Friday, August 29, 2014

Research: The Problem With Cutting Corners #writing

I have a friend who lives for research. Digging up details is half her job and she's good at it. I, on the other hand, prefer to sit back and let her tell me what she found. My affection for research ended with my master's program. If you're like me it's tempting to cut corners and find the most consolidated (and if possible entertaining) source so you can get back to writing.

That brings up an obvious option - television.

courtesy of Pixabay

If you want to know about medical jargon watch a medical drama. If you want to know about police procedure watch a police drama. You can sit with your bowl of popcorn and a pad of paper and be entertained and educated at the same time. You could even write off the cost of a season of Grey's Anatomy on your taxes as research material. There's just one problem. It's television.

It's no secret that Hollywood and reality barely speak. Hollywood doesn't care about accuracy. It cares about ratings. Even so called "reality TV" shows are suspect. Footage is edited, general plots and scenarios are orchestrated, feuds are either encouraged or fabricated, and scenes are re-enacted for the benefit of the cameras. It's not created to be instructional. It's entertainment. 

What does that mean for a book based on research done by watching television? To be blunt, it means the story is wrong. Let me use the CSI franchise as an example. 

My local Romance Writers of America chapter invited a real CSI to do a presentation about proper procedure. Of course, we asked him about the show. He admitted he'd watched the first ten minutes of the first episode but that was all the cringing he could take. Apparently, the only thing the show got right was that CSI does indeed stand for Crime Scene Investigation. The rest is fabricated with the goal of making a painfully mundane job interesting enough to attract an audience. The show's procedures are wrong. Their job duties are wrong. Their equipment is the type only seen in high budget FBI labs, and then there are the vehicles.

Inaccurate spelling or grammar is a death sentence for a book but what about inaccurate content? We all know about the recent example of a story that has the details wrong but took the express elevator to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list anyway so how vital is it really?

CSI viewers will tell you it doesn't matter. They know real investigators probably don't work a crime scene in four-inch heels and two hundred-dollar pants. They know police departments don't have the money to afford Hummers or the gas to fill them. The other inaccuracies are less obvious but the size of the franchise makes it apparent few people care. I think readers can be the same way. To many of them, accurate details aren't important to a well written story with a believable premise.

Some authors will tell you research is just as important as plot. It's one of those stone-inscribed rules that cannot be broken but as we've learned in recent years, not all of those rules are vital. Some are merely tradition. How far an author goes to make sure every detail is correct depends on their own professional priorities and their tolerance for low reviews by readers who can spot the errors. To some authors, mistakes can be hidden under the title 'fiction'. The book isn't real so it doesn't have to be accurate. Others would be mortified to have their inaccuracies detailed on someone's blog.

What do you think? Is there value in spending months or even years researching before you write or is it ultimately unnecessary?

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Cover Reveal! Fallen Angels of Karnataka by Hans M. Hirschi @Hans_Hirschi #Gay #Contemporary

I'm excited to announce the upcoming release The Fallen Angels of Karnataka by my friend Hans M. Hirschi!


The story is set during a time in history of epic confusion and heartbreak: the late 1980s AIDS outbreak. It centers round young gay man from Norway who dreams of romance and adventure and finds it - and disaster - all in the same person.  Unbeknownst to him, it is the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and after the quick, tragic death of his very first love, Haakon learns that he, too, has been infected by the strange and mysterious virus.  Presuming he will soon die, Haakon goes to a bar to drown out his sorrows.  There, he meets a rich, older British aristocrat who offers to take the young man on the travel adventure of a lifetime. The dandy doesn’t want anything salacious from the young man, merely companionship, so Haakon accepts the invitation to travel the world as his assistant. What Haakon doesn’t realize are the heinous acts he will be called to assist on.


Prelude: Christmas Day, 2009

Cities smell.

Big cities smell a lot. Yes, sometimes the smell is vile. Sometimes they smell ever so sweetly and everything in between. But cities definitely smell.

Towns don’t smell. Neither do villages. Sure, there’s the smell of manure in the countryside, but that is different. We know it’s manure, but the vile smells that hit your nostrils in a city are intertwined with the scent of Chinese or Indian restaurants, the sweet scents from nearby flower shops, and the stench from garbage containers, making for a unique combination.

It was the absence of smells that had first driven Haakon from the small town he grew up in. It had driven him to travel, to discover the world. Not that he had been aware of it. No, of course not. He had not yet caught a whiff of Cairo, nor Shanghai, nor Bangkok for that matter. Nor any of the other places around the world he would visit in the years following that very first flight to London.

But Haakon had known—instinctively known—that there was something missing from his life, and he realized that he had to find it. Had someone told him what he’d find out there, he would’ve judged that person mad. And why not? We greet every day with little or no clue of what might happen, who we might meet or how these people might change our lives. Sometimes they provide a bit of diversion, sometimes they alter the course of our lives forever. 

