Sunday at the Spy Museum

GuideOn Sunday, the day after OutWrite DC, which we’ll write about later, Racheline and I and our partners (who were very game) trekked downtown to the Spy Museum, because we are the kind of nerds who need to research outlandish gadgets for our spy novels. Have we mentioned we’re writing a spy novel? Because we absolutely are.

SPY SCHOOL

I don’t think either of us expected to enjoy it as much as we did. Mostly, we thought we’d wander around, get inspirations for our fictional spy technology, and try not to annoy our partners by talking about our spy dudes completely obsessively. Instead we ended up getting really into the whole “Choose and act out your cover!” activities the museum has going and taking eight zillion pictures not just of awesome gadgets (Button cameras: they do exist) but of displays about the life and times of actual spies.

An actual Enigma machine. I may have made a noise.

Also Racheline crawled through ductwork on a “mission,” because she is very dedicated. I did not, because I got really distracted by a display on bugs.

What really surprised us was how absolutely ridiculous actual spy technology was in the pre-microchip era. Not only were there button cameras, there was the fake tree stump in which Americans planted a camera in the woods to spy on the Russians. There was also the cyanide-pill-glasses and the umbrella gun, which made us very happy.

Moscow RulesThere was a tonal atmosphere that we didn’t expect and that we enjoyed very much; one of sheer creativity and excitement to do the ridiculous thing and to do the ridiculous thing better than the other guy. And in counterpoint to that, the museum spends a lot of time talking about the consequences of being a spy — not just the consequences of getting caught, but of the isolation and paranoia that ultimately dominate the life of a spy. Which, because we love writing gritty things and real consequences, we were all over.

SweetheartsOften, Racheline and I will look at a thing and say “We want to write a story about that.” Less often do we make that decision, and then find some other thing that a) Corrects our own misconceptions about the thing and b) Shows us that the thing is even cooler, and even more up our alley, than we initially thought. Because the umbrella thing isn’t just our stupid favorite prop from Kingsman; it’s an actual thing that actually existed, because someone said “That’s a good idea” and then made it happen. And that’s the kind of creative joy that we are here for.

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Cover Reveal: Circling Back, by Amanda Young

Today we’re pleased to have Amanda Young here on the blog, with the cover reveal of her new M/M/F erotic romance book, which is out on August 10.

Circling Back 500x750

A second chance is only the beginning…

Stella fled home at seventeen with a broken heart, an unplanned pregnancy, and a vow never to look back. Twenty years later, she has a career she enjoys and a solid relationship with the child she placed for open adoption. When that child goes in search of her birth father and calls for assistance, Stella is forced to return to her hometown and face the men who broke her heart, one of whom fathered her child.

Gavin and Holden raised a lot of hell as teenagers. They broke the law, broke their mother’s hearts, and almost broke each other before they finally got their act together. Through all the ups and downs, they stuck by each other and managed to build a happy life together. The one thing they couldn’t do was forget the woman they’d loved and lost.

Forced to face the past and each other after so many years is no small feat. The trio does their best to make amends and put the past behind them while forging new bonds. Old feelings are rekindled and new emotions emerge from the ashes of their youthful indiscretions. Something remarkable could be on the horizon if they’re strong enough to navigate the pitfalls of a triad relationship and stand strong against the outside forces conspiring to bring them to their knees.

To celebrate the new artwork for Circling Back, Amanda is offering a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky reader. Just enter using the Rafflecopter below and the winner will be notified by email on August 5th.

Rafflecopter code: a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Reality is usually the thing outside the frame

FullSizeRender (5)Lately, I’ve developed a pretty intense Instagram habit.  While it seems silly to take photography done from a cell phone camera and routed through any number of pre-set filters seriously, I’m sort of really into it.  Photography is a thing I dig because of how it’s a form of pattern recognition used to freeze a moment and evoke an emotional response.

The thing about Instagram — and Pinterest or Tumblr or Facebook or any platform people use to visually documents their own lives — is that it becomes very easy to make your life look perfect.  Today I zoomed in on a piece of gluten-free cinnamon cake so you couldn’t tell it got smushed at the bottom of my partner’s messenger bag and then stuck in the freezer for a few days.  Last night, I posted an absurd picture of our black cat Smudge as if I’d failed at taking her photo in a hipsterish and intentional way. Nope, that was really the best I could do.

Like everything else I do online, Instagram is a very specific curation of my life, and one that can give a lot of false impressions.  It’s a highlights reel, not a collection of outtakes. One that suggests I’m possibly a trendsetting world-traveler who cares about living a healthy lifestyle as opposed to a chick with a genetic disease who really likes cake and is terrified of flying.  Also the black cat is an unsightly drooler.

