The Power of Betas
Who knew? I know I sure as hell didn’t.
Now, you might be thinking, and rightly so, what the hell is he going on about now?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Sometime last year I began to get quite interested in being a writer. It’s not something new. I’ve had these stories burning in my head – albeit on very far away and distant back burners, mind you – that needed me to get on with the telling.
So last year I began to start writing in earnest. I was writing mostly for me. I still am to a great degree. It doesn’t matter if no one else really likes what I am doing. I like it and that’s the bar I need to hit – as a matter of reference I am never quite satisfied with any creative work I do so that bar is probably a helluva lot higher than any of the critics out there could begin to tear down.
In any event, I began writing.
First it was a story that had been passed back and forth between my husband and myself – an alternate history dealing with Natives from the America’s and the ‘what if’ of a little known and oft missed point in our American past where the British reneged on an agreement that would’ve backed the establishment of a Native nation on the burgeoning American continent. In actuality, there was a small book that my husband introduced me to that dealt with this in an indirect manner – an alternate history of a world where this had come to pass. It detailed, quite well, how Natives would have evolved in western society and applied their precepts and outlook on modern life in an alternate universe that pseudo paralleled our world.
The book was: The Journey of Silas P. Bigelow by Keenan Heise.
It’s a lovely little book that actually grapples with some fairly complex societal mores. I loved the book and I was inspired to write my own “what if” on how I would see Native’s in the bold new modern frontier if they’d been allowed to prosper and evolve unimpeded by the western Europeans.
So I started on that piece and it became quite a behemoth in scope as well as in tone. I decided to table it because so much of it was interesting but it just wasn’t jelling. I was undeterred though – I knew that writing was my thing – I just needed to find the right vehicle to get me started. So that story is on the back burner where it my likely remain for all time. I have the manuscript files, I have the notes and research (which was extensive in both history and in quantum mechanics and native theory on physics in general). Just those pondering alone can point to an over-indulgent exploration that would rival Tolkien’s. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t up to the task (just not then, at any rate).
So that got shunted for another take on Native life – since I am of native descent (my own father coming straight from the rez) I took to writing a different sort of story that was still scientifically based (mostly because I married a real rocket scientist) I wanted to play with the whole – let’s present it as magic (ala Harry Potter but with Indians) only to show by the end that it was all science – just not understood by those who were wielding it what it was. That work is still in progress and has quite a bit amassed already.
But then I got an itch, brought about by Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Thor. I wanted to do something with Viking lore – so I became enamored with the Norse Fae called the Feigr. That iron was put into the fire and I began writing that in earnest too.
I am sure you can see where this is going – a whole shit load of irons in the fire but nothing coming from it.
Enter my Angels: Marco, Elliot and Pietro.
Angels of Mercy had none of the above. When it hit it came like a hurricane and completely sidelined EVERYTHING I was doing. I wrote the first volume of Angels of Mercy in a matter of months. At 205K words it is one helluva tome – and it is only the first of three books in the series. With book one completed (yes, I FINALLY completed something) I began to write volume two (I figured I was on a roll now).
Then NaNoWriMo reared its attractive head – ‘write a novel in a month’ was the challenge. I’d just put the wraps on a 205K novel so the 50K challenge didn’t seem like anything of the sort. So I set aside Marco’s part of the tale in Angels to create another new universe: Werewolves in a fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow in 1956 West Virginia. It’s proving to be a bit of fun writing fluff of a horror nature (albeit with a whole lot of gay boy on boy lovin’ thrown in for good measure – I am all about the man on man love fest here in case you hadn’t noticed).
Well, that is about to wrap up (within this week), and I have taken time off to get it accomplished so by the time November 30th rolls around I’ll have my second (if smaller) novel completed.
So, aside from the possible tie-in with werewolves, where does the whole beta thing come in?
Simple. As a writer I found out from my other author pals that betas are invaluable to any author and are worth their weight in gold if they aren’t the sort that will just (as one author put it so eloquently) “cast so much sunshine up your backside that you get a sunburn from it.” So I found out I needed me some beta readers to give me feedback as I began to write and develop my worlds.
Now to be honest, this was something that initially I was toying with. I was always going to write either way. It’s just in me to do so. Yet, here’s the thing: I was curious to a small degree on what someone else thought of my work.
So I began to find others who might read it. I found my first beta in a LGBTQAI support forum board and began to chat him up (no, not in that way – head out of the gutter now), to see how receptive he was about my writing. He admitted that he wasn’t much of a reader to that point because most of what was out there didn’t interest him. But I asked him to read Angels of Mercy and to tell me what he honestly thought. Surprisingly, he did.
