Saturday, 31 December 2011

I hear wings beating

The next time I'm writing a series, I'll write the whole thing before I publish a single book.

Granted, it's quite possibly terribly inefficient in terms of work. What if reception is so bad that you've just spent three years of your life writing a series that people are hating? And yep, overall reception has a huge impact on whether I'm writing the sequel, or feel like doing a prequel. Characters that are loved are more likely to come back on the stage for an encore. People hating the overall concept of a series can strangle the second part in its infancy. On the part of the author - total deniability: "It was meant as a standalone anyway."

Writing a series while parts are being published seems like a clever thing to do, then, until you do it in practice. (Hey, I'm still learning how to treat the Muse right - a writer's career seems largely a series of experiments on him/herself, trying to trial and error a way to stay alive and productive and more-or-less - but not too, that's dangerous, too - happy.)

When I started the Dark Soul series, I wrote "Dark Soul" for a gun kink anthology. Much like a lucky oil explorer getting the drill in just right, I then saw the earth split wide open. Geyser. Unstoppable. I'd hit 20-year old oil in my own soul. Holy shit, I hit THAT geological layer again, get the rig over here, NOW!

I wrote Dark Soul 1-3 in a happy daze, sucking on that general area and swallowing as fast as I could. Then, November happened, certain moderators of a certain Goodreads group stepped up their harrassment of trans* writers, "sniffing out" "fake men" and demanding that publisher police the contents of their writers' underwear or be threatened with boycotts, some bloggers ran around outing trans* people as having ovaries (gosh, the possession of ovaries now a crime or what? Personally, most trans* men would like to keep theirs in jars or wash them down the toilet, but they ARE kind of important for the body's hormone equilibrium).

Things thankfully died down (mostly, anyway, not that those mods ever learnt a thing or even apologized), but the important thing was, the geyser had died off. My "sure I can write this whole Dark Soul series, want the whole thing next month?" became pure boisterous posturing.

For weeks, I didn't even feel like a writer. Words were just scrawls on paper. I had moments (days) of intense loathing for pretty much the whole genre and everybody involved in it, including myself, then I slowly dragged myself out of that, realizing, deep down, that I'm not going to allow a few entitled assholes to ruin me as the writer, ruin my fun, or take my books out of the hands - and minds - of my readers.

In short, just because there are assholes and trolls on the internet, I don't have to suffer for them, or hurt those people who really want my stories. Of course, when I write, I'm emphatically NOT writing for the assholes and trolls out there, but I've also discarded the very petty idea of anti-dedicating my books ("This book is for readers, but not J., L. and JM, or A.S., who I hope burst spontaneously into flames when they read any sentence I've written" - ah, if words had such power!).

Although it admittedly would have been fun to watch how quickly and indignantly they'll deny having done "anything" to "deserve such vile treatment", while at the same time working very hard behind the scenes to damage me and my business, and that of my friends.

Honestly, regarding November I'm very nearly past caring, because my real battle - the one that almost nobody has any influence on whatsoever - is to finish a five-part series when trolls have stomped all over the well you'd been tapping. Why do I even bother?

I've spent what feels like two months staring at the screen, digging in my brain, using the sharpest tools I had to try and draw blood. Some writing is nothing less than digging through the
scar tissue of your soul and trying to get at a fresh artery. Some of us look inside like junkies trying to find one good vein. And if you can't find any on your arms, you can always go for the one in your balls or between your toes. We're talking THAT kind of writing.

I felt so bruised and so numb inside that I couldn't see the faint blue shimmer of a vein through my skin. And when the blade went in, I couldn't get deep enough to get even a spurt of blood. Anywhere. Obsessive writer that I am, I kept cutting away, kept digging, and probably made all my friends utterly miserable with my thinly-veiled self-loathing. A blocked writer is a pitiful creature, and he/she knows it.

I knew it would be two more parts, but I couldn't get them written. I analysed my own writing process from inception to final proofing stage to debug it, and I have some vague ideas what I can optimize now and in the future. All this under the pressure to have to deliver two novella-sized books of several stories that were nothing but a twinkle in the Muse's eye. My Muse, however, usually a hard-working and pretty reliable bastard, had fled the scene.

And then you're stuck in the middle of a series, much like a marathon runner who gets a foot blown off at kilometer 20. In front of what feels like thousands of people, most of whom haven't even heard the shot or noticed what's wrong. All they see is that "their" runner staggers and falls. A few go after the shooter, others stare or shout in horror. And while you stagger, all you can think of is to shout "I'm OK! I'm OK! Of course I'm finishing the race, no problem, I just, errr, stepped funny on a stone or something." It's not a pretty picture, because the reality is, you know something's badly wrong, and there's this myth floating around that writing is easy once you know how to do it, and we're all writing machines and reliably produce if given half an incentive, and surely the money is enough, right? We just sit down and do this thing. We're "professionals". Usain Bolt doesn't get a cramp. Muhammad Ali doesn't chicken out.

It's all nonsense. In the end, the battle is between you and the white page on the screen. If I can't find the hole in to the story, it's not happening. That's a block, and I haven't had a real one in ages, but this one was nasty. It was made nastier because of the loathing and disgust, the trolls, and a deep-seated insecurity whether anything would have changed after November.

The answer is, yes, everything has changed, and I'm still cataloguing the fall-out, good and bad. But the first area where I had to do damage control was in my own writing, and, specifically, Dark Soul and whether it would get completed.

You're getting all these funny ideas, too. Whether the pre-November parts will have the same tone. After that huge upheaval, will I write "differently"? How will people now read part 3, which was written well before any of that shit happened?

You manage to take the first steps in part 4 and keep thinking "is this what I would have written before the trolls ate my Muse?" There's a certain taint, a certain fear and tentativeness in the writing that is maybe totally in my imagination. None of my own struggles HAVE TO have made it on the page. Writers can happily suffer in real life and nothing of it makes it on the page. I think. I hope.

And while the trolls haven't destroyed my writing, I do wonder if they twisted it. If I let them down inside me too deep and they did shit in there than I can't even fathom. Or whether I'm clenching up, in a protective reflex, in expectation of their next move. Whether I write in a certain way to justify myself, and how my Muse works, and what my themes are, and how I tackle them.

And then you write more, and the tentativeness slowly falls away. You're a swimmer who has broken out of the pollution of the coastal waters. No plants that wrap themselves around your ankles. The sea out there looks like you remember it - cold and powerful and dark and threatening, and now your muscles are warm and you can SWIM again, for all you're worth. There's no help out here, but veteran that you are, you don't NEED anybody's help. You pull, push, stroke, the machine remembers how to do it, and all the creaky, painful, self-conscious shit, the stuff about expectations, good and bad, all falls away. It's done. None of that matters.

And suddenly you have 15 thousand words, and they might be different from the 15k words you'd have written before it all happened, but, never mind, those 15k are still pretty good words, there's no taint, no rage that doesn't belong. The trolls haven't actually reached THAT deep. They are beach trolls, but once you're deep and far enough in the water, they look like spoiled, bored children hitting each other with plastic sand spades.

In the last four or five days, I've written more than 15k words. Dark Soul 4 is almost finished, and once I've finalized the last scene, I'm going to swim further and bring back Dark Soul 5. I'd say they should both be done in January.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

"Is he ever going to write a book for people like me?"

Recently (a few weeks back, okay, make it months), my colleague and friend Chris Hawkins told me of a conversation she's had with one of my readers (I still struggle typing the word "fan" and will likely forever be stuck in that default...).

Chris explained that my reader is a paraplegic who loves my work and she asked Chris: "Do you know whether he's ever going to write a book for people like me?" Adding that she felt I could write a main character with a disability and do him (and her, by proxy) justice.

Now I don't know who she is (Chris kept this in strict confidence, just relaying the story). I responded that I have a lot of characters dealing with a disability. Vadim Krasnorada suffers from a a bad case of PTSD. Other characters have survivor's guilt, shell shock. Sergei Stolkov, in many ways Vadim's younger mirror-image, loses an arm and a leg and has issues with his prosthetics (which are stupidly advanced and those issues seem to be largely psychological). Kendras, like Richard, has a permanent limp after a foot/knee injury.

Of course, those characters who are permanently disabled get what I'd call "magical replacements". Stupidly advanced tech that makes the physical limitation pretty much only cosmetic. In short, if it doesn't seriously impact a character, it's basically a cop-out, and in many ways, I'm pretty aware of it.

After my experiences with Race!Fail (and my immediate, passionate denial of being a racist just because I had white main characters only), I've become ultra-wary of my own instinctive "but of course I'm not X!" responses.

In this case, we're not talking racism, we're talking ableism. The assumption, in short, that main characters can only be physically perfect, with all limbs basically intact. Now, of course, in erotic fiction, the perfect six-pack, the wise-cracking charm and the physical beauty are, in some ways, givens. It's the default.

It's also a pretty rotten message, which some people can understand as "only perfect/white/healthy/X/Y people deserve love and passion" - and are understandably upset about. While we as readers (and I'm one, too), slip into the skin of these perfect people (who are prettier, wittier, sexier, more confident ... than us), that skin doesn't always fit. The "default" excludes a lot of people.

