It being lo, these seven years and more since Captain’s Surrender came out from Samhain, the contract on this book is up. I have asked for the rights back and I recieved them (on the same day, no less! I commend them on their efficiency.)
This means it’s time to give Captain’s Surrender a facelift and relaunch it with a snazzy new cover. Sad though I am to say goodbye to the gorgeous cover I had on the Samhain version, I was quite excited to be able to make my own. Of course, all the usual caveats apply – lack of good historical stock photos, my own limited artistic talent. Nevertheless, I’m quite pleased with this one.
It says ‘nautical’ and it says ‘gay romance’, which is what you want from a nautical gay romance, I feel. And it references the point where Josh blows up his own ship to try to take out a French ship of the line, so it’s more relevant to the content of the book than some of the covers I’ve had.
I’m going to have a quick look through to see if anything needs scrubbing up and then reformat it for self publishing as an ebook on the 21st. Then I can wrestle with how to release it as a paperback over the Christmas holidays.
In the mean time I may reblog some of my old posts about the book, which have suddenly become relevant again. Watch this space 🙂
Early reactions to Labyrinth seem to confirm that it’s something of a marmite book – people have either loved or hated it. I can understand that. I remember when Ursula LeGuin went through her feminist awakening-goddess-y-‘lets talk about weaving instead of war’ phase, and I hated it, because I was still in my own ‘whoa, spears are cool!’ phase. Not that I’m claiming any kind of equivalence to Ursula LeGuin of course, apart from the slow awakening to the fact that even the way we tell stories – the things we think of as being story-worthy – has been shaped by patriarchy and sometimes we need to expand our minds to be able to find other things worthwhile too.
Why on earth, when faced with all human history, did I choose to write about the Ancient Minoans? Historical novelas, as you know, tend to cluster into similar eras of interest, leaving vast swathes of the past untouched. Popular eras are the Regency (balls, duchesses, carriages,) the Romans (slaves, gladiators, Imperial decadence), and the Egyptians (mysterious, supernatural, full of gold.)
What all these eras have in common is that they were literate, and we have access to reams of information about what life was like there. This is sadly not true of the Minoans, who have left (so far) very few written records, and as far as I know some of those are still untranslatable. Meaning that we actually know very little about what their life was like, and such things as we do know are down to looking at their artwork and making an educated guess as to what’s going on.
So I repeat, why would I want to write in that setting?
Firstly, I’d have to say “Doesn’t it look beautiful!” Look at the sun. And the colours! Look at the ruins of palaces, with those iconic blood-red pillars standing out against that indigo sky. Can’t you almost feel the warmth already?
And now look at the artwork! Doesn’t this civilization seem a nice place to live? It does to me. If I imagine the sun-drenched shores and tamarisk-scented hills of Crete inhabited by these long-haired, long-limbed beautiful people in their colourful kilts and their ridiculous belled skirts, athletic people, bedecked with jewellery, gathering saffron among the flowers, of course I want to be there.
I find a lot of people are attracted by the glamour and the peril of times of war. They want to read about macho warriors doing manly things. But I’ve become a little bored by that, and I wanted to write about a civilization that didn’t seem to revolve around its warriors, or who it could kill.
Scholarly opinion is, as always, divided on what Minoan civilization was really like, but there seems to be a strong case for the Ancient Minoans being a civilization dominated by priestesses. Earlier archaeologists assumed from reading Greek literature that the Minoans were ruled by a king called Minos, but nowadays there’s a core of people who think they were ruled from a temple, by the priestesses, and ‘Minos’ was a religious title of some sort.
It’s all a bit vague and speculative, particularly as anything the Greeks said is being filtered through their own preconceptions. But I thought it would be interesting to explore a culture where being female is associated with power. What would it be like, being a man in that culture? Would it be easier for a genderqueer person, or harder, than a culture in which a person’s value was determined by how manly they were?
And what would that culture think when it came across a patriarchy like the Ancient Greeks? That culture clash fascinated me. If Minoan society was indeed peaceful and matriarchal, how on earth did it survive in a world full of societies that would have regarded it as abhorrent and against the natural order of things?
