Once a teacher, always a teacher, or why I write the books I write #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Once a teacher, always a teacher, or why I write the books I write #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Is it possible to distill the main message from any book? Does it matter?

One of the most beautiful aspects of books are the many ways they can be read, interpreted. I remember the debates we had at my university when we were discussing various models, approaches to “read” a book: hermeneutically, feministically, queer theory, deconstruction etc. And all of a sudden, the same text could appear in many different lights, providing the reader with interesting insights into the world of the author, the characters etc.

From my university days to the present day

That was a long time ago. I left the academic world and my doctorate on Henrik Ibsen to pursue a career in what people call “Corporate America”, working for large global corporations in the field of training and development. Today, as an author, I sometimes think back on those early academic years and wonder how people look at my texts, what they take from my writing. Mind you, I’m not worthy of any academic articles. My writing just isn’t good enough for any awards or accolades. But it’s good enough to be published. I share this fate with most writers, past and present.

Needless to say, I have a story to tell in each and every one of my books. There is always one or two central questions at the core of each novel, even my short stories are driven by them. Those questions drive me to write in different genres, tackle subjects differently. Just this morning I had to put down my pen, just a few thousand words shy of concluding my latest one, as I need to learn more about fracking and the environmental risks thereof. My entire plot hinges on getting that aspect right. Sadly, the researcher whose input I need is on vacation and won’t be back until Friday. I can wait.

From contemporary to fantasy

The theme for my new one is the environment and how humanity callously (my axiom) treats the earth, our natural resources and the plants and animals we share this earth with. To tell the story, to be able to get to the point I’m trying to make, without being preachy (remember “show don’t tell”) I chose to go down the road of a fantasy novel. It’s not something I’ve done before, but I believe the question lends itself to this particular genre. The new novel could also mean another departure in that I can see this becoming a series of books, or at least two, as I won’t be able to tell our protagonist’s entire story in one book.

I’ll readily admit that my books are pedagogic in nature. I am a teacher. Always have been. But what about other authors? What drives them to write books? Is it to entertain, to provide a simple escape from our real world’s grim realities, the looming threats of war? Or is it to teach, like I do? Or something else?

Does it matter?

I don’t know. Maybe it is, remembering my early uni days, less about the message the author tries to send, and more the message we get from the text? Knowing full well that our every reader will read the story differently, maybe that’s the only certainty we’ll ever get? What’s your take? Reader or writer, what do you gain from reading/writing? Feel free to pitch in. We all love our books, but why do we read them?

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

Migration is a symptom, not the root cause. We should focus on that instead

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

I often think of these two lines from the famous poem, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City. The statue represents, to me, everything that is good about humanity, and Ms. Lazarus perfectly captured the essence of the welcome to New York, Ellis Island and the promise of America, the promise of the Land of the Free, the Land of the Brave, the American Dream.

Why do people migrate?

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now.

I’ve asked myself that question more often than not in these past weeks, months and years, ever since we Europeans saw the biggest refugee crisis since probably World War II at our shores, as the Syrian War escalated and millions left the country, fleeing to Europe. These days, we reap the crops from the seeds that were sown in 2015: every election, in every European country, is all about migration.

In the U.S., where–for now–the Statue of Liberty still shines her lamp at night, a man got elected into the White House on the back of a promise to end migration, the very core of America’s success, to build a formidable, “beautiful” wall along America’s southern borders. And we’ve seen the pictures and reports from the Texan border, where parents are separated from their children. Children which are kept in cages, kids as young as two to four years of age.

This makes me wonder. Migration? Why on earth would we migrate? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but humanity has always been migrating. If we hadn’t, we’d still be living on the edge of rainforest and savannah in Africa, and who knows, maybe Earth had been a more peaceful place.

But migration seems to be part of human DNA, this insatiable curiosity for discovery, learning new things, exploring new realms. It’s led to humanity populating every last corner of our planet, including places I personally wouldn’t want to live in, including the Arctics, the desserts of South Africa, the Amazon jungle or Australia’s red center. But for the people who migrated there from Africa eons ago, it’s home.

Most humans aren’t migrating voluntarily…

But curiosity isn’t the only reason why we migrate, or else farming wouldn’t have become a trade. We’d all still be hunters and gatherers. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. When our ancestors reached the shores of Alaska, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Scandinavia etc. they settled down. They developed distinct cultures based on what the land provided, and from those early ancestors, beautiful cultures evolved: Inkas, Mayas, Inuit, Sami, Aboriginal, Samoan etc. Too many to count them all.

