The Quiet Observer

This morning dawned as a perfect September day. I don’t know if I can convey to you just what it feels like after a summer of oppressive humidity, the air so wet that your glasses fog when you step outside, and even when the temperatures drop in the evening to what should be a reasonable level, it is still like trying to breathe underwater.

So when I woke up this morning to temperatures in the fifties (the FIFTIES!) and the air so clear and crisp it was like biting into a Red Delicious, it was a no-brainer as to what I would do this morning. Laundry? Uh, no, despite the fact that if I don’t do some soon that is not dog-related, I will be reduced to wearing my PJs. And I don’t own any PJs. Working on the presentation I’m supposed to give next week? Ugh. No. I need to do that, I know, I know. Working on my expanded version of Lightning in a Bottle, the novella that is part of the Going for Gold Anthology? Yes, definitely, I know I need to do that today. I will find the time somewhere.

But hands down the winner this morning was taking the dog out for a run in the National Forest. How could I resist? Lately H has lost both of his regular exercise activities, as the move to a new barn meant moving to a no-dogs barn, as well as losing access to a dog-friendly swimming pool that decided to close. When you have a 95 pound German Shepherd that needs to run until his brains come out his nose every day in order for you to live with him (otherwise it is a bit like having a 2 year old racehorse living in your house), finding the time and place to exercise him safely is challenging. Fortunately for us, a friend told me about a little used access road that takes me to a part of the forest that is not as well traveled as some. The paths are still well-marked, but they are more like goat-tracks with long winding climbs up a ridge and ankle busting rocks at every step. Not a favorite for joggers and cyclists, but perfect for me and the dog.

It occurred to me as I was huffing and puffing my way up this trail today that a change in routine might not be such a bad thing. I’d been pretty upset about the no-dogs policy at the new barn and stressing about how I would carve out yet ONE MORE activity in the day, given how I used to combine running the dog in the woods with my barn activity at the old place. When you are as pressed for time as I am on a routine basis, even small adjustments to the schedule are tough. Finding an extra hour and half to take the dog some place safe to run off lead–well, let me tell you–I thought I was looking at a future in which H never got to run off lead again. And I’m sorry, but I simply cannot run enough myself with him trotting alongside me to keep him fit and sane.

What I realized this morning though was I’d gotten complacent. The goat-track was tough; more of a workout than I’ve been doing lately. It was also beautiful, and there was an exhilaration in being in a different place for a change. My senses were on alert, my brain was not simply on autopilot. I gloried in the play of light and shadow on the path before me, the excitement of a happy dog running ahead. I even noticed the tiny little flying bugs that would light up from within when they flew into a sunbeam (and recall how Ridley Scott, a talented director in many ways, got that so very wrong in the little remembered Legend, filling the screen with so many golden gnats no one would have been able to speak in such a forest without eating them).

I am quite the shutterbug. I don’t have any real gift for it, and I have a pretty simple camera, but I love taking pictures. I think part of the reason I like taking pictures is because I have this insatiable need to ‘capture the moment’. I want to remember clearly how it felt to walk the sun-dappled path. To watch my dog come to a halt in front of me, a laughing grin on his face as his breath curls in a vapor around his panting mouth. To look at a picture of this morning six months from now and remember how great it felt to be in the woods on this September morning, the clear blue sky visible through the trees at the top of the ridge ahead of me. I have tons of pictures of my dogs, my cats, my horses in the sunlight. Pictures that are meaningful to no one but me. Pictures of the same scene over and over. Because I want to capture it.

Even as I was walking, I was thinking about writing this blog. I found myself comparing my out-of-shape walking muscles with my out-of-shape writing muscles and telling myself, “Oh, that’s good, you need to write that one down.” I realized that I’m much happier as an observer than a participant in most cases. I love taking pictures–I’d rather be the photographer than the competitor at the horse shows (though sadly, I wish at least ONE person of my acquaintance was any good with a camera because I don’t have a decent picture of me doing anything with any of my animals…)

I write because I want to capture moments with words. I want to put feelings into situations, to work out problems on paper. Even when I am going through some traumatic event in my own life, there’s a part of me in the background, quietly documenting my reactions and thinking, “Oh, this is soooo going in a story some day.”

Sometimes, though, you need to participate rather than observe. How else do you get more grist for the mill?

My latest release, Lightning in a Bottle, part of the Going for Gold Anthology, let me tap into my experiences (albeit on a small scale) into the world of eventing. I’d say more on the subject, but there is a very big horse waiting for me at the barn now, and I’d rather go ride her on this gorgeous day instead. 🙂

Self-Promo: What makes you uncomfortable?

I’d been idly considering what topic to blog about today when something came up in a recent discussion that made me realize that my attitude toward self-promotion has been slowly evolving over time… and that I still don’t know where I stand on it completely.

When I first began to publish my stories, I was so excited! I couldn’t believe that anyone wanted to read my works (okay, let’s clarify, I couldn’t believe anyone would be willing to pay to read my stories) and I happily told my friends and the people I knew in fandom. My fandom friends were *awesome*, by the way, rushing out to buy copies when they became available and recommending them to their friends as well.

But then I published again. And again. And suddenly it was apparent that this wasn’t just some random fluke–I was really an author.