But how is all of this relevant to the writing?  Well, because it’s sort of exactly the same. If you follow this blog you see the stories we’re excited about, the things we’ve sold, and the events we go to.  You don’t see the thing we’ve revised 27 times, the project we’re desperate to write but don’t have time to, the industry shenanigans that make us privately holler with rage, the struggle to write when it’s 97 degrees outside and my laptop battery is trying to burn my thighs, or the fact that the unsightly drooling cat tends to need my attention at the most narratively pivotal moments.

In the face of that reality, as a writer and an Instagram user, curating my life is often the sort of thing that keeps me from curling up in despair. But it’s also important for me not to drink the Kool-Aid, about my own curated life or about anyone else’s.

If you’re struggling to make words and/or get yesses — and we all are at least some days and probably most days — you might want to take time to remember what everyone else tends to cut out of the frame. Or how totally awesome your life looks to other people with just a hint of curation.

(Want to follow my instagram?  It’s mostly food, cat pictures, and cemeteries and you can find it at https://instagram.com/rachelinem/)

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This weekend: OutWrite LGBT Book Festival in Washington DC!

outwriteOn Saturday, August 1, Erin & I will be vending at the OutWrite Book Festival in Washington DC. As someone who went to university in DC and worked at the now defunct, but completely legendary LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising, I’m super excited to be a queer author with queer books to sell in DC this coming weekend.

The book fair is actually part of a two-day celebration of LGBTQ lit by The DC Center. Readings, workshops, and more will be happening from July 31 – August 1. One our of publishers, Dreamspinner Press is a Silver Sponsor of the event, and we’ll be there with paperbacks of our Torquere Press titles (the Love in Los Angeles series and more) and swag, as well as anthologies from Cleis and Zumaya that we’re in. If you would also like me to have any of my pop-culture books on hand, please send up a flare.

If you’re in the DC area on August 1, please come say hi. We love to meet our readers, and the event is free!

OutWrite Book Fair
August 1, 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM
The DC Center
2000 14th Street NW
Washington DC

Also, please stay tuned as we finalize the last of our 2015 appearances, which currently look likely to include New York City, and Denver, CO.

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Coming Soon: Sample and Hold

firsttimersOn August 12th, we’ll actually have two new releases — Twelfth Night (Love’s Labours 2) from Dreamspinner Press and “Sample and Hold” as both an individual title and part of the First Timers anthology from Torquere Press. The full anthology will be available in both ebook and paperback formats.

Set in Nashville, “Sample and Hold” is a 3,400 word m/m erotic romance about about a topic we can never resist — the moment before someone’s life changes forever.

Nate may have a crossover hit with his first single, but he’s also a 19-year-old virgin who’s about to come out in Rolling Stone. But when Carson, the cocky sound engineer who’s helped put him on the map issues one more challenge, Nate sees an opportunity he can’t refuse.

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Why universal adjunct hell?

ylohBeing an adjunct professor, as Carl and the three other professors he shares an office with are, is kind of a pit. They work insanely long hours, teaching and grading, before they even get to spend time on their own research. It’s a largely thankless job, and it pays miserably. And they rarely get the opportunity for a tenure-track job, like the one Carl has — we’ve fudged that a little.

In our short story, Carl, our protagonist, is trying to navigate a relationship with Phil — who is both Carl’s student, and nearly two decades older than Carl — while navigating his own prospects for tenure. Just before the story opens, Carl’s had his tenure hearing before his faculty committee, and is now just waiting, impatiently and increasingly frantically, for word on whether he has tenure — and a job — or not.

But in the world of academia, in the US at least, a career spent as an adjunct, without ever getting the opportunity for tenure — i.e., adjunct hell — is an increasing reality for post-doctoral students. And the trials and tribulations of that life — the misery of the hours, the frustration of the bureaucracy, the annoyance of the really obnoxious libertarian Carl’s forced to share an office with — makes for a good backdrop on which to paint our story of May/December relationships, and highly dubious professional choices.

Read the full post.

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RainbowCon Roundup!

RainbowConErin and I are just back from RainbowCon and trying to catch up with everything in the many lives that we both live.  But I wanted to get down some quick thoughts about what we learned from the event, while they were still relatively fresh in our heads.

1. Everyone wants to be welcoming — not everyone knows how.  That’s okay. This is basically what it says on the tin, and is directed at me as much as anyone else.  Connecting with pre-existing communities is hard. Letting people into pre-existing communities is hard.  This went for the con, where it often seemed like everyone already knew each other, and our own little group of friends and partners.

