Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Proofing, editing and cover art turn great storytelling into a great product

It’s March 2017, and we are still having this discussion. Yes, I’ve written about editing before. I’ve mentioned proofing before. I’ve talked about covers before. Now I’m not in a position to impose my views, but I am able to appreciate the work of proof readers, editors, cover artists etc. I know that if I were to ever publish a book that had not been edited, hadn’t been proofed, I’d be shredded by critics and readers alike.

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6. We’re in the final stages of proofing the text.

Yet I hear these stories time and time again. I hear them from friends, I hear them from readers, I hear them from editors:

  • Can you help me for free? I cannot afford your services!
  • I’m a professor/expert/etc. I don’t need help!

If you can’t afford a vacation, do you still buy one? People seem to take the first amendment to ever new heights. Yes, you are allowed to express your views, and the government may not censor you. But it doesn’t entitle you to get published. However, since Amazon and others offer free publishing tools, I guess you can go ahead and press the “publish” button. But with that also come responsibilities, consequences.

However, what about the rights of the reader? Don’t they deserve a story that has been polished? Editing isn’t just about grammar. I sometimes encounter the argument that “I’m an English major. I don’t need editing or proof readers.” Let me tell you this: this isn’t about your expertise. This is about perspective. An editor or proof reader approaches a text with a fresh set of eyes. They see things you no longer see, because you are so familiar with a text that you just don’t see the trees in the forest. Trust me, after fourteen books, I have missed almost everything!

No major in English will keep you from making mistakes, from getting things wrong. Not necessarily language-wise, but in the story. Allow me to exemplify. My publisher and I are currently working on my latest book Last Winter’s Snow. We worked on the edits all of last week and well into the weekend. I had worked on this book for almost a year. There were no plot holes to be found. However, things my editor commented on were, e.g.:

  • Some aspects of the story were long-winded and needed tightening. Since I wrote it, even my own major in literature didn’t save me from seeing this differently. Editing isn’t always about finding errors. It’s also about getting perspective, a different opinion. In the end, the author decides, but if you never get that perspective?
  • There was a question about catheter bags in Swedish hospitals. Are they emptied or replaced? Yeah. To just see this and highlight it. It took me another two hours of research into clinical equipment and finally, a phone call to a retired nurse to get the answer. In this instance, my text didn’t need changing.

I recall other stories when my editors would ask me to change the names of a character, because it was too similar to another, or they would point out expressions that might lead to misunderstandings or even accusations of being insensitive to someone, or a group. Not intentionally of course, but still. Great editing finds all those things you, as author, wouldn’t be able to see. They provide much needed perspective.

In the end, I’ve never had an editor tell me to change the plot of a story, or finding major plot holes. I think my biggest errors revolved about people’s aging, of how old children should be at a given point in a story. Not always easy to keep ages straight.

Point is, my books are so much better because of the editing, because of proof readers who spot those letters or words that disappear in the editing process. Those awkward “there”, “their” or “they’re” that autocorrect often change automatically these days, without us really noticing them.

A good cover not only stands out among others, it also gives you an indication of the genre the story is in. This is still one of my all time favorites, from my novel Willem of the Tafel. A Sci-Fi novel, my only one.

A word on covers. yes, covers are important. And if you’re not a pro, don’t expect your book to sell if you use a home made cover. I know there are gazillions of ways to create cover art. Rule 1: Don’t steal from Google or Bing. Pay for the art you use or create your own from scratch. If you’re as bad at drawing or sketching as I am, invest in a good picture. But even better: let a pro help you. Because no matter what: you’ll see that a professional cover stands out, attracts readers and gets them interested in learning more about your story. If you have a crap cover, they’ll never even press that first click, to read your blurb.

But I still can’t afford those services! Well, tough luck! I can’t afford a new car, or that sweater I saw the other day. Suck it up. But you can still publish that book. If you think the story is good enough, find a publisher, find a niche publisher specializing in your kind of story. And if you absolutely insist on self-publishing (why I don’t really understand), find help that might be willing to do a profit share.

I’ve heard of authors who asked friends for help and then were disappointed (and angry) at said friends when negative reviews start coming in. Did you pay them? If you had a professional editor, they’d re-edit the book for you. They’d proof it again for you, as part of their professional service. Just as you would expect a restaurant to replace a bad meal. Or a mechanic to fix a faulty repair job. But I am getting tired of hearing of all those people who complain about the cost of things, the sense of entitlement to get something published, because they’ve written it. No, there is no such entitlement. The first amendment (or your democratic country’s equivalent) allows you to publish it, but it doesn’t save you from being trashed if the product is crap. That is part of your readers’ first amendment rights.