I rapidly discovered a couple of things then. First, that the world of original publishing is a lot… I don’t want to say meaner, but it is certainly more impersonal. Think of the difference between living in Mayberry and moving to New York to try and make it in the Big City.  It’s not to say that you can’t make friends, but it’s tougher than it was in Mayberry. People don’t go out of their way to speak to you. They are more often brusque when they do speak.  You make stupid, newbie errors out of ignorance, and you are treated like an idiot. It’s less common to get a friendly smile and a wave as you drive by. There are simply a lot more people in a large city like New York, each going about their own business, trying to make a living.  Most of them don’t really care about you and your life. Feedback on your stories, when it occurs, is more like discovering graffiti in your neighborhood than finding a lovely handwritten note in your mailbox. These things aren’t necessarily bad–just different. And it takes time to get used to this. To understand that it doesn’t even occur to most people to leave feedback, and that 3.5 stars might actually be quite good by the standards of society at large.

The second thing I discovered was that I hated self-promotion.  I’ve been very fortunate as a writer. The very first thing that I submitted for publication was accepted–and everything else that I’ve submitted has been accepted as well. Okay, I had a short story get turned down for an anthology, but it blew past the word count by 150%. *coughs*  I know I can easily expand it further ( I have plans for this puppy, she says, rubbing her hands together with an evil smile) and market it to the right people when it’s ready.  I’m not worried about getting it sold.

So, I haven’t been through the harsh experience of rejection that most writers go through. (Believe me, I keep waiting for the day when some famous author shows up at my door and says, “Ooops, we made a mistake, you’re not a writer after all! Give us back all your book covers and royalties…”) Sure, I knew intellectually that it was up to me to promote my stories if I wanted anyone to read them. I spent a lot of time learning what I could about social media, building a platform, a website, and branding. Some of the information I discovered was faulty. Some of the recommendations made me cringe. Some of it just ‘wasn’t me’. I resisted the idea that I needed to promote myself at all. Surely having a good product, producing stories frequently, and word of mouth was all I needed, right?

I was always the odd man out in school–until I discovered theater. From the time I auditioned for my first play, I never had to audition again. The theater director began choosing plays to showcase my acting.  We took the one-act competitions by storm–going all the way to State three years running. I went from being the kid that was shoved into lockers, pushed down the stairs, and definitely the last one picked for any team to being the kid that everyone knew. While never one of the cool kids, finding something that I was good at lent me the confidence that a brainy, homely, unsocial girl needed to get through high school.

Hmmm, until now I never realized that I haven’t experienced rejection as an actress, either. Trust me, I do understand what is it like to be rejected. I’ve have been on the fringes of every social group I’ve ever attempted to join.  I actually had a friend in high school once inform me that I was on my way ‘out’ of the group and to not drag her out with me. Anyway, there’s a point to this and I’m getting to it.  Promotion. I began experimenting with the various kinds and trying out the advice I’d been given.

I was told that chats were crucial. What I discovered, however, is that I loathe live chats (they make me break out in a clammy sweat). I am not much better with chat groups on yahoo or goodreads–I can only handle the social interaction for an hour at most, and then my metaphorical face hurts from smiling so much and I have to bail. I worry excessively about saying the wrong thing in an online interaction (the BF keeps telling me there is no “tone” in an email and to not take things the wrong way, which is why I pepper everything I write with smiley faces so no one can misinterpret what I am saying). I’ve noticed that in some groups if I enter into a conversation, the very act shuts the thread down. In others, I forget the rules (and face it, they change from group to group and short of keeping a spreadsheet there is no way to keep up with them), and end up posting a promo on the wrong day or at the wrong time.

On the other hand, I love blog hops. I love contemplating thinky-thoughts and putting them into words, and be-bopping around the internet reading other people’s thinky thoughts and commenting on them. Blogs are well within my comfort zone.

So you can say that in the early days of my writing, my self promo persona was a lot like this:

It didn’t take long for me to become uncomfortable announcing another new release date to my fandom friends. I created a different journal account so as not to ‘bore’ my fandom friends with my original writing news. I really disliked the bullhorning I saw on Facebook and Twitter.  Facebook is another one of those “you must” recommendations I heard all the time, but Facebook is not my happy place, as anyone who follows me might be able to tell.  Unfortunately, these days I spend most of my time on Facebook posting ranty political notices because I am THAT UPSET by what I perceive as the GOP’s War on Women (which to me, is just an extension of their war on anyone who is not white, married to someone of the opposite sex, and professes strong religious beliefs with no tolerance for anyone with any beliefs that differ from their own. DON’T GET ME STARTED). But there are some author names that pop up on my feeds so often that I have a negative reaction to seeing them. The sheer volume of promotional material that comes my way from some people is off-putting to me.

There has to be something in between, though, right? Between “I’m going to get in your face first thing every single morning and half a dozen times throughout the day because I’ve got my Twitter on autobot mode” and “Here’s my new release” (mentioned once on a blog no one reads and never again). I’m not sure yet what that “between” might be for me. No one wants to be this guy:

(Guy with bullhorn by avidd from flickr creative commons)

But while I struggle with not wanting to ‘put myself out there’ and blow my own horn, I realize that the bottom line is if no one buys my story this time, I’m less likely to get a publishing contract next time. Face it, the publishers aren’t in this just to be nice to me. They offered me a contract because they liked the story and they thought it would sell.  That’s part of the story’s job. If it doesn’t sell, then no matter how much I love writing, I will always be forced between choosing to write and doing something that helps pay the bills.  I could write for my own pleasure alone, (and I can tell you that I would still write even if I was the only reader) but selling the stories may make the difference between working 6-7 days a week and working only 5–thus giving me two more days a week to ride the horse, go hiking with the dog, hang out with the BF, and yes, write more stories.

