Friday, 27 June 2014

Gainful employment

A couple days ago, a headhunter sent me a job spec, and while it's journalism, it pays a lot more like editing for banks, at which point I'm game (yeah, I'm a bit of a mercenary when it comes to my time). Had the interview two days ago, which went well, did their job test yesterday, and that went well too. Sent it to them at about 17:00, and got a call from the headhunter this morning at 10:00, telling me they loved my responses and he expects them to offer or ask me to a second-round interview. And about an hour later he calls me telling me they offered and I must have blown them away during the interview because they saw a million people and getting the job offered after one interview is extremely rare.

So basically I'm just waiting for the details on the benefits package, but the one thing I asked for in negotiations was that I can work from home one day a week, which they gave me, so I expect my stress levels to be manageable overall.

I was quite torn whether I'd take the job, but on the pro side, I'd be a LOT less poor and the house would get paid off in a few years, which is my main financial cost. I'll also be able to refill my war chest and build up reserves for the day when I will quit the rat race. And I can afford a couple operations/teeth-related things I want to get done, as well as writing-related stuff like conferences. On the con side, I'll have a lot less time for my change in career and writing. On the pro side again, I'll have to rely less on being able to write stuff that's expected to sell, so I can write more non-commercial books without committing financial suicide or having to worry about yield. I'll even be able to hire pro editors at their pro rates to build up a self-publishing backlist that will feed me in my old age.

Basically, I'm in a good position. Moreover, it's a good company with good people and an interesting challenge. Essentially, I'm re-animating a title that's in stasis, hire a team to support me and do quite a bit of writing features/news as well as strategic planning. Those were the bits I've always loved, just this time I'm properly paid and supported, unlike in the other places where I was supposed to spin gold from nothing, despite not actually being a miracle-worker.

So, yeah, back in the office from 7th July. My bank account is breathing a sigh of relief.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Personal demons and exorcism success

Over the last year or maybe a little longer, I've had some interesting conversations with people, which tied into some reviews I've read. People feel I'm becoming "lighter". Less darkness. More hope. More fun, I guess.

I think it's mostly been raised by people who've read Special Forces and then cast about in my work and can't find anything nearly as dark or violent. (Though I think Dark Edge of Honor at least has a very similar mood.) Special Forces branded me as a "dark" author, and compared to the mainstream of GLBTQ romance, I'm possibly darker than most--mostly because I really don't shy away from hurting and testing my characters if necessary (Dark Soul), or write about war (Unhinge the Universe) or excruciating personal journeys (Capture and Surrender).

If I'm doing a very quick count of "light" reads versus "dark" reads, I think I come out at about 50:50--most of the Market Garden books are light, and my co-writes tend to be lighter than what I'm doing on my own (with the exception of Dark Edge of Honor again).

I'm starting to think that some of the secret behind Gold Digger selling so little is that it's a lighter read. Special Forces was non-stop intense and dark and in many ways horrid, whereas Gold Digger shifts gears in a major way and is an uncomplicated romance between two grown-ups who own their issues and resolve them with their resources available. It's a pretty quiet story--no rape, mass graves or torture. Since it's an early-ish book, it kind of went "against type".

People looking for the very dark fix won't get it there. I've seen people look for the very dark fix in the Memory of Scorpions series, too, and while I consider it gritty and dark-ish, it's nowhere near as dark as Special Forces. I do have a couple dark, soul-searching books in my head, and most of them are focused in one way or another on WWII (because, let's face it, it's not the happiest period of human history), but I'll never write anything as dark as Special Forces again. (He said, knowing that the Muse laughs at intentions.) That is, barring major life disasters.

Because that's the well of darkness, where I get the dark water. When I write dark stories, I go to the dark place. I've written some of my darkest stuff while imprisoned in darkness, with exactly two options: kill myself or write. What people read, years later, is me screaming on paper. I've "joked" at times that the only reason why I survived a really dark period in my life is that my characters were telling me that I can't kill myself before I haven't written their story. (Silvio, above all.)

I won't go into the details--what caused it and how I got through it--it's all identity stuff, and as I type this, there is no negative charge attached to it. I'm writing this dispassionately.

As I get older and more at peace with myself, let alone with my life pretty much in place as I want it (minor tweaks are being made), I've exhausted the dark water. At 39, I'm saner and happier than I've ever been in my life. (Saner on a writer-adjusted scale.) If I really tried, I could dig for it, and might be able to get a trickle, or tune into the depression and suicidal thoughts, but that's no longer where my characters dwell, either. They are less concerned with survival against all odds and more about how to live their lives and how to deal with love. I consider this a successful exorcism of my personal demons.

My stories have shifted with my characters. I'm much more concerned with questions regarding power/personal integrity (Scorpion/Return on Investment) and authenticity (Hostile Ground) and forgiveness and guilt (upcoming work). That's not an excuse, just an observation. Usually, it takes me months to realise what any of my works is actually about.

And that's the thing, I can only write what I feel. I still dig deep into the characters, I still test them and sometimes I break them, but the mind that is processing these things has changed in a major way in the last ten years or so. For me, that's a good thing--I actually look forward to a long happy healthy life as opposed to being a tortured genius and dead at 29. (I missed that train anyway.)

So, yeah. Long way of saying, I'm now a happier human being with much more of an appreciation of other human beings, and while I dig deep and don't flinch at whatever I find inside a character, I've run out of darkness. Maybe it was "darkness for darkness's sake", or maybe it was because I had very little light to see a way out of it--darkness as the absence of, the inability to imagine, light.