It’s 2017, and I thought we’d moved past uploading word documents straight from the author to Amazon. Alas, I was wrong, and I’m ashamed for my industry. Because every crap product hurts the rest of us, from the largest publisher to the professional self-publishers.

What’s your take? Am I missing something here?

Have a great week!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#Review: Yuri on Ice, my life’s first anime, and why I fell so hard for it… #YuriOnIce #LGBT #anime

Yuri on Ice is a show about dreams, failure, love, humanity and figure skating

The poster for Yuri on Ice with all the main characters.

A week or so ago, I first came across an odd hashtag, #YuriOnIce on Facebook. Some of my friends had been following something and they were really excited. I ignored it for a week, seeing all these strange updates about how amazing it was, until my curiosity finally got the better of me yesterday, and I dove right in. Having binge watched all available ten episodes on Crunchyroll in one afternoon, I found myself unable to put words on what I had just experienced. It was almost incredible. 24 hours later, I was anxiously awaiting the next episode, showcasing the first half of the finals.

I think the only way for me to make sense of Yuri on Ice and put words on my feelings, is to methodologically go through what you can expect of this show. Please be aware that there are some spoilers in this review, so be aware of that. On the surface, Yuri on Ice is about a young man, Katsuki Yuri, a 23 year old Japanese figure skater. He’s good, but not exceptionally so. The series follows him as he goes from competition to competition, redeeming himself after a major defeat the year before. He is being coached by the world’s best – former – figure skater, Victor Nikiforov. I’ve watched the show in original Japanese with English subtitles, which adds another dimension, given the voice acting, but since my Japanese is really dismal, I probably lost more context than the subtitles (not always up to par: Sara becomes “Sala” and Pyongyang is apparently the capital of South Korea, but alas…)

The first episode sets the stage, although it doesn’t explain fully why Victor leaves the ice skating circus, as undefeated world and olympic champion to fly to Japan to coach Yuri. At least not on the surface. However, there are enough “hints” (some more subtle than others) to make you understand that Victor has fallen in love with Yuri.

Yeah, plenty of hints throughout the show of their true relationship. This shot also quite remarkably shows that Victor is the dominant and driving force in the relationship, though never in a negative or abusive way.

Now Japan isn’t Western Europe or the U.S. where two men falling in love, in figure skating no less, wouldn’t cause anyone to raise an eye brow. This is Japan, a country where porn is shot and distributed, but any body part is pixellated so much you really wonder why you’re watching it in the first place. Japan, the only place in the world where I ever felt like an alien from a different planet. It is a society very different than anything else I’ve ever encountered on earth. Naturally, their storytelling differs, too. And anime is an art form which combines cartoons and Japanese storytelling in ways we are not accustomed to.

Fangirling, embarrassment? Only anime can depict emotions so accurately from the character’s point of view.

It’s loud, it’s in your face, at times absurd, but if you stick with it, you’ll eventually understand the subtexts and the depth of emotion at play here. Victor and Yuri are both drawn beautifully, and one of the scenes from the first episode that had me cry (oh yes, I cried at least once in every episode) was when Yuri comes back home, after five years, to visit his family and hide from his ice rink debacle. He meets his old friend at the ice rink and shows her something he’s been working on. He copied Victor’s latest performance, move by move, and we all know that copying is the highest form of flattery. Two things: she records it on her phone, it goes viral within the skating community and Victor sees it and heads out to Japan. The way that scene is drawn, with us seeing Victor one second and Yuri the next really gets under your skin. It is so powerful, and the way the figure skating is drawn is so spectacularly well done, it really is impossible to describe with words. Just watch it!

Gay? Oh yes… There are plenty of scenes like this where Victor’s siren call rings out to Yuri, usually to the latter’s embarrassment. And don’t we all know the boy who thinks he’s the ugly duckling and just cannot fathom that someone loves him (needless to say that Yuri is quite handsome himself, but yeah, if you don’t see it yourself, you’ll never truly be it, right?)

Then there are scenes where strong emotions are handled, e.g. embarrassment, and the bodies of the protagonists become “cartoons within cartoons”. At first I didn’t understand why that was done, but eventually I understood, that we are seeing the distorted image from the character’s point of view. A very strong storytelling technique, and as absurd and weird as it may look, it actually makes you ‘feel’ the emotion all the better. It’s funny, because both Victor and Yuri are really beautiful people, as are most of the characters. I was stunned to see just how well the animators capture certain cultural characteristics, pre-conceptions, we have of people: JJ really does look Canadian, although I can’t point to what that is (square jaw maybe? But that’s hardly enough), Christophe and his coach look sooooo Swiss it’s painful, and naturally, the Russians look very Russian, etc. It’s uncanny, really. I don’t know how they do it, but we are talking about master drawing and artists with eyes for even the finest details. Not that the drawings or the anime as such is very detailed. No, but all the essentials aspects are included, and therefore, non-essentials are left aside.