So we do we see migration today? Shouldn’t it all be bliss then? Well, apart from those among us who have that migratory gene, some of us humans are forced to migrate for two other reasons: 1) threats to our lives and 2) inability to survive on the land/provide for ourselves. While the distinction may seem semantic, or intellectual, from a legal point of view, it is an important one: the former entitles you to the status of a refugee under United Nation conventions, the latter does not.

In the (filthy) rich west, we seem to have forgotten what it is like not to have that daily meal on the table, we seem to have forgotten what it means to risk life for speaking our minds, praying to the wrong gods, looking suspicious or loving the wrong person. We seem to have forgotten what it is like to be persecuted, hunted, just for who we are. But it’s all coming back to us now.

Empathy is the key to understanding migration

To understand migration, we need to understand the root causes. I may never know why Mr. Trump’s granddaddy left Bavaria for a life in America. Maybe he harbored thoughts that may have become a threat to his life or maybe he merely wished for a better life for himself and his family in America. He wouldn’t be the only one, because let’s not forget: all Americans today, par first nation members, are immigrants, and the vast majority came to America, not because of persecution, but to seek a better life, i.e. 2) above, that which is not protected by those important UN laws.

When you see central American refugees at the Mexico-US border today, they are there for the same two reasons. They didn’t leave because they wanted to, but because they saw no other reason, either because they were persecuted for being a minority or because they couldn’t provide for their families. So they pack their meager belongings and head north to the promised land, just as every white person in America once did. Now think about it: “how would you react if you were in the same situation?” In the case of my American friends, why did your ancestors leave your home countries?

Fight the root cause instead

Sadly, rather than fighting the causes that make people leave their countries, we fight the refugees. The U.S. treatment of children at its borders is inhumane, but I guess it’s easier than tackling the corrupt regimes in Central America. And the EU does nothing to stop the war in Syria, which is the main reason why people flee the country. Admittedly, the situation there is very complex and Europe has little leverage over a war fought between essentially Russia and the U.S., but maybe it was time we presented Trump with the bill for what the refugees cost us next time he reminds us of our debts to NATO?

The other big wave of immigration is from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions suffer greatly from corrupt regimes, and both are –at their roots–due to Western imperialism. Be it French or English colonies, it’s not surprising that many people in those regions look to Europe, France, and the UK for delivery from governments unwilling to provide for its people. Just today I was reached by the news that ethnic cleansing is rampant in Kamerun, a country historically linked to both the UK and France, with a French and an English speaking part. They’re now at each other’s throats. But the EU does nothing.

Why it’s easier to fix North Korea than say Iran

Fixing the root cause of migration isn’t easy. I’m not naïve. It’s also the reason why Trump chooses to meet with Kim and not Ayatollah Khamenei, even though a meeting with the latter would be more promising. Iran is, for all intents and purposes an open country, a country with rule of law, a democracy even, to a degree. North Korea isn’t. Kim is a ruler in the image of the best in Europe: Charlemagne, Louis XIV, or Henry XVIII. He need never ask his people for permission to do anything. Khamenei was brought to power thanks to a revolution by the people, to end the oppression of a ruler who was held in power by, at least partially, the U.S. The fact that many Persians abhor the U.S. is found right there. Iran is a proud country, with a history dating back thousands of years and having faced the west again and again ever since Alexander the Great. Lots of reasons not to trust us. But as swiftly as Khamenei and his ayatollahs came to power, as swiftly they could be removed again if they lost the support of the Iranian people. A sign of the openness perhaps, but not all Iranians dislike their government…

Whereas in North Korea, the situation is different. The people hardly have any information, the country is completely isolated, and the memories of American troops moving through the country north toward the Chinese border in 1952 are still alive among the elder. They genuinely fear America, from first-hand contacts (and decades of propaganda since.) But if that one propaganda channel suddenly changes its tune? If the leader suddenly smiles with Trump and shakes hands? Needless to say, reality is complex, in both cases, but there are reasons why people act the way they do.

To build trust in North Korea takes one person: Kim Jong-Un. In Iran, Trump would have to convince an entire people. That takes time. In Guatemala for instance, it would take years of working to strengthen the economy, fight corruption on every level of government, empower first nation initiatives etc. to stem the flow of refugees from that country. Makes for lousy tweets, boring Instagram updates, few likes on Facebook. Hence of little interest to the new generation of politicians like Trump, Orban, Söder, Farage, Kazcynsky et al.

Nobody wants migration unless want to themselves, or have to…

This is my personal story of “migration”. Luckily it was only a nightmare, but I promise you, waking from it was a great relief. Free for you to read and contemplate.