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. So I’m curious. How do you as readers find new stories to read or new authors to try out? How do you as writers balance your introverted natures with the need to get the news of your latest release out?  What really turns you off when it comes to promotion? What was the cleverest idea you’ve run across recently? What is considered standard operating procedure and what is considered crass?  What works best for you and what was a total waste of money?  What is something you did even though you knew it wouldn’t generate sales but you just wanted to see your name on something pretty?  🙂 Inquiring minds want to know…

My latest release, Lightening in a Bottle, is part of the Olympic-themed M/M anthology Going for Gold, now available from MLR Press, Amazon, and ARe.

The Devil is in the Details

 

I love researching background material for a story. I know some people view it as a necessary evil; still others handwave around it and hope no one will call them out on their lack of factual details. I’m one of those people who really gets into a subject, wanting to know more about it, taking the research well beyond what is necessary to the story.
But there’s a fine line to walk between learning enough about the Battle of Britain in order to lend authenticity to a particular story and getting lost for hours on Wikipedia. And sometimes the obsession with getting the facts exactly right can get in the way of the story telling itself.

I’ve seen writers never progress off the second page of their story because they spent the last four hours trying to fact-check a minor bit of background detail—something not essential to the story at all, but because it was so important to the writer to get the facts straight, they never finished the story. I have to say, if you can’t find the information quickly and easily, it’s time to ask yourself just how important is it that you verify this fact in the first place? If you can’t find the answer, will the answer matter to anyone else?

I’ve also seen writers suck the life out of their own stories with a pedantic need for verisimilitude. There is such a thing as artistic license, and as long as we don’t use that as an excuse for shoddy research and bending the facts to fit our story needs, sometimes it’s better to go with convention than the actual truth. Take for example, the “murder board” as it is depicted in the average cop drama. I have it on good authority (a former homicide detective, teaching a writing course on murder stories) that the murder board—that white dry erase board where the detectives post pictures of the victims and suspects, draw time lines, and write up important facts—doesn’t exist.

Yep, you heard me. Doesn’t exist. At least, not in the form that we know it.

There are murder books, a case file where all the pertinent information concerning the crime is kept for working access, including crime scene photos, autopsy reports, and witness statements. No doubt with the ability to scan important documents and the push for more and more organizations to go paperless, the murder book will eventually be replaced by other means of record keeping. But that ubiquitous white board that makes its appearance in almost every episode of your favorite weekly police procedural television show is a fabrication.

Why use it then? Because it allows the show’s writers to share important information with the audience in a manner that isn’t information dumping. It puts names to faces and posts them in front of us. It provides a framework around which characters can ask each other questions—again, for the audience’s benefit, sometimes even having a eureka moment when they piece together the final bits of the puzzle. Not to mention creating a focus for dramatic shots of the lead actor staring morosely at the board in a half-lit room, cradling a cup of coffee.

So should we as writers, knowing that this is a convention for story-telling through television and movies, eliminate the murder board? There is one very compelling argument for continuing to use them in our stories. They are used so widely on television and in the movies that the audience expects them. To not use them feels like you haven’t done your homework. That you didn’t research your topic thoroughly enough. Ironic, isn’t it?

Because I love research, if I’m not careful, I’ll spend weeks reading and watching videos in order to get the right background for the story I want to write. If I’m not on a deadline, well, no big deal, I can wallow in my background details to my heart’s content. But I have to watch out and make sure I don’t use ‘research’ as an excuse to avoid the harder task of writing. So I’ve developed some personal guidelines which you may find useful.

1. Resist stopping every five minutes to look something up on Google. If you’re working on a first draft and you know you need to fact-check something, mark it with an asterisk and come back to it. If it is a minor background detail like what sort of weapon your hero would carry or what year penicillin came into widespread use, you don’t need to let it interrupt the flow of your writing. I know, I know! You think it will only take you a second to look it up, but seconds can turn into an incredible time sink when you are in first draft mode and your brain eagerly latches on to any reason not to finish that paragraph you’ve been working on. Focus on the story first and research second. You can do it! Resistance is not futile.

2. Determine how important the background research is to the story and allot the correct amount of time to it. If you are writing a WW2 story that takes place 24 hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you’d best have all your facts straight. Getting that wrong, either with anachronisms, or factual errors, or simply not having good feel for the mindset of the average person of the time—all these things will be woefully obvious if you don’t research the material thoroughly. A good rule of thumb: the more important the background is to the story, the more time you should spend on it. Your character dreams that he’s a rodeo clown and wakes up because a bull slams into his barrel? Yeah, you can probably get everything you need to know through a quick search on Google. You’re writing a story in which the main character suffers a spinal cord injury that completely changes his life? You’d better know what you’re talking about. You’ve chosen a condition that will affect every single aspect of your character’s life now. If you aren’t intimately familiar with your subject, it will show.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The more realistic your setting, the more factual you should be, but if you’ve built a world where magic and the mundane co-exist, you probably don’t have to spend hours determining if your character can or cannot have access to aspirin unless the whole story hinges on this fact. And even then, there’s a place for some handwaving in such a world because you’ve already bent the laws of science and nature by having magic be possible.

4. You’re there to write first and foremost. When you get big and famous, maybe you can pay someone to fact check for you, but for now, you’re doing everything yourself. If you spend too much time on the non-essentials, you’re wasting valuable writing time. Mark it, come back to it in the editing phase. And remember, most people aren’t going to care what kind of shoes your character is wearing unless your story is set in a time before shoes were invented.

Bottom line: do your homework, but be smart about it. It is secondary to the story, not the story itself.

