Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

How do you deal with reality, when it trumps your fiction? When it threatens to make it obsolete?

Three weeks left to the release of my next book. Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story where Korea plays a major role, not just the Koreans depicted in the plot. When I first began to write about Martin, an octogenarian in America, you realize quickly that people in his age were very likely to have been conscripted, or “drafted” as we normally say. Given his age, the Korean War was also a given, not that all drafted young Americans would’ve ended up there, but Martin did, and the story took its course. Mind you, at the time I began to write the book, Korea was in the news almost daily. And not in a good way.

Trump v Kim

One was called “dotard”, the other was insulted with regards to the size of their “buttons”, and for a while, it seemed as if the fragile seize-fire at the 38th parallel was seriously threatened. North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles even had some of my friends in California afraid for their personal safety. I remembered the eighties and our fear for Russian missiles raining over Europe. War, a world war even, seemed suddenly possible. Having visited Korea in the past, I was afraid for my friends in Seoul, who live less than fifty miles from the border and who can be reached by conventional artillery fire from the north, let alone nuclear weapons. I later learned what Kim’s grandfather did to Seoul during the first days of the Korean War, and it scared me.

My trip to Korea

When I began to write the story about Martin, it was not meant to be a novel. I quickly realized that there was more to the story and let it take its course. I also realized that my knowledge about Korea wasn’t good enough, that I needed to know more. When I set foot in Seoul in Mid-January, things were quickly changing on the ground. All of a sudden, North Korea seemed to be interested in detente with its southern neighbor, and as I watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Seoul, we learned of North Korean delegations coming to PyongChang to attend the impending games, and eventually, even Kim’s sister showed up, and Mike Pence was glad his wife never left his side…

Kim Jong-Un surprises the world

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

As I was watching the images on my TV screen last week, of the quickly arranged summit between the two leaders of Korea, of Kim crossing the border (last time a leader from the north “visited” the south was Kim’s grandfather, when he rolled into Seoul after more or less having flattened the city in four days) at Panmunjom, I had tears in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a softie. I watched on as the two men shook hands, all smiles, how Kim – unscripted apparently – invited President Moon to take a step back across the border into the north, have pictures taken before they anew crossed the border to the south for their meetings.

At the end of the day, the two leaders had agreed on a range of topics, including negotiations to finally put an official rubber stamp to the war, which officially was never ended at the ceasefire in 1953.

How this affects my novel…

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

I finished writing my book in February, which says a bit about just how fast things are developing on the Korean peninsula. Because when I wrote the book, the Olympic Games had ended, and the symbolic visit of Kim’s sister had been a success. But the thirty-head cheerleader group had drawn more chuckles and head-shakes due to their weird behavior, than being perceived as a serious step toward detente. The story ends in early April, just a few weeks ago, and I don’t mention any of this in the book. And just last week, we worked through the edits and sent the book into proofreading.

Now I’m wondering if I need to rewrite it. Not a lot, but do I need to mention the detente? It may not need more than a sentence or two, but on the other hand, we’ve seen this political tango in Korea before, two steps forward, two steps back. But Kim Jong-Un is a different person. Raised and schooled in Switzerland (his Korean accent raising eyebrows in Seoul), he is the first dictator in the family, only the third leader of North Korea, to be “protected” by a functioning nuclear deterrent. He’s young, he’s healthy, and he knows about the west in terms of how much better our lives are compared to what his citizens have to live with. Who knows, he might even miss walking the streets of Berne…

It’s the uncertainty of it all that is the biggest dilemma…

Not knowing what the future holds is making this so difficult. Not that we ever know what the future holds, but here in Europe, we can at least assume that the next years will be similar to the ones we have behind us. Development, not revolution. In Korea though, right now? I honestly don’t know. I’m always a skeptic, but even I have to be honest and admit that Kim’s moves have me surprised. Is he serious or what is he up to? Motivation in the south is different. The official stance of all politicians in the south is unification, just as it was in West Germany before 1990. That the population in the South, particularly the young, see things differently, is a different thing. They see just how big a sacrifice from the South would be needed to bring the North up to par. I’ve written about this before.

