Sunday, 31 January 2016

No Heterosexuals and Jokes

Earlier this week, the New Zealand internet world was rocked by an ad on the auction site Trade Me. Tenants were looking for a new flatmate and specified:
"We don't want to live with a couple, a heterosexual person, or someone who is loud at night, or drinks/does drugs/party a lot."
First off, this is legal. The Human Rights Commission makes exceptions for cohabiting – you're allowed to discriminate about who you live with.

Last year, a flatmate ad specifying "no Indians or Asians" was published on the same site. There was less press surrounding that ad, probably because the Indian and Asian population is smaller than the heterosexual population, or because the latter is less used to being discriminated against.

It's essential to have a safe space, a place where you feel accepted and understood, where you can escape the constant pressures and microaggressions of the outside world. It's terrible to not feel comfortable in your own home. But 'no heterosexuals' is exclusionary language that offends, even though it's legal.

There wouldn't be any controversy if the ad had just stuck with the politely worded:
"We want to live with someone who is relaxed, motivated, grown up, reliable, considerate, child friendly, LGBTQIA+, pays the board on time with no stress, vegetarian or vegan."
This conveys the same information without sounding as exclusionary. I agree with the sentiment of the ad, but not the wording.

There's a time to be impolite. There's a time and place to wield aggression as a weapon and fight to be acknowledged. But Trade Me isn't that place.

Reading responses around this ad, one comment in particular grabbed my attention. It was part of a Reddit discussion, where one user took issue with the flatmates not wanting to live with a person who was:
"racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, hates sex workers, hates migrants or is otherwise a jerk."

The Reddit user said it would be a challenge to make any jokes that didn't incorporate the above. There were rebuffs, which is awesome, but there's still this unusually pervasive opinion that humor can't exist without causing offense.

Posting to Reddit saying, essentially, 'there are no jokes that aren't racist, sexist or sizeist' is like posting to Goodreads with the question 'who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird?' You're right there on the site, you could just go ahead and check!

A while ago I got hooked on reading jokes in an askreddit thread, and I was sure they mostly weren't offensive. So I did the math

I just scanned the all time top list of r/jokes, the joke subreddit. Of the top 50, 21 directly considered race, gender, gay or transgender people, weight, sex work, or migrants.

Note that this includes jokes which poke fun at the dominant group (e.g. a joke about 'friend zoned' guys and a joke saying the LAPD are eager to shoot black people). If we remove jokes against the dominant group (and the pun 'boy ant' which isn't really about gender), we're down to 13 of the top 50 jokes being offensive against a minority group (I'm including Irish, Texans and Italians here). Bringing this into account makes our graph look a lot more like Pac Man taking a bite:

It's not me saying these jokes are funny, it's the Reddit community choosing them through upvotes.

I've always thought it was easy to make a joke that wasn't directly offensive, but it's nice to have proof. And, as a critic ending on this positive note, 
here's my favorite joke from r/jokes:
A young artist exhibits his work for the first time and a well-known art critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young artist, "Would you like my opinion on your work?"
"Yes," says the artist.
"It's worthless," says the critic
The artist replies, "I know, but tell me anyway."

Saturday, 30 January 2016

MM romance book release and giveaway: Happy Valley!

My new short story, Happy Valley, is now available from SmashwordsAmazon and All Romance!

Las is too pretty and glamorous for work on a ski field, where all the tempting man-candy is hidden under layers and layers of protective clothing. He wanted some steamy homo love stories to show for a season spent in the snow, but instead all he gets is cold.
Then Las steps off the chair lift and straight into the arms of the new lift attendant, Ben. Las has never met a person he couldn't learn to like, and Ben's easy to love. He's flirty, fun, and as bubbly as a pot left on the stove. To top it all off, he's into Las… At least until he realizes Las is a guy!
But that doesn't stop Las and Ben becoming good friends as they work, snowboard and flirt. Ben would be perfect, if he wasn't straight. His boundless energy is a great match for Las's casual charm, and he doesn't let the fact that Las is a guy keep him from bouncing around like a puppy whenever they meet.It's just a pity that no-one else sees Ben's puppy playfulness as adorable. Staff and bosses alike turn on him until he's so miserable that even snowboarding can't cheer him up.
It's up to Las to win back Ben's smile, with stolen food and road cones and a dangerous sled ride to a picnic. If he plays his cards just right, he can make Ben happy, stop the coworker drama… and make Ben fall for him! No boy who dances and flirts like Ben could truly be straight, right?

