Wednesday 3 December 2014

Upcoming Novel/Serial: The Alpha's Concubine

It's been a while! But never fear, after getting through some backlog stuff I've been hard at work putting together my latest project, and it's now at a stage where I feel like sharing a few details!

The next serial novel I plan on releasing will be titled The Alpha's Concubine, with part one and two likely arriving at the same time at some point in January. There are a few things I'll be doing to streamline this project and hopefully provide both a smoother release schedule and a more satisfying experience for readers going forward, but for now release details are quite tentative as I work on actually getting the first half of the story written.

As I'm sure is implicit from the title, The Alpha's Concubine will focus on the same paranormal, romantic, and erotic themes as my last couple of serials, but there's going to be a few distinct differences this time around!

While drawing from the same loose werewolf canon I established in Wild Instincts and Broken Moon, this story will not feature any of the same characters, focusing instead on the life of a young woman named Netya, and set roughly at the end of history's neolithic period.
Netya's people have long been enemies to a rival tribe they know only as the Moon People; a mysterious group of shapeshifters said to be half-human half-beast. Captured, taken far from her home, and claimed by the alpha of the werewolf pack as his concubine, Netya undergoes a coming of age as she begins to realise that her place may not lie with her own kind after all.

I shan't spoil too much, but I feel like this kind of story is one that's been a long time in coming for me. Throughout Wild Instincts and Broken Moon I always found myself most engaged with the more tribal elements of the werewolf packs and how they lived. Lots of crackling fires, sleeping rough in the wilderness, hunting, cooking, survival, and, of course, plenty of lusty, primal sex!
These elements draw heavily from some of my personal favourite books as a reader, most notably The Clan of the Cave Bear, which was by far my biggest inspiration for this upcoming novel. By setting Alpha's Concubine in the distant past, it allows me to focus more on the things I'm most passionate about, and also avoid the (rather cumbersome, in my opinion) task of reconciling tribal werewolf packs with the modern world. I also get a bit more creative freedom when it comes to creating social structures and moral values for my characters, particularly in relation to things like gender roles.

Unlike my previous novels this one will be more long-term, likely taking place over several years rather than a few weeks/months. This also leaves plenty of room for a direct sequel, which I'm already giving some consideration to. Given that the protagonist Netya goes through something of a sexual awakening during the story, there will also be a lot more room to explore the erotic elements of the plot than there was in something like Broken Moon -- but without straying into the sex-for-the-sake-of-sex territory that Wild Instincts verged towards many times.
Sex and sexuality will be core themes linked to Netya's development as a character and a young woman, and an important (yet sizzling!) part of the narrative going forward.

The book will likely be released in 4-5 parts, ending at around 100k words in total. The perspective will be third person with Netya as the viewpoint character for the majority of the time, with occasional forays into the thoughts of the supporting cast.

Oh, and despite being the alpha's concubine, he isn't necessarily going to be the one who wins her heart at the end of the day~

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!

Saturday 22 March 2014

Angry Reviews and the Ethics of Criticism

Anyone who has ever browsed the user comments section of a website will be no stranger to the kind of emotionally-driven comments the internet can draw out of people, and most of us, truth be told, are probably responsible for a few of them ourselves.

I want to talk briefly today about book reviews, and the ways in which readers put forward their opinions online.
I should start off by clarifying the difference between book reviews and those of most other mass-media. Books tend to be intimately personal. A movie or TV show, a video game, even many pieces of music are often worked upon by multiple individuals, but the vast majority of books can be attributed to a single author. This is what makes book reviews so meaningful to many authors. A lot of us see the stories we write as a reflection or expression of ourselves, and when others either praise or denounce our work we often feel it very keenly.

