Saturday, 30 July 2011

Rebecca Weinstein

The author blogtour continues with Rebecca Weinstein, author of Seraphim, Nashoga (Redstone Book 1) Patty-O-Matic, and Dexter by a Nose.

The Interview

Why do you write?

I write because I have so many stories to tell. I'm a creative person, both in the written word and in the visual arts. All of my work, from my paintings to my novels, have a story to tell.

How often do you read for pleasure?

As much as my schedule will allow. More in the summer than in the winter, because I have a hectic work schedule in the winter.

Do you think character or plot is more important to a good story?

Definitely characters. Without great characters to empathize with, there IS NO plot.

What inspired your most recent book?

My most recent book was Seraphim, a story of a Catholic high school girl who meets an interesting new transfer student, Michael, who seems too good to be true. It was inspired by my long history with Catholic schools. I had twelve years of my own schooling, and I currently teach in one. Not that the book is overly religious; it's not. It was just inspired by my experience being in a Catholic high school.

If you could be any author who would you be, and why?

I bet a ton of authors would say J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, not just because they're great storytellers, but because they're rolling in dough! As much as I'd like to say one of them, I really admire (read: envious of) Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files. His MC, Harry, has such a strong voice, and one other thing he's really good at is ditching dialogue tags. It's something that I struggle with every day and he makes it seem so easy.

What book do you wish you'd written?

Stephen King's The Eyes of The Dragon. I love that one.
What is the most frustrating thing about self-publishing?
Marketing and promotion. I spend tireless hours at marketing and self-promotion. Too much time, perhaps, that would be better spent getting the next book off my shelf and into readers' hands.

What is the most rewarding thing about self-publishing?
No matter what, I'm in control. From content to cover, it's all me. Some people can write a good book but need others to make a good cover. Others are great illustrators and poor authors. I was blessed by the best of both worlds. Or, at least I tend to think that I am. What do you think?
If you could give one piece of advice to a novice author, what would it be?
Write, write, write. And then write some more.
Serafina Jones had an ordinary life until she met the new transfer student, Michael. Now her world's been turned upside down as she struggles to find her own identity as well as discover Michael's. When tensions arise at home and around the country, Michael may be able to ease them...or could he have been the cause? To Serafina he seems so perfect, but could Michael really be too good to be true?
Seraphim is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords

Nashoga (Redstone Book 1)
Nashoga, the alpha of the Redstone Pack, has been run off. While in exile, Nashoga meets Buck, an elk with an attitude, and the two are thrust into a dire situation. Will the two be at each others' throats or will they learn to work together to defeat this new threat? Will Nashoga reunite with his pack and his love? Only time will tell in this story of power struggles, love and friendship.
Nashoga is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords

Dexter by a Nose
 Ever since Dexter was born, he has been picked on because he is a half-breed and dreams of becoming a great race horse. Everyone knows that only thoroughbreds can race, but against all odds, a kind trainer sees something in Dexter that he does not see in the other colts and trains him to race. Dexter has the speed, but can he come to terms with who he is and believe in himself enough to win?  
Dexter by a Nose is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords
Also available in paperback

Thomas Avery is an exceptional butcher. The only thing is, he's blind and does it all by touch. As business starts booming, Thomas becomes suspicious of his boss and uncovers a sinister secret.
Patty-O-Matic is available from Smashwords

Follow the Author

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Jacques Antoine ~ Go No Sen

The author blogtour is commencing with Jacques Antoine, author of Go No Sen, available on Kindle US, Kindle UK, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords

The Interview
- Why do you write?  

 I mainly write for pleasure. I "love" my characters, and really want to know what's gonna happen to them next. The only way to do that is to keep writing. I'm a college professor, so I also write a lot of scholarly prose. This has it's own pleasures, mainly the pleasure of achieving precision, clarity and brevity of exposition. But fiction allows me to luxuriate in interesting ambiguities, leave threads of the narrative hanging for a few chapters, and then pick them up again later. It's a completely different experience. Quite rejuvenating.

- How often do you read for pleasure? 

As a teacher, I read for work most of the time, mainly "great books." But I also love to read "good books" too. They tend to be much more fun. I probably get to read a novel a week just for fun.

- Has publishing your own book changed how you view the work of others? 

I am more sensitive to the passionate side of writing. Even a book I think isn't really very good must represent an enormous investment of time and energy. Whoever wrote it had to really care about what they were doing. I hope that when people read my stuff, they'll feel that about it too.

- Do you think character or plot is more important to a good story? 

People have argued about this for millennia. In the Poetics, Aristotle plumped for plot over character. See, that's over two thousand years ago. But my own experience as a writer shows me that even if plot may be more important to the finished work, a plot can only come to be if I care about my characters. Without that, plot is just an empty form. I love characters!

- What is your all-time favourite character, and why? 

I don't have a single, all-time favorite. But the one I've been thinking about a lot lately is Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. She finds a way to assert her individuality despite the intense constraints of her social milieu. I suppose it's a little strange, since I mainly write action thrillers with lots of fight scenes, but Jane Austen is probably my favorite author. I'm a rather lachrymose reader. There's usually a moment in a book when I really connect with a character, and then a tear comes to my eye. But in Austen, the interesting thing is that the weepy moment is not usually romantic. It's typically a moral moment, when the heroine admits to herself that she's been wrong. In Sense and Sensibility, it's when Marianne admits to her sister that she had behaved badly with Willoughby. 