Happy Valley is a standalone M/M romance short story at just under 8000 words. It's fast-paced fluffy fun with a side order of snowboarding and quad biking.

If you want to save a dollar and read Happy Valley for free, I'm giving away two copies! All you have to do to enter the draw is comment here, and in 48 hours I'll randomly pick two winners :)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Upcoming release: Happy Valley

I'm delighted to announce Happy Valley, a new m/m romance short story coming out on the 30th!

Happy Valley is a romance between two ski field employees on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. It's super cute and sweet, a totally adorable fluff of love with a gorgeous backdrop!

I wrote Happy Valley while I was working at the ski field, as a special request from one of my friends who'd read some of my stories and wanted me to write one for him. Romance meets snowboarding? Yes please! I added in some quad biking, another hobby I developed while working on the ski field, to blend a cocktail of extreme sport and sweet love.

I'll post an announcement when it goes live, so keep an eye out!

Also coming out soon: Coin Tricks - my m/m romance novel in which a security guard catches a cute guy stealing soap.

The release of Coin Tricks is extra exciting for fans of Jagged Rock, because when it's out I'll be able to focus on uploading Omega Blues, the sequel to Jagged Rock (about a werewolf rock band at college). Jagged Rock is free and Omega Blues will be, too: I'll be releasing it as a weekly serial on Wattpad. I've never worked on a serial before and I predict it's going to be an awesomely fun experience!

There are plenty of delicious treats for your eyes and hearts on their way, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What I learned from living in isolation

A year ago I was so overwhelmed by stress and anxiety that I chucked it all in and moved to the wilderness. I rented a cottage alone in the New Zealand bush with spectacular views, no internet or cell reception, and a five-hour bicycle ride through the mountains to the nearest shop.

It was the best year ever.

Here's what I learned...

I'm exactly who I thought I was.

I've always suspected that I'm the kind of introvert who would flourish in complete isolation, but I never knew for sure. Turns out I am, and living alone is awesome.

My stress is from people.

I can't talk for anyone else at all, but it turns out my stress and anxiety come entirely from social interactions.

When I moved into the wilderness I went abruptly from being an anxious and stressed-out wreck to a sedate blob in a constant state of low-level contentment. Suddenly my only concern in the whole world was whether I cleaned my cottage too much to damage the balance of bacteria in the septic tank.

What I care about.

It was important to me that I didn't force myself to do anything. I told myself that if I wanted then I could just spend my days reading books and looking at trees.

Yet I didn't go a day without writing. Maybe that's force of habit after years of daily writing, but even that's awesome. I needed to write to feel happy.

Turns out writing is definitely what I care about and an essential part of my life.

What you do with your day changes how you think.

This sounds obvious but I've never seen it as clearly as I did when I lived in isolation. My mind got slow and relaxed and I'd only think book thoughts.

But when I cycled into town and got phone reception, suddenly I'd be back to thinking about people and social concerns or whatever I read on the internet. It was like a stain that seeped into my way of thinking for hours afterward.

If I know about gigs that I'm not going to, I feel bad for missing out. But when I didn't know anything that was going on I never felt lonely or like I was missing something. You truly can't miss what you don't know you're missing.

You get used to things quickly.

I know plenty of people who say they couldn't live without the internet, but after a few weeks you don't even think about it anymore. Habits are easy to break when there's no opportunity.

Not talking to anyone? Not a problem when it's your choice and you're used to it. Weekly cycle ride to buy supplies? Goes from a big deal to taken for granted.

Who we are and what we care about is shaped so much by what we're exposed to every day. I was incredibly fortunate to get this chance and I found out who I am for real and what's important to me—and I like that person.

Unfortunately it's not financially viable to keep living in the bush and reading books full-time, otherwise I would still be there today. But even though my year's up and I'm returning to the world of social stress and job stress, I'm glad that I got this chance to look at beautiful scenery every day and worry about nothing deeper than cleaning supplies.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Writing is like being in a band

 I recently started drumming with an original band, as opposed to the cover bands I've been in before. It got me thinking about all the parallels we can draw between creating music and writing fiction.