The answer for which drew me into a world of ecstatic goddess worship and drug-fuelled religious rites, a bit of hands-off research into the effects of opium smoke, and an enlightening crawl through the many early cults with ‘third sex’ eunuch/transgender or genderqueer priest/esses.
I was left with the realization that even the most peaceful places hold extraordinarily interesting stories, if you just look. I hope you enjoy mine!
Labyrinth at Amazon.com
Labyrinth at Amazon.co.uk
Labyrinth at B&N
Labyrinth at Kobo
At All Romance Ebooks
At Riptide Publishing
Click on the banner to be taken to the blog tour page.
Hurray! Today is the launch of my experimental novella Labyrinth, in which I look at the minotaur from the Minoan point of view; I cast the Homeric Greeks as a bunch of bullying bad guys; I attempt a possible reconstruction of the Minoan attitude toward third-gender people; I examine life in a female dominated society; I put a bunch of queer characters together in a found family, and I do all of this while I also attempt to prevent a war and tell a love story.
Am I successful in doing any of that? It’s up to you to judge 🙂
Kikeru, the child of a priestess at the sacred temple of Knossos in ancient Crete, believes that the goddesses are laughing at him. They expect him to choose whether he is a man or a woman, when he’s both. They expect him to choose whether to be a husband to a wife, or a celibate priestess in the temple, when all he wants to do is invent things and be with the person he loves.
Unfortunately, that person is Rusa, the handsome ship owner who is most decidedly a man and therefore off-limits no matter what he chooses. And did he mention that the goddesses also expect him to avert war with the Greeks?
The Greeks have an army. Kikeru has his mother, Maja, who is pressuring him to give her grandchildren; Jadikira, Rusa’s pregnant daughter; and superstitious Rusa, who is terrified of what the goddesses will think of him being in love with one of their chosen ones.
It’s a tall order to save Crete from conquest, win his love, and keep both halves of himself. Luckily, at least the daemons are on his side.
Labyrinth at Amazon.com
Labyrinth at Amazon.co.uk
Labyrinth at B&N
Labyrinth at Kobo
At All Romance Ebooks
At Riptide Publishing
There’s a lot of despairing going about today, so as someone who walked around in a daze for a week after Brexit and then realized I was still alive and I still had a chance to make a difference, here’s a small list of practical suggestions for what you can do now.
Take care of yourself while you are still mourning/processing/panicking stage. Maybe disengage, go for a walk, take your meds, pray, meditate and save yourself first of all.
Read this calming tweet
If you can, now would be a good time to donate to organizations who support the things you care about. Human Rights Campaign, for example or the American Civil Liberties Union or whatever other cause matters to you and would benefit from some money.
Once you’re feeling a bit better, then you can consider further action. The time for political apathy is past – it’s become very obvious that no, progress will not happen automatically, it still has to be fought for, and it’s our job to do that fighting.
If health and finances permit, you can get involved in activism in the real world. There must be causes that need help, protest rallies that you can attend, Queer clubs and meeting spaces that need volunteers. (And if there aren’t, perhaps they need starting.)
If health and finances don’t permit that, there’s still online activism. I’m a huge fan of Avaaz, for example. There are things you can do even from your computer. Mean time, although we now live in interesting times, we still live in them from day to day like always. Let’s just do the best we can while we can.
As a Brit, I have no real right to be invested in American politics, but we all know that the result of the US election will affect the state of the rest of the world for the immediate future and goodness knows how long after.
I went out and voted against Brexit. I fell asleep confident that my countrymen would make the right decision, and that we would remain in the EU, because we were a country that valued tolerance and freedom. Because at our hearts we were good people who would not be swayed by inflammatory rhetoric that blamed our problems on people worse off than ourselves.
When I woke, it was to find out that all the people who believed as I did had also assumed that of course we would remain, so they had not bothered to vote at all. Or they had made a ‘protest’ vote, thinking their vote would not matter enough to undermine the outcome they wanted.
