It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Every time I’ve been to a launch event, I get an odd mix of feelings that have only intensified since creating things for the purpose of launching them.

It doesn’t matter if it’s for a book, a magazine, a piece of art, or a website. It doesn’t matter if it’s for my own work or someone else’s. Those feelings hit, drain all my energy, and I’m left to brood over a hot tisane and wonder what it’s all about.

My parents reckon I don’t handle excitement very well. Maybe they’re right and my neurology/biochemistry/psychological conditioning isn’t wired up right to handle it. But I still need to live my life, y’know? I gotta figure out my own way of handling this very real thing that comes up every now and then.

So what are these feelings? Well, in the first place, I’m so happy for and proud of the person whose launch it is. They worked hard, they were dedicated, they honed their skills and committed them in the face of uncertainty. The launch gives everyone an opportunity to appreciate those efforts as well as the final product.

But underneath it all is the pressing notion that I don’t belong. Not at the bookstore, the art gallery, the Discord channel, the upstairs loft, or the drab office break room with the delicious cake in the corner.

It’s a scene and even if it’s meant to be my scene, it’s impossible for me to connect with it. I wonder if it’s an introvert thing or an anxiety thing. Could it be a facet of a complicated neurodivergent disposition, honed by a lifetime-thus-far of friction-laden socialising?

As 2022 approaches its median, I’m laying down some tidier foundations for my indie publishing career. I’m often told book launch parties are a necessary fixture in this wide, wacky world if you’re doing it properly. You can imagine the trepidation this births in me.

Well, I don’t intend on having a party for my next couple of books, but as a newsletter subscriber or blog follower, you’re included in the quiet celebrations. Thank you for being a part of my low-key journey, even if there’s no cake in the corner.

WIP report — 14 June 2022

Currently: 30,709 / 50,000 words

CLAY is over the halfway hump and on track to get to my editor by our self-imposed deadline. The story is coming along nicely and I’m feeling more confident in every technique the first 25,000 words forced me learn by the seat of my pants.

As silly as it sounds, I must give credit to my sudden and aggressive obsession with fountain pens. One day, while utterly smitten by the flow of ink through a stainless steel nib, I began drafting a scene by hand and found that ideas and words just expressed so nicely.

They’re not the best words, but in the way an artist might block out shapes and structure before drawing in earnest, whatever’s coming out of my pen seems to give me the structure I need to fill in the details when I type up my notes.

In case any other pen islanders stumble upon this, I’m currently switching between a Herbin Transparent medium nib, a glass dip pen, and a couple of calligraphy flex nibs. Inks include Pilot Quink in black, Sheaffer Skip in blue black, and Stuart Houghton calligraphy inks in various colours. Life’s too short for a dried up old ballpoint (sorry, Mum, I know you like them).

20k to go. Onward and wordward!

Reflections on Saving Suzy by Stefanie Simpson

Romance novels aren’t supposed to make us sad. But sometimes they do and Saving Suzy by Stefanie Simpson did so very much. There was a point where I had to put the book down for a couple of days because the emotions got too much and I needed a breather.

That’s not to say this piece of erotic kink literature was particularly heavy, because although it deals with heavy themes, this isn’t a sadface book. It was just genuine. Down-to-earth moments captured by the author’s serious and sensual writing voice, the voice that gives the entire New City Series its quietly brilliant tone.

But back to what made me sad. I thought Victoria Undone was the Simpson romance for me, but Saving Suzy gripped me by the heart and squeezed very tightly.

If I had to sum up why, it would be the utter lack of toxicity between the MCs. There’s uncertainty, there’s curiosity, there’s a definite attraction… but zero toxicity. They handle each other with the utmost respect, even when things get difficult.

It mades me think of real life, and how the world can be a ugly place full of sharp teeth and stone hearts. How so many people IRL can turn nasty on a dime, flee at the first sign of trouble, lie for selfish reasons, and lash out at beautiful things.

The antagonist in this book is the ugliness of the world. And in the relationship that develops between Suzy and Nathan, we find the eye of the storm. Tumultuous in its own way yes—after all, romantic conflict is what makes a good novel—but ultimately the one piece of paradise that restores your soul while everything else takes bites out of you.

