Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Making Of Us - Falling Deep #RainbowSnippets #LGBTQIA

Brief explanation:
The Making Of Us is available to preorder! It’s currently with my editor. :)

Preorder Links:
Beaten Track [Paperback]Beaten Track [eBook]Amazon [Kindle Edition]Smashwords [eBook]Barnes and Noble [eBook]Kobo [eBook]

You can read previous snippets others here.

The Making Of Us is the fourth book in the Checking Him Out series, but it’s a stand-alone story about friendship, love and romance—LGBTQIA, with the emphasis on the B, Q and I.

The main characters are Jesse and Leigh, who first appeared in Taking Him On (Book Two), which is Noah and Matty’s story.

The Making Of Us is first-person, told from Jesse’s perspective.

Here’s the snippet:
I wasn’t in the least surprised—if they hadn’t moved first, I would have—when Leigh cupped the back of my neck and pulled me down into a long, deep kiss that rapidly reached fever heat. The soft stretchy fabric of their top bunched beneath my palms as I smoothed their back, my fingertips making occasional, tantalising contact with their skin.

Beyond the swirling of emotions and sensations, I was vaguely aware of the door closing and withdrew enough for Leigh to murmur, “Matty,” before they pushed me gently backwards. I felt the bed against the backs of my legs, and for the briefest moment resisted, but then bent to sit on the edge, rolling my head to the side as Leigh kissed and blew hot breath on my neck, pushing on my chest until I was lying with one arm trapped under them.

This felt good. No pressure, just exploring each other through our clothes and kissing, and kissing, stopping only to draw breath, sometimes leaving it until we were sharing the spent air between our sealed mouths and gasped like divers finally reaching the surface.

* * * * *

Rainbow Snippets is a group for LGBTQ+ authors, readers, and bloggers to gather once a week to share six sentences from a work of fiction–a WIP or a finished work or even a 6-sentence book recommendation (no spoilers please!).

In this group you'll find anything from romance and historical fiction to mystery and YA. The common thread is that every story's main character identifies as LGBTQ+. The snippets could range from zero flames to full-on sexytimes, anything goes content-wise. The only rule is snippets will be 6 sentences long–one for each color in the Pride flag.

* * * * *

Thanks for reading,
Deb x

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Non-binary visibility and The Making Of Us

Four days: that's how long I've spent trying to write this blog post. I had it half written and my computer didn't save it (thanks, Outlook, and well done me for my impressive use of technology—thought I'd get clever with speech-to-text on my phone).

Anyway, the long and short of it is this: The Making Of Us is available for preorder!

Beaten Track [Paperback]Beaten Track [eBook]Amazon [Kindle Edition]Smashwords [eBook]Barnes and Noble [eBook]Kobo [eBook]

I finished writing it over the weekend, and it occurred to me, somewhere around the 95k mark (it's 97k words in all), three of the last four books I've written feature non-binary main characters (the other two being Of The Bauble and The WAG and The Scoundrel).

This wasn't intentional, in the sense that all my characters, by default, are non-binary (because I am), so you can assume that's true unless I tell you otherwise.

First, for those unsure of what non-binary means, here is a brief(ish) explanation. This is my understanding—as a social scientist and a non-binary person—and I welcome (respectful) discussion.

Non-binary relates to gender.

As most people fall comfortably into male OR female sex categories (i.e. their chromosomes, hormones, sex organs and genitalia all match EITHER female OR male), we (western society) generalise that all people are one or the other: female or male. This isn't accurate, but it is how science works: making safe generalisations (based on empirical data) that apply in most cases.

From those sex categories, we then generalise two gender identities: the social/psychological feeling of femaleness or maleness. Furthermore, we can, in most cases, assume that a (biological) female will be comfortable with a female gender identity, and a (biological) male will be comfortable with a male gender identity. The term associated with this is 'cisgender'.

There are some people who experience more or less the opposite of this - biologically, they are female but their gender identity is male, or vice versa. The term associated with this is 'transgender'.

There are also people who are comfortable with a 'congruent' sex and gender but they may be more feminine or masculine, for example, a 'butch' woman or a 'femme' man. These people are generally cisgender (but they might not be).

In all of the above, the binary distinctions work fairly well - female OR male, feminine OR masculine, trans- or cis-.

Then there are the rest of us who do not fit into the either/or. We're both, or neither, or constantly shifting between and around.

Intersex is not non-binary.