This has been something of a hot topic recently with Anne Rice's petition to stop online bullying of authors, and while I believe Rice's idea is absolutely the wrong way to go about this, she does highlight an existing problem with the way readers and authors communicate.
So what is and isn't acceptable reviewer behaviour when it comes to giving your opinion on an artist's work? Well, first and foremost, there is nothing wrong with vocally expressing dislike for something. Every consumer should have the right to absolutely trample on a piece of fiction if they feel like it was a poorly written, dull, offensive, or otherwise unpleasant thing to read through. Those sorts of comments can hurt to hear as an author, but they have every right to be voiced. One of the most important parts of dealing with criticism is accepting these negative points and taking them into consideration when you move forward with future projects.
So objective, honest criticism is free from blame here. It's the cornerstone of how we judge and appraise media, and without it the arts would be much worse off.

But then we move into the area of emotionally charged reviews. Objective criticism is, by definition, free from personal bias, but book reviews are rarely this clear-cut. As a medium based around evoking emotion, reviews that completely eschew the reader's feelings are few and far between. But is it ever right for a reader to get angry at an author?
I think yes. There are certain cases where an irresponsible author who plays with the emotions of their reader in an unsatisfying or distressing way should absolutely be subject to the frustrations of their audience. If a book sells itself as a sweet, lighthearted romance, only to be punctuated by a brutal rape scene with no literary merit half way through, then the person responsible for writing it should understand how that kind of emotional trickery makes people feel.
Most of the cases in which I've been emotional in my book reviews have stemmed from situations like this, when an author takes an ongoing story in a direction that jars against what I've been taught to expect, leaving me feeling disillusioned and upset. Authors are essentially glorified puppet masters playing with the feelings of their readers, and they deserve to be told when the emotional response they're evoking is an unsatisfying one.

Emotionally charged reviews are a grey area, but I believe a healthy balance between emotion and objectivity is critical in a good review (both for the author of the piece and for other readers). The line is crossed, however, when emotionally charged critique devolves into insults and personal attacks on the author responsible.
These are the kind of reviews that are so problematic for us, and why some authors end up feeling "bullied" by their readers. There is rarely an excuse for spewing vitriol at an author just because you didn't like the story they told.

But it's pretty easy to tell the difference between an objective review and author-bashing, and I think most writers quickly wise up to the fact that they have to bring down the shutters once reviews devolve into personal attacks. However, That still leaves us with the grey area of emotionally charged reviews that are harshly critical of something an author may have poured their heart and soul into.

Just the other day I was browsing reviews of a book I'd recently read to see how my impressions compared to those of other readers. It wasn't a book that I particularly enjoyed, but it was far from terrible. It had a lot of flaws, but nothing about it was offensive or upsetting. At worst it could be called ineffective.
To my surprise I discovered that one of the top reviews was a lengthy essay that picked apart the novel's failings point by point, absolutely littered with profanity, incredibly snarky comments, and direct insults aimed at the way it was written. None of these, as far as I could tell, were directed at the author, but I certainly know that it would have upset me if it had been a review of one of my books.
The crying shame is that the review made many good points. It was incredibly one-sided, but most of the points made were valid, useful criticisms for both the author and other potential buyers. It was so incredibly bogged-down in snark and borderline spite, however, that it was impossible for me to read through all at once, and after just a few sentences I was already feeling awful for the author of the book. She might have written a flawed story, but there was no way she deserved to have it ripped apart in what came across as a jeering school-playground kind of a tone.

So what's the solution to this? Well, I don't agree that Anne Rice's idea to yank away the curtain of internet anonymity is going to do anything positive for the state of online book reviews, and any rules or regulations (beyond perhaps flagging posts containing direct personal attacks on authors) stray into the ballpark of censorship, which is a terrible road to go down when it comes to media criticism.