I've written Kendras a black man, and it wasn't hard at all, once I really understood what was going on inside him, his skin colour didn't matter to "me the writer". I've written Silvio as a genderfluid person (Dark Lady II definitely crosses the line from crossdressing into real gender issues - and wow, was I expecting to be hanged and quartered for that, but it didn't happen), I've tackled various mental and physical injuries and damages.

Today, I think I've seen a character happen to me who is for my reader, whoever she is, and everybody out there who wants a character like that. He's pretty kick-ass, and I can't promise more, because all I've seen so far is a tiny glimpse, but something's germinating.


On a side note, I've written more than 5k in the last two days. I can hope that I've overcome the agonizing writer's block that November has given me. I'm not quite sure if anything that I've written yesterday and today is any good, but attempting to write doesn't feel anymore like tearing out my eye balls. I've even hit the occasional patch of "flow". It's no longer like pulling teeth - and how much I missed that.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Of rabbits and wolves, and bridge trolls and knights

Today I was pointed at this most excellent post by Marie Sexton about the Muse and its natural enemies, and how sometimes, when the Muse gets wounded, it crawls away to die.

Read the full post here.

This is an incredibly powerful post about the power of the "haters". The wolves out there. They might take many shapes - for me, the wolves are people who harrass authors, who demand to know who we sleep with, and who sticks what into whom, all so that we are "legit" in the eyes of the wolves - or "trolls" as I like to call them.

The trolls are the demons lurking under the bridge. They eat the unwary. Sometimes, they injure the valiant during the combat. Sometimes, they take an arm or a leg. Passage into the next story, the next project, was rarely bought so dearly, has rarely left such gaping wounds. Some knights still soldier on and continue onwards, others don't. Others stay the fuck at home.

The problem is that the trolls don't just live under bridges. If the questing knight KNEW the trolls were under that bridge ahead, he could "weapon up", put on the helmet, change from the gentle steed to the charger, and lower the lance, armoured in his heart and body and ready to do battle with whatever comes. (Yes, knights in the Middle Ages didn't travel fully armoured and ready, they did have to change before the battle.)

The trolls I'm talking about today don't live under bridges. They live in forums, where they tell people to boycott publishers who are not policing the gender of their authors, and they live on mailinglists, and blogs (some even write blogs), and comment on blogs and hang out at any place where a juicy, unsuspecting knight might pass by. They have nothing more to offer than snark, nasty attitude, ignorance and hatred. Some of them even believe that knights quest for the "easy money".

Trolls attack the knight's horse if the knight himself cannot be brought down. They attack the knight's squire, his lady, his friends, even the peasant who told the knight which way to take.

They do it "because". I'm not sure what soul-sucking darkness lives in them so that they revel in the mayhem they can cause.

But to trot out the metaphor further: Being a troll or a knight, is, ultimately, a choice, but we can remember (and take heart in) that it's not the troll that might, eventually, reach the grail castle. Trolls are obstacles to overcome. In Campbell's The Hero's Journey, they are Threshold Guardians that try to scare us and test us and that look ghastly and mean, but ultimately, they don't matter. They have no real power.

I need to remember when I sit down to write that, in fairy tales and "romances" (and that's where the word comes from, in Western literary canon), the knight has a name, and we all remember Percival and Galahad, but I couldn't remember the name of a single troll.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rainbow Awards Winner

I saw yesterday that Dark Edge of Honor - co-written with Rhi Etzweiler - has tied (three-way) for best gay sci-fi novel in Elisa Rolle's Rainbow Awards.

That makes me (us) an award-winning author. :) (But seriously, I'm very honoured and more than pleased, especially for Rhi, who's an amazing talent and this was their first book - here's an author that deserves all the recognition there is, in any case. Great co-writer, extremely hard worker, good friend).

Also, this wouldn't have been possible without Deborah Nemeth, our editor, who helped us fix a number of pretty serious issues with the book (like, she made us completely re-write the last three chapters, which went from "WTF?" to "OMG" under her guidance).

And a great link that's worth watching for all blocked writers out there.

My week largely consisted of staring at a screen while blood was beading on my forehead. You really can't fault me for trying to break through this shit.

I did buy some "sex toys" from Cult Pens and promptly broke my new black Rotring Pro mechanical pencil (me and mechanical pencils have a long history of trench warfare, as the Faber Castell issue a couple weeks back has shown) just three minutes after taking it out of the packet. I broke it while trying to put in a mine from Koh-I-Noor (coloured mines, great idea, but they are going to break your MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE pencil, so stay the hell away from those mines, or at least only put them in a clutch pencil!).

On a sidenote, I'm officially in love with the Rotring tikky 3-in-1, which took me a while to figure out, but it's clearly magic and extremely useful for editing on paper.

Otherwise, very little else to report - sending off the first few Xmas presents and juggling a gazillion things (slight exaggeration, but I did stop counting at a million).

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The shape of it

I've had a good think about my future in the genre, and I'm continuing to think. Right now, a double-track approach seems to make the most sense. The melodrama and the hate mob have driven me to reconsider whether I do want to stay in the genre. The messages of support and love and several versions of "don't leave me!" have made me reconsider how much power I'm giving the haters over my writing and the Muse.

Make no mistake, the Muse is still having dinner with the dodo, wherever they are. Not a wingbeat, no words, thoughts, or images coming from him, so as far as the writing urge is concerned, I'm currently "healed", like I haven't written a word in my life and can go happily on living without ever writing another word. There's an interesting calm in that emptiness, in the absence of story. Like a haunted house suddenly exorcised. A schizophrenic healed. Awakening after a night crammed full of dreams and nightmares. Deep breath - calmness - meditative silence.

It's odd not to be writing. All the time I have now for reading. The pre-Christmas stress seems manageable. Above all, I'm getting to bed at a reasonable hour. This is how "normal" (non-writing) people live. It's nice. No obsessing about word counts, no submission stress (I have nothing out there to sell, and nothing even remotely ready to go out anytime soon - the emptiness also characterizes the state of my projects folders).

I know, rationally, that I'll need to write the last parts of Dark Soul, but, as I said, not one wingbeat. I know, roughly, what'll happen, and that used to be a state I could rely on to carry the writing, but I've stared at a white screen long enough now to know that it's not that easy. I might have entered a prolonged dry phase (I've been dry for three weeks now). No writing at all. I've had a few of those earlier in my career. The longest was two years. I suffered like an animal in that time. Short dry spells can be anywhere between a few weeks and a few months.

I don't know, and I'm not going to stress over it. I'm just saying I'm pretty sure I can blame outside forces for it. The Muse asks "why bother" and "for what", whenever I get him to talk.

I'm working on finding an answer, but that's the rational part of me. What I want back is the ability to fall into my story and feel the passion for writing and for sharing a story with anybody outside myself (I'm happy to entertain myself, but I can do that day-dreaming without the hard work of actually sitting down and typing it all up. I can entertain myself with a novel-length day dream in one day and enjoy that for a week).

It doesn't help that everybody around me (in real life) tells me I'm "too good for that". Part of me knows, and that's why those words are gaining so much traction - I've done THAT dance before, I know the markets, I have the contacts, I can actually sell in the mainstream if I really, really want to. It means a lot of work and networking, might involve switching back into German, might involve building a totally new writer persona online. It's all daunting and complex and exhausting - last thing my Muse needs. I've been writing m/m because it's what I'm good at, what's natural for me, because it's fun and because of the readers.

But that doesn't mean I don't, ever, have mainstream ideas. And at the same time, I'm already pushing that particular envelope, and it might just be one more step to re-enter that realm.

For the moment, I've removed all "In the Works" projects from my website, because I think that some of the things I'm working on can go into the mainstream and those might need to go under a new pseudonym (I'm working on a few, but none has yet "clicked" for me), and because I have no visibility how many projects will actually happen. I had a pile of about twenty projects that I might potentially want to do, but after the last month, the life has been leached from all of them.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

‘i see myself’: embrace the rainbow

In the past few days, we have been privileged to witness an increasing awareness and understanding within the m/m romance community about the complex issues of gender/s and sexuality/ies.

This has been a significant and positive step forward in healing a rift caused primarily by ignorance and bringing hope where there was once anger, turmoil and devastation.

This is by no means an end, however.

For if there is one thing we have all learnt is that a rainbow cannot easily be grasped or defined.

Rainbows are constantly changing. Rainbows are not fixed. Even when an artist tries to portray them in a photograph or piece of work it is only one moment in time they are capturing, not the full journey of a rainbow.

It is this fluidity we need to embrace and encourage others to do so as well.

To this end, we are sending out a challenge.

A challenge to help us increase awareness, acceptance and support for the trans*, intersex, intergender and questioning people in the m/m romance community and broader community by adding this to your site:

We believe this will stand hard as a sign post symbolising hope as well as a safe space for GLBTQQ people to freely be themselves. Whoever 'they' might be at that particular moment and whoever 'they' might be in different moments in the future.

We do this on the day which marks the 13th International Transgender Day of Remembrance; a day for remembering those trans* who have been the victims of hate crimes.

We also do this in association with the Safe Reading Zone campaign; a promise to those GLBTQQ people among us that we will support them.

So, will you accept our challenge?