Victor, a character study, including his embarrassed face (top right), which is so very different from his normal, beautiful (if I may say so), features. I’ll be honest and admit that I have a bit of a crush on him. Yeah, okay, not just a little… *blush* (picture me with his face, crimson red!)

So what about the love story. Well, Victor and Yuri do take their time, and I think it’s only in episode four that Victor asks Yuri if he’d like him to be his boyfriend for the first time. He’s strutting around naked in all his amazing glory in episode one already, totally safe for work btw, thanks to Japanese censorship laws (see above). One episode features their first kiss and in episode ten, Yuri buys them a set of rings which lead to the climax of the show so far, a sort of “engagement” announcement. Needless to say gays cannot get married, neither in Russia nor in Japan, and neither country recognizes marriages from elsewhere. My brother, who got married almost six years ago, was unable to obtain a visa for his husband when he began to work in Tokyo. Instead, Osvaldo had to get a “language” visa to move to Tokyo to be with his husband. Ridiculous in 2015, but that is Japan still. Very conservative.

Which brings me to another point of Yuri on Ice. The subtlety in which this love story is told. Yes, you could say it is a story about personal growth, or a story about figure skating, a story about redemption, and you’d be right. But more than anything else, Yuri on Ice is a love story, and that love is expressed through figure skating. When Victor choreographs two short programs, one for Yuri Plisetsky from Russia, a 15 year old genius ice skater, and one for “his” Yuri, the contrast between the two boys/men is described in a combination of music and moves that will leave you in tears. I promise. It takes a while, for both characters to find their message, and that is drawn and expressed so stunningly.

Yuri on Ice is a great love story, and a story of personal growth, second chances and one of my favorite sports, figure skating. The elegance of the sport, the combination of physical exertion and emotional expression combined into graceful movements has had me in its grip ever since I watched the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, and the Gold performance of the British team Torvill & Dean in Ice Dance to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, to this day one of the most magnificent performances ever, and the only one to EVER get a 6.0 from all judges. Have you seen that? If not, here’s your chance:

Now mind you, back then, a lot of things were very different, this is, after almost 33 years ago. Rules have changed and Ice Dance is very different from figure skating. But they certainly changed ice skating forever. I’d hope for the better.

Now I’m no expert on figure skating, and I can’t see the difference between the various jumps. But from what I can gather from comments from those who know the difference, the drawings in Yuri on Ice are technically accurate and the general rules are also explained in the show, for the novices like myself, and how the competitions work etc.

I don’t know if I will continue to watch anime, but I have been able to lay yet another preconception to rest (never too old to learn), that cartoons are only for kids, and that anime is childish. Because Yuri on Ice proved me wrong, on all counts, and even at the most awkward moments, when girls fangirl over a skater or a skater is furious (particularly “Yurio”, the Russian kid), or even when Yuri’s weight issues are portrayed with his ass cheeks hanging out of his pants, literally, are drawn as caricatures, those are also the moments that capture the emotions felt by the character the best. Because isn’t that how we feel about our extra pounds, as if everybody else sees us as some big fat blob? And don’t we see our own faces completely distorted when we are embarrassed or angry? I know I do, and anime captures that in a way no other form of cartoon does, and in a way certainly no film could ever capture.

I can’t wait to see the next episode of Yuri on Ice, and if you haven’t seen it yet, head on out there, follow the hashtag #YuriOnIce and check it out. This is a cultural phenomenon of sorts, a positive one, and one I for one, won’t miss.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a great fourth Advent weekend! See you on Monday…

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#MondayBlogs: Madam Secretary, and why we need more diverse heroes in entertainment #review

Madam Secretary is a show that almost instantly pulls you in and captures you

My husband and I are a bit of Netflix addicts, and we devour show after show. We’ve seen a lot of good ones, and some, well, not so good ones, too. When we discovered Madam Secretary on our Netflix, we were intrigued, not just because of the recent election and the parallel to Hillary Clinton (not the first female secretary btw), but because we once used to love watching the West Wing, and we do enjoy Netflix own production, House of Cards.