My latest story, Lightning in a Bottle, is part of the Olympic-themed M/M anthology from MLR Press, Going for Gold. I wrote about my own sport, eventing, which meant short of a few facts to check, I didn’t have to do a ton of research. Now I’m looking at writing a sequel, which means I have to learn a whole lot more about competing at the Olympic level—something I will never do myself. Which means, gosh darn, I have to do some additional research. I’ve already bought the eventing DVDs from the Games, and a book on training for the sport from my favorite eventing coach, and…

What’s the subject that you enjoyed researching the most and how did you end up using that information? Inquiring minds want to know!

Going for Gold now available on Amazon!

I can’t help it–I always get a thrill out of seeing my name on a book that is offered for sale on Amazon! This time I get the joint pleasure of seeing my name along with some really wonderful authors in this Olympic themed anthology full of smokin’ hot male/male romance.

 

Going for Gold is now available on Amazon!

I’ve been without internet, so I missed out on the fact that Going for Gold was jessewaves free read the other day, so I want to make sure I get the word out on this now! Of course, you can get it direct from MLR Press too!

What are you waiting for? Last night I took up a friend’s offer of staying at her cabin with my dog while I was in town. No internet, but a secluded cabin in the woods where I could just open the door and let my dog run. After a long walk with the rumble of thunder in the background, I settled in for an evening of writing (I’m working on a sequel to my entry in the anthology, Lightning in a Bottle) and began reading reading Going for Gold myself. I was immediately drawn in to the storytelling and characterization of my fellow authors and I had to force myself to slow down so I wouldn’t whip through the series! These stories are too good–they need to be savored. 🙂

Dealing with Disconnect

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with an increasing sense of disconnect in my life. Funny, how were are more connected than ever, what with Facebook, and Twitter, and various other social platforms–and yet there are times when I wonder what the heck I’m doing spending so much time connected to a device rather than the people and things that I love.

I said as much to the BF last night, after noting how he waited patiently me to stop participating in a chat so we could watch a movie together.

“Why do you say that?” His tone was wry. “Is it because you reach for your cell first thing in the morning to check your Tweets before even getting out of bed?”

In my defense, Twitter is the main way I keep up with some of my friends, and one of them has been very ill recently. I began looking for an update each morning (because of the time difference) ever since I’d missed an important message from her because it had been snowed under by the hundreds of promotional tweets I’d received.

Since then, I’ve thinned the Twitter nest and learned how to make lists, so I can check for the really important stuff every day and filter out the crap. Even so, my phone is constantly vibrating in my pocket. Hell, even when it doesn’t, I think it does, suffering from what Craig Ferguson calls Phantom Phone Vibration Syndrome.

No joke, I get upward of 100 emails a day, and that’s with me being on digest for 99% of my lists. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking people to stop emailing me–I LOVE it when you guys email me and give me feedback on a story, or ask me questions. I love, too, making internet friends and having nice thinky discussions either here on the blog, or via email. Please keep doing that!

What troubles me though is that my need to stay connected to the internet is almost an addiction. I circle through the same social networking sites looking for something to respond to, to ‘like’, to ‘retweet’. I check Twitter at stoplights. I find myself pushing my dog away and telling him I’ll take him out later–not because I am in the throes of a current chapter–but because I’m in the middle of a chat, or a blog hop, or answering 40 responses on Live Journal or a Goodreads thread.

So the irony here is that I’m more connected than ever–and yet increasingly isolated from everything that really matters to me. There’s got to be a better way of balancing things.

Initially when I began writing professionally, I quickly became overwhelmed by the degree of social media connections I was supposed to make and maintain. I rebelled, fighting the rallying cry to blow the self-promotion horn. I lurked on lists, I avoided live chats like the plague (I’m still not super comfortable with them), I wrote silly, self-indulgent blog posts titled “Are Blogs Dead?” and “Shut Up and Write.” I still believe there is merit in shutting up and writing, you know. I look at the time I spend in social media and the current level of productive writing and it makes me cringe.

So I think the key here is doing it effectively. Not the all-or-nothing I’ve been swinging back and forth from lately. I’ve been following Kristen Lamb’s blog for a while now, and she has some good things to say along these lines. What finally tipped me into buying her books, however, was taking a webinar on social media success that touted all things I hate most about that mentality–how to use automation, how to gain huge numbers of followers all with the idea of how they can best help you, presenting a fake persona to the public eye so as to never, ever offend anyone.

I spent the first 40 years of my life never offending anyone. I was practically sewn into a Cloak Of Invisibility. So it goes a bit against the grain now to be told to air only benign, generic opinions for fear of alienating people. I know, I know, I believe that a negative internet presence is more damaging than none, but I also believe in stating what I think and not being mealy-mouthed with my opinions. Anyway, I was so annoyed with the teachings of the webinar that I broke down and bought Kristen Lamb’s books:” We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.”

I say ‘broke down’ because my purchasing these books was akin to someone with an eating disorder being told they needed to keep a food diary. However, I found these books to be extremely useful (as well as easy to read and entertaining). Oh wow, nothing like discovering you’ve been doing everything wrong–and worse, that you were PROUD of it.

Okay, I still maintain that obsessively reading reviews and watching sales rank on Amazon just messes with your mind. But a lot of the other stuff I have defended–such as not blogging, or chatting, or promoting–well, let’s just say I was wrong and I was right.

I was right in that the methods I was being taught, the ones that rankled with me, were indeed counter-productive and off-putting to most people. And simply not effective. The key to social media is the social part. If you are acting like a spam-bot, people will treat you accordingly. Worse, you will actually make a negative association with your name.

