My name is Ayla is a much needed story about honor or what honor is not
Two Novaks in one month? The girl is productive. Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed her novel Love of the Game here and it’s already time for a new release from this productive Gothenburg author. My name is Ayla was originally commissioned as a Holidays short story, with a Christmassy feel to it, but once Phetra got going, it developed into something else entirely. My Name is Ayla is a novella I wish every high school kid would read, particularly if they live in a city like ours, Gothenburg, where people from over 130 cultures live together, mostly peaceful, but yeah, not always.
And a pretty cover it is… Ayla looks stunningly androgynous and the main canal of Gothenburg so peaceful. But don’t let the calm deceive you!
I once wrote a blog post about honor, and how what many cultures consider honor is the very opposite thereof. Young men and women are locked up, locked in, abused, and sometimes even killed in the name of preserving their family’s “honor”. I have to use quotation marks, because there is no way that family “honor” can ever be used without that. I had an incident last year, where I made sure that my family compensated an elderly woman after a minor (!) traffic accident where a relative of ours handled the situation below par. I felt it was the honorable thing to do. But make no mistake. This wasn’t about the Hirschi Family honor, this was more about me being able to look myself in the mirror. I felt very sorry for the old woman and wanted to make it right. Now, point two here: no violence. Not like I sought her out to take her lights out. Quite the contrary. We sent her flowers and chocolates and a nice card apologizing for the emotional trauma the accident had put her through. Afterward she called my uncle (I did this in his name) and she was very happy.
But to keep people from loving the person they choose or fell for? NO, that’s never honor. That’s cowardice. To claim that a woman’s virginity (which biologically doesn’t even exist) is what upholds a family’s honor? Says more about the men in that family… But it’s not about honor. It’s about misogyny and cowardice. Phetra dives right into that. Now I know Phetra, she’s a great friend and I know she really, really cares about these issues, and she would probably singlehandedly save every single boy, girl or person threatened by their family. But alas, how? And who?
My Name is Ayla is a story about educating people about the risks of the so called “family honor”. Ayla is a trans woman who is almost beaten to a pulp at the beginning of the story, and I got to read an early ARC to facilitate my honest (as always) review. I didn’t know what to expect from this book. The cover looks so innocent, the cover model androgynous and beautiful, the view of the city peaceful, but this book is anything but peaceful. The pace is fast, a lot happens in the 40K or so the story comprises. And it’s hard to talk about the story without giving away the plot. But needless to say, you’ll need plenty of tissue before you’re done with it. This story will shred you to pieces emotionally, because the story of Ayla, while fictitious, has far too many parallels to the real world, from Fadime Şahindal to countless others, in Sweden and around the world. Often, such cases never even make the light of day, because victims and perpetrators hide behind the veils of their cultures.
Here’s the odd thing about “family honor”: our western societies, where we’ve mostly left this shit long behind us, do not understand what is going on, how girls suddenly disappear behind veils, or are locked up after school, we often choose to ignore the shiner under their eyes or their bodies. Even deaths are often mislabeled as suicide, because we just don’t expect a mother to push her daughter over the balcony on the fifth floor. Instead, it’s an accident or suicide. Worse, it is really difficult for anyone to talk about this. Given the tensions between the western world and the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the terror by ISIS etc. anyone who criticizes people from the Middle East for their actions or deeds (or culture) is quickly labeled an islamophobe. However, and this is really the crucial thing here. This is about culture, not about religion. And it’s not limited to the Middle East. This occurs within Christian families as much as it occurs in Jewish families or Muslim families (Shia or Sunni), and the Middle East is home to orthodox Christians in several countries, from Turkey, to Syria, Egypt, There are pockets of Jewish populations in Iran, too.
I couldn’t agree more! Phetra is an extremely talented writer with a heart the size of a small town!