Teá Leoni is Elizabeth McCord, and she does an amazing job playing the Secretary of State of the United States. Image: CBS

Teá Leoni is Elizabeth McCord, and she does an amazing job playing the Secretary of State of the United States. Image: CBS

Madam Secretary is definitely more “West Wing” than “House of Cards”, and while the latter may be a better way to prepare us for what’s to come with a Trump administration, the former is definitely a better reminder of what America should be about. Nuff said about politics. The show takes a stance for a very good America, not that the various ambassadors don’t remind Secretary McCord of all the bad things America has done, and is doing, but she is genuinely trying to be a good person, and to represent the country we all want America to be. She’s tough as nails in certain situations, but then again very fragile in the next. The acting is superb from most people involved and I can only hope this show gets renewed by CBS for a fourth season eventually.

Because here’s the thing: shows with female protagonists don’t fare very well. Commander in chief got cancelled after one season, to just name a comparative show. And if you disregard shows where women are playing more traditional “female” roles, such as “Cougar” etc., name me ten shows or feature films where women are displayed as both strong, powerful and at the same time devoted partners and parents. Thing is I bet you could easily name twenty with guys.

Yet, women form the majority of our society, and we’ve had more female Secretaries of State in reality already. And they’ve all gotten good grades for their work. Just last week I read a post about the reaction from TrumpAmerica about the latest installment in the Star Wars universe, Rogue One, a movie with a female heroine. Just like the seventh installment, just saying, which also featured, god forbid, a very strong supportive character who’s black. And yes, the forces that are awakening are furious. A Star Wars movie with a female heroine? Can’t be! The unfiltered hatred, racism and misogyny in those comments, and tweets is really hard to stomach, and makes me want to see that movie even more.

Yet I ask you, how realistic is it that out of eight Star Wars movies, and the plethora of cast members we’ve seen, we have four female heroines, and two black (supportive characters). And while Leia really was touch, the same couldn’t be said about Amidala, not in the final movie where she was reduced to some child bearing tear bag. And while I personally thought the latest movie (#7) was a horrible Star Trek like alternative universe “let’s star this shit over” rehash (although it’s not meant to be, they just ran out of plot ideas), at least the heroine was realistic, and I liked her and her storm-trooper side kick. I look forward to seeing more of them. And I can’t wait to see Rogue One. If racists hate it? It has to be good. Duh!

The same with Madam Secretary. It’s not just great storytelling. The way diversity is fully included in the cast. I was totally caught by surprise in the one episode in Venezuela when the world-famous baseball player suddenly knocks on the door of the secretary’s personal assistant in the middle of the night for a horizontal mambo. My husband and I nearly woke up our son as we were squealing with delight. We had of course caught on that Blake was colored gay from episode one, but yeah, that was great, and it gave the episode an interesting turning point. No more spoilers.

The show deals with not only political stuff, and while I remember “domestic” things being a part of e.g. the West Wing, here it is a daily thing, and I think the show does an amazing job at interweaving their private lives and how they are affected by what’s happening on the job. The PTSD episode we just watched last night left me feeling WOW, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it portrayed this way, then again, we usually always see these tough guys fall apart, and it usually ends in disaster. But when the secretary falls apart, it’s very nuanced, and the scene with the president’s chief of staff, the story of the car accident, ranks as one of my all time favorites. It takes very little in terms of script, but a lot from the actors, to make such scenes stellar.

If you have a chance to catch Madam Secretary, please watch it. If you live stateside, catch in on CBS and help them get the ratings up so that we may enjoy more amazing diverse storytelling, and not just middle-aged, white, heterosexual males. plenty of those on TV already… To catch up, the first two seasons are already on Netflix for you to enjoy. It’s a wonderful show. Trust me.

Just a word about my week. I have fifteen audition tapes in my inbox. I’ve decided to begin to make audio books available for my back catalogue. I’ll spend this week finding “my” voice. Not an easy task. I’ll talk about my experiences in this week’s final post for the year, before I head out on vacation…

You all have a wonderful fourth advent week. Be gentle with each other, help each other, do a good deed, you know, like the scouts, and be a part of making this world a better place. Thank you.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#Review: The Crown, the latest jewel in Netflix’s own production treasure #TV #asmsg

The Crown in one line: amazing acting, intriguing premise, beautiful scenography

I wrinkled my nose when I first saw the e-mail from Netflix announcing their latest home-brewed show: The Crown. I am no royalist, and I’m no fan of the British monarchy or its monarch. Quite the contrary. I never liked her. I belong to the generation who idolized Princess Diana, and who “hated” (strong word, but alas, it’s probably true) her evil mother-in-law. The “fact” that she’s a relative of mine, at least according to my paternal grandmother, who used to tell us long stories about our ties to the Windsors as kids, didn’t make things any better. I didn’t like her any better. Today, my views are slightly more balanced, but I’m still no fan of her. But to hold a grudge against an old woman wouldn’t be fair. Besides, there’s Elizabeth, the great-grandmother and Elizabeth, the Queen, two different beasts altogether.