I am an immigrant myself. I left my birth country of Switzerland for primarily political reasons. I moved to Sweden because it was more open to people like myself, more open to the idea of Europe. I got to stay not because they sympathized with me, but because I met a Swede. Humans like me have always been around, we’ve never really seen borders as anything but hurdles to overcome. But for most of us, my family and relatives included, migration is not on the menu. We are close to our homeland, our own town or village. We rarely travel beyond county lines, and even when we take that charter vacation once a year we come home, applaud a safe landing and exclaim “borta bra, hemma bäst!” (Swedish proverb: good to be gone, better to come home)

Unless war comes, or a famine, and we suddenly find ourselves fleeing for our lives. Not primarily for our own sakes, but that of our partners, our parents, and our children. So think about it, what would you do? Would you flee if you hoped to be able to provide for your family elsewhere? I would. As an author, I am privileged to host a healthy dose of imagination in my brain. It once ran amok after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the (still) looming threat of further aggression in the West. My story “Nightmare” is the result. You can read it for free, right here, or read it along with several other short stories here.

Why are we arguing over this?

The arrival of large groups of people, numbers likely to grow exponentially once our oceans rise significantly due to global warming, is–no doubt–a threat to Western societies, our way of life, our wealth, beyond the threat from home-grown extremists. Suddenly, we must make tough choices of paying for that extra opera performance or paying for beds for refugees. A new playground for our kids or a classroom for the new arrivals. Some politicians, always looking for short-term optimization of media coverage and thus an uptick in approval rates or votes will do whatever it takes to vilify migrants. Us against them is an easy sell, certainly easier than justifying investing in Africa or Central America, closing borders seem so much more effective and media savvy than behind the doors pressure on an African dictator or two. We built the EU to stop that, to tear down borders, allow for free migration of our people, only we forgot that Europe is no island. We’re not alone. And many members bring a dark past along, former colonies eying our riches, people seeing opportunities for themselves and their families. We really cannot blame them for that. We would do the same. Many of us have already done that, or have ancestors who did, ten, one hundred, one thousand years ago. The best way to stop migration is to remove the need for it. If people can safely and peacefully provide for their families in their own countries, 99.99% won’t want to leave. The handful that still comes will continue to enrich all our cultures.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

Depression is a very common affliction, and we all can suffer from it during our lifetime

I’ve had better days, and nights. When you’re contacted by friends, as you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, alerted to a publicly posted suicide note from a close friend, your entire being goes into crisis mode, and for the next four hours, I spoke to suicide hotlines, the police, family, friends, and acquaintances, scrambling my tired synapsis trying to find clues as to where said friend might be, what he might do, how. This isn’t the first time I’m in this situation. About four years ago, shortly after we had visited a close friend in Los Angeles with our newborn son, barbecued in his yard and spent a great day, we had a conversation on the phone where said friend announced that he was done with life. He suffered from depression and had attempted suicide in the past. I knew that. I also knew he medicated and thought he was fine. Panicking, nine time zones away, I contacted a local suicide prevention program and asked them to reach out. That night, I lost a friend. He never forgave me for making that call. A call that could’ve saved his life, had it been serious.

No choice really

I lost a friend. That is fine. Because he is fine. Healthy, he met a guy, got married and moved to San Francisco. But he never forgave me for making that call because suicide is illegal in California and failing can get you in jail… All is well, which is really all I could ask for. Depression is a vicious disease. Anyone can get it, and we all are depressed from time to time. The difference between suffering from Depression and “just” being depressed is significant. We all have our lows every now and then, but when you’re clinically depressed, the effects are deeper and they last.

Picture depression like a black hole in the ground. You call in, you realize it’s not very deep and you climb out again. Sure, you may have scraped your knees, bloodied your hands, and you’re dirty, needing to wash your clothes, but all in all, you’re none worse for the wear. For someone with clinical depression, when they fall into that same hole, they can’t get out. They are unable to feel the ground underneath their feet, and they feel as if they keep falling, i.e. things are getting worse. There seems to be no way out of it, no end (no positive end anyway), and they can’t grab a hold of the walls and climb out. Everything is slippery and wet, they can’t get a foothold anywhere. They just tumble and for every step they DO take, they fall right back in.

Therapy, medication help

This is where therapy and medication come in handy. They provide a steppingstone, a foothold. They “dry” the walls of the hole, enabling the patient to climb out of it, to see normalcy again. Because that’s what this is mostly about: outlook. I, like most people, have been depressed. Not clinically, but you know, down, really down. And you know what? It’s easy to let yourself fall, once you fall. You escalate any and all disagreement, you choose to view anything negatively, even though you probably might view it as something positive if your mind frame were different. Depression, like most mental afflictions, is about our thought process, how we interpret the signals around, and we have a choice. When depressed, that choice seems mute, impossible.