- What inspired your book? 

I started writing Go No Sen after reflecting on my daughter's experience studying karate. She's 12, and in her dojo (probably in all dojos) the girls are much more careful about controlling their punches and kicks than the boys are. Since the dojo is mainly populated by boys, she finds sparring really annoying. It's not the physical pain that bothers her (she's a tough chick!), but the moral insult of it. As I thought about this, I tried to imagine the girl who would really make sparring her own. What would she be like? And then, what sort of things might happen to her? And finally, what would she become as a result of those experiences?

- What is the most frustrating thing about self-publishing? 

Promoting the book. Tinkering with software comes easily to me. But all the work that goes into promotion doesn't. It is almost as time consuming as writing itself, and not nearly as satisfying.

- What is the most rewarding thing about self-publishing? 

Without a doubt, the freedom. Of course, you're free to fail as well as to succeed. But that is in the very nature of freedom, I suppose. It's an exhilarating experience.

Go No Sen
Sen, in Japanese, the initiative: it can be taken up in more than one way. In holding oneself in reserve, one seizes the initiative hidden within the opponent's attack. This is called Go No Sen.

Emily Kane, 17, high school student, martial artist--when her family is shattered by covert operatives who attack their home, they go into hiding, but she refuses. She insists on staying behind, staying in school, confronting the people who attacked her family. She will do what it takes to wrest control of her life from the people seeking to destroy her.  

The second book in the series, Sen No Sen, will come out in September. 

The third book, Sensei/Sempai, is scheduled to appear in November
Go No Sen is available on Kindle US, Kindle UK, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords

Follow the Author

Friday, 22 July 2011

Goodbye & Good Riddance ~ The Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Congress is meeting today to put the final nail in the coffin of the US military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for gay troops. In a nutshell, the law on being out and proud in the military was simple: don't. No senior officer could question an individual about the sexuality, but neither could an individual mention to anyone if they were gay ~ inside or outside the armed forces.

If you were at home on leave and went to a gay club, and someone happened to see you and reported you, you could be dishonourably discharged. If someone with a grudge, or even that you didn't get on with, reported you, you could be dishonourably discharged. If you fell in love, and were seen with that special person once too often, you could be dishonorably discharged. Are you getting the message?

The law will take 60 days to come into effect, but as of the end of September 2011 you can be openly gay and still serve your country. Why anyone would want to fight and risk their life for a nation that still denies them basic human rights (the revoking of gay marriage in California anyone?) is beyond me, but they're braver and better people than I am.

It is about time that America recognised and honoured its gay soldiers ~ people who have everything to lose by enlisting in the military, but who continue to do so. It is an exceptional and honourable thing that those people have done in the past. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was implemented in 1993, and since then a staggering 13,500 troops have been discharged for falling foul of it. Let me break that number down: that's 750 people a year; 62 a month; two a day. That's huge. Think of the administration time alone spent in court martialling these people, the money wasted, and of course the promising careers ruined.

Obama campaigned on this issue in the run up to his election in 2008. It's only depressing that it's taken him three years to see that campaign promise through.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The KDP Blog Tour ~ Coming Soon!

One of the astonishing and fantastic things about indie publishing is all the wonderful people you connect with. There are many, many more indie authors out there than certainly I ever realised (after all, who looks at the publisher when downloading an ebook??)

These people, without exception, are completely dedicated to their art. They write for the love of it, and they all strive to produce the best stuff that they possibly can. Some of them are already very, very successful; some are just starting out.

The best thing about them is that not one of them is too busy to help a newbie. Over the last month I've interacted with dozens of different people, all of whom are willing to give up their own free time - time they could be spending promoting their own books - to helping novices like me get our feet on the ladder.

It is a very warm and fuzzy feeling to discover such a helpful, selfless community alive and thriving in the cold, capitalist world of the 21st century. Most indies I have spoken to recently have been of the opinion that there is no such thing as competition in the self-publishing world: books are successful or they or not (yet!), but their authors don't need to climb all over each other to make their own books sell better.

I, too, want to be part of this warm and fuzzy world. That's why I'm hosting a blog tour over the forthcoming months. New and established indies alike will be contributing interviews and guest posts to this blog, discussing everything from their desert island book to the agony of self-publishing. I'm truly excited about it: it will be a great way to discover a new author, or maybe your new most-favourite-novel-of-all-time.

Books may be magic, but it's time to meet the magicians.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Bronski Beat ~ Smalltown Boy

Just thought I'd share the bravest and most moving music video that's ever been made (in my humble opinion). If you've never seen it before you're in for a revelation.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Monday, 18 July 2011

Is MY Blood Too Gay, Too?

I was reading an interesting article this morning about a man in Chicago who was turned away from a blood donation clinic because he 'looked gay'. Click here if you've not read it yet.