Ayla’s family is Persian, and they’ve lived in Sweden for a long time. Ayla’s parents were born here, so you assume they’re well “integrated” (a cultural buzzword here) or even assimilated. They even celebrate Christmas, even though they are Muslim. But when Ayla comes out as a trans woman, all hell breaks loose. My Name is Ayla is a story you do not want to miss. You will be touched by it, and at the end of it, you, too, will want to do something about this.
I can’t recommend this story enough, even though it’s still painful to think about it. My Name is Ayla is published by “Cool Dudes Publishing” and releases today May 1, so head on over to Amazon to get your copy!
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My annual royalty statement is a disappointment, although not much worse than last year’s
My publisher had a little surprise for me yesterday. My annual royalty statement. Now I get my statements (and payments) from Amazon every month, but since I only have one 99c title left, there’s never more than cents trickling through. All my other books (novels and my short stories) are published by Beaten Track Publishing. I’d been sent the Q1 statement but had long ago forgotten about it (repressed?) When I got my statement, at first I was glad, the numbers looked nice. I’d sold more than I thought.
But then I went back and looked at my Excel file, compared numbers to 2015. I’d done a BookBub (lucky me?) then and managed to get over 15K copies out to people. Sadly, it didn’t help me at all with my sales. So discounting that, I’d sold about three books per day in 2015. In 2016, the numbers shrunk, Q1 was still okay, but the rest of the year? Overall, I didn’t even sell two books daily. Yeah, that won’t pay any invoices for sure. I got an invoice for an ad in a literary magazine this morning. It’s almost the same amount as my royalty payment for last year. It’s the fourth time I pay that amount… Or you could compare it to one of my five installments for my GRL sponsorship, or the fact that it’s less than I pay for my B&B this weekend in New York.
Which makes you wonder: WhyTF am I doing this? Why am I still investing in trying to sell my books since obviously so few people buy them? One thing’s for sure, it’s not the financial aspects, it’s not because I get rich. The genre I write in (LGBT) and the fact that I’m not writing (fluffy) romance, were originally not conscious decisions, but still.
My latest novel, one I’m particularly proud of.
Okay, rant over! 🙂 Luckily, I only get this reminder once a year. LOL If I look at my Amazon author profile, I can still see that there are millions of authors who sell less than I, and they obviously make even less than I. Readership is decreasing, piracy is increasing, and I would just like to add this to the thirty or so who will read this post: please don’t pirate books. It’s not just about the theft of our hard labor. It’s also about cyber security. When you get something for free (like a book or a movie), don’t fool yourself into believing you get it for free. You’ll also get malware, trojan horses and what not, used by really bad people in DDOS attacks or to spy on you or others. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Just remember that!
Will I see you tomorrow?
So, as crazy and as much of a waste of money it is, I’m flying to New York today, to participate in the Rainbow Book Fair (provided I get into the country tonight…) From noon tomorrow Saturday until six p.m. hopefully thousands of visitors will browse books and talk to us authors, maybe even listen to a reading. I’ll be reading from my latest novel Last Winter’s Snow. I just need to finalize the selection. If you are in the tri-state area, please consider a visit to New York. To set up a book fair like that isn’t easy work, and relies on a great many people’s hard (unpaid) work. See you there?
I’ll keep writing. When I read about the horrible situation in Chechnya, where the leadership under Ramzan Kadyrov promises to exterminate (!!!) the entire LGBT population before the end of May (when Ramadan will begin), my blood freezes in my veins. We haven’t seen this sort of persecution since World War II and the recent killings in Uganda. But I also see how priests in the U.S. want to see us killed, how LGBT rights are questioned even where progress has been made. I see the beautiful images on my Dubai screen saver (compliments Apple), yet I know I can never go there with my family, as the very existence of my family is punishable by death! Just imagine that. So no, no Dubai for me. But i will keep fighting for my siblings, whether they’re gay, bi, lesbian, trans or intersex, queer or otherwise, for our right to happiness, our human and civil rights. I fight for myself, and for my son, for his right to grow up into a better world than the one I grew up in.
