Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Con Games

So, I just got back from World Steam Expo last night. Holy crap, what a great time! I very much wish I'd paid for a room at the hotel but, considering I somehow didn't know about the con until only a few weeks before and it's close to my parents' house (30 minute drive), I didn't spring for the full-price room (con rate rooms were gone). We'll get back to World Steam Expo in a minute. Right now, we're going to talk cons and money.

You see, I have this thing about conventions. Namely that they're expensive. There's travel expenses, con fees, food, hotel, outfits (more on this in a bit). So when it's a con I've never attended, I tend to trim costs wherever I can. I mean, if it's dull and/or not a lot goes on in the evenings or early mornings, the hundreds of dollars for a hotel is a total waste when I can stay elsewhere for free.

Then there are the fun cons where I know I'm going to be up half the night and have to get up and hit things hard again in the morning (like the Romantic Times convention). I don't care if that was at a hotel a mile from my house (there isn't a hotel that close, but the point is the same), I'd pay to stay at the hotel because I know I need to squeeze in every ounce of sleep that I can.

World Steam Expo is like that. Hell, it might be even crazier. At RT, the official programming pretty much ends at midnight (I don't have a program handy, but I think it might have gone later one night). The bar shuts down at 2, and most people have crashed by then. At World Steam Expo, the Saturday night official events went until 3 AM. On Sunday, it was 2 AM. (Friday officially ended earlier.) I didn't stay on Saturday, but I can tell you that on Sunday, there were still a lot of people there at 3. A lot.

And other cons I've been to haven't been anywhere near that active. In fact, I've noticed a trend (both about cons and about myself). Reader/fan cons are much louder and more raucous than writer cons. And... I like loud. Don't get me wrong, there are writer cons that I adore, but as a general thing, I prefer an excuse to dress up in things I don't normally get to wear and hang out drinking with hundreds of people I don't know. It's a strange dichotomy that I do well with people I don't know when we're either one-on-one or in massive groups. Small groups... that's when I get nervous and clam up. It doesn't make much sense, but it's just the way I am.

I'm also the girl who loves playing dress-up with bunches of other people. Halloween was always my favorite holiday as a kid, and one of the worst things about being a grown up is missing out on that (none of the parents around here dress up :( ). So, when I'm presented with a convention where 90-95% of the people dress for the occasion? Oh hells yes, please sign me up! I will spend the next year working on slowly building up my outfits for World Steam Expo 2013 because I really felt under-dressed this year. The detail that went into some of those outfits was amazing. I wish I'd have taken more pictures, but I'll post at least some of what I have at Steamed! next week.

Most of all though, the people were amazing. Everyone I met was really friendly and welcoming, and I made some fantastic new friends over the weekend. Going in, I knew one person (Cindy Spencer Pape) who was going to be there, and we weren't always there at the same time. It says a lot about the kind of people in attendance that I was rarely, if ever, by myself. Someone was always stopping me to say hi, asking which event I was going to, telling me that the band going on in five minutes was amazing and I should try to hit the concert... It was like they could all tell I was a newbie, but no one ever made me feel like I didn't belong. This was my first real introduction to steampunk as a community, and it was amazing. I can't wait to go back. Only next time I'm making sure to get a hotel room.

I also want to give a shout-out to Ms. Martha's Corset Shoppe and Pendragon Costumes. The corset I bought from Ms. Martha is absolutely amazing. It cinched me really effectively, but unless I tried to take a really deep breath, I never felt it. The most comfortable, amazing corset I've ever had on. I'll definitely shop with her again. And the people at Pendragon... gorgeous leather work. I need to save up for the coat I want, but I will get it. I am a big fan of low-pressure sales, and all of them were fantastic about showing me things and helping me decide without being pushy. (Of course, it helps that their stuff is so great.) I highly recommend both stores.

So, yes, World Steam Expo was a fantastic weekend. Met some great people, learned a lot, saw some incredible artists perform, and had more fun than I ever thought possible.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Case You Haven't Heard

So, a couple years ago, I sold my first story. It wasn't the first to release, but Badlands was the first piece I sold. I blogged a long time ago about the twisty road that story took before coming into being and finding a home at Carina Press.

Honestly, as much as I loved it, I had no idea how well it would do. After all, Ever isn't your stereotypical romance heroine. But, it ended up that even if people didn't love Ever, they were intrigued by the Badlands and by the strength of the female characters in the story. I will admit, Ever is the one who speaks to me loudest. (More like holds a knife to my throat while she whispers in my ear, but really with that going on, I don't hear anyone else.) When it came time to look at a sequel though, I knew I couldn't just keep following her and Spencer around.