I know that some readers crave the dark dark DARK stuff, and that's cool. Gods know I did at certain points in my life. There's nothing wrong with it, and I have friends who do an amazing job testing the darkness, and all kudos to them. For me, I think that period in my life is over, and has been for quite a while, and of course that reflects in what I write and how I write. And that's great. I take evolution over being ossified any day.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Return on Investment update

I've devoted the last week to wrapping up Return on Investment, which meant three more passes through the manuscript. Two of those were feedback passes from friends, one was an editing pass from an editor. I let it rest for a couple days in between, then went through the manuscript line by line and cross-checked everything - locations, names, British versus American spellings, the works. I can reliably do about 30,000 words of that kind of self-editing per day, a little more if I'm editing somebody else's works. (Once, for a panicked friend, I did 60,000 words in a day, but that's inviting a headache.)

So that were pretty intense three days, but I sent it back to the editor last night, to just check the bits I changed (and tracked). I've lined up the layouter and cover artist for, well, layout, and a couple promotional banners and such, so all that might happen this week, provided the editor has time to do this step soon. No pressure. We don't have a release date yet, but late June/early July seems likely at this stage.

I've also considered pricing and distribution, and I'm going with an Amazon-only release, as the advantages by far outweigh the disadvantages for me. If you are one of the people who won't buy from Amazon or prefer other formats/shapes of the book, email me (vashtan @ gmail com), and we'll work something out. While ARe is important for romances, Return on Investment isn't a romance in the narrow sense, so I don't expect to see many sales through there. Most of all, I'm aiming for simplicity - I don't like bookkeeping at the best of times, and keeping track of payments (some of them pennies) from a million different sources  means I'll have to hire in my accountant to sort this stuff out. I need to find the balance between customer service and interfering with my writing time and productivity. (One of the nice things about only being with a small number of publishers? Easier bookkeeping.) But, as I said, if you want to buy the book from me direct, let me know. I'm even looking into direct sales from my website.

I'm now in the post-novel stage where I clean up my general working environment/study and coral all the papers and issues that require my attention in some way and that I have simply let pile up while away in Storyland. So I'm shredding paper, filing stuff, and making a list of priorities - whom to pay, what to decide, whom to call. I also have two little packets that need posting. All of this helps me clear my head, if nothing else.

The next step is to decide what to do next. The big project obviously is Suckerpunch (which I've neglected, but I really only manage to deal with one solo book at a time, and Return on Investment was important, too). And there are two small projects - a re-edit of Deliverance and the German translation of Skybound - that I want to do this month. And there's wrapping up the sequel to No Distance Left To Run with Lori that has to happen before 1 July. I'm also expecting edits for the re-issued Counterpunch any day now.

So yeah. Happy and productive. :)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Update on current WIPs and life

LA Witt is currently at Heathrow and boarding--she stayed with me for three weeks and we used the time well to travel short distance (Brighton, Rochester, Bristol), do cultural stuff (Viking exhibition at the British Museum) and meet lots of friends and writers, because we were both pretty exhausted overall (LA more than me, but she's also working harder), and that's what I do when my brain's running empty. We went to the queer book club meeting, too, and obviously attended the UKMeet in Bristol.

So apart from 20k on a shared book, we didn't get a whole lot done, admittedly, but all we need is maybe 5-7 days to wrap up the shared project once Lori's recovered from going across the Atlantic, so that book will happen before the month is up.

In terms of novels, A Taste of Poison has gone through the next editing step and I'm now awaiting the verdict from the proofer/s. Meanwhile, I got another set of edits on Return on Investment (pretty heavy ones), and need to go through the whole monster another time to do another fact check against some comments from a friend who's worked in the same field. I'll likely obscure some firms/facts, too, just to be safe. I fully expect to be done with Return on Investment by the end of the month. Then things very much depend on layouters and converters.

Other than that, not much to report - I'm studying for my anatomy & physiology exam and re-reading some of my old books (Incursion and Dark Soul). Hoping to type up the notes I've used for the keynote speech in Bristol (people have been asking for them), and getting back in control of my inbox. Highlights of Bristol include meeting people, listening to LA Witt doing her stand-up comedy routine, an OCD Cobb salad (ingredients were sorted by colour) and getting fan-art for Unhinge the Universe and Skybound.

Life's good.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Return on Investment blurb

Here's my blurb for my (to be) self-published novel Return on Investment: 

Martin David, an eager but inexperienced financial analyst, is the newest member of the investment team at Skeiron Capital Partners in London. His boss is an avowed financial genius, but he’s also overbearing and intense. Despite his erratic behaviour, Martin can’t help being drawn to him both professionally and personally.

Too bad his boss doesn’t seem to feel the same. In a firm where pedigree and connections mean far more than Martin’s newly-minted business degree, Martin feels desperately inadequate—at least until he meets the enigmatic investment manager Alec Berger, who promises to help Martin establish himself in the financial community. Martin is so charmed by Alec’s sophistication and wit that he gives him data that should have stayed confidential.

Then the financial crisis hits. Banks burn, companies teeter on the brink, and Skeiron’s survival is at stake. Martin is pushed into the middle of the fight for Skeiron—against both the tanking economy and a ruthless enemy who’s stepped out of the shadows to collect the spoils.

Return on Investment is the new gay financial thriller from EPIC Award winner and Lambda Award finalist Aleksandr Voinov.