For those who don't know (and, surprisingly, there are many) there are certain criteria that will prevent you from giving blood. In the UK, you can NEVER give blood if:
  • You have ever had syphilis, HTVL, Hep B or Hep C
  • You are a man who has ever had sex with another man, with or without a condom
  • You've ever worked as a prostitute
  • You've ever injected yourself with drugs
You can't give blood for 12 months after having sex with:
  • A man who has ever had sex with another man (even if you're a woman)
  • A prostitute
  • Someone who has ever injected themselves with drugs
  • Anyone with haemophillia or related blood-clotting disorder
  • Anyone who has been sexually active in a part of the world where HIV/AIDS is common
I totally understand and support the need to identify high risk behaviours that could potentially result in certain diseases being transmitted through transfusions. I accept that all blood is tested for HIV, Hepatitis etc etc, and I also accept that the incubation period for certain diseases means that they might not show up on such tests. I get it. What irritates me is the way the NHS categorises some behaviours as 'high risk' but excludes others that are virtually identical.

For example: no sexual act is defined in the ban on men who have had gay sex. Does a blowjob count as 'sex'? If we're talking anal intercourse here (which I assume we are) then is there no distinction between active and passive roles? And, most importantly, why is it that being fucked by a gay man makes you an unacceptable, lifelong risk, but being fucked by a straight man doesn't? There is no such ban on straight women who have ever taken it up the wrong 'un. Or, for that matter, on straight men who've been the active partner in anal intercourse with women. And yet, if you're a woman who has slept with a man who has ever - even forty years ago - had sex with another man, then you, too, are banned, for twelve months after the event. Where is the logic in that? And more importantly, how does one police such convoluted rules?

It is high time that the NHS - and other health authorities around the world - made up their bloody minds what they are going to consider 'high risk', and make the rules universal. If anal intercourse is out, then it should be out for men and women alike. Decide how bad the risk is, and impose an equal ban on both sexes. That's fair, and understandable. Giving blood is a noble and admirable thing, but it's not a right. The needs of the patients must always come first, and I'd be the first person to scream blue murder if someone I knew contracted HIV or Hepatitis from a transfusion in this day and age. It's the injustice of the current system that galls.

More disturbingly, these guidelines are issued by the UK's national health authority, and the implicit message in these guidelines is clear: only gay men get HIV. Unless you are a gay man, or sleep with a man who has ever had gay sex, you're safe. Is the NHS that ignorant of its own figures that it doesn't know how many straight men and women are diagnosed with the condition every year? Allow me to quote verbatim from AVERT's statistical analysis of UK HIV infection rates in recent years:

A major component of the rapid increase over the past 15 years has been heterosexually acquired infection. Up until 1998, the highest number of new HIV infections were acquired through sex between men. However, since 1999 heterosexually acquired HIV has overtaken as the largest exposure category. Heterosexual sex accounted for 42 percent of HIV diagnoses in 2010 and sex between men accounted for 38.5 percent, compared to 1995 when 31 percent were a result of heterosexual sex and 58 percent of new HIV diagnoses resulted from sex between men...the number of infections probably acquired from heterosexual sex within the UK increased from 157 in 2000 to approximately 416 in 2010.  AVERT

The message is clear, and straight people aren't getting it. From my experience of living and clubbing in Manchester's gay village over the last seven years, the warnings are ubiquitous. Everywhere you turn there are posters, free condoms, leaflets and fliers, warning people of the dangers of HIV, and of high-risk behaviour. I see nothing like this on the (admittedly, rare) occasions I go to straight bars and clubs. The straight friends I have seem to think they're immune from this disease, and that their biggest worry if they have unprotected sex is an unwanted pregnancy. It doesn't stop them. I have no illusions that the gay people I know are saints, or that the straight people I know are sinners, it's just a different mindset. We all grew up with the AIDS iceberg looming large over us, but only gay men seem to have taken note. Does there have to be a 'straight plague' too before they understand the devastation that this disease brings?

Ultimately, for the NHS, the problem of their self-imposed rules is the difficulty in enforcing them. How can you spot someone who's had sex with a man; or with a man who's had sex with a man? This is how we get unfortunate cases like the one in Chicago. He looks gay, therefore he must be gay, and must have had sex with men, and must be stopped from giving blood. This shows another interesting prejudice: that to be gay is, by definition, to have had sex with someone of the same gender. It couldn't possibly have been a virgin mincing in to do his civic duty. It is yet another example of the narrow understanding people have of the diversity of human sexuality: the only way we can define an entire personality and identity is through a physical act. It is a breathtakingly reductive view of any sexual identity. It is something I will be coming back to in future blogs. And don't even get me started on "looks gay".

These rules also smack of something much more unsavoury; an archaic and, one hopes, obsolete view. Whisper it - is 'gay' contagious? Is that insidious little thought the real reason why only gay men are banned from giving blood? Are the NHS worried that people will 'catch gay' through a transfusion?

The irony of all this? Mr Chicago was straight. A bit effeminate, maybe, but 100% hetro. And perhaps no less a risk for all that. Yet I bet they welcome him back with open arms.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Writing a sequel is the hardest thing...

I'm 10,000 words into Book Two of my Lost Realm series, and it's bloody hard going. Most irritating is the fact that I've planned it meticulously, and I know exactly what's going to happen. Why is it then that it's so hard to put that on paper? I know every conversation my characters are going to have; every mistake they're going to make; every lingering look and cry of anguish. Writing it out longhand is proving much more difficult.

