What’s in a Name?

One of my favourite parts about writing is naming my characters.

Baltsaros is the Greek version of Balthazar but has its roots in Assyrian—the name means “Baal protect the king”. Baal is associated with the god Hadad (god of storm and fertility) who was decreed a false god and where the Christians picked up the name “Beelzebub”. So… it’s a reference to the captain’s inner devil, his primal sexuality, as well as his obsessive self-interest (Baltsaros protects Baltsaros… at least at the start )
(Side note: His close friends and relatives call him “Saros”, which is a nod to one of my favourite movie villains, Sarris from Galaxy Quest.)

Ah’Puch for a false Mayan “death god”. Katherine… or Kat because I wanted Jon, the wolf pup, to be surrounded by cats (Baltsaros’s black lion; Tom, the captain’s tomcat).

Doug the blacksmith was because fantasy names get tedious.

Byron Anders Danielsen and Michael Ashur Nassar… when you put their names together, it really underlines what Better the Devil You Know is about.

Kestrel and Talon made for a good pair and a title of a book, and Grim who wasn’t so Grim at all.

Gregory Faraday (a nod to my own Irish roots); Emyr Morgan Hughes because it’s a good Welsh name. Stuart Leandro, inspired by the cover model; Timothy Leblanc for the Montreal prevalence of English/French name pairs; James Talbot sounds stuffy and upper-class paired with Rudie Brauer, a lower-class, rural name for his humble beginnings.

Reginald Wilkes and Andrew Murphy… Sarge and Murphy. Just good, solid names.

Then there’s alllll the side characters that I get to name after friends, family, or just names I’ve made up that sound good. Baal’s Heart IV is still a ways out, but I think you’ll like the names of the new folks the pirates will team up with. :D

And, hopefully soon, in Midnight in Montreal you’ll meet Royal, Damascène, Adélard, and Ozéas and in Charlie, you’ll meet Charles Egerton, Alexander Montgomery, and Cutty Turner.

Writer & Reader Expectations and Some Ramblings About Romance

It’s funny, when I set out to write Exposed I was worried about a few things. One, that I would weird people out by using a great Welsh word as a safeword. Two, that my usual readers would find it too lighthearted, compared to my usual stuff. Three, that Emyr calling Greg “Daddy” would bother people. That’s what I expected…. and then the unexpected happened: it never once occurred to me that I’d be reading reviews with the words “BDSM”, “Dom”, or “sub” in them. What’s up with that? Did I market the book wrong? I never tagged it as BDSM, never mentioned any kind of D/s relationship, said that it was a little kinky, and told folks it was just a cute love story. What happened?

Just reader expectations, I believe, and ones that I couldn’t predict because I don’t know what they are. I was just saying to a friend that I have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to writing books that are included in a genre I didn’t even know existed until after I published my first book.

The B/l (or Daddy/lg or Daddy/lb) relationships I’ve witnessed in my life were just sweet, loving, and devoted… really nurturing things (with some really silly play …and, yes, occasional spanking thrown in for good measure) and I set out to capture that lovely fondness I’ve admired so much. (And I often mentally hug Greg and Emyr for really getting there!)

But, there were reader expectations with the words “Daddy kink”, (something I tagged it for just as a warning) that I did not know about. And… now I know (and knowing is half the battle! GI Joe... ahem sorry, I’m on cold meds)

So, anyway, next book I write, I’ll see if I can word the blurb a little more clearly to reflect what the book is actually about (or maybe not about?)

Which brings me to Romance in general…

Folks reading Caged keep saying “this isn’t really a Romance” to which I sit there, scratching my head, wondering where they got the idea that it was a Romance. It has romantic elements, for sure. Life does in general, doesn’t it? But Caged? A Romance? Max? A Romance? I don’t even know if Exposed is a Romance. I keep squinting at definitions and wondering what this whole Romance thing is about (disclaimer: I’m aromantic1). It feels far more nebulous a genre than what I read: Has robots? Sci-fi. Has dragons? Fantasy. Has robot dragons? Sci-fi/fantasy. thumbs up

With Romance, well… the requirements seem to depend on who you talk to.