Perhaps this excerpt from an interview in September 2011 between genderfluid Andrej Pejic and ABC’s Nightline Juju Chang will help you make a descision:

Chang: When you see yourself in the mirror, do you think of yourself more as a man or as a woman?
Pejic: I like to keep my options open.
Chang: What does that mean?
Pejic: I see myself.

‘I see myself.’

That, friends, says it all.

Please help us spread this message.

With hope and love, Aleksandr Voinov, Amara Devonte and Kris for 'embrace the rainbow'.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The artist as public property

It's always fascinating to me to explore just who we writers write for. In my personal case, I write because I have to.

When the Muse is his glorious, wing-beating self (imagine my Muse as a black-winged, vaguely human-shaped, vaguely male creature not unlike what I'd picture an angel as, but one of those kick-ass, sword-wielding angels, drawing a thunderstorm in one hand and soaring like an eagle when the energy is there) - there's simply no stopping. I know that the Muse is likely part of my own soul, some deep well of energy that I tap into when I work. Sometimes, writing has nothing to do at all with the Muse. Then it's just putting words on the page. Making the screen look untidy. Ruining perfectly good paper with ink scrawls.

When the Muse is involved, it's fire and fury and thunder. Then the book comes out in one piece, as if it has only been waiting somewhere else for the gates to open. It's lightning - indivisible, extremely powerful, and really interesting to feel pass through you.

So, in many ways, I write because I can't not. A book is a primal force that hits me like an earthquake. Tell that incoming train headed your way that you really don't quite feel like it. Hah. Good luck with that.

I can't refuse to write. I'm a writer, that's why I'm here for. If there's any reason or sense in human existence, mine is that I was put here to write my little black heart out (and help others do the same).

There've been some denizens of the lunatic fringe that think (and have said, although, crazy as they are, they aren't crazy enough to say that to my face) that my refusal to write in a certain genre is "holding my stories hostage". Yeah, so me writing is just giving people what they own anyway - like it's not me giving those stories to the world, but somehow TAKING something from those readers. Not just owing, but evilly withholding what's their due. To vid, read the "GRR Martin is not your bitch" post by Neil Gaiman.

(As a sidenote, these people are a tiny minority - while many have expressed dismay, they also respect my decision, whether it's permanent or temporary).

In response I want to repost (slightly rephrased and borrowing from other commentators for context) what I posted here:

Whether or not an author is "public property" and whether he or she owes readers anything is a question I've grappled with myself. E M Foster didn't write certain books because he felt he couldn't write about the gay subject matter. Kafka wanted all his work destroyed - everything we're reading of Kafka's has only survived because a dying man's wish was blatantly disregarded and a promise was broken. To read his work at all is to benefit from an act of treason. I'm on the fence about it, too. Kafka made world literature a richer (and much stranger) place, but on the other hand, those were his stories - he didn't owe us anything. At the same time, as a reader, I want to chain some authors to the desks and make them write book after book for me. As a writer, that same idea horrifies me.

In a way, we owe the Muse and the book to tell those stories (not that I could stop either). We got this gift, and I think we are obliged to to the best we can with it. As I keep saying to my writing “padawans”: Your Ego Doesn’t Matter.

Or, another analogy. I compare the job of the artist in his/her own community as that of the shaman to his/her tribe. We mediate, we heal, we walk the path into the imaginary/spirit world, wrestle and negotiate with spirits, and come back with gifts that heal/benefit the community. In return, the community respects us and feeds us (in my case, I do my own feeding, but the idea is to give something back to even out the relationship).

The last couple weeks have given the appearance that my “tribe” had turned toxic – on me and others like me. Handing over the hard-won kill to them, when all you see is clenched fists, is not easy. Personally, I’m not that selfless. So, the returning shaman, witnessing all that anger, turns on his heel and walks off to a less hostile tribe, sick to his heart over it.

In the mainstream, there are prominent writers writing under a variety of names that not necessarily reflect their physical, genetic gender. I’d never speculate whether Val McDermid is actually female or identifies as somewhere along the Rainbow spectrum (I frankly don’t know enough about the person), but there’s an example where the mainstream is a hell of a lot more accepting than I’ve seen the m/m community be over the last weeks. In the end, it’s the story that counts, and hopefully the author – without whom no story – gets their just rewards.

Of course, I’m hoping that the m/m community/genre will grow up. That we’re going to be less torn back and forth through what’s essentially some of the most odious residual traits of “fandom” (which, when it’s supportive, is very supportive, but when it’s bad, is VERY bad). What we need is a “level up”, to borrow a roleplaying term. If we ever want to hope to be taken seriously, this shit’s gotta stop.

I fully understand if people turn their backs in disgust. I received an email from a dear friend – one of the strongest writers in the genre – who is so hurt and disgusted she may never come back. This is collateral damage that many people will never notice, because few of those who left made the kind of blog post I did.

Bringing this to a close – I think we need to all be more accepting and tolerant, which, however, includes shutting up the haters, showing support to those who are under attack (whether we like them personally or not), and educating ourselves through all of this.

If the space is safe once again, the shamans will continue dancing and singing and bringing you those strange things from the Otherworld – hope, stories of love and overcoming darkness.

Whatever and whenever I personally will write, I honestly don’t know. The Muse is very silent right now. I will continue to act as a publisher and supporter in any case. What I will do is take a stab at the mainstream, quite possibly under a totally different name, I don’t know. It’s not something that will happen very soon. The damage that was done in a few days or weeks may take months to scar over, and may never fully heal. It's easy for attackers to move on, but the attacked live with the memories of shame, fear, anxiety, stress, horror and disgust for the rest of their lives. It'll always be there, sitting low in our guts.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Offering Sanctuary

Edited to add (5 January 2014): It's come to my attention that an unpleasant individual tries to instrumentalise this post for explaining/excusing her trans* phobic view - essentially calling upon me as a witness and as somebody holding the same position as her. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I'm not going to remove what I wrote, I'll bold the pertinent part, so you guys can see what I ACTUALLY wrote.

Further, this is my comment to her at her blog.

Dear Ann - I want to protest sharply you calling upon me as a kind of witness to strengthen your position - my position is nowhere NEAR yours on this issue, and I absolutely do NOT want to be seen anywhere near your position on this - I don't share it, I've never shared it, and you using a trans* girls death in this manner is frankly deplorable.

As a note - if you've READ my blog post you're referencing, I said I was ready to embrace AJ as a trans* person if he chooses to identify as such. I see no need in policing anybody's gender. AJ might have had had a change of heart. I'm quite happy to assume the best of people. 

Trans* identities are tremendously difficult, with ups and downs, and you do not get to be the "panty police". You can call authors whatever you want, fact is that the person you call straight or whatever might be a queer person who hasn't come out. You trying to FORCE them out, your long-standing attempts to "out" a male author of m/m for reasons that might have to do with his status as one of the best-selling and most beloved authors, etc, is deplorable. It's not your job nor your right to police people's identity, and I will NEVER stand on that same position with you. I'm not on your side. 

Using Leelah's death for this? For fucking shame. Leelah's suicide has hit me so hard I can't even talk about it. I don't know ONE trans* person who hasn't been suicidal, often multiple times. Most trans* people I know are cutters, bipolar, suffer from depression and have a host of emotional and mental issues.  Using that to make your point? Yuck.

Please refrain from sub-tweeting about me, making speculations, and trying to pull me into your spat. I've seen 6+ years worth of your spats, and I'm tired of the pattern. Ever since you harassed me on livejournal after I feedbacked one of your stories and you kept making passive-aggressive "sub-posts" (tweeting wasn't around then), I stayed WELL clear of you. Since then, you've harassed a good dozen of my personal friends in one way, shape or form. Please forget I exist. Better yet - go write something and stop that drama addiction. 

I have zero interest to be associated with you, and this is the last time I'll respond to your antics.

TLDR version: I disagree with you. I see your pattern. Leave me alone.

----Historical blog post follow, emphasis bolded -----------------------------------------------------------

Preface: Your response to my last posts have been overwhelming, emotional, touching, gut-wrenching and overall EPIC. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm hoping to catch up with the emails and posts at some point. I might need to sleep a little first.

The only hostility I've received afterwards came from people speculating that my last posts were "marketing ploys" to drive sales of Counterpunch and Dark Soul.

I have to say, those people are such accomplished cynics that I'm frankly awed. I guess being soul-dead like that doesn't even hurt any more, right? But I guess some people think Buddhist monks set themselves aflame because they are cold.

And I want to say a specific "thank you" to the gay men who have reached out. I've given the impression that I have been treated with nothing but hostility from the gay community. While I've had a couple unfortunate encounters (like Mr "I'm going home to have real gay sex now" and some telling me I only have body issues - yeah, rocket science - and need to get laid and my disquiet about my gender would get marvelously fucked away) - I've also received amazing, warm, genuine support, for which I'm deeply grateful.

I also want to add that I've been contacted by many, many trans and queer writers who are "under the radar" and who have experienced the same reprisals, doubts, and harassment. I wasn't surprised by any of those stories - saddened, horrified, but not surprised. I WAS surprised by how many we are. I said I knew of around 7-8 trans* and queer writers. We're getting closer to 20-30 now. I'm not counting the lesbians (double digits) and gays and bisexuals (loads). I don't keep a spreadsheet, but we are MANY, and I salute every single one of you. For your support, your work, your dignity in the face of adversity, I salute you.

