photo by Christian Sterk
By definition, LGBT representation involves having characters of the LGBTQIA spectrum play a leading role in a story—or all of the roles. LGBT folk tend to travel in packs (I can say this from experience) so it’s pretty easy to write them in. Proper LGBT representation means making your queer character overtly queer, even if your book doesn’t hinge on it. You can center the plot around their LGBT identity or not; that’s entirely up to you and the type of story you want to tell.
Currently, we’re seeing a much greater push for characters whose LGBTQIA identity is evident, without being the basis for the plot. For example, you have a main character who’s a bisexual man, but the story centers around him solving crimes as a PI in a corrupt town where the cops can’t be relied on because they’re crooked as hell. The main character in this case is queer, but the book is not a coming-out story or an issues book (a story that revolves around confronting the numerous problems present in and around the LGBT community). An example of an issues book would be a story where the main overarching conflict centers around the lead character’s struggle with being LGBT.
If you can’t tell a character is gay without the author saying so during an interview, that’s not representation, and they’re not writing a diverse book. Their queerness has to be present within the text, not just a footnote the author keeps in mind.
An obvious example of a series with no LGBT representation is Harry Potter. Dumbledore doesn’t count as queer representation if none of us knew that he was gay until JK revealed in an interview that he was in love with Grindelwald. That would have been a huge addition to the series, but it’s never brought up within the context of the story, so it doesn’t count as queer representation. Leaving it ambiguous—e.g., the character does not have a history of queerness nor is the sexual identity explicitly stated—also does not count. This follows the same vein of leaving someone’s skin color entirely unsaid. The idea that the reader will assume the character looks like them is false: readers will almost always assume a character is straight, cis-gender, and white until proven otherwise, because this is the type of person they are used to reading about. The lack of diversity in publishing throughout history has created this trap, and to ignore it is to play into it.
One of the biggest gaps we are trying to fill presently is the absence of LGBTQIA male characters in genre fiction. This is due to an age-old stereotype which persists today: queer women are more masculine, and therefore can take on roles in SFF and action-adventure, while queer men are more feminine and thus relegated to roles in rom-coms. This is a problem that exists across the market. As an LGBT writer, I often catch flack because my series—which is LGBT paranormal action-adventure—does not feature romance. My gay men are a little busy saving the world to fall in love. And yet I get asked how, without that romance, can my gay men really be gay? If Alan doesn’t show evidence of having relationships with men and women, is he really bisexual? If Yulian doesn’t make out with a guy, is he really gay? At what point can we say that gay men do not have to be falling in love with someone to be considered gay within the context of the story? At what point can we finally say, without question, that queer men don’t exist just to tell rom-com stories?
This is why LGBT representation matters. In putting out book after book after book with cliché queer male characters, publishing makes it harder for those who are queer to be able to divorce sexuality from gender stereotypes. The two are not the same, nor do they necessarily influence one another. Gay men are not necessarily feminine. Gay women are not necessarily butch. Not to mention the fact that there are numerous gender identities between the two, because gender is not binary. And yet, publishing outside of young adult literature has yet to wrap its head around this fact. As I’m writing this, there is a professional publishing conference going on with a workshop centered around writing novels specifically for a cis-het audience, with exact beats, simply to sell more books. (Picture a skeleton for a book—you already have the structure and you’re just picking out the flooring and fixtures.)
I wish I was making that up, but here we are. It’s 2019, and we still have to explain to industry professionals that a large number of readers will not be straight. That a book can feature LGBT characters without it being an issue, or becoming a book about issues.
LGBT representation matters because queer characters have other stories to tell, and queer men in particular have lives and identities that exist outside of romance. They don’t need to look a certain way or talk a certain way or have a favorite member of the Fab Five. Having an LGBT lead will not subtract from your work of kick-butt genre fiction. It adds. Diversity shows us human beings, and that makes the story real. It lets it resonate and hit home. It makes the impossible, probable. If you want to write a great story, then fill it with whole, fully realized characters, across the spectrum of gender and sexuality.
Routine. The most hated and feared word of people everywhere.
Routine? Routine is the essence of boredom, the same thing being done repeatedly day-after-day, a life restricted to steps in a process. Who the heck wants a routine?
One might argue that part of the reason writers write is because of a distaste for routine, they want to rise above the normal human condition, to share the depths of their imagination and revel in the unknown. Routine? Pshaw. That’s for mere mortals, not us author types.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but routine isn’t a four letter word. It’s seven. I checked.