I did read two books that are considered Romance when I was younger. One was called Sea Star: Private Life of Anne Bonny which was pretty rapey if I recall, and the other one was about um… the wild west? I think? Maybe about a doomed love triangle? Also rapey. So, my young adolescent self drew the conclusion that “Romance Novels” equated “rapey”. However, another thing they both had in common was a lot more plot circling around love and sex than I had ever previously read before.

Hey, all my books have plots that focus primarily on the relationship between the protagonists. So… Romance?

And… Novelist Walter Scott defined the literary fiction form of romance as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents.” 2

My characters certainly encounter uncommon incidents. So… Romance?

Also from Wikipedia:

According to the Romance Writers of America, the main plot of a romance novel must revolve about the two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Furthermore, a romance novel must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” Some romance novel authors and readers believe the genre has additional restrictions, from plot considerations (such as the protagonists’ meeting early on in the story), to avoiding themes (such as adultery). Other disagreements have centered on the firm requirement for a happy ending; some readers admit stories without a happy ending, if the focus of the story is on the romantic love between the two main characters (e.g., Romeo and Juliet). While the majority of romance novels meet the stricter criteria, there are also many books widely considered to be romance novels that deviate from these rules. Therefore, the general definition, as embraced by the RWA and publishers, includes only the focus on a developing romantic relationship and an optimistic ending.

All of my books, including Devil (if you look at it the way I do), focus on the relationships of the MCs and have HFN/HEAs…. So… Romance?

I think, maybe, in the end, that my books are Romance books, but only to folks who don’t have too rigid expectations. When it comes to meeting more stringent do’s/don’ts and customary story development… I will definitely fall short, because I just don’t know what those expectations are. But that’s a-ok! Despite the fact that I write and will continue to write entirely for myself, plenty of other people do enjoy my books, and that is absolutely amazing.

And… for those of you who have actually made it this far in my ramblings, you get a special something because I’m in a great mood today :)


1I’m the kind of aromantic who’d actually like to feel deeply about someone, hence my exploration of love in my books. Heh, it’s like I’m finding love through writing :)

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel

Post-pub update and Happy St. Patty’s! 🍀

Quick break to write a real blog post for once.

Exposed is out and doing better than I thought. :D I was stupidly nervous for this one because I wasn’t sure anyone would like it, but I was wrong, like usual. What is it about writing that makes me so nervous? It’s probably the reason I do it.

There are the usual complaints about my stories but I managed to introduce a new one with Exposed. So, it goes: not enough plot, too much plot, not realistic enough, too realistic, creepy, too boring, too much sex, too kinky, not kinky enough, and now… too fluffy. I never thought I’d live to see the day. grin I wrote fluffy!

And then there’s the politics… authors shouldn’t mix politics and romance ;)

The rest of the stuff I always just chalk up to different personal experiences. Like, for this one, I’ve only got working knowledge of touring in Canada and talked logistics with folks who are responsible for a band out of the UK. I’m not really familiar with how tours work for US bands (though, actually I am better versed now than I was when I started writing Exposed… thanks, Mötley Crüe).

I’m also used to my familial connections with fame and what sort of stuff they encounter in Canada and the UK versus the US… and there’s also a sort of easy, non-pestering, polite attitude Montrealers have towards actors/musicians. Like, you run into famous people all the time here, and no one makes a big deal. Folks like touring/filming here because of that.

What’s fun about writing contemporary stories is I get to use stuff I know rather than just making up shit in Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction (not that I don’t like making fantasy shit up). So, Exposed is a hodgepodge of different things. Some of the places in the book are places I’ve been that have good memories attached to them… like that particular chiringuito in Torremolinos (and the boxes of wine!), the hotel with the crazy carpets and the barely functional ice machine I nearly sliced myself open on in Munich, the scene kids outside the hotel in Nice, and of course everything about Montreal. I modelled Greg’s workplace after the software place I worked at forever.

Little details came from winters spent lying on the beach listening to my parents’ Brit paparazzi friend tell his sleazy stories, from friends who’ve made the hard decision to cancel shows due to political climate, from the very real concerns about personal safety while travelling to the States right now, from my own practical knowledge (Greg owns the same camera as me) and, you know, personal kinks.