As much as I hated it, I knew whose story needed to come next. When I say "hated it," I don't mean because I hate the character (for the record, I don't). It's more that while Ever's method of passing on her story is a little scary, this next leading lady is more... cagey. She doesn't want to share. In fact, as much as she didn't want to share in Badlands, the events of that story made her guard herself even more closely. She's angry at the world in a way that echoes Ever but is so very different that it made tapping into her rather difficult for me.

But, Henrietta Mason needed her own story. Truly, moving forward with the series, she was the only option since so many of the events in Badlands had the marks of her fingernails embedded deep. To skip her and move onto someone else would have been... cowardly on my part. If there is one thing I learned writing these stories, it's that there's no room for cowards in the Badlands.

So I wrote Henri's story, agonized over it in fact (some of you may recall me cursing her quite a lot near the end of last summer over Twitter). Even when I was finished though, it wasn't done. To make a long story short, the road to selling her story wasn't as quick or straight-forward as selling Ever's. There was more bumps and bruises and cursing involved.

I am very pleased to announce that in the end, Henri found a home alongside Ever. As so many people requested, this second book is quite a bit longer (over 50% longer if memory serves). It links together the events in Badlands with the over-arching big-bad that will permeate through the rest of the series.

As of right now, the tentative release date for Clockwork Mafia (title subject to change until I find out otherwise) is March 2013. I apologize for the delay between releases (I'll try not to let it happen again.), and I plan to start work on book 3 as soon as I know for certain that nothing huge will change during content edits of this one.

Thank you for your patience while waiting for this book, and I hope you'll stick around. I think it's going to be a fun ride.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Dream that Was a Post and then Wasn't

 So yeah... I was going to follow up last week's post (third most popular post ever--thanks, people!) with something that would be all O.O too. See, I had this dream the other night. One of those really intense ones. I was going to tell you about it and how it linked back to a post I did about heroes a while ago. Then it hit me that I didn't want to tell you because I really want to use it for a book.

I don't know when I'm going to get to work on it, but the idea of putting out the personal info that was inherent in the dream-portion of the story and then writing about it with everyone knowing that other part... yeah. Not happening.

Instead, I will leave you with the two images that went with the post and do precisely what the second one says to. (After all, I can't work on the next story until I finish this one.) (Images deleted after the issue with a writer being sued for image use. Sorry...)

Oh, and if you haven't seen it yet, The Avengers was fantastic. Go see it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Back Away from My Kink

(I need to preface this post with a warning. If you are a member of my family, you probably don't want to read this. Stop now, go read something else. Maybe come back next week. Agents/editors, there will be a degree of TMI in this post. I'm sorry. Uh... that goes for everyone else too. If you are easily offended or don't want to know anything more about my sex life than that I have one, please step away from the blog. Thank you.

Also, there is cursing involved.)

Still here? Cool.

There's a lot of talk going around about BDSM right now. As happens periodically, a book (sometimes it's a movie) has come out that drags the lifestyle into the mainstream and people start talking about it. This is a good thing. It is an opportunity for learning and understanding. (For a prime example of this, check out Wicked Lil Pixie's place. She's been interviewing people in the lifestyle for a better understanding--without falling prey to what the news media does and looking for the extreme of the extreme.)

Unfortunately, it is also an opportunity for people to rant about things they don't bother learning about and that they don't understand. Yesterday, I followed a fellow author's link to her blog. It initially looked as though it was going to be a rant against 50 Shades of Grey. (Now, here's the thing--I haven't read the book. I read the first few pages and couldn't get past the writing to bother. Other people love the book. More power to them as far as I'm concerned.) It wasn't about that though. It was a rant against BDSM.

On the plus side, the author admitted that she doesn't understand it. But she then went on to say that as far as she was concerned, it was abuse. Period. Maybe she backpedaled after saying that, but I was already seething and quit reading the post shortly thereafter (as it also was incredibly long, so I didn't want to suffer through it for that amount of time). Here's the deal...

Abuse (from Miriam Webster):
1  : a corrupt practice or custom
: improper or excessive use or treatment : misuse <drugabuse>
3   : 
obsolete : a deceitful act : deception
: language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily
: physical maltreatment

Dear author of said blog,
I'm guessing, definition #5 was your argument for abuse. The problem with that is if the people involved (consenting adults, mind you) want and enjoy the aspects of BDSM (including spanking, flogging, collaring, or whatever happens to float their own personal boat), it would not--for them--be cruel and inhumane treatment (the definition of maltreatment).