There is no amount of money you can place on human rights, so I’ll keep fighting, even though I lose ten to fifteen dollars for every buck I make. #ImWorthIt #Resist
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Politics and writing: soon I’ll have to be a panelist on the subject
It’s certainly an interesting topic, and I’m glad the organizers of the upcoming EuroPride Con have asked me to be one of three panelists on the topic. The question they’re asking is: “How do politics influence fiction?” The question assumes a foregone conclusion that there is such an influence. I agree. But yeah, how?
Will I see you in Berlin? There will be lots more to discuss!
If you look at writing historically, it’s always been a reflection of politics, starting with the ancient Greek dramas and on to operas and plays that were written in the last century. Shakespeare’s plays are excellent examples, not because they use real kings, but because these kings served as examples what happened if/when the prince didn’t serve his people. In societies where freedom of speech was an unknown, the arts were often used to tell stories that might serve as admonishment of the political class. But today?
We can say whatever we want, whenever we want. Freely. At least in our western societies. Does writing still fill that purpose? The answer is of course the one you’d expect from me: it depends! A lot of our entertainment today, including fiction, is pure entertainment. Yes, there might be a moral to a story, often barely disguised as you’d expect from cheesy Hollywood movies, where the moral is so obvious it smells like old fish. Literature that aims to entertain, like romance and erotica, is also very much free of politics. But is is influenced by it? Probably. It seems that the worse the times we live in, the more trouble we have around us, the more fluff and happiness we escape to in our books. We just don’t need more misery in our fiction. We have enough of it IRL (in real life).
Literary fiction is different, of course, because in fiction, writers mirror society. And similar to my video last week, where I tried to explain the propensity for relationships in modern gay fiction with the advances in (marriage) equality legislation, current events tend to find their way into fiction, be it social challenges, political events etc. So what does it look like in my own writing? How political is my own fiction?
It varies. Family Ties isn’t directly influenced by current events, but a mirror of the world we live in: marriage equality (and the lack thereof in e.g. Singapore and the U.S., at the time), adoption legislation etc. The Opera House deals with homeless children on a certain level, and that is a direct reflection on the situation in the U.S., where 40% of all street kids have LGBT background, tossed onto the street by their (religious) parents. While not a real problem in (Western) Europe, it’s still something that affects me. The Fallen Angels of Karnataka is also dealing with children, but from a different angle. Slightly “historic” in nature, it mirrors the developments in recent decades, but it also shows how India is failing its children.
My most political novel is – without a doubt – Willem of the Tafel, as our main character becomes the leader of his people. A direct reflection of our current events (global warming, migration etc.), the novel looks at what might happen if we don’t turn around the wheel on Earth. Racism, environmental policies etc. You name it. Plus, several of the characters are politicians.
I can’t wait to see Berlin again. I just hope for better weather. Politics and writing, an interesting topic to discuss. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
I’m not going to go through all of my novels, let me just mention my latest one, which also highlights a political struggle, that of the Sami people in Northern Europe and specifically here in Sweden. It doesn’t get more political than that, not to mention that it is also a reflective account of recent LGBT history of our country.
I really look forward to this panel in Berlin. It’s going to be interesting to see how other authors look at this, particularly since most of the attending authors come from a “escapism” genre, romance, books read by people who may not necessarily want to be bothered by politics in their reading. Knowing the authors, it’s going to be an interesting debate, particularly since most of us care deeply about politics, society and LGBT rights. Is it June yet? You can still join the convention. There are still a few tickets available!
What’s your take? As reader or writer? Do you read to escape or to reflect? Do you write to entertain or to rattle readers?
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Those two words “thank you!” can hardly be used too much…
Yes, thank you.