The thing from Greg’s past is an exaggerated version of something from my own past mixed with an interesting case study I read last summer. Tam is modelled after an old coworker, Rose is modelled after an ex-tour-manager-turned-travel-agent I know (though he regrets the career change heh), Barrie looks like this old lush I know who hangs out in an expat bar and talks to anyone who’ll listen about his days in the theatre. And Emyr? Well heh, Emyr is a bunch of different people. Physically, he’s sort of based on an actor, mixed in with an ex of mine, a singer in a band my best friend was crazy about twenty years ago (oh god has it been that long?), and this beautiful guy I knew long ago who loved wearing heels. But… in the course of writing this, Emyr really became his own person, and I love him for that. He’s just so full of life and I needed someone like that to write about.

All in all, I’m happy.

Post publishing is always such a relief for me. It means that the story no longer lives in its entirety in my head and I can let it go and move on to the next book…

…which is a vampire story! So far I’m having a great time with these guys. It’s definitely not romantic. It’s on the dark end of the scale… horror-ish. I’ve already done the cover for it and it’s freaky heh. I’ll probably show it to my newsletter subscribers later this month when I post about the Exposed paperback giveaway happening soon.

And finally: today is the day that everyone out there with a drop of Irish blood (hey I’m, like, quarter Irish) goes around making sure that everyone knows it.
So, Happy St. Patty’s! I’ll be celebrating with some Guinness later but for now it’s back to work… Here, I’ll leave you with a little St. Patty’s day history here in Montreal:

St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Montreal as far back as 1759, after the Conquest, by Irish soldiers of the Montreal Garrison. In 1817, the beginning of the Irish community here, the observance of St. Patrick’s day was marked by special dinners and the celebration of religious services. Read More

Which one first?

After the very successful release of Kestrel’s Talon, I’ve found myself sort of drifting between three shorter stories, trying to figure out which one I will finish first.

There’s The Window in Between, #3 of The Actor’s Circle, which is about the third couple that will round out the series finale called simply The Actor’s Circle and featuring Tim & Stuart, James & Rudi. 

Then there’s Midnight in Montréal, a sort of nod to Montreal by Night from back in my LARPing days ;) It’s a vampire book set in modern-day Montréal. I’m having a lot of fun with the setting… The Complications of T is set in Montréal too, but I didn’t go outside Tim’s apartment. This one covers more ground ;)

Then finally the story I was going to submit for Over the Rainbow is going to get expanded into a longer story. It’s about a ballet teacher, and, funny enough, is also set in Montréal at a fictional dance academy.

At least one of the three will be out this summer… Maybe all three?

 

WHAT AM I DOING?

Every once in a while, I’m overwhelmed by a “what the fuck am I doing?” sort of moment. It goes a little like:

I’m not a writer, I’m a painter… or a computer tech… or a web designer… or a manager… or or or… shit, what am I doing writing?  I don’t know how to write… Am I going to keep writing? Is there a point to it? Is it a medical symptom? Have I gone mad? Should I go get an astrophysics degree instead?

Then I sit down and read a few chapters of something I wrote, smile, thank my characters, and get back to business.

It’s not so much a lack of confidence thing… more like I am literally trying to figure out how suddenly I’ve become a writer. It feels weirdly surreal at times. Last week was my two year anniversary and I think it spooked me some. How can it be two years already? What I figured was going to be a hobby that I’d abandon after a few books has turned into a real thing that I do almost every day. I’m certainly not making a living off of it. Not yet. But… it’s not nothing.

Anyway – so I’ve hit the 70k mark on Kestrel’s Talon after being a touch spooked and overwhelmed and uncharacteristically concerned about whether people would care for it at all. Thankfully, my brain’s gone back to normal and the words are flowing again with me as their target audience (though I do hope at least one other person will enjoy it!). The worst part (ie. hard to write bits) is behind me. The next 50k should be smooth sailing. I’m excited. I’m tempted to release the soundtrack before the book, but I’ll wait at least a few weeks until I know for sure I don’t need another song. I’m also going to do a few more cover ideas for it… if you’ve signed up for my newsletter, you’ll be able to vote next month on your favourite and help me choose :)

 

Quoi de neuf

So much writing, so little time!