So what do I do? What if I write the detente into the novel only to have reality suffer another setback? As a writer, I want my books not just to mirror my time, I’d like for my stories to be “timeless”, not primarily for commercial reasons, but because timeless stories are more relevant. It’s why we still read Shakespeare. His stories, the conflicts he describes are truly timeless.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do. I’m still thinking, talking to my publisher. If you have any recommendations, thoughts, please let me know. We have about a week or ten days to come up with a solution to this conundrum.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority: good intentions often pave the way to hell

First of all, what do I mean with “cultural superiority”. It’s this idea that “my” culture is somehow better than someone else’s. It’s similar to the term ethnocentricity but differs from it in that you actually DO know about other cultures and still think your own is superior. Let me exemplify the difference: ethnocentricity is e.g. studying psychology at a western university and not seeing the name of a single researcher from China or Asia, not reading a single book about the history of psychology on different continents. Cultural superiority is when you think that the way your culture handles certain aspects of life, e.g. the number of vacation days, is better than that of another country. Both may have common roots in preconceptions, racism even.

As a writer, I often come across cultural superiority in the books that I read, and in my own writing, I have to be careful not to judge other cultures based on my own views, but to be balanced in my views. That isn’t always easy. Allow me to exemplify with a couple of examples with regards to my coming novel Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm which plays out in the United States and South Korea.

Eating cats and dogs

Last night I read an article that the United States Congress wants to officially make it illegal to eat cats and dogs. So far so good. I’m sure felines and canines across the U.S. will all sigh in relief. Congress is finally taking action on something. However, the legislation has a catch, not just because it’s not really needed. It’s not about making sure that poor Americans who’ve been denied food stamps won’t turn to their pets instead. No. It is a signal to South Korea and other countries, where the consumption of cats and dogs is still a thing. This becomes a thing for a few months before and after every major event in Korea, before the world moves on again. And with Korea currently being in every news cycle, it’s not likely to go away any time soon. But seriously, if you think about it, why is eating a dog different from eating a chicken? Or a calf? A lamb? Or a piglet?

Imagine the uproar in America if Muslim countries and Israel suddenly decided to chastise the U.S. for its consumption of bacon and ham? Or if India, where the cow is considered sacred, began to pressure the U.S. to outlaw hamburgers? Surely, 1.4 billion Indians outweigh the views of 400 million Americans?

Equality and marriage laws…

As a gay man, I’m all for equality, and I will voice my views wherever I can, including this globally (except Russia when Putin’s angry with me) available blog. And yes, I’d love for every human being to be able to get married in every country on Earth, not just nineteen or twenty. Wouldn’t it also be great if countries who do not allow single-sex marriages to accept such unions entered in other countries (as the EU demands of its member states), the way we accept unions from other countries which may greatly differ from what we allow here? But no such luck.

Most Western countries will accept marriages between children if the was legally married in their home country, and we’ll also not consider wives two to four “single” if they were legally wed in a Muslim country, as difficult as it may be to stomach for us. There have been calls to stop such unions, but I’m afraid it would only make it more difficult for us to work with those countries to accept our views of the world. Cultural superiority goes both ways.

Criminalizing behavior elsewhere

Last week, Swedish lawmakers decided not to pursue a proposed legislation that would’ve made buying sex illegal even abroad, at least for Swedes and residents here. Norway is currently the only country with such a law on the books. In Sweden, it’s been illegal to buy sex for many years, while it’s perfectly okay to sell it (in an effort not to stigmatize sex workers.) The reason for the abandonment was simple: fear of retribution.

Imagine if countries suddenly felt they could prosecute their citizens and residents for actions in other countries. It would be a serious breach of a state’s sovereignty. Please note that we are only talking about democracies here. Non-democratic regimes have no respect for the rule of law anyway… The country that has most such “elsewhere” laws on the book is the United States, with their taxation laws at the forefront. As a Swiss living in Sweden, I don’t pay Swiss taxes here. Americans in Sweden, however, get to pay twice, forcing many to give up their citizenship because they can’t afford it.