As a writer, you’re likely a victim of routine without even realizing it. Pounding your fingers into the keyboard, generated word after word and page after page, handing things off to betas, passing them along to your editor, cover designer, revisions, it’s all baked into you so much that you don’t even realize that you, too, are part of a routine.
Why should your health be any different?
I would argue that getting (and staying) healthy are just as important as putting down those 1,000 words first thing in the morning. I mean, after all, the longer you live, the more words you can put down going forward, right?
There was a point in my life when I tipped the scales at 325 pounds. I was a big guy and pretty much always had been a big guy. Breakfast was Egg McMuffins at McDonalds, lunch was a Whopper at Burger King (or a cheeseburger at Wendy’s if I really wanted to mix things up), all washed down with copious amounts of soda and french fries. My body was a temple – one of those old Aztec temples that’s crumbling into dust.
So I decided to make a change. In 2002, I told myself that I was going to designate an hour in the morning to exercise and I was going to pretty much blow up my entire diet and start over.
And I did. And have been. For sixteen years. I’ve lost nearly 150 pounds, but more importantly, in my mind, I’ve built a (scary word coming) routine. A routine where I carve out an hour a day in the morning to exercise.
I know, I know – exercise in the morning? That’s unpossible!
I’m a forty-four year old guy, married, two kids, a full time senior management job, and I’ve written 1.1 million words so far this year (publishing 15 books so far in 2018). Trust me when I say it can be done. It’s all about the routine.
I wake up at five, get ready for work, get the kids lunches ready, type for a few minutes if I can. By seven I’m dropping the older kid off at school, then I come straight home and from 7 – 8 I do whatever exercise I can. Most of the time, I run, getting in around 5 miles if I time it just right. When I can’t (or don’t want to) run, I lift weights, ride a stationary bike, or other forms of cardio and high impact. It’s nothing special, but it’s a routine. And hey, for what it’s worth, nothing sparks my creative mind like running… I can almost always work through a challenging scene or sequence when I’m out on the trail, the wind in my face.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand, not everyone can do this. Some people have trickier morning schedules. But the key is, you need to form a routine and set aside a time every single day to follow it. Some days you’ll miss it, and that’s okay, but focus on the next day, and promise yourself you won’t miss it two days in a row.
Some days you can use that one hour to exercise. Some days you can use that one hour to meal prep. Some days you can use that one hour just to get an extra 1,500 words in. The important thing is to carve out that one hour and tell yourself that’s your hour to maintain your health. Then stick with it.
Of course, as the old saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet, and I’m going to say it here, too. Health starts in the kitchen. You’ll notice I mentioned meal prep up there, and I did that for a reason. Focusing on real food is going to save you money and save your body, and I’d argue the single most important thing I did for my health was to actually start thinking about what I’m putting in my body. Even if I don’t always stick with it, I am ALWAYS thinking about it, fully aware when I’m making bad choices and ticking off in my head how I’m going to make up for it in the future.
Oh, by the way… losing 150 pounds, changing my eating habits, basically reinventing my lifestyle is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the key to it is routine.
Get in the habit of avoiding fast food, you’ll be surprised how quickly the cravings go away. Get in the habit of not drinking so much soda, you’ll be surprised at how soon the bubbles hurt your throat on the way down. Get in the habit of burning a few calories at designated times during the day, you’ll be surprised at how damn good you feel afterwards.
Habit. Routine. The words aren’t fun, but they might save your life. And if you miss a few hundred words a day because of it, well, you’ll make those up with the extra years at the end.
This came up recently on the Facebook page and the timing was pretty good as I’d been thinking of writing about this topic anyways.
Up until recently I didn’t track my daily word counts. Didn’t really see the need. I knew I needed to write everyday to get the kind of production I needed to hit the publishing schedule I wanted. What I want to do is pretty expansive. Lots of series, lots of releases.
And to do that I needed to up my production levels.
I knew that but it still wasn’t coming. I’d always say “let the words just come” and that is true but to meet my goals, I needed consistency.
So I went through everything I had written since publishing my first book The Skeleton Stone (May 2016) and tallied it up. Lots of writing, not that high a word total.
No wonder my production was so slow.
I saw people churning out books after books after books and I was struggling to keep up with an every-other-month novella series. Something had to change.
