My first children’s book, a book about love, available today
I had to redesign my website the other day, specifically the book-page. I don’t even remember off hand how many books I’ve released since my first in July 2013. Let me go check: nineteen. Today marks my twentieth release. Wow. Twelve novels, two non-fiction, one short story collection, and three anthologies. Today, I embark into new territory: children’s books. With the release of The Dragon Princess, I give you a book, unlike anything I’ve written before. To write for children is radically different than writing for adults.
Love is love and dragons are evil or are they really? The Dragon Princess is a story about love and how it holds the power to transform even the coldest of hearts. A classic bedtime story for children of all ages.
My son and I.
When my son was little, my husband and I were actively looking for books. Reading had been important to me when I was a child, and we wanted Sascha to be read to and to read by himself, too. We began to buy books, we were gifted lots of books and his bookshelf is well filled. But there are, at this stage, only two books that portray rainbow families and diverse love. Our son is five years old and he is starting to understand the differences between moms and dads. To him, having two dads is totally okay. It’s just the natural state for him, but just this morning he asked me if his mother was still alive. I know that he is trying to make sense of things, subconsciously. Ever now and then he’ll ask a question, and we’ve talked about this repeatedly.
Sometimes, it helps to have children’s books to help parents explain things. That was my starting point when I began to write about Valerius and Evander, the heroes in the book, two years ago. I wanted to create a series of children’s books where I could explore LGBT themes for kids, on a level they would understand.
Easier said than done
First, I wrote a text that encompassed sixteen scenes. I wanted to try and tell a classic fairytale. There are a lot of kids who love dragons and the struggle between good and evil. It needs to be a relatively simple plot, with clear-cut roles. And it needs to end well. Writing the first draft took a couple of hours, but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited and rewritten a text as many times as I’ve worked on The Dragon Princess. Sometimes I would edit the text several times in a day, then let it simmer for months. All in all, it took me over two years from the first draft to a final manuscript.
One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.
When you write for small children, pictures, illustrations are a given. Kids like to read along, and when they can’t read, the pictures is where they ‘read’. They see the words in the picture, and as you read, they try to find those words in the illustration. My son is beginning to read for real, and it’s only now, at the age of five that he’s showing interest in the letters for the first time, asking me things like: “does this mean…?” pointing at the words on the page. In Felicity Swan, I was lucky to find a great illustrator to work with.
A new genre, new audience, a new approach
Yeah, how do you market a children’s book? I live in a country where marketing toward children is strictly forbidden and frowned upon. I have always been a genre hopper. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that always sees new and shiny objects everywhere. From romantic love stories to gruesome books about child abuse, discrimination against first nations to debilitating dementia, I’ve covered new topics in every book.
To me, branching out into children’s book was a small step. Difficult, but small. The biggest challenge for me is to find my audience. We’ll see how that goes. For now, my take is simple, hoping that my existing audience buys the book for the children around them, from their own offspring to grandchildren, bonus kids, nieces, nephews etc.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
A great big thank you to my publisher…
It’s no secret that I am very happy with my publisher. They’re a small house, but they treat every book as a gem in its own right. I felt that The Dragon Princess was handled even more carefully than my adult writing. Working with me and the illustrator, they put in a ton of time to make sure the book would be as perfect as humanly possible.
There is so much work going into even something as seemingly trivial as a forty-page kids book, from web pages, publishing, paginating, layout, proofing, editing, to making sure it’s available on release day on every single of the dozens of sites (and distribution) that sell books.
Beaten Track Publishing has that little extra love for children’s books. As an author, having my work treated that way makes my heart skip a beat. Thank you! Have a look at their catalog of children’s books.
Valerius and Evander are now yours to treasure, I hope you enjoy their first adventure in The Dragon Princess!
Hans M Hirschi
Meet Felicity Swan, the illustrator who made it possible
Writing a children’s book has been my dream ever since my son was born. I just wanted to add something to his life that we as rainbow parents are hard-pressed to find. Our son already owns a good hundred books, and some of them are positively archaic, with moms by the stove and handy dads. Horrifying! He also owns two books out of a hundred where rainbow families or being LGBT are mentioned. One is And Tango Makes Three (of course!), the other one is Marlon Bundo (the good version.) I began writing The Dragon Princess a couple of years ago (!) when we only had the book about Tango, and I’m finally able to get it out. This week. Thursday. To make it possible, I needed a great illustrator. Dozens applied for the job, I finally decided to work with Felicity Swan. You’ll understand why. Let’s get to know this amazing artist. I sent her a few questions, and she’s generously answered those for us:
Q: Who is Felicity Swan in her own words?