Honestly I think it's just one of those things that falls on the shoulders of us as the reading and writing community. It's not a problem we can fix with strict guidelines, bur rather working gradually towards changing attitudes. Fostering a more positive, polite, and respectful mindset in reviewing strikes me as the best way to go here. It's fine to blast a book for all of its shortcomings, but remember that it was written by a human being; a human being who probably has a lot more emotional investment in their book than you do. Don't be overly snarky. Don't be rude. Don't be a jerkbag. Be critical. Be emotional, but restrained. Be judgemental, but polite. Respect the fact that there's a real person on the receiving end of your comments, and do your best to help them (and the community at large) to improve rather than simply using them as a target for your frustrations.

Sometimes we all get worked up about the books we read, and that's often a good thing.
We could just try to be a bit nicer about it.

Friday 14 March 2014

Broken Moon Part 5 Published!

And a teensy bit earlier than usual, despite some delays! Fingers crossed that I can continue getting these chapters done in a timely fashion. I've worked out my writing schedule a little better recently, so it should be conducive to a slightly more busy release list!
As usual, Broken Moon Part 5 can be grabbed on Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers to follow!

April is ready to commit to what she wants, but before she takes the plunge into a relationship that will change her life forever, there is one last story left for her lover to tell; the story of how he lost everything. As his tale of leadership, lust, longing, and violence emerges, April finally begins to understand who Cyan is, and what this discovery may mean for their future together.

But Cyan is not the only one with dark secrets to share.

At long last it's time for everything that happened in Wild Instincts to catch up with our hero, along with a few more revelations along the way!
Broken Moon is officially past the half way point now, and I'm continuing to have a blast with it. Lots of juicy drama and steamy romance still to come!

It's at this point that I often start thinking about what my next big project will be, and I have a couple of ideas in mind. Back when I first talked about Broken Moon I mentioned a second project that I wanted to work on concurrently, but that idea just didn't end up gaining any traction in the same way this one did.
I do have an idea for another erotic (likely BDSM-focused) novel brewing right now, and it'll continue in the same paranormal vein as my last two serials, but without focusing on werewolves this time. I don't think I'm done with the Wild Instincts world just yet, but I could probably use a break from it while I work on something else.

But first, it's time to press on with part six!

Saturday 1 March 2014

What Ruins a Story? (Part 1?)

This is one of those funny general topics that I've commented on a whole bunch of times in passing on this blog, but I've never actually taken a step back to talk about it as a whole. I thought about making this one big article on what I consider the best/worst characteristics of storytelling, but that's a huge amount to cover in just one sitting, so for now I'm going to focus on what tends to spoil a story just for me personally. This will be a largely subjective exercise, as I'm sure everyone else will value these points slightly differently, but here are some of the cardinal sins that ruin a good story for me.

First and foremost: inconsistent tone. This is something I commented on in detail when I talked about The Final Empire last year, and that book remains one of my prime examples of how fudging your tone can completely take readers out of a story. When I read books, I like to understand what I'm getting into. I don't mean that in an "I want everything to be predictable and boring" sense, but when you enter into a narrative you need to understand certain rules about how the story is going to work. You don't expect a pie-in-the-face gag half way through Schindler's List, and you don't expect disturbingly harrowing drama while watching a Disney movie. That's because those stories have consistent tones; they let you know what to expect, what to feel, and what frame of mind you need to be in to enjoy them. It's as much in the author's interest as the reader's to establish some grounding expectations about their work, and when those expectations start to conflict with story developments further down the line, you start running into big, big problems.
When you find yourself asking questions like "Wait, why did that happen?" or "How does that make any sense now?" then it's often telling of a divergence in tone or internal logic, often caused by a lazy writer throwing ideas out there without much consideration for their impact on the story. This for me is the worst way a story can be ruined, because it doesn't just disappoint the reader or leave them feeling upset; it kills their emotional investment in the narrative entirely.
I talked as well a year ago about my reaction to the ending of The Hunger Games, and how unsatisfied I was with the direction the author chose to go with that story. However, what happens at the end of Mockingjay is infinitely preferable to what turned me off The Final Empire. My reaction to Mockingjay was an emotional one. I had become invested in the characters and the story, and I cared about them enough that the ending made me even more emotional about how it played out, even if it was in an unsatisfying way. I think I mention in that previous post how I didn't think the ending was necessarily bad or poorly done, but that it simply wasn't appropriate for a series like The Hunger Games. If nothing else, that book at least left me with an emotional response when it finished.
The Final Empire turned me off in a very different way. Because the tone shifted so jarringly a few chapters in it caused all of my emotional investment in the story to evaporate. I put down that book and stopped reading because I just didn't care any more. It was some bizarre blend of silly, cheesy action mixed with the grim and gritty trappings of dark fantasy, a combination that did not mesh at all in my mind. I didn't understand the tone or what kind of mindset I had to approach the story with to enjoy it any more, and it ruined the book for me. While Mockingjay left me upset at the direction of the story, all The Final Empire managed was to make me frustrated with the author.