Stigma

For someone who’s healthy and “normal” (as in occurring in relatively frequent numbers, not better!), it seems that making the choice of interpretation should be easy. Duh! But for someone with a bout of depression, it’s not. I get that. I’m an author, I’m surrounded by a lot of artists, and we are prone to mental afflictions. Always have been. There are good reasons for that. As authors and artists in general, we need to be able to reach the depths of human emotion in order to transform those emotions into paintings, music, sculptures, and books. Therefore, we are in great sync with our emotions. You’d be surprised by the number of artists with mental afflictions, or rather, meeting someone who claims to be “healthy”. It makes you wonder if they’re merely faking it.

And faking it, they might. Simply because there is still so much stigma associated with mental health, or the lack thereof. Even though nobody’s ashamed of admitting to hay fever, asthma or having a cold.

The downward spiral of depression

People with depression are often jovial to the outside world, they put on a brave and happy face. My friend, the one who ‘ruined’ my sleep the other night, is never seen with a serious face on any photograph. He’s got a bubbly, happy personality, and he often expresses his gratitude for all the chances he’s been given in life. As a good friend, I know it’s just a facade, a Potemkin one at that, hiding the truth of an existence most of us wouldn’t dream of in a nightmare. A difficult life.

The challenge for many people with depression is their inability to get help. The need to keeping up appearances (for whatever reason) is so strong, the willingness to acknowledge the problem so strong that they let themselves sink deeper and deeper to the point where they see no way out but to give up completely, and bow out of life. I don’t mind people ending their life, in principle. When you’re old and terminally ill, why not. We do it with our beloved pets. Better for them, better for us.

What about those around you?

But to take your life when you’re young? Physically healthy? There’s really no reason to (and I refuse to make any religious arguments here, because “Harry Potter”, who cares what he has to say on the subject) except that the patient feels as if they’re this great big burden on people. They can’t, they refuse to see the other side of the medal: family, friends.

I was telling my son about my friend and how sick he was and that he was all alone in this big city. Sascha, with the wisdom of a five-year-old, responded: “but how can he be lonely with so many people?” That is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not just as a problem with our society in general where New York feels lonelier than a tiny island with 1,400 inhabitants like ours or that someone in a depression isn’t even capable of seeing their own friends and family as present anymore if they’re not physically in the room. It’s so easy to be lonely. It’s so easy to choose not to dial a number. So simple not to. To just watch this star die, or that one. To get sucked deeper into the abyss that is depression. Not to reach out. Not to cry because one is strong really, while inside the shards of ones broken existence are cutting fresh, bleeding wounds.

It’s easy to believe that the world would be a better place without me. The pain within getting stronger, the loneliness outside palpable, physical. The decision easy. The deed as well. You write that note and you leave…

But you’re not alone…

The reactions to that note were amazing, at least from my vantage point. So many people reached out. It surprised me that one human being could be cared for by so many. So many who would miss him. No, we no longer live in a village where you see people every day, where you meet them on the way to the bathroom even. Our modern world works differently, less physical, more online. For better or worse. Calls were made, the police were alerted. Friends who had only known ‘of’ each other began to communicate. We worried, we shared, we searched. Friends spoke to family, for the first time, ever.

Finally, he was found. Alive and well. He’s now in the care of professionals. I’m glad and I felt great relief. And as my tensions released, I realized how stiff my body was, how everything hurt, headaches and just how exhausted and tired I was. Not just from lack of sleep, but from the tension, the nightmares (author here, remember? Great imagination) and the fear. When it all came tumbling down, I took a sleeping pill and went to bed. Next morning, I’m still tired, my body still aches, but at least my mind is at peace.

I speak not for myself…

I’m not the only one who cried tears of relief yesterday. A mother, a father, siblings and relatives cried, too. So did friends on every continent: Australia, America, Asia, Africa & Europe. I know that some will read this who are aware of the situation and the names of the parties involved. It is not my intention to reveal them. What I hope this post will achieve is to serve as a beacon, to others who feel they are on the verge of slipping into that hole. Don’t let yourself fall. Fight! Talk to someone. The sooner the better. You would be astonished at the great compassion humans can exhibit, if you only ask.

Call a suicide hotline. I won’t list any because every continent, every country, and every city have them, in some shape or form. Just google. Make that call. Ask for help, because even if you feel that you have nothing left to contribute, your family, your friends do, and they would miss you terribly.

