Friday, November 21, 2014

Lost in Translation

I received some excellent news today. The Japanese edition of Fatal Shadows is going into a second print run.

Meanwhile Fair Game was picked up by Harlequin Mondari, the largest romance publisher in Italy as their first foray into male-male fiction. One of my German publishers (I have two) is about to pitch A Dangerous Thing to their acquisitions committee -- which sounds like the German edition of Fatal Shadows must be doing reasonably well. My other Italian publisher (I guess I have two of those as well?) sent the cover art for Out of the Blue. And I'm about to list the Spanish edition of A Dangerous Thing on Amazon.

Se Habla Espanol! Only we don't. And therein lies the rub.

There’s a lot going on with translations right now -- translation and audio are suddenly hotly contested rights in contract negotiations -- more because of where the book market is heading (a global direction) than where it is right at the moment. We can all see the trend.  It's a small world after all.

Not all of my forays into translation have been successful. Dutch was a disaster. And I've sold less than ten copies of either of my Finnish translations. And zero of my sole Portuguese translation. Spanish has not been a great success, but then again the free Spanish edition of The French Have a Word for it had hundreds of downloads. So.

As I look at the results...the Finnish translations did not have publisher support behind them and I do think that makes a difference. Then again, the Dutch translations were through a publisher but frankly, they might as well have gone through a pirate site. The Portuguese translation was through a new company called Babelcube.  It operates on a business model similar to that of ACX (the Amazon company that produces DIY audio books). You don't pay for the translation up front, you split the profits on a sliding scale with the translator and Babelcube. Bablecube lists the work in a number of venues -- some of which the author could access but some which the author probably couldn't (at least without a fair bit of research and effort).

It's an ingenious idea, but there are inherent difficulties: no quality control, no production oversight, and no real promotional or marketing support.

It is enormously exciting to reach new readers -- is there a greater test of the universality of a story than putting it into another language and seeing how it holds up? But there is also the problem of not being able to converse with these readers, not knowing how or where to market to them. I don't speak Japanese, Finnish, Italian, Spanish, German, French (okay, a little tiny bit of French), Portuguese or Dutch. I've received wonderful support from Italian bloggers and from Japanese writers and readers. Spanish readers seem very enthusiastic, so we'll see what happens when this next book
comes out.

One disconcerting thing is every single translation -- whether through a huge publisher or a hired freelancer at some point gets slammed for the quality of the translation. I'm not exaggerating.  Can translation be subjective? I don't know.

I know that translators are generally underpaid and underappreciated.

I also know that so far translations have not been enormously lucrative for me. Some of them are more lucrative than I expected, but I am not getting rich off any of them. And in some cases, the translations have not even paid for the cover art and formatting. But then I am not Dan Brown or Nora Roberts and I'm not expecting those kinds of results. I'm basically just laying the groundwork for the future global book market. I noticed years ago I was getting letters from readers all around the world, and that's the beauty of the digital age. Now these readers can enjoy my work in their native language. Or maybe more to the point, recommend the books to their friends and family who do not read English?

Anyway, what do you think? If English is not your first language, how important is it to you to read the books in your first language? If English is not your first language, how did you discover my work? Or the male-male genre for that matter?


Friday, November 14, 2014

You Say You Want an Evolution

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve mostly been working on “Baby, it’s Cold,” my story for the Comfort and Joy holiday anthology I’m doing with LB Gregg, Harper Fox and Joanna Chambers. As much as I love writing Christmas stories, it’s been slow going.

Partly it’s slow going because there’s so much going on right now in my non-writing life, but part of it is simply that I was trying to force an idea that wasn’t quite right.

Ideas come to me in bits and pieces. A particular character, a particular dilemma, a certain relationship dynamic…but sometimes not even that much. Sometimes the spark is just a scene or the way a song makes me feel. I’m not sure you can really analyze the creative drive -- or maybe what I mean is, the analysis can drain the magic out of the flash of inspiration.

I got the idea for “Baby, it’s Cold” from a brief article I read about hiring a chef for the holidays. I thought that would be a very fun thing -- although the idea of a professional chef trying to make sense of my kitchen? Madness. But fiction isn’t reality.

Initially the idea seemed straightforward. Someone would hire a chef for the holidays. I could picture my chef: tough, tattooed, pierced…not your normal TV chef. Did he maybe have a prison record? Hmm. Rocky. Yes, I would name him Rocky.

So who would hire Rocky? Someone with money, obviously. Someone throwing a party? And what would their conflict be?