Stefanie Simpson has a new book coming out later this month. Lay Me Down in Ivy is currently available for preorder.

Sexy rehabilitation on the moon

The thing I love most about writing sci-fi is the ability to re-frame today according to tomorrow’s standards. This genre DEMANDS elements of the fantastic, so the requirement of interesting world-building creates opportunities to go “what if…” on just about anything you can take from what’s around you.

For example, what if someone decided to apply a rehabilitation model to the prison system? Instead of what amounts to modern slavery, “prisons” aim to undo the psychological damage done by society that eventuated in incarceration. The goal being to allow people to discover and become the best versions of themselves on their own terms.

That was my big “what if” driving The Induction of Satine, but I definitely didn’t start drafting with this in mind. I only wanted to write some short erotica, but doesn’t that just highlight the beauty of sci-fi?

The nature of the genre DEMANDED I wonder about something out of this world. And after hearing about low re-offending rates in rehabilitation-focused Norwegian prisons, it ended up being this pertinent question about alternatives to today’s punishment-based prison systems.

I’m sure you’ve figured this out already, but real-life rehab prisons aren’t sexy or located on the moon. That part was good ol’ imagination.

Book cover: "The Induction of Satine"

Excerpt from The Induction of Satine

“It’s policy that I watch you disrobe,” he informed me, adding, “With your consent, of course.”

Confusion struck me through the daze. First of all, I was on a moon so many people on my planet had already stopped believing in, confined within a prison I’d only just learned about that day. I was being attended to by a warden, something I decided years ago didn’t exist, not to mention how excessively polite he was. Finally, he hands me an inmate’s uniform and… it’s black?

Aren’t prison clothes meant to be high visibility? What if I tried to escape?

But then, what if they did such a good job of deterring their inmates that no one ever tried to escape? What kind of place was this that they could afford to take the risk? And besides, where could I escape to on this desolate landscape?

Suddenly the room felt unbearably warm. Fear mounted against the drugs and my hands began to shake. But I gripped the uniform tightly as Warden Jet stood over me.

I looked up at him. “I… consent, I guess.”

The Induction of Satine is not a perma-free book, but it is currently available for free through StoryOrigin. The site will ask you to sign up to my newsletter (if you’re not on there already) and deliver a copy of the ebook straight to your email.

This content originally appeared in Dot Club #41 (May 2022).

Email is my social media

I stumbled upon this note by writer Scott Nesbitt. Given my recent migration to email from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I found it quite timely and thought-provoking.

I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment about not wanting food updates and such. I actually love seeing what my good friends are eating, especially if it’s weird food or if they’re on holiday and enjoying the local culture… but I guess that’s the nuance of the circumstances and the relationship you have with the people you really want to hear from.

In any case, I do very much love a good personal email from close personal friends.

So, here’s the note plus a link to the original post below. I’d love to hear what you think either in the comments or, of course, via email.

Email is my social media

Email, to put it bluntly, is my social media.

It’s how I keep in touch with people. I send them a message, not a DM or a post on whatever social media wall they maintain.

Email is how, at least in part, I share ideas with a wider audience. That audience is a small group of people, many of whom I don’t know and who don’t know me.

I get more out of email than I did when I was actively posting on Twitter and Mastodon.

The people with whom correspond don’t bog my email down with the excruciating minutiae of their daily lives — that artisan soda or beer they just drank, photos of a dessert that they’re about to tuck into, what they’re watching at this very moment on their streaming service of choice, cute photos of their pets. Alla that kind of stuff. (OK, I do like the pet photos, but don’t tell them!)

Best of all, my inbox isn’t clogged with misinformation or disinformation. My correspondents only share links to items that they know might pique my interest. Or, sometimes, things which might raise my ire or my gorge — bless ’em! They share important news about themselves or about mutual friends. Our digital correspondence can be light and breezy, but also can be serious and have some depth. We can delve into discussion, debate, and sometimes argument.