Where I was wrong, however, was in my stance that social networking and self-promotion was unnecessary. Okay, I knew this on some level, but I still kept resisting the idea because putting myself out there is not really my thing.

So where does this leave me? Seeking balance. Finding a way to balance doing the necessary bits of being a writer with the important bits that give my life meaning. Taking the dog for a run in the woods. Riding my horse. Hanging out with my boyfriend. And yes, writing.

In that vein, I will be blogging more here. I will be doing more blog hops (because I love them) and fewer chat/promo/excerpt lists (because they make me squirrely). I invite you to email me (there’s a link on the side but I’ll give it to you here too: akasarahmadison at gmail dot com). I’ll post updates via Twitter and Facebook, but will spend less time there too.

Because I really want to get back to writing. After all, that’s the whole reason why I’m here.

Two guest blogs you might want to check out: I had a spot on QMO (Queer Magazine Online), where I talk about being ‘just’ a supporter of the GLBTQ community and a spot on E.m. Lynley’s blog (the editor of Going for Gold, the new anthology from MLR Press, in which I have a story) where I share a bit about not giving up on the dreams that really matter.

Going for Gold is now available on MLR Press.

Do contact me and let me know what you think! I really enjoy interacting with people online and my path to balance doesn’t preclude emails!

 

Going for Gold–available August 31, 2012!

Is it Friday, yet?

I ask because I am so excited about the release of Going for Gold, the Olympic-themed M/M anthology from MLR Press. I can’t remember when I was this excited about a new release! Maybe it’s because the subject matter in my story is one dear to my heart–the horse sport known as Eventing. Maybe it’s because there are six other great stories in this anthology and I can’t wait to read them! Maybe it’s because I barely got a chance to watch the London Games this year and already I am in serious Olympics withdrawal.

I did get to see some of the Beach Volleyball, the swimming, and the platform diving. Matthew Mitcham is my new hero, let me tell you. 🙂 Oh, the drama of the women’s gymnastics! Or how about GB ending a sixty year drought by winning gold in the show jumping?

I still have the equestrian events on TiVo because I have plans for the characters in my anthology story, Lightning in a Bottle. *rubs hands together evilly* I had eyes on the ground, too, as my good friend and fellow author Claire Russett was on hand to watch the dressage portion of the eventing competition (and report back to me).

So what does the lineup for Going for Gold look like? Here’s a list of authors and titles:

Michael P. Thomas – “Hot Shots”
Kelly Rand – “The Quad”
K-lee Klein – “An Olympic Goal”
Sarah Madison – “Lightning in a Bottle”
Kaje Harper – “Tumbling Dreams”
Nico Jaye – “Into the Deep”
Whitley Gray – “Shoot For the Gold”
Annabeth Albert – “Swimming the Distance”

So, do you need an Olympic fix? Jonesing for some swimming or maybe some ice hockey (don’t forget, the Olympics aren’t just about the summer Games!)

Here’s some blog posts where the authors share a little about their stories and the inspiration behind them:
Michael P. Thomas talks about how he deals with his own Olympic withdrawal symptoms here. His video clip of Matthew Mitcham is a must-see for everyone!
Annabeth Albert finds inspiration in Speedo’s over at Cup of Porn today.  And I have to say, I hail the return of the Speedo as well.  Provided the right person is wearing them…
Nico Jaye gives us a sweet teaser about her diving story on her blog, and an excerpt here. Oh, I want more, now, darn it! *presses refresh button again*

I’m off to a horse trial this weekend (sadly, not as a competitor this time) so be prepared to be inundated with horse pictures on my return.  Gotta love a profession where everything can be written off to research, eh?

There will be more author links as blog posts go live, so be sure to check them out!

THE BUY LINK IS UP!  Going for Gold

So what’s your favorite Olympic sport?  Is it the diving (one of mine!)?  Do you love seeing how happy the swim teams are? What’s the draw for you?  The competition? Watching top athletes at peak performance? All that lean muscle and exquisite display of the human form?  What do you wish they’d show more of–or less? Inquiring minds want to know.  Share!

Why Take The Road Less Traveled?

Hello and welcome! I’m participating in the Rainbow Review Blog Hop along with over 70 other authors and many of your favorite publishing companies.What does that mean for you? Follow the link back to the Blog List and discover the full extent of prizes up for grabs, as well as the links to all the other participants in the hop. Leave a comment with your email address on the various blog posts and you’ll be in the running to win books, gift coupons, and more! Not to mention you’ll read what brings writers in the GLBTQ community together from such diverse walks of life–some shared experiences will break your heart, others will make you laugh, and in still others, you might recognize your own life experience.

Do join the party as it plays on from August 24-26th!  It’s going to be a blast!

The contest is now closed. If you are reading this blog and wish to leave a comment, you are more than welcome (in fact, invited!) but the winner for the e-book giveaway is Sue (corieltauviqueen at yahoo dot co dot uk). Thanks for stopping by, everyone!  It’s been great chatting with you!

So why take the road less traveled, anyway? Why not move along with the herd–surely the majority knows best, right?  You want that broad, well-marked path to take you to the same destination that are your friends and neighbors are planning to go. You don’t want to get lost or be left out!

You know what’s cool about the road less traveled? It’s usually quieter. There’s less noise and bustle, fewer people crowding their way along the path you’ve chosen. There’s time to listen to the birdsong, and close your eyes to the feel of the sun on your face.

Just be sure to open them so you don’t face-plant in the mud.