Haakon climbed out of the water he had just been swimming in and took in the scenery. From their house on the southern tip of the island, where two beaches met, he saw the jetty of their private hideaway. The white sand, the tiny waves lapping at the beach front, and the palm trees. The weather had been stunning these past weeks—no wind, barely a cloud in the sky—only today, clouds had been drifting in from the east, signaling that a storm was approaching.

They inherited the island when Charles passed away a few months earlier. Haakon had always looked forward to visiting Mon Bijou, the small paradise in the Caribbean that Charles bought decades ago, investing a significant part of his family fortune. But as things turned out, Haakon had never been able to make this particular journey while Charles was still alive.

Mahender was nowhere to be found. He had risen before sunrise for his usual morning walk and yoga, and now Haakon couldn’t see him anywhere. No need to worry, he would be back soon. Mahender needed solitude every now and then, and he would no doubt be in his favorite spot, overlooking the ocean on the east side of the island.

As Haakon took in the view, his mind drifted to the memory of how he met Charles, and how he ended up on Mon Bijou with Mahender. They had been here for almost eight weeks now, and had finally decided what to do with the island.

With one final look out across the bay, Haakon returned to the house to start breakfast. Eventually, the smell of freshly-brewed Darjeeling or a hungry stomach would lure Mahender back. 

Chapter 1: Departures, May 1983

As a child, Haakon had grown up sheltered, maybe even overprotected by his mother. His parents owned a farm in the small mountain town of Røros in Norway. They weren’t
rich, but there was always food on the table, and their cattle provided them with dairy products and meat, while the small fields produced a little wheat they were able to sell to the co-operative. Life in Røros was simple, and Haakon enjoyed the things most Scandinavian boys do: going to school, playing with friends, skiing or hiking—Norway’s number-one pastime—or fishing and hunting with his father.

Haakon’s mom had a job in the local co-op store, as a cashier. Summers in Røros were short, but comfortably warm, and the days were long. The light was stunning, allowing the kids to be out and play way past ten or even eleven at night.

On the other hand, winters were long—excruciatingly long for Haakon. He had never been a big fan of snow, nor of the cold it brought to the Norwegian mountain plateau. He preferred the summer and loved visiting the nearby city of Trondheim and the west coast. Seeing the open ocean spread out toward the west, offered the promise of adventure and freedom.

As a boy, Haakon never traveled much beyond Trondheim. He was sixteen and in high school when his class took a long train ride down to Oslo to visit the capital and see the many museums, parks and the castle. He could only imagine his namesake, the Norwegian Crown Prince, living inside the walls of the small but well-kept Oslo castle. King Haakon VII had once ruled the country—a country he had to flee during World War II for the relative safety of England—and from where he and Queen Maud led the Norwegian resistance. Haakon’s dad, Olaf, was born during the war, and like all boys and girls of Norway’s post-war generation, he had been inspired by the heroism of their king and queen, and vowed to name his children after them.

Olaf and his wife Synni had no more children after Haakon. There were too many complications during his birth, and the doctors strongly recommended Olaf to get a vasectomy to avoid any further pregnancies. Being a good and compliant husband and father, he had done as the doctor at the local hospital advised. Olaf always did what people asked or expected of him, and he raised Haakon to do the same.

Synni, on the other hand, was the more adventurous type. She would take Haakon on hikes out into the open wilderness of the bare mountains around Røros, sometimes taking the car across the nearby border into Sweden to go look for the few muskoxen still living in the wild. It was Synni who would take Haakon to Trondheim to go shopping, or out into the coastal region towns of Alesund, Molde or Kristiansund, where Haakon first encountered the power of scents and smells. Those fishing communities positively stank during the short summers, as fish were hung to dry, and washed-up bladder wrack dried on the cliff s along the shore, giving off its distinctive smell. But Haakon didn’t mind that; quite the contrary. He and Synni would sit there by the water on one of the large, rounded rocks that line much of the coast of Scandinavia, looking out over the open sea, blinded by the sun’s reflection in the deep-blue waters of the
Norwegian Sea, while eating sandwiches and drinking Solo.

It was these trips to the coast that kick-started Haakon’s longing for freedom. His desire to leave his small home town and see what lay beyond the horizon. He’d bury his head in atlases and books, learning everything he could about the many countries on the planet, their capitals, their currencies, the way they lived. He was fascinated that there were people who looked nothing like him. Some had black skin, some were brown. Some had black hair, and eye colors so different from those he would normally see in Røros. Sure, the Sami in his hometown were dark-haired and their eyes dark brown, but the prolonged exposure to the arctic climate meant most of them had skin almost as white as his—minus the freckles.