This was the problem. Jesse would hire Rocky. I knew what Jesse looked like because he was inspired by Johanna Ollila’s cover art months ago. But though I knew what Jesse looked like…I had no sense of Jesse. Why was he hiring a chef? And how would this tie into the anthology theme of being housebound for the holidays?

I decided that Jesse worked for an actor who was throwing a Christmas Eve party. Jesse was organizing everything because he was this actor’s PA, but at one time they had been lovers…

Hmm. That just

Already I could feel it starting to go off the rails. But I persisted. So…Jesse was still working for this selfish asshole actor because…because…he had written a script and this guy was going to produce it so he could star in it and that would be Jesse’s big break so he was putting up with the indignity of staying on and working for his ex.

Okay. And Jesse was coming down with a cold so he would be sort of feverish and acting out of character.


Convoluted. Artificial. Book people with book dilemmas.

So a week went by and I kept trying to imagine the dialog but it Just. Wasn’t. Happening.

I didn’t like Jesse continuing to work for this jerk who was using him, and I couldn’t see what the attraction would be for Rocky. And why would a snooty actor -- or his wishy-washy PA -- hire someone as street as Rocky?

Another week.

I turned to the research. What would Rocky cook? Maybe that would give me a hint.

Well, heck. Rocky could cook anything, that wasn’t terribly interesting.

No, what would be interesting would be trying to cook for someone like Rocky. Because Rocky was a perfectionist, critical, a bit arrogant. And if the scrambled eggs weren't right, he'd tell you.

And all at once I had it. Jesse turns up at Rocky’s hideaway cabin to cook a romantic Christmas Eve dinner for two. Except Rocky isn’t expecting Jesse because he and Jesse aren’t together anymore. And Jesse can’t cook. And Rocky’s current boyfriend also shows up...

I like it. It's funny. Nutty in a romantic comedy kind of way. There's natural conflict. The idea has evolved, changed, and now we just might have a story. I'll keep you posted.



Friday, November 7, 2014

Fair Play Launch

Fair Play goes live on Monday, so this blog is a tiny bit premature, but oh well! The launch parties are at Goodreads and my Facebook Fan Page, and once again there is a glittering array of presents and giveaways to celebrate the new story. I cannot get over the generosity of my readers.

Plus a little something special. I'm taking part in Amber Kell's annual birthday party, and my contribution this year was a little "birthday" snippet with Elliot and Tucker. You can read that here -- just scroll down the page a bit.

Meanwhile, you can order Fair Play at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes and of course directly from Carina Press.

Fifty years ago, Roland Mills belonged to a violent activist group. Now, someone is willing to kill to prevent him from publishing his memoirs.

When ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills is called out to examine the charred ruins of his childhood home, he quickly identifies the fire for what it is—arson. A knee injury may have forced Elliot out of the Bureau, but it’s not going to stop him from bringing the man who wants his father dead to justice.

Agent Tucker Lance is still working to find the serial killer who’s obsessed with Elliot and can’t bear the thought of his lover putting himself in additional danger. Straightlaced Tucker has never agreed with radical Roland on much—“opposing political viewpoints” is an understatement—but they’re united on this: Elliot needs to leave the case alone. Now.

Tucker would do nearly anything for the man he loves, but he won’t be used to gain Elliot access to the FBI’s resources. When the past comes back to play and everything both men had known to be true is questioned, their fragile relationship is left hanging in the balance.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Talk to the Hand!

No, don't talk to the hand. Talk to me. I'm blogging over at Queer Romance blog today.

If you're somehow not aware of this month-long conversation and celebration of Queer Romance, you're missing out on some genuinely insightful posts -- and a whole lot of interesting discussion from a variety of writers. Some of the posts have been thought-provoking, some have been entertaining, and some will break your heart.

So what are you waiting for?

Happy Halloween!

Stay spooky and stay safe! ;-)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Trailer for FAIR PLAY

I've been sharing this on social media, but it would be remiss of me not to share here as well. So for your viewing enjoyment: FAIR PLAY the movie.

Okay, the movie-like book trailer. ;-)

Setting up house with his new lover was tricky before arson landed his former radical father in the guest bedroom. Now ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills has to figure out who is willing to kill to keep Roland's memoirs from being published.

Or, as they used to say in the day, Bring it home, Daddy-O.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Talking 'Seriesly' with Ginn Hale

My dear friend Ginn Hale’s much anticipated Champion of the Scarlet Wolf is out this month, so I thought it would be wonderful to have Ginn on the blog again. But she suggested we do a joint event, so we settled on discussing the challenges and pleasures of writing a series. The questions below are courtesy of my Goodreads group -- thank youse guys!