But it goes beyond financial means. What if Ireland (where e.g. abortion is still illegal) were to punish women for getting one in the U.K., or in Sweden? Or what if an LGBT person from Russia were to be thrown in jail for going to a gay club in New York while on vacation? Borderline case, since Russia isn’t a democracy, but still. You get my point.

The risks of cultural superiority

The biggest risk is of course that it can backfire, as the example with the meat shows. But more than that, it also shows a lack of in-depth knowledge, of why some cultures do things differently. Why is child labor still a “thing” in South Asia? Hardly because parents think it’s a “good” idea… Severe poverty along with different definitions of child- and adulthood are more likely the real reasons behind this phenomenon. And when you look at the bigger picture you’ll also be able to do something about it in a way that doesn’t make it worse or aggravates people. Child labor is a great example of how our western views make things worse for millions and millions of people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should work either. They should go to school. But we’re doing it all wrong today, simply cutting off suppliers who use child labor.

In my coming novel, I ran the risk of being guilty of cultural superiority as well, and it was an effort to make sure to depict both American and Korean society on equal footing, despite my personal convictions. This also affected the story itself, the plot, and how the book ultimately ends. Not that I can go into any details here (spoiler alert!)

What are your experiences? A problem? How can we address it? Let’s hear it…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook turned us into products: there’s not much we can do about it…

I resisted Facebook’s lure, for a long time, but when my husband turned thirty, and most of his uni friends were on Facebook, I caved in to pressure and signed up, mostly to be able to invite them to the party. But I was instantly hooked because I had dozens of people waiting for me. It should’ve been a warning sign: for years, Facebook had been creating a shadow profile for me, with everyone’s search for me added to it. When I finally logged on, all those searches were friend requests waiting for me. All I had to do was accept and my timeline began to populate. I was hooked…

That was then…

That was 2009. Nine years later, my relationship with Facebook has changed. With almost 2,000 connections, my timeline is no longer a reflection of my real friends and their lives. The Facebook algorithm will make sure you only see the people you recently talked to (or liked one of their posts), while the rest slowly fade into oblivion.

Facebook interests

Here are some of the “interests” that Facebook assigned to me. Stick figure? Ink? Come on Facebook… Really?

In the years passed, I’ve always followed Facebook rules, creating business pages for my company, and an author page (rather than a profile) for my author persona. Most of my writing colleagues have author profiles instead. Against the rules, but smart, as pages don’t work anymore unless you have a significant monetary budget. I noted that my final posts on my page were seen only by a handful of the thousand followers. No reason to keep at it. I deleted it, as I had my company page.

 

Facebook doesn’t give a shit about us…

They’ll never admit it, but it’s a fact: Facebook doesn’t care about us. Mr. Zuckerberg said as much when he first launched the site, something along the lines of how “stupid people were to offer us their data for free…” And indeed, we are. A while ago, I began to notice the details of how Facebook’s many algorithms serve me advertising. Sometimes you’d click on something and suddenly you’ll be served ads for weeks. I travel a lot, and for weeks after searching for a flight, I’d be served flight ads from all kinds of sites and airlines. Odd, after you book. But I guess even algorithms are limited in their intelligence.

I began to look at the “interests” Facebook thinks I have, and as of today, I’ve deleted 549 interests. Mind you, they’re still all there! But at least I see a lot less advertising. I’ll keep at it! But it takes a lot of work. And the algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think. Just a few days ago I got two new “interests” about “Ted”, one for the organization that does the talks and one for the movie. They claim I “liked” different things, but I know for a fact that I never clicked on the movie because I never even heard about it.

As an author…

Living in Sweden, writing in English, Facebook is pretty much the only tool I have at my disposal to reach my audience. Sure, I have this blog, but we’ve all seen a reduction in blog readership in recent years. There’s YouTube, but that requires so much work for so few viewers. And there’s my newsletter, but we all know how many of us actually read them. I do, the numbers are in the low single digit area, nothing new under the sun here.