I often get asked why I choose to write M/M romance. I’m certainly not a gay man. Technically, I’m not a member of the GLBTQ community, unless I count by being a supporter. I have a few friends that are true members; what I experience as a supporter is not the same. I could no more truly understand what it is like to be discriminated against and actively hated for my sexual identity than I could for being black, or disabled, or overweight, or Muslim—or any ‘group’ of people that another, larger group feels it is okay to revile. So why do I write this form of fiction instead of traditional romance anyway? Given the meteoric sales of 50 Shades of Gray, I could take what I do, which is write sexy stories about people finding their way to love, join the masses of other authors writing traditional romances and not look back, right?

I’m not going to fall back on the stock answer of ‘if one guy is hot, two together is even hotter!’ (Not that there’s not some truth to that for me as a writer!) I think that’s an easy answer designed to fit into the 140 characters that Twitter demands of us. Thanks, Twitter and Facebook, BTW, for teaching us to deliver every meaningful thought as a sound bite. Look at me, I even included the shorthand for ‘by the way’ here without thinking.

I can’t completely explain my fascination with M/M romance. There are lots of factors that go into it, and I’m sure psychologists would have a field day with the subject anyway, but the bottom line is that for me personally, reading my first M/M romance story felt like for the very first time I was reading adult fiction. It was a revelation and I couldn’t get enough of it. It probably didn’t hurt that I discovered it through fanfiction, and that I loved my pairing to the extent I would read *anything* I could get my hands on about them. Reading about them lead to writing about them, and what made that experience so special to me was the chemistry between the characters—and the fact that even though they loved one another, they didn’t lose their ability to function, they could still do their jobs. Oh sure, there were misunderstandings, but not on the scale that I saw in most romances, where a simple conversation between principles could have saved everyone a ton of grief.

MLR Press is about to release a book titled Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance, a series of interviews with women all over the world asking this very question. I have to say, I can’t wait to read it. I want to know more about the legions of readers out there just like me. Who love stories about two men finding love on what is usually a rocky road.

Certainly, in the big scheme of things, we know that authors write about subjects they may not have specific personal experience with because that’s what writers do. We write about cancer, blindness, and zombie apocalypses. Elves, trolls, and hobbits. Vampires (sparkling or otherwise) and werewolves; hell, shifters of all sorts. Life on other planets. So while sometimes I wonder if I am unfairly capitalizing on the pain and unhappiness that can sometimes go along with life in the GBLTQ community, I remind myself that we as writers transmute everything we experience and turn it into empathy with someone else’s life experience. Yes, there are those of us who understand isolation and bullying, even if it has nothing to do with our sexual orientation. We’ve been caretakers, even though our dying loved one might not have had AIDS. And I would go so far to say that as a woman, I can look at the war being fought over my reproductive rights and see correlations in the right of two men or two women to get married if they so desire.

Because the right of two people of the same sex to marry, or the right of a woman to have access to birth control, to be able to make health care decisions concerning her own body, both come down to the same thing. A larger, more powerful group is trying to make laws that make these decisions for us—without our input or approval.

I grew up just after the Civil Rights movement had fought and won some of its strongest battles. I was raised to believe I could choose any profession I desired, that I was not limited by gender. My biggest problem was the competition I faced from all the young women just like me entering my field for the first time. The ground had been broken by others before me. I foolishly believed that once these battles had been won, they were victories forever. It wasn’t until I left college that I ran into real gender discrimination for the first time and it staggered me. I thought that war had been fought and won—game over, dude!

I can remember being asked on my first farm call how I, as a 120 pound woman, would handle a 2,000 pound bull. I raised an eyebrow at my questioner.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m 120 or 220, the bull still outweighs me by a factor of ten. I’m going to do what any sensible person would do. I’m going to use a head chute and drugs.”

The response got me a certain amount of grudging respect. Unlike the salesman who refused to show me a car with a stick shift.

“Aw, now honey,” he said to me, trying to put his arm around me to steer me in the direction of the long line of automatics. “You don’t want to have to be thinkin’ while you’re driving, now do you?”

I ducked out from under his arm. “What I don’t want to do is pay an extra $1500 for a transmission I don’t need.”

Needless to say, he didn’t make a sale that day.

Years later, I read an account of the first women’s astronaut program—the Mercury 13—and discovered that when I was a child, a woman couldn’t rent a car in the U.S. without the signature of a male relative. Presumably so a woman could not leave her husband without the permission of a father or brother. Regardless of the reason, I was floored by this revelation. A woman could not legally rent a car without a man telling the rental company that it was okay for her to leave her home. Even reading these words now, I find them hard to believe. I see too, that I was on the cusp between one generation’s beliefs and the next. Thank God, my mother believed in two things more than anything else: her heroine, Amelia Earhart, and the power of books to change your world.

Yeah, the car rental thing boggled the mind, but there was worse to come. That was when I realized that civil rights were fluid, based entirely on the whims of the people we vote into power. That’s why I’m horrified when I see some of my friends on Facebook come out in support of people who are bound and determined to take those rights away from us. You know what? Someone show me how my access to affordable birth control through Planned Parenthood has any impact on the economy. Show me how prohibiting same sex marriage is a boon to the bottom line. Tell me how prohibiting same sex marriage is any different than prohibiting interracial marriage—and yet that particular form of discrimination would be unthinkable now.

Well, perhaps not in another twenty years. It depends on who we vote into power over us.