If you’re young, and LGBT…

I heard your “but my family…” the second I typed the word. Yes, I know. And I understand you perfectly. You’re young, very young, still at home, and you have no friends (yet) to talk to and your mom and dad hate you for what you are, they mourn that which you can never be, they threaten you to become something you know you aren’t. I understand. Been there! It is pride month in the world, and in some countries, we feel as if we’ve accomplished it all, yet there are still so many families out there where children keep the lock to their closets close to their hearts, where society shuns you. In the words of the Trevor project: “It gets better!” Call them, talk to an understanding youth organization. Reach out, get help. You are NOT alone. Our family is big, and we are strong, and even stronger together. I will never turn away an LGBT youth in need, but I cannot be everywhere. Make that call, you are not alone. That is my solemn promise. It’s worth it.

Finally…

To my friends with depression and other mental afflictions: know that I love you and that I am grateful for your contribution to my life. I support you in your quest to feel better, to become stronger, for your strength to fight the demons.

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

#Ownvoices: a particularly challenging subject in gay literature #LGBT #ASMSG #Pride

#Ownvoices: a particularly challenging subject in gay literature #LGBT #ASMSG #Pride

Pride month brings up calls for #ownvoices, but why?

June means pride month, not just my birthday. And already, just six days into this year’s June, we have great news from the European Court of Justice, and the Bermudian Supreme Court, along with a Salomonian verdict from SCOTUS. Congratulations, we all get what we deserve!

Pride and #ownvoices

Pride month always means a lot of people talk about #ownvoices. I’ve always been a skeptic of that concept, not just because I often write about minorities other than my own (blacks, Sami, Latinos, disabled people, etc.) but also because I disagree with the whole concept of #ownvoices as a matter of principle. This has gotten me into the hot seat before, with hateful messages and threats on Twitter because I wouldn’t promise and LGBT Maori to never, ever, write about them in one of my books. I refused, for two reasons: a) it is my right, protected by the constitution of Sweden (and New Zealand), to express my thoughts freely, without prior censorship. Freedom of speech is an important right many of us have died for and still do, in countries where speaking your mind can get you killed. Why would I give it up freely just to please someone else, someone who isn’t hurt in any way shape or form by my voice? No, thank you. But more importantly, I believe that b) a great author must be capable of writing about any person, any group. How else could Shakespeare write about Italians? How dare he, Englishman as he was? How could Stephen King write about Annie Wilkes in Misery? Clearly, with the strict #ownvoices argument, a man can never write about women. It couldn’t be #ownvoices.

The (futile) hunt for #ownvoices in LGBT fiction

The struggle for love never ends, and it is in these the darkest of times, that our resolve to love is tested the most.

#ownvoices is a foreign concept to me, even though I’m currently (read “Pride month”) featured on a daily level on Facebook and Twitter by readers and fans as one of many #ownvoices with regards to gay fiction. But let’s look at this for a moment: does the fact that I, a gay man, write gay fiction, make me a better writer than the hundreds of straight women who do the same? Or is it the fact that 90+% of what most consider LGBT fiction out there has NOTHING to do with the reality of gay men? “M/M romance” was never meant to be about gay life, and gay authors are told again and again: “m/m are stories from str8 women for str8 women and you [i.e. gay men] better know your place and shut up! (Not my words, but I, along with many other gay writers, have been told so on numerous occasions.) It’s a genre so filled with preconceptions, prejudice and false assumptions about gay men that I have long ago stopped taking it seriously.

Some readers (men, women, gay and otherwise) understand that, and they look for “realness” (thank you mama Ru!), for genuine stories about the lives we live, to celebrate LGBT authors during Pride month. To find those stories is hard, impossible even, given that we’re just grains of sand on a vast beach. The proverbial needle in the haystack.

Is #ownvoices not fiction?

In one of those discussions, I came across this passage from a straight female author:

I also do not write #ownvoice stories. I consider my books to be fiction.

This had me puzzled because #ownvoices is fiction, unless it’s a biography (and even then… We’ve all read those, and often enough, they seem more fictitious than based on reality.) So wtf did the author mean by that? Is it the fact that she doesn’t do her research into her “male/male” characters? All those “gay for you”, “May/December”, “mpreg” and other stomach-churning sub-genres out there? Or is there actually a deeply held belief somewhere that gay writers only write about their own lives? Or something else? I honestly don’t know. What I do know though is that the only difference I can spot between a writer who writes about his own minority and a writer who isn’t a member thereof is the amount of research that may have to go into a book. And let’s be honest: in real life, things are a lot more complicated. A South Korean who grew up here in Sweden, adopted by Swedish parents at birth, is no more Korean than I am. He simply looks like one, while I don’t. Does that make him more #ownvoices if he had written my latest novel? Of course not. On the other hand, a European who’s spent his life in Korea would (at least in my book) be considered a more qualified expert in the field than either of us, my adopted Korean pal or I. What we are, who we are isn’t so much a function of our DNA (I’d say), but of how we are raised. The difficulty lies in how we are treated by others, how they view us, but that again, is per definition, racism. An entirely different post.