Facebook interests

I’ve removed hundreds of so-called “interests” that Facebook assigned to me, but most of those were bogus, to begin with. The Facebook algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think…

Twitter you say? LOL, I say. If anyone else is like me, they’ve long ago stopped looking at their feed. A Twitter user following more than a thousand users has a timeline moving so fast you can never see much of anything. It’s only through searches you can find stuff. I do it once every blue moon. Twitter has long ago lost its appeal to me. Pinterest? I never really got that, and like Facebook, the algorithm is weird. All I ever got to see were naked men, and yeah, I’m not buying. Instagram? Another Facebook spider… But it’s my favorite one, my personal indulgence. I get to watch beautiful nature pictures, and I upload (mostly) nature pictures myself. I don’t use it professionally, with very few exceptions. Who’d follow me if I only uploaded book-related images? Natasha’s covers are amazing, but yeah. It gets old very quickly.

Facebook is still the main tool

For now (and the foreseeable future), Facebook seems to be it. I don’t see any alternative. I post publicly what pertains to my writing, and in various degrees of privacy what is personal or private. There have always been posts that aren’t meant for the public eye, but sadly, Zuckerberg’s creation sees it all, reads it all, apparently even posts we write and never post, messages we type and delete without sending away. It’s disgusting. But legally? Watertight, I’m sure. And we all signed off on it when we quickly accepted the small print when we signed up. Who reads that stuff, ever? I don’t. Because you don’t have a choice. Want to use XYZ you have to sign off on their terms. You can’t say, “hey, I’ll take this, but not this…” It’s all or nothing.

Personally, I’d be happy to pay for Facebook, to get better features and to get rid of the Kraken that constantly monitors my every movement. But I also know that I can’t trust Facebook. I’m convinced that even if I paid, they’d still monitor me, so why should I pay? In the end, it’s a matter of trust, faith to a degree, and while I do have faith in some of the companies I work with, I cannot trust a company whose business model is based on data mining. I don’t trust Google, I don’t trust Facebook.

So what can I do? What could you do?

Not that much. I have limited the data I have on Facebook, sadly they already have it. Removing e.g. your political interests now is too little, too late. They’ve already stored what you once posted. And to limit visibility to yourself? LOL Remember, they even read what you don’t post… My basic assumption for all things Internet is this:

only post what doesn’t shy away from the light of day!

Facebook algorithm

Further proof that Facebook’s algorithm is stupid. I was in Switzerland, yes, but that was several days ago, for two hours… It’s a blunt tool, for better or worse. As an advertiser, I’d think twice to use the more detailed info for my ads. As a former Facebook advertiser, I also know that they don’t work as well as Facebook claims.

If you don’t want someone to read it, don’t post it. In the end, whether it’s Facebook or a nemesis of yours, doesn’t matter. This policy has served me well, although I’ve made mistakes of my own. Apart from that, I have removed all likes of pages on Facebook (and won’t like any new pages.) I have removed all my advertising preferences and will keep doing that. I’ve limited the number of groups I’m a member of to the ones I really want to be a member of, none of them public. I don’t like as much anymore, most certainly not clickbait posts (from various humor pages that people share). I don’t do tests (and will unfriend people who do and thus risk sharing my data with other Krakens.) I’ve also begun to hide most of the news posts that appear on my newsfeed.

Not so much because it’s about data mining, but because it’s so toxic. Mind you, that’s an entire post of its own… I’ve also uninstalled Messenger from my phone. Three Facebook apps are enough: Instagram, FB & WhatsApp, the latter I only use because of my dad and sister.

What do you do? How have you reacted to the recent Facebook news?