As a result, we are now stuck in a country soon to be isolated from the rest of the world, where rising levels of racism are probably only the ugly tip of the iceberg of anti-women, anti-queer, anti-poor, anti-[insert convenient minority] prejudice that we thought was beaten, but will now have to be fought all over again.
You still have the chance not to let that happen to you. Please go out and vote! Don’t waste your vote on a protest or a third party. If you care about rights for LGBTQ people, for women, for people of colour, for poor and disabled people, don’t stay at home today. Please vote. Not only for your future, but also for the rest of the world.
Yesterday I was at QC2, a meeting of queer romance writers organized by Manifold Press. I chaired a panel on how much reality we want in our historicals and am definitely going to have to blog again about lots of the issues that came up. So much was covered! And then in the hours that followed I remembered how much I’d meant to say and hadn’t, and probably should get around to mentioning later. I am as always occupying an equivocal position of “Well, it’s complicated.”
People love easy answers, but easy answers can’t cover complex situations, and human behaviour has always been hair-tearingly tangled and contradictory. Why should it be different in art?
I hope I’m going to talk later about KJ Charles’s talk about finding the complexities in history and opening them out and discovering that in examining them we also examine ourselves. Also I need to shout out to Farah Mendlesohn whose talk reminded me what a genuine pleasure it is to encounter well presented historical research, and also how much I loved the Georgians.
But for now I’m posting here the article I wrote for the event booklet. Some of you may remember the incident that gave me my inspiration for this!
How much reality do we want in our historical fiction?
Not so long ago, it was the summer holidays, and my family decided to go to one of Kentwell Hall’s Tudor days, at which their beautiful house and gardens are flooded with beautifully costumed reenactors. We have some problems with their reenactors, who pretend to be people of the past, and with varying degrees of accuracy put on ye olde English speech patterns and try to get you to play along with the pretence that you are actually visiting Tudor England.
Our family are reenactors ourselves, but of a different sort – a sort that acknowledges that we are in reality modern people who share a culture, language and knowledge base with any member of the public who might talk to us. We like to have conversations where we and the public share notes. A chat where we say “This is how the Saxons did [whatever],” and the member of the public says “Oh, that’s interesting. I read that the Romans did it [some other way]. I’m interested because I do [whatever craft] myself. It’s cool to see how it developed,” is the kind of chat that we aspire to. A dialogue, in other words.
This training makes it difficult for us to suspend disbelief in the historical reality of the Kentwell Hall reenactors. And because they won’t drop character, and we’re caught in the existential uncertainty of how to talk to people who are pretending they don’t know anything about our shared culture, we find we can’t talk to them at all. We don’t care to be treated as props to be monologued at.
However, they do look pretty! So we decided we would go anyway, keep our heads down, avoid interacting with them, and take some nice photos.
It was a scorcher of a day, so my daughter was dressed in shorts and a strappy top – nothing out of the ordinary for a 21st Century young woman. When we first passed a reenactor who shouted out something about “These young maidens going about in their underwear,” we rolled our eyes at each other, sourly thought “oh ha ha,” and walked on, continuing with our attempts not to engage.
But he followed us. And he continued to pester her about how she was going to hell, leading people into temptation, a harlot who ought to be ashamed, and us about how we should rein her in and put her under proper control and teach her to be properly modest.
It was excruciatingly unpleasant. No doubt we were supposed to take it as a joke or an enlightening glimpse at an ugliness so far removed from our present lives that it can be fun to contemplate. But it wasn’t, of course. Both my daughter and I have had plenty of experience of being followed down the road in modern life by creepy middle aged guys who wanted an excuse to rant at how sinful our mere existence in female bodies was. We didn’t find it any more amusing couched in ye olde English.
Which leads me finally to my point.
When does the pantomime of an abuse become an abuse in itself? The more convincing it gets – the closer to reality it gets – the more you are actually inflicting that very abuse on your reader.