When I tell certain people that email is my social media, they’re surprised. Some are even shocked. A few mock me for giving up the potential for the reach and influence that social media can provide. As if I’ve ever been interested in any of that …

Written by Scott Nesbitt (original post) / Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

WIP report — 26 Apr 2022

Currently: 16,000/50,000 words

I look at this word count and where I had hoped to be on the Camp NaNo scale, and start to feel a little terrified about not finishing this book in time.

It’s ridiculous, though, because I’m on track with this WIP relative to my actual milestones beyond the April-specific constraint. What’s more, the approach I’m taking with this WIP is one I was longing to take for all my writing around this time last year.

So in the grand scheme of things, aligning with my career goal to stop rushing like a madcunt, to take things slow and think things through, I’m doing okay.

Why do we rush? I get that a little artificial pressure helps us get things done, but what then? There will always be more to do… and then we die. Even if I could manage to release a new book every three months, there’s no way a reader—even a superfan reader—would have the time and energy to just consume all my work.

And why should they? There are so many other books to read and movies to watch and podcasts to listen to—a life to live. This is an age of excess, which in some twisted way also means an age of scarcity of a different sort. The world simultaneously needs more stories and is also so full of stories. What are we to do?

I’m reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks at the moment and it’s got me thinking about all this. Right now, time well spent for me is time spent writing and yet even though the joy of it is coming back, I still feel this lingering anxiety over it.

But I’m still at the 16,000 word mark and it’s going well so far, so there’s no reason to feel too down. Not about this, anyway.

34k to go.

Reflections on Tentacle by Rita Indiana

I find it comforting to immerse myself in stories that bear some resemblance to the reality we’re living in. I wonder if I might be the type of person who struggles with the inconceivable—which is also why I played a lot of Plague, Inc. in the early days of COVID-19. If you can conceive of something, you give it shape.

That means it you give it limitations. You know just how awful it gets. It won’t be better, but it certainly won’t be worse. This is all in abstract, of course. In truth, things could always be better, and things could always be worse.

But a little bit of quasi-certainty is, at an emotional level, more soothing that a complete lack of certainty. It’s why sometimes journalists at emergency press conferences ask the most ridiculous questions about things no one can predict. And why humans often jump to conclusions without gathering all the facts first. Our psyches are fragile, particularly in stressful circumstances beyond our control. We need that comfort to survive this moment long enough to make it to the next.

So even with a setting as god-awful as an ecologically ravaged Dominican Republic—rife with toxic waters, dystopian technology, and too often a blatant disregard for humanity—I still found some comfort in Tentacle by Rita Indiana (translated by Achy Obejas).

Tentacle is queerpunk sci-fi that at first seems like culturally vivid escapist fiction, but later turns out to be a breathtakingly interwoven non-linear narrative. It centres primarily around Acilde, a trans man who must go back in time to save the ocean with the help of an ancient Yoruba god. It raises questions of desire and destiny, and asks whether humanity really can be saved, or will the darker sides of human nature prevail?

I like it when a book makes me think. And it has taken me a long time to process my feelings about this one enough to be able to reflect on it. I don’t want to live in a world with toxic oceans. I don’t want the power to kill someone in need if they ring my doorbell at the wrong time. I don’t want to hold the future of the world in the palm of my hand. But the more I ponder this story, the more it looks like some bizarre allegory for how things are today.

I mean, okay, it’s probably not the smartest book to pick up right now, while the world is in such a weird place. But then, maybe it also is…?

The problems plaguing us right now aren’t going to disappear on their own. Even if it’s depressing af, there are conversations we need to have about climate and pollution, and how these are ultimately affected by how we behave and regard each other. We are, after all, stuck together in this space and time.

WIP report — 8 Apr 2022

Currently: 10,484/50,000 words

So, it’s day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo and even with a two-week headstart, my progress is abysmal 😂 Hitting the 10k mark on PROJECT CLAY means I’ve only put in 6000 words over a fortnight.

Y’know what else I did? I cut my April goal down to just “reaching Act 3” instead of trying to finish the whole 50k manuscript. But life is giving me not just lemons but a whole fruit salad this month, so it’s dicey as to whether I’ll even hit this lower target.