It's crucial to understand your influences.

When I auditioned for my band, right off the bat I was asked about my influences. The guitarist and main songwriter loves Black Sabbath while I come from the Slayer branch of metal titans, though we both have Megadeath and Pantera in common. What do I mostly listen to? What do I practice to? How does my jazz training alter my approach? And so on.

Bands are music crowdsourced. Each member brings in their own string of influences and, to make unity, you have to agree on who the key influences are.

This involves being fully aware of your own influences, which is harder than it sounds. And it's just as crucial with writing as with being in a band. What genres do you love, which specific writers? Even if they're outside your genre, the writers that you absorb and think about every day will change your approach to storytelling.

It would be cool to say that you're completely original and spinning pure fiction out of the air. But in the real world that doesn't work. As a writer you're a reader and everything you read influences you. All your passions and hobbies, your friends and family (and the kind of things they talk about and stories they tell) will influence your writing.

It's vital to know your influences so you don't accidentally plagiarize, but also so you're aware of the kind of novel you want to create – and to understand where the heck your novel came from once you've created it.

 Some people have more talent than others but practice matters.

If you start off great, you'll get better with practice. If you start off rubbish, you'll still get better with practice (provided you're not just repeating the same mistakes again and again, which is easier to spot in music than in writing).

The thing that I have to remind myself a lot is that your output matters. You can be the best band in the world and no one will know if you don't leave the garage. If you never finish that beloved manuscript, no one else can ever enjoy it.

This sounds obvious but I have to remind myself of it every day when I want to keep doing rewrite after rewrite on a romance novel that's taken me years.

 When it's done right, it looks effortless.

I've always wanted to read a first draft of my favorite authors because I find it impossible to even imagine how their novels could have been different, they are so superbly well-crafted and complete.

Of course there were many decisions made along the way, many possible ways the story could have gone, countless drafts and revisions and edits.

With stories you work it through on your own then get input from friends and beta readers and eventually editors. With a band, quite often you're composing your songs as a team so you get the input right up front.

But either way, you're looking at an immense amount of work and complex decisions which boil down to one finished product. If you've created that story or that track correctly, it's going to sound natural and completely effortless.

Which sounds depressing, until you consider the alternative...

 If you get it wrong, everyone's a critic.

Doesn't matter that they're not a musician or a writer, just like it doesn't matter that most people yelling at sports teams would get steamrollered if they walked onto that field. Whether you're in a band or writing a book, you'll meet plenty of criticism.

 No one can see the hours you put in to get there.

Other writers can acknowledge the effort it takes and can understand the months or years put into something that might be read in a few hours or a day. But a lot of non-writers have trouble seeing it.
In a band, nothing matters but the minutes on stage. That's all the audience can see: your finished product, a few minutes to show for the hours of practice, not to mention the years of learning your instrument.

It's the same with a book. Unless you wow the reader with the book they pick up (or the first pages of the book, or the blurb...) then they won't know or care how long it took you to write it. 

 It doesn't matter how much work you put in if it's not someone's cup of tea.

People won't be fans of your band just because you practice all the time. People probably aren't going to like your novel any better just because it took a long time to write.

And, like anything else, even if you love it then it's no guarantee anyone else will. Everybody's different. I think my band are awesome, but if you don't like 80's heavy metal then you probably won't like us. I think Pride And Prejudice is pretty near perfect but that doesn't mean my thriller-loving neighbor will.

 We do it because we love it.

Sure, it's possible my band will be the new Metallica. It's possible your novel will be a bestseller. It's possible we'll get recognition and money.

Possible, but not probable.

Luckily that's not why we do it. We don't join garage bands or write novels solely because we want to get rich. Maybe some people do, and that's cool for them. But the problem with money as a motive is that when there isn't money, there's no motivation. Statistically your first novel won't be a success – it won't get published, and if you self-publish it won't make more than $500. Your band won't get talent spotted and signed on the first night.

It takes work to keep writing books and keep practicing music. If you're lucky then that work might lead to financial success, but that's a lot of what if's and slim chances.