And another sincere thank you to Ginn.   If you’re not familiar with her work, well, shame on you! I can’t think of a better author of gay or m/m fantasy writing today and I can’t recommend her wonderful work enough. The Rifter is probably my all time favorite fantasy series.


So here we go…


Do you know in the beginning how many books the series will include? Or -- another way of asking this -- Do you plan a through line story and plan to stop when you reach the "end" of that plot for every series?


GH: I didn’t start out thinking that I was going to write a series. But part of my creative process involves making up the life histories of primary and secondary characters, as well as their world history.  So, I tend to create multiple storylines that reach far beyond the single book I’m writing.


That’s just how I work and I never thought much about it.


Then a few years back, I was chatting with my editor about the characters from Lord of the White Hell and I mentioned the lives that I’d made up for several of the secondary characters. Suddenly it occurred to my editor and me that I was describing a series.


JL: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I knew about midway through the first Adrien English novel
that it was going to be a series, not a standalone as originally envisioned. I didn’t know how long the series would be until I was writing A Dangerous Thing. Then I suddenly saw how everything was going to play out and that it would take three more books. The Dangerous Ground books were written with a series in mind, but more like TV episodes than with any great overarching storyline. So those could run forever or end any time. And then there’s Fair Game which was intended to be a standalone. In fact, I resisted the idea of a follow up for years. Then I suddenly wondered why, when it was such a natural for a sequel -- and now I know it’s the first in a trilogy.



Do you work with a time bar, or something like that?


GH:  Time bar?


I have no idea what that is but I’m imagining a dark speakeasy where you slink in through a dank underground corridor and the shadowy figure behind the bar serves you a smoking elixir brimming with contraband minutes and hours--for a terrible price!

I wish I worked with a time bar!

Sadly, I just have to be content with a lot of notes and outlines taped around my desk.


JL: LOL. Set ‘em up, innkeep!  Er, no. I probably SHOULD use a time bar, but no. I rely on notes. And not always thorough notes. In fact, there were definitely some timeline goofs in the original Dangerous Ground books.


Have you detailed notes for the characters? What they like or don't like, their looks, education, parents...?


GH: Yes. It’s all part of the way I build the world where I’m setting the story. Though looking back at some of my notes I’m often amused by what I thought was important enough to write down and what I ignored.  A surprising number of characters have only vague physical descriptions: “Tallish, dark haired, mediocre swordsman, good rider.” I’m not sure why I didn’t bother to note his eye color, manner of dress or even if he was handsome or hideous. However I did feel it was important to record that Atreau ‘loves and wears rose perfume as he unconsciously associates it with the mother whom he lost as a very young boy’.


JL: I’m pretty good about detailing the two primary characters. Here’s the cryptic entry on Kit Holmes, lifted straight out of my series file:


Christopher Andrew (Kit) Holmes - forty and feeling his age, medium height, reclusive, nervous and bad-tempered writer. Bad back, reading glasses, migraines, not strong -- doesn’t exercise and prone to gain weight (eats too much when stressed). Drinks too much when stressed -- and it hits him hard and hurts like hell. Red wine gives him a headache.  What remained was a forty-year-old man, average height, average weight, brown eyes, dishwater blond. Anti social - Irascible and sometimes outrageous sense of humor. Can bitch and complain and nag too -- just because he’s hypochondriac doesn’t mean he isn’t a little fragile. Dramatizes his woes a little. Can be tender, moved (blows nose rather than cry) and protective of J.X. Very well read - very well educated, stubborn and strong minded, smart ass -- gin and tonic drink of choice -- jeans, T-shirts, sweat pants. Sleep mask. Breakfast. BMW. No cell phone till BOY.


I’m not very good about detailing the supporting cast. And that sometimes presents a problem when I forget something crucial like...oh yeah, Rachel has a prison record!


Does it happen sometimes that characters go their own way? Can you be surprised how a character changes over the course of the books?


GH: I try not to be surprised by my own characters and keep them on course with the cruel shackles of my outline. J


JL: I usually don’t start writing until I know the characters pretty well. Plus, I think there are fewer surprises when you outline.


I know you do research for your stories. How you work with that? Only memory, or you are making notes, or both? How you organize your research?


GH: Oh, research, how I love thee!


I personally take copious notes and make ugly drawings and diagrams, all of which a tape into a notebook or around my writing desk. Just the sight of my resulting research piƱata generally serves to keep the information floating around in my head while I’m working… even when cats have carried off the actual notes and mauled them.