So! Moving on from my number one pet peeve, another thing that bothers me is when a story becomes tedious and predictable, usually be re-using the same tropes and conflicts over and over again. While I love a well-structured story that hits all the points of pacing like it's been planned out on a spreadsheet, what I don't like is when an author employs the exact same emotional tricks repeatedly and assumes they'll still have just as much impact as the first time around. This falls into the same ballpark of killing a story by means of killing the reader's interest in it. One particular book I've been reading recently is a well-polished, interesting, structurally sound novel that hits all of the right points on paper, but falls into the trap of retelling the same series of events over and over again with a slightly different coating of paint and no evolving emotional context to make them meaningful in the larger narrative.
Generally speaking, the hero and heroine run into a problem (almost always bad guys chasing them), panic, and are then helped out by supporting characters appearing out of the blue and assisting them for a handful of chapters, before disappearing and leaving the two protagonists to repeat the same process all over again like clockwork.
The pacing and writing is usually just fine, and these scenes were gripping the first couple of times around, but after a certain point they started to become tedious, because nothing was changing other than the superficial details. It's the same series of events over and over again, and it quickly becomes tiresome.
The reason I'm not the largest fan of the Game of Thrones series stems from a similar logic (although I should add the caveat that I don't consider those books to be bad at all, just not to my tastes). The way viewpoint characters were used to guide certain elements of the story, and the routinely dismal tone, eventually led me to a place where the "unpredictability" of the story became predictable and tedious, and my emotional investment gradually evaporated until I stopped reading part way through book three.

Phew, this post is already turning into a long one, so I think I'll wrap it up for now! Expect a Part 2 to come at some point, since there's still more stuff I can talk about when it comes to "what ruins a story". The two points mentioned above are definitely a couple of the biggies for me, not necessarily because they're the most damning, but because they're the ones that I usually find cropping up a lot in stories that are otherwise well-told and engaging. There's nothing worse than a story that looks pretty at first glance, only for the blemishes to become more and more apparent as you read on until it spoils the whole thing.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Broken Moon Part 4 Published!

I was hoping to push this one out a little earlier than usual, but all of a sudden it ended up being 5000 odd words longer than I'd planned! So here we go; part 4 is here, and we're getting into the meat of the romance and plot developments as we press onwards into the middle of the story. Available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords, as per usual!

As her relationship with Cyan grows more intense and the looming prospect of her mating edges ever closer, April is finally forced to start confronting her feelings about what she truly wants -- and the price she may have to pay for breaking her pack's age-old code of honour. Tempers and dissent flare amongst the Highland Pack as the leadership of the secluded group of werewolves is called into question once again, with Cyan finally taking a stand for what he believes is right in spite of his promise not to get involved. With a new arrival in camp who threatens the secrecy of their hidden lives, April must choose where she stands; with her friends and family, or with the dark outsider who is fast capturing her heart.

Hopefully part 5 should be out in a slightly more timely fashion, as I've been working to optimise my writing time and plan things out more thoroughly in advance. Assuming it doesn't run on as much as this one, the next part should be finished before too long!
Also more blog articles. I need to stop forgetting to do them.