Another great show available on Netflix. Don't miss The Crown

Another great show available on Netflix. Don’t miss The Crown.

So no, I really didn’t want to watch The Crown, but once we were done with season two of The Flash (my childhood hero, but a show who’s not as good as I’d hoped), and had watched the first season of The Last Kingdom (watch this one. Brutal but interesting), about the beginning of the England we know today, we decided to give it a go. I was hooked within minutes. It’s really the acting that drew me in. John Lithgow is playing the role of his life in my humble opinion, his Churchill is brilliant. Victoria Hamilton as the queen’s mother is amazing, and Vanessa Kirby as Margaret is sooo beautiful. One of my personal favorites is Eileen Atkins as Mary of Teck and of course the main character, Claire Foy as the queen. Matt Smith does a really good job at portraying what must be a really difficult character, prince Philip.

As a spectator from the outside, it’s not easy to separate fact from fiction, that’s probably the biggest challenge when you watch a show about people you’ve “known” for so many years. I remember growing up with all of them on TV, all the time. I watched Diana’s and Charles’s wedding live on TV, I remember the many funerals, scandals and divorces. We all have very strong opinions about the main characters. To watch a show about their “youth” was interesting, to say the least, and I’ve found myself spend more time on Wikipedia than ever before, checking facts while watching. Who were those private secretaries, what about the King, what about Edward, etc.

The Crown, the latest amazing production from Netflix. Image: (C) Netflix

The Crown, the latest amazing production from Netflix. Image: © Netflix, 2016

It’s difficult to say what the show tries to accomplish. Are they trying to justify Elizabeth II’s “non-human” antics or simply try to explain why the Windsors have become what I would consider the most loveless family in the western hemisphere, rivaled only by the North Korean dynasty? At times it seems that way, and at the end of the ten episodes I find myself almost “rooting” for Elizabeth. You feel pity for Philip, a man’s man (we’d call him a misogynist pig today) who finds it difficult to adjust to his role as #2. I feel strongly for Margaret and her Peter Townsend. It’s difficult to talk about spoilers here, since the show details historical events, but I was reminded of the fiction of it, when it is Townsend who gives the speech given by the “real” Margaret upon their separation. The time-line is also anything but chronological. Remember: this is fiction.

There are a few scenes that I’m still thinking back to, and that will stay with me for a long time:

  • When grandmother Mary of Teck tells her daughter that in a situation of conflict between Elizabeth Windsor and Elizabeth Regina, the Crown ALWAYS must prevail. That very conflict is the basis for the entire show.
  • The scene where Churchill has his portrait painted by Graham Sutherland, and he discusses the loss of a child with the painter during their final sitting. The “pond” scene is one of the strongest in the entire season.
  • The scene where Elizabeth’s tutor asks her about her education level. That was almost painful to watch.
  • Churchill’s interactions with Elizabeth, particularly after his stroke (the dress down) and his final audience. The changes are subtle, but each scene is very powerful in itself.
  • The phone call between the former king Edward and Elizabeth on the eve of her decision to deny Margaret her love marriage. Wow.
  • When the queen mother is in Scotland during Elizabeth’s first long commonwealth trip. Her breakdown during the dinner and later, when she’s about to buy a castle and is called back to London. The reaction from Captain Imbert-Terry and their short exchange is priceless.
  • Finally, the scene when Elizabeth and Philip return from their months (!) long tour of the commonwealth and Philip rushes to see Charles and Anne. Elizabeth watches but doesn’t even greet her kids. I found that difficult to watch.
  • Everybody’s constantly smoking. Incredible. There should be a warning label somewhere. LOL

As you can see, the scenes that stayed with me were all about the conflict of “human” vs. “office”, and that is really what the show is all about. Now it is fiction, based on historical events, and after a while you have to work really hard to not take things at face value. I’ve taken away a couple of things from all this: First of all, how brutal in inhumane a monarchy is, not just for the “subjects”, but also for the royals in their golden cages. Yes, they’re filthy rich, they get to travel the world in first class, wear the most beautiful clothes, eat the best food, drink the finest wines, but they also lose the most important human rights: the right to self-determination, the right to happiness.

If anything, this show has possibly made me an even more fervent republican. I cannot fathom how anyone could think it’s justifiable for any human being to completely give up their personal life on behalf of what? The other point is of course the parallels of the decaying British Empire, which is ongoing to this day. Change is the only constant, but when you look at the society depicted in The Crown, the stale court rules, from coronations to prime minister audiences to marriage rules, it becomes very clear why England is where it is today: lack of change. A country, a society so stale, so caught up in the past, stuck in a fantasy of what it was once, an illusion. The struggle between modernity, portrayed by Philip (oddly, given his misogyny) and Margaret, and tradition, portrayed brutally well by Tommy Lascelles, queen Mary and the queen mother makes for some of the best TV I’ve ever seen.