People who have female chromosomes and sex organs but male hormones and genitalia (or vice versa) are referred to, medically, as having an intersex condition. They may or may not identify as one of the two binary genders. They may identify as trans. Or they may identify as non-binary.

There is an excellent explanation of natural sex variation on this page: http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex.

My point is that even though intersex is non-binary (as in, biologically difficult to categorise as female OR male), the term 'non-binary' is about how we see ourselves (self-identity).

For the curious, this is how non-binary is for me:

I'm fine with being female; I use she/her pronouns (I'd be fine with they/their, too), but I have never in my life identified internally as 'female'. I wear gender-neutral clothes, and I have long hair because I'm an ageing hippie rocker with a pea head who looks ridiculous with short hair. Nor do I identify as 'male'. I have a conceptual understanding from my studies and research of what binary sexes mean for other people, but in relation to me, they mean nothing.

Back in 1997, as part of my undergraduate dissertation, I interviewed some transgender people about their lack of rights, and I asked one of my interviewees if the problem would be solved by removing sex from birth certificates. She got a bit cross about that. Indeed, her response was along the lines of 'doing that would bring about anarchy and the apocalypse'.

Her gender, and her right to be recognised by her gender, defined her existence. She was a very large woman—tall and wide—with what we typically view as a 'male' physique, and it had denied her life-saving treatment (hormones, surgery) because she 'wouldn't pass' as a woman.

Twenty years later, transgender people in the UK have a right to change their birth certificate and other documentation so that they are legally recognised by their correct gender. It requires an official medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, evidence of living in their 'preferred gender role' for two years, a declaration of the intention to live in their 'new gender role' for the rest of their life, and that they aren't married.

I won't critique that beyond pointing out it's written in the language of tolerance, not acceptance, and 'preferred gender role' and 'new gender role' should be 'correct gender'. However, there is no requirement to 'pass', nor for reassignment surgery, but there is a requirement to undertake hormone treatment, and there is gender bias in the way the Gender Recognition Panel view reassignment surgery.

(Further information and legal guidance/support for transgender people in the UK can be found here: http://www.pfc.org.uk)

Being recognised by the correct gender is still as important as ever to transgender people. I accept that, even if I don't understand.

I'm not 'gender blind'; I recognise and accept other people's genders, but for me, it's not based on what they look like (I 'read minds' not bodies), and it's only one of many qualities they possess. My attraction to (or repulsion from) another person isn't based on their gender, or limited by their gender. I'm attracted to people's creativity, intelligence, humour and compassion, and whether I find someone physically attractive depends on those other factors.

For this reason, I am bisexual - attracted to more than one gender - because sex and gender have no bearing on my interpersonal attraction.

In short, I'm an in-betweeny, and I'm quite happy here. I'm not 'gender dysphoric'. I know what and who I am, and I don't want to change anything about my sex or gender, or the way those shape my view of the world.

There are three points I want to note here:

1. The binary sex/gender model is a generalisation and ignores most of the natural variation in biological sex.
2. Sex/gender is not the same as sexual orientation (lesbian, bisexual, gay, pansexual, asexual, etc.) or other forms of interpersonal attraction (romantic, intellectual, physical, emotional, etc.).
3. People are entitled to label and identify themselves as they see fit. They may even choose NOT to label or identify themselves.

There is no right and wrong in this. We are each unique, self-defined individuals.

What does all this have to do with The Making Of Us?

Well…nothing and everything. It's not the focus of the story, but it's important because there are too few stories about non-binary people. There are also too few stories about bisexual people and intersex people. So visibility is everything.

Jesse is the main character. He's an English Lit. undergraduate, cisgender, male, and he's attracted to Leigh: an intersex person who is non-binary and identifies as queer. Through his attraction to Leigh, Jesse acknowledges that he is bisexual.

However, the story is NOT about him coming to terms with his sexuality, or fighting his attraction, or any of that other stuff that comes up in romance novels on a regular basis. Jesse's totally cool with all of that. His biggest challenge is fighting a life of being fat-shamed and the toll it has taken on his confidence and self-esteem.

And there are definitely not enough stories about fat people. Which is why, when readers asked for Jesse and Leigh's story, I decided it was a story worth writing.

All of us look at others—be they people we interact with in the real world, online acquaintances or characters in books—and assess them in relation to ourselves. Like me/not like me. It's an entirely normal process of social interaction; it's how we build and make sense of our own identity, and also how we form alliances with 'our own kind'.