However, your own post definitely fits under #4 in that it condemns people who do enjoy this lifestyle. So, there's your abuse. Congrats, it came from you. Personally, I prefer my floggings to be of a more physical nature from someone who cares about me and does it because I want him to. He doesn't abuse me. You did.

You also vilified a fair number of my friends. They might be people you know. They might not. It doesn't matter. You blindly and willfully got on your soapbox and shouted how wrong they were for liking to take or give up control. How wrong they were for wanting alpha males in their lives. How wrong they were for taking their sex with a side of discipline. And you did so by scoffing at one of the basic tenants of the kink community with your comment (paraphrasing to avoid linking back to your rant) about how you don't care about "live and let live" and not judging others. Oh really? Then it's perfectly okay for me to judge you and your sex life and relationships? Really? There's a saying we follow in the kink community that goes something like "It's not my kink." Personally, there are many things I don't enjoy, but if someone else does, it is their right.

You balked at collaring. That's fine. It's not your thing. Quite frankly, if my husband came home with a collar, I'd be a little taken aback. But here's the difference between your attitude of changing the locks and my kinky marriage--my husband and I would sit the fuck down and talk about why he wanted me to wear it, what it would mean to him, to me, and to our relationship. Guess which one of us would be less likely to head to divorce court.

You see, the world of kink isn't about abuse. It's about what feels good. If something doesn't feel good or right for you, you don't do it. You might try it on for size, but if you don't like it, you leave that out. And you talk to your partner about it. I've seen people ask questions about "how do I get my spouse to _______?" on kink websites. The most common answer is always something like "You can't make them, but talk to them about it." Kink is big on communication. Communication saves marriages.

And, as far as collaring and submission and servitude go, it's not my thing. I don't think I could ever do a 24/7 lifestyle. But, one of my very dear friends is contracted to a Dom. And she is the happiest now that I have ever known her. I'm not sure if that needs repeating, but here's the thing. Who the fuck are you to judge that? What gives you the right to stand on your soapbox and tell her that her path to happiness--that doesn't actually hurt anyone--is wrong? You're not her mother. You're not her sister. As far as I know, you're not even her friend. You're some author on a high horse who decided you're right and the rest of us are wrong.

Crazy statistic for you. There's a kink website I know (just one out of I don't know how many) that is rapidly approaching a million members. Now, if you consider the number of men and women who are of age and into kink that haven't joined (for whatever reason), that number's a whole lot bigger. Where do you get off telling a million plus people that they are wrong? That what they enjoy either in the bedroom or outside of it is bad (we're talking consenting adults here)?

I get that you are unhappy that those types of books--the ones with the alpha males and the BDSM and the kink--are selling. Hell, I write beta heroes rather often. A lot of people like the change, but a lot of others don't like them because those characters aren't "man enough." They dislike my heroine because she doesn't follow the "rules of romance." Whatever. They're the characters that are in the story and they belong there. And I like them. But I also like my alpha heroes. I also like my kinky characters. As an author, I get to put whatever I like into my books. Whatever fits. I'm in control there, but I don't get to control what other people want to read.

And neither do you.

You get to choose what's right for you. In your bedroom, your life, and your stories. But here's a heads up: my kink, my friends' kinks, BDSM books, alpha heroes... none of that affects you unless you want it to. Don't like it? Then don't do it. Don't participate. Don't write it. Don't read it. No one (unless you have an editor pushing for it--who you're allowed to say no to) is forcing you down that path.

So stop abusing those of us who do choose to travel it with your words and your anger and your hate.

Beware the kinky. A lot of us will bite back.

Have a lovely vanilla day,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Writing People of Color Is Hard

We don't live in a white world. We live in a world full of color, and that goes for people as well as things. So, why do so many books end up mono-ethnic? Truth is there's all sorts of reasons. In a lot of ways, people naturally segregate. It sucks, but it's true. Books about family don't get a lot of options unless it's about a person of another race coming into the family. Sometimes, because of the story the author is telling, it just "doesn't work" to be multi-cultural. And that's fair.

But what of those books where there's room for everyone? Why don't more writers put in people of color? Because it's hard in ways it shouldn't be.