While he had praise for the work, which I found so gratifying, he also demonstrated a complete attachment to my boys in the story. As if they meant something to him. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have a plan for that. But there it was – plain and simple – he loved my world. He loved my boys. And he had thoughts on what was working and what didn’t. I had me my first beta.
He’s golden. He’s one of a kind. He’s thoughtful about my worlds, he’s asked questions and pointed out inconsistencies when they’ve cropped up. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I just didn’t think that anyone would find what I did remotely interesting let alone be just as hooked with them as I was.
I’ve since taken the works to a few others and the response has been rather universal. The work has a certain something. It has some sort of quality that people respond to. My other betas have all said the same sorts of things (with variations on a theme depending on where their own life has taken them). That has been a wonderful thing to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t believe it. It’s just easier from a writing standpoint if there isn’t someone else’s bar in the mix. If it’s my own I can write to that and attempt to impress myself.
My betas? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Not because they’ve kicked me really hard (though they have certainly held my feet to the literary fire when needs be), but because they’ve all consistently gave me the consistent encouragement to press forward. That what I was doing wasn’t in vain or some little silly thing that only I was going to ever read.
In the course of my writing, I discovered that while I write stories with strong gay male figures that contain (amongst other things) a strong romantic element thread, they are not the M/M romance fluff that is out there. I am not disparaging those works – those that find them of interest have a large selection to choose from. As for myself I require more. I require an element of truth that only comes from within. From having lived this life as a gay man. I am not a writer like those of the M/M romance genre. More power to them but I am not of their kind. We may have elements in common but that is where we also diverge from one another.
My betas all seem to be in agreement with me in this. They like that I am not guaranteeing anything when you open one of my books. There is no automatic HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. Because life doesn’t work that way. My worlds, fantastical though they may sometimes be (the Feigr, the “magical” natives, etc) are all rooted in my own or a loved one’s experiences.
This is reflected in the lives of my betas themselves.
Recently one of my beta readers, my very first, a man who I’ve come to count on for a great many reasons ran up against a health concern that had the potential to be life threatening. When that hit I literally almost fell apart. I didn’t write. I stopped cold. The passion drained from me – and this in the middle of the NaNoWriMo contest – not a good thing. But my beta’s life was in the balance. Nothing seemed as important as that. I stewed, I pondered the what if’s – which were many because my husband also had been a practicing physician so I had the 411 on what the potential outcome was even before my new found friend got the official news.
I was gutted.
And let’s be clear – this wasn’t about me. I was overwrought with concern for him. I am not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. There were no prayers involved. I’m just not built that way to give into the whole ludicrous “no atheist in the foxhole” mentality. Yeah, husband has had his life threatened numerous times so if I was gonna cave on the whole God vs. No-God thing it woulda been back then. But it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to stop and think about how my bestest friend, my first “fan” (if you will) was faring through a very difficult time.
He dropped off for a while. Little to no communication from him. Wasn’t easy to endure on my end because I wanted to know how he was doing. But I gave him space. I wrote him once to tell him I was here no matter what – it felt so empty to offer that. I wanted to give him back so much more.
That caused a fire to be lit in my belly. I began to focus all of that into my writing. I had taken up the subject of werewolves because of this very person who was struggling with this life threatening illness. I wanted to write something for him since he has a particular fondness for werewolves (along with men). So it was sort of a fun thing I was doing for him. Only now, it had morphed into being for him in ways I never originally envisioned. I recast one of the characters in the book with his name. I dedicated the book to him. It felt so hollow in many respects – so railing against the big thick glass pane that separated us (he in Michigan with me in CA). But I wanted him to know in some small way how much I’ve come to count on his advice. How much his words meant to me.
I never bargained for this when I started out. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever have this to deal with (and Michael, this is NOT a gripe on my part – please believe me). But these people, these generous people who have given me their time and energy in reading my works and giving me “what for” when I went astray, have become so important as I progress and grow as a writer.
I always said I would trade five million five star ratings for one person who deeply felt what I was doing. Michael is that guy. I am writing for him and men/boys like him. Men who need to hear about our worlds from our own. Men who understand what it is like to deal with the world around us that keeps reminding us at every turn we are NOT like them. We are NOT the norm. I welcome anyone who wants to read what I write. I thank them with all the humility and graciousness I can muster. But I am clear about one thing – I write for men like Michael.
A dear friend I met through my writing.
A man who has so much to offer in life.