I know my characters, I know where my story is ultimately going, I know what needs to happen in this book to get them to where they need to be. So writing it should be easy, right? Wrong. I have never struggled so much with anything. I always thought that people who wrote series or sequels were doing the easy thing: the readers already know the characters and the writing style. All you have to do is come up with an interesting plot. This is soooooooooooo not the case. Now I'm writing a sequel, I suddenly get that I've got a lot to live up to. My potential readers already know my characters: they've decided for themselves how they look and talk, how they will react to different stimuli. If I get it wrong, I'll alienate them all.

Book Two is going to be darker than Blood & Ash: the witches are going to step up their game; Ash will face true discrimination and homophobia for the first time; Skye will come into his own as a character; and Fenton will also play a significant part in the events of the next book. I'm telling you now people, there ain't going to be a happy ending. It's always darkest just before the dawn. To put my characters through everything that I'm going to will change them. I'm treading a fine line between keeping it realistic and making sure I don't alter anybody too fundamentally from how they were in Blood & Ash. I've got to over-think every word and expression. I've got to tread softly.

I've already re-written an early scene with Fenton and Skye three times; I'm about to start on a fourth, because it's still not right. It's less than a thousand words long! I feel I'm going to have sweated blood over this book long before it's done.

But blogging here won't get it written. It's back to the drawing board for me. I'll keep you posted on how I'm getting on...

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Blood & Ash: New Cover Art

Flushed with my (modest) success in designing the cover for Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire, I decided that I was mortally offended by my cover for Blood & Ash. Therefore, I've changed it. Hopefully for the better!

As the books are part of the same series, I wanted to make the covers similar in style. I've tried to make it simpler, and bolder, with one central image that is striking enough to catch the eye, but doesn't detract from the title.

I'm sure there's people out there who think it's pitifully weak, but the last time I did something 'arty' was for my GCSE (I got a C, by the way...) so it's been a steep learning curve, and I've decided after 2 weeks of nothing but frustration that I'm never going to understand Photoshop.

I like it, anyway :-D

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire

Now available to download FREE at Smashwords. Click the link ~ you've nothing to lose!

One man's quest for companionship, in a world obsessed with sex. It's not that Fenton doesn't love - he does, fiercely - but it's never enough. He doesn't understand the desires that move other men. That's why Kali chose him. Kali knows that the blood is everything: the only desire. And he intends to teach Fenton that, too.
Fenton was born in a remote village during a raging storm. Bad omens surround his birth. He grows up alone, understanding from an early age that he is not the same as the other children. He does not fit in.

Then he meets Alec; another young man who doesn't belong. Hope, loss and banishment ensue as they try to carve a life for themselves in a world that forbids their love. But is love ever enough, or will Alec always want more?

Kali understands. Kali knows that there is only one true desire in this world: the desire for blood. Kali offers Fenton something that he has been searching for his entire life: perfect companionship, and complete understanding. But can Kali really give Fenton what he needs, or is he just like all the others?

'Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire' is a 'Lost Realm' short story.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire ~ Cover Art

Here's the finished cover of Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire, a Lost Realm story. The full book will be available on Smashwords later this week.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Monday, 11 July 2011

Fenton: A Lost Realm Story ~ Preview

Fenton is a short story based on a character from the Lost Realm series. The full story will be made available for free on Smashwords later this week. I am currently working on book two of the series; book one, Blood & Ash, is available on the Amazon Kindle now.

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire

Fenton stumbled as the ship rolled, swinging himself awkwardly up into his hammock. The third mate watched him from his own bunk, laughing.
“First time at sea?” He asked through a wreath of pipe smoke.
Fenton grimaced in acknowledgement.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” the man assured him. “Next time you’re on land, it’ll feel like it’s the ground pitching, not the ship.”
Fenton lay back into the rough material, closing his eyes and trying to get used to the unsettling sensation of the ship’s movement. He fought a sudden wave of nausea as the ship lurched unexpectedly. His calves burned from the pressure of remaining stable, his shoulders aching from the manual labour on deck. Less than a month ago he’d been toiling in the fields around his home, but his muscles had already grown soft from disuse.
He heard footsteps on the ladder and opened his eyes slightly, just enough to see Alec enter the hold and approach him.
“Having fun?” Alec asked, grinning, as he looked at Fenton’s queasy features.
“Not yet,” Fenton admitted, wishing Alec would let go of the hammock so it’d stop swinging.
 “You will,” Alec promised, bending to kiss him. The third mate coughed conspicuously from his own hammock. Alec withdrew guiltily.
“Running away, are you?” The third mate asked knowingly.
“None of your business,” Fenton growled.
The man laughed good-naturedly. “Everything’s my business on this ship,” he warned them, “mine and everybody else’s. Ain’t nothing’s private for long once we set sail. But don’t worry, we don’t mind your sort here. Means there’s more women for the rest of us when we reach port, eh?” He gestured lewdly at them.
Fenton blushed.
“Aw, you’re gonna have to be tougher than that,” the mate rebuked them. “You’re sailors now: live rough, talk rough. We ain’t got time for nothing else. You might have your little romance, but most of the men on this ship don’t get much chance for action.”
Fenton looked away, avoiding Alec’s eye. He still couldn’t bring himself to give Alec what he needed. Alec hadn’t pressed him, or made him feel guilty about it, but it still hurt to know that he wanted more; that what they had wasn’t enough. Fenton suddenly felt like crying, he felt like he was eight years old all over again, unable to understand the game the other children were playing. He knew, now, what Alec wanted – what everyone wanted – but he’d never felt that desire for himself: he’d never once looked at someone with a longing that was physical; that clawed at his gut and burnt to be released. He saw that longing in Alec’s eyes with increasing frequency. He’d observed it on so many of the faces of the people back home – even his mother’s, once, as she watched his father bathing. He’d studied him surreptitiously, trying to see what she saw in him that made her eyes glaze and her mouth hang open. He had heard them having sex, of course – their croft was too small to allow for any privacy – but he’d never understood what either of them gained from it. It certainly didn’t sound like anything special to him: the stifled gasps and grunts as his father entered her roughly; a low moan as he climaxed; then nothing but the sound of snoring.
He turned his head, smiling up at Alec. Why wasn’t this enough, he wondered, stroking his face softly. Alec took his hand, entwining their fingers as he kissed each tip softly: he liked this, the easy intimacy that they shared. He liked kissing him, he liked stroking his warm skin. He liked holding hands and hugging and sleeping curled up together, feeling Alec’s soft breath warm the back of his neck and ruffle his hair. These were all easy, familiar things that made him feel good inside. When Alec reached lower, putting his hand between his legs, kissing him deeply, urgently, it made Felton uncomfortable; uncertain. He didn’t know what was expected of him in those moments, he didn’t know what to do next. Alec seemed to know – everyone seemed to know – by instinct, and desire, what was supposed to happen. Fenton felt like a fraud. Worse, he knew that his reluctance in these moments hurt Alec in a way that he couldn’t explain, and he felt guilty. The last thing he’d ever want to do was cause Alec distress, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t know how to make it right.