If we had actually been Tudors ourselves (a) we wouldn’t have been dressed like that anyway, and (b) my husband could have hit him across the face with his cane and had him put in the stocks for insulting a respectable young lady. But we weren’t – we were at an unnatural disadvantage very like the disadvantage a reader suffers when they open a book.
When a reader opens a book, they can’t have a free and mutual conversation with the author or with the characters. An author, like our harasser, can drop the reader straight into the intolerable ugliness of the past, and rub their faces in the fact that people like them – women, queer people, people of colour, disabled people, even sensitive non-heroic cishet men – would have largely had a worse time of it than they do today.
That would be the reality. And the reality is not fun. Fill a book with the kind of misery, suffering, fear and abuse, the kind of grinding, soul destroying prejudice that such people would encounter in the past – do it without any glimmer of assurance that you, the author, a modern person, know that this stuff is vile – and you can be sure your reader won’t come out of reading it feeling uplifted. Your reader will come out of it feeling crushed in a way they’ve been crushed too many times before.
If your queer characters always die; if your women end up silenced, relegated to the roles of wife, mother or whore; if your people of colour end up slaves or outcasts, run out of the community or dead, it doesn’t matter how ‘realistic’ that might be. You, the author, are still deliberately choosing to hurt people in ways they get enough of in real life.
It’s important to remember that you, the author, are a modern person telling a story to other modern people. You can’t hide behind the claim that you’re just being ‘realistic’. You choose what goes into your story. You choose whether you start the conversation with “You’re a harlot,” or “Lord, mistress, are you foreign? Do they dress like that where you’re from?”
The sexual harassment is perhaps more likely and therefore more realistic, but one of these openers is an assault, and one is a respectful invitation to play along. If you know that, and you choose the ‘realistic’ option anyway, what can I say? You’re a douche.
Angels of Istanbul has been having a bit of a make-over this past week. Riptide decided it was too long to go in a single volume, so now it will be split into two. This means it now has a series title: The Arising Series. And each volume has a different name. Currently we’re going with Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul.
We’ve tentatively scheduled the release dates as follows:
- Sons of Devils: 13 March, 2017
- Angels of Istanbul: 27 March, 2017
And they will now both have artwork and their own blurbs. So I get to have pictures of both Frank and Radu 🙂 Exciting stuff!
Apart from that, this week has been me ploughing on with Waters of the Deep – the next Jasper and Charles story. I’ve just done chapter 11 of 16, so the first draft of this should be finished either by the end of next week or the beginning of the week after.
Physical Person News:
I continue to be ill, but at least I now have a hospital appointment on the 24th, so there is a prospect of something being done about it some time in the next six months. (It’s a saga, but it’s probably one of those medical things you only talk about face to face.)
But speaking of face to face, tomorrow I’m going to be at the Manifold Press’s Queer Company #2 meet up in Oxford, chairing a panel on ‘How much realism do we want in our historical fiction.’ I’m really looking forward to it – it’s been ages since I’ve seen anyone else in the community, and I’d begun to feel very isolated and alone. So yeah, it’s going to be great to see people again. I don’t know if any of you are coming, but if you are, come and say hello 🙂
I’m really not feeling great today, and executive dysfunction is kicking my butt when it comes to actual writing. So in an effort to feel like I’ve accomplished things in other directions, I’ve worked out my Halloween face paint for tomorrow. Sutton Masque will be dancing in various locations in Ely, starting outside the cathedral at 11 ish and moving on to various other spots in the town throughout the day.
I’ll probably not be doing much dancing, since (as previously mentioned) I am not well. But I’m sure I can do one or two, and I’ll certainly be playing the music.
My normal facepaint is a dark green base with a golden dragonfly on top, upper set of wings across the eyes. But for Halloween that’s obviously not scary enough. So I’ve tried to do a golden skull with green hollows (gold and green being our colours). I was hoping it would be scary, but I think it simply looks weary and sad, but that’s ok, weary sad skeleton. Me too. Same.
This is where I find out exactly how offputting that title is 🙂
Buried With Him is a short (10,000 word) prequel to The Wages of Sin, in which we get to find out how Jasper managed to keep his faith despite being defrocked and publically pilloried for his relationship with George.