But then sometimes, this happens.

We find someone like us, and we're happily tootling along, agreeing with each other and celebrating our mutual understanding, empathising, mentally high-fiving each other and—BAM! The other person does something completely unpredictable, out of the blue, inconsistent with everything we thought we knew about them. We saw them as a reflection of ourselves, but suddenly we're waving and they're not waving back.

When this is a real person, we can't really deny their reality. We can try, but it makes us look silly, because the evidence is staring us in the face. Reluctantly, we go our separate ways or, hopefully, find a way to accept our differences and remember we're more alike than we're not.

However, when this is a character in a story, we can dismiss the contradiction as the author getting it wrong. The character is acting in an unrealistic way. Bad character, bad story, ranty review and no stars for you, amateur author who should've done their research. It's an opinion, and we're entitled to it.

Well, let me tell you...

The Making Of Us is based on real, lived experiences. Whether those lived experiences match a reader's own lived experiences makes them no more or less valid—for either reader or author. We are all individuals, diverse, fascinating and unique. We're more alike than we're not, but we are not all the same.

Ultimately, The Making Of Us is about celebrating our diversity. Why not give it a read and tell me what you think?

Thanks for reading,
Deb x

Monday, May 08, 2017

It's so NOT about the money

Recently, I saw an online conversation that began with an author asking the question 'Why do you write?' As expected, there was a whole variety of responses , but one in particular caught my attention. It came from an author who claimed they wrote to make money, and if they weren't making money, they'd stop writing. I believe them, and I have nothing against people writing for that reason. However, in the comments that followed, there was a strong insinuation that any author who claimed they did not write for money was lying.

I do not write for money. Not that I'm saying I wouldn't like to make some money along the way, but it doesn't even feature in the list of my motivations as a writer.

My first novel - Champagne - I wrote because I could. I had no dreams of publishing deals, nor of being a best seller, nor of seeing my name up in lights. I wrote it because the ideas were in my head, and I wanted to explore them.

My second novel - Hiding Behind The Couch - which I didn't start until seven years after my first novel, I wrote because I needed to. I needed to prove to myself that my first novel hadn't been a one-off. I also needed to write for my mental health. I was off work long-term with depression, and writing that novel - and all the stories that have followed it - helped me recover and have kept me in a much healthier mental state. However, where I had hoped that perhaps a few people might read Champagne, I wrote Hiding Behind The Couch with absolutely no intention of sharing it. I wrote it for me, nobody else. These days, I do write the series with readers in mind as well.

By that point (2007), with two novels under my writing belt, I'd realised that writing was something I loved to do above all else, but I was working as a teacher full-time, and lecturing part-time. There were so few hours left in the day, that writing took a back seat to everything else. If the house was messy, if the children needed feeding, if there was homework or marking to be done, if the grass needed mowing, the laundry, the dishes, the decorating... Writing came after all of that.

That still continues to be the case today, ten years on, even though I no longer teach full-time, and my children are adults. These days, I run a socialist publishing company. It's small and humble, and it makes next to nothing in financial terms, but none of that matters. I help other authors get their stories out there, and it enables me to justify taking writing time for myself, because I still perceive it as a luxury.

There are those who, reading this post, will at this point be muttering 'Well, you're not a real writer, then, are you?'

Maybe I'm not.

But what makes a writer a 'real' writer? Do I have to earn a living from it? Do I need a best seller? A shelf full of awards?

I have, in fact, achieved all of those things. In 2014 (and only 2014), I earned a living wage from my writing. Checking Him Out was number one in Amazon's Gay Romance chart for almost two months, and When Skies Have Fallen won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance.

None of that makes me a 'real writer'.

Each time I start a new piece of writing, I do so for different reasons, some more ambitious or important to me than others.

No Time Like The Present - to see if I could write a sequel
And The Walls Came Tumbling Down - to try my hand at sci-fi
The Harder They Fall - to create a trilogy (I failed, but I did so spectacularly ;))
Checking Him Out - my first attempt at both first-person perspective and MM Romance
When Skies Have Fallen - to tell an important story (more on this in a moment)

I measure my success not by how many copies I sell, or how much money I make, but by whether I achieved what I set out to. Of course, the sales could be taken as a measure of how successful I am, but I could work in McDonald's or Tesco or the cake shop if it was only about money. Actually, I could go back to teaching - that pays better. But it's never been about the money.