They quickly fell into the routine of life aboard the ship, making and losing friends as easily as they made and lost money at cards, or dice. Each port saw a change of faces as some left and others joined. They grew accustomed to the rough and tumble sailor’s existence, learning the language, understanding that coarse words and coarser behaviour didn’t mean there wasn’t a good heart underneath. They became roughened, like the men around them. They drank and they smoked and they joined in with the lewd banter of the other men, understanding the frustration at its source, and knowing there was no malice behind their words.
   Still Fenton held back from committing himself physically to Alec. There were times, when Alec’s frustration built up and overflowed, that Fenton was coaxed into relieving the pressure, of submitting to his wandering hands and probing mouth, but more frequent were the times when cruel, angry words were exchanged heatedly, when one or the other or both would cry themselves to sleep, feeling the dark eyes of the other sailors watching. Sex they understood, and even expected. Fenton’s reluctance was something new and unfamiliar.
   Alec started going out alone whenever they reached port, disappearing for hours at a time into the bowels of whatever foreign city they were docked in. Images of swarthy men with almond eyes haunted Fenton as jealousy tore through him, but he bore his suffering in silence, knowing that it was he who had driven Alec away. Alec always returned more loving and less insistent; satiated by whatever experience he had gone in search of; and Fenton always forgave the unspoken transgressions, the terrible betrayals that Alec committed again and again.

They had been aboard the same ship for two years when Matteo joined the crew. The young Italian was friendly and cheerful, and soon found himself a favourite among the men, who would stare wistfully at his slim, graceful body as he passed, chattering frantically to them in broken English. It seemed that every man, however old and jaded, was a little bit in love with Matteo: the young man was too charismatic, too beautiful, not to be loved. He bestowed his favours benevolently: a kind word here, a playful wink there: and the men competed to collect them: Matteo’s natural charm breaking down the barriers of authority and nationality.
   Alec quickly became Matteo’s favourite: the two could often be found huddled together among the stores, whispering and giggling over the ship gossip. Some of the men, noticing, went out of their way to include Fenton, sympathetically commiserating with him over his loss. Others felt that he had brought the estrangement on himself, and their hearts were hardened towards him. Fenton watched their budding relationship with dismay. Alec didn’t intend to be cruel: he didn’t realise himself what was happening. It was plain to everyone but him that he had fallen for Matteo, and the other man seemed equally smitten. They made a striking couple, Matteo’s honeyed darkness contrasting beautifully with Alec’s auburn hair and green eyes.  
   One terrible day, it happened. Lewd jeers and whoops from the store announced the truth about their relationship, and Fenton felt his heart break. Alec was embarrassed but not ashamed when the other sailors teased him, and Matteo took his place at his side like a prince ascending the throne.
   They had one last, stilted conversation. Fenton forgave him the betrayal, and the humiliation. He wished him well. He hoped their paths would cross again, but even as he said it he knew that they would not. He held Alec’s face in his hands, committing to memory every hair and pore in his tanned skin. He kissed him chastely, smoothing away the single tear that tracked silently down his cheek. He smiled sadly.
   The next day the ship docked, and Fenton slipped silently away. 

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Homophobia in the 21st Century

I read the Daily Mail today. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I picked it up, but my father buys it and I can't walk past any rendition of the printed word without having a quick shuffle through. I read a very interesting article by Brian Sewell, openly bisexual 'art critic and  media personality' (whatever that is), who was lamenting the current state of long-running soap Coronation Street.

