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.

Monday, 18 May 2015

My first Zinefest

A few days ago I had my first stall at Hamilton Zinefest! It's not New Zealand's largest zinefest, which quite frankly is a good thing because Auckland Zinefest is so crowded that I was afraid of even entering the building last year.

A zinefest is a place to sell and swap zines (self-published books/comics/diaries/art etc). I have been attending zinefests every year for as long as New Zealand has had them, and I grew up reading library books about zines and dreaming of making my own. So it was greatly exciting to have my own stall!
I displayed five novellas/short story collections under two pen names, as well as cloth patches. All my zines had handmade custom covers which was really fun, but omg printing is expensive. I was nowhere near covering printing costs, let alone the buses to and from the fest. But no one is into zines for money, and I got to meet a lot of incredible people and have some great conversations. Plus I went home with about four billion new zines and posters. I count that as a successful day.
One of the highlights of the fest was bonding with my queer socialist punk stall neighbors. They had Socialist Review, I had a stack of End Zero Hours stickers and glitter. It was a match made in heaven. 
Excitingly, my most popular item was the patch that says 'punks respect pronouns' in my handwriting which looks deliciously like the One Direction font. I made a 'zines are awesome' patch specifically for the fest, but I guess the crowd know when they're being pandered to because no one even picked it up.

I'm planning to attend at least one more zinefest this year - Auckland Zinefest, the terrifyingly popular one. The ideal zine would be priced under the cost of printing a novella, so I'll never have much commercial success. But I love getting to talk to zine folks. I especially enjoy talking about romance novels and their place in culture, and the detrimental effects of benevolent sexism. It's an important conversation and one that I think most people who don't read romance have never thought about.

Plus, I love finding new zines!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Hot Blood Punk and exciting changes

A few years ago I wrote an erotica novella called Exhibitionist Punk. A year or so later, I decided that the pairing had potential that I hadn't fully explored in the novella. Rather than writing a sequel, I took advantage of one of the coolest features of self-published ebooks - the chance to rewrite an existing story.
Like a Chanel suit, novellas love to be reworked
Exhibitionist Punk (16.5k words) became Hot Blood Punk (41.2k words).

It was a great experience and I enjoyed it a lot, and I know that fans of the original story are going to enjoy the rewrite. It has the same characters and core conflict but is much more fleshed-out. Radically more fleshed out, in fact - Hot Blood Punk is 250% the length of Exhibitionist Punk, and uses just under 35% of the original text. If you're super into numbers, those exact figures are 253.63% and 34.63%. Text from Exhibitionist Punk makes up 13.67% of Hot Blood Punk. That sounds like not much - and it isn't, this is a radical rewrite - but the main characters and key intent of the story is the same. What I'm saying is: It's the same story, only way better.
Another exciting change is the new cover to my novella Knockout Andrew. Same great story, awesome new graphic!

Finally, I'm again participating in the M/M Romance Goodreads Group's free story event. My free novella will be out some time between June and September, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Update on Boganettes

My totally awesome lesbian romance short novella/long short story is now available on Amazon and All Romance, as well as Smashwords. Hooray!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

What is Boganettes and why is it so awesome

Everybody get ready to wiggle around in excitement, because I have exciting news!
I have a new story available, and it is awesome!
It's called Boganettes, and it's the first lesbian romance I've put online.
'Boganette' is the feminine version of 'bogan', which is like the New Zealand version of white trash. 
You might know bogans from the New Zealand TV show Outrageous Fortune, which has that super catchy Hello Sailor song as a theme song.

Outrageous Fortune is kinda the Auckland version of bogan, whereas Boganettes is more interested in the small town version of bogan, which combines farming spirit and metalhead culture.
Boganette is the story of two girls searching for love and friendship during a road trip and music festival. Going for a road trip with strangers is pretty much the best (and scariest) blind date ever!
The protagonist, Kelly, is a cynical Fine Arts student who loves horror movies, heavy metal and stomping on misogyny. She falls for Gisi, a tirelessly optimistic writer for a music blog. Gisi loves absolutely everything, and Kelly is drawn to her like a moth to a flame.
Here is the blurb:
 “Spare seats from Hamilton to Wellington Wreckfest. Share the gas money and share a tent. Flexible preference: Two hot boganettes.”
Kelly replies to the ad in the student magazine partly because she needs a ride to Wreckfest—the biggest metal festival New Zealand has seen in years—but mostly because she wants to meet the person who uses the phrase 'hot boganettes'.
Growing up around barbecues, booze and tractor races makes Kelly a member of the bogan subculture, but she's never thought it was something to be proud of. She studies Fine Art at college and dreams of a better life.
Kelly never expected to make friends during the Wreckfest road trip, let alone a possible girlfriend. She's amazed to find herself falling for a fellow passenger. Gisi is a smiling sun of positivity to Kelly's black hole of cynicism; friendly, fun and gorgeous to boot. She understands Kelly like no one ever has before, and faces life with boundless joy and contagious optimism.
Gisi could be the better life that Kelly's always yearned for, if only Kelly could make a good impression. In the space of a car ride and a music festival, all of Kelly's dearest hopes might be satisfied—or crushed.  
In terms of orientation, Kelly is bisexual and Gisi is lesbian and asexual (but not aromantic). Boganettes is a long short story, or short novella.
You can find Boganettes on Smashwords, and it will be out on Amazon etc very soon!