I have little interest in material objects and wealth. I'm motivated intrinsically for the most part, but I'm also strongly motivated by helping others. Don't imagine for one moment that's down to altruism. When I see someone achieve success (by their own measures) and I know I contributed to it, I also feel successful.

The paradox:
The biggest obstacle to my writing has always been how far it is down my priorities list. Why is it all the way down there? Because it has minimal extrinsic value - or, at least, minimal in terms of bringing home the bread.

Does that mean I'm about to stop writing? Hell, no!

Writing (not just mine, and not all of mine) has so much value that cannot be measured - readers whose lives may be a little bit better for reading our stories, or who learn something they didn't know.

This past weekend, I was teaching social science undergraduates who have been studying the subject for the better part of a year. They're mature students, dedicated to their studies, and they're interested in current affairs. For all of that, they didn't know about the gay concentration camps in Chechnya, because whilst it is flooding social media for all of us who are in some way connected to the LGBT+ community, outside of that, it's not big news.

I was...horrified. But it was a reality check I needed. It's so easy to become blind to the bigger picture, to see the world warped by the walls of our own protective bubble, to misinterpret inaction as apathy, but how can people act if they aren't aware they need to?

A few weeks ago, I seeded When Skies Have Fallen on BitTorrent, along with a text document granting permission for seeding and sharing of the ebook. If I had ever doubted it was the right thing to do, having to tell those students what was happening in Chechnya would've confirmed it for me. I don't care if I never ever make a single penny from writing that book. What matters is that it is out there, beyond the safe LGBT+ fiction bubble, where anyone might pick it up, flick through its pages, and learn of a history that was hidden from them, and of which many remain ignorant.

Some authors set out to write purely for financial gain; others find they can make a living from their writing. I'm not in any way suggesting that doing so means their work has no other value. What I am saying is a book's value as an economic commodity does not automatically afford it social, cultural, historical or educational value.

The stories that matter most to me, as an author, a publisher and a reader, are the ones that would never be written if all the authors cared about was money. They're the ones that wouldn't even make it past the slush pile because most publishers only care about money. These are the authors who need to be read and the stories that need to be told.

So why do I write? For so many reasons, and not one of them is money. I'm not rich. By western standards, I'm almost poor. But on a worldwide scale, I'm wealthy indeed. I'm free. I have clean drinking water, food, a roof over my head, and I am safe. Writing is a luxury I can afford.

"I don't write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me."
― Michel Foucault


Thanks for reading,
Deb

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Making Of Us - Celebratory Kisses #RainbowSnippets #LGBTQIA

Brief explanation:
Another snippet from The Making Of Us. You can read the others here.

The Making Of Us is the fourth book in the Checking Him Out series, but it’s a stand-alone story about friendship, love and romance—LGBTQIA, with the emphasis on the B, Q and I.

The main characters are Jesse and Leigh, who first appeared in Taking Him On (Book Two), which is Noah and Matty’s story.

The Making Of Us is first-person, told from Jesse’s perspective.

I haven’t posted for a few weeks—been busy writing! :) I’m a couple of chapters and an epilogue from finished! Woot! But I’m a bit sad about that, too. I’m going to miss Jesse and Leigh when I’m done.

Here’s the snippet:
I stopped outside Leigh’s bedroom door and felt my stomach flutter at the sight. They hadn’t seen me, busy loosening off the laces in their Doc Martens.

“Hey,” I said.

Leigh paused and acknowledged me with a smile. “Hey.” Kicking off their boots, they beckoned for me to come in.

“How are you today?”

“Great! I got eighty on my first assignment.”

“Oh, wow. Well done, you!” That called for a celebratory kiss. And a hug. And another kiss. Heh, like we needed an excuse.

* * * * *

Rainbow Snippets is a group for LGBTQ+ authors, readers, and bloggers to gather once a week to share six sentences from a work of fiction–a WIP or a finished work or even a 6-sentence book recommendation (no spoilers please!).

In this group you'll find anything from romance and historical fiction to mystery and YA. The common thread is that every story's main character identifies as LGBTQ+. The snippets could range from zero flames to full-on sexytimes, anything goes content-wise. The only rule is snippets will be 6 sentences long–one for each color in the Pride flag.