Oh yes, Haakon sported freckles. Not just on his face, but across his entire body, and his blond hair had just the faintest touch of strawberry to it—that slight, reddish-blond that is typical for so many Norwegians. Haakon matured into a handsome Norwegian stereotype, towering at six-foot-four, lean and muscled from the hard work on Olafsgaarden, the farm his father named after his greatgrandfather. All first-borns in the Olafsen family were named Olaf, all; until Haakon, which had really upset his granddad. He complained to anyone who’d listen that the boy should’ve been named Olaf, just like the present king and the rest of the first-born men in their family. But the young Olaf Olafsen wouldn’t hear it. He and Synni had made up their minds, and no one would change that.

Sadly, Grandpa Olaf passed away just a few months after Haakon was born, and for many years, Olaf would’ve gladly changed his son’s name, just to keep his dad around. Not that he’d ever tell Haakon. After all, none of this had been the boy’s fault, and Olaf knew deep down that nothing could’ve stopped his father’s cancer. Nothing—certainly not a name change.

Haakon’s life as a child and teen was nothing out of the ordinary. The Olafsens didn’t travel much because the animals always needed to be looked after. Apart from the trips to the coast, the shopping tours to Trondheim and the odd school excursion, Haakon never ventured more than two hundred miles away from Røros, the trip to Oslo being the grand exception. Yet the longing was there, and the posters of tropical places in Haakon’s boyhood room called out to him, beckoning him to leave Norway and venture out into the world.

And while his friends would spend their evenings on their mopeds outside the old church, talking, smoking, drinking beer or moonshine, Haakon preferred to sit cooped up in his room, reading the amazing stories written by Jules Verne and the tales of famous adventurers David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley and John Hanning Speke, or Norwegian explorers like Fritjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen or Thor Heyerdahl. Haakon loved to read about all the exotic places dreamed of someday visiting.

When finally the day had come for Haakon to graduate from high school—a russefejring—he was ready to leave Røros behind, and like most nineteen-year-olds, he had no intention of ever coming back, of ever settling down. All he wanted to do was to travel and explore the world. But even Haakon knew no one could travel without money, so he emptied his savings account and bought a ticket to Oslo. He hoped to find work in the capital, in order to save enough money to leave Norway once and for all.

As he boarded his train to Oslo the morning of the eighteenth of May, 1983, Haakon had no idea when he would see Røros again. Had you asked him then, he might just have said “never.”

Pre-order your copy today!

About the author:

Hans M Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years.

A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and had previously published non-fictional titles.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to unleash his creative writing once again. With little influence over his brain's creative workings, he indulges it, going with the flow. 

A deeply rooted passion for, faith in a better world, in love, tolerance and diversity are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work. His novels might best be described as “literary romance, engaging characters and relevant stories that won't leave you untouched, but hopeful.”

Hans is a proud member of the Swedish Writers’ Union, the Writers’ Center in Sweden and serves as chair of the Swedish Federation of Self- & Independent Publishers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I wonder, Mrs. Duggar... #transgender #equality

I have a question for Mrs. Duggar (and anyone else who has been swayed by the concept that allowing transgender people to use public restrooms is an unthinkable crime against reason. As if giving them the right to pee is going to send society crumbling into the sea like a melted iceberg.). 

Can we look at this concept rationally for a moment, Mrs. Duggar? Your argument that transgender people don't deserve even the basic right to use a public restroom is predicated on fear that it will put your children at risk. Let's be real. The minor infraction of being in the wrong restroom isn't going to stop a pedophile intent on hurting a child. Those prone to such actions don't wait for legal permission. The truth is, you have no proof the person who was in the next stall the last time you visited one was actually a woman. You just assumed...but that isn't what the fight over bathrooms is about. It's about showing compassion to a fellow human being. It's about treating all people with respect.

Transwomen shouldn't have to risk their lives in order to take a pee and no, that isn't being melodramatic. You stand behind the argument that a child might be hurt yet willingly send someone who looks, dresses, and behaves like one of your daughters into a men's restroom because of a single letter "M" on their birth certificate. Did it ever occur to you that you are sending her into a terrible situation with potentially horrific consequences? 

Would something bad actually happen? It's impossible to say. Not all men are violent bastards looking for a new victim. It's possible they'd be just as upset as you at the thought of someone of the opposite gender standing beside them while they pee. But how comfortable would you feel in that transwoman's place, pushing the door open with no idea what waited on the other side? How comfortable would your daughters feel? 

I wonder, Mrs. Duggar, if it's possible you heard this argument from someone else and found it so upsetting you never looked beyond that initial spark of emotion to see if it actually made sense? Maybe you've heard from others that transgender people are evil, deviant, defective and since you've never actually met one you have nothing to use to repaint that picture. 