I said all I can claim was "Freakhood" - no loving Rainbow family. I was wrong. There's been so much love and support from the rainbow people that I'm shocked and humbled and barely managed to sleep with my heart pounding so hard (and I'm eating my words; they are better with soy sauce). Thank you, guys, gals, and everybody in between. I'm proud of the community, of being PART of the community.

I'm also very, unspeakably (but I'm trying!), humbled by the support from our straight and/or cis-gendered allies. So many of you have reached out and spoken up. Thank you.

To all those who feel the reflex that I suppressed until my "coming out" - the reflex to stand up and speak up - and potentially shatter the identities you've built; it's OK to not do that. Nobody respects and loves you any less because you aren't "out and proud and loud." Please be safe. Do only what you're 150% comfortable with. You do much work behind the scenes, and we can see that and feel the difference, and it's appreciated. Nobody has the right to push you to where I was yesterday, staring down the cliff with only two options left: Jump or fall.

Before I start to sound like General Patton speaking to the Rainbow Army, I'll break it off here. I'm just saying, this experience has made me a better, humbler and less conflicted man and I'm offering the same support that people have shown me to everybody still out there, and I will continue to do what's right.

Which brings me to some house cleaning.

For the record, my posts were about the fall-out and effect of rampant transphobia and harassment on trans and queer writers. Why for us, "coming out" is more like death and a lot less like liberation. Why we don't want to be outed, why that destroys a very tenuous inner calm and peace that many of us have spent decades to build and achieve. I took the fall because my brothers and sisters were asking me to stand with them. I did not want to abandon Oleg, Bryl, and Danny - and all the others whose names I don't want to mention here as they are "passing", but I know they are watching and supporting.

Some people are congratulating my friends on "Finally he has stopped lying, finally he's out". Now, nobody has told me that to my face. To everybody who considered me a liar: Choose your weapon, and let's make an appointment. I believe early mornings are traditional. I'll bring a second. Either face me direct, if you have the GUTS, or shut up, you cowards.

Now, more house cleaning.

This situation was sparked by another author, AJ Llewellyn, outing himself as a trans man on his most recent blog post.

There has been wild speculation about the issue - others have made very convincing cases pro and con, and frankly, it's all out there on the table, and I'm too tired to join the chorus.

From what I understand (I don't have a PhD in Gender Studies, I can always be wrong), a person is trans once they claim they are. The trans community is extremely welcoming and open to to anybody joining. None of us would dare to question another's trans identity, because, you got it, EVERYBODY's identity is the result of an agonizing, often ongoing process. We would never turn on another trans* person calling them a faker or a liar.

Of course, this opens the community up to abuse and appropriation, when people claim trans status to enlist allies and to get a ready-made army to march for them. We embrace anybody claiming the label, because this is a mechanism that has, often literally, saved trans people's lives. If there's nobody else left, you can raise your hand and call for help, and you have instant allies. This process is VITAL and it's saving lives and sanity, and even possible exploitation doesn't give us the moral right to judge another. You say you're trans, you are. I believe we're a lot more enlightened there than most cisgendered people (some of whom have called me a liar... the mind, it boggles).

Now that AJ Llewellyn, a - to put it mildly - controversial character has joined our ranks, I am thinking back to my medieval studies. Let me explain:

In the Middle Ages, if you were a hunted criminal and managed to reach a church, you could claim sanctuary on hallowed ground. This meant that whoever was coming to enforce the law couldn't harm you and couldn't remove you from that sanctuary. As far as worldly law was concerned, you were untouchable.

Sounds like a great deal, right? A community is persecuting somebody for wrong/harmful behaviour, and all you have to do is claim sanctuary with a group who will immediately - reflexively, nobly - step up to defend you and protect you from punishment. A second chance. Awesome deal.

But the custom had a flip side: While the murderer or horse thief couldn't be hanged, he WAS subject to church discipline. That means: penance, some of which was pretty extreme. We're talking asceticism, flagellation, "mortification of the flesh", all those tasty things that made medieval spiritual life fun and games. The murderer/horse thief would have to atone for his sins, mend his ways, and subject himself to the rules of the church/order that he has fled to.

Personally, I'm ready to embrace AJ Llewellyn as a brother in trans.

I'm not questioning his new-found, brand-new identity, I'm not questioning that he's distressed.

I have my own history with AJ and it's not positive. I will emphatically NOT list his actions here. I believe we all know by now what they are.

But AJ has joined the trans community, and I welcome him.

But I am distancing myself - as strongly as I can - from AJ's behaviour (he has attempted to link himself to me in private posts, and I protest this link SHARPLY). Yet I cannot and will not doubt his brand-new identity. We trans people would rather be exploited than wrongly accuse one of ours.

AJ, welcome to your sanctuary. If you can mend your ways, do. If you achieve that, I'll be proud to call you brother. Right now, all we're giving you is sanctuary, because that's the code, not because we love you or even forgive you until you've shown that you can play nice and contribute, positively, to the community.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Here I stand, I can do no other

This is the blog post that I never wanted to write, but I owe it to all genderqueer and trans* writers and readers out there. I’m hoping that my experience may serve to make the “community” a safe place for us – others like me. At present, I don’t know if the aftermath of this – action, reaction, consequence, if I understand correctly – will allow my Muse to survive. After this, I frankly don’t know if I’ll have the strength to go on writing using this name and this identity. This Self.

I’ve taken most of this from an email I sent a prominent blogger. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent and the guilty both.

The Call

I could quite literally write a book about my experiences and my thoughts on the matter. If something almost kills you, it's bound to provoke some Heavy Thinking. So apologies as this is going to be long.

I did not want to get involved in this at all. I've been "outed" several times on the internet. A former co-writer of mine who's seen me in RL has repeatedly outed me. I have been referred to on the internet as "one vicious tranny". A gay guy I've met in my London-based writing group has only recently outed me to a violently hateful group, then added smugly that he was now going home to "have real gay sex".

These experiences are rather typical, I'm afraid. It's why I only meet people in person as a writer who I trust to not go out there and tell the world who I "really" am (as we can see, my judgment is less than perfect - friends can turn to enemies rather more quickly than I like, especially when writers are involved).

Refusal to Heed the Call

This is not to accuse. I feel awful for first trying to stay invisible and secondly trying to ignore it, while my trans* friends were/are suffering because they are "out" about their status, while I was busy telling myself "I'm a writer, not a human rights activist".

Yeah, I guess Ezra Pound was just a poet, too.

The loss of "safe space" thanks to the rabid hate mob is probably at the core of the issue why I've put my stuff on hold. I originally bought into the myth how "tolerant" and "accepting" "our" "community" is. Well, it is, if you're gay and physically, born, genetic male. There's a worship of the cock going on I find a little disturbing.

Regardless - one thing I believe is incredibly important in this debate is to drive home - in some minds at least - the difference between "coming out" and "passing".

Crossing the First Threshold

For sexualities other than straight, "coming out" is a traumatic, cathartic rite of passage, that, yes, creates that "gay identity", which from then on is visible. I was very relieved when I realized, actually, I'm bisexual, and it’s OK to be that. I can love a person rather than a set of genitals. Being bi is, obviously, being under a "general suspicion" of cheating and being generally not trustworthy. Many lesbians tell a bisexual woman she's not "real" because she got her rocks off - even once - with a guy. Many gays call a bisexual man a "gay in denial". I do believe I never deceived anybody about my sexuality. I've gotten my rocks off with trans* people, with men and women, and it was fun every time. I'm not ashamed.

But yeah, "coming out" usually means that the enormous pressure that non-straight people live with is lifted. Wow, suddenly you float. The thing that made you consider suicide? Gone. People actually still smile at you. Some even call you brave - what a boost after you've spent most of your life cringing away and hoping that people will leave you the fuck alone, or at least not look into your head.

Now, "passing" is different. Trans* people live with this enormous pressure, but it never leaves. It's a miracle I'm alive. Between 16 and 21, I was constantly considering suicide. Then my mother died a painful, drawn-out death from cancer. And I thought "okay, throwing away a healthy, functional body is a waste and who are you to end your life when others are desperate to draw even one more breath and don't have that choice?"

Every time I considered suicide, I would remember my mother's face, just wisps of her gorgeous rich mahogany hair left, the skull visible as a herald of impending death, as she was weighing only 80 or 90 pounds. Who am I to kill myself when I'm healthy and not physically suffering?

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Then the internet. Online communities. I chose a neutral name (vashtan) and realized there's freedom in that. I've kept vashtan's gender neutral - I did not want to "deceive" anybody. Ever.

My first publications. Getting AlexANDER W. added into my German passport? HUGE rush. Unspeakable relief. The front was still lying, but the back - oh, the glorious back, the bit under "Pseudonym or Religious Name" - it finally spoke the truth. I'd become, legally, in a small part, black-on-green, Alexander W., ridding me in one fell swoop of a last name I've inherited from a wife-beating rapist father AND the wrong gender.

I was Alexander. I couldn't wait to tell everybody. The bloom rounded, tightened, seams began to appear. It was ready to burst.