Work is progressing on Better the Devil You Know. I’m over the third-way mark and I’m digging the way the story is going. I originally thought to release it under a different name because it’s different from what I normally write, in that it’s pretty dark. I have to say that I have some doubts as to how well it’s going to be received. It’s dark, not romantic at all, and the end is… well… not sure. It’s going to be about 50k when it’s done, and it will be done sometime soon. The tags go something like this: murder, graphic torture, sexual abuse, forced incest

The other thing I’ve been working on is a short story (15k) that will come out either in an anthology or published on its own (or both? I wonder if that’s possible?). It’s also not my normal fare. I’m not going to say much more about it until I know what is going to become of it, but the tags for this one are: erotic romance, sweet, transsexual, insta-love, HFN

Then there is Let Me Shift, which is actually coming along great… I just had to take a break from it because these two *points to books mentioned above* were yelling louder than I can ignore.

One day I will get back to Sentenced to the Sword, my gladiator story. Especially since I have such a great pic to use for the cover (Thanks to the wonderfully talented Varian Krylov and her gorgeous cover models – Strangers in Strangeland) But before that… I need to get to Saban and tell his story in Learning to Speak (A Baal’s Heart Book).

And, because Tom won’t stop complaining about how he’s “bloody bored as all hells”… I have to get back to the triad soon.

*gestures* THIS is why I’ve been busy lately and not around much. That and it’s summer – BBQs, sunbathing, drinks on terrasses on warm summer nights. :)

The Baal Heart Trilogy is on sale for 25% off for the month of July at Smashwords – you just have to enter the coupon SSW25 at checkout.

Sign up for my newsletter (I’m going to actually send one out soon) to keep up with new stuff and get discounts on books and excerpts and whatnots.

And finally – if you haven’t already, you can pick up a copy of Discovery at Amazon today and check out some awesome LGBTQ flash fic, including a story by yours truly.

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Interview with Brad Vance, Author of Gay Romance and Erotica

Today I’d like to welcome the extremely prolific writer of gay romance and erotica, Brad Vance. Welcome to my blog, Brad. Glad to have you here.

Thank you! Glad to be here!

 

First off, you just released a new book, Would I Lie to You? that is garnering high praise from reviewers. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’d love to. I’m calling the series “The Game Players” because the characters are the kind of people who need a challenge, even in their romantic lives. Just dating and mating isn’t going to be enough for them. There has to be desire that’s suppressed, teased, extended and made more powerful by every move in their games. They’re both aware that what’s developing between them is a chess match, and that’s what makes it so interesting. Marc and Jesse are similar in a lot of ways – incredibly smart, driven, goal-oriented – and they’ve been betrayed by men who were their romantic and business partners. They’re also both honest people, in their own ways – even if that honesty means confessing that you’re not telling all of the truth. The title is “Would I Lie to You?” and that’s really the question at the heart of the story – if you can’t tell someone the truth, do you lie, or do you walk away, acknowledging that there are things you won’t share, that you can’t trust someone with the truth?

 

What drew you to writing romance and erotica?

I’d flailed around publishing novels under another name that never really went anywhere, and then Aubrey Watt did an AMA on Reddit about being a M/M smut writer, back in October 2012. I was fascinated by that, especially with the amount of money she was making! I wrote up “Good Cop Bad Boy,” my first M/M story, and mailed it off to her, asking her to take a look at it and tell me if I had a future in the biz. She said HELL YEAH you do! So that was my start…when Amazon started blocking/banning a lot of erotica, I moved into writing novels.

 

You recently decided to become a full-time writer. How’s that treating you? Have you found that your writing habits have changed a lot because of it?