In a way, the friends of mine who are offline are avenged, but at what price? Social hermits? We all need to be smarter about how we use social media. We need to fight back and be smart about what we share, throw the Kraken off-track. What do you do? Have you resigned? Given up or are you employing active tactics of resistance? Let’s hear it! All tips are welcome.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism – a book that is difficult to read, and a slap in the face of those who believe in the West’s moral superiority

I’ll admit it. I’ve read an early draft of this story, over a year ago. There were discussions about how the story might be perceived in the light of the U.S. elections, Brexit and the alarming increase of Islamophobia around the world. I’ve been allowed to read it again, in its final version. The book is published tomorrow. Silent Terrorism had the same effect on me as it did when I first read it: disgust (at some of the descriptions of violence and torture, and – frankly – some other scenes) but also a feeling of deep respect for the author and the publisher, for writing and putting this story out there. Some will not like it, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in Sweden (representing the western world, as the author states in her afterword), but this is a book that deserves being read.

Current events

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

In a way it’s sad the book was delayed by a year. We now have a crown prince in Saudi Arabia hell-bent on modernizing his country. Women get to unveil, drive cars and leave the house without a male guardian. What’s the country coming to? Civilization? Alas, even crown prince Mohammed doesn’t ever talk about LGBT rights, because, and this is expertly explained in Ms. Novak’s Silent Terrorism, Saudis believe that they don’t have any LGBT people in their midst. It’s supposedly a Western thing (odd given that we all descend from common African ancestors, but alas.) Against the backdrop of current events in Saudi Arabia (which includes both the secret police and the religious police forces), reading the novel showcased the research done by Ms. Novak. Impressive!

A fast-paced political thriller

The story as such is very high pace. There is hardly any downtime, the characters are chiseled out as they run, hide, leap, yell at each other or suffer torture. But they are, all of them, very much real-life human beings, very believable, credible. The only caricatures are the Swedish politicians portrayed in the novel, and I can only assume that to be purposely done, as they are indeed to act as stand-ins for much of the Western world and how we kowtow to black gold.

I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, and it was refreshing to indulge in the pace, the complexity of the plot and never really knowing how things end. Ms. Novak certainly does throw more than one curveball to make sure the reader stays on their toes and at one point I had accepted my fate and figured, “okay, this is it!”, but alas, I was wrong, again. Brilliant.

The finer points

Did I like everything about the story? Yes. However, I’ll grant you that I thought there was too much swearing, cursing and yelling. I don’t think I can remember any conversation (except at the very, very end) that does not involve people upset, screaming at the top of their lungs. I’m not a big fan of that kind of language/discourse, but that is, of course, a question of taste, and to a degree certainly warranted given the situations the characters constantly find themselves in. But yeah, sometimes less is more.

Silent Terrorism is like Ms. Novak’s My Name is Ayla, an important book in today’s world. The LGBT community needs dissonant voices. We are grateful for stories with happy endings, stories with fluff and rosy cheeks. But we also need the world to know that yes, there are still 76 countries where being LGBT is illegal, 13 countries where being LGBT carries the death sentence, and the het majority needs to hear this side of the story, too, not just about out and proud gay athletes and actors marrying their sweethearts. We’re not home free yet. I’ve bought the book (after Ms. Novak provided me with a free ARC to facilitate this review) because Phetra pledges to donate 50% of the proceeds to a sadly much-needed LGBT organization.

Silent Terrorism is releasing tomorrow

Silent Terrorism is released tomorrow, March 17th, from Beaten Track Publishing as paperback and e-book and is available on Amazon (for pre-order) and your other favorite sales channels. If you enjoy a political thriller, like exotic places and would like to learn more about the plight of the LGBT community in a country like Saudi Arabia, give this book a chance. You will not regret it.

Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with a post about racism in the publishing industry and how racism is a red thread through much of my own writing…

Hans

Authors, writing and mental health: correlated? How? #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG #MondayBlogs

Authors, writing and mental health: correlated? How? #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG #MondayBlogs

There is no doubt that authors suffer from mental health issues. It’s complicated…

A while ago I noticed the absence of one of my author friends from social media. A quick check with others made it obvious that they were suffering from a bout of depression and needed some time off. Depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, you name it, there isn’t a mental health challenge that I haven’t encountered among my author friends. Are authors particularly prone to mental health issues? Does writing make you sick? Or do you need to be “crazy” (in the broadest sense of the word) to write in the first place? Authors and mental health, let’s have a closer look.