I’m a freelance writer and artist. I draw comics, illustrations, and write books.
Q: What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
When someone closes a book I’ve written, I want them to feel a connection to it. Whether its hopeful or feeling like they’re not alone in their struggles or even feel understood in some way. I hope they feel the same way I do when I read my favorite books.
Q: What got you into illustrating?
I’ve always been drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I started taking it seriously after I got my associates degree and realized university life wasn’t for me. I wanted to find what made me happy, not what I thought others expected of me. I was good at writing and drawing, so I pursued those instead.
Q: What inspires you? Do you have any specific “style”?
When it comes to style, it depends on the work and the tone I’m going for. I don’t believe in being tied to any one style, but it’s all about effectively communicating with your audience. I’m influenced by a variety of artists: Art Spiegleman, Aaron Alexovich, Jason Brubaker, Hiayao Miyazaki, Yun Koga, and a variety of independent artists.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
“First time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book”
Q: One of the reasons why I absolutely fell for your style is the multi-faceted it is. I remember when you first sent me your sketches and how there was so much depth, so many layers or what I would call sub-text, but I guess it would be better to refer to just layers. How do you go about when you work with e.g. an author?
This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book. When it comes to commissions and this collaboration, I’m usually given an idea of what someone wants – either a description or a set of images to work with. From there, I do my best to capture what the client wants, either through what they’ve unconsciously strung together through the images provided or from what I can get from their descriptions. For your writing, I was really drawn in by your use of contrasts in your descriptions – hot vs cold, young vs old, small vs large. So I used that as a base for everything – from colors to silhouettes. The parents have sharper edges than Valarius and Evander, both who have softer and sleeker designs. I wanted to have a contrast in warm vibrant colors for the protagonists and cold, darker colors for those affected by the curse.
“Ideas come from everywhere”
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you work with, from idea to sketch to final rendering?
My ideas come from everywhere, to be honest – dreams, a simple idea, a “what if” thought, or even just a certain image or the way items are placed together. Heck, me misinterpreting a scene cut out of a show or game can lead to a cool story. Lately, I’ve been recycling old ideas in order to help flesh out new stories. When it comes to my comics, I’ll have a few ideas, I’ll write a summary, a few outlines, and then start the sketching phase where I start piecing things together or clearing up ideas and figuring out what I want the style to be. Some comics, I’ve had to leave off to the side and allow the idea to mature because I couldn’t think of an ending or I didn’t like the middle. Then I work on thumbnails (small mock-ups) of the pages, then I put my nose to the grindstone. Its a similar process for illustrations.
Q: Do you work exclusively with a computer or do you also illustrate on physical materials, e.g. paper, canvas?
I work mainly on my computer. When it comes to sketching or making “ugly sketches” I work on physical paper. My main medium is dry mediums. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a display tablet this time and my output has almost doubled.
One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.
Q: Toward the very end of our collaboration, you mentioned that you were visually impaired, which – if possible – increased my admiration for your work. Does your impairment influence your artistic expression, the work-flow?
All my life, I’ve had going blind hanging over my head. I’ve also had horrible depth perception and ocular migraines (lights and colors over my vision; not painful aside from eye strain). I think my first encounter with near-retinal detachment at the age of ten was a real wake up call for me and I started really pursuing writing.
“Four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye”
Before you commissioned me, I’d had four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye. There’s a cataract over that eye now and I’ll have surgery number five in the near future. It’s likely that, in ten years, I’ll lose that eye due to scar tissue. So, yes, it does influence my artistic expression – I feel a pressure to hurry and tell my stories. Not only that, but my near-nearsightedness makes seeing things far away difficult, so backgrounds and landscapes are tough for me. And having one eye to look through has done a number on my ocular migraines and made it harder to read books with normal sized text. I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with my drawing, though.
“It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln…”
Q: Was this your first project to work on a children’s book? If so, what is the takeaway for you? Did you learn something?