* * * * *

Thanks for reading,
Deb x

Monday, May 01, 2017

Book Review: Nightsong by A.M. Leibowitz

Title: Nightsong (Notes from Boston #2)
Author: A.M. Leibowitz
Publisher: Supposed Crimes
Published: 1st May, 2017
ISBN: eBook: 978-1-944591-24-3/print: 978-1-944591-25-0
Link: https://supposedcrimes.com/products/nightsong-notes-from-boston-2
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33974194-nightsong

Blurb:
Nate Kingsley is a master at messing up. Out of jealousy, he outed his best friend in a public and embarrassing way. Now he’s doing his best to make up for his crimes, but it’s left him empty and frustrated, unfulfilled even by his career as an opera singer and creative director. He enters an unsatisfying relationship he keeps hidden from his closest friends. When that ends on a disappointing note, he seeks solace in his crush on one of the drag queens performing at his favorite club.

Izzy Kaplan is an EMT by day, a drag queen named TaTa Latke by night. He hasn’t been in a relationship since his divorce from his wife, despite the best efforts of his mothers and his work partner. He avoids their suggestions in favor of attending the opera alone to see the gorgeous baritone who’s caught his eye. He knows it’s just a fantasy, but it’s easier than starting over.

A charity performance to benefit a local youth shelter and clinic puts them in each other’s lives in an unexpected way. They begin to emerge from their relationship disasters, slowly building trust. But unknown to themselves or each other, they are facing separate health crises that might be enough to send them both running the opposite way. It will take drawing on the love and strength of their friends and families to bring them back together again.

Notes from Boston is a series about four friends navigating the ups and downs of life, relationships, and their music careers in the historic city. Book Two follows Nate in the aftermath of Trevor Davidson’s messy coming out as a bisexual Christian singer in Notes From Boston #1: Anthem.


Review:
Nightsong by A.M. Leibowitz is the stunning second instalment in Notes from Boston - a series that is LGBTQIA fiction at its finest. The stories revolve around a central core of characters, touching on their relationships with family and friends, their work, religion, love, romance, health, day-to-day challenges...you know, all that life stuff.

I read Nightsong - book two - first, which is not something I usually do. Indeed, my preference for reading series in order used to be so strong I wouldn't dream of reading a later instalment before the first one, and I'd avoid the blurbs for future books because they always contained spoilers.

Given how difficult it is to write spoiler-free sequel blurbs, it seems impossible that an author could write a sequel that is almost free of spoilers, but some can, and do. One such author who does this brilliantly is A.M. Leibowitz.

It is intentional on the author's part, and whilst it could, potentially, lead to gaps in readers' knowledge of past events, this is not the case with Notes from Boston, as each instalment focuses on specific characters. There are some longer story arcs relating to those past events, but having incomplete knowledge of these only makes it more real. We don't know the past of new friends; it's something that is slowly and incompletely revealed to us, shaped by our mutual acquaintances, how much the friend wishes to share, our own perceptions, context, and so on.

With Notes from Boston, I've discovered this is a bit like getting two for the price of one. I read Nightsong and formed some fairly strong opinions about some of the characters (Nate and Trevor in particular). Then I read Anthem (book one), and my thoughts and feelings shifted. I fell in love with Andre, who was a bit different from how Nate painted him in Nightsong. I also felt a bit less blah about Trevor, although I think I could probably forgive Nate for anything. Revisiting Nightsong, post-Anthem, is like shifting from camera one to camera two - it's a lot of fun!

Unsurprisingly (considering the series and book titles, and the characters' professions), there is a musical quality to the narrative. It's subtle and clever, with slight shifts in sentence structure and word choice - particularly in the more emotional/intimate scenes - that are like dynamics marked on a musical score. Whether this is a conscious device or the author's unconscious magic at work, I don't know, but there is nothing accidental in this novel. Every thread leads somewhere, and it all culminates in a grand crescendo.

The cast of characters is diverse, and many forms of relationship are reflected; it is a wonderful thing to see this represented/celebrated in fiction. Nor does the author shy away from writing about life's challenges, which again, brings a sense of reality to this fictional world. It's also there in the intricacies of the relationships and in the dialogue, and how often I thought, 'yep, that's typical Mack' (or whoever).

I love reading book series. I'm one of those readers who go for total immersion in a fictional world, and if the author gets it right, the book hangover is awful. But if I know there's more to come, that lessens the blow somewhat; I can keep hold of those characters and the relationship we've established, imagine we've shared a vacation together, and start planning the next one.

And there is a next one (at the very least). Until then, I'll be staving off my Notes from Boston craving with the snippets on A.M. Leibowitz's blog.

Purchase Links: