Every candle casts a light

aka “Do less, so that you can do more.”

If you read my last blog entry you’ll know that I’ve been going through something of a crisis recently. It’s been such an ongoing thing that I’ve decided to call it a mid-life crisis. I am in fact 54 this year, so I’m a bit overdue for one.

One of the things that has been afflicting me recently has been the knowledge that I will probably now never amount to anything. I’d better unpack that a little, so bear with me if I seem to be meandering.

You and I have been brought up on books, TV shows and movies where there is a hero. The hero, reluctant or not, is called upon to save the world. They meet various mentors. They refine themselves through various struggles. They meet their greatest challenge, face their foe and defeat them, and in the process they save the nation/world/galaxy and everyone in it.

People who model their understanding of the world on stories – ie, most people, but storytellers most of all – have therefore been primed to see their lives as a hero’s journey. I remember studying Dante’s Divine Comedy and learning that in Dante’s day, the great mass of people were considered so indistinguishable from each other that they didn’t even qualify for real Hell. In order to have an afterlife at all, you had to have achieved fame, or infamy. If you hadn’t done anything notable in your life, you literally didn’t matter even to God.

Elitist claptrap, right? But IDK. I had internalized the idea that everyone was the hero of their own story, and to me that meant that if I was a hero, I had to do something to justify my existence. In a dim and not very well thought out way, that meant I was responsible for the state of the world. Even though I had never voted conservative, I was responsible for the xenophobia and corruption of the government and the fact that my children were having things harder than I was at that age. Even though I was not even in America, I was somehow responsible for everything Trump was doing. Or I was responsible for saving everyone from it.

But that turned out to be more of a burden than I could carry. I ran into the wall of my own powerlessness and broke my nose on it. I’m not a bestselling author (except in certain small Amazon categories.) I can’t save the world. I don’t even know where I would start.

Perhaps it’s a little late in my life to be running into the knowledge that I’m only a very little person and there’s not a lot I can do, but I find myself without a story-framework for a life that is not the life of a hero. What is the point? I have been thinking. What’s the point of being alive at all if I can’t stop Trump, stop Brexit, make everyone be decent to each other? If I make no difference, what is the point?

Fast forward to this morning, and I was in church. Around the nave altar were four lit candles, and another four around the high altar. It occurred to me that a candle-flame is only a very little light, but it’s still a very beautiful thing. It may not be enough light on its own to illuminate a great big, dark, vaulted place like the church, but it will still glimmer from the brass and the gold leaf. Even if no candle-flame is larger than any of the others, each makes a light and the sum total of that light is greater than it would be if that single candle was not there.  With eight, twelve, twenty, a hundred candles, you have enough light to see, to read, to make a difference.

The loss of even one diminishes the whole, but no one candle is expected to light the whole room all by itself.

Recently I have found a lot of comfort in this saying from Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Time for another diversion. I’ve recently discovered that I actually enjoy exercise. Why has it taken me this long to find that out? Because for most of my life, I’ve been trying to do too much. I’ve gone to the gym or the pool and pushed myself to do as much as I possibly could, and then I’ve gone home feeling sick from over-exertion and got up the next morning so achy it took me a week to recover. After which I avoided going back for several years, certain that endorphins were a myth, or at least a thing that happened to other people, not to me.

Recently, however, I learned to start by doing less. I swam until I didn’t want to swim any more, then I went home and took anti-inflammatory painkillers so I didn’t stiffen up. Next time, I added two more lengths. Then again, building it up gradually so I never exhausted myself. In this way, I ended up doing less swimming per session than I had when I swam to exhaustion, but because I now was going often, I was doing way more swimming as a regular component of my lifestyle.

I call this the ‘do less in order to do more’ principle. If I do less, to the point where I can manage to do this thing on a regular basis, I am actually doing a lot more of it than I would be if I was intending to do an enormous amount of it, intimidating myself by the prospect, and eventually failing to do anything.

If I write 200 words a day, I am writing more than if I aim to write 2000 a day, fail, feel terrible about failing, and then avoid writing altogether for months.