So yeah, that’s why to a certain extent, I do feel as though I am a part of the GLBTQ community. Because I am passionate in my belief in marriage equality. Because I believe that no one should have to hide who they really are for fear of being abused or worse. Because we are all people in this together. And if the road I journey is a little less traveled, that means I’ll have time to notice you and smile on the way. And you know what? If enough people walk a certain path, it becomes more clearly defined so that other travelers can find it as well.

For everyone who leaves a comment here today, your name will be in the running to win a signed, print copy of Crying for the Moon (restricted to the Continental U.S.) or your choice of an e-book from my backlist if you live overseas. Please leave your email in your comment if you wish to take part in the contest.

Coming Soon from MLR Press: Going for Gold, the Olympic-themed M/M anthology including Lightning in a Bottle, a novella by Sarah Madison. (Release date August 31, 2012)

 

Going For Gold: the Primer in Olympic Eventing continues!

As promised, here is part two of my primer on the equine sport known as Eventing.  For part one, check out my blog post here.

A quick recap: eventing is the triathlon of the horse sport world, made up of three phases, dressage, cross-country, and stadium (or ‘show’) jumping.

Dressage is often the hardest phase for the observer to understand. Each horse and rider must perform specific elements of a test where they ride a precise pattern. Unlike the straight discipline of dressage, the individual elements are usually a bit less complex, and the scoring is different as well. In straight dressage (also an Olympic event), horses are scored out of a possible 100 points, so a high score is good.

A short excerpt from Lightening in a Bottle to describe the importance and scoring of dressage in eventing:

Having a good dressage score is critical to winning. Each movement in the test is scored on a scale from zero to ten, with the total score depending on number of movements and the difficulty of the test itself. The marks are then added together, converted to penalty points, and subtracted from 100. Because of this convoluted scoring system, the lower your dressage score, the better the rank. After dressage, the only way to move up is by someone else making a mistake.

The purpose of dressage is to show that you are able to ride in a controlled manner, communicating complex changes of direction and movement with your legs and hands in such a way that it doesn’t look like you are signaling the horse at all. A well executed dressage test is like watching a dance between partners who know each other so well they do not have to speak. Dressage means ‘training’, and it was originally a discipline created around military maneuvers and the ability to riding horses in formation, changing direction at will, while still having hands free to fire a weapon or wield a sword. The upper level movements that some of you may have seen the Royal Lipizzaners perform are called Airs Above the Ground, and all have their origins in defending a rider from attack.

Did you see Colbert’s report on dressage on his show, the Colbert Report? Though it was a hysterical tongue-in-cheek report (full of risqué allusions as well), it does give you an idea of the difficulty involved in the training. The dressage movement in the video, the piaffe, is not performed in evening dressage, that is considered an upper level movement for the pure dressage format. Colbert on Dressage

I include it here because, damn, Colbert cleans up nice. And in his final outfit, he is dressed in the appropriate attire for the show ring, wearing a top hat, a coat known as a shadbelly, white breeches (pronounced ‘britches’ by most people in the US), and tall boots. So when you are picturing Jake preparing to enter the show ring, that’s what he’d be wearing.

The cross country phase is admittedly my favorite. I suspect that had a lot to do with the fact that my very first horse (purchased for eighty-nine cents a pound when I was a freshman in college), enjoyed it too. He would light up when he spied the first fence on course, flattening his body and making for the fence at a hard gallop. When you consider that I normally had to push him into doing anything, it was a surprise and a joy to find my horse’s heart singing with mine as we took the obstacles.

Because that’s what they are: obstacles. The cross country phase has you jumping down off banks, over ditches, into ponds of water, out over stone walls, you name it. You might have to jump through the center of a hedge, or in out of a tricky combination of fences designed to encourage your horse to run out to the side to avoid them. Typically done at a gallop the entire way, the course can be as long as 3-4 miles. There are usually multiple possible approaches to a fence, to allow for an easier jump that might earn you time penalties. The course must be finished clean with no refusals or falls, and under the optimum time to avoid penalties. Due to the challenging nature of the course, elimination at this phase is not unusual. Three refusals, a fall anywhere on the course, failure to wear appropriate medical information in a band on your arm, or the rider’s decision to pull the horse from the course—these are all reasons why a horse might get eliminated in this round. In the 2012 Rolex Event in Kentucky this past April, nearly half the field was eliminated on cross country.

The riders here typically wear ‘colors’ similar to a jockey on a racehorse. Often the colors represent a barn if there are more than one rider/horse combination present. The riders typically wear breeches of any color (though on single day trials, riders often remain in the white breeches from the dressage phase), and a pleasing combination of colors—mine were Kelly green and black, though I have Jake wearing red and black, another combination that I really like. There are no rules on color here—only that you wear the appropriate protective helmet and body protector (which we jokingly call ‘body bags’ around our barn).

The final element is stadium jumping, which is a bit of a combination of the two former phases, in that you are asked to ride your horse through a series of challenging obstacles, but due to the tight turns, tricky combinations, and the precise spacing between the fences, you must have precision riding through the entire course. The fences are laid out in a manner such that if you come into a combination wrong, it will be very difficult for you to get out of it without knocking something down. And unlike cross country, where the fences are large, immovable objects, the stadium fences are designed so that brushing against a rail can bring it down. Competitors are penalized (given ‘faults’) for dropping rails, refusals, and going over time. The winner of the event is the horse and rider with the best score after all three phases.

