I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.
You have to be brave to venture onto Facebook these days. I got tagged for a rolling meme blog post by my friend and fellow writer Sarah Madison.The idea is that I answer four questions about my writing and tag three more fellow writers—well, in my case, two—who pass on the torch in their turn.
Sarah is the author of the wonderful, evocative, powerful Boys of Summer which has attracted rave reviews over the last year – and quite rightly, too! And I’ve been so lucky to help with the beta-ing process for Walk A Mile, the first of two planned sequels to her book Unspeakable Words, in which telepathy meets the FBI meets the hunt for a serial killer. The estimated release date is sometime in Sept-Oct 2014, so put that on your wish list for Christmas. You’ll love it.
This blog post is her fault.
What am I working on?
I have two pots on the boil at the moment.
(i) Taking Shield
The first two books of the Taking Shield series (Gyrfalcon and Heart Scarab) are out in the big bad world looking for someone willing to take them on. I’ve just started revising the rough draft of book 3, working title Makepeace (although that may become The Chains of Their Sins). The final two books Day of Wrath and The Field of Reeds will follow in the next 18 months or so.
The Shield series is a single story arc, rather than five books that are about the same characters, which means it will have to be read in sequence for it to make sense. I can only hope that people will want to stick with it all the way! In a universe where an alternate Earth has been dead and gone for more than 7000 years, Albion, its last colony, is fighting in a last-ditch battle not to follow suit. Over the Taking Shield arc, Bennet (Shield Captain, warrior, strategist, archaeologist, gay) learns what humanity’s enemies—and his own people—will do to win the war and he’ll learn that sometimes he won’t be able to tell friend from foe. Set against that, his relationship with his partner Joss unravels messily under the impact on Bennet’s life of Fleet Lieutenant Flynn.
(i) The Gilded Scarab
The steampunk/coffee house/ m-m romance novel is almost at the stage where I can type “The End” and then start polishing it up and editing – I’m writing the (hopefully, thrilling!) climax this week, where our heroes battle evil-doing in the basements of the British Museum. With luck, I’ll have typed those two little three-lettered words by Friday.
Gilded Scarab has turned out to have the most charming hero, Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Britannic Majesty’s Imperial Aerocorps, who is invalided out of the service after being injured during the Second Boer War, and arrives back in Londinium in late 1899 with no career, not very much money, and no idea about what he wants to do for the rest of his life. A coffee house and an aristocratic Aegyptologist appear to be the answer to that question.
In a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful families (the Convocation Houses), Rafe has to navigate House politics, eke out his pennies because of chronic genteel hard-up-edness, cope with jealous lovers, learn to make good coffee and fend off assassination attempts before he can find love and happiness with Aegyptologist Ned Winter. As Rafe himself says, it’s all because of the scarab.
How does my work differ from others in my genre
Well, the issue is one of definition, because Shield in particular is an example of what you may describe as “genre slippage”, sitting somewhere between SF and m/m. The series is traditional science fiction and the main protagonist is gay. There are two main story themes, intertwining with each other: the war against the Maess and Shield Captain Bennet’s efforts to prevent the destruction of humanity, and, set against that, his relationships with Joss, Flynn and, indeed, his father.
It doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. Yes, Bennet infiltrates Maess bases and shoot his laser a lot (grins), but his relationships and how his life changes, how he changes, get equal billing. But equally, it isn’t what’s become the norm for m/m romance either: there are very few sex scenes, the relationship isn’t full and centre stage, the Maess war and everything Bennet has to do there is on a par, in narrative terms, with the slow unfolding of his relationship with Flynn. In short, the fact Bennet and Flynn are gay is integral to the story, not the reason for it.
I like to think of Shield as a story where the hero is gay and it just isn’t a big deal. Gay Lit, maybe? A small step toward a place where we just write about people, and not worry about who they sleep with, anyway.
Why do I write what I do?
I dunno. Why is the sky blue? I think the glib, not-too-philosophically-deep answer is that these are the stories that are in me right now, and these are the people who want me to write about them.
I know there’s always some controversy about women writing m/m romance, but the people who come and whisper their tales in my ear, whose eager hands clutch at my arm and whose smiles are there when I turn to them… they’re men and they love other men. To deny them that, to force them into being people they aren’t, would be to deny them life. Bennet would not be Bennet if I made him Benita, and gave him breasts—and I have considered making him feminine and mainstreaming the series. I just can’t do that. The story might be an interesting one, but it wouldn’t be Shield.