JL: I love research because a lot of the plot points come from the research itself. Plus research is
a good excuse for buying movies and music and books and magazines, so that’s one of the perks of the job.  I am a voracious researcher. I use travel sites to chart drives or plane flights so I’ll know exactly where my character could get a flight on a Sunday night and where he would get his connections and where he would have to land on that particular date -- or if he’s driving, what the traffic is usually like at that hour on that particular day, where the likely hotels are, where the rest stops are, etc. All that stuff goes into one giant, running file. It would mean the death of a small forest if I printed it out, but I don’t. Everything stays on my laptop, including my notes on music and movies and etc. I am almost incapable of discarding research materials and I use an online backup system.


How do you interconnect series? I was just rereading the I Spy books, and I know that both guys end up going out to dinner with the guys from Winter. And like we have Adrien and Jake showing up in the Holmes series. Do you plan heavily for that, if you haven't completed a work with characters that will cross over? Or do these things happen more organically? Does this question even make sense?


GH: I’ve wondered about that as well. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Josh’s characters cross over and I’ve admired how he has balanced his “guest stars” so that they never play so large of a role as to outshine the major protagonists but do still serve an important purpose for the books.


In fact, I looked to Josh’s example when I needed to bring back the major protagonists from Lord of the White Hell as secondary characters in Champion of the Scarlet Wolf.


JL: The Boy with the Painful Tattoo is the first time I ever really planned to have two series intersect. The other times it just sort of naturally happened. In Haunted Heart: Winter, Flynn was from Virginia and I was thinking about the type of man, the type of doctor who would be both caring and shrewd enough to come up with “the agreement,” and I suddenly realized I already had a kind, perceptive doctor living and practicing in Virginia. That was a happy coincidence.


With BWTPT, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to cross sect with the AE series, but that I had to be careful. I didn’t want Adrien and Jake to either interrupt or take over the story, and I didn’t want it to be disappointing to readers that they only appear briefly. I think it helped that it wasn’t a stretch to get them into the story and I had a specific goal for their appearance -- show readers they were happy and moving forward with their relationship.


What is much harder is using one series as a vehicle to introduce a new series. I used to hate it when my favorite TV shows did that. Neon lights flashing SPIN-OFF ALERT!!! I think it breeds almost instant resentment and opposition to the new characters, though I’m not sure why.  But the way Ginn launched Champion of the Scarlet Wolf was perfect. We grew to care about Elezar through the series -- he was an integral part of the first books -- and we want to see what happens to him. We already care, we’re already invested, so it feels satisfying to follow his story.


Do you prefer series or standalone? Is one easier than the other or are the challenges just different?


GH: I feel comfortable writing a standalone but penning a series is still very new to me. I find it exciting but also extremely daunting.  Happily, seeing how beautifully Josh builds stories and characters over the course of a series has inspired me!


JL: I really do love standalone and I’d like to write more standalone novels, but both standalone and series present their own challenges and rewards. What I most love about standalone is the stakes are high, there are no guarantees, and you can throw in everything, up to and including the kitchen sink. And with series you have room and leisure to really explore and develop the characters and their relationships in a way that simply isn’t possible in a single novel.


Do you have any desire to just write the more traditional type of mystery or fantasy series (same characters, relatively static development that is less about reaching a point but just acknowledging the passage of time, plot heavier on the mystery than the people)?


GH: For me the character development is the whole point of a series. If the characters are static then no matter how many adventures they have or what they go through it won’t really matter because the author won’t allow anything to alter them. The beauty of a series is that it allows an author to explore great and more subtle way in which people change and grow throughout their lives.


JL: I agree with everything Ginn said there. That’s it in a nutshell. J     



Have you ever tried to after the fact to turn a standalone into a series?


GH: Yes this is the second attempt for me. The first time I considered writing a sequel was with Wicked Gentlemen. I had an outline and all the background history but in that case I’ve found that I had a really hard time putting the protagonists through more challenges and hardship than they’ve already endured just getting to the end of their first book. It was such a struggle for Harper and Belimai to reach a safe, good place that I haven’t been able to bring myself to take all of that away from them.


The Hellions from Lord of the White Hell however haven’t settled down and are young and strong enough that they can face the hardships of great adventures. For me they’re just a better fit for a series… even one I never meant to write.


JL: Fair Play. When I wrote Fair Game, I wrote it expressly to be a standalone.  In fact, I resisted the idea of revisiting the characters because it had been so clear in my mind FG was to be standalone. But then there were so many obvious and enticing threads to follow. It wasn’t essential to follow them. Fair Game was complete. But I was curious about what happened once Roland published his memoirs, and what would happen once Elliot and Tucker actually moved in together…


* * * *


Ginn and I will be popping in and out all day, so if you have other questions about series writing in general or particular questions about either of our series, feel free to ask below!