When I was a child, I drew a picture book called “Pikachu Goes to the Moon” haha! I wrote and drew a children’s historical fiction book when I was in junior high/middle school as an assignment for history class. It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln from the perspective of an orphan who overhears the shooter’s plans and tries to stop the shooting. Ever since my family has been telling me I should do more children’s books in the historical fiction genre. Once I’m done with the work I’m currently doing, I might look into it. Who knows?
Q: What is next for you? Any projects you can/wish to mention?
I have a long form comic called Final Break and I’m doing short comics on the side when I’m not doing commissions.
Q: Where/how can people find you?
Find me on social media:
Instagram / Twitter
Here’s a hub for all my links to my works, as well as my portfolio:
Feel free to feed my cat and help with cataract surgery:
Patreon (monthly subscription)
Ko-Fi (tip jar)
The Dragon Princess in what might become the “Valerius and Evander” series is published by Beaten Track Publishing and releases this week on Thursday. It is available as an ebook and on paperback from all your regular sources, including Amazon. Check it out, and read it with your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces etc.
Here are the sales links:
Social media is still ‘da shit’, but I’m so over it…
I just listened to a podcast, a show I listen to regularly (and have appeared on, myself), and the guest talked about Instagram and social media, and how posting Instagram images with his significant other garners him a ton of extra likes. I can sympathize. I recognize myself in that. And I wanted to talk to you all about it. I’m an author. My passion is storytelling and as a writer, I tend to primarily use my words to pen them down. The whole process of selling, marketing and self-promotion does not come easily to me. I just don’t like to talk about myself. I don’t like to see myself on pictures, yet I realize that in order to succeed, I must.
When a new book of mine hits the bookstores, I love to see it featured in magazines, I like to see it reviewed, and I certainly don’t mind seeing it reach the #1 or #2 spots on charts around the world. There’s no author who honestly doesn’t appreciate their books being a success. What I don’t understand is that it takes me to make them successful. What’s wrong with the characters in my stories? Their relationships, the trials they face, the storyline? Why does my smile have to be the deal breaker for buyers, readers? And to go back to the first paragraph and that podcast, it’s not just the artist themselves, it’s their family, too. We are expected to also include our children, our partners, our pets and our homes, our vacation spots and dinner recipes when we post on Facebook etc. I really struggle with that. And I’ll get back to that topic in a minute.
Why I quit Twitter
I quit Twitter this summer, retiring for the second time (after 2010) from the platform. I no longer saw the value of it. It’s become a megaphone to yell out our messages, but no one’s there to listen. Your ranking on Twitter is determined by how well you follow back, but we all know that after a 1,000 follower threshold you’re done. You can’t really follow your stream anymore. It simply becomes unworkable. I had about 8K followers and followed about half that number myself. I never even looked at my stream, and I can only assume the same was true for most of my followers. Most posts are generated by bots who dish out ready-made stories, aka “valuable content” on our behalf, on a regular basis. Where’s the “social” in bots spewing out automated content into the vastness of the Interwebs? Huh? I quit, and I save time and money, but most importantly, I don’t think I’ve sold fewer books because of it.
My schizophrenic relationship with Facebook
I have almost two-thousand “friends” on Facebook. Needless to say that most are not my friends, not even acquaintances, because I don’t know most of them. When I, reluctantly, joined Facebook to help organize my husband’s 30th birthday party (long story), I quickly garnered my first thirty friends. I was excited. They seemed to be waiting for me. Those evil algorithms had me on the hook. Almost a decade later I have unliked all pages (and keep unliking things I liked, such as “classical music” also turned pages by Facebook since then) and I have left most groups, as Facebook turns all of those things into advertising hooks. The sad part is how stupid those algorithms really work. Just because I like a post or a page doesn’t mean I like the “phenomenon”, but to advertisers, it certainly seems that way, and they can push their adverts much more precisely. Those fools! Profit does Facebook, but not the advertiser, not unless their approach truly is “spray and pray!”
When strangers send me a friend request I usually accept, unless it obviously is a fake account or someone who’s only interested in me for a visa or my money. How am I to know who reads my books or not. It’s not as if they send you a message explaining why they’re friending me. I once asked a guy from the Philippines why he friended me and he said: “Facebook suggested it” #facepalm Is that what it’s come to? A stupid algorithm telling us who we would be friends with?
No choice really!