A thoughtful individual who cares about my boys almost as much as I do – sometimes, more so.
Yeah, turns out, this Alpha writer does need his betas. They might matter most of all.
Our Dirty Little Secrets – Part 2
My on-going conversation with Savannah Smythe/Jayne Lockwood on the craft of writing, how gay authors are under represented in our own literary house, and my forthcoming novel – Angels of Mercy.
Check them out over at the following locations –
Savannah Smythe Blog (the continuing conversation from my blog post a few days back)
Running with the Pack – Part 3
Another Badge Achieved!
25,009 words! <– That’s HUGE!
I’ve broken the 50% mark in the story. Three chapters in and I am half way to my goal.
So where are things now? Well, Steve Grand is still in the soundtrack rotation and things seem to clip along quite nicely when his songs come on. My boys seem to respond to him. Don’t know why that is again, but I’m just letting Steve take the muse role and just roll right along with it. I get into a groove when that happens. I almost disappear into the story itself and I just channel what Hank, Riley, Tanner and the others all have to say about my little lust filled horror story of gay were’s in Sparrow’s Holler, WVA.
Some interesting developments happened – ya see, when I am driving to my Clark Kent day job, I have a solid twenty minutes a day to ponder my tales – and yeah, I am usually listening to Steve there as well. I think it’s Riley (the Alpha of the story who responds to him most – I seem to work out kinks in his backstory in my head when Steve’s on the iPod in the car). So yeah, Riley and Hank are getting sorted and coupling up nicely. Hank is still leery cause he don’t know why any of it is happening – the boys who have taunted him off and on have suddenly flipped a switch and now they are all about Hank. They can’t get enough of being around him.
And of course this presents drama… duh, duh, duuuuuhhhh! <– that was supposed be that high radio drama music there where someone is bitin’ their knuckle like Carol Burnett did on her TV show back in the 70’s – just sayin’…
Anywho, back in Sparrow’s – Hank and Riley are gettin’ closer and all the while Hank questions what it means (cause hey, it’s 1956 people and there was no internet nor did people even TALK about gay stuff back then – or so the hubby tells me). So while Riley and Hank have their intimate moments and Hank is left bewildered on why he’s all cuddlin’ up to the hottest boy on campus, he is also left bewildered on why Riley’s boys are all into them as well.
As Hank says quite clearly on what he has bitten off –
“I thought I had me a boyfriend – now it looks like I got me eight. Mama’s just gonna shit…”
Yeah, and she ain’t the only one neither, Hank.
The story seems to have this wolf mentality threading through it nicely. No real were moment yet, but it’s coming. I am actually introducing the novel baddie right now in the story. So yeah, I hope I nail it like I got it in my head.
So here’s the dealio with my writings: I write Gay Lit Fic. I make no bones about it. BUT what that means is that while my stories have a strong romantic element (cause hey, that’s always a good thing – it brings out the gentle humanity in us all, I think) – it is NOT M/M romance fare. While it has strong sexual situations, it is NOT erotica. I just don’t write to a given formula. Those elements are present but when I use love it is a means to an end. It serves a purpose other than romance for the sake of romance. And I NEVER pull punches in the sex department, either. I refuse to water it down. Sex happens, people. It’s what makes our lives enriching and exciting. Passion is a VERY good thing in my books. But it’s also a character device that I use to move the characters forward. It’s meant to propel the story in some manner.
The sex in my books are not a “one handed read” as one of my erotica author buddies so eloquently puts it. I mean, if someone thinks they’re sort of hot, well yippee ki-yay for you! That’s not the intent of their being there from my perspective.
Take Hank for example:
Hank is a really attractive guy but is one of those boys who doesn’t have the first clue that he is. He thinks he’s rather average. That there’s nothing special to him. He’s just a country bumpkin eking out a life in a small town in West Virginia.
But Hank is anything BUT average. He’s wildly beyond average – and he’s about to find out what that means. And here’s the odd thing about Hank, the thing that makes him very fascinating to me – he doesn’t want any of it. When he discovers what he truly is and what it all means, he tries to deny it – to push it, and the boys further away from him. The boys go through a lot of pain and torment because of it. Hank is basically refusing pack life. Why? Because he hasn’t turned yet. So to him its spook and legend.
But the threat that visits them just before Hank’s first night of turning – in his own family store, no less, does give him something to consider. A reason to hear the boys out about what is truly going on in Sparrow’s Holler, what the pack means to the town, and how wonder of all wonders, how Hank’s own missing father has played a huge part in it all that Hank was never told about.