How does my writing process work?
Not smoothly enough! I usually start with a what if… what if I took the standard ‘meet in a coffee shop’ scenario, but set it in 1900 Londinium where the British Imperium still rules half the world, airships powered by luminferous aether fill the skies, and my heroes are an ex-aeronaut with bad eyesight and a rich archaeologist?
I do a basic broad outline, a framework to hang the story on. It will be something like “Rafe crashes and his eyes are affected, get him back to Londonium. House hostel. Encounter with Edward Fairfax at upmarket molly house, Margrethe’s. A bit of sex. Finds the coffee house – meets Mr. Pearse and Sir Tane. Meets Daniel Meredith. More sex. Christmas at Stravaigor House. Eye surgeon. Garrads – sell jewels. Buy coffee house. Daniel’s reaction. Edward’s return = Ned Winter. Fight. Ned and Rafe learn to be friends. Wedding. Peter back from China? Fallout of them finding Ned is First Heir Gallowglass…” and so on. While some of this may be tentatively assigned to chapters, its really very flexible and things get moved around a lot. Basically, I know the destination, but diversions en route are perfectly fine.
Before I write a word, the story has to have a title that means something to the plot and people, and to the world I’m building. Sometimes the title shifts, but mostly I end with the one I started with. And when that’s fixed, I have to find pictures. You know how people say they’re a ‘words person’ or a ‘visuals person’? I’m both. I have to find images of people who can ‘be’ Rafe and Ned in my imagination, or will be Bennet and Flynn; and then all the world-building pictures need to be sourced and, you know, you sit there thinking “Oh thank you, God, for inventing Pinterest! Thank you!” And from those pictures come story headers, or composite pictures with quotes from the text that I just happen to find a little bit inspiring. I probably spend a good day or two at the beginning sorting out the images. I find it incredibly exciting to see a picture and squeal “Oh, it’s Bennet! That’s Bennet!” and it sends me rushing back to the writing, refreshed.
I research a lot and I push all that into world building notes. Shield and Scarab each have a folder full of pictures and ‘notes to self’. Every single Fleet dreadnought in Shield is named in that folder, even if there’s only ever half of them mentioned in the story. I have notes on the Convocation Houses in Gilded Scarab and which of the Minor Houses are allied to them, and again only about half are ever mentioned. The folders have pictures and character notes, timelines, glossaries on steampunk terms or coffee making, a list of campaign and bravery medals for Shield, a history of Harrads… Bottom line, I’m a geek. I like background *stuff*.
Finally I start writing. I recently switched to using Scrivener and love it. It’s perfect for focusing on a chapter at a time and stops me from the old compulsive thing I had about going right back to page one every time I opened up a document and rereading and tinkering what I’d already done, rather than forging on and slapping the words down for editing later. It’s a great programme. And it amuses me no end that one of the people in Gilded Scarab is The Scrivener.
Life and art, people. They’re the same thing.
My lovely writing assistant
And I should acknowledge Molly, who likes to keep me company while I write. Molly in ‘her’ chair in a corner of my study:
She is a shameless exhibitionist. And contortionist.
Now to hand on the baton to two luminaries of the M/M romance world, not only writers I would love to emulate because I love their books, but all round good-eggs and nice people. I really can’t wait to see their answers to the questions, to find out a little more about what makes them tick.
Kate Aaron is a successful, best-selling writer of m/m fiction, and also writes one of my favourite blogs where she is always both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Kate’s new book, The Dead Past, is set in the austerities of post-War Britain. When Hugo Wainwright finds a body and Tommy Granger is suspected, can Hugo unmask the murderer and prove the innocence of the man he’s falling for, or are the deadly consequences of Tommy’s past about to catch up to him and separate the two men forever?
Find it and her other bestsellers at Kate’s Amazon page.
Writer Lily Blunt‘s “The Perfect Size For You” was the shout-out story in the Take It Like A Man anthology from Torquere Press. She has another short story, Service with a Smile, in the Love, Loss, Laughter and Lust anthology from new publishers Wayward Ink in June.
Find these and her other bitter-sweet stories at Lily’s Amazon page.
Kate and Lily will post their responses to the questions on 12 May. Tune in to see what they have to say about how they approach their craft.