Sentenced to the pillory for the crime of having kissed a man, Jasper Marin has been stripped of his vocation as a priest, and seems poised to lose his faith with it. He has always been able to see ghosts but it’s just like his luck that the one who’s harrassing him now seems obsessed with collecting human hearts.
It’s been great coming back to this ‘verse. When I originally wrote The Wages of Sin, I wrote it hoping that it would launch a series, because I really enjoyed the constraints of writing a mystery story and I wanted to do that more. And because it was me, I wanted it to be a mystery with fantasy/supernatural elements and some history. It’s taken me a long time to actually make the series idea a reality, but I am now finally at work on a sequel to The Wages of Sin, called Waters of the Deep.
With that in mind, it suddenly occured to me that I needed a series name. So as of now, the series is called the Unquiet Spirits series. Buried With Him is volume 0. The Wages of Sin is volume 1, and Waters of the Deep is volume 2. Volume three is nothing more than a twinkle in my eye at the moment, but it’s already a vague concept, so it will happen eventually. And once it does, I’ll figure out Createspace and do a paperback containing the whole series.
But in the mean time, Buried With Him is only 99p/99c, and you can buy it here if you’re interested in Jasper’s backstory 🙂
Once upon a time I used to do one project and finish it before starting on another. Goodness knows exactly how things changed, but those days are now a distant memory. I’ve been tallying up what I have on my plate at the moment, and deciding I’ve maybe gone a little over the top.
(Not a faithful portrait of Alex)
Angels of Istanbul
This is my 18th Century fantasy in which Romanian nobleman Radu invades the Ottoman Empire at the head of an army of strigoi (aka vampires.) Coming out from Riptide’s Anglerfish imprint some time next year, I think.
I’m half way through copy edits on this and have dropped everything else in order to get them done. I’m still in doubt about whether I’ll manage it in the fortnight I’ve been given, but if I do need a bit more time, it’s not likely to be more than another three days or so.
I’ve seen cover art for this book and it’s going to look awesome 🙂 We’ve got Frank, our shy magician, summoning an impervious barrier between the armies of the Turks and the Romanians, with the minarets of Istanbul behind him in the sunset. It’s very cool! I can’t show you yet because it’s not finished, but I think you’ll like it when I do.
Humbling of the High Ones
This is my newsletter novella of which the second episode went out today. It’s very Enya-Celtic at the moment, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s only 500 words a week, so I think I’ll manage to keep producing that indefinitely no matter what else is going on.
Buried With Him
My 10K story set before The Wages of Sin, featuring Jasper and his adventures immediately post pillory. Before the edits on Angels landed, I was about a day away from finishing the final polish on this novelette. It has a cover already and it has been edited. So I think I should still be able to finish and publish it before the end of the month.
Waters of the Deep
This is my Charles and Jasper novella which I am currently writing. Or at least, which I will be writing again after I’ve finished the edits mentioned above. I’m five chapters in to the first draft a sixeen chapter story, so I expect the first draft will be finished this year, but I’ll be pushing it to get it edited and released before Christmas.
Lioness of Cygnus Five
This is released, but I’m now struggling with Createspace to make a paperback version. I’ve had a proof, from which I can tell that the cover looks good, but the inside is mysteriously doublespaced. So when I’ve got time to get back to this, more struggling will ensue.
Heart of Cygnus Five
The first draft of this is complete, but as soon as possible I need to look for someone who will edit this for me. (And I need to complete a couple of edits in return of other people’s books.)
As soon as I’ve finished writing Waters of the Deep, I mean to get down to plotting and writing this one. I don’t know what it’s going to be about yet, but I imagine I’ll be starting to write it over Christmas.
By which time Foxglove Copse, my Porthkennack Contemporary will probably need editing.
I must also not forget that I have at least five blog posts to write for the release tour of Labyrinth, which is coming up, crikey, very fast indeed!
I never imagined that I would one day be the sort of writer who had so many things going on at once. It’s slightly overwhelming, but I’m so grateful for it 🙂