A word about the scenography of the show. To be transported back to the 1950s is intriguing, from the clothing, the lack of traffic, the constant smoking everywhere, this is a high quality production. Very well done. The camera work is exquisite. The contrast of the outdoor scenes of a relatively “poor” war-ridden nation where people die by the thousands from the London smog while the elites wine, dine and smoke is stark, but impressive, but what stayed with me the most is the landscapes, the beauty of the isle of Britain. The scenes in Scotland, near the castle of May, but also the scenes from Sandringham, Windsor etc. It’s a beautiful country, and the show really highlights that.

Finally: I love Netflix credits and their musical scores, and the opening of The Crown is as spectacular as ever, but dear Netflix, we’ve had the melting, running and staling on several shows now (e.g. Marco Polo, Daredevil), don’t you think it’s time to come up with something new? 😉 Just saying…

If you have Netflix and you haven’t watched this yet, I strongly recommend you do. Keep your phone nearby and google all the many colorful characters to update your historic knowledge of the era. It’s totally worth it. The acting is really wonderful, and every now and then, you simply see a face, the slightest twitch, an expression in the eyes, saying more than a thousand words ever could. Masterful! In the end, I was about to say “yeah, now I understand…” but that wouldn’t do reality justice. This is fiction after all, but the premise that the weight of The Crown wears down the humanity of the Windsors is certainly intriguing and worth pondering. It also shines a cruel and revealing light on what we often lovingly refer to as “time honored” traditions…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a good weekend, and remember to show your family and loved ones just how important they are…

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

I’m still wrestling with “Luchador”, Erin Finnegan’s (@eringofinnegan) latest chef d’oeuvre #amreading #LGBT #asmsg

Luchador: Who knew that wrestling could be so enticing?

I had no second thoughts when Erin Finnegan’s publisher Interlude asked me to read her second novel, Luchador. I had read her debut and absolutely loved it (here’s my review). Not speaking much Spanish myself, I had no idea what “luchador” meant. It means ‘fighter’, and the novel is about Lucha Libre, aka free fighting, the Mexican version of wrestling. What had I gotten myself into?

Wrestling? In an LGBT novel? Come again? My mind immediately wandered to the only wrestling I’d ever witnessed. None live, I couldn’t/wouldn’t do that to myself, just pictures of it, from the London 2012 Olympics, and as gay as that looks, that wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to ‘read’ about:

wrestling1

Yeah, it sure does ‘look’ gay, but it seems these two lads still need a bit of coaching to get it right…

So, this was my mindset as I opened the book and began to read, cautiously, not really wanting to. Yet despite my prejudice, my fears and flight instinct kicking in, I was almost instantly transported back to my own home state of Arizona and South Tucson, a rough neighborhood in the city my sister calls her home town, a place I’ve been to many times. We meet ten year old Gabriel, who loves to watch Lucha Libre with his dad on Sundays. Wearing a mask, just like the big stars in Mexico, he throws himself off the arm of the couch, launching attacks at his father while they’re watching live broadcasts from the DF (‘distrito federal‘, Mexicos version of DC).

Luchador

The beautiful cover of Luchador, the new novel by Erin Finnegan, crafted by C.B. Messer.

However, tragedy soon strikes and we move through time and space to Mexico. Several years pass and Gabriel now lives with his relatives in Mexico City, goes to college and still dreams of Lucha Libre

It took me exactly ten seconds to get hooked to this story, and I had a hard time putting it down. However, my body needs sleep and so I took a break and finished it the next morning, ignoring both husband and son (sorry!) to the best of my ability. Luchador is an amazing story, and I feel pretty privileged to have been able to read it before it was released (which was yesterday, actually, 11/3). Just as Erin did in her previous book, Sotto Voce, she wraps the character development and the arc story around a topic. In Sotto Voce it was wine making, here it is Mexican wrestling. I’ve seen snippets of Lucha Libre on TV before, and it was as appealing to me as any other sort of contact sport is, which means: zilch, nada, not at all. Count me out!

Yet after having finished Luchador, I turned to YouTube to find some Lucha Libre (plenty of it there) to watch. I had to turn it off, because it’s just not for me. Still! Although, I’ll share this clip with you, about an exótico wrestler, i.e. gay luchadores, which are a thing in Lucha Libre, and the book is very much about the exóticos of the Lucha Libre circuit. This isn’t a statement about Erin’s writing or storytelling, and even though I have gained a respect and some knowledge for the sport, its history and the work going into it, I still can’t watch it. I’ll stick to Erin’s mental images of the authentic independent Lucha Libre as opposed to the empresa version of it (which you can watch on YouTube).