Oh my God it’s the greatest. I’ve lost 18 pounds since I left my day job at the end of February! Just being able to be active all day, not chained to a desk, overeating as if trying to chew my way out of the cubicle…I love the freedom. I haven’t signed up for a class or anything yet, because I’m still savoring the “clock free” life – I’m just not ready to be on anyone else’s schedule again, not yet. I was running on stress for so long that I’m still trying to come down from that…
I was really working two jobs for the longest time, getting up at 3 am to write till 6:30, then getting ready for and going to the day job…it made for long days, with no life. My writing habits have changed in some ways but not in others. I still get up at 3 am! I guess I’m still conditioned to that sleep cycle, and in the back of my mind I’m afraid that it’ll all end in tears and I’ll have to get a job again, in which case I better stay used to getting up early… But, I no longer feel under the gun the way I used to, when I had to keep an eye on the clock with a hard stop at 6:30 every morning. If I sleep in till the unholy hour of 5:00, well, my day isn’t shot!

 

Why did you choose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?

Well, when I started, I was just doing short erotica, so there wasn’t any other avenue for it. And, under another name, I’d been through the New York/tradpub mill, and I had no desire to go through that again, ever. To have no control over your title, cover art, blurb, I hated that. And the WAITING. The endless wait for someone to get around to reading it, the endless wait for them to buy it, the endless wait for publication, and OMG the endless wait for your money! Now I finish a novel one week, edit it the next, then publish it, and two months later, make it rain, baby.
You have to be strong in all areas – your grammar, spelling, your ability to edit/copyedit yourself (I’m still catching errors in books in print, that I’ve missed after reading them a thousand times), to write a blurb, to make a book cover, to market and promote yourself…but you get all the profit. And there’s nobody “doing it wrong” to mess it up for you, other than yourself.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Something you wish someone had told you at the beginning?

The hardest part of self pubbing, to me, was marketing. That was the one upside of tradpub, back in the day – you submitted your book, and they did all the hustling. Of course now they expect you to come ready-made with a fan base, Twitter followers, etc., so there’s no advantage there anymore. I was really loathe to do it at first – I grew up all “punk rock” and thought of advertising/marketing as, you know, infomercial shit, Billy Mayes shouting his way into your head, an inherently bad, bullshit thing.
Finally I had a moment of enlightenment – I realized I hated marketing because I hated sounding like a brochure. “I’m so excited to tell you about my new release!” Blah blah blah. I decided I’d just BE ME on Facebook, etc. Put my real personality out there instead of trying to sound the way I though I was supposed to sound.
So, that would be my advice, I guess – people are gonna connect with you because of your work, but also because they like you. So be you, don’t be a brochure, when it’s time to do your marketing.

 

I know you’ve had problems with Amazon before and their ridiculous censorship policies, but do you think that Amazon is doing all right for self-publishers? What would you like to see changed?

Well, NUMBER ONE would be, clear guidelines for what’s allowed. They say what they’ll ban is “pretty much what you’d expect.” What who would expect? Me, a libertarian sex-positive homo, or some bluenose in Arkansas who has a heart attack at an exposed tittie on TV? But keeping it vague is deliberate, of course, because it gives them leeway to change the rules any time without changing them on paper.
Number Two, which is more realistic, would be a set rate every month for the Kindle Select/Unlimited “borrow rate,” the amount writers get per borrow each month. It fluctuates all the time, $1.33, $1.39, etc. You don’t know what you earned last month until the middle of the next month. They should just part it at a certain amount and leave it there, I’d say $1.40, instead of leaving us all on pins and needles every month, as they arbitrarily decide how much more money to put into the fund and screw up people’s income forecasts. It’s like getting a pay raise/pay cut every month – very exhausting.

 

Do you ever get told by friends or family that you don’t write “real books”? I know I do. How do you respond if it happens?

No I don’t, actually. In my circle of friends, writing “gay erotica” is very cool! My mom’s response when I told her about my erotica career was, “Sure are a lot of weirdos out there.” The only book of mine she’s read is “Apollo’s Curse,” because there’s no sex in it. She loved it, but has no desire to read any of my other books!
I wrote a “real” book, a few years ago. I worked on it on and off for five years. It sold twelve copies. That’s the fate I gave Dane Gale in “Apollo’s Curse,” before he turned to writing romance novels. I gave him this exchange on the Greek island that pretty much says how I feel about writing romances now:

