Victoriana redux

There’s no denying that I am a snob. As such, I like my Historical Romance to be damn well historical. Attempting to live by my own standards, I mostly muddle about in the Victorian Era, despite all the press about its repressive culture. Michel Foucault has said some things on this, but I’ll save that for my dissertation (and this heavy-duty post of mine from last year.)

Intellectual wanking aside, writing fiction in the idiom of the Victorian age is a lot of fun. I like the diction and writing style, the license to be poetic and to drench my dialogue in innuendo and double entendre. I like as well the scenarios the Victorian era offers. Despite its reputation as an era of repression, it was in fact a time of broad social upheaval and technological advancement with many parallels to our time, including the struggle to implement socially beneficial infrastructure as the epidemic and chronic illnesses of increasingly urban lifestyles were battled with public health measures like sewers and indoor plumbing. 

Deep diving into Victoriana feels a little like visiting Japan. It provides a sweet spot of a lifestyle much like mine, yet with an utterly foreign aesthetic and social imaginary. Britain under Queen Victoria and Japan in general are both cultures built on very precisely managed social facades, behind which can rage stunning perversities. We observe the gentility of a tea ceremony, but flip over the painted scroll hanging on the paper wall and you will find a geisha ‘entertaining’ several octopuses. The Marylebone gentleman speaks in Parliament, dines with his wife, kisses his nanny-educated children goodnight, then goes to the bawdy house and gets his arse resoundingly ‘birched’ like the good old days away at school.

While the Regency is a very popular period for Historical Romance (from Austen to Heyer to Quinn to Hall) it was not a very long time period. Many of its charms linger into the Victorian age. Well-spoken politeness still wins the day, and one’s past can define one’s whole future. Yet by the end of the 19th Century, class structures have notably shifted, introducing new types of people to each other. The middle class has begun to emerge, challenging the nobility’s power through sheer force of numbers. And technology had already begun to change the way everyone lived, at a pace unmatched in prior ages.

Not to mention it’s after Britain’s abolition of slavery, which suits me very well. I certainly can’t erase the wealth acquired through the Transatlantic slave trade, but statistically any titled person i.e. English Duke in the Regency was likely benefitting from the Slave Trade. Yes, that wealth carries over even to our times, but let’s say I prefer to play with the fiction-writing kit that doesn’t include that particular component. My titled 19th Century snobs can still be cruel, remorseless, indifferent to oppression. Today we might call them Tories, and there’s a wealth of contemporary fiction about this same kind of ultra-rich white cis-het culture. I don’t need to write about duels at sword-point for my stories to contain entitled men who feel they have the right to be violent, and who need putting in their place, which is really more where my interest lies.

And then there’s the aesthetic. I like dark suits and slim waistcoats and pocket watches and canes that turn out to be shivs. I like tailcoats and tight white shirts and black hansom cabs slipping through the streets to indecent assignations. Cockneys with knives. Can-can and Burlesque. Laudanum and Absinthe, Impressionism, subways, suffrage, Sarah Bernhardt and steam power, Charcot’s gynecological exhibitions and Aubrey Beardsley’s priapic prints, masturbation both as a symptom of insanity and the means by which one prevented it, and all the while corsets get tighter and tighter. The British Experiment reached its giddy apex, and for a few bold years the sun never did set on its Empire, while quietly it was being said that perhaps its former colony across the Atlantic was about to steal its gilded crown.

Change by the bucketful: unavoidable, terrifying, fascinating.

Disorderly Conduct

scrabble letters arranged on a plain white surface to spell the words "life will not wait"

I told WordPress to notify me twice a week that it was time to post something.  I began immediately to resent this, and have ignored several notifications.  This is me all over. It doesn’t matter if an event is in a calendar, on a chart, in my phone, in an email.  As soon as I’m told to do something I’m not already happily doing, my RSD and defiance disorder go on high alert and I start deliberately, some might say belligerently, ignoring the notifications.