Mental health is a thing and it ain’t going nowhere…

Mental health is a thing in today’s society. It wasn’t when I grew up. Or at least we dealt with it differently. When my dad’s godfather’s wife jumped in front of a train after having escaped from a mental health facility, it was shushed. Nobody talked about it, yet mental health facilities were infamous. The one nearest where I grew up was in a village called Cazis. As a child, going to “Cazis” was the equivalent of being insane, crazy, a mental case. The village gave the name to the mental health hospital. It was weird when my mother was sent there for two weeks evaluation in the spring of 2013, to evaluate her Alzheimer’s. But back in the seventies and eighties, we didn’t talk about bipolar or “mano depression” as it was referred to back then. We didn’t talk about depression or any other mental disorder. Those affected were simply “crazy”, “nuts”, “insane” and that was it.

But many were never in a hospital or a mental health institution. It seems as if we have more people suffering (in general) from mental health issues today than we did back then. Is there an inflation? We did have something though, back then. Something you don’t see much anymore: originals. Every town had one (or two), “originals”, and I have a hunch they were the ones we might treat differently today.

The drawback of the increase in mental health diagnosis

I think it’s a sign of progress that we can talk (more) openly about mental health. I’m glad that it’s no longer (as stigmatizing) to say that you’re suffering from depression, any more than it should be to talk about cancer or any more “traditional” physical ailment. On the other hand, it’s a shame we still distinguish between mental and physical health. The vast majority of mental health issues are physical, due to malfunctions in the brain, not just “mental”, i.e. how we think/feel. Hormonal imbalances, genetic defects, etc. There are countless things that can go wrong and make an organ as complex as the brain tick differently. What we consider the norm is not very common.

Yet I’m not entirely convinced that every diagnosis is helpful. In one of my first psychology classes, one of my colleagues asked the professor how he would define mental health. The professor didn’t think long before he replied: “Mental health is the absence of a diagnosis.” It’s a sentence I’ve never forgotten. It’s a consolation that in one way or another, we’re all mentally sick. That we simply haven’t been diagnosed yet. On the other hand, I wonder why we need to slap a diagnosis on children just to get them help in school, why so many of society’s social welfare is based on mental disease. No diagnosis? Sorry, we can’t help you, because we don’t have a neat little box to fit you into.

I have no answers here, but I see it as one of our time’s greatest challenges to tackle. If you have a view to contribute with, please feel free to comment.

Chicken or egg question?

Mental health for authors then… When I think about that, I often wonder what comes first? Do you need to be nuts to write or does writing drive you crazy?

English author Britt Michaelsen once said something very profound: “authors need the thickest of skins and the thinnest of skins.” What did she mean by that? To write, authors need to be very thin-skinned in order to be in touch with their characters, their stories. To learn from other people about the human condition, to be empathic. But we also need the thickest of skins to handle criticism and feedback from editors to publishers and publicists, not to mention reviewers and readers.

How do you combine that, without going schizophrenic? No pun… As an empath, I know acutely just how difficult life can be when you easily pick up on other people’s emotional state. To constantly listen in on how other people feel, to be intimately in touch with your characters can be taxing, and it can be depressing. It can also be exhilarating, thrilling. But does it cause depression? Does it make you bipolar?

To read bad reviews, having to suffer from online trolling and all the other misery out there can be challenging, too. When people ask you to go and die, kill yourself when a story you poured your heart’s blood into is being trashed for no other reason than because people get away with it, it can be very depressing. When you win awards, read beautifully crafted reviews and receive fan mail, it makes your heart skip beats. But does it cause depression? Bipolarity?

No easy answers…

I don’t think I have the answer. Not sure I want one. But it’s a fact that many authors suffer from mental health issues. Whether we are overrepresented compared to the general population I can’t say. I’m not sure if it is our thin sanity membrane that enables us to write. Or is it writing and the consequences thereof that wear down our mental health immunity. Maybe a combination of both? What do you think? Whichever it is, mental health is a thing. It’s here to stay, and I’m glad that authors thematize it in their writing, helping others to have characters to identify with, and for all of us to be able to have a more open discussion about mental health, without stigma.

Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Hans

Cat-phishing, deceit and authors: a never-ending story #amwriting #amreading #asmsg #LGBT

Cat-phishing, deceit and authors: a never-ending story #amwriting #amreading #asmsg #LGBT

Cat-phishing: will authors, will readers ever learn? The truth will always come out in the end

I woke up to another story of “cat-phishing”, “fraud”, identity mischief and then some. Not the first and most certainly not the last time. This seems to be a thing in (LGBT) author circles. But why? And why is it so frequent in the LGBT writing circles? I see several reasons: the economy and the stigma still associated with being (associated with) LGBT.

Who is stupid enough to voluntarily put on the LGBT hat?

Right. Right? I mean those of us who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer etc. we can tell countless stories of discrimination, violence, people cutting their ties with us etc. Suicide & homeless rates, psychological ailments etc. are all much higher in the LGBT community than in the straight community. Hardly a surprise when you look at the way we’re being treated at the hands of others. Coming out the first time is life-changing, but we have to keep doing it, every day, for the rest of our lives. You might not believe that, but just telling a stranger about your husband is a coming out. You risk judgment (from a glare to a fist in your face), every time. And for a split second you have to make a decision: lie or be honest, is it worth potentially risking your life?

LGBT people have always written fiction, and some of us did so under a pseudonym or a pen name, maybe because we weren’t out, maybe because our employers didn’t know (reasons vary). When (mostly) straight women decided to start to write love stories about men (M/M romance), they did so under pen names, too. Some even chose male pen names (Some claim that readers prefer male writers; personally I couldn’t care less about the genitals, the gender of a writer. It’s their penmanship I care about.) But they did so because their families didn’t know they were writing “smut” (not my word!), writing about those despicable gays and their anal intercourse.

Many of these women live double lives, with a daytime existence in conservative churches with horribly conservative families, and a writer’s existence where they indulge in butt-fucking stories. Sorry to be blunt. I know that the vast majority of these writers are great human beings who support the LGBT community, some have even come out as LGBT themselves, as bi-, trans or genderqueer. But if your mother in law is a Southern Baptist, or your husband a Mormon, I totally understand why you’d write under a pen name…

It’s the economy, stupid!

Writing has changed, a lot, just in the past ten to fifteen years. With thousands of new novels published every day, readers making statements like “I don’t pay more than ¢99 for anything under 200 pages” etc., making a living as a writer has become virtually impossible. Most of us have day jobs where we work our asses off, dreaming of going home to write. We follow our muse, our passion in our free time, in the wee hours of the night.

Frequently occurring scandals in the LGBT writing community have scared away readers (and some writers), making it even more difficult to make a living. For me, my royalties peaked in 2015. After that, they’ve never recovered, after that first big blow-out on GollumReads. Several publishers have left the industry, too. Many authors are now self-publishing and prices have been slashed even more.

Did I mention that the LGBT community is tiny? Our market share is so small that it hardly registers on the grand scale of the likes of Amazon et al. And as long as our straight allies will say this about my writing (“I can’t read this, it’s not for me. I’m not gay!”), we’ll never be able to really make a difference, financially.

It’s a fine line…

If you don’t make a living with your writing, and if you hide behind a mask (fake or just a pen name), it’s easy to cross a line, accidentally or purposely. These days, you can add a button from PayPal to your website (I’ve removed mine since I never got any donations), or create a Patreon account or a crowdfunding campaign. The latter seem to be particularly popular with authors. I’ve long considered creating a Patreon account myself, to supplement my family income. Right now we live off my husband’s income and a stipend I receive from my father. My annual royalties are less than $500, annually! I say this not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me, but because I have nothing to hide. As a writer of gay fiction, my potential readership is infinitely smaller than those who write M/M.