I mean it. I was just talking online to my self-appointed vPA Tracy about the negativity online, and she does have a point. Seems we have a propensity to not only put our feet in our mouths, we go to great lengths to shove the entire leg down our throats. Trust me, not how deep throating was meant to be done… shrug
There is so much negativity, so much bickering and infighting, and I’ve been reminded of just how vicious we can be in the LGBT community. We fight about what letters we should use, who belongs under the rainbow, who doesn’t, what an ally is, how they’re to behave (or not), and who was the first to march under the rainbow. yawn
It gets really old, really fast. Instead, why not show some gratitude. Here’s a few of things I’m grateful for (in no particular order):
- Amazon. Yes, I know, a bit of a love-hate relationship, but without Amazon, I would sell one less book a day. So I’m grateful for the fact that they’re around for us indie authors.
- Facebook. Oh yeah, I could write books about the time I waste on this place, but every now and then, there’s a post that makes my cry, laugh or – like a few minutes ago – a post from an old friend who’s flying to town. Yes, Facebook does help me stay connected to my friends, no matter where they are, and when we meet IRL, over coffee, it’s all the better.
- My talent. No, I’m not cocky. I know the limits of my talent. But I’m a passable writer and I love the stories my brain concocts. Even better for me, I happen to have a publisher who thinks those stories are good enough to be published for a global audience. I mean, come on. Out of 7.5 billion people, only about 10 million are published authors. I’m part of this 0.13% of the world’s population. A tiny minority, really, but one I’m proud to belong to.
- My family. It’s easy to be proud of your loved ones, of course. I love my amazing husband, a smart, intelligent, accomplished and wise man who makes me proud, every day. And I love our son, this most amazing of accomplishments of ours. But our family is so much more than that, there are parents, bonus parents, grand parents, aunts and uncles, people who have shaped who I am, my beliefs and convictions, my core values. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.
The sight of this cover made me cry, that’s how great it is. I captures the essence of the story perfectly.
- My friends. I don’t know how many friends I have. Define friends? But I have enough people around me to fall back upon if I ever need any help, if I need to unload, vent, cry or crave hugs or laughs. There’s always someone, and that’s good to know. Thank you all. <3
- My co-workers. The friend above is actually a former co-worker, a supplier of mine even. And I look forward to seeing her again. She’s an amazing person. I’ve worked with some of the most amazing human beings you could ever imagine, people with a wide array of interests and fates, intelligent, caring persons from all walks of life and from all over the planet, each and every one of them shaping me, nudging me in new directions I couldn’t have imagined without them. Imagine… Right now my co-workers are all remote from me: my editor and publisher Debbie, who’s just “wow”, for lack of a better work. Always challenging my pre-conceptions, not taking bullshit from anyone, least of all me, this woman is a force to be reckoned with, and that is the best that could’ve happened to me. My cover artist lives in Edmonton, smack in the middle of fucking-nowhere on the North American continent, a place scorching dry in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. That’s where Natasha creates some of the most amazing cover designs I’ve ever seen, covers that at times had me weep. No kidding.
- My readers. An author without a reader is really just a writer. It’s the audience that brings our writing to life, turns it into great stories. I don’t know how many readers I have. I have met about thirty of forty of you, and I love each and every one of you, for your kind reviews, your words of encouragement and love, the amazing things you say about my work. Without you, I wouldn’t keep doing what I do. And even though I count the number of books I sell a day on one finger, whenever one of you takes the time to write to me to tell me how a book of mine touched you (or helped you touch yourself in the case of Ross Deere), those letters are the best letters any man could ever wish for, except for the letters from the bank saying someone deposited a million bucks on my account… Guess what kind if get more of? 😉
- Volunteers. Whether your name is Reese, Marc, Ethan, Carol, Dani, Jonathan, Elin, Charlie or whatever, the people who organize the events we get to go to are just the best. Pouring virtually thousands of hours into these events, making sure we authors get to meet our readers and fans, in beautiful and safe surroundings. There are no words to do you guys justice. You are simply the best! Thank you.
