Saturday, 9 July 2016

Five Awesome Non-romance Novels

Like most writers, I love to read. Of course I read in my genre, but I also read a lot outside of it.

This year I joined a reading challenge, as a way to make myself prioritize reading and because I enjoy working through lists. I'm just over halfway through the Popsugar Reading Challengea series of 40 prompts ranging from vague—a book with a blue cover, a book that's guaranteed to bring you joy—to more specific—a book from Oprah's Book Club, a YA bestseller.

Here are five books I've read and loved as part of this challenge.


Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Prompt: A book published in 2016

Kelly Link is the Doctor Who of the literary world. Most people who read her get obsessed and talk about it non-stop, but there are a fair share of reviewers saying, “I just don't get it, what's everyone so excited about?”


Either you love it, or you don't. And I do. Kelly Link's been my favorite writer since I first read her in 2008.

I've tried to wrap other people up in my excitement but I've had mixed results. Many people say she's too whimsical—which, in turn, is what I feel about David Tennant, one of the most popular Doctors.

Get in Trouble is a short story collection with Link's award-winning control of language and all the classic Link themes—doubling, ghost stories, unreliable narrators tapping at the border between dream and reality—but with some of the whimsy honed down to leave precise and beautiful weirdness.
Kelly Link, courtesy of her website

A personal favorite was the story Two Houses, with the crew of an isolated space ship telling ghost stories that spiral into each other.

*


Prompt: A book that takes place during Summer


I Called Him Necktie is a German novel set in Tokyo (the incredibly talented author, Minea Michiko Flašar, is half-Japanese and half-Austrian.

A shut-in and an unemployed salaryman meet on a park bench every day, sharing their stories in a slow-building and heart-breaking short novel. It discusses the pressure to work every day and balance work stress with the rest of life.

It's one of those rare, exquisite novels that I read at exactly the right time in my life. Sometimes the perfect book arrives just when you're in a place to need it. You and the book sync up and create a perfect resonance, which seems too unique even to justify recommending the book to anyone else. This was such a book, but I'm still confident that the theme and tone are universal.

*



River Monsters by Jeremy Wade
Prompt: A book written by a celebrity


With time now revealed as something finite, I was struck by how little I'd achieved, in any conventional sense, in my life. The weight of the things I had done was inconsequential when divided into the years.”
I was aware of the TV show River Monsters but had never watched it—I love sea monsters but I have no interest in fishing—so at first I suspected ghostwriting in the host's autobiography. Apparently though, it's quite common for him to refer to fish as “eldritch abominations” live on camera, disproving my prejudice that no one who wears cargo shorts could have access to a broad vocabulary.

River Monsters is more than a book about fishing (which, I agree, sounds like a very boring book anyway). It's a story of struggle, failure and obsession, with a dose of biology and some fascinating philosophy.
This is a Pokémon screenshot

Turns out when you spend hours—or days—sitting by a river and waiting for a fish to bite, it gives you time to form deep opinions. Rock on, you shorts-wearing philosopher.

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Prompt: A book about a culture you're unfamiliar with


Shobha Rao's debut collection is emotionally heavy, but worth the commitment. The stories center around the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The stories are often devastating and brutal, but always incredibly well-crafted.

I usually find short story collections easy to space out over a long period of time, but once I started reading An Unrestored Woman I couldn't stop. The collection took me through tears and anger and, finally, to joy.

If you can handle the subject matter, the beauty in this collection is 100% worth the discomfort. 

*


Prompt: A science-fiction novel


The inspiration for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, this modern translation of a 1970's USSR novel came with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin. If that isn't a recommendation, what is?

Roadside Picnic is perfect sci-fi from start to finish. The world—Earth after a brief alien invasion—is built realistically, with few awkward infodumps.

It reminds me of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy which rocked my world a while back. Lots of exploration of weird phenomena and unsolved mysteries, laced with death and crime.

Even the title—Roadside Picnic—is weird and cool. When I read the blurb, I asked the friend who recommend the book if the title referred to aliens using earth as a picnic destination and leaving stuff behind.