I’ve felt conflicted about Patreon, simply because the added work that is needed to provide patrons with extra content would be taxing, no matter if you have one or a thousand patrons. And I can see how some might use Patreon or GoFundMe to specifically finance a project. I was thinking about audiobooks. I’ve seen a narrator create a GoFundMe to finance a trip to Europe (he failed miserably), and I’ve seen more than one such campaign to finance everything from laptops to funerals and healthcare. Mind you, these are all American cases, where people generally don’t have healthcare insurance. In desperation, people go to desperate lengths.

Now combine a pen name/alias and a blog post asking about money and a tweet about your health and boom, you’re awfully close to crossing a line. Just saying. The result is nasty. Already I’ve had this huge discussion on Twitter where people were talking about “real gay men” writing… While I’m grateful that some thought my name to be worthy of being on the list, but yeah, I’m not thrilled, because women write as well as men (the irony of this blowing up on March 8?)

Let the witch hunt begin…

After each of these scandals, we lose readers. We lose writers. We all lose. But worse, many among us feel compelled to publicly state who we are, what we are. For me, that’s easy. What you see is pretty much what you get. But what about the wife of the Mormon? What about the daughter in law to that Southern Baptist? They won’t be able to, lest they risk their marriage, their families, their kids! Coming out has real-life implications, even for straight women who voluntarily associate with Dorothy’s friends… Still, to this date, marriage equality notwithstanding.

I for one will never start a Patreon. I was skeptical from the get-go, afraid that the extra work wouldn’t be worth the few dollars a month you get (if any.) But more importantly, I do not wish to become dependent on anyone else, not give anyone (besides my family) the power over me and how I live my life, what I do with my money. Some patrons will always think they can tell you what to do (or not) with their money…

How to support authors…

There used to be a time when authors made a living by selling books. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like us to return to that place. If you want to help an author, here’s what you can do:

  • buy their books
  • if you like a book, tell your friends. Tell strangers, tweet, post on Facebook, upload the cover to Instagram. Review.
  • Follow our blogs, subscribe to newsletters, like posts etc. Every little helps.
  • Stay away from pirate sites. This is a huge issue for all of us. I pay hundreds of dollars every year just to fight piracy and have been able to get Google to stop showing search results to over 4,000 (!!!) pirate sites. In less than two years.
  • Leave us alone. We are human beings and we have a right to privacy. As a reader, you have no right to an author’s personal life, what they do, don’t do etc. So please, don’t pry, don’t stalk. If authors share their personal life, it has to be their choice. (This is, of course, by no means an endorsement of criminal activity by authors, just to make this perfectly clear!)
  • Be careful with (or stay away from) crowd-funding campaigns. You will never have a guarantee that money will be used as advertised. Buy an extra book instead, the audio version, or maybe a paperback of your favorite title if you want to support an author a bit extra. Write a nice post about their writing. The more people who buy books, the better, for all of us.

“Fangirling” is fine…

…even for us boys. Of course, it’s okay to idolize someone. I remember meeting my favorite ski star, Ken Read, ages ago when I was just a teen. Had it not been for my Dad who was with me, I’d never been able to get that autograph. I was just too star-struck! And when I stood feet away from one of my great ABBA idols, Benny Andersson, for the first time in my life (aged above 35!), I was completely paralyzed. Ask my husband. He thought it was hilarious.

When you meet us authors, remember that we are human beings, too. We are flawed, imperfect. Authors have mood swings, good days, bad days. We get sick, we fight with our families and friends, and we don’t always weigh every word twice, despite making a living off writing. So give us the benefit of the doubt. Focus your fangirling on our writing, our work, not on us as human beings.

Don’t be disappointed if we don’t reciprocate your love. An author (artist) has tons of fans, and they know us very well, but we can’t keep tabs on our readers. Sure, we’ll get to know some of you better, but it’s impossible to know you all, to be “friends” with you all. And despite what Facebook will have you believe, just because we accept a friend request, we’re still strangers. You don’t know us, we don’t know you.

I’m of course aware that we live in “social media” times, and that there are expectations to be out there. Some of us find that more easily accomplished. Others hide behind avatars, pen names etc. As long as we respect each other, we’ll be fine. Deceit isn’t, ever.

What is your take? Agree, disagree?

These are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.

Hans