- My colleagues. I learn from my author friends and colleagues. They are smart, witty, some are incredibly intelligent (despite the feet and legs in their mouths at times), and not only do I enjoy their stories immensely, they also inspire me, and they do teach this ole’dog new tricks.
- My trolls/fiends/haters. Yes, believe it or not, I’m grateful for them, too. As weird as it is, they show me how I never want to be, ever. And your trolling reviews add cred to my mostly raving reviews, so fuck you and thank you for that, too! 😉
- GayTalk 2.0. I’m “thankful” for my girls Trish, Chris and uncle Tom who couldn’t help themselves but mention their hunger & desire for my wiener on their podcast. Horniest (or is it corniest?) and most clever pick-up line ever. Get in line boys. There’s plenty for all three of you to feast on. But they do owe me a new appearance on the show, for sure… And does that mean I finally get laid?
So much to be grateful for. Yes, I am an optimist, I smile and laugh a lot. Thank you for giving me many reasons to.
Tracy. I gotta say thanks to Tracy, my personal lady-in-waiting, the Lady Sorry AssHair. That’s her faghag name. Don’t ask. It’s a thing. And while I wish she’d limit the number of times she’s sorry for the world’s state of affairs to maybe ten times a day, that girl has more heart than is healthy for one woman. I’m so grateful for all the work she’s taken upon herself, and how she helps me out, without pay or compensation. I try to make it up to her every now and then, but yeah. I fail miserably. Sorry Tracy. 😉 And thank you! <3
So yeah, lots to be thankful for. And thanks to Tracy I managed to write a reasonable blog post. More thanks in place. Thank you.
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Love of the Game will have you crying, laughing and horny, maybe all in one chapter, most certainly before you’re done reading!
The fair Lady Phetra warned me, repeatedly, before sending me the ARC of Love of the Game:
“This is not a book for you Hans. It’s about hockey and BDSM. You don’t have to read it!”
She’s like a mom, you know? Never knows when to quit the hovering and protecting. Y’all know how much I like a challenge, right? So of course I insisted on reading it, even though Phetra used her best tricks to delay the inevitable, including sending the ARC form a server where she must’ve known that the .mobi file would be removed as a potential threat to public health and safety… I had almost given up before I finally had it in my hands! Alas, now I’ve also read it. And yeah, as you’d expect, this review is entirely based on my own views. Trust me, you’ll see why when you read it… Phetra’s going to kill me!
The cover of the book. Created by Ian Brown, IB Art Studio
So, yeah. Another venture into BDSM (whiny ‘yay!’), but like Caraway Carter’s masterpiece 7 with 1 Blow which I reviewed last fall, this is not your run of the mill BDSM novel. I’ve read a few of them by now, and the more I read, the more I learn. In Love of the Game Ms Novak explores the differences between “domination” and “abuse”, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with her distinction. Caraway made the same one as the premise for his book. He just took off in a very different direction. I don’t claim to fully understand BDSM, nor to know how it feels to have that urge, that need to dominate someone or to feel that need to submit, sexually or otherwise. I guess that unless you feel it, you can’t really understand it, and no matter how much I read about this, I will always be at a loss, at least to a degree.
I understand that Charlie, one of the protagonists of the book has gone through hell. That’s abuse. I also understand that part of the allure of submission is the release of control to your master or dom. Marc and his husband Luc are the poster boys for a happy dom/sub couple in the book. I have always understood that, I just didn’t get the perks, the benefits of it. And make no mistake, this isn’t Ms Novak’s fault, quite the contrary. Seems it took for me to read her book to connect some of the dots in my own life (which doesn’t mean I crave BDSM, quite the contrary). Some of the key aspects of domination are “control” and “trust”. And I look into myself, I look at my own marriage, and I wonder, how is this different from being “vanilla”, which is how I’d define myself?