Which is why I have yet to discover an author business planning system that sticks.  No matter how carefully I craft my quarterly plan, my weekly schedule, I just don’t do the dang work.  I’m so good at ignoring important things that I started asking myself if I have Asperger’s.  I so often refuse to do what’s best, even when it’s obviously what’s needed and would be really easy to do, though I genuinely do like myself, in a compassionate, c’mere you dumb-ass kinda way.

I think and think and think and in truth I probably just spend too much time alone.  I can overthink anything, which can be good when you’re doing big vision work, and much less helpful when you’re trying to pick a task and stick with it until you can call it done. 

Because I have so many things to do, it’s a struggle to prioritize.  Everything feels like a priority, and I don’t want to spend all my time planning, but I’m not achieving much with the time I have so maybe what I really need is to get the heck over myself, sit down and do the work *I know* needs to get done, and let the rest fall into place.

The place where I get all of it right is just over the horizon. I have a flat tire and I’m fucking hungry, but if I can get this wheel back on, I can start rolling again and get to where I want to be.

Do you use a planner? Google calendar or similar? What works for you?

Elegy

For A.K.

I still have your tiger

I’m using your name

you damned firecracker 

you fool

give me your doomed, your damned 

your born to die

I love regardless

headlong 

patiently 

what we have lost

we cannot know except in the having

a circuit shorted

milk spilt on a 

watercolour.  this smear 

was a garden 

this one the house

(2023)

WHAT RUINED ME Ep 10: #historybounding

Chat show interviewer: so what do you sleep in?

Zach Pinsent: a bed.

As an old person (nearly the age of a Golden Girl, for reference) I often miss out on what young people are doing.  Sometimes that’s ok (Tide pods) but sometimes the next generation are doing really interesting things.  Sometimes, I want in.

I stumbled across Zach Pinsent a few years ago after watching a funny video by his friend Karolina.  I watched a few more historical costume videos, mostly slating films and tv for doing a really bad job.  A few weeks later, I wanted to learn about tying a cravat. 

There he was: so spry, so gleeful about the once very ordinary and now vanishingly rare act of starching his collar.   In a matter of seconds he explained a knot that I’d been unable to tie, and completely won my heart.

My aesthetic heart, I mean.  Thirst traps aside (and he shares those with the world so nbd) he just seems like a person that would be delightful to know.  If he came to the party, it would be an endorsement.  I went to England on his advice and was thoroughly delighted with his every recommendation.

Including the unintended endorsement of historical dressing.

Which has ruined me (the clue is in the title) for ordinary clothes. I’ve struggled with modern fashion for years.  Most of it makes very little sense to me, the women’s clothes in particular.  Pants don’t fit, nothing lasts, pockets are fake, and half of it is made by de facto slave labour in Chinese sweatshops one foreman’s cigarette butt away from a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster (if you have safety standards at your job, that’s why.)  And the fucking polyester gauuuuggghhh.  I’m generally compassionate, but whoever said “let’s make 100% polyester bedsheets” a.k.a. microfiber, needs to be taken out behind the woodshed and dealt with.

All of that goes away if you dress differently.  I am a dedicated thrift-shopper and have made some miraculous finds  (from cashmere coats to Gaultier, you name it, my fingers will pluck it from the rack.) Add in my background in sewing and I can safely say I may never need to buy new clothes again (we’re making an exception for underwear, at least for now.)

And I look amazing.  I’ve always been an eccentric dresser, at least compared to my friends, but this has taken it to a whole new level.  My dopamine-starved brain loves the attention.  The better I dress, the more compliments I get, from friends, family, complete strangers.  I like standing out, and the idea that I might be the most interesting thing someone sees that day. I’m not however throwing as hard as Pinsent, who dresses exclusively in historical fashion, mainly from the early 19th century (see above) 

My fits are not nearly so historically accurate, as I approach the game of historybounding with the attitude of a time traveler from the past who finds themselves in our world, granted all our opportunities but still retaining their taste for the aesthetic of earlier times.  This means a lot of waistcoats but no sock suspenders (because socks now stay up on their own.)  Neckties, silk scarves, cravats, yes, but no detachable collars or cuffs (because I’m too lazy to make any and washing machines exist.)