For most of us, we're doing this because we love it. Not every minute of it, sure. There are days I have to force my hands onto my computer keyboard and days I struggle not to just drop my drum sticks and walk away.

Often, if I push through it, those bad days will get better when I let go of the world and get invested in the flow of story or rhythm. But still, it's not easy to keep at it day after day after day. A lot of kids learn instruments, but how many keep playing as adults? That's because it's hard to keep at it.

But what gets us through is the end goal. All of this practicing and writing will mean that the song or the novel will slot together as a finished whole, something of which to be proud.

And, sure, we'd all like to be famous and successful. Not necessarily for the money, but because we believe in the product. Our novel will add something to literature, our band has good songs that might get stuck in your head and, at the least, will contribute to the local scene.

What we're creating is something we believe in. It's worth the effort.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The 5 Best Internet Things I Found This Year

 In the hopes of starting some sort of annual traditions, I want to end this year with a list of cool things I found online. From text-delayed gifs to cigarette-smoking insects, these are things that made me happy online in 2015.

This is not a list of things released this year, just what I discovered in 2015.
In case it's worth mentioning, no one is giving me money or free stuff for this. That's because my blog's unimportant, not because I've taken a moral stance. I am 100% open to the idea of free shoelaces.

Without further filibuster, here we go!

1: Ian's Shoelace Site

Diagonal checkerboard shoelaces featured on the site

First place has to go Ian the shoelace savant and his site so remarkable that when you Google 'shoelace', this site beats out Wikipedia.

It's an instruction site for different ways of tying shoelaces. Some are practical, like ways to keep your boots staying tighter for longer or to make shoes easier to remove, but some are purely decorative.
Still from an instructional gif on the site

On Halloween I completed my outfit with inverted pentagram shoelaces and I have a pair laced in the filigree-like spider web method to compliment my favorite black metal t-shirt. Novel shoelaces reel in compliments completely disproportionately to the time spent in tying them.

This is an actual Gratisography stock photo of a smoking mantis
Stock sites are usually only of interest to designers (and the geniuses behind memes) but this one's worth a look for all of the original and unusual content.

We've all wanted to do this to Furbys

Who masterminded this photo shoot?
How I envision the protagonist of Neverwhere

What's the target audience for this?

3: The Devil Wears Prada fanfic portal on Archive Of Our Own.

666 Devil Wears Prada fics!

Enough said.

My favorite blogger of the year (almost the only blogger I've read regularly), Jenny Trout blogs often and candidly about romance, pop culture and feminism.

I like her recaps, especially her recap of a series of coffee commercials which I believe I've linked here although I can't be entirely certain because her blog is blocked here for some reason.

5: The best gif-making sites, Giphy and Imgflip

I've seen a fair few gifs in my time.
I didn't make this gif

Of the many online gif makers I've toyed with, Imgflip is my favorite for the option to time and position text.
This is a gif I made from Key and Peele

I think Giphy rose to the top of casual gif sharing hosts, and their gif maker is worth mentioning because it lets you add glitter text and animated stickers. If you want to make glittering pizza cat gifs, this is your site.
This is a gif I made from Fringe

 As you can see, this year I made a lot of gifs, read a lot of fanfic, and tied several shoelaces. If we treat beloved internet sites as a modern Rorschach inkblot test, ultimately the result for all of us would probably be 'wastes too much time on the internet'.

I'm always open to wasting more, though, so please feel free to comment with your favorite internet finds of the year!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Free story: Mr Wonderful

I wrote a m/m romance novella as part of the Goodreads MM Romance Group's annual free story event, and it's available free online!

You can read it online or download it to your computer or ereader.

Mr Wonderful is a romance between a tattooed ex-army artist and a flamboyant Kiwi-Nigerian fashion designer who has a bull terrier named after Vivienne Westwood. They have to learn to make peace with their family's - and their own - expectations of masculinity, before they can forge an awesome life together. Zines are involved.

It's a fun and sweet novella (roughly 96 pages) and I'm happy with it, so I hope you will be too!

If you want more free fiction, you can check out all the other amazing stories from this year's event, or my own novel from last year's event, Jagged Rock.