When you have as many people on your list as I do (and I’m far from the 5K limit), and you follow all of them, your stream becomes unmanageable, worthless. So I automatically unfollow people I don’t know. But even then, there’s no guarantee that I actually see stuff from my ‘real’ friends, or from people I know. Because Facebook’s almighty algorithms deem your friendship dead if you haven’t liked or interacted with someone for a while. Little do they know about personal human relationships… My best friends and I can go months, years even without talking, only to resume where we left off the last time. Facebook was supposed to make it easier to stay in touch, but with the constant assault of worthless snippets of lolcats, recipes, memes and what not, our brains just can’t deal and we actually think less about people we’re not constantly in touch with then we used to before social media, simply because there’s a multitude of people constantly occupying our minds. People we don’t really care about, people we do not even consider to be friends. Why thank you, Zuckie!
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice. Sure, I can delete my Facebook account and lose touch with everyone close (and not so close), but I’d also lose touch with my only true marketing channel. Although, I wonder, how many of those 1,800+ people I have on my friends list on Facebook actually see my posts? 100? 200? Do the right people see them? I can’t tell.
Where to draw the line?
I’ve written about marketing on numerous occasions before on this blog. On how sex sells to social media trends over the years. I’ve always been wary of posting stuff to Facebook (while I still had a page there) that was personal. I know of authors who work closely with their partners, heck I know of partners whose names are unknown, they’re simply known as “xyz’s hubby” or “xyz’s boyfriend” which is quite sad really, at least IMHO. They play a persona, and I know for a fact that their real lives are quite different from what they show online. Different personalities, different relationship dynamics etc. But they know that their audience is voyeuristic and that they expect to peep into their lives, their kitchen and, yes, their bedroom.
I’ve always kept my family out of my work, as much as I could. I know people are interested, and I’ve resisted. Am I simply an old fool? Old school? A fossil who doesn’t get social media? But how social is it to pimp out my son to an audience when he has no say over the process? My husband has been very adamant that he has no interest in being pimped out to my readers, and he gets quite upset when complete strangers send him friend requests. The stalking really gets to him. I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t be too thrilled if his employees suddenly began to send me friend requests.
What can we do? What’s the solution?
Which brings me back to the podcast and the Instagram posts of a couple garnering more likes than the ones of a single person… Times are certainly changing. The question I’m facing is to what degree I’m willing to sacrifice my own privacy, my personal space, and integrity and go with the flow, to get those likes, catch those followers, make those book sales.
Feel free to comment. What is your take on social media in late August of 2018? Where are we heading? What’s the next big thing? I like to interact with my readers, I actually do, beats the heck out of simply being monitored in silence on Facebook. LOL, you can find me there as Hans M Hirschi if you’re so inclined, or here on Instagram, where I primarily look at pretty pictures of nature.
Back from vacation, back in the saddle
Words! So powerful. As authors, we use them to create entire worlds. We elicit the strongest of emotions with them. We make people laugh out loud, we make them cry, we kidnap their attention for hours on end. As a linguist, I’m also painfully aware of the flipside of words, how deceptive they can be. That which may be oh so obvious to me may hold entirely different connotations, different meaning to someone else. Words can cause pain, intended or not.
Front cover of my coming children’s book “The Dragon Princess” about love being love. I love the way Felicity Swan has interpreted my text.
A month ago, I wrote a blog post which caused pain, completely unintended of course. For that, I would like to apologize. I have no control over people’s reactions, how people feel, how they choose to interpret my words. I most certainly did not intend to cause pain or even tears as it were in some cases. It’s been a month and the reactions still sometimes keep me awake at night. Some might find that a small consolation.
I stand by my message
I worked a long time on that blog post, and re-read it countless times. I do not regret writing it (quite the contrary) nor the message I tried to convey. You can go back on this blog and see that I have tried (unsuccessfully) to address the issue of appropriation and misrepresentation of gay men many times before, just as I have highlighted the importance of romance novels.
Sadly, to hold meaningful discourse this day and age is extremely difficult, not just within the confines of literature. In the past, when I’d use temperate words, I would simply be ignored, or patted on the back, and even though I really try hard to always see both sides of any issue, and after having thought to have built credibility in the industry over the years, I finally realized that you need to shout to be heard. That makes me sad. My message isn’t new, the delivery was. The shouting that came back, however, was somewhat unexpected. I’ll readily admit to that.