2. We have got to talk about this penetration problem. Quite by accident, Erin and I both read passages at our Naughty Bedtime Stories readings that didn’t contain penetration.  And we were the only two readers to do that.  Now, don’t get us wrong, we write a lot of penetration.  I, for one, will totally confess to loving to write characters who love to bottom.  But we work really hard not to do that all the time and not all of our books and stories contain penetrative sex.

Penetration isn’t inherently more meaningful than other sex acts.  And it’s not more popular.  Anal sex does not equal gay sex and gay sex does not equal anal sex, and if you use the phrase “real sex” to mean penetrative sex involving individuals of any gender, I would ask you to rethink that.  Talking to Anastasia Vitsky revealed this is an issue in F/F fiction too.

This isn’t a “don’t find this hot” plea, but rather a “can we shake it up and eroticize more things while also not making declarations about what’s ‘real’ sex that can be hurtful to real people?” thing.

3. Swag is super cool, but I am not sure it matters in the end. Lots of people brought incredibly cool giveaways designed to get people’s interest, start conversations, and retain their attention, but I was overwhelmed by the stuff I needed to bring home, the stuff I didn’t feel good about throwing away, the stuff I didn’t need cluttering my apartment, and a general sense of horror at the environmental impact.

And look, we have swag. We have tons of postcards. We have our Love in Los Angeles silicon bracelets. We have some other fun stuff we want to do.  But I really left RainbowCon second guessing a lot of that, and feeling good about that second guessing. Everything we produce now I really want to think about very intensely in terms of whether they are useful, memorable, practical, and degradable. I think very little of the swag any of us are producing is really hitting all the metrics it could.

rainbowconbookfair

4. On the continuing issue of paperback demand. From the beginning people have told me people don’t buy paperbacks in this genre.  I have largely not had this experience, selling well at a number of events. This was the first time that paperbacks didn’t sell well for us. We did have some sales, and our digital numbers were fantastic during and after con, but we brought too much stuff on the plane.  There’s a real difference I’ve found in how people buy paperbacks in the M/M romance vs. gay lit spaces.  Also, look, no one has room in their luggage.

5. Some books need to find the right audience. Other books just need to find the audience. We knew this, but we keep learning this.  Love in Los Angeles works for particular readers, some of whom are in the M/M audience space, many of whom are not.  The Love’s Labours books are way more accessible to way more people, especially in the M/M space.  So there it’s less a matter of finding the exact right people and just letting folks know it’s out there.  We are still trying to figure out how to do both. Everyone can say that their books aren’t quite like everyone else’s books, but specificity matters.  And we’re still working on that.

6. The wall betwee F/F and M/M needs to stop. I get it. Not everyone who reads M/M wants to read F/F and vice versa.  But the disparaging remarks, the disgust about bodies that don’t turn you on (and I notice this directed at female bodies and F/F and M/F fiction more than at male bodies and M/M fiction) really needs to chill out.  Also debates about whether lesbians or gay men have it harder out there. These things aren’t clear cut.  Can we all at least act like we’re on the same team regardless of how wide or narrow our reading tastes?

7. Identity and writing LGBTQ (romance) fiction. I’ve written about this before, and the issue isn’t going away for me any time soon.  I do think anyone should write anything and hopefully do research and figure out how to write the stories they want to write as best they can and then the audience and marketplace and reviewers will make decisions about how that went.  And look, I get it really sucks having to keep what you write or read a secret.  I am trying to have all the sympathy in the world about that. And I do get how such things could give a straight person who reads LGBTQ fiction insight into the experience of being closeted. But it’s not the same thing, and I would like it if sometimes people could be a little bit more thoughtful about this.

8. Professionalism and family atmosphere — I think we need to think about how we can have both. My nature is to default to a certain sort of professionalism. I over- rather than under- dress.  I speak in a businesslike way. I prepare for panels. This isn’t good or bad, because sometimes it’s a defense mechanism.  But I really think that while I have to work on the friendly and accessible thing, our community as a whole would benefit from some more attention to professionalism. Family/community atmosphere and professionalism don’t have to be in opposition.  We can be accessible and familiar and a well-oiled machine.  We just all have to do work to get there.

9. “Everyone is interesting.”  Author Heather Rose Jones said this to us when she joined us at dinner out last night at the conference and it really stuck out to me, both because it’s completely true, and because it’s a way to come at what’s socially/culturally foreign to you without judgement.  It’s a way of listening, and spurring on conversation, and I wish we had had that conversation at the beginning of the con instead of the end.  Because let’s be fair, I was absolutely out of my element in a number of ways at this event, and I didn’t always know how to navigate it.

10. Managing expectations.  Basic life skill.  Expect nothing. Seek everything. Rejoice in the results.

Have you got learnings from this or other con experiences? If so, we want to know!
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