I read everything about the issue. MTFs, FTMs, Intersex, intergender, trans*, genderqueer... suddenly I had words for that deep-seated unease that told me my very BONES were all wrong. Suddenly the "wow, YOU are a real man." Suddenly, all my games as a child - always the knight serving the lady, always the fighter, the bodyguard, the protector of the weak - suddenly made sense. Why even as a small child I bristled when somebody called me a "pretty girl". I wasn't. I was a boy. Imagine the heartbreak when boys at some point told me I couldn't play with them because I had long hair. I liked my long hair. I wasn't ready to give it up so I could play with the other boys. Non-conformist to the end, I guess. Boys had short hair, I refused to fit in, hence I was ousted.

Thus expelled from the boys, I tried to join the girls for company. They told me I was a boy - wild, physical, competitive. I also didn't give a toss about the current crush on some boy band. I just wanted to belong somewhere.

I didn't. I found, in the end, a bunch of outsiders who'd hang around me, because I had cool ideas and made up fun games. We were still the outsiders on the playground, but we were at least damned well entertained.


When my body developed, I prayed for it all to go away. I think the reason why I'm still here is largely because of one of the most powerful characters I've ever had. Silvio basically told me I was being a dumb asshole for staring at the pills in my hand and that my vertigo should at least keep me jumping from that bridge. Through all that, I've had friends (who had no idea - as far as they were concerned, I was just a bit of a tomboy), but as we've seen through things like Trevor and It Gets Better, friends sometimes aren't enough. I was a firm believer in reincarnation, but something always held me back from "trying again", as I called it back then. Reload. What's your return policy, universe?

For whatever reason, the male persona I built (or, arguably, that I am) helped me cope with the increasing pressure. Somebody calling me "Mr. Voinov" (which is just a translation of "Herr W.") takes the pressure off. It makes me smile, but there's always a tang of pain in it, too. Calling me "sir" is like if somebody tells you you're gorgeous and actually means it.

I'm coming back to "passing" now. To a trans* person, "passing" as his/her real gender is - unspeakably liberating. Suddenly, the pressure around you eases. You can BREATHE. You can even be yourself. I can't count how often I've been told I write "masculine", or even "hyper-masculine". I was told, when I started out, to write under a male pseudonym, as "the female style" is different - and women prefer books written by women, especially historicals. Or: "What woman cares about war, soldiers, or politics? They want woman issues." (Which, presumably, is about courtship, het sex, child-rearing and covering their husband's flank.) This drove me away from trying to make it in the historical mainstream - I never managed to get my head around "woman issues" - talk about biographical blocks.

Reward/Seizing the Sword

Fast forward a few years. Passing for male has quite literally enabled me to be a productive, positive member of human society. Give what I have to give - mentor, teach, give and write. I can give these because the pressure was off, the pressure keeping me contained, pressuring me into something I am emphatically NOT. If you expend all your energy fighting other people's perceptions, you have no energy left to do the important stuff, the constructive stuff.

Under such considerations, things like "I'll sell five more books if people believe I have a flesh dick dangling between my legs" aren't just laughably trivial - they don't even register. I've heard people say that they prefer women-written books to mine because "Voinov is clearly a male writer - like all of them, it's all heartless sex and violence, he just doesn't "get" romance." Some way of "passing", that! (But, hell, I take it.)

The thing is, tearing our protection away - negating our "passing" - is as traumatic as if a jeering mob out on the street were ripping your clothes off to laugh at the shape of your breasts or labia or dick and balls. I can't possibly express the amount of distress that my trans* writer friends have felt over the mob's desire to rip their clothes off. As far as I'm concerned, I have bigger balls and a bigger dick than a huge amount of born and bred males.

My sense of honour and personal integrity made me step up in defense of my trans* friends, most of whom have been bullied into submission and are scared of being made a target next. We'll all been there before. Most gay guys consider us women (I've heard some of the most vile, trans* phobic comments from gay men) – most women consider us women and do everything in their power to help society re-assert the gender binary. (Those are generalizations - I've encountered a lot of extremely supportive women of all stripes.)

While most gay men laugh us off as "not real men" (like I have to assert my masculinity to every gay man out there - even those I don't want to sleep with!), many women are truly vicious - "how dare she!"

I've always held the belief that the female hostility to trans* people is really a loathing of the traditional female role. Tearing our clothes off in public is a way to act against the "unlawful claiming of a more liberated gender". Men ARE more powerful in this society, and trans* men are seen as those refusing the female gender (while, in actuality, we're not refusing anything - it's not what we are and most of us feel an extreme disconnect to any perceived female role). We're damaged, freaks, deficient. Worse, we're cheaters, liars, impostors. We're claiming the "male privilege" not to be belittled, and maybe we even end up wielding power and authority and have respect. Yeah, how DARE we.

Some of us shrink away under the onslaught of hostility and pressure, cringing. So at war with ourselves, few of us are strong enough to fight against ourselves AND against the rest of the world. ONE of those battles is plenty.

Every time a specific prominent blogger attempts to out the most high-profile male-representing author in our genre, I want to rip her head off. Has nobody ever considered that this writer is actually who he says he is? Or would the fact that he's a prominent, visible, highly successful - and much-loved - writer in the genre have anything to do with it? The message to us trans* writers is, very much: Don't stick your head out, or we'll chop it off. Beyond a certain level of success, people are envious enough to jump on anything that makes a person vulnerable.

The Road Back

Frankly, I knew that launching Riptide would potentially "blow my cover". Who on earth is interested in trans* literature but a trans* person - and who at Riptide is clearly NOT a female? The fact that I'm being represented by an avatar, the fact that I'm not answering questions about my gender (and many tried asking them, which tells me it's something people feel they have a right to know about in detail) or what I think about women writing gay sex, or whether I get turned on when writing sex (yeah, sweetheart, want the number of inches too?) - all that immediately sparks suspicion.

The more visible I am - the more interviews I've given - the more that old pressure has come back. I've been told I'm too "soft", or "too gentle", or "too understanding", (or "too nice/generous") that a specific turn of phrase is feminine - up to my use of emoticons. People are scrutinizing everything I do - on Twitter, Facebook, there were people even re-posting blog entries from LJ that I've locked away to be only seen by friends. The pressure was mounting. Clearly, being anything but female draws suspicion, but I refused to be driven into neurosis by it. I am who I am, who I say I am.

The whole debate never considered the trans* issue. Just look at the words used: It was always "women parading as men", "women appropriating gay identities for gain and profit" or "women lying/cheating because they are sociopathic liars". It's like you're walking out in the streets, and suddenly, everybody's clothes are being ripped off and the crowd inspects us, naked, whether we pass. The border controls in the US are so intrusive that many US-based trans* people have stopped travelling. *I* am not going to fly to the US because I don't want some guy give me a body cavity search. The trans* body is more delicate, more complicated and a hell of a lot more fragile, even if you're built like an American Football player.

But while the debate went that way, us trans* writers were incapable of stopping it. Everybody speaking out on behalf of trans* writers knew that they would have their identity questioned. I was incredibly reluctant, because not only did I do a good job of "passing", but because I never saw myself as an activist for anything (I believe most of society's ills would go away if people were holding themselves to higher moral standards and realize that serving others means serving yourself).


Basically, I didn't want to open myself up to the trans* phobia out there - I didn't want my gay friends to suddenly consider me as a "transman", which always means "not real man" (talk about worship of the cock) - always. Once that "trans* is attached, it conjures up images of a more or less believably mutilated female body, a more or less healthy mind inhabiting it. By being "trans", we're "less". Less strong, less healthy, less male or female. From "male" or "female", we turn into "not quite" and "less" in society’s perception.

I also didn't want to speak on behalf of trans* writers. We're still all individuals, and while I know at least, off the top of my head, 7-8 genderqueer/trans* writers – and boy, their talent, how much they have to give this community that hounds them so! - I'd never claim any kind of leadership here.

Basically, I was “passing” and working behind the scenes. Every trans* writer out there knows my status. I've encouraged writers to write and share their stories (rather than lock them away for fear of BEING VISIBLE and hence VULNERABLE), telling them the community was "safe"; people were "different here". Oh hell, was I wrong, and as the lynch mob of the M/M Goodreads Group and a number of bloggers and HUNDREDS of bigoted commentators descended upon us, my heart bled for my friends who went out there and fought or hid under the same old stone of crushing guilt and self-doubt.

It's not that we don't want to be "out" - I admire both Danny Juris and Bryl Tyne for the way they go out there and represent. My choice was different. I worked behind the scenes, working subtly, helping trans* people (you start to recognize them after a while, it's like gaydar, also, I'm really good at reading people), supporting my brothers and sisters, while still "passing" as male to a society and community I simply didn't trust to "get" it. Get me (yeah, and tell me I was wrong… I was not).

I simply refused to write emails or blog posts like this one I'm writing right now to every person out there emailing me who’d doubted what I told them. Doubted my integrity over the use of a pronoun – a use that has kept me sane and productive. This is stuff I almost killed myself over – I don't believe somebody paying 3-7 bucks for any given story I've written deserves to know all this or has a right to it, let alone a moral right in the interest of "customer transparency", as the moderators of the M/M Goodreads Group have claimed, to wild cheering and shows of support.