My second shitstorm, and what a shitstorm it was/is. Emotionally, it’s been difficult. Luckily, I left for a long vacation just a couple of days after publication and while I stayed away from most of it, the threats (including death) against me and my family caused me several sleepless nights. Thank big pharma for sleeping pills! Financially, it’s been a boon, as I’m literally saving thousands of dollars, euros and pounds that I was sponsoring MM events with, money swiftly returned to me as my name has apparently become so toxic that I’ve been declared persona non grata across the entire “mm” community. I choose to wear that epithet with pride. My family is most grateful for those funds that will be put to good use elsewhere. Always holes to stuff when you have small kids!
Let’s get things straight (for once…)
My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.
I do feel strongly that I need to clarify a few things that have been claimed in the comments to the post and from (what I heard through the grapevine) online:
- I do not hate women. Nothing could be further from the truth. My issue is with the misrepresentation and appropriation of gay men in MM, not the genitals of the person doing it. Dicks can be dicks, too, just saying!
- I do not advocate censorship. We must make a distinction between our right to speak and our right to critique the message. I may not believe that some things should be said/written/published, but that is not the same thing as advocating to stop people from doing so. It is a most important distinction. The only time I may be advocating restrictions to free speech is when it directly incites violence.
There is a lot more I would like to say, could say, but at this stage, I won’t. I just don’t think I can find the appropriate words when everything I say can and will be used against me… The issues at hand are extremely complex and branch out into many different directions, from women’s rights to the definition of community and discourse in our time. Many issues need to be discussed, e.g. as we currently do within my publisher’s circle: the underrepresentation of women, non-binary and other main characters in fiction.
So many important, difficult and complex issues to discuss and analyze. For the time being, I will try to limit my contributions to smaller circles, where people are given the benefit of the doubt.
Last night, we returned from our annual summer vacation and I really want to get back to my work and try to put this behind me. I never felt I was part of the MM community, and now I have that in writing. My next two books are so far removed from everything “MM” that it will help cement that reputation: my children’s book “The Dragon Princess” and the first book in a fantasy youth series called “The Golden One”. I’ll be working hard on those two over the coming weeks.
2018 “pride” month is over and we’re in the first of eleven straight months
That’s probably the first thing straight people will react to, a “straight month”, what’s that? Well, that’s what the LGBT community lives through when it’s not Pride day, week or – in the US – month. It’s our everyday life. Someone told me just today that “I can understand how gay people would only ever read gay fiction…” I’ve yet to meet that person. I doubt they exist. Why? School! Tell me a single school where gay literature is an integral part of the school’s curriculum, where “LGBT” isn’t just confined to sex ed, or being damned and banned altogether. We’ve all grown up watching straight TV, straight movies, playing straight games, seeing straight couples everywhere and, yes, reading straight literature, from our kids’ books to adult literature. Straight people don’t realize it, but the world is awfully straight. Everywhere. It’s a wonder we turn out alright after all that brainwashing. LOL
There is a lot on my mind these days, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I am once again enraged. Not just by the injustices against my people in barbaric countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Russia, but so-called civilized countries like the UK, where the minister in question thinks it’s perfectly okay for “female only” events to ban trans women or the US, where… Yeah, let’s not ruin the mood completely, shall we?
Worst kind of “con crud”…
A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a convention for LGBT writers, and while there was a significant LGBT representation there, most of the attending authors and readers were not (which per se would not be a problem), and at one point, when discussions began to circle around “mpreg” (the in-word for male pregnancy, and we’re not talking about trans men here!), I had to leave the room. So much of the “m/m” world is so badly homophobic that I became physically ill. When later in the evening, we were discussing an upcoming panel at another convention, the “male writer panel” was quickly identified as “that’s where we learn the mechanics of it all…” Let’s just say if that’s going to be the case, despite assurances by the organizer to the contrary, I’ll leave that panel. But let’s face it, as a man, a gay man, in “this genre” (generally depicting male-male romances, which are nothing but reading material for women to get off) I have long ago been reduced to a sex toy, or – alternatively – an instructor to teach straight women the basics of anal sex, since you can’t ask questions on porn channels. Dare I open my mouth, I’m told to shut my filthy trap and stop mansplaining.