Falling in love, for real, with someone is (imho) all about relinquishing control. I know so many young people who are afraid of “letting go”, of trusting their hearts. Their relationships keep failing, because they just can’t let go, afraid to be hurt.
But to really love is to trust someone else implicitly with your heart and soul (and all that comes with it).
I trust my husband implicitly, and I know he feels the same. Yet we are not in a BDSM relationship, because we don’t do the whole submission thing (mentally or sexually), nor the pain thingy: the spanking, the toys and the bondage and whatever else people into that lifestyle toy with. Pardon me if I need to stay personal for a moment longer, but there is one (sexual) aspect where I personally experienced the aspect of “letting go”. As I grew up as a “little gay boy”, I would always top, never bottom. And this wasn’t about being a better man, some misguided machismo or that sort of bullshit. It was the fear of what could happen if the roles were reversed, and abused. People who bottom and the het ladies out there will understand what I mean, what it implies to “let go”, to trust someone enough to have that someone else physically enter your body: it can mean utter devastation or an orgasm the like of which you’ll rarely experience (to put it bluntly).
I wish I could get her to turn around, but she’s camera shy, our Phetra. You should check out the video from which this shot is taken though, when Phetra and I were talking about her books and writing.
Once I had learned to trust a guy with that, and was able to relinquish that control, trust him not to hurt me, that’s when I began to enjoy sex both ways. TMI, I know. My apologies. I’m learning from my reading.
In a nutshell, that is what Love of the Game is about. For Hannes and Charlie to find that place of implicit trust. It’s easy for Hannes, but given Charlie’s abuse, that’s a different beast. Yes, there are additional aspects being explored, including the sexual “pain” aspects, mostly philosophically, although there is one scene, where Hannes and a friend get up close and personal, and while I normally skim sex scenes in books (I prefer to watch), squirming about the weird language used to describe one of the most basic human endeavors, that scene left me squirming in a different way. I was so horny that I thought my pants would burst! Great writing Ms Novak, and I’ll send you the dry cleaning bill… But yeah, I still don’t get it. Pain and pleasure are two centers in my brain that just don’t want to be connected…
On the surface, Love of the Game is constructed like a traditional romance novel, an ice hockey story, playing out around a tight-knit Canadian NHL team. The protagonists meet, there’s a spark (first turning point), there’s separation, a chance (fated?) reconnection, and plenty of stuff happening before finally, after the second dramatic turning point, the two get to skate off into the sunset, together (for now). Within the premise of that, Ms Novak tells a riveting, sometimes very funny, sometimes tear-jerking story of young Swedish NHL rookie Johannes Alm, his first season in Montreal, and journalist Charlie Morin, who is battling the demons of a really bad and abusive relationship.
Ms Novak is not one to hide her convictions under a rock, and she’s found a great spokesperson in Hannes, the young hockey pro. The scene at his first press conference is one for the history books. If only the real NHL coaches had as much cojones as Hannes’s coach. But alas, in real life, being out and proud in the NHL is still “fiction”. Hopefully it’ll be a reality sooner rather than later.
Author Hans M Hirschi reads quite a few books and has published ten novels. He also reviews books on this site, regularly from a personal point of view.
If you like BDSM stories, you should definitely read this. No dungeons, no prolonged sex scenes with nipple or cock torture await you though. If that’s your fancy, look elsewhere. And if you cringe at the mention of those four letters, like I do, you should still give this story a go. Maybe you’ll finally be able to “get it”, the way I have after reading it. While it’s helped me understand some aspects of what attracts people to BDSM, I still don’t understand the whole submission or the pain aspect, probably never will, even though Caraway did a great job at explaining it in his novel. Phetra’s story doesn’t quite go that far.
Love of the Game is an unusual book, and boy do we need more of those. Great job Phetra!
Love of the Game is published by Beaten Track Publishing and is available for purchase on Amazon et al.
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Have a wonderful week,