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.
Author’s Note: This is a converted blog entry. It was originally published on 04.21.14 @ 10:10pm, US Pacific.
[NSFW] Not Safe For Work entry! Fair Warning…
So I didn’t post yesterday.
You wanna know why? Cause I spent all of Easter Sunday (I am NOT religious by any stretch of the imagination, so no worries there – just giving a common frame of reference for ya) battling the server that this site is hosted on.
So why the battle that raged since 3am on Saturday morning through the day and well into Sunday evening? Well it seems that the application I am using to build this here site is a tricky bitchy monster when it comes to its built in SFTP capabilities. I put the tech at TMD Hosting through the wringer this weekend. And since I am a network engineer by profession (aspiring to move away from that to full time writing if I can swing it) I knew what they were dealing with on their end trying to get my software ftp client to consistently allow my newly changed files to upload to their servers.
Yeah, it was a monumental struggle. Ticket updates flying back and forth. The really pisser of this whole thing? The FTP builtin client on this web development app just plain sucks (and not in a way that a guy needs things to suck if you get my meaning).
Well, what should be simple has turned into a crap assed convoluted way to upload and sync my files. Not that you give a rat’s ass about it. I don’t expect you to. I am just sayin’ it cause I missed doing my daily writers blog because I was so fucking wrapped up in my server/ftp shit that I plum ran out of energy when it came to actually posting shit here.
[Putting soap box away now]
Okay, so down to the other monster: the one in my Fae Wars saga. I had a vision last night as I was putting my weary head down. And it was monumental in the shift of my story (it’s a good thing that I am still in the early stages of writing the first book). This whole shit though is killer and it’s so gonna rock the story even better. Movie option time better. My Fae baddies just got a whole lotta bad ass-ier…(I know that’s not really a word – but that’s the beauty of a living language: say it often enough and it will be a part of the vernacular. It just happens. Something the hubby rails against cause he comes from a looooooooong line of educational professionals). School runs knee deep with his brood. I’m good with that. He’s definitely my Marco Sforza (and if you don’t know who that is – mosey on over to Angels of Mercy free read in the Works section and find out).
But here’s the dealio with my new and improved super baddy Fae (actually, I need to stop calling them Fae cause they are what started the whole Fae thing – they are the Feigr). They hark back to their Viking roots rather than the Celtic variety. And as such they are a whole lot vicious and vile when they want to be. The Feigr in my story are bringers of life and death. There are two sides and they are at war. This war has spilled over into our world for a very specific reason. I won’t say what it is just yet, but suffice to say that it is a real switch up from the original Viking Feigr. You could say they are the gay version of the Feigr but that’d be such a human way of looking at it. No, my guys are way more scarier than that. Think fundamentally as in the foundation of life scarier. And the people of Earth are nothing but pawns in this war. They don’t stand a chance. They are merely fodder for my Feigr (hence the title of the first book: Fear the Feigr). There’s a very good reason for humans to think that. But as I said, there are two sides to this tale. Two parts to this war. Bringers of life and the bringers of death. The ultimate clash of what is good and evil if you really think upon it.
As a kid I’ve always had a thing for monsters. Perhaps being gay I knew that I was different too and would be persecuted, belittled, followed, chased even. So I identified with their ‘outsider-ness’, their removal from the mainstream but being complex creatures all on their own. Dracula wasn’t evil. Not by a long shot. He was a man in great pain. I got that. I got the pathos. Something that I was so super grateful when my granddaughter (at the tender age of 3) watched the Frank Langella Dracula with me one Saturday afternoon. After we got through the whole thing – she was super still through it all. Never once shirked from any of the vampiric stuff. Didn’t hide her eyes once (granted the Badham/Langella version is a bit overly romantic). Even for a three year old – my girl was on tough cookie. So we got through to the end. I turned off the movie and the TV so she could talk about it.
I asked her – “So, what did you think?”
She’s a wise old soul of a little girl, “It was sad.” (Pathos – I LOVE this girl! No really, even if she weren’t mine, I’d still be rockin’ the whole Keely-monster thing!)
“What do you mean sad?”
“Well, he just wanted to be loved and they wouldn’t let that lady love him. It was sad.” That’ssa my girl!
Pathos – at the age of three. Fucking bloody brilliant moment in my life: given to me by a three year old. So yeah, Keely and I are good with monsters.
So when I started to form the Feigr storyline, I knew who my protagonists were. It’s a love quadrangle (if you can believe it – full of deceit and malice on Seth’s part and love and healing on Sylas’). And the story is very sexual in nature – very liquid in how they use their bodies to augment what they can do.
Without a doubt, Antonio Biaggi one of the sexiest gay porn actors out there.
Doesn’t take away from the hubby, but Antonio’s definitely got it goin’ on…
For the Life Bearers – Sylas (I used porn actor Antonio Biaggi (above and below) as the basis for this character – as his public persona just embodied the part – the man knows how to seed, that’s for fucking sure)) – the reigning King of my Feigr Life Bringers. His first husband (Sylas’ not Antonio’s – just to be clear here) – Thorn, who was the Captain of his personal guard before they were married. Sylas is the ultimate life bringer but also a voracious lover. So much so that Thorn is not the only husband to share his bed.
For the Death Bringers – Seth Stormbringer (porn actor Gavin Waters fits that bill just fine but with all the snarky-ness of a Tom Hiddleson).
These two brother’s carry quite a bit of pain between them. And Thorn and Sebastian are in the middle.
I particularly like how Gavin looks in this picture – and i am not normally attracted to blonds.
But he just does it for me on some level. Maybe it’s just the way he fucks.
Then there’s the golden one – I can’t just say what he is because the entire saga hinges upon it – Sebastian Alexander Collins (where I get my nom de plume). Sebastian is the one that all three men are after – for good reason. Sylas and Thorn because Sebastian came to them for help only to be pulled from any safety they could provide and whisked away.
Out of reach – and into our world. With no memory of who or what he is. But that (as they say) is just the beginning…
My Feigr are fucking dangerous motherfuckers (good and bad). And there is very little that separate them. And the humans of this world can precious little about it. There’s no ‘evil loses because we all prayed it away’ or ‘an infection that they can’t cure takes them out’ or the Hollywood go to – ‘let’s just nuke ‘em.’ None of that will help the human’s involved in this story. It’s gonna be brutal, apocalyptic in scope and scale.
But all is not lost…
Sebastian can turn it all around. If only he can remember who and what he is. But it’s not as simple as just walking up and to him and tell him. There’s a twist in why no one can do that – and the drama is born out of that little twist.
Sebastian is just a senior in high school, got a rockin’ ballet dancing girlfriend and is just trying to figure shit out before he graduates. ‘Cept his eye keeps roving over to his bestest buddy in the whole world: Thorn. Thorn means the world to Sebastian (maybe even more than his girlfriend). And that’s starting to scare him a bit. And a little bit, not.
When you are the beings that live on the cusp between creation and devastation (in equal measures), some bad assed shit his bound to happen. I can’t wait to get it rolling either.
Free Fear the Feigr read to be posted this weekend (5/26) so keep an eye out for it.
Yeah, monsters can definitely kick your ass. But they can also be the best fucking gift around.