Sewell seems to think that there are too many gays on telly these days, that "There's too much, not only of gay men...but also of lesbians, bisexuals, the trans-gender community, cross-dressers and everyone else with some sexual quirk or fetish." He justifies this view by noting that "just 6 per cent of the population" are gay, and that the appearance of gay / trans characters in TV soaps "gives them a disproportionate amount of airtime."

Firstly, I object hugely to anyone saying that homosexuality or being transgendered is a 'fetish' or 'quirk', and I'm sure I'm not alone there. It's not for a cheap thrill that we live the way we do, it's because this is the only way that we can live. It's who we are. And last time I checked, falling in love wasn't a fetish, nor was the portrayal of that on TV. Neither, for that matter, is sex, whether it be with a man or a woman. Certain acts are fetishistic, but vanilla gay sex hasn't ever been considered as such, anymore than vanilla straight sex is. Bisexual Swell may well consider sleeping with men to be a fetish, but for most men, that's the last thing it is. It's a way of life, it's an entire identity, not just a grubby act confined to the bedroom.

He also argues that gay characters are anethma to the Corrie values, that the soap is "pure Salford, that took the paintings of L.S. Lowry and brought them to life on TV, that fortified the great divide between the noble North and the soft and silly South of England...[full of] Squalor, grime and poverty..." That he can describe something as realistic that resembles the famous 'matchstalk men' of Lowry is laughable in itself. The sheer artificiality of Lowry's represention of those that he painted, their two-dimensionality, was meant to symbolise everything that was 'grim up north' - something that apparently Sewell finds quaint, and amusing. In his own words, the north is squalid, it's grimy, it's the last place that any self-respecting homosexual would find himself.

Doesn't he realise that Manchester has the second most vibrant gay community in Britain, after London? That Canal Street is as famous as any other 'gay ghetto' you could name, and that people flock to the city from all over the British Isles simply because of this fact? When I lived in Manchester, I knew gay, lesbian, bi, trans and, yes, straight, people who lived in every conceivable setting, from the luxury flats at Salford Quays and Deansgate, to the council high-rise christened ironically the Fairy Towers, to the many, many regular rows of terraces that make up so many of the city's suburbs.

In my last house, a new-build mews just outside the city centre, I (lesbian, single) lived with 2 gay men  (long-term couple); next door was a straight couple (20s, newly married); next door to them was a pair of spinster sisters (60s, never married) opposite lived a transvestite DJ (gay, single); on the other side of us lived a large family (2 parents in their 30s, 3 kids, a very noisy dog). We all knew each other, and we all got on. Surrounding us lived every imaginable combination of ages, sexualities, relationships, creeds, colours, religions and nationalities. It's part of what makes us a multicultural society, and Manchester is nothing if not multicultural. To suggest that such combinations can't exist - god forbid! - in the north, is at best absurd and ill-informed. At worst, it's the worst kind of bigoted.

But Sewell's greatest crime hides deep within his article, where he argues that viewing homosexual characters on TV is morally damaging to children. "Are soaps," he asks, "watched by prepubescent children - who may still have some tattered remnant of innocence that we should cherish - really a proper platform for sexual propaganda and special pleading?" Where do I start? These are the same soaps, we must remember, that thrive on adultery, violence, drinking and death. Every soap has a local pub and every character frequents it, usually going several times a day - if that is not morally damaging, what is? Heterosexual characters have affairs left, right and centre, often breaking marriage vows in the process, getting pregnant, getting abortions, getting men to raise other men's children. Is that moral? Yet showing two men holding hands; declaring love; hell, maybe even kissing; even in the context of a loving, long-term relationship, that's immoral?

If that's morality, I'm the Duchess of Cambridge.

Sewell argues that homosexuals have their place on TV, but it's after the watershed - well after. He compares Coronation Street with Queer As Folk. Such a comparison is laughably absurd. Apart from the fact that both shows are set in Manchester, there's no similarity whatever between them. Queer As Folk was written to be a controversial, realistic drama, based on the lives of a certain group of men at a certain period of time. I love it; I applaud it; it is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Coronation Street it certainly ain't.

Oddly enough, for all Sewell's criticism that gays have no place in everyday Manchester, as portrayed in Corrie, he seems to understand the city's huge contribution to queer culture. He rightly notes that the Campaign for Homosexual Equality was founded in Manchester (by 'a dear old duck' - I kid you not, that's what he wrote) and he calls Manchester the 'centre of homosexual unrest.' Less pleasingly, he calls Manchester the 'Sodom of the North' - where, one wonders, is the Sodom of the South?

Sewell's article contains some breathtakingly condescending opinions on the lives of us northerners, and Mancunians in particular; his argument is often confused (are gays in Corrie out of place because no-one in Manchester should be gay: even though it's a city with a long and proud queer history and a vibrant and growing queer community: or because there's something fundamentally immoral about showing gay characters on TV at 7.30pm on any show?) but his biggest crime, in my eyes, is reiterating the old and oft-repeated myths that (a) sexuality is  'fetish' or 'quirk' (b) it's somehow contagious (if it wasn't, it wouldn't affect childen to see it) and (c) it's fundamentally immoral.