I’m not a fast writer. I know that. I’ll never have the production of a full novel every month. And that’s okay. But I did need to consistently produce.
Working up a spreadsheet I figured out a daily word count minimum that I could hopefully sustain. Most nights, I only get about an hour to actually write so had to factor that in.
My goal is 1,500 words a day (not an hour). Any project, or any number of projects, but I needed that minimum. 30 day month, that’s 45,000 words. I figured if I hit 40,000 for the month, wanting to do more obviously, but I’d be satisfied. At 40k a month, that’s 480,000 for the year. Still not that high compared to others (there are people that do 1 mil halfway through the year) but at 40k minimum for a novel (according to Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers of America) that would translate to twelve short novels. One a month.
(for the record SFWA has word counts as: Short Story – up to 7,499; Novellette – 7,500 to 17,499; Novella – 17,500 to 39,999; Novel – 40,000 and up)
That’s a lot of work produced in a year. I shoot for 30k words for a Novella and 60k+ for a novel.
Now knowing what I needed to produce, I had to start doing that. Setting the goal, having a tangible record via the spreadsheet, forces me to write every night. I switch projects when hit a wall on one, start new things. But I’m writing around 1,500 words a day.
I play “games” with myself. Some nights end up writing less if something else is going on (kids not sleeping for example) so I make it up another night and can see I planned in for non-production days (the 45,000 a month vs 40,000). Since I started tracking on 10/18/18, I have generated 33,982 words.
Not bad for only 15 days or so. Half a month and I’m already pretty close to my ultimate goal.
That’s all the evidence I needed that tracking your word counts works. If you aren’t, I would suggest that you do so.
It seems a minor thing, tracking word count every day, but having that goal that need to hit does wonders for the motivation.
I’m thankful I started going it.
Now just need to make sure I can maintain that pace.
So with NaNoWrimo just mere weeks away, it’s time to makes plans! Plan your novel! Pants your novel! No one cares if it makes sense as long as you get the 50k in the kitty before November 15th it’s all good!
Also, plan to go to a write-in.
Wait, what’s a write-in?
A NaNoWrimo write-in is a public gathering of NaNoWrimo participants. Among many things done at these write-ins is participants type away on their laptops until they all get sick of each other or their work in progress.
Yes, you heard me, writers gathering in groups and typing away.
This may sound odd but it’s fun and you’ll find you get more work done in the end.
A brief background on myself, I started NaNoWrimo in 2004 in Rhode Island and gradually worked my way up to becoming an Municipal Liaison (ML) and in 2014 or 2015 stepped down so someone else got the fun job.
An ML’s job is essentially to herd cats, er, participants, send out emails to the region, hold a mandatory Kick-Off and Thank God It’s Over (TGIO) parties and schedule write-ins even if no one shows up.
A write-in is essential to your NaNoWrimo experience for several reasons.
First, so you know you’re not doing this alone. The comradeship helps as November rolls on and the writers who were hot to trot three weeks ago all of sudden dwindle to nothing by the time Black Friday comes round.
Second, because coffee shops.
I was never a really big coffee drinker in junior, high school and college. I’m one of this morning people that can roll out of bed at 6am and start working without the caffeine.
So, when I started to frequent places like Panera, Reflections, Brewed Awakenings, the now defunct Borders Café, Blue State and Elephant Room (now Schastea) and so on, I figured out what I liked and what I didn’t. This helps later on in life when you’re writing to make a buck and can’t get any work done at home.
Besides the drinks, being an ML is meant looking for places where if need be the entire group of writers (10-15 on a good night) could de-camp for three hours and write without ticking off the owners. Doing these events taught me to look for several things like seating, electrical outlets and parking.
Along with all this, I learned to keep a surge protector in my bag at all times just in case which has saved me on more than one occasion.
Thirdly, write-ins are fun because if you hit a brick wall you get to people watch and listen to for instance a comedy stand-up act about Muppets and fisting.
Lastly, it’s fun to see your fellow writers and swap war stories about losing a thousand words or how many words they gained. Word Wars are started this way and it’s fun to have someone nipping at your heals. This hobby can be very lonely at times unless you manage to hit pay dirt and begin a professional career out of it.
It’s what helped create the writer group I started some eight years ago and out of the core group, myself included, five of us have gotten short stories published or in my case published novel that took me seven years to finish because as much I as I thought I was writing it I wasn’t put my ass in seat, cut the cable tv, the PS4 and the twitter feed to finish it.