I believe that the exact geography of my genitals is my – very personal - privacy issue. Once you tell people you're trans*, the next question is about when you'll have the operation. My body then suddenly turns into the gore-encrusted battlefield of somebody else's gender perceptions, like it’s not my body at all, like I no longer have any power over it, and can’t be trusted to shape it when and how I want.

At the end of the day, a trans* person is only seen as valid once their bodies conform to what cisgendered people consider acceptably male or female. If you're not having the operation (because the attempt to make a dick always results in something that most trans* men consider laughably inadequate, let alone somewhat gross-looking) - you're not valid. At the very least, people want to know whether I've started testosterone yet. Which is a question like "do you still beat your wife" - once you step onto that battlefield, you can only lose.

I chose to act as I did not to deceive anybody. I did it to find a way to live in dignity. To not spend most of my time and energy fighting a battle I cannot win. You know, because every hour I spend begging for acceptance - from very often bigoted assholes - is an hour I don't spend writing.

I chose to live as a man over explaining - for the rest of my life - why people should please, please PLEASE "allow" me to be a man, if you please, if it's not too much of an imposition, if that's OK with you, sorry to disturb your ideas of male and female a little, there. There, there, let me be invisible instead so nobody gets their assumptions challenged.

Fuck that.

I'm a proud man, I've fought and worked extremely hard for what I have achieved. I'm not used to asking anybody for their leave to be what I am. I try to act as an ethical person, supporting my male, female, trans* and queer friends, writers or not. My mother taught me to live my life in a way that I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning, every morning. Whether I look in that mirror while shaving should be irrelevant.

I'm not ashamed of myself, or my friends. I don't believe I owe anybody anything. No born and bred male - or what I call "genetic male" - has to explain why he's a man. And no woman has to explain why she's female. It's just us who are questioned, exposed and harassed the moment we show one weakness, and people react shocked and have the BALLS to be OUTRAGED when we, like a hermit crab, desperately scamper to protect our soft bellies?

I've received so many emails - before I made the blog post – about "who or what are you really"? My policy has always been, if somebody asks me, personally, in private, what I am, I do the "bees and flowers" talk. Not because I don't want to lie, but because I believe people that are actually asking might actually want to know. And I have the hope that once everybody knows at least one trans* person, they will stop harassing the others.

Maybe it's time for the T in the alphabet soup to fight for our rights, but maybe it's clearer now why we don't. It's tearing away our passing, it questions the identity we fought so hard - often against physical violence, harassment, bullying, depression, addiction and all-round derision from men and women both - to build and maintain, as we have to, to have even a shot at sanity and happiness.

I've been tempted so often to tell those people "if you need to know the shape of my genitals, you are not my friend". Which is an, I believe, understandable response, but it's also really defensive.

I don't like hurting people like that. I *still* DON'T WANT TO HURT PEOPLE THAT HURT ME, can you imagine?

Sorry for the long, long, LONG diatribe - I want to make sure everybody understands where I'm coming from, my position, my experiences that obviously shape everything I am and how I respond to the threats to my identity. I've never seen myself as an activist or a figurehead.

I've received an email - from a gay guy - telling me "to come out and be done with it". He felt that my refusal to "come out" was the ONLY thing that drove me out of the genre and this way he wouldn’t be robbed of my stories. There it is - a gay guy who mistakes the roles and energies at work in "coming out" and "passing".

No, it's the prospect of being paraded naked in front of the jeering mob. No catharsis for me. No happy rainbow-flag waving gay family to welcome us. No gay identity to claim for us. All we can claim is visible, exposed, naked, soul-crushing Freakhood.

For me, "coming out" is the closest thing to destruction I've come in six years, after I stumbled, blind with tears (and I never cry), away from the London-based trans*men meeting, and considered whether I should just end it all under the Tube train on the way home. Boy, was that tempting.


I'm still not sure how I should - need to - respond to it all. Do we trans* writers NEED a figurehead? Do I owe anybody to come out as a deficient male? Do I have to turn myself into a martyr for the baying mob, just because I'm writing some sexy, plotty stories about how people survive adversity and find love and redemption?

Do I owe it? Do I want to read a hundred comments pouring down the hatred of me and my kind when Dear Author posts "Aleksandr Voinov Comes Out as Trans Writer" [Please, Dear Author people, don’t use the word “she” or “her” when you do. Just this, please?]; do I deserve to be counted among those who are “Faking It” to quote the title of a blog post on Jesse Wave’s m/m review blog? Do I?

I'm not a Trans Writer. I'm somebody who, barely, survived the journey to be male, with most of my dignity intact. I have toughened myself up enough to not flinch anymore at "vicious tranny". Like a young guy who hears "faggot" the first time, "tranny" makes me flinch. But if you keep hearing it, you stop flinching. The vicious thing about such words is that it takes a lot of flinching before you can embrace a word like that.

I don't want to fight. I don't want to spend the next years - or even the rest of my life - explaining over and over why I'm a man and not a defunct female, why I'm a man, not an impostor.

But there are kids in my community – in my true community, my true family. One little guy from Finland whose blog posts (I see them on LJ) are all about how he can't stop vomiting from the stress the community is under. Somebody who clawed his way back to sanity and has repeated told me I’m an “inspiration” and he loves me. Do I owe it to Oleg to "come out"? Should I take the barbs and arrows and poison? Should I, being strong and dignified and, as yet, unbroken, step forward BECAUSE I am strong? Do I owe people a chance to break me, in public, humiliate me and deride my writing as that of an impostor? How many emails will I get that express people's disappointment in my "deceit"? Do I stand even a remote chance to explain all this while keeping my honour and dignity intact?

Those are the main questions right now.

And now that I’ve done it on my blog, will I flinch at "vicious, deceitful tranny" comments or can I take it, chin held high?

And once it's over, can I still open a vein and WRITE FOR THOSE PEOPLE, keep telling that same story of hope and love triumphing over darkness? Can I? Am I strong enough?

And there I thought I could just write stories and entertain people. Tell them about hope, and love, and the amazing resilience of the human spirit. (And people are shocked I might tell those stories to an audience that will not tear me apart for what I am. Silly me, what am I thinking, withholding my only gift and talent from people spending a couple dollars while at the same time feeling entitled to know whether I have ovaries and what exactly I do in bed with my freak body.)

Bottom line - I hope the whole, sordid, undignified, toxic mess has at least led to some people questioning their assumptions about my tribe, my people, my friends and made the world on the whole less hostile for them. But me, I remain here, deeply conflicted. Is this worth the destruction of my identity?

And, will I ever reclaim enough of my dignity to write again with confidence and grace?

Will I?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Monkey has stopped dancing

This morning, I woke up with one decision crystal clear in my head. I've been spending the last three days with my friend R., who was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. We spent the last days talking through some heavy shit at times, about life, how we spend it, and what makes us ill, what keeps us going. What do we live for? We also laughed a lot, which is always a plus.

But this morning I woke up - and I'm quitting. That's the decision. In the last weeks, certain parts of the romance community have taken it upon themselves to harass and bully every trans writer in the m/m genre. People - my friends - have cried bitter tears, others have thrown away half-written or half-outlined stories. Others were so distressed that they have considered suicide.

Basically, I loved that community because it was so "tolerant" and "enlightened". I said that in all the interviews. That I love that sense of community. Never before as a writer have I had such close interactions with readers or bloggers. My interactions were limited to Amazon reviews and a rare email here and there before I became part of the m/m community. Wow, it's been fun. As writing is only a financial side gig for me (it's great when it covers the books I'm buying for research), that sense of community was the main thing I got out of it - something I've only recently realised.

Now that that same community has turned into a bullying, torch and pitchfork wielding mob that harasses my friends to tears, tramples on stories that haven't even been written yet, and drives artists to consider suicide, this is where I draw the line.

The very same community that cried crocodile tears over the "It Gets Better" campaign has now turned into the most vicious lynch mob I've seen in twenty years. Every transphobic asshole out there is having a field day. We'll soon have an Underwear Gestapo, taking monthly blood samples to monitor testosterone levels.

All trans writers I know in the genre are exceedingly distressed over this. My friends ask for their books to be delayed, are considering killing off their fiction writing altogether, because there's a baying mob screaming for blood.

It comes down to this: I don't want to write for bullies, for people driving my friends into considering self-harm. I'm not some monkey that dances when it sees a banana.

Now, I'm afflicted in that I have to write, but I have decided and resolved to put all m/m and gay romances indefinitely on hold.

There. Monkey has stopped dancing.

I will instead return to my roots, writing mainstream fantasy and thrillers and historical novels under a different pseudonym, which is still to be decided, but will not be released to anybody but my closest friends.

What does this mean?

Basically, that's it. As I've started "Dark Soul" and don't want to leave people hanging on the cliffhanger, I'm going to finish the mini-series (another 30-40k words), even though, it must be said, I'm reluctant as all hell about that.

I'm also going to finish a co-written project that my co-writer has committed herself to (because I can't leave *her* hanging), but after that, I'm throwing myself on the tender mercies of the mainstream.

After that, I'm done.

That means no more books in the m/m romance genre. Me and that genre are done, thanks to the nasties, the bullies, the mean assholes, thanks to the torch wielding mob of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group; and people like A.S., the old bitter troll that substitutes hatred and envy for talent and real passion; thanks to everybody who has sent a trans* writer an email demanding a geographic breakdown of their sexual organs because they are entitled to it somehow; thanks to everybody who has cornered and forced ANY writer out there into "admitting" and "telling the truth" and "coming clean".