I will, however, make all sorts of fruit-ade instead of hating myself for not making word count. Pandemic effects, stepping back from social media, thinking about all the shit going on in the world, and waking up to the offline not-book-related goals I’d neglected for too long has done weird things to my perspective and sense of priorities. It’s pulling me away from writing, and yet I don’t mind too much.

But is it really pulling me away from writing, though? When I do sit down to write, I start to feel hints of leisure again. I feel the same sense of comfort and craftsmanship and driven optimism like when I first started drafting You and I and Chasing Sisyphus. It’s fun, it’s playful, and while I did feel echoes of it later during O, swear not by the moon and Iteration Eleven, there was a tightness in my head and heart that kept me from expanding into it.

That tightness is less pronounced right now. I don’t mind that at all.

Categorised as Diary

Reflections on The Close-up by Sarah Smith

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the world needs healing, yet somehow manages to keep picking at the scabs. I’m trying to heal from a bunch of things, which often takes time I don’t have in between trying to live a normal-ish life. So, you know, I appreciate it when the normality served to me includes a big dollop of healing alongside it.

That’s what caught my eye about Sarah Smith’s latest contemporary rom-com The Close-Up. Okay, I admit, the sexy 90s webcam throwback concept got my attention first. And this author’s signature wholesome steam times draws me in too. But it was that hint of how a post-#MeToo society might heal captured in light-hearted mainstream fiction that made me appreciate this book on another level.

The Close-Up is a story about a TV producer and a camguy turned relationship expert. But it’s a far cry from that gross manipulative “seduction” stuff that arced up about a decade ago. No no, Simon Rutler — this book’s leading lad — is all about empathy, consideration, and non-toxic masculinity. Think like that bit in 22 Jump Street where Channing Tatum’s character gets woke, but this guy is self-possessed and confident instead of goofy.

Simon is a salve for those of us who’ve had enough of the “clueless male”, “hapless hubby”, and other tired true-to-life tropes that are really just passive-aggressive wilful ignorance wearing a mask.

He’s the male lead you want to be real, not because he’s some hottie dream boat (though it helps very much that he’s that too), but because he’s A DECENT HUMAN BEING. And before someone tries to #NotAllMen me, yes, there are decent men in the world. Unfortunately, they too often get overshadowed by not-decent men whose behaviour doesn’t get called out nearly often enough.

Simon Rutler, however, is decent to the point where he’ll call out bad behaviour and go one step further to suggesting better behaviour for his fellow dudebros. It’s one of many traits that makes him worthy of wishing into existence.

Sexytimes are sexytimes, which Sarah Smith handles so well in her books. But what struck me the most about The Close-Up were the underlying messages that neither men nor women have to settle for toxic masculine behaviour as the norm.

Clueless doesn’t mean blameless. And it absolutely doesn’t mean the situation’s a lost cause, because even shitty boyfriends can learn their way out of bad habits if they’re willing to do the work.

Disclosure: I am almost definitely biased. I have a personal friendship with this author, who I got to know through loving her work and watching her voice develop since her very first book.

Stuff to share: Apr 2022

The Close-Up is Sarah Smith’s hot and hilarious new friends-to-lovers contemporary rom-com, and it releases this week!

Sonia Palermo’s sweet and sexy Brit-rom Hot Girl Summer is out now. Here’s an interview with the author about what inspired this book.

This #SciFiRomance Book Fair on StoryOrigin runs from now until the end of May.

Willie Handler’s brand new novel Deep Into The Weeds comes out next month. Preorders are now open.

Sensual Dimensions is a steamy sci-fi shapeshifter romance by Rianne Burnett, available on Kindle Unlimited.

What’s better than a rude read? A whole shower of them. Get drenched in this giveaway bundle available until 1st May.

Lisabet Sarai’s latest sexy book is Exposure, an urban erotic noir available in a range of formats through Smashwords.

In Ella Shawn’s steamy The Organic Paradox, the alien-human triad is for breeding purposes only, but you know hearts have a mind of their own.

This steamy multi-genre book sale on StoryOrigin ends 1st May.

For anyone paying less attention to the largest internet-based retailer in the world these days, here’s a book fair featuring steamy titles available across a range of different ebook retail platforms.

Categorised as Diary