From Gary Larson's Far Side
My friend said no. But, spoiler alert, it totally is.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Omega Blues: Chapter 15

My free serial novel, Omega Blues, is moving along steadily and is now up to chapter 15.
The story is at just over 30,000 words, with a chapter added every week.

The last few weeks I've been getting behind then catching back up, so we've seen chapters updated within a couple of days of each other instead of once a week. I've been juggling work and band practice with moving house. Unfortunately I've been dealing with work stress by slipping back into depressive sleep patterns, sleeping 12 to 15 hours a night, which leaves very little time for anything else.

But, despite setbacks, we're still up-to-date with Omega Blues and I'm proud of that. I have a completed chapter every week, and I'm confident I wouldn't have gotten this far in the editing of this novel if I'd just had it as a side project.

Since I'm back on track with a new chapter not due until Sunday, I have a couple of days to focus on editing my next novel, Skin and Edge; a story which is dear to my heart as it's a reworking of my first ever romance novel. Stay tuned, because I think you're going to love it!

Monday, 30 May 2016

Coin Tricks review copies

If you'd like a free copy of Coin Tricks in exchange for a review, there are still a couple slots in the Goodreads MM Romance Group's Don't Buy My Love program!
You have to be a member of the group, but it is a great group :)

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Integrity giveaway!

To celebrate the release of my new mm romance novella, Integrity, I'm giving away 2 free copies!


Integrity is a rock star romance set on tour, so to win your free ebook copy all you have to do is post here (or on my Tumblr or Twitter) with your preferred ebook format and the answer to this question:

Which band would you love to see live?

It can be a current or defunct band, or even a band you've already seen!

I'll use a random number generator to pick 2 winners on Friday the 20th, then send you out your copies :)

Tyler Kostritch is famous for his honesty and straight-talking. It’s just a pity he’s lying to everyone. Ty gave up a promising MMA career to focus on his band. As the frontman of Proletarian Yell, he’s as aggressive and confrontational as he ever was as a fighter. He’s famous for the brutal honesty of his live performances—all the while hiding in the closet, never risking relationships so no one will ever find out. After years of hard work, the band finally have their big break: a tour with the hottest metal band around. It’s the best thing to ever happen to Ty. Until he meets Hale. 
Hale Tahmid, vocalist of the staggeringly-popular Funeral Kiss, is everything Ty’s not: Showy, flirty, openly gay. Hale’s the quintessential rock star from his staggering good looks to his attention-craving love of social media. The two bands couldn’t be more different, and their vocalists are opposites. They clash from the moment they meet, a constant verbal sparring and battle of personalities. Yet Ty can’t help noticing his extreme attraction to Hale. Worse still, Hale knows it and taunts Ty with his bad boy charm, every chance he gets. Ty’s hooked on the beautiful rock star and it’s inevitable that he’ll give into temptation. 
Hale’s not just a pretty face. He’s passionate and ruthlessly dedicated, and may just be the perfect partner for Ty. But Hale won’t accept half-measures. If Ty’s not fully in, he’ll walk away. Ty lives in a castle of lies that would come crashing down if he came out. He’d risk losing his band, his family, and everything he’s worked for. How can Ty choose between his love and the music he’s built his world around?