I can't wait to share my stories with my new readers.

To my readers - I'm sorry, guys. I hope you'll enjoy those stories I'm leaving you. There's plenty talent out there, and I'm sure Riptide will help find you more great talent. I've heard they are good at that. :)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Out of touch for a while

I'll be a little scarcer (read: really scarce) for a while. A close writer friend of mine has been diagnosed with a very aggressive disease, and I'm going to stay with her for a few days (going incommunicado). That it's November doesn't help, or that it's pretty close to the anniversary of my mother's death, sixteen years ago. The Big C really puts everything into perspective - writing, legacy, life and death.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Faber-Castell Ambition mechanical pencil (stupid and shiny)

I have to admit, I spend stupid amounts of money on stationary. Fountain pens, mechanical pencils - if its shiny and pretty and cool, I want it. (I can always justify another purchase - sometimes I buy several, so I can give some away.)

So, today I regained the use of my Faber-Castell "Ambition" stainless steel mechanical pencil. The damn thing is too pretty for its own good. It's sleek, it's solid metal (I do like a pencil with some heft in the heat of the writing battle), it's German precision engineering. I'm a sucker for German/Swiss/Austrian(Czech) brands - Rotring, Pelikan, Faber-Castell, Koh-I-Noor, Lamy. Bring them on, I never had a bad experience with any of them (not that I could ever afford a Faber-Castell pen before).

So, yeah. I bought it as a "pick me up" at the pen shop in Heathrow when I flew out to Chicago, and it wasn't THAT expensive. I counted it towards my Christmas presents last year. (Yes, I'm justifying spending a small nation's GDP on what's basically a stupidly pretty mechanical PENCIL).

Anyway, as if to punish me for this act of conspicuous consumption, the bleeding thing broke only after a few months. I didn't actually *do* much to it, I wrote a little with it and otherwise kept it in a leather wallet. Hardly extreme sports in the Sahara fending off a rebel insurgency with just a pen for a weapon to block bullets.

Now what makes that pencil so stylish is that a twist of the cap pushes the mine out. Simple, elegant, genius. Until it breaks. Then the genius design falls flat on its bottom: you can't open the thing, you can't jiggle parts around until they fit and work again.

So I had to hand it in to a specialist pen shop (same chain I bought it from in the first place). They sent it to Germany (I assume changing a small broken spring exceeded any British engineering skills that are left in the country?) - which took eight weeks (they must have shipped it by coughing decrepit donkey mail).

Eight weeks and £10 later (which would have bought me 40 plastic mechanical pencils - enough even for this productive writer to stomach some losses), the pen has returned - that is, I picked it up a few hours ago.

It's sitting right next to me, looking stupidly shiny and elegant again, saying "Trust me. I won't break again. It was probably your own fault anyway. Love me again."

But I feel the shine is off. I don't quite trust it. It's let me down before - it might again. What happens if I'm in the middle of a brilliant sentence and the pen breaks again and I'm losing my train of thought? How can I ever trust you again, Faber-Castell, if I have to keep a 25-cents pencil ready whenever I use the "Ambition" to write a sentence, just in case?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

"Counterpunch" edits - done

Ten days later - and I'm done with "Counterpunch", which received a pretty good scrubbing in the meantime. I've cut the lazy writing, sharpened my structure, fixed some factual mistakes (these days, all writers have to do their own fact-checking anyway), and cut all the flourishes and self-indulgence that added nothing to the book.

Which now means I'm trashing my print-outs, my notes and re-shelf my books on boxing. Clean up my work area and thus clear my mind of the book and characters. And then I'll sit down in a corner, cradle my hurting brain and whimper softly. (Editing a book means you have to carry the whole thing in your head and remember everything, because nobody else will ever point out the small issues and mistakes, and nobody takes ownership of this, so, essentially, this final edit is very much the writer's obligation, and wow, but it's hard work.)

Editing, I've heard it said, is the punishment for writing.

But holding the book like that, and having done my research and my fact check, I have ideas for a sequel, possibly. There's some intriguing possibilities with the characters, and another character who can mess it all up.

However, it's all up in the sky right now. I'll need to clear my head now, do nothing writing-related for a couple days (I'm thinking I'll play "Gears of War" pts. 1 and 2 to celebrate the launch of "Gears of War 3" NEXT FRIDAY!!!), then do the sanity and typo check on two novels of two friends - both urgent, both great novels.

After that, I'll write my half of "Lion of Kent 2" (which involves a metric fuckton of research) for Carina Press (hopefully), and hope to close 2011 with that.

In terms of novels, I'll dedicate 2012 entirely to WWII - both novels need to get going again or I'll lose the characters, but the research is intimidating to say the least. Twelve months for two historical novels and around 50 books of research sound about right.

After all the books written this year, I'm looking forward to taking things down a notch. Writing novels in 6-8 weeks is completely insane. I simply can't do it. I dig in too deep, deal with pretty complex things and I can't do that in 6-8 weeks. I'll need some time to find my equilibrium, so I'd say 2012 will be a "slow" year, and I'll definitely try to do some travelling, too after staying at home in 2011.

So, yep. Mission Accomplished. Now relaxing.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Counterpunch edits

I got the edits for "Counterpunch" yesterday, which all seem relatively minor--a couple typos, passages where the rhythm is off, house style things and that's pretty much it (I guess I'm just a clean writer overall, and "Counterpunch" has come out pretty clean overall). So that could be easy, right? Err, no. I've recently been on a bit of a "trip to the past" with regards to my style, which tends to mean paring the fluff down even more, using a tighter POV and overall better structure.

Which means, knives are out and I'm giving this book the full treatment once I have a moment. (Work at work is crazy. We're again under strength, thanks to holidays and people leaving. Which is somewhat unfortunate in terms of timing.) The biggest decision I have to make is how to deal with any potential connected work.

Right now, there are a couple "missing scenes" from "Counterpunch" that would make a good addition to the book. Originally, I was hoping to write a related project (possibly a novella), this month, but I don't think I can fit it in. I'm also thinking that that novella might actually belong to a potential sequel or might stand completely on its own. The main issue is, the novella puts everything that happened in "Counterpunch" into a completely different light, and it seems wrong to simply deliver that like an afterthought. So, potentially, that idea might be large, it might start where "Counterpunch" ends, and I'm running out of time on the "Lion" sequel and a number other projects.

A couple days ago, a good friend told me she has an aggressive cancer, which in many ways brings home mortality (apart from all the other emotions that I can't speak about--least of all in public. That's stuff that I need to work through on my own, really). From my family history, I have a good chance to get cancer, too, so at least I have a fair idea how I'm going to end.

As a writer, it made me think of all the books I really want to write. It's that old mind-game: If you only had a year to live, what would you write?

In my case, that's "finishing Dark Soul" (a project that's ~20 years old), "Lion 2", and the two WWII novels. So that's basically what I'm going to do, before I think about any short stories, novellas or sequels to anything else. The WWII novels especially have been heavy on my brain, so I'll focus on those for the rest of the year and likely all of 2012.

2011 has been an insanely productive period, but part of me thinks "stop messing around" - it's like I'm running to all these other projects largely because I'm scared as hell to mess up the historicals. I'm scared witless of getting any of that stuff wrong. It's time to turn around and face that particular tiger.

I have that one short story to write and "Counterpunch" to edit, and then I'll tackle those three books. It might even mean that that's all that's coming out in 2012 or even in 2013, but I'm OK with that. If I still have time to play, I'm sure I'll find some projects to fill up the rest of the schedule.

Friday, 2 September 2011

More scarce

Several of my people have asked whether I'm OK - so I'm just quickly writing that, yup, I am.

I'm just busy, doing dozen of hours of developmental edits and spending the rest of the time not socializing - I've even left my RL writing group, hard as it was, but I simply wasn't contributing the level of critique that would have been helpful - and the remaining time goes toward getting some writing in.

I've found the time to re-read the Two Birds book and the good news is that the writing's pretty good. It'll need some editing, but we have a pretty solid piece so far. Certainly not the worst thing I've ever written, which is something. The *bad news* is that I've forgotten the rest of the plot. I barely know what happens *now*, but after that I'm drawing blanks - and I had a full plot, I'm pretty sure of that. So, yeah, apparently two months or so is enough to forget a plot. Those were two busy months, but, still.

So, as the saying goes, if you don't hear anything from me, I'm writing. I've also started watching "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman, which, when I tried it many moons ago, didn't do much for me. Now that I know London, however, that's very different. I'm enjoying the insider jokes. Two episodes down, four more to go over the weekend.

Starting on Monday, I'm expecting the edits back for "Counterpunch", and that means more work and a whole LOT more work to turn this around for release. It's OK, it's a good book and I don't expect it to give me any trouble. And while I hope that the editor did more to it than fix a couple wonky commas, I am hoping there won't be huge rewrites.

Chances are, I'll be a bit scarce on the ground this month, as I try to put at least a historical novel and "Counterpunch" to bed. But autumn is the time to slow down, take stock and make the house ready for winter.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Launch day: "Dark Edge of Honor"

It's finally, FINALLY out. "Dark Edge of Honor", co-written by Rhianon Etzweiler and yours truly, is finally available here.
(It's also available elsewhere, but this is where we get paid substantially more than, say, from Amazon.)