So, when November rolls around as it does every single year, check the regional calendar and see if there’s a write-in. Bring your laptop, the charger and your noise canceling headset and go to write-in. Get a lovely NaNoWrimo sticker for which the ML should have many and start typing.
You’ll surprised at how much writing you’ll get done with everyone else is tapping away on their keyboards.
I published my first book, Suburban Zombie High in October of 2013. I had been writing for a few years and decided it was time to press the dreaded “publish” button. I self edited the book (my mastery of the English language is questionable at best.) The story didn’t quite fit into a genre, and the only saving grace was a cover illustrated by Amanda Kahl. I don’t know what I expected. It sold. People other than my family purchased it. Reality finally struck in the form of my first royalty statement: $18.65.
I didn’t have high expectations, but I think we all secretly hope it’ll take off and before we know it there’s a movie, a toy line, and a new societal trend based on our books. I recall staring at the number, and truth be told, I was a bit devastated. I was a novice, unsure of what I was doing, and not entirely sure I wanted to be a “writer.” Imposter syndrome (as I would later learn the term) sunk its ferocious nails into my hide and refused to relent. Authors don’t talk about their royalties frequently, it’s a well guarded secret. We might be judged based on our success because of a single number. The reality, we judge ourselves harshly based on that number.
That first year, I made $34.34.
My self-worth became married to that number. I wasn’t even worth $40. I couldn’t pay a bill after a year. I could barely afford a decent take out meal. Depression, insecurity, and wavering love for my hobby started to crop up. I was alone. I couldn’t talk to the “big authors” because they obviously wouldn’t understand. They’re living the dream and I can’t even afford a week of Starbucks.
I was picked up by a publisher and Nighthawks, my first superhero novel came out in February of 2016. I was stoked to have a partner in this journey and start washing away that horrible first experience. My confidence strengthened and I started working at a brisk pace. My book was professionally edited and the cover was supplied by the publisher. I was green, for me, this was the moment, my big break, my chance to be worth more than thirty dollars. In May of 2016, I received my first royalty statement for Nighthawks. My heart sank as I saw the phrase, “Grand Total: $7.66.”
In 2016, I made $105.76 from my fiction novels.
I had four books out at this point, three fiction and one non-fiction. My non-fiction managed to do well enough to make mortgage payments. I didn’t want to be a non-fiction writer, and I grew angry at the success of a work I didn’t feel passionate about. I had managed to make enough with my fiction to pay a single month of cable, a single hotel night, or gas for my car for a month. This “not good enough” mentality refused to shake free. I started believing I might simply be bad at this “hobby.”
Then things started to change. I decided to take a bit of a different approach to life after some catastrophic events happening in my professional life. I needed to be done with stress and start looking at things through a glass half full lens. Why did I have these doubts? Why did I feel insecure in my work? Why did I just feel not good enough all the time?
Let me point out some things:
- I published a god damned book. How many people fail before this step?
- I made money on something I love doing. Strangers bought my creation.
- My profit increased from one year to the next.
- My output increased. I now have fifteen (soon to be sixteen) titles between novels, anthologies, and audio.
- I started to learn the industry behind the “hobby” I love.
- I met amazing folks who support me unconditionally.
How do I put a price tag on those things? You can’t. Suddenly, my outlook changed. I stopped looking at myself as a creator and started thinking of myself as an artist who needs to commercialize their craft. I’m a graphic designer, essentially an artist for hire. It clicked. My worth is not a number. My identity isn’t a royalty statement. Those numbers are a byproduct of my effort and my blood, sweat, and tears.
In 2017, the number increased by ten fold. 2018 isn’t over, and the number is continuing to climb. I wish it was ten fold again, but I’ll take double or triple (you can calculate the math to guesstimate my income.) The number continues to climb.
I got my royalty statements yesterday. I didn’t even look at them until I needed to pay one of my vendors. I opened my account and said, “Uh, that’s more money than I thought.” I inspected my royalty statements and realized I made more in one month than I had between 2011 – 2016. Can I live off it? Absolutely not. Can I pay all my bills? I’m happy to report we’re nearing that threshold.