I loved writing these girls, and I hope you'll enjoy reading them!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Jack Black and the middle of nowhere

This week I quit my job and moved to the country.

When I was 14 I saw a Jack Black video, which went a little something like this:

I was seized by the idea: If you love something - if you truly love it - quit your job. Just do that thing you love. Quit your job and let yourself rock. And if you can't make it work forever: There it is. So it goes. Now you know, and you tried. And that's better than spending your whole life wondering and talking about could-have-beens.

Perhaps it would be a better story if I'd learned anti-orthodoxy from Black Flag instead of Jack Black. But we can't help what shapes and inspires us in life. Jack Black's ear worm was fully in place, working its way toward my brain.

There's this path we're meant to take in life, and stages at which we're meant to make changes. We live somewhere through school then move away for college, get a job, move in with a monogamous committed partner, have children, progress through higher-paid higher-responsibility jobs, retire. Cultural narrative says those are the broad stages of life.

I followed that narrative and did all the stuff I was meant to. But you know the thing about dominant cultural narratives? They don't fit everyone.

I was miserable. I woke up to go to work, then crawled into bed to sleep as soon as I got home. It wasn't until June of last year that I suddenly realized how deeply unhappy I was. I made some mantras to focus on feeling better:
  • Find what makes me happy and do more of that
  • Find what make me not happy and do less of that
Simple enough but, like lyrics from Jack Black that seems obvious, sometimes we just need a few simple and clear phrases to remind us what's important.

I was on minimum wage but I lived very small and put aside everything I could, saving for the someday when I would have the courage to chuck away the cultural narrative to follow my own happiness - and Jack Black's advice.

I wasn't happy at my job and had tried to quit several times. Then this year, thinking of those fateful words I'd carried around with me all this time, I finally did it. With no partner or kids or pets or commitments, I took the chance that I'll possibly only ever have once in my life. I quit my job to focus on what made me happy: Writing. I found a place that's low-rent because it's in the middle of nowhere, and gave myself a year to just write.

It's beautiful here. I've lived in the city all my life, and now I wonder why. Amidst bush and pasture it is calm and quiet without the jarring noises and constant rush of city life. Being completely alone means being under no pressure but my own. And it's constantly breathtakingly beautiful.

There are downsides. I'm four hours by car from any of my friends, and I don't have a car. It's an hour and a half walk to (unreliable) internet and phone reception, and a three hour bike ride to the supermarket - so a round trip of six hours for food. My house is affordable because it's isolated, and also because it's uninsulated - which means four months of the year will be spent huddled by the fire while outside there's snow and black ice.

But I found what made me happy, and committed myself to doing more of it.

I might have to upload stories from a library three hours from home, but I will have the luxury of time in which to write those stories. And that's the best gift a writer can have: Time to just do the thing you love.

Time in which to rock.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

I love book reviews

I love reading book reviews. I don't believe in the concept of 'objective reading': there is no one 'true' way to read a book because a book isn't an objective reality of its own. A book is different to every reader - changed by their memories and associations and motivations, the mental and emotional state they're in when they read it. Think of a book you've read again and again. Every reading is a completely different experience. The text hasn't changed but, for you, the book has changed.

So I love reading book reviews. They're an insight into a book as it was read by the reviewer. I enjoy reviews for books I haven't read - adding and comparing the different readings to create a collage of what I may expect from reading the book myself. But most of all, I enjoy reading reviews for books I have read. I compare different reading experiences, marvel at the difference of reading, and gain insight into my own experience. I think this is a similar motivation to my love of 'headcanon' and the idea of fanfiction.

Very important to me is is the belief that everyone deserves a voice - I'm greatly in favor of blogging and self-publishing, as well as reviewing. I love that the internet lets us break down the bottleneck of traditional publishing and limited shelf space to allow more voices to be heard. Book reviewing no longer belongs only to select magazine and newspaper writers.

I also love writing book reviews. I love sharing my interpretation of a book. But I also love the act of writing a review, and how it changes my own perception of a book: even thinking about writing a review changes how I read a book while I'm reading it.

I love writing reviews but, like all writing to me, it's also difficult and exhausting and anxiety-ridden. Even blog posts are very difficult for me to write - this is why you see so few posts from me. Even if I manage to struggle an idea to completion, I worry that it's not 'good' enough to share. I'm working to overcome that fear. If you're reading this then - yay! - I've succeeded, and you're a valuable part of the process. I appreciate it!

Writing is fraught with difficulties, but it's always worth the effort and I'm always glad I did it. I'm trying to cultivate a habit of writing book reviews. I hope I'm not alone in enjoying reviews penned by authors, and I hope that others will enjoy my insights and perspective. I also like feeling that I'm 'giving something back' - adding to the conversation around books which is especially crucial to small genres.

My ultimate goal is to write a book review every week. I haven't reached that goal yet, but even my every-few-weeks attempt has taught me a lot and, I hope, has added something to the conversation. Since I decided to attempt more reviews, I've written four with a total of over 2.5k words.

In the future I'd like to write reviews for books which are less popular, to increase the value of my contribution to the community and also to broaden the scope of my reading within the genre.

Here are the four reviews I have written since I decided to attempt more reviews:

Blood Bonds by Kayla Bain-Vrba