Saturday, 14 May 2016

New release: Integrity

My new rock star m/m romance novella is live! Integrity is a tense and steamy clash of will between two vocalists on tour.
Cover illustration by Kazi
Sparks fly whenever they're together. 
Tyler Kostritch is famous for his honesty and straight-talking. It’s just a pity he’s lying to everyone. Ty gave up a promising MMA career to focus on his band. As the frontman of Proletarian Yell, he’s as aggressive and confrontational as he ever was as a fighter. He’s famous for the brutal honesty of his live performances—all the while hiding in the closet, never risking relationships so no one will ever find out. After years of hard work, the band finally have their big break: a tour with the hottest metal band around. It’s the best thing to ever happen to Ty. Until he meets Hale. 
“We’re real. We’re part of a movement. You’re just a boy band playing dress-up.” 
Hale Tahmid, vocalist of the staggeringly-popular Funeral Kiss, is everything Ty’s not: Showy, flirty, openly gay. Hale’s the quintessential rock star from his staggering good looks to his attention-craving love of social media. The two bands couldn’t be more different, and their vocalists are opposites. They clash from the moment they meet, a constant verbal sparring and battle of personalities. Yet Ty can’t help noticing his extreme attraction to Hale. Worse still, Hale knows it and taunts Ty with his bad boy charm, every chance he gets. Ty’s hooked on the beautiful rock star and it’s inevitable that he’ll give into temptation. 
“I’m nobody’s dirty secret.” 
Hale’s not just a pretty face. He’s passionate and ruthlessly dedicated, and may just be the perfect partner for Ty. But Hale won’t accept half-measures. If Ty’s not fully in, he’ll walk away. Ty lives in a castle of lies that would come crashing down if he came out. He’d risk losing his band, his family, and everything he’s worked for. 
How can Ty choose between his love and the music he’s built his world around?
The original title was Prima Donna Boy, a reference to Ty's mocking nickname for Hale. But I didn't want all those words to clash with Kazi's gorgeous illustration! The new title, Integrity, is one of Ty's core defining valuesone that he contradicts by being in the closet and in denial of his feelings for Hale.

Integrity is a rock star enemies-to-lovers story built around the massive tension of two huge and competing egos forced to travel and perform together day after day after day. Under that kind of strain, people snap and secrets bubble to the surface...

Here are the links, I hope you love it!!
Amazon
Smashwords
All Romance 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

This is your brain on two months of serial fiction

I'm working on a serial story, a m/m werewolf romance novel uploaded free to the internet chapter by chapter. I've just uploaded chapter eight which brings the story so far to just under 20k, so it's impressive to see how a little bit every week adds up over time.

My idea with Omega Blues was to complete a draft then edit and upload it in chapters, but of course a first draft is often little more than a vague outline that shows you what you want to write for your actual story. This and the next two chapters are completely fresh and not in the original draft.

When I started uploading Omega Blues at the start of March, I had a 50k-or-so manuscript to work from. In the last couple of weeks I've been re-imagining the story to make it more dramaticcutting something into 2k chunks really makes you realize where the dull, infodumpy sections are! I've tossed aside well over half of the original writing. The fresh draft couldn't have existed without the first draft, and it definitely wouldn't be shaping up the way it is if I hadn't worked chapter-by-chapter to focus in on the best story I can possibly craft.

I've wanted to write a weekly serial for years, but all the blog posts I'd read couldn't prepare me for the experience. Like with any novel, it's an experience unique to the writer and the novel. Between work stress and band practice, I've been drained this month, and I'm confident that I wouldn't have been able to achieve as much as I have if I hadn't put in place weekly deadlines.

On the other hand, editing Omega Blues each week takes days of writing time away from my next novella, Prima Donna Boy. In the past I've seen that multi-tasking on writing projects makes them all go slower so the time between publishing drags out longer and longer. While I think this is true hereI defnitely would be further through edits on Prima Donna if I didn't keep switching to Omega Bluesthe weekly chapter uploads are proof that I am getting something done.

With writing there's a war between wanting to write fast and furiously, creating 'in the moment' with no breaks and no distractions, and wanting to take a break to plan and think about the story. Handling these two stories at once has forced me into the latter mindset, but I figure as writers we should always be experimenting and trialing, in our writing practice as well as in the writing itself.

There are plenty of anecdotes about famous writers and their routines and superstitions. They can be terrifying for a new writer because they're told from the perspective of full-time writers with established careers. Those writers always seem so definite: the only way to get any writing done is to do it exactly like this and yet there's so much conflicting advice.

The thing is, every writer is different and there isn't a one-size-fits-all writing habit. Before we know what's going to work for us, we have to experiment. From the time of day when we write to the level of distraction we can handle (music, a cafe, silence?) to the way the story itself is createdintricate planning or broad brushstrokes? Write from the start to the end, or from a key scene outwards? How much can and should a story change while it's being written?every writer and every book will be different.