What I want you, the author reading this, the struggling artist, to take away? I want you to know that 1) you are not a royalty statement. You are so much more. You are a creator of worlds, a long-winded poet, a human. 2) Authors may not divulge our numbers openly, but when you get a royalty check that doesn’t amount to dinner on the dollar menu at McDonalds, we have all been there. Many of us are still there. We all struggle, even if it’s not visible, communicated, or disseminated across social media. 3) If you want to do better, you control your future. You can be better. There is no magical cap on your potential. Hard work can (and will) get you there.
I used to measure my success in royalty statements. It still colors my definition, but I’ve broadened what I find to be considered success. My definition of success comes in small steps, and each step I take leads to the next. I am not going to be Angela Lansbury and solving crime by tomorrow. I may not have a Netflix series out next month. But someday, one step at a time, I will finish this marathon a victor, even if my time is monumentally longer than those in first place. The take away of this I guess, you are not a number.
On the anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s death, I happened to have the chance to watch the new HBO remake of Fahrenheit 451. I’ve been a Bradbury fan since I was a teen—I even have a 451 tattoo that I’ve been designing for some time now and hope to get inked soon.
And while I was not overly impressed with the new HBO remake—it fell flat for me and seemed like there were a lot of missed opportunities and felt too rushed—and didn’t use one of the best lines which just happens to be on my tattoo design it did get me to thinking about some things. My youth, my love of all things Bradbury. But mostly, my life since becoming a digital author and rethinking my stance on physical books—actual printed records of our words and why we NEED them.
When I was a teen, Bradbury’s books opened me up to a world that was so much bigger than the bubble I was forced to live in, something I’m eternally grateful for. I recall vividly on the day of his death, that only thirty minutes before it was broadcast that he’d passed, I’d named him as a personal hero and influence on my own writing path during an author event I was taking part in. And although during a meh HBO remake, Ray’s voice still rang through loudly and has opened up my mind again.
Of the books I sell, 99% are digital. My main focus these last few years has been almost entirely on my digital creations. Over the last year, as KDP print emerged and rumors abound that createspace would close, I even debated pretty hardcore about doing away with print altogether. Because one, I sell so few paper copies is it even worth it, and two, going digital saves trees and is eco-friendlier, and three, publishing only digital content is so much easier and it’s what the people want, right?
I’ve heard the argument so many times about how physical books will never really die because there is something visceral about holding a real book in your hands. And while I agree that there is something special about a real book, and I do still own, buy, and read physical books (three guesses which author has a permanent stack of books on my nightstand—his name rhymes with Bay Radbury), I have kept my professional focus on digital and moved a huge part of my personal life toward digital, and had come to see paper as an art form dying a slow, inevitable death. Something to be accepted and even embraced as an author in this digital age.
Until in the middle of watching 451 when a sickening feeling welled up inside me that suddenly had me shaking in my slippers as I pictured a world gone totally digital and all our precious words wiped out, without any permanent record. What an absolutely terrifying thought that was to imagine.
Digital = Impermanence.
Easy to erase.
Easy to become non-existent.
The quickest way to ban content, ever.
Our digital words can be taken away without notice. Whether by a group of people in charge, or an overnight fictional horror story come to life and our digital devices no longer work… or… think up your own nightmare—you’re an author 😉
In some ways, this is already happening with all the banhammers slamming down lately for content and whatnot, a bad enough scenario already. But I think it has become too easy to forget how fragile the digital world really is. It is this seemingly giant TOO BIG TO FAIL (we’ve heard that before) ecosystem.
We fear our words being stolen and freely and unfairly spread across the digital universe. But do our words even truly exist if they’re only living in this digital universe? And now we have a generation of young people growing up, unaware of this potential fragility. And if not completely so now, we’re not too many years away from this.
And while I still fully embrace the digital world, because I love it, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, I fully intend to reinstate my efforts to keep paper alive. Not just for my own books, but for the good of human-freaking-kind. Perhaps, someday, I’ll even open my own bookstore.
I absolutely do not want to face a future where are voices are no longer recorded in some permanent way, or have our younger generations growing up without the knowledge of what it means to have this, or how easily their voices could be stripped away without it.
If we ever end up in a society where our words are silenced, I, at the least, want to have a physical book to fight back with as it’s harder to destroy something you can hold, versus something that only exists in the digital universe.
So, Paper—I’ve been absent from caring about you for too long, but I’m back now baby and full on in love again.
Thanks, Ray. Your lessons are timeless 😊 and have changed my life so many times now. The power of words and imagination is a beautiful fucking thing.