“But what I need, isn’t just…success, money, fame. I…what I’ve been writing, what the others before me wrote, it’s just…commercial fiction, airport fiction. Popular romances. I don’t want that to be my legacy, I don’t want that to be the last thing I ever write.”
“What’s wrong with romance? Don’t you bring pleasure into people’s lives? Don’t strange and wonderful stories heal their aches, take them from their sorrows?”
“Yes, but…”
“Maybe you’re being a bit selfish, yes?” He put on a dark, mocking scowl. “ ‘I am writing a Great Novel nobody will read, which is so much more important than making people happy.’”
I had to laugh. “Yes, I guess that is selfish. But…I have it in me, I know I do. To do something…wonderful. Something that’s so much more powerful, so much more…well, healing, if you will, than any little entertainment I concoct could ever do.” I looked at his shelves, saw the surprising variety of books – lots and lots of novels, Umberto Eco, Gunter Grass, Doris Lessing, George Eliot. “You know. You’ve read these books. You know how much more they do in the world than some…fluff could ever do.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of fluff. The power to make someone smile, to get them through to another day, take them away from their cares for a moment. Maybe later, you’ll have helped them feel stronger, maybe later they will read ‘Ulysses,’ yes?”

 

And finally, having nothing to do with writing at all, tell me about your dream vacation.

Oh boy. A whole summer in Europe. Nick in the “Kyle’s New Stepbrother” series gets to live out my fantasy, just moving from one place to another on a Eurail pass as the whim takes him. I’d have to have the money to do it right; Nick’s young and can crash in hostels and stretch a dollar! But I’d need my comforts. I’d love to see so much of France, Italy, Germany, Amsterdam, Barcelona…yeah, I’d need a whole summer!

 

Brad, I want to thank you again for stopping by and wish you good luck with your writing.

Thank you so much, Bey! I really appreciate your having me here!

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Little update

So!

Been busy.

With what, you say? Well…

The first? Sacrificed is coming out in just a few days. I’ve been dotting i’s and crossing t’s and making sure the launch will go smooth. Have you preordered your copy? :)

And I um… wrote another book in the interim. To get my mind off the fact that I sent out ARCs of Sacrificed. It’s a novelette… The continuation to Sarge. It’ll come out later this month.

 

Who me?

I’m ridiculously bad at talking about myself. I am. Always have been. I’m much better at sculpting a conversation… turning it into an interesting discussion on philosophy, religion, art, or science.

I am also good at making people talk about themselves. I’m a good listener. I keep secrets. I give brutally honest advice.

But about me? I feel like there’s not much to say. I’m just… me. I do my things.

Was talking to an old friend yesterday who happens to be a writer. They asked me about my writing. Cue my scrabbling to find the right words to explain just the gist.

I look like I’m in pain when I’m trying to explain what I do and quickly manage to shift the conversation to another topic.

Phew.

Am I embarrassed by what I write? Not at all. I think it’s great. I just don’t have the language to talk about it.

Writing is an intensely personal thing, more so than painting ever was… and I need to learn to write about writing.

 

My Head

People always want to get inside my head. Women more than men, but they both say the same sorts of things:
“What’s going on in your head?”
“I want to see what you see.”
“Can I take a look inside your brain.”
“Give me a look into your mind…”

Went out the other night with friends to pub quiz. Got asked a variation of the above by a slightly-drunken S.
B: Why does everyone want to see inside my head?
S: Because! I need to know…
M: Ohhh that’s not a great idea. First off there are far too many walls in there. Then, if you do manage to get in, you’ll never make it out alive. You’ll stay trapped in there. Forever.

I like my friends.

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My head is in a slightly weird place these days. I was planning on continuing with Sword but Stripped, the third book of the Baal’s Heart trilogy, wouldn’t let me go so I started writing that instead. I’m about a chapter in and so far so good.  However, the weather’s been fucking with my sinuses again so I’ve got a headache half the time which sucks.

It took me 82 days to write Caged. Sacrificed took me 173 days to write. I wonder how long Stripped will take me? When I wrote Caged, it was the only thing I was working on. I had two other projects on the go during the time I was writing Sacrificed. This time around… oh I have too many projects competing in my head. I should really focus on one thing at a time.