And if I do something good to help the world – if, for example, I give money or time to a food bank, canvass for a decent political party, volunteer to help local LGBT kids or whatever I feel I can do on a regular, long term basis – that is better than feeling helpless to make everything better and doing nothing as a result.

I find this thought comforting. It is of more worth to the world for me to do the small things that I can do than it is for me to feel so overwhelmed and hopeless that I do nothing at all. Therefore I shall continue to do things.

(And if I do find the great amulet of doom, the casting of which into a fire will split open the dimensions and catapult us all into the good timeline, I’ll take it as far as I can. It may not be all the way.)

So what have you been doing recently, Alex?

Not much, is the answer. I have 11 chapters of Murder of a Working Ghost written, and it is still on track to be out in time for Halloween, but I find myself going through a bit of a crisis.

I’m self aware enough to know that I always go through a crisis when the children are at home for the summer holidays. That hasn’t changed now that they’re home from uni instead of from school. My ability to plan my own day goes out of the window, and with it my ability to section off enough undisturbed time to get into the writing mindset also plummets.

But this year feels worse, because it’s not just the summer. This year, it’s been all year. When I finished re-publishing all my Samhain books and then all my Riptide books, I found myself without a publisher for the first time since 2007, and it hit me hard.

Before I first got published, I thought that being published would be the best thing in the world, and that I’d be famous; I’d be giving interviews to magazines, and my books would have a cult following and it would be everything a person could ever ask for.

Then I got published, and it was awesome, and I was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine and my books were in bookshops and for a moment I was on the top of that hill. And then I started to come back down again. I still had to keep writing. I still wasn’t making any money. Problems with publishers kept cropping up to the point where I stopped looking for new ones and only concentrated on the two I really trusted. I figured out exactly what brand of queer I was, and that was great, but it threw a wrench into my desire to write m/m romance.

Then the two publishers I trusted did some stuff, and I found myself facing a steep learning curve in an attempt to make it as a self-pubbed author. I did many courses. I read a lot of stuff about Amazon’s algorythms and SEO and sprucing up your covers and your book pages and how to write cover copy, and how to ad-stack and the mysteries of Facebook and Amazon ads. I put a lot of it into practice.

And I still wasn’t making any money. After over ten years writing, with 26 books out, I am making a little less money every year than I was when I only had one.

This is starkly discouraging.

The thing that I used to do for pleasure – writing – has become a job for me, so I now approach it as a kind of drudgery. I don’t have anything left to look forward to – I’ve been published. I’ve been in bookshops and magazines. I’ve hoped that when I had a decent back catalog I might start to earn a living wage, but now I have one, and I haven’t. Ten years as a writer has just left me disillusioned and not honestly wanting to write any more.

But I have no idea what I could do instead. I have chronic ill health and depression which means that I tend to let down anyone who is expecting me to turn up for things on a regular basis. Writing is one of the few things I can do and take days off whenever I need them.

On a non-practical level, I used to love writing. I used to be really excited about the worlds in my head, and I would love to have that back.

I don’t know how to get it back, but carrying on the way I’m going isn’t working. I will be finishing Murder of a Working Ghost, because I have people waiting for it. But after that, I’ll be having a long deep thought about where I go next.

Any suggestions for how to recover the joy of writing? I’ll try anything, even yoga.

Donation Change details

Having tried to donate my royalties from Contraband Hearts to BlackTrans.org, I could not get their website to allow me to give them money or to contact them to say the donate button didn’t work. And when I emailed them, the email bounced.

That’s not a hopeful sign. There being nothing else I can do to try to give them money, and in honour of Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera, I have instead donated to Trans Women of Color Collective

In the absence of someone coming and telling me there’s something wrong with TWOCC, I will be donating my royalties from Contraband Hearts to them in future.

Contraband Hearts named one of PW’s Best Summer Reads

How awesome is this? Publisher’s Weekly has selected Contraband Hearts as one of its five best Summer Reads of 2018.

Summer Reads list available through Publisher’s Weekly

Best Summer Books, 2018

Well, that’s going on the front of the website 🙂

Contraband Hearts is out now

I should have done this yesterday, but I couldn’t access my website yesterday for some reason, so today it has to be.