Hank’s got quite a bit on his mind and several balls to juggle – it’s no wonder when he looks in the mirror he can’t see what everyone else sees.
Basically put, Hank’s a hunk but he’s a fairly clueless hunk until his boys are threatened. Then there’ll be no stoppin’ him. Hank is a dark horse. A very, VERY, dark horse (or wolf, I should say) in this tale. He doesn’t want the mantle, he doesn’t want the notoriety or attention.
And in due course he gets plenty of attention… from his boys and the girls in town. It’s all too confusing. Part of the time Hank just longs for the simplicity of everything that was before any of this happened. But once you turn, you can never go back.
So the first book is spent on trying to get Hank to become the hero he is destined to be.
It won’t be an easy road. But then again, if it were – what would be the point of tellin’ it?
So a small acknowledgement to my project muse – Steve Grand has released a few new tunes on iTunes as well as a few other places. Please check out his site and buy his songs, dammit! This man deserves our continued support! He’s breathing life into my boys and that’s helping me reach my goal of 50K in 30 days. So far, so good.
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Think I’ll spin up another and get back to it…
Thanks Mr. G for givin’ my boys something to run with … were Riley and the boys here for real – I am sure they’d say thank you too!
Peace – OUT!
Runnin’ with the Pack – Part 2
So it’s been four days of NaNoWriMo craziness. I am happy to report that I am nearly half way to my goal: 22,252 words written thus far!
That’s 22,252 out of 50,000… about 48%. That’s HUGE!
Whoo-hoo! (insert Wolf Howl here)
But I know this is only the beginning. And to be honest, this was because the week leading into it I had a fair amount sorted in my head. But now, well, we’re catching up to where I am still debating how things are gonna play out. Organically (because I am a through and through pantser when I write), I am already seeing deviations of where my wolves are taking me. Beyond where I thought I was going to go.
But it’s like that for me. I have a goal, I have an arc, but what happens is that my characters are fully formed in my head by the time I put them down to digital bytes and bits. They are present – front and center – and they often know their world better than I do! And that, from me, the God of their universe – and yet, my characters still surprise me.
It was that way with Angels of Mercy. It’s turning out to be the same with HO’M,O too.
Hank O’Malley is one helluva discovery for me. The past few weeks I’ve been absorbing my Appalachian dialects, polling my husband’s past because he was born in West Virginia and grew up in and around there.
And here’s the funny thing: Normally, I listen to film scores when I write. I tend to think cinematically, so my stories tend to be that way – so orchestral scores seem to be a perfect fit. The odd thing? This time I seem to fluctuate between those scores (usually of the Danny Elfman, John Williams or Bernard Herrmann variety) and something completely off track – I am also finding myself drawn to listening to Steve Grand‘s offerings. They aren’t contemporary to the time I am setting the piece (1956 in West Virginia) but there’s something homey and irrefutably connected about Grand’s take on things that I just seem to be goin’ with it and not askin’ too many questions along the way – mostly cause I don’t have time to spare for this if the book has to be done in 30 days.
If it works, it works – right? Steve Grand being the emotive core of my boys in Sparrow’s Holler? Well, that’s fine by me.
As much as Jay Brannan proved to be the emotive core for Angels, Grand’s music is the wellspring for my wolves of Sparrow’s Holler. Who knew? I sure as hell didn’t. I just put on Steve’s latest releases and three or four rounds of the playlist and I was writing like a fiend. Who am I to question the muse of the project? It coulda been worse… and Steve is far above anything like that. Like Brannan, Grand inspires me – I love men who are living their lives openly and with such conviction I think that is what I am emotively responding to and imbuing my characters with. Grand and Brannan both are openly gay artists, brilliant and accomplished writers in their own right, and if they give me little creative spark to play with – I am all the better for it.
So yeah, that was a surprise in and of itself. But for some reason it works – I dunno, maybe cause I could see Steve as one of the wolves? What do you think?
But it’s more than that. I think the reason it’s clicking is because there is a solid thread of warmth that weaves its way in Grand’s work. A humanity that I need to be reminded of as my wolves take over. Grand’s music addresses this beautifully. I think that is why I’ve navigated his way.
(Sidebar: I can’t wait for the album to drop – hint, hint Steve-a-rino)
Maybe that’s why I am tunin’ in as I write about my werewolves of West Virginia. And with so much of the were lore established in the M/M genre, I am having so much fun putting my spin on things. Meaning that just because you’re the Alpha of the pack, doesn’t mean that you’re the one in control. I’ve got a new take on things that I hope will give my story an edge to it that hasn’t been present in the gay weres stories that have been out there before. Hank is an Omega in the pack, but in a way that’s never been done before – and it could prove to be an epic game changer.