So what’s wrong with M/M and why isn’t it ever #ownvoices

This is just a guess, of course, and one that is very specifically related to the LGBT community, and gay men in particular. Romance as a genre has a bad reputation, always has. This is, of course, a result of the lack of women’s choices being attributed equal value to men’s. Most literary critics don’t take it seriously, and you’ll never see a Harlequin (let alone an m/m) win a Pulitzer, a Man Booker or a Nobel Prize. Duh!

Not that there is anything wrong with Romance. I could’ve said the same thing about Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Horror or Fantasy, which are more “male” genres, even though, all in all, women are–by far–the biggest reader category. Clearly, Romance is popular. It’s the world’s biggest genre with more books published in one day than the world probably produces in literary fiction in a year. Readers around the world love to get lost in a world where there is still good to be found and where happy endings reign.

The challenge lies in the rules of romance. As a genre, to be crass, it’s porn for women who read. While guys usually turn to RedTube or Pornhub these days, as they did to Playboy, Penthouse et al before the arrival of the Internet, women get off reading their books. And just as vanilla porn nor longer does it for many guys, many women are no longer content with damsels in distress being fucked to the high heavens by their long-haired alpha males from the eighteenth century. “Two men are better than one” promises better reading and happier endings (literally!) M/M, as are all trad romance novels, is littered with sex. The problem lies with the stereotypes, false or even dangerous, propagating the image of homosexual men as sex-crazed beings who think of nothing else but the next fuck. This isn’t our doing. we didn’t label ourselves. Str8 people did that to us.

So wtf is this desire to read #ownstories all about?

The rainbow flag heralds love and inclusion. It’s the main reason I love it so much. Yet as humans representing the rainbow, we’re not always as loving… We are, in effect, merely human.

And while we may be more sexually openminded than the het majority (or so we believed), that doesn’t mean that we don’t relish the ‘mundane’ aspects of life, that we don’t take our jobs seriously, love our children. But when romance authors describe how we abandon children to fuck our latest love interest, you not only write fantasy, you perpetuate a dangerous stereotype. Clearly, that author did not do her research (or she is simply latently homophobic.) When anal sex is depicted as the gold standard of gay sex, the author has no fucking clue what she is writing about. How could she? Gay porn is clearly not a good source of information.

I use “she” with regards to those authors on purpose because that’s where I think the demand for #ownstories stems from, a desire to read stories that are truly well-researched, stories that showcase men who are “real” men (not merely girls with a penis*), where the sex serves a purpose and is depicted realistically (I could tell you stories…)

BUT, and this is an important but: women, straight women, as well as (gay) men can write those stories. I know so because I’ve read amazing stories written by straight women. They may be romances, following many of the typical norms of the genre, but the characters are flesh and blood, they feel real, even to me as a gay man. And no, they’re obviously not #ownvoices. Who cares?

But in a world, where it is so damned difficult to find the good stories in a sea of “not so good ones”, I can understand that gay men, at least during Pride month, ask for #ownvoices. Because we all know, come July, it’s hetero world again, and the straight women will tell us to shut up and know our place again, for the next eleven months, where we still don’t matter, can be ignored and discriminated against, where it’s okay to appropriate an entire literary genre to once again make a minority invisible.

In closing…

My beef with “M/M” isn’t primarily about the reduction of human beings to letter combinations, from mm to mmmmmm to mf or mmf etc. It’s not even about the fact that women label the het variety mf rather than fm, putting men first (that says so much…) My beef with “M/M” is how it suppresses gay fiction, how some authors and readers (far from all, just to repeat that!) are trying to push gay men (readers and writers) out of the genre, as stated above.

I don’t think that happens anywhere else. No, women did not invent gay romance. It’s been around for eons. Some women were simply clever to rebrand it. The result we see today. And while I applaud the hundred thousand plus stories out there, as a treasure trove for young LGBT kids to delve into,

I’m also aware of the pitfalls, how we are once again threatened of being expulsed from our own spaces, as so many times before in our history. That is worth thinking about during Pride month.