After what seems like years and years, Contraband Hearts is out!

I know some of you have been waiting for a long time for me to write another age of sail book. Finally I’ve managed to deliver 🙂
 
His future depends on bringing the smuggler to justice. His heart demands to join him.

Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent by his patron to investigate rumors of corruption in the Porthkennack customs house. There he is tasked by the local magistrate to bring down the villainous Tomas Quick, a smuggler with fingers in every pie in town. Fired with zeal and ambition, and struck to the core by his first glimpse of Tomas, Perry determines to stop at nothing until he has succeeded.

Tomas Quick is an honest thief—a criminal regarded by the town as their local Robin Hood. He’s also an arrogant man who relishes the challenge posed by someone as determined and intelligent as Perry. Both of them come to enjoy their cat-and-mouse rivalry a little too much.

But the eighteenth century is a perilous time for someone like Perry: a black man in England. Two have already disappeared from the wrecks of ships. Tomas and Perry must forsake their competition and learn to trust each other if they are to rescue them, or Perry may become the third victim.

NOTE: All profits from the sales of this book are donated to Black Trans Advocacy.

 
I’ve written five blog posts for the blog tour, and I don’t know myself which of the numerous websites they’ll be on. In an ironic twist, although my website seems to be okay today, Riptide’s is down for maintenance, so I can’t link you to the list of blog tour locations. And I didn’t make a note of them myself, so I can’t go and visit to reply to comments.

I think I’ve had more organized book releases!

However, if you would like to read the book, you can find it here:

 

“The Arising” free from today until Friday

Remember when I wrote a really long fantasy novel, set in 18th Century Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire, and then it was accepted for publication by Anglerfish Press, and they decided it was uneconomical to produce in one volume because it was over 400 pages long? So they produced it in two volumes – Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul. And people liked them very much but consistently said “This would have been better if it had not been cut in two. Cutting it in two messes with the pacing and also I really hate when a book ends in a cliffhanger.”

Well, I recently got the rights back, and I have just re-issued the story in a single volume, now called “The Arising,” available in ebook or in a stonking great paperback the size of a really respectable fantasy novel.

To celebrate, (and I freely admit, in the hopes of garnering a few reviews for the new edition), I’m offering the ebook for free from today (23rd of April) to Friday (27th April).

1742

Ten years ago, the island of Atlantis rose out of the sea, triggering mechanisms all over the world that made magic a genuine force once more. Now paranormal creatures are coming out of hiding and demanding their rights. In every country, scholars and scientists are scrambling to research and understand the occult so they can harness it safely. And all over the world, rulers and warlords are commissioning magical weapons they don’t understand and can’t control.

The Age of Enlightenment has become a race for dominance that human beings are no longer guaranteed to win. This is the perfect time for them to go to war with each other. Obviously.

~

This is a historical fantasy set in the 18th Century. Inspired by the first half of Dracula, in which a hapless young man travels to Romania and meets a fascinating nobleman, this adds magic and the excitement of the age of Enlightenment to the mix.

In order to save his lover from his vampire parents, Radu Vacarescu must let them loose on his country. In order to save his country from them, he must let them glut themselves on the Ottoman Empire. What on earth must he do to save the rest of the world?

If you like the sound of that, hop over to Amazon sometime before Friday this week and get it for free 🙂

Free Giveaway

To celebrate a combined Easter and my relaunch of my Riptide books, I thought I would run a giveaway. If you fancy getting Trowchester Blues for free, it is now available for a bargain price of absolutely zero on Amazon, and will be available for nothing until April the 4th.

GET IT HERE

Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.

Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing.

Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.

~

“Finn’s belief that “if the heart is going to err… It’s surely always best to err on the side of love” underlies an entertaining,emotionally satisfying mix of intrigue, mourning, adventure, comedy, and romance.”Publishers Weekly review of Trowchester Blues

Cover Art update

I’ve spent the last week making new covers for most of my Riptide books, and now I want to show them off 🙂

The Trowchester Series now looks like this:

Blessed Isle now looks like this:

Which I’m particularly excited about because Garnet regards the whole story as a message in a bottle cast out onto the seas of time. So, yay for symbolism 😉

Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul now look like this

Which I feel makes it clearer that they are primarily historical Fantasy rather than romance. I was sad to part with my illustrated covers for these, but I thought they looked a little Young Adult, and might have been a bit confusing.