Curiously (or not if you study the pendulum of fashion history) classic style is starting to creep back into the public aesthetic.  Casualness reached a peak in the pandemic, and some people are looking for more than hoodie-sweatpants-crocs.  I mean, you do you, wear what makes you feel most like yourself.  As for me, I would wither and die if that was my only choice of apparel. 

I mean, I call it apparel, for fuck’s sake.

5 – Pattern

stay busy stay too busy to think

this will work for a while

all the tricks work for a little while

but you become immune

too tolerant of everything

too tired of reflecting

you are so tired from thinking that you have no energy for anything else

avoidance is a kind of lying

if you’d only stayed busy

if you’d only not started getting up alone

hours and hours to pick apart yourself

to feel yourself unravel

to knit yourself anew to contain the rest of the day

but you’re fraying

the pattern is an old one

thumb print blurred

missing corners

the needles slip

your fingers cramping

and there is never any less day

stay busy

or you will come

undone

This is the 5th in a recent series of poems and statements building up around a common theme of identity. I am writing them more for myself than the public, as a tool for introspection, which is why this is the first I’ve posted.

I started this blog as a place for my raw, ragged thoughts then stupidly went and made it a component of my writer’s online persona.  I wish now that I had kept it separate, but anyway I have never been a private person so if this is how I meet the world, so be it. 

you are so tired from thinking that you have no energy for anything else
 
avoidance is a kind of lying

The distance between thought and action (and speaking is an action) can be difficult to bridge.  Poetry is such a bridge: metaphoric, image-making, employing rhyme and meter to produce a sense of coherence, a miniature tautology, a universe complete unto itself.  Meaning from non-meaning, because the best poems are so light they might blow away on the next breeze. 

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Aldous Huxley, Island

PAT YOUR OWN BACK or CHEAT ON YOUR GOALS AND WIN!

MILLION WORD MILESTONE

CURRENT WORK IN PROGRESS:  “THE OLD RAZZLE DAZZLE” final editing

# OF DAYS TO GO: 134

TOTAL WORDS WRITTEN:  934,411 (of 1,000,000 = 93% OF MY GOAL)

# OF WORDS TO WRITE: 65,589


A lot of benchmarks are not useful because they achieve a specific practical goal but because they make you feel better.  This is true in writing as much as anywhere else.  A few weeks ago I thought it would be fun to set a goal of writing a million words by the middle of 2023.  That’s not lifetime, not spotty rough drafts, but fully formed pieces of writing I’ve completed in the last three years. 

I had about 110k to go to reach this, and I was feeling confident.  That’s only two novels, and I have two novels in the planning stages which shouldn’t take more than a few months to bring together (to all the writers who never seem to do any writing: another world is possible.) 

Then I found out that WordPress logs your word-count.  And that I’d written 52k words for this blog over the last three years.

You better believe I counted that.

So now the total stands at a thrilling 934,411 words written (and most of them published) since the start of the pandemic. If I wanted to show off, I’d dip back into 2015 and pull the numbers on the two standalone novels and the five part contemporary series I completed while tending the reception desk at one of the country’s biggest real estate brokerages.  Thanks, Joey.  I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.

The Player of Games

I did it. I played the game. I did the tricks, I sat up, I begged. I scheduled my posts. I groomed my hashtags. I added IDs for the visually impaired.

I featured an image. I added a quote. I cross-posted. I rained content.

I should have just had a nap, because I’m exhausted. And I got nothing.

And I wondered in my delirium if maybe if posts weren’t suppressed and artists had reach and fans saw all your content and we didn’t have to pay for even the barest shred of eyeball time that maybe we would all be making money and wouldn’t mind paying.

Twenty bucks says this gets more views than any of my carefully curated content. This Luddite mumbling, this petty little whinge. Better feature an image, keep the variables constant.

And prepare for nothing.

(In the meanwhile, read my previous post, it’s nice and long and has a bit about KJ Charles.)

Who the heck am I?  I mean this week…

I can overthink anything.  You name it, I can lose myself down a rabbit hole of reverie that will touch on any and every topic my pick-n-mix brain can associate with it.