Either way, Hank O‘Malley, Omega (where the title HO’M,O comes from – the main character of the story) – has that same quality Grand puts forth in his music. The exuberance and the temperance of a life that is rooted in who he was brought up to be. Yet, his life experiences are starting to color that. But the story isn’t a happy one – it’s a dark tale – I mean, they are werewolves after all. That’s not to say there isn’t hope and love threaded within the tellin’ of the tale. Cause there definitely is…
For a boy who was a loner, just work at his Mama’s general store and school to mark the passing of time for him, his world has been slowly evolving around him. He hasn’t paid much attention to the subtle changes in the 8 boys on the football team who always run together. Boys who used to taunt him and shake him up from time to time. Now, there’s a subtle difference in the air. It seems the Cavanagh High School Wolves means a helluva lot more in the town of Sparrow’s Holler than anyone thought.
Hank chides them in his mind and refers to them as “the pack”. Those eight boys, alternatingly mischievous, brooding, and lust-filled — these boys are always together. And they rule the school with an iron paw. Their word is law – even when held up to the Principal himself.
And then there’s Hank. Loner that he is – not seeing how these boys have been slowly circling him. Moving ever so much closer – as if their own continued existence depended upon Hank joining their ranks. And they’d be right about that. Hank is something special in the way of Omega’s within the pack. He’s different in ways that the boys can’t even imagine. Hank is the dark hero of the tale.
So yeah, 22,252 words out of 50K goal. And I am only in chapter 2! Yeah, so gotta figure out how I am gonna reign this one in so I don’t go for another 205K word epic like my first volume of Angels.
I’d like for this to be a side line of short stories that have a greater arc to them. Like those serial short films that our parents or grandparents went to in the 1940’s and 50’s. Slim offerings – a morsel at a time.
At 22K words and only two chapters in? I think I have my work cut out for me to start moving forward at a greater clip to get to my HEAFN (Happily Ever After, For Now) for the first installment. I need to think like those directors of those quickie shorts of the 50’s. Gonna have to tuck in my inner Cecil B. DeMille and think more like oh, I dunno – (face palms and realizes that I generally watch epic films) one of them directors of those classic horror movies of that era. Ya know, like Don Siegel (yeah, I just IMDB’d it) like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Or better yet, Erle C. Kenton of House of Dracula (where Lon Cheney, Jr. makes his appearance as Lawrence Talbot/The Wolfman). Yeah, that’s more like it.
Okay, enough of this – I need to be writing the novel again.
Earbuds in place, Grand’s Stay is cued up – time to go run with the wolves again.
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@stevegrandmusic – thanks for givin’ my boys something to run with!
Peace – OUT!
Runnin’ with the Pack – Part 1
So my first day of writing in the NaNoWriMo contest is coming to a close. I do have other things to do and write, ya know. I think I’ve knocked this one out of the park though. It’s a solid first effort.
The average is 1600+ words a day to hit the target of 50K. I’ve been sorting out what I was going to do for the first day of solid writing that it all sort of flowed almost FASTER than I’d could type (which is fairly fast).
Don’t know that all of them will go as smoothly but at least I’ve got a solid start.
Today’s word count – 9,042 (or 20 pages)
Not bad for a first haul. According to the nanowrimo site I should be done in about 8 days at this rate. I don’t know that that will happen as I had a bit of time to sort it all in my head so when I hammered it out it was one long stream of consciousness brain dump I was on. Now that I am nearing the end of that ‘brain storming session’ I think that I will find that my pace might slow a tad here and there.
I do think that my total word count will easily eclipse the 50K bar. Only because I write like a fiend when I am in the groove of it all. But I just hope I don’t overwrite the whole damned thing. My goal is not the 50K, but that I can limit myself to an actual short novel.
As I’ve said before, I think Cecil B. DeMille epically when I write. It’s just how my gay perspective thing is on it. But yeah, with these weres, so gonna let them have a fun, scary and satisfying romp. It’ll be brief but hopefully not the only one of the series (because while I may give it a HEAFN at the end of this book, I will definitely leave it open-ended enough to carry if forward if people seem to like it).
Anyway, said I was gonna blog about the process – so yeah…
DAY ONE – 9, 042/20 pages!
Not too bloody bad in my book…
Now time to go make dinner – my work is never done, it seems.