However, I have paid for my illustrated covers of Crimson Outlaw and Labyrinth because (a) I love them, and (b) there’s no way that I would find better depictions of 18th Century Romania or Minoan Crete in the desert of modernity that is stock photo sites.

So Crimson Outlaw and Labyrinth still look like this

The Riptide Situation

Uh… I thought I posted this on Monday, and now I find it in my drafts. Well, better late than never:

~

So, you’ve probably all heard about this already, because I waited for a week while I got my thoughts in order and had my rights returned to say anything publically about what’s been going on recently at Riptide.

To make a long story short, one of Riptide’s authors came forward to accuse them of racism and sexual harassment. Here’s the Guardian’s take on it:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/19/romance-so-white-publishers-grapple-with-race-issues

Following that author’s post, lots of other authors came forward to add their own complaints of having been treated badly because they were people of colour.

Riptide immediately made a public apology and a promise to restructure themselves in order to do better in future. As part of that effort, they offered to release rights to authors who wanted to withdraw their novels from the publishing house.

I accepted that offer, and I asked to have all my rights returned to me. The next day I received my rights back for Trowchester Blues, Blue Eyed Stranger, Blue Steel Chain, Blessed Isle, The Crimson Outlaw, Labyrinth, Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul.

I have already started the process of reformatting these for self publishing, and they should start being available again within the next couple of weeks.

However the Porthkennack universe is contractually the property of Riptide, and they did not offer me my rights back on the Porthkennack books, Foxglove Copse and Contraband Hearts. These will therefore remain available (or in the case of Contraband Hearts, will be published at the expected time and then remain available) at Riptide.

I am particularly embarrassed by Contraband Hearts. When I was writing it, before all of this came to light, I decided that–in support of diversity–one of my heroes would be a Black British man. I’m not embarrassed about that. I believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to do the best they can to produce diverse stories. But I do feel very guilty about the fact that while actual people of colour were being treated badly by my publisher, I–a white person–am profiting by releasing a book about a black hero.

Since I could not regain my rights to this book, I’ve decided that the only way I can avoid profiting from it would be to donate my royalties from both Foxglove Copse and Contraband Hearts to charity. So I will be passing on any earnings I get from these two books to charity in future.

Because transgender rights are particularly close to my heart, and because there has been a spate of anti-trans newspaper articles recently, I’ve decided to donate my future Riptide royalties to http://uktrans.info/

If you know of anything suggesting that I shouldn’t choose them, let me know! Galup, Mermaids and GenderedIntelligence are also on my list and I could change to one of them if required 🙂

Pride of Cygnus Five is out today!

This is a big and slightly complicated announcement, which I’ll break down into parts 😉

Firstly, as the title says, Pride of Cygnus Five is out today.

Once a penal colony of the Galaxy’s most hardened criminals, Cygnus 5 is now home to the hopeful, the lost, the rejects and the rebels of a system that have left them to die. In a battle for the colony’s survival, Aurora Campos—its defacto queen—awoke a doomsday machine left behind by the aliens who inhabited the world before her. Now the whole galaxy is at risk.

Aurora and her band of misfits must prevent the entire human race from being turned into dust. She must save her people from starvation, reunite with her kidnapped daughter and argue a planet into submission. The way her life has been going recently, it’s starting to look like a typical Monday.

If you’ve been following the series and you already have Lioness of Cygnus Five and Heart of Cygnus Five, in which our heroes got into this pickle, you can buy the concluding volume of the trilogy for $3.99

Pride of Cygnus Five for $3.99

 

ON THE OTHER HAND

I’ve also made a box set of the three volumes. (No box is actually involved, unfortunately.)

You can buy the box set for $5.99, so if you only have Lioness, or you don’t even have Lioness, but you know you like my writing and you’re willing to take a chance on a rare space opera featuring bisexual, lesbian and homoromantic asexual heroes, you can get all three at a bargain price under their own cover:

All three books for $5.99