So when it comes to who I am as an author, you better believe I have come at this hot mess of an identity crisis from every angle under the sun.  Total anonymity.  Full disclosure.  Pen names that had nothing to do with my real name, and one that is an amalgam of names by which I’ve been known all my life. This is before I start thinking about gender, both mine and my characters.

Everything feels up for grabs, as if I am remaking the world if only in a very narrow way.  But what set me off?  Why think about any of this?

I was interested in joining a book promotion with a group of other authors.   LGBTI+ books were siloed off in their own category, regardless of genre.  Most of the authors in the category were cis-presenting white women writing thinly veiled fanfic of Buffy (everyone’s a dude and they all bang) and/or Brokeback Mountain (everyone’s a cowboy and two of them bang.)  If that’s your trot, as Chuck Tingle says, let’s trot,

I usually go a different way.  Because I’m a pernicious troublemaker who has never found a foothold in the mainstream.  But what does this mean for my career?  If I write about diversely queer characters, am I doomed to scrabble at the margins, never gaining a fan-base, never writing a book that other people truly want to read? Can I really survive the long hours, months, years to build a following?  Other people are making it work, though they started sooner, have a head start so to speak.  My genre is certainly niche, but it exists and the reader base is committed and growing. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

So why didn’t I join the promo?

Because I hadn’t done all this thinking yet.  I hadn’t come to terms with the ever more obvious truth that I really only want to write about queer love. Y’all straights got plenty to read.  I want to tell a different story.  Love is love, however, even if you’re the straightest arrow ever drawn, and being bi (though maybe I should start saying ‘pan’ as gender is a social construct and doesn’t really exist) I’m fine with heterosexual unions.  I just don’t much care to read or write about them.

Perhaps the most valuable thought that came up is the difficulty of straddling certain genre divides.  It’s one thing to write a historical paranormal shifter omegaverse time travel story and quite another to put both a straight and a gay romance arc into that story.  There’s an ick factor around romance a.k.a. kissing that cannot be denied or even overcome.  Many people find out they’re a certain orientation by a bit of exposure to what it turns out they don’t like.  When that first kiss makes your skin crawl but not in a good way and you realize you can’t kiss that sort of person ever again.  

I don’t need people putting my books down because of that mood.  Just because my edges are blurry as heck doesn’t mean I can assume the same about readers.  In fact, the longer I work in self-publishing the more I understand that I am not my target market.  For starters, there’s only one of me, and my tastes are unpredictable.  I need total strangers to see, want, then read my books.  Then to want to read all the others (in their niche genre interest, that is, which ought to be obvious from a glance at my books’ covers or I’m doing genre fiction wrong.)

The big promo has started and I’ve missed my chance for the year.  Such is life, and I can only wish that I’d been thinking clearer that month and been able to come to these conclusions while I could still get involved.  We do what we can, and in December 2022 that turned out to be almost nothing while I recovered from you-know-what.  Brain fog is real, yo, and it’s a sonofabitch.

A new fighter has entered the arena

First, the good news: the hardest book I’ve ever written is done.  Not done because editing etc but I have finished the so-called Zero Draft.  Writers might know what I mean by a Zero Draft: that ugly, clunky, maybe horrible bunch of words that you have pasted together with spit and prayers in the hope that it tells a story similar to the one you imagined.  I found calling it anything else inhibited my ability to get the dang words on paper.

Now can put “An Inconvenient Earl” aside for a little and focus on, oh, I dunno, anything else on earth.  Like the new challenge I’ve set myself. This one is way more achievable.  Fifty thousand words less than what I tried to write in the second half of last year.  That attempt was side-lined  by post-Covid brain fog, which believe me is real and just as bad as everyone says.  

My humble goal for the first half of 2022 is to reach a total of one million words by the middle of this year.  I don’t mean all at once. I mean since I started seriously grinding at the self-published author game, in February of 2020.  I’m only about 120,000 words away. 

Two novels by June?  No problem.

Oh hey, while I’ve got you here…I’m building a list of pre-release readers for this and other books. Comment or message me if you’re interested in free books for life (and maybe even your name in the credits!)