I've lived in isolation, writing in a cabin in the woods with no internet or phone reception, and I have Boganettes, Hot Blood Punk and Mr Wonderful to show for it. Now I'm living in a city and writing in stolen moments between irregular work hours, a reading challenge and intense band practices. I have Omega Blues to show for it and, whatever else I can produce, I know I'll be learning more about myself and my writing from the different experience.


The latest chapter of my free werewolf m/m romance, Omega Blues, is now live on Wattpad!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Only Rule for Writing Paranormal

Whenever we write, we're creating within a framework of existing storiesall the fiction that came before us and that influences and shapes our writing.

Even if you want to create the most fresh and original story possible, you still want to create a story that people enjoy, so that means obeying basic laws of writing: narrative flow, conflict, dialogue, the story building up and increasing in tension before reaching a resolution, etc.

The vast majority of writers know the genre they're writing in, and that means expectations you need to take into account. It's hard to satisfy readers with a crime novel if the crime's not solved by the end of the book, people will be disappointed in a horror that's not scary, and so forth.
Another Earth, 2011, is rare for a successful science fiction film in that it deliberately breaks the expectations of science fiction and steps away from the fantastic.
When we write stories about the paranormal, we're not just working within story structure and genre conventions, we're also working with what people know and expect from our paranormal creatures. Because vampires and shapeshifters don't exist, there's no set definition of how they actually work.

Readers would be confused if you wrote about talking cats in a book that wasn't labelled as 'fantasy', because we've all experienced cats and never seen them talk. But with non-existing creatures, we get to decide how they'll function in our story.
Drunk is still my favorite Ed Sheeran song.
But that doesn't mean we can completely ignore reader expectations. If we're stepping too far from the accepted parameters of our paranormal creature, it can be better to call them something else. The zombies in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend are called 'virals' because they're not true zombiesre-animated corpsesbut also because they don't fit the slow, shambling, totally mindless expectation of zombies.

I've heard more than one person complaining that Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series featured vampires too far out of expectations, then praising The Vampire Chronicles without caring that Anne Rice's vampires are far from Bram Stoker's or even the vampires from folklore. You don't have to like Twilight (I'm personally uncomfortable seeing abusive relationships romanticized, I dream of a world where healthy and fulfilling relationships are romanticized and I try to create my own romance novels accordingly), but it seems contradictory to criticize one book for changing vampire myths then praising another one which also breaks vampire myths.
What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, as a comedy can get away with featuring many different and conflicting kinds of vampires.
As you might have noticed from the Meyers rant, I don't like people policing what's 'real' or 'true' with non-real creatures. As long as your story stays true to itself, I don't care how you deal with the paranormal. The whole point of paranormal creatures is that they're not normal – they're not something we can see every day, like a cat, so there is no one set of rules for how they should behave.

When we write paranormal, just like when we write genre or any narrative story, we get to decide which expected elements we'll pay attention to and which we'll ignore. And that means being aware of the conventions of paranormal in the genre we write. Meyers vampires aren't horror vampires, but they fit within the expectations of romance vampireslike the Vampire Diaries series of YA romance novels by L. J. Smith.
You can tell they're romantic leads because they all look gorgeous.
I've never written vampires, but I do write werewolves in my Jagged Rock series. They're romance novels so the werewolves are romance werewolvesall about strength and power and beauty, rather than the terror and mystery associated with horror werewolves.

The thing is, I've often heard fans of horror werewolves saying what a shame it is that werewolves never got turned into romantic leads the way vampires have. And I want to tell them, they have! You're just reading the wrong genre!
Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen. Not a romance.
You could write a horror werewolf as a romantic lead, but it would be quite a different story than most werewolf/shifter romance readers are expecting. As with any kind of reversal of expectationslike a sci-fi that drags the camera away from its sci-fi elementsyou need to be aware of the expectations so you know when you're subverting them. Because, at the end of the day, you can write anything you want; but if you want to satisfy your readers then you need to be honest with them and know what they'll expect from your genre and paranormal creatures.

I've never written vampires, but I do have a series of free werewolf romances called Jagged Rock. The second one, Omega Blues, is a weekly serial on Wattpad and you can find the fifth chapter here.