I know that there were thousands of nodding heads reading his article this morning, heartily agreeing with every confused, self-hating word, and cementing in themselves the moral certainty that they're right. I've heard rants like this before, and no good ever comes of them. We may only be 6-10% of the population (although Sewell's figures are at best only ill-informed guesses, as no-one can claim to know exactly how many people in this world are gay, queer, trans, or otherwise sexually 'Other') but that doesn't give him - or anyone else - the right to defame us, or how we live our lives. People in glass houses, and all that. That this attack comes from 'our' side of the fence, so to speak, is all the more galling. If Sewell can't reconcile himself with his own sexuality, I pity him. He deserves it. But he shouldn't turn that self-hating streak against those of us who have learnt to live with our sexual identities, and found happiness through it. That's not misinformed homophobia, it's a dliberate and sustained attack against people that are - however much he might want to deny it - just like him. It's the rage of Caliban, seeing his own face in the glass.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Monday, 4 July 2011

Peter Wildeblood: Against the Law

Everyone should have heard of the Montagu trial that occurred in England in 1954. For those that haven't, let me set the scene...

Following WWII, there was a period in the late 1940s through the 1950s where homosexuality was not only illegal, but actively prosecuted in England, especially in London. Agent provocateurs were routinely - if illegally - used by the Metropolitan police to entrap gay men. The police commissioner at the time, Sir John Nott-Bower, had vowed to "rip the cover off all London's filth spots". The Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, called for "a new drive against male vice".

While I do not suggest that anyone should take for granted the received wisdom that there was any such thing as a 'gay pogrom' in London at this time (those who subscribe to this view would do well to read Matt Houlbrook's compelling 'Queer London'), the fact remains that gay men lived in a time when fear of persecution was very real; where it was safer to have anonymous encounters with strangers in 'public' places; where giving your name could mean your ruin, and long-term relationships were all but impossible to conduct.

Peter Wildeblood was just another gay man living in this world. In 1953 he was a successful journalist -  Diplomatic Reporter for the Daily Mail, no less. He lived quietly in a small flat and he tried to keep his head down and his private life secret. All of that was shattered in January 1954, when the police came for him. An old flame had turned queen's evidence against Wildeblood and two friends, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Lord Montagu. The police's earlier attempts to nail a sex conviction on Montagu had proved futile, until Eddie McNally and John Reynolds, two young men in the RAF, were discovered with letters from Wildeblood and Montagu, which mentioned a weekend in a beach hut at Montagu's estate.

Very quickly, a sinister process was implemented. McNally and Reynolds were bullied and cajoled by the police until they agreed to testify against Wildeblood, Montagu and Pitt-Rivers, in exchange for immunity from prosecution themselves. The three men were arrested simultaneously, the flats of Montagu and Pitt-Rivers were searched without warrant, and all three were denied access to legal advice for over five hours. The press knew that they had been charged before they did.

During the subsequent trial, Peter Wildeblood distinguished himself by admitting in the dock that he was, indeed, homosexual (actually, invert was the term he used). He attempted to explain his sexuality to a jury of 12 men (Wildeblood had insisted that women be present: no women were called for jury service that day) who were all hostile to what he was saying. What he did that day was not only brave, it was unheard of. He tried to explain how he came to have a passionate emotional relationship with McNally, without committing any crime while they were together. It was a noble effort, and one doomed to failure. Wildeblood was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.

His account of his life, from his early childhood; his war service; his relationship with McNally; his experience of the trial, is all recounted in Against the Law, a quietly-moving and well-reasoned book. There is no bitterness in Wildeblood's tone; he recalls the many, many injustices he suffered at the hands of the police and legal establishment with a wry irony which no doubt took years for him to reach. He is even sympathetic in his descriptions of the arresting officer, a man he felt 'under different circumstances, I might have made a friend'; and the prosecution barrister, a man 'I could not hate...because he probably believed [what he said in court] no more than I did.'

There are many, many parts of the book which today seem dated, and will raise a number of hackles - the usage of the words normal and pervert are just two examples - but the book is very much a product of it's era: as was the treatment meted out to Wildeblood in the first place.

The Montagu trial altered public opinion on the laws against homosexuality. At the beginning of the trial, Wildeblood recalls bleakly being spat at by 'a respectable-looking, middle-aged, tweedy person wearing a sensible felt hat...I was quite sure she had never spat at anyone in her life before. And yet, she had hated me enough to do this.' The thought depressed him greatly. However, the guilty verdicts against all three men saw extraordinary scenes unfurl outside the courthouse. A crowd of over 200 people gathered outside to protest the verdict, abusing McNally and Reynolds as they left the court under police protection, and applauding Montagu, Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood when they were escorted out two hours later.

Peter Wildeblood is a hugely significant figure in the history of (British) gay emancipation, but one that is too often overlooked. He was the first man to stand up publicly, on a national stage, and not only admit to his homosexuality, but defend it. Following his release from gaol, he was one of only three gay men who met with the Wolfenden Committee to discuss the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, and he was the only one prepared to be named. The truth truly did set him free.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Bitter End

Her face broke. Something inside her shattered as I stood watching, and knowing that this was all my fault. She was stripped bare and separated, she was torn and bleeding. She bit her lip and closed her eyes. She shuddered. She didn’t cry, or scream. She was mute. I had ripped the tongue from her mouth, I had deserted her, I had plunged my hand into her chest, cracked her ribs and bruised her before wrenching out her heart and holding it, bloody and beating, before her eyes.