Hans M Hirschi
Author of Gay Fiction

*I know that trans-, genderfluid, and gender queer people read this. The expressions “real man” and/or “girl with penis” do not, in any way shape or form, relate to the TQ+ aspect of our community, but simply to characters so badly developed that you’d think the author simply changed names. There is of course nothing wrong with female, male, masculine or feminine attributes unless you’re trying to depict something else entirely. I felt it was important to clarify this here. I could go into a lot more detail, but that would mean another post.

Here’s what happens when you seat a dozen #introvert #authors around a table… #ASMSG #ampanicking

Here’s what happens when you seat a dozen #introvert #authors around a table… #ASMSG #ampanicking

I just came home from my first ever publisher conference in the UK

I think the answer to this post’s heading is almost a given: not much, or should I say “everything”? I’ve never been to a publisher conference before. But when my own publisher, Beaten Track, invited their eighty something authors and our families to a get-together slash publisher conference last year, I quickly said yes. For two reasons: a) Debbie, the owner had been to see me a couple of years ago and we did some amazing editing work together, and b) I had always wanted to see that corner of England, Lancashire, north of Liverpool. We booked our flights early and used miles to save money. The Hirschis were going to Britain, no matter where the bloody isle would be at the time of the meet-up.

I finally got to pick up my first copies of my new novel. As always, a special moment.

I finally got to pick up my first copies of my new novel. As always, a special moment.

A quick hello and books

We flew to Manchester and rented a car, got stuck in one of the endless queues that plague British freeways (The M25 is also known as Britain’s largest parking lot) before we pulled up in front of Debbie’s house. I had a box of books to pick up and I wanted to say hi. We flew in on Friday, but the meetup wasn’t to begin until Saturday afternoon.

I got my books and we left Debbie to finishing her master thesis in psychology, nerve-wracked as she was about combining a master thesis with organizing a publisher conference, all in one weekend. Some people are better left alone at certain times. We’d see her again within 24 hours anyway. The publisher conference started laid back with a dinner. Of the eighty something authors in Beaten Track’s stable ten showed up, plus families, which gave this a very familiar setting.

Some had driven in from the neighboring town, others from across the UK, some from Europe and some all the way from the US. But as indie author finances go, most couldn’t afford the time or the trip. Hopefully, next time we’ll be a bigger group.

So what actually happens when you DO sit down and talk?

I’m always amazed just how introvert most of us are. Even I, who usually labels himself an ambivert, gets all shy and quiet in this sort of setting. It’s almost as if we amplify our own discomfort. Sure, as an empath I tend to mirror other people, but it was almost painful in the beginning, and poor Debbie (an introvert herself) had to fight hard to kick things off. So we started with legal discussions which quickly went down rabbit holes of physical v virtual postal addresses. After that, the group had relaxed enough to talk about all sorts of things and the time allocated to us went by in no time.

So what was on our mind? Marketing, of course, is always on indie authors’ minds, and Amazon’s seemingly erratic behavior in trying to cull fake reviews and review trolls can drive any small publisher and author to an early grave. Roe Horvat, our resident graphic designer and a brilliant author in his own right, gave tips on what to think about to make a stunning cover, one that appeals to readers, and we all agreed to open up a blurb clinic.

Blurbs, every author’s bane

This was just one of the countless topics of the weekend. Note: an internal joke

This was just one of the countless topics of the weekend. Note: an internal joke

Some publishers write the blurbs for their authors, but when you have a publisher who believes that blurbs are Satan’s afterbirth (in spirit, not her expression though) then authors are on their own. And we rightly think it’s torture, because if you could summarize our novels in 200 words, why on earth did we just spend months and tens of thousands of words writing the bloody story? But maybe by helping each other, we can all get better blurbs.

Blurbs and great appealing covers are important if you want to be noticed on Amazon’s (and other online retailer’s) sites, where a reader might see your cover scroll by for a few seconds before it’s gone. The cover must make you want to click on it so you can read the blurb. The blurb must be the closer of the deal. If it doesn’t make you want to read the story you’ve lost a sale. I’ll be honest and admit that my own blurbs aren’t exactly deal closers. I’ll be a happy user of the blurb clinic.

In a way, picture our readers as flies… Your cover is the honey or the nectar that attracts it, wants it to eat, while your blurb is your pitcher plant, closing the deal. And if this picture doesn’t help you, what about the elevator pitch? No? Okay, move on… LOL

We all want to sell more, but how?

