Moon Restructuring!

I've been thinking recently of how I'd like to go about publishing my serials in the future, particularly in the context of my current (and planned future) work being more romance than erotica.

When I first got started with this whole writing thing I was mainly doing one-off erotic shorts, quick little short stories that gave the reader a steamy sex scene with some pretty bare-bones plotting and characterisation to back it up. Then one day I started writing sequels to one of my shorts, which quickly became a serial, and then finally my first full novel. When I moved on to my second eRom serial I basically kept on doing the exact same thing I'd always done -- individual chapters of a few thousand words priced at $2.99. I tried to make the chapters a bit longer, since this one had more of a focus on the plot and romance than the sex scenes, but it still basically followed the same model.

Now I'm writing Broken Moon, and even though I've made sure the chapters are consistently longer again, I feel like the price-per-word-count is a bit high given the content of the serial. This time I'm writing straight up romance. Half of the chapters don't even contain any sex, which I know is a big draw for people who are into steamy serials like my previous two. Nine 10-15k word chapters at 2.99 apiece feels pretty steep for a romance serial, and it's probably something I should've considered before starting on this one.

So! I've decided that I can probably afford to double up on Broken Moon's existing chapters and make them roughly twice their current length, bringing the whole series down to five parts rather than nine, with the first being free. It'll be a little awkward to reorganise everything on Amazon and my other retailers, but the current plan is to merge chapters 1-2 together, 3-4, 5-6, etc.
It'll mean slightly slower releases (though I'm going to do my best to pick up the pace!), but twice as much to read, and hopefully a much more financially agreeable pricing point to read through the whole serial once it's done!

I'm planning to merge the chapters and get everything uploaded over the next couple of days or so. Chapter 7 (as it currently stands) is essentially finished, but with this new structuring it'll end up being merged with some of the content of chapter 8 before I publish. So the current parts 7-8 will be released as the new part 4 some time later this month. Hopefully it's not all too confusing!

Depending on how this new model works out (both financially and in terms of reader reception) it'll probably be what I go with for my next serial romance. If I do more erotica serials they might be shorter in general and more focused around lots of sex in every chapter, but when it comes to the slower, more story-based burn of romance, I think lengthier chapters is probably the best option for everyone.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Okay, look, I'm allowed to have temperamental artiste changes of heart as long as they happen in the pre-production phase, right?

So after my last blog post about the novel I planned to work on after finishing Broken Moon I've since reconsidered my stance on that particular project. It's not scrapped, but it's on the shelf.
Why, you ask?
Because I realised it was just a collection of ideas that sounded neat. There was no emotional drive behind the project. I had perhaps one or two scenes in mind that I figured might be fun to write, but beyond that it was a vague mess of "maybe I could do that" and "wouldn't this be neat".
The kicker was that none of my enthusiasm came from the characters I was writing about. It's storytelling 101, and I feel like a dumby for not recognising it sooner, but if I didn't really care about the characters in the novel, how the heck was I going to enjoy writing it, much less make it enjoyable for others to read?

This realisation hit me as I was away visiting relatives over Easter (and getting some much-needed thinking space!), when an idea sprung into my head for a story that just kept getting more and more exciting until I ended up writing down several emails worth of notes to myself. This was a story that I was seriously passionate about, with characters who sprung into my head right off the bat, conflicts and plot lines that practically wrote themselves, and a tone and setting that's very close to my heart in literature.

Not to mention, it was something far closer to my current work than the project I had in mind before. There is a very specific kind of setting that I absolutely adore in fiction, and a kind of story that I've been longing to write for years, and I think I've finally gotten an idea that can work with it (without diverging too far from my current stuff).

I've blogged in the past about my favourite novels Maia and The Clan of the Cave Bear, and for as long as I can remember since reading those books I've wanted to write something with a comparable setting/tone for myself. My love of developing societies, tribal cultures, and archaic social structures in fiction is something I've tried to work into my werewolf serials to a degree, but it's always been difficult given that they are, ultimately, contemporary stories featuring characters who have a pretty modern understanding of the world.