Sergei Stolkov is a faithful officer, though his deepest desires go against the Doctrine. A captain with the invading Coalition forces, he believes that self-sacrifice is the most heroic act and his own needs are only valid if they serve the state.

Mike, an operative planted within Cirokko's rebels, has been ordered to seduce Sergei and pry from him the Coalition's military secrets. His mission is a success, but as he captures Sergei's heart, Mike is tempted by his own charade and falls in love.

When the hostile natives of the planet Cirokko make their move, all seems lost. Can Mike and Sergei survive when the Coalition's internal affairs division takes an interest in what happened in the dusty mountains of Zasidka Pass...?

Amara of course has the skinny. She also has a giveaway here.

And an excerpt about Mike.

And a deleted sex scene. (Yes, we cut some sex... but we're keeping the goodness around for moments like this.)

So this is where you can join the fun. There will also be interviews and more deleted scenes.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots in London, or #LondonRiots

Last night, some people tweeted me whether I was ok - apparently there was rioting going on in London. I told them that I was fine and way, way removed from the violence in what I thought was only London Proper (I'm living in a commuter city just outside) and that, besides, my city is so sleepy and frankly rich - I call it "pork belly town" in my less charitable moments - there would be no rioting.

Chuckling a little to myself about the over-cautious, but very sweet attitude from my friends, I stood at the train station, grabbing my coffee and breakfast, when a visibly tired guy with tattoos on his arms - think type firefighter/battle-hardened copper - ordered TWO large coffees for himself, saying "what a night".

Curious as I am, I asked him what had gone on, and he said "The riots. They trashed the High Street." (To my US friends, "the High Street" is the quivalent of the "Main Street" - basically the main shopping street).

So, yeah, the riots happened in my city, too. I'm about ten minutes' drive away from the area, in a sleepy, very suburban area with terraced houses, which all look exactly the same. There's protection in uniformity, I guess.

So, looking at the news reports, I'm not surprised. Croydon and Lewisham - where the violence started and then washed into "my city" are deprived areas. I feel unbelievably queasy in both cities, and that lingering feeling of discontent and... coarseness, for want of a better word, has kept me away from the area ever since. The joke is that the only reason to go to Croydon - origin of trashy fake blondes and a weird, coke-snorting supermodel - is the IKEA store.

Lewisham has an excellent Indian restaurant, but the restaurant is in an area so ugly and down-and-out that basically, you want to go there in a largish group, ideally all male, and get the hell out of the area when it gets dark.

Now, I've lived in a socially deprived area. For 27 years of my life, I've lived in social, government-subsidised housing, but not once have I felt threatened there. I don't feel threatened even now - I have a very good sense of location and can usually tell well in advance if there's a threat anywhere. I'm good at judging moods. Both Lewisham and Croydon give me the creeps in a "I don't want to be here" kind of way.

My sensibilities are very much middle-class - but I'm a "kid made good" story. I come from those areas. I got educated, I worked hard, I left my "social class" and became very much middle-of-the-road middle class, with a little house and a little garden and a little pension, and a little business, and little aspirations to just get "more" of all the good stuff I have and generally be a nice, upstanding member of society. On the other hand, I do understand that same anger. If my life hadn't worked out, I could be there, throwing stones and torching police cars.

Britain has some huge social issues going on - the mobs of violent youths roaming the streets at night can only be understood if you've read Clockwork Orange. Youth violence is something Britain has just got used to, and it's frankly scary. I *like* staying a home, writing, but if I didn't, I'd stay home because the streets aren't safe, they don't feel safe, and I just dislike drunken people throwing bottles and shouting obscenities, only interrupted by them vomiting their cheap beer everywhere.

There are things I miss about Germany.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Coming up for air

In the last few weeks, I've been working on the "Dark" project, which comprises a number of short stories that are all linked by one character and all of them focus on one aspect of that character.

Yesterday, I completed the fifth story, called "Dark Lady", which is the natural end-point to one of the Big Archs I had in mind when I began exploring this. So, as it stands, I have 5 stories, ranging between around 5k and 12k in length, with a total wordcount of just under 40k - that's 2/3 of a novel.

There are a couple more stories, of course, so right now this feels like around 7-8 stories in total, grouped together in pairs and triplets for added structure. The last part (stories 7 and 8) are still missing, but I have their titles and will play with them over the next few weeks, hopefully completing the whole "Dark" project in the very foreseeable future. Then it'll need tweaking and editing and publication, of course. Right now, I'm pretty damn smug about this project - as smug as you can be when emotionally drained.

I'm also trying to help a friend sell her book, so I'm making phone calls and sending partials to agents in the UK. Just a day in the life, but at least it's a holiday, since I've taken the day off work to recover and regroup.

So, what now? There's a project that demands urgent closure before I lose the characters (yes, I can lose characters). I've promised some short stories and potentially a short novella tied into "Counterpunch", so I better get cracking on that. I'd absolutely love writing something for the current Samhain Publishing submission calls, but I have to step away from that, telling myself I have no time whatsoever for *additional* books.

Then there's the "Lion of Kent" sequel, and the "Dark Edge of Honor"-related novella, and the "Two Birds" book, and, of course, the most serious and slowest of all, the original WWII novel.

I'm hoping to get through some of them before the year's up. Sometimes I look at the list of stories I have to write and despair. It feels like there's just no chance in hell to finish all that in a lifetime, let alone a eighteen months or so. Worst is probably that people are waiting for me to join them or re-join them on some of these, and I'm already working hard and can't clone myself, and then I get my own books thrown at me by the muse, just like the "Dark" project.

I'll get there. One step after the other. Too many projects is - so much - better than being blocked.

Now starting on the "Counterpunch" shorts.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Dark Edge of Honor - the "Sergei type"

I've been wrapped up completely in a super-secret little project that is a lot of fun, too. And as it goes when you're having fun, time flies. It's already August, and I do wonder where the previous seven months went.

One of the things I did this year was edit/rewrite Rhianon Etzweiler's and mine "Dark Edge of Honor", which is our military gay sci-fi romance/thriller.

Here's the blurb:

Sergei Stolkov is a faithful officer, though his deepest desires go against the Doctrine. A captain with the invading Coalition forces, he believes that self-sacrifice is the most heroic act and his own needs are only valid if they serve the state.

Mike, an operative planted within Cirokko's rebels, has been ordered to seduce Sergei and pry from him the Coalition's military secrets. His mission is a success, but as he captures Sergei's heart, Mike is tempted by his own charade and falls in love.

When the hostile natives of the planet Cirokko make their move, all seems lost. Can Mike and Sergei survive when the Coalition's internal affairs division takes an interest in what happened in the dusty mountains of Zasidka Pass...?

It's a sizeable novel at 96k (and you can pre-order it here), and it presents a different version of one my favourite characters ever.

See, Vadim Krasnorada of the epic Special Forces series began as a paratrooper character named Sergei, back in 1995, when I wrote one of my first stories with explicit sex. Sergei burst onto the stage, scarred, messed up, clearly traumatized, and in that story I killed him in a restroom in Frankfurt, protecting a man who was most definitely not worth it.

The character has haunted me since then. I call him the "Sergei type", and he feels like somebody I know incredibly well. I used the character in many ways and incarnations. One of my print-published novels was about another "Sergei", in this case, however, he chose love and life rather than death. The main difference? This Sergei was less giving and more taking - but just as stoic as the first one.

One short story and one novel in, I still hadn't exorcised the "Sergei type". There was still stuff to talk about, still things he'd do and I found interesting. When the time came again that I needed a character to write something, I examined the character again and decided to use the "Sergei type" again - but this time, I'd make him a "golden boy", somebody special and admired (the other two Sergeis never were). I also made him very, very intelligent and pretty educated (the other Sergeis weren't - I'd assume one of them was almost illiterate).

That way, Vadim Krasnorada was born, probably one of my favourite characters. The rest is history - one million words of "Special Forces", all free here.

Yet, I *still* wasn't done. In "Special Forces", Vadim is about thirty, and he's already a tough bastard with combat experience and a lot of experienced that have hardened him against the world. He's also aware he's gay, and he's forcing other men to submit to him. He'd an institutionalised rapist when we meet him.

Yet, throughout the book, there's the hint of a different Vadim. One who's softer, more idealistic, who wants to believe in Communism and is all bright-eyed and idealistic. I do love writing idealists, and I do love the conflict between an ideology (any ideology - religion or political identity) and the individual. I can't stay away from exploring themes of honor, identity, duty, and I assume I'll do that for the rest of my creative life.

In short, there was no space to explore Vadim's younger years, his idealism and honor, his struggle with the political system he'd been born into. I wanted to explore those bits of the "Sergei type" - how do we mature and how do we become the people we are?

So, I teamed up with Rhianon Etzweiler (who was starting work on a military novel) and pitched her this idea. She welcomed me as a co-writer, and I brought the "Sergei type", now just "Sergei" - this time young, idealistic, very much still discovering who he is - while she brought Mike.

And this is how "Dark Edge of Honor" was born. I hope you enjoy it.