Erin’s writing is absolutely stunning, and as an author and non-native English speaker, I’m full of envy of her capability to craft the most beautiful and picturesque language. But she does more than that, for instance when Gabriel and his mentor, Miguel, have this conversation about what it means to be gay and a luchador:

“You may admire us, and train with us, but you don’t want to be one of us. You want to be out and you want to be one of them. Well, let me tell you, mijo, you play straight like Arturo? That’s no different than playing camp with us, because that’s an act, too. Besides, he’s right about one thing—it’s too late for that.”

This discussion, about straight acting vs femininity is age old, and it’s still ongoing. Don’t believe me? Download Grindr and find out for yourself. Straight acting is the thing to be if you want to get laid. Just as woman are considered worth less than men by society, so are feminine guys, camp guys, considered worth less than masculine, straight acting guys. Pathetic, yes, but nonetheless a fact. Then there’s this quote from a discussion with the closeted Arturo, who refuses to play Exótico:

“You act like being exótico is second class.”

“So do you,” he said. “You defend them, but tell me, Gabriel—do you want to be one?”

Gabriel went silent.

“There it is,” Arturo said. His voice was softer now, less combative. He had won this round.

Ms Finnegan goes deep here, and we get to explore the challenges to being LGBT in the world of sports, with parallels to the U.S. and American football, well fleshed out in Gabriel’s love interest. As the luchadores are often masked, they have the possibility to play a part very different from that of their own life, which Arturo does. The intricacies of gay life are mirrored within this macho world against heteronormativity and Ms Finnegan’s writing captures the very essence of the greatest struggle within the LGBT community in this story in the most astonishing way.

Gabriel embraces his own form of exótico, pushing the boundaries of exóticos, expanding his universe, but, and I think this is the most important quote in the entire novel, there is a price to pay:

“Whatever you decide, understand that at some point, you’re going to have to sacrifice for it.”

“I don’t understand.”

Miguel leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling, as if the dim bulbs and acoustic tiles held the answer to life’s great mysteries. “You will.”

The author of Luchador and Sotto Voce, Erin Finnegan

The author of Luchador and Sotto Voce, Erin Finnegan

This scene is about a third into the novel, and it’s stayed with me. In fact, it still rings in my ears, because in it, Erin very aptly captures what it is like to be LGBT, not just in the sports world, but in life in general. In fact, I might be inclined to say it’s true for human life in general. We all have to pay a price for the decisions we make, particularly if said decisions go against what is considered acceptable by society. The price we pay as LGBT may be higher, but that isn’t to say there aren’t prices to be paid by all of us.

One of my best friends hasn’t seen his family in five years, the steep price he pays for being gay, out and proud. That is the real life price to pay, very different from the price of glitter, lipstick and eyeliner that Gabriel must pay to appear as El Ángel Exótico.

Luchador is an unusual novel, introducing us to a sport, a form of entertainment of sorts, which is unknown to most of us, while at the same time discussing the very mystery of modern life, trying to be true to ourselves, navigating family, relationships, love. The blending of American and Mexican is very refreshing and a beautiful middle finger at the current political climate where Mexico is the scapegoat du jour for Republican politicians. Ms Finnegan shows that underneath the masks, we’re all human, regardless of our skin color, faith or nationality.

I admired the way Erin introduced me to the art and craft of wine making in Sotto Voce, but this is something else entirely. Luchador lingers with me, envelops my consciousness and keeps asking me important questions about life itself, the choices we make, and the consequences we face because of them. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this before, and I’ve read quite a few…

Let me also say a word or two about Ms Finnegan’s writing. Yes, I am envious of her incredible talent, and the book is very well crafted. There are a couple of instances where I lost track of where I was, but that could be due to the fact that I read an early draft of the book. I found the jumps in time, as justified as they are from a storytelling point of view, hard to grasp at first; for instance the move from Tucson to the DF, or Miguel’s accident, or the move to LA. But I put that down to the fact that I was reading an ARC, not the final product. The language is absolutely stunning, and I’ll exemplify it with one single sentence from the book:

His rich baritone settled over Gabriel like comfort food: delicious, impossible to say no to, and undoubtedly unhealthy.

I wish I could come up with writing like that… Totally envious. LOL

I don’t know when Luchador is going to leave me. For now, I enjoy its company, as I ponder the mystery of life. Luchador is a novel you’ll cherish and read again. I know I will. Gabriel, Miguel, Ray, Jason and some of other secondary and even tertiary characters are people you’ll want to revisit every now and then. I have a hunch I’ll pick up even more nuances from this masterpiece.