And so I shut my filthy trap and make fists in private, for the longest time. I dared not speak up against penises as swag, at “cock-walks” which aren’t about roosters or all those perfect half-naked specimens of male models on the covers, or all the porn actors that dance around some authors like flies drawn to the … I’ve once wondered why it always had to be porn actors and not regular teachers, or mechanics, bakers or homemakers. I guess we’re not good enough masturbation material, and we most certainly suck at being PR material when it’s time to sell our latest oeuvre… Nothing wrong with porn actors per se. I’m sure they’re nice people like the rest of us, but let’s not fool ourselves. The interest in their personalities is about as deep as someones next orgasm. “I know a porn star!” Well good for you. I know many human beings, regardless of their profession, but I don’t collect them by profession.
“You hate romance, that’s why…”
If anyone were to actually read this, I’d be accused of hating romance, and they might not be entirely wrong. I’ve really begun to dislike the genre as a whole, but not because I dislike love stories, it’s because of the many rules regarding sex in romance and particularly the appropriation of gay men in M/M. Just the other day someone told me they read M/M because the het equivalent (which I depict F/M (but predictably, women put the men first and call it M/F) wasn’t realistic enough… Yeah right, I can totally see that… If a grandmother came home with her bullied grandchild from school, a child she looks after because her daughter is dead, a child she had to pick up from the principal’s office, would you deem it realistic if she sent said child to their room to be able to fuck her lover? No, of course not. No sensible female would do that, right? Totally unrealistic. She’d (rightly) be expected to realistically comfort that child, look after them, send loverboy on his merry way. But the gay grandfather in the M/M? Sure, let him be fucked brainless by the ex-Seal from across the street. It was, after all, time for that sex scene in the chapter, right? We can’t disappoint our readers now, can we? Totally believable, and so realistic. Who really cares about the grandchild. Move away, orgasm on the way here. Men are sex pigs after all. Especially those gay guys. They’re the worst. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? Redtube, Pornhub, those CockyBoys… Totally “realistic”! NOT! #DNF
I’m enraged. I’m enraged because so many of the 130,000 books on Amazon that supposedly are about LGBT people, in fact, aren’t. The men in those books aren’t real, they’re about as real as vampires or shapeshifters, probably less so. Gay men (and more) have been appropriated by mostly het white women to make money. They color their hair and nails in rainbow colors, but if you point out to them that their depictions aren’t realistic, you’re labeled a male chauvinist pig and you better stop mansplaining them, and besides, and I quote “M/M is a fantasy, created by women for women, not men!” My favorite defense of all times when faced with criticism of how they write about gay men: “I have a gay friend.” #facepalm
So where do stories about real men go? Those of us (regardless of gender) who write outside the M/M sea label them “gay fiction”, but now even that is contested because some of the M/M authors claim that if “M/M is about fiction primarily for women, then I’m not an M/M author. I write gay fiction!” Thank you very much. Now you’ve just taken our last refuge. I feel like the proverbial Indian being evicted from his reservation! No offense to my native American friends, but you get the point. These people don’t care about us, they care about their balance sheet, and gay men are the pen(ises) to balance their checkbook. #CulturalAppropriation
Great stories are lost in the vast sea of M/M. Books worth reading are like grains of sand on a beach. How do you know which is which? #NeedleInAHaystack
Actually, I don’t, but don’t let that stop you from saying so anyway…
What makes it so heartbreakingly difficult is the fact that there are some truly amazing gay romance stories out there, that there are authors, men, women, others, gay, straight, bi, other, who pour their life’s blood into each and every book they write. People who do their research, people who know what they’re writing about. I think I’ve said it before that I’m no big fan of #ownvoices because we’d never have seen characters like Othello, Romeo, Julia, Lady Macbeth or Hamlet see the light of day at Skakespeare’s hands if #ownvoices were da shit, because: how dare he write them? He was white, not black, like Othello, a dude, not a girl like Julia, a man, not a boy like Romeo, not evil like Lady Macbeth or Danish, like Hamlet. Empathy is every great author’s tool. And therefore any great het writer should be able to bring gay characters to life. There is precedent, just saying. However, in the romance genre, the rules are followed all too rigidly by far too many, strange reader expectations and author desires for a quick buck are dangerous ingredients in a foul-smelling blend.