Friday 7 February 2014

Character Change

Every good character should have an arc.
Okay, no, that's totally not true, but just like any of the "rules" of writing it's a pretty effective staple of storytelling. If you want to make a character compelling and their story satisfying, you should generally give them an arc.

An arc is simply the transition of a character from point A to point C, with the events of the story shaping their transition from one to the other. Harry Potter starts out as a lonely, abused child living in the cupboard under the stairs, and ends up as a great wizard who saves lives and defeats evil. Luke Skywalker is a farm boy who becomes a Jedi. Dorian Grey is a beautiful, indolent hedonist who turns into a monster that cannot stand the sight of himself.
Arcs can affect physical change in the world and relate to a character's social status or personal deeds (like those of Harry and Luke) or focus purely around the psychological and emotional development of a character (Dorian). They can be either positive or negative changes, but the change must be meaningful and related clearly to the events of the story in a way that readers can understand. A character's arc is essentially a microcosm of a story in and of itself. Seeing someone change and react and develop in response to the events around them is in itself its own little personal story, independent of the larger plot.

However, it's important to keep in mind that "change" is not synonymous with "arc". Countless times I've heard readers, viewers, and players defend even the most absurd character transitions on the grounds that it's "better than no change at all", and I feel as though it's an assumption worth commenting on.
Character change is a lot like the concept of originality. We tend to hold it up as a prized quality in storytelling; something that every creator should strive for to enrich their work, and something that less experienced students of the art often trip up on in their efforts to recreate. Of course, this is silly. Originality has no intrinsic value in storytelling, because everyone can be wacky and weird and bizarre if they want to. In fact, the reason most stories come across as formulaic is because they're sticking to the same tried and tested set of rules that generally make for an entertaining story in the first place. Why would you try to be original when you're just going to be breaking something that already works perfectly fine?
It's hard to break what works and make it still work after you're done toying around with all the parts, and that's where genuinely praiseworthy originality comes from. It requires skilful handling to be good original rather than just weird original, and the same is true of making character change into a satisfying arc rather than just change for the sake of change.

The worst instances of this can often be found in long-running TV dramas, when writers feel the need to switch up the character dynamics a few seasons down the line by changing who's a bad guy and who's a good guy (etc.) to keep things fresh. This usually runs into a whole bunch of pitfalls when the writers don't adequately explain or demonstrate the transition, making characters "change" purely for the sake of having something different happen.
I vividly recall the absurdity of the third season of the show Heroes, where the good guy/bad guy dynamics started to switch up on an almost episodic basis, with half the cast coming off as schizophrenic at best and almost comical at worst. This is more of an issue with how these dramas are commissioned and written in general (if you give a character a complete arc in season one, what do you do with them in season two? If you leave their arc unresolved at the end of a season, what if the network cancels your show before you can finish it?) but it's a good reference point for some of the pitfalls of long-term character development.
Similar to how TV shows feature characters with complete arcs, followed by radical personality shifts (or backpeddling) to facilitate new arcs in season two, novel sequels run the same risk of forcing the writer to change their characters for the sake of making them interesting again if the original book was initially intended to be self-contained.

This is one of the reasons why my current WIP Broken Moon is a loose sequel featuring new characters rather than a direct continuation of the preceding book, and any plans I have for subsequent sequels will likely continue in the same mold. I like to give characters complete, satisfying arcs in my stories, and I don't want to have to change up their personalities or invalidate any of their development for the sake of a sequel.
Of course, it's perfectly possible to continue arcs on after they apparently "conclude" (Luke Skywalker became the hero, but he's not a Jedi yet, and Harry became a wizard, but he hasn't defeated Voldemort once and for all), but it does require some forethought.