I look back on this summation and think, “Man, you have to be a little nuts to be an event rider.” It’s true, you do. It’s hours of training no matter the weather or the time of day. Unless you are riding a minimum of four to five days a week, neither you nor the horse will be safe out there. You will ride until every muscle in your body begs for mercy, and you will break bones and your bank account too. Prepping for an event takes a full day of cleaning tack, shampooing and braiding your horse, and loading the van so you can pull out of the stable in the pre-dawn light and drive to the event hours away. It’s sunburn, and heatstroke, and hypoglycemia, and nerves that make you want to throw up. Your day isn’t done until you’ve taken care of your horse, cleaned the van, and stowed your gear so that you can come back the next day and wash everything for use the next time you head out. It’s a brutal way to spend a weekend.

And I miss it very much.

I chose to retire my horse from the sport earlier this year, after having almost lost her twice in the past six months. I don’t need to compete her to know that I have the most marvelous horse in the world, but I miss it just the same.

Which is why I chose to write about this world for my submission to the Going for Gold Anthology soon to be released by MLR Press.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about this story.  This environment and the characters are so real to me, it was as though I was a reporter recording their story as it played out in front of me.  Jake, his determination and fearlessness over fences, but his need to guard his heart.  Rich, who has lost everything and put his life back together from scratch, setting aside his own dreams to help others chase theirs. I can’t wait to share their story with you!  Hear those hoofbeats?  The horses are coming very soon!

Out now! Going for Gold from MLR Press!

Going for Gold: the new Olympics anthology coming out soon!

I’m pleased to announce that my novella, Lightning in a Bottle, will be part of the new Olympic-themed anthology Going for Gold, soon to be released by MLR Press.

I thought in anticipation of this exciting event, I would offer a short primer about the sport at the center of my story–the equestrian Three Day Event. I got so involved in the ‘short primer’ however, that I’m going to have to break this blog down into sections, so stay tuned for further installments as we get closer to release day!

First, let me preface this post with a disclaimer: although I have competed in this sport myself, it has only been at the baby levels! I am no expert here. The rules of the sport are quite complicated and constantly changing. My summation here is a bit like Cliff Notes: it may help you grasp the general idea of Much Ado About Nothing, but you’d better not use them for the final exam essay in your Shakespeare class.

 

(Hey, don’t look at my form over fences here–it was my first recognized event and I was very, very nervous!)

If you’ve been able to catch a glimpse of eventing during the 2012 Summer Games in London, you might have heard this sport referred to as the ‘triathlon’ of horse sports. I think that’s a fair description. The sport evolved out of testing maneuvers for the cavalry. It can be held as a one day event (often called a Horse Trial) where all three elements are performed on the same day—this is most often done at the lower levels and is the sort of competition that I’ve participated in. The three components of the competition are dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. I’ve provided a link here for more detailed descriptions of each phase.  At the higher levels, the events are rated by the Concours Complet International, a governing body that ranks the events as one star, two star, and so on, up to four star (or Olympic) level.  These events are typically depicted in writing as as CCI*** for a three star event, but I’ve chosen to write them out in Lightening In A Bottle for better reader comprehension.

At the more advanced levels, the competition is spread over a course of several days. For many years, it was called “three day eventing”, and each day was devoted to a different phase. These days it is more commonly held over four days, with the first two days devoted to dressage (as many riders compete more than one horse, it takes a lot of time to finish all the dressage tests). The cross-country phase used to be called the “Endurance” phase, but more and more venues have adopted the ‘short’ format of the cross-country phase, which eliminates the Roads and Tracks portion, as well as the Steeplechase. The final phase is the stadium jumping. Eventing is one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women compete directly against each other.

Eliminating the long format of the “Endurance” phase has been a pretty controversial decision. Ostensibly, it was made because few venues have the land to hold such extended events, or the capability to run all the phases of the “Endurance” portion in the available space. The change in format now favors the heavier, European warmblood breeds over the lighter, faster Thoroughbreds which used to dominate the sport. The warmbloods tend to prevail in the dressage phase as well, which is crucial to scoring well overall in the event. Perhaps not coincidentally, there is a lot of money to be made in breeding sport horses these days. In the early days when the sport was moving away from cavalry horses, the mount of choice was an ex-racehorse. A nice off-the-track Thoroughbred can be purchased for re-training for around $1500. Contrast to the cost of the average purpose-bred sport horse, which can easily run in the $150,000 range.

There are many people who feel the elimination from the more challenging endurance elements, as well as the drive to breed winners for sale, has created a situation in which riders are bringing horses to competition too young, and pushing them too hard. The sport has taken some heat in recent years for the sharp increase in the number of fatal injuries among both horses and riders. The change in format has been blamed for this by some, who point out that the types of fences and challenges really haven’t changed all that much over the years.

After the recent fatalities, some major safety measure were instituted, including use of more ‘skinny’ and ‘corner’ fences that challenged a rider’s skill to get his mount over it, while still allowing a horse to run out to the side to avoid it. Other changes included automatic elimination after a fall of any sort, regardless if a fence was involved, and changing fence designs so that a horse was less likely to flip over it if striking it mid-chest, causing the horse to crush the rider. Protective gear and medical arm bands are mandatory pieces of equipment and the horses are required to pass a vet test both before and after the event.

By this point, you may be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a romance between two men in this challenging sport? Well, um, tall boots. Riding crops. Form-fitting breeches. Are you getting the picture? Now add to it the competitive drive and a thirst for a dangerous sport, and you have an inkling of the reason why I was drawn to telling a story about this world.

Next up, part two, where I give you a break down on each phase of the event and a sneak preview of the characters, Jake and Rich, and how they went from being friends to lovers to opposite sides of the rail.

Out now! Going for Gold from MLR Press!