Statistically, most writers in the US are caucasian. (I did a very quick and dirty google for some stats and the best I came up with was this article on TV writers. 12% are minorities. That's it, and if that's representative, it's kind of sad. But, onward...) The old adage "write what you know" shouldn't apply here, but it does. Sometimes it applies because authors are racist (sad but true). Sometimes it applies because it's just easier not to do the research on other cultures. And sometimes it applies because we aren't racist and we are afraid no matter how hard we try, we might come across that way.

I want diverse casts in my work. My world is multicultural and richer for it. The same can only be true of stories where that is the case as well. But often, when faced with those characters, I freeze up. Let's examine this for a minute...

In my YA series, Trey Harper is Cass's boyfriend. He's African-American and a basketball star. <---- I know this is a stereotype and I made a conscious choice to use it anyway. He also likes to talk like he's a street kid even though he's not. And Cass calls him on it every time because she knows that's not the real him. Trey is smart, funny, and pretty much not afraid of anything. I love the guy. But he started as a stereotype--and that's how Cass originally saw him too. (Then again, Cass starts out with everyone as a stereotype :P) My biggest issue when dealing with Trey? Describing his hair. He has awesome High School Musical era Corbin-Bleu-hair. I had no clue how to describe it. Stupid as it sounds, that was the moment I almost made him white. But that tiny bit of description stalled my writing for a long time.

In the Badlands world, Mahala is an escaped slave. Again, I love her. She's a fantastic character--the one who doesn't take shit from anyone (including Ever). And her history is traumatic and... let's just say I'm really geeked to write her story (hopefully soon). But there are difficulties with writing her. For starters, the language used in the time period would be unacceptable today. No one would say "people of color" or "African-American." At one point, she refers to herself as a "nigger." I didn't do it for shock value. I did it to be true to the time period and the character. And I agonized over it for days. I don't like that word. It's too charged with hate and negativity. But then it wasn't. The history of the word is beyond crazy. I don't know if it will be in the text whenever that manuscript gets published, but I left it there for now because it's what she would have said.

But soon, I'll be on her story, and that presents a whole new set of problems. For starters, much of it will take place in the Confederacy. By definition, it will be racially charged. It can't not be. But more than that, it's a romance, and that creates a whole new set of problems for me. In the first two installments, she was a minor character, and one most of the main characters were used to being around. Her skin color might be something they "noticed" but it wasn't a big deal to them--she's just Mahala. And that's how it should be, except in a romance, the love interest will notice everything about her. He will love her hair, her eyes, her skin... all of it. In his passages, he should see her in somewhat poetic terms. And like it or not, "dark" and "brown" and "black" in themselves are not poetic. The problem is, most of the more poetic phrases to describe skin color are food based: chocolate, coffee, caramel, peaches-and-creamy, milky. That tendency isn't just a PoC issue--it crosses racial lines, but it's been brought up time and again that people of color don't like it and find it offensive. That means in order to write Mahala's love story, I'm going to stall over and over again searching for ways that the hero can describe her--because he is the poetic type.

And right now, I'm faced with an antagonist who happens to be a PoC. First, I have to describe her from another character's point-of-view who knows nothing about her other than she's fawning over the hero. At this point, she's not hated, she's just unknown, and there's a layer of jealousy involved. The point-of-view character, again, is going to notice every amazing thing about this gorgeous woman. So... wording problem is rearing its head again. Plus, I'm beating myself up with the knowledge that I made the "bad guy" a PoC. Every time I think about it I get twitchy, because I'm anticipating backlash over this of the "Why couldn't she be white" variety. She's not white because when I closed my eyes, and thought of her, she wasn't. At the time, she was just a extra. It wasn't until I started writing her that I realized she had a slightly bigger role to play, and by that point, I already had her in my head. Is she world-ending evil? No. It's not that kind of story. Quite frankly, she's just a college girl who thinks really highly of herself and is convinced everyone else should too. But... she's the antagonist. And if I let myself think about that fact too much, it stalls me.

The thing is the world isn't just white. But just like there are good white people and bad white people, there are good and bad people of color too. If I made every bad guy African-American, I'd say it was a good sign I was racist. But, quite frankly, if I never make a bad guy a person of color, I'd say it's a pretty good sign I'm a coward who's too afraid of offending people to write real characters. I don't want to be a coward. But I really really wish making my cast multicultural wasn't so damn hard.

***With Larry's permission, I'm attaching a link to a blog post he did on this topic recently. It's the first one that ever made me feel like I could breathe and just let the characters tell their stories. So, thank you for that, Larry Benjamin :) ***