Phew, so those are my thoughts on character change for the day! Change is not synonymous with Arc, and it has no inherent value in and of itself. Character change should never be haphazard, and if you're going to be writing sequels, make sure you think about how to carry on that arc beyond the initial point of resolution without cooking up something contrived that's only going to alienate your audience.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Recapping - How to keep repetition from becoming repetitive.

One topic that's been on my mind recently as I progress on with Broken Moon is how to approach the subject of recapping. Since this is technically the second book in a series it draws pretty heavily on the events of the previous novel to inform the actions of one of the main characters, but at the same time I don't intend for the story to be a direct sequel. If I want Broken Moon to work as a standalone a certain amount of recapping is going to be necessary, but how does an author approach that without either boring readers of the previous book, or confusing newcomers to the series by not giving them enough information?

I had a few ideas in mind when I started this, but I think the most critical part of an extensive recap is this: It needs to come from a different perspective.
A series of events retold in exactly the same tone and voice as they were originally is going to become repetitive, but if the author can put a new slant on those events then they can be made fresh and interesting again even to readers who have heard it all before. This also works the other way around, giving readers of the new book a differing experience when they go back to read the old one, rather than feeling like they've already been spoiled on everything.
As a side note, I also like to keep spoilers as minimal as possible. Of course, you have to get into pretty dramatic spoiler territory when recapping critical events, but I like to keep the details vague enough that the reader only gets a general outline rather than every bit of the nitty-gritty.

So! The easiest way to do this is to recap from the perspective of a different character. Wild Instincts was told explicitly from the perspective of the protagonist Lyssa, whereas Broken Moon frequently gets inside the head of Cyan, the previous book's antagonist. While there were mild hints at Cyan's motivation scattered throughout the first novel, he was by and large a clear bad guy with very few redeeming qualities. When Broken Moon gets to the stage where Cyan retells his version of events, my plan is to go into specific detail about how and why he made those choices, and while his actions won't exactly be redeemed by this new information, they will (hopefully) at the very least seem much more understandable and sympathetic.

On top of this I'm also making sure not to reveal too much information too early on. This serves a dual purpose in the story for both new readers and people who are familiar with the previous book.
Despite being frequently pestered by the heroine April to talk about his past, Cyan is understandably reluctant. For new readers this creates an air of dark mystery around his character, and a dangling question waiting to be answered, with a whole lot of anticipation and tension behind it based on the small hints he drops about how sinister his backstory is.
For people who have read Wild Instincts, however, they know all too well what Cyan's done and what he's capable of. They realise that April's perception of him as a good and kind person may not be entirely accurate, and that the tensions between him and the other characters might well boil over into something much darker. It dangles another question in the air for this group of readers; rather than "What happened in Cyan's past?" they instead have to consider "What will happen when April finds out the truth about him?"

So that, to me, is how you should go about recapping past events in a novel. There's always a very pressing urge to just rattle off necessary information as an author; to fill the reader in as thoroughly and directly as possible so that they're all caught up and ready to enjoy the fun part coming up next.
The trick, of course, is making that catch-up period fun as well rather than it just being an expository information dump, for both old and new readers alike.

I'm sure there are other techniques that can be used to put a new shine on recapping (and I thoroughly look forward to giving them some thought in the future!), but for now this is the method I'm going to be aiming for.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Broken Moon Part 3 Published!

Part three of my latest serial is all done and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords! We're a third of the way through, and conflicts are starting to kick off for April and Cyan as their relationship develops.

Time has passed for April since the night that changed her life forever, but the reality of her situation is still only just beginning to set in. She must adapt, find a new mate, and continue on as a dutiful female to her pack.
  Still an outsider to the insular Highland wolves, Cyan is unable to leave April to face her fate alone after the night they shared together, but there is little he can do to save her from a life he knows she will live to regret.
  The Highland Pack are beginning to question their leadership, their traditions and future becoming unclear, and amidst all of their upheaval there is only one simple, impulsive desire for both April and Cyan to seek comfort in. A forbidden desire, and one which will have severe consequences for both of them should they give in to it.