It’s difficult to explain to an outsider how it feels to be appropriated by another group for their (sexual) amusement. Insiders have tried, like this great author friend of mine. Authors using cock-shaped key chains as swag. I ask you this: if men showed up at an RWA convention with cunt-shaped swag, would you laugh hysterically, jump up and down and scream “OMG I need one of those!”? If I were to collect money for say, a charity to benefit abused women, auctioning off countless cunt shaped objects, quilts, macramé, pottery etc., would you find that amusing? Or if I’d invite Stormy Daniels to perform at the RWA gala dinner, dangling her tits over your entré? Titillating? Would you be able to keep your hands in check or would they be all over her? What if I wrote erotica (!) where the intestines and vaginal tracts of the heroine were torn apart (literally!) again, and again, and again by (take your pick) dinosaurs, dragons or ancient gods only to magically heal by divine power or the “magic” semen of the male beast in dub-con/non-con (I call it for what it is, rape) scene after scene? Book after book?
Allow me to exemplify…
In M/M, that’s not only possible, chances are the bottom ends up magically pregnant, not to mention that all is forgiven and they end up happily ever after in the end. This is of course also true for the trans woman who is so badly injured by her rapist that she is hospitalized for months (!!!), hanging on to life by a thread. Needless to say, she ends up moving in with her rapist in the end. Why did he rape her? He was upset she had certain dangly parts left… Totally believable, right? Transphobia & rape, all beautifully wrapped on KU for Her to get off. I have read things in M/M that have left me traumatized for life, and these are just a few of the examples.
It’s weird, you know, attending an LGBT writing conference, listening to a panel about diversity (a good panel, mind you, nothing wrong with that), and how we should be more inclusive of mental disease, ethnicity, age etc. and how important it was for, and I quote “accurate and true representation”. Yet I sit in the audience and wonder, why doesn’t that basic and healthy concept of “accurate and true representation” which these panels demand for just about every nuance under the limitless rainbow, why does this basic concept not apply to gay or bisexual men? Why is it okay to see us pregnant even though so many of us are involuntarily childless, suffering that pain, that emptiness, day after day for our entire lives. To be reminded of that in fiction, callously shortened as mpreg is, is utterly disgusting and heartless, and no matter what attempts at justification these authors and readers may offer, there can be none. Why is it okay for men to be “gay for you” even though there is no such thing in real life. We’re all on a spectrum between the two poles. Denying that, to maintain that “illusion” of heterosexuality, simply because it has a higher status? Shame on you. Your homo- / biphobia disgust me! True representation? My ass! #outrage
Life is rarely simple. I know some amazing authors, but they make bad friends in real life. I know some really crap authors (with regards to the above), yet they’re good people. The same can be said about readers. Such is life. I am angry, really pissed off, but this post isn’t about you, not you personally anyway. Chances are it might just be about your reading choices or your writing decisions, but it’s not a judgment of you as a human being. Most likely I don’t know you personally, and even if I do, it’s probably superficially at best, from social media or a brief hello at a conference. So please, as you go through various emotional reactions to this post, keep that in mind. Most people are kind, some are simply ignorant. Some never actually think about the ramifications of their actions, what signals they send. I was once told by a reader of these rape books that she “liked her men to suffer, just as she had once suffered at the hands of her rapist, and then some, just for good measure.” Revenge is a dish best served horny, it seems. Might I suggest a slightly more constructive choice of therapy? Counseling maybe? I understand the pain of rape far too well (#MeToo), and if writing helps you cope, heal? Great. But does it have to be published? And why do you feel the need to punish gay men for your heterosexual rape?
Think about this for a moment…
In closing: yes, I’m angry, furious at a literary world where gay men are reduced to vibrators, and I’m incredibly saddened that this happens while my people in the real world still fight for their lives, their dignity, and their happiness. Think about it, for every sex scene that you jerked off to in your latest M/M, a gay man was hung in Iran, flogged in Saudi Arabia, tortured in Chechnya, imprisoned in Uganda, thrown off a roof-top in Syria, fired for getting married in America, disappeared forever in Russia, or China; stoned in Afghanistan, burned with acid in Pakistan, mass raped by an angry village mob in rural India, denied to adopt his partner’s child in Poland, or killed outside a gay club in London. I could go on and on (and I’ve said nothing about my sisters, bisexuals or trans/intersex people who all suffer through variations or hells similar–or worse–to ours.)
Yes, the (LGBT) world needs positive stories, we need romance, we need love. What we don’t need is to be reduced to toy boys for your reading and masturbation pleasure (or bank account.) Can we at least agree on that?
Hans M Hirschi
Writer of gay and LGBT fiction
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.
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 Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.
Hans M Hirschi