I have met them, Mrs. Duggar. Several of them and they are beautiful brave people trying to live a life that comes so easily to you. Transwomen are not drag queens. In fact, they look very little like drag queens. They look like women the same as you, the same as your daughters and that's because inside they are women. Transgender isn't a trick or an evil plot. These are real people, as human as everyone else, whose bodies and brains weren't reading the same set of instructions when they were in the womb. One side spoke one language. One side spoke another. It's nothing worthy of the ridicule and scorn they suffer every day from people who speak without thinking, judge without understanding, hate without reason. 

You of all people, Mrs. Duggar, should know how inaccurate public opinion can be. Many call you and your husband sick and wrong because you have so many children that the young ones are deprived of vital interaction with their parents and the older ones a proper childhood. Are they right? I'm confident you would say they are not. Are they right about transgender people? 

Are you? How do you know if you've never spoken to one?

Isn't it worth meeting a few transwomen before you decide to stand against a bill that would allow them a home, a job, and a place to go when they have stomach cramps? 

Sometimes the problem
 is the answer.

Friday, August 15, 2014

'Why do you write gay romance?' and other dangerous questions. #writing

Those of us who write stories about men are familiar with this question. It's a standard that's tucked away between "When did you write your first story?" and "When will we see your next book?" 

Photo by Pixabay

Some authors roll their eyes at it. Some find it blatantly offensive, though I doubt most bloggers mean it to be. Taken one way it's a legitimate question. Why write gay romance? Why jump into a sub-genre with a limited audience, limited chance for financial success as an author, and a snowflake's chance in Phoenix of ever earning the coveted title of NYT Best Seller? 

Taken another way it's a demand and to some writers an insult translated as "why would you write about gays?" complete with a judgmental sneer. They feel it's rooted in controversy, politics, and religion; an offensive taunt that elicits a response that is at best defensive. Sometimes even hostile. 

How do you take that question? Personally, I don't see it as an attack unless the tone makes it obvious it is. The answer, however, is very treacherous for anyone trying to maintain a professional image. Answering it honestly without pissing anyone off is a test of your skill as a word-slinger.  

It is always bad business...and a huge misstep as an author to slam anyone else's writing, genre, or publisher. It makes you look ill-mannered and unprofessional and in a business where you can either rise through collaboration or sink into obscurity alone, you can't afford to have other authors see you as bitchy or petty. 

It doesn't matter that it's on Facebook where half your followers are your besties. Half of them aren't and anything you post on behalf of your pen name impacts your success. We've all seen the public arguments between authors or the sniping posts designed to turn a private spat into a grand display of bad behavior and most of us know better. What about the ones that happen by accident?

Graphic by Pixabay

For example, saying you prefer the title of "gay romance" over "MM romance" because MM is 'poor quality trash' or that you write gay romance because het romance is 'boring', 'predictable', and 'trite' is just as harmful to your image. You may really feel that way, but truth is a dangerous thing when a single statement like that slaps an entire population of authors across the face. As any public relations expert will tell you, the public forum is no place for the truth when you're speaking as a professional.

Ask the numerous celebrities being clubbed over the head for insulting the LGBTQI community with a careless word or misinterpreted comment. If there's the slightest chance someone out there will find it offensive then don't say it unless you're prepared to deal with the fallout.

You could stand behind the theory that it doesn't matter whether you offend people, your friends and fans will still support you. That's your prerogative but it limits your potential for growth when people outside that circle have a different opinion of you as an author and that opinion puts you on several 'never buy' lists. Why leave your career hobbled?

This business is a triathlon not a sprint. Most of us will be in it for decades and the author you slam today could be in a position to help you a few years down the road. How likely are they to do so when your stinging words still bounce around in their head? 

As professionals, I think it's a good idea to have a non-controvercial response to that question already prepared because it's going to come up...often. We've all seen what happens when someone takes things out of context and uses our words to craft a blog intended to destroy an author's public image. The best way to protect against that is to make sure your answer to the genre question and all the other combustible concepts doesn't strike a match.

Why do I write gay romance? Because I've tried writing heterosexual romance and I suck at it! My submissive women come off too whiny and my strong women come off too butch. In a romance between men it's impossible to be too butch and when I'm writing male characters I'm less likely to make them too whiny. I'm happier with the result. My editors are happier with the result.The readers are happier with the result so I think it's a good fit.

None of that is a lie. That's also not the only reason. It's not even the most compelling reason but it's the safest and it answers the question without turning a blog post into an inferno of scathing comments by people who disagree with my statement. When was the last time you saw someone burning up a blog because they vehemently disagreed that the author wrote terrible unpublished het romance? 

Be a little honest and a lot creative and never forget that they're not really asking you the questions. They're asking your pseudonym the questions and the answer you give is going to be hanging around your neck for the rest of your career. 

Sometimes the problem
is the answer.