Besides the new release, things are ticking along more or less as normal. I'm focusing pretty explicitly on Broken Moon for the time being, though the re-editing of Wild Instincts is still a job on the back burner that I'm getting along with. I've got a few final tax thingies to sort out with Smashwords so that I can finally grab all of my money from them, but once that's out of the way I should be pretty much set up with everything I need as an indie author going forward.

More of my back catalogue should be coming to ArE in the near future as well, along with more blog posts as per usual!

Thursday 9 January 2014

Subtlety: The Art of Making Your Readers do the Hard Work

The image on the left tells a story without spelling it out for the viewer, and the beauty of it is that the story has far more potential by virtue of its ambiguity. Did the woman in the background set those glasses out? Is she waiting for a companion to join her? Is he or she late? Has she already been waiting for hours? Is she leaving, abandoning those glasses on the beach after a lover failed to join her? Or perhaps she has nothing to do with the glasses at all. Perhaps someone else set them out, left them abandoned, and the woman in the background is just a passer by, failing to notice this bittersweet sight as the sun slowly goes down on our two glasses.

This photo is subtle in what it implies, and as a result we the viewers are given the task of doing the leg work to attribute meaning and narrative to it. Subtlety is a wonderful technique to employ in the arts, because it allows the artist to convey ideas that go beyond what they're capable of showing directly.

Readers will always, *always* have their own personal preferences when it comes to a story, and most of us will have small details about even our favourite titles that we'd love to see changed. With a little subtlety, an author is able to fulfil those personal wishes of the reader and speak to them in a way that would otherwise be impossible to convey in words.

Perhaps the most direct examples of effective subtlety can be found within the horror genre. Horror is a deeply personal thing; what scares one person can often be laughable to another. I myself am a massive arachnophobe, yet there are plenty of people who keep the very creatures I find terrifying as cherished pets. This is why a lot of the most effective horror is subtle and ambiguous. We will always scare ourselves far better than another person will be able to, since our deepest fears are always so intimate and personal. It's why a good horror movie hides the reveal of the monster until the last moment; the monster is always far, far scarier when we don't know what it looks like, when we're doing the hard work of creating its image in our own minds, rather than relying on the film makers to do it for us.

A little bit of ambiguity and subtlety offers the audience a challenge, a little puzzle to figure out in their own head, and the reward for solving it is an experience that speaks to you on a more personal level than any artist will ever be able to convey directly.

Of course, getting subtlety right is no easy feat. Too much ambiguity and your audience will start to get confused and disconnected from the experience; too little and it runs the risk of becoming predictable and boring. This is linked in very closely with the adage of Show vs Tell. Showing implies a degree of subtlety, conveying information via association rather than laying it out in black and white for the audience to see, whereas telling offers little to no ambiguity at all.

While conventional wisdom prizes showing over telling, a good author knows that both of these techniques have their own time and place, just as a good author knows just how much subtlety is appropriate in their work.

One of my favourite examples of this is Peter Cheung's 1995 animated series Aeon Flux, a show wherein every episode is heavily driven by metaphor and thematic significance on a visual, narrative, and character level. In fact, this show is so subtle and frantically paced that it often becomes very difficult to follow. It's hard to sit back and enjoy the episodes as individual stories, because your brain has to be constantly double-checking what's happening in every scene to make sure you're not missing something important. On an artistic level it's an incredibly interesting show, but on a pure entertainment level it often succeeds in being too artistic for its own good.

So subtlety is a fine line to tread, and it's certainly something that I'm hoping to get better at myself as a writer this coming year. It's one of those things that really has the potential to cripple and elevate your work in equal measures, but when you get it right, it's one of the most powerful ways for an author to connect with their readers. When you take a story off the page and into the reader's mind, make them think and consider and interpret, then you really start to reach a place that goes beyond simple entertainment value.