Luchador is available from Interlude Press and is sold online through Amazon and other retailers.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#Review: “7 With 1 Blow” by Caraway Carter (@CarawayCarter), a highly intelligent #BDSM story #amreading

7 With 1 Blow is a BDSM story unlike anything I’ve read before

Caraway Carter (right) and our common friend and fellow author Hunter Frost during an outing last year in San Diego

Caraway Carter (right) and our common friend and fellow author Hunter Frost during an outing last year in San Diego, while we all attended GRL.

Caraway is a friend. We met because we both publish with the same publisher. I put this out there to make sure you know, but also because I will try to not let my knowledge of the man influence my review of the work. Given my recent posts on causa Ferranta I believe that to be a wise cause. Naturally, you also know that I’m no reader of BDSM, nor would I ever even consider to test this on myself (or anyone else for that matter). The mere thought of pain, our causing anyone else pain is so much the opposite of what I consider enjoyable, I’d be out the door before any dom/slave had a chance to react.

Having said that, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to read BDSM, and some of those books have left me with a bitter aftertaste, particularly when it comes to things like rape or – as such authors prefer to call it “non-con”. 7 With 1 Blow is sort of borderline. Let me begin with the blurb:

When Taylor Little, who styles himself “Dom Seven,” is unwillingly taken into custody by the Cadre, he is put between a rock and a hard place. Either he will go to jail for his abuses against the local BDSM community, or he will accept retraining from the bottom up, learning to be a slave before he ever lays a flogger on another human being again.

In this tale of redemption, Taylor must face his demons as he learns to accept his status with mouth, mind, and heart.

The stunningly beautiful cover of 7With 1 Blow. I've adored this cover for months now. The photograph is taken by Australian talent Chris Joel Campbell.

The stunningly beautiful cover of 7 With 1 Blow. I’ve adored this cover for months now. The photograph was taken by Australian photographer Chris Joel Campbell.

Why insert the blurb? I’d hate to give away anything that the author doesn’t want you to know. 7 With 1 Blow is a mixture of suspense, with a touch of BDSM erotica (although nothing even close to some real erotica), along with a story of growth. At times, it reads almost like an introduction to BDSM. And here’s where I will honestly admit that I don’t know enough about the codes and rules of BDSM to say whether Caraway follows common codex or if he plays with the BDSM rules. As an outsider, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the practice, both why people are attracted to it, something about “reaching subspace”, and I think I understand. I really do, although I am also convinced that I wouldn’t want to do what it takes to get there… LOL For Taylor, I’m glad he gets there in the end.

That is one aspect of the story. I’ll also be honest that when I read the first couple of pages, I felt nothing but regret: regret for having promised Caraway a review, and regret at having ended up with another BDSM novel on my reading list. The beginning is gut-wrenching, it’s a hard read, for very good reasons, and I will honestly admit that I barely got through those pages. I was close to giving up, put it away. But I’m a guy of my word, so I pressed on. I’ll say this: if you don’t like BDSM, this is not a book you’ll pick up. And if you like this sort of novel, you   must read it. The beginning is vital, it sets the stage for what comes, and without giving away anything, just press on. The fact that the beginning is so very difficult to read is also a testament to Caraway’s talent as a writer. The pain the slave feels, becomes so palpable that my muscles twitched and I became nauseous.

As you read on, the tone changes, and as we follow Taylor’s retraining (as it’s framed in the blurb), we are given a very educational insight into the world of BDSM and how it can be practiced, safely and healthily. One of the most amazing and touching aspects of the novel is the absence of long-winded sex scenes. In fact, while sex is mentioned in passing, without making a fuss about it, it’s not a central aspect of the story. Quite the contrary, and I found that extremely refreshing. I can’t even begin to say how tired I am with sex depictions, page after page. We all know how that works. I’m more interested in what’s going on in people’s minds and hearts and Caraway does a masterful job at depicting just that, the inner conflict in Taylor, as he grows, learns and begins to understand the true meaning of BDSM.

The ending? A bit abrupt, a bit quick for my taste. At 46K words, 7 With 1 Blow isn’t quite a novel, but it’s a very long novella. I’ve given much thought whether the story should’ve continued, to fill those 4K to make it a full novel, but I think Carter made the right decision. Why? Well, why don’t you find out for yourself?

7 With 1 Blow is released TODAY, from Beaten Track Publishing and is sold from Amazon and other fine online retailers. Whether you’re into BDSM or just curious about what the fuss is all about, read this amazing story!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Hans