Blood dripped as I watched it slow, and saw her writhe behind it. She was in the background, she was soulless, she was heartless. I was heartless. She clenched her fists and flexed her fingers and clawed. She curled up and opened out, she tore at her hair and gnashed her teeth. She took a long time to die. Her eyes shone and her breath was heavy in the air. The heart made no sound, it didn’t beat, it didn’t cry, it didn’t scream. It twitched ineffectually. It oozed slowly. It started turning blue.

I looked down, a long, long way down to her body, examining the evidence, taking in what I had done. And then I was sorry. I cried. I took the heart and forced it back, tried to reconnect it. I pummelled it and pleaded with it and threatened it. I didn’t mean any of it. I was sorry.

She clung to the wound, the thing that now identified her, that people would whisper about and point at and notice, that would separate her. She hissed at me, she snatched greedily at her own skin, tugging it back into place. She didn’t want me to see the damage I had inflicted.

I backed from her, horrified by the transformation. I had never hurt her before. She had never believed that I would. She stared, shocked, frozen, petrified. I retreated, horrified with myself. She curled up tight as I stepped away, her frantic whisper echoing in my head. She wanted to crawl away and die. She wanted to be left alone. She wanted me to get out, get out, get out.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

The Twitter Revolution

I've done it, I've caved. I've joined Twitter. I kinda hate myself. But then again, it might be fun. And it's where all the kids hang out after all. I can even pretend to be friends with Stephen Fry!

The only problem now is getting started. I've got a few (a very few) followers through nefarious means, but now I've got the problem of getting this thing into second gear. What's the etiquette here: do I bombard peeps with my first couple of dozen tweets so I look like I'm doing something, or do I let it grow organically?

Decisions, decisions...

Follow me, it might be fun to see me founder if nothing else.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Publishing Kindle Ebooks: What I've Learnt

My first book is live, and selling. My excitement knows no bounds. Blood & Ash is listed on Amazon and I actually look like a real, live, published author. I am a real, live, published author.

There are pros and cons to indie publishing, of course. I've not only written my book, I've edited it, proofed it, designed the cover and written the blurb. Most authors only have to fret about the contents and let others deal with the miscellany of items that also need to be done before a story becomes a book. However, all of these things cost money, usually more money than most can afford to invest. But that doesn't mean you can afford to make them any less professional than something produced by the biggest publishing houses.

The best advice I can offer, based on my experience, is this:
  • Proof the book again and again. If you have to read it a hundred times, and only find one mistake each time, it's still worth it. You can guarantee that every reader will notice every mistake and they won't forgive you for them.
  • Read very, very slowly. You know the story intimately, and your mind will fill in the gaps where you've missed a word or spelt something wrong from memory alone, so you might not notice the errors on a first or even second reading.
  • Never rely on spellchecker to capture everything!
  • Check your grammar. If in doubt, change it.
  • Watch your tenses most of all, you'd be surprised how easily we slip between past / present / future when we're writing without noticing.
  • If you don't know how to use a particular punctuation mark, then don't use it. You'll only irritate people who do know how to use it. Semicolons are the biggest culprits here.
  • Make sure your blurb is good. You're not summarising the story, you're introducing it. Make sure you leave the potential reader panting for more.
  • Keep the blurb short and snappy. Don't have paragraphs of more than 3 or 4 lines.
  • Don't use a generic template cover. They're boring and a lot of people browsing the books will ignore them.
  • If you can't afford to have a cover designed, and you don't know any graphic designers who'll help you, think outside the box. Maybe use text over a plain background, but make it stand out by using an unusual font or colour. Maybe use a photograph you've taken. It's very popular now to use a single icon on the cover and nothing else image-wise, these are quite easy to create at home.

The beauty of publishing on a format like Kindle is that you can always change anything that doesn't work, and the book will be live again within 24 hours. Experimentation is the key to success, because no-one gets it right first time.

Now I'm going back to check my sales figures's obsessive.

Blood & Ash is now available from Amazon

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Friday, 1 July 2011

Wimbledon fever!

I love Wimbledon. It's the only sporting event I have to watch. And in about half an hour, after Djokovic has finished making mincemeat of Tsonga, it'll be the biggie. Nadal vs Murray.

I know everyone's going to be watching this match, but I'm not cheering on the miserable Scot. Long live the Spaniard! Nadal for champion again!

I hate Murray with a passion verging on physical. He's grumpy and arrogant, there's not a graceful bone in his body and he will never be a true champion. Nadal and Federer have a lot in common: they are both elegant and talented players who are a joy to watch. But more than that, they are always humble, especially in defeat. Murray stamps and swears his way around the court like a petulant footballer. It just ain't tennis.

Murray's problem is that he believes his own hype. So many people have told him that he's the world's greatest that he doesn't want to win, he expects to win. The true champions of this sport never take anything for granted. In tennis it doesn't matter where you're seeded, you're only as good as you are right now. Anyone can have a bad day and crash and burn. When Murray has a bad day, he sacks his trainer.

That's why I'm cheering on Nadal. I hope he wins today. Better still, I hope he gives Murray a damn good thrashing. I'm expecting nothing less than a resounding three-match defeat. Bring it on.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now