No, you don’t become an (indie) author to make money. The number of people who can live off of their writing alone can be counted in the thousands, worldwide. It is what it is. But we’d all like to sell more, and I was reminded of something (and I shared it with the group), particularly given recent events with authors beginning to trademark words (the idiots!), that Elizabeth North, CEO of Dreamspinner, said at a conference a few years ago: “Publishing isn’t a finite market. It’s not a finite cake we’re sharing. Authors don’t compete against each other. Great books will entice readers to buy more, similar books.”

I believe that Elizabeth is onto something. Sure, readers will always choose a book over another, first. But who’s to say they won’t come back for seconds, thirds? As authors, we shouldn’t view each other’s success as something bad, particularly not within a genre. It’s a good thing, because if the readers like that story, chances are indeed they’ll want more, and yours could be next.

Collaboration galore

If you are contracted by a small publisher, we all sort of pitch in. Someone helps with covers, someone else does a newsletter, a third person does proofreading, a fourth one coordinates with bookstores etc. It’s inevitable, since not one person can do it all, not in the long run, and no chain is stronger than its weakest link. I think it was a great initiative by Debbie to organize this publisher conference, and I hope it will return, in some shape or form.

While we’ve all worked with each other on projects such as anthologies or our own books, most of us had never met in person. It is that element that is crucial in human culture and communication. It smoothes our future collaborations. That alone was priceless.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Happy Release Day to me… Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is out! #Korea #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

Happy Release Day to me… Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is out! #Korea #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

Happy Release Day to me: Opus XV is now available in stores around the world

Happy Release Day! Sing along with me, will you? 🙂 It’s a strange sensation, not just because I think it’s a bit of a dirty word, this whole “release day” thingy. It’s just strange that we make such a big fuzz about something as simple as a new book in a bookstore. Yeah, I know, it’s all about marketing, PR, drumming up excitement, selling and what not. On the other hand, release day also means that I, the author, have to let go, physically release my characters and their adventures into the freedom they deserve.

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

Every release day is different

No to release days are alike. I’ve been up two hours, so it’s still early, but I can already feel that it’s going to be different, for more than one reason. First, I’m not as nervous as I used to be. And it’s not just the fact that, by now, I’m used to releasing books. It is, after all, my fifteenth book, my twelfth novel. There’s a different reason. I feel I’m done somehow. Difficult to put my finger on it, but I don’t see another novel in the near future, not from me anyway.

I’m smarter than saying “never”, I won’t, but for now, I think I’m done. I want to do something else. What? We’ll see. A day job, some hard-earned money would be nice. It’s been a while.

Martin’s story is an important one

Let’s not dwell too long on me, I’m irrelevant. Let’s focus on the book. While it’s “happy release day to me”, it’s really all about the story, the characters, and I think Martin’s story deserves telling, it deserves reading. It highlights a generation of gay men that we don’t read much about. They are the ones who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today, they were at the forefront of the LGBT organizations in the sixties and onward, the ones threatened to their lives. Martin may not have been on the barricades, for many reasons. Instead, Martin’s story is the one of why the struggle for equality and inclusion is so important.

Korea

No, writing about Korea wasn’t part of some grand scheme of mine, despite how “in” Korea seems to be right now. It’s one of the longest wards in human history, still ongoing, with a very long cease-fire. And even though we’ve seen some tiny steps (as we have in the past) toward a detente on the peninsula recently (all happening after I had traveled to Korea for research in January), events in recent days show just how fragile progress is, and how easy it is for North Korea to retreat and clam up again. Given the American regime’s split tongue messages, I can’t really blame them. Who would want to end up like Ghaddafi? Deserved or not, Kim isn’t that stupid. Stay tuned to see this unfold in the coming weeks and months. Or not.

The reason why Korea became a topic was simple: given Martin’s age and the fact that he was conscripted into the armed forces, Korea was the logical choice. It was the big conflict the US was involved in at the time. I just hadn’t really done my homework and needed to do a lot more homework than I could’ve bargained for… All good though, it’s a much better story for it.

Feel-good story

My books span across many genres, including erotica and science-fiction. Then I write YA and contemporary, family sagas and dark stories about child abuse. What are the things that bind all those books together? Two things: they are all about gay fiction (which incidentally is not the same thing as M/M romance, I feel the need to point this out, since some people seem to believe that) and they all leave you with feeling good at the end. Here in Sweden, we have a genre called “feelgood” which is odd, an English term in Swedish, but it is what it is. I’ve made it my own because it helps me to accurately describe what my stories are about. Like an elevator pitch.

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a good example of that. I invite you to get to know Martin, Ji-Hoon, Kevin, and Eugene. You can learn more on the book’s own page here, with a trailer, buy links and a short narration of the first chapter.

Happy Release Day to me! Happy reading to you…