What I want to do in this new novel is get rid of that modern element entirely and, sticking with the theme of paranormal shapeshifters, go way way back into the distant past, to a world where the tribal culture of werewolves isn't so different to the burgeoning human societies springing up around them.
My current plan is to tell a story primarily from the perspective of a human girl this time, one who becomes entangled with the werewolf pack threatening her village, and has her eyes opened to the way her people's enemies live their lives. Unsurprisingly, her love interest will be the alpha of the werewolf pack, and the heroine will have to deal with the animosity of both her own people and the werewolves as she begins to live a life caught between two worlds.

I have a whole bunch of details figured out so far, but they're not quite tidy enough to explain in detail just yet. I have several characters outlined, pretty much the whole first chapter loosely planned out, and lots of juicy conflicts ready to unfold as the story progresses.
I'm really excited about this one, and it's been a great little learning step for me as an author to realise what the big difference is between a project like this, and the one I had planned out beforehand. It's pretty much as mind-bogglingly simple as write about what you want to write about.
I'll be sharing more details as time goes on, and finishing up Broken Moon in the meantime!

The Wild Instincts box set is still coming along (urgh, it's taken a gross amount of time, and for that I'm super sorry!), and I've gotten back to doing re-edits on that whole serial when I have the time to. Chapters 1-3 should be available in their slightly more polished form on most retailers by now, and hopefully I can get the rest done before too many months slip away from me again!

Also, a long-overdue mailing list is in the works!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Broken Moon Part 6 published, and the next novel! (again)

Two thirds of the way through now! Chapter six is all ready and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords! This one's a little longer than usual again, and things are starting to get dramatic as we head towards the climax of the novel.

As the leadership of the Highland Pack becomes more and more unstable, April and Cyan's relationship begins to slip through their fingers. With Cyan's revelation about his past shaking April's faith in him, and her responsibility to her pack weighing heavily on her, she has little time left for love; especially not with a man she cannot trust.
The time may have finally come for Cyan to make a choice. When a disturbing discovery in the woods spreads further dissent through the pack, he hatches a plan with the human girl Lisa to draw a line under their worries once and for all.

So! With only three chapters of Broken Moon left to go, it's high time I started crystallising my plans for the next novel I'm going to work on. I mentioned last month that I had an idea in mind for something with a paranormal/BDSM theme, significantly more erotic than my current project, but still nice and romance-driven. It's still a very vague and loose idea, but I've given it enough consideration to have a few thoughts worth sharing. All of this is completely subject to change before I get started, of course, but here are the main pre-production notes so far:

- It's likely to have a period rather than contemporary setting, though the details and specifics will be vague. Right now I'm thinking of something in the ballpark of 18th/19th century England, set in both rural countryside and upper-class city areas.
- The paranormal theme will be to do with magic, though it will be vague and low-key. Less Harry Potter and more Game of Thrones. Much like the werewolf theme in my Wild Instincts books, it will not be something that the characters involved fully understand; a secretive and dangerous power that causes just as many problems as it does solutions.
- The heroine will come from a superstitious rural setting, where it is not uncommon for people thought to be practising witchcraft to be lynched or ostracised by their communities. Naturally, as a budding young witch, this causes a lot of problems for her. I'm planning to do some research on historical witch hunts (and how the laws in England began to change on them during this time) to dig up some juicy ideas for this one.
- The hero will be a young upper-class gentleman who is far more knowledgeable and adept with witchcraft than the heroine. His task will be to train and educate her, though it will be an obligation that is forced on him against his will.
- The central theme (for the heroine, at least) will be a coming-of-age/pauper-turned-princess story as the hero educates her and opens her eyes to the world, both socially and sexually.
- Much like in the original Wild Instincts and His Darkest Desire, the sexual themes will revolve around control and trust, along with independence, reliance, and an opening of the mind to new ideas and possibilities.
- The perspective will likely be the same as Broken Moon -- third person with multiple viewpoints.

Right now those are the main points that I've given consideration to. I've got a few fun scenes in mind that I'd love to write, and a handful of main characters ready to be fleshed out. There's still a lot of work to do (particularly on the hero), but I'm starting to get excited for the possibilities of this next novel.
I've no idea what the title is going to be yet. Probably something black magic-y, involving words like wicked or Master.

But before that, there's still a hefty amount of Broken Moon to finish! On to chapter seven!