Posted in Blog

Tattoos, Tattoos, Tattoos (and Ink & Flowers in Audio)

It’s kind of an obsession. I mean, you wouldn’t know it as I have exactly two whole tattoos, but that’s to do with the flesh being willing and the wallet being weak, if you know what I mean. Were money not an option, I would probably be covered in the things. Also, I’m incredibly picky, and there are only a few tattoo artists in the world who I actually want to draw stuff on my body. And here they are:

1. Nomi Chi

Starting with Nomi because she’s based in Vancouver, and I’m really hoping I’ll actually be able to get some work done by her. She has a fantastic, sketchy, different style, and (like a lot of tattoo artists) works in several different styles besides tattooing. But I’m going to share some of her tattoos for now.

2. Colin Dale

Colin works out of Denmark, and is one of a few different artists (all based out of the Netherlands) who do these absolutely amazing dotwork-style viking designs.

That last one was tattoed by hand, ie poke and rub. It’s often done outdoors (don’t worry, he’s a professional, so it’s completely sanitary) and getting a tattoo like this is absolutely on my bucket list.)

3. Jeff Gogue

Jeff Gogue is totally in a league of his own when it comes to tattoing. He works out of Oregon, and mostly only works with established clients on big pieces, so it’s almost impossible to get a tattoo by him, but looking is amazing too.

NSFW on the next one:

4. LAET

Laura A. E. Taylor is based in London (seriously, everyone is so far away) and she does amazing wood-cut style tattoos which are my absolute favourite.

5. Alex Tabuns

Alex is in Russia so (sigh) that’s probably never going to happen. She does more of the blackwork, woodcut designs I love.

6. Sam Smith

Finally, Sam is the artist I went to to get my tattoo, which I love. She’s in Calgary now, and I may yet make a trip to see her again. Her work is solid and bright with a lovely art nouveau touch.

So there you have it! Some of my favourite tattoo artists. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting, so I may make a part 2 at some point. For now I’m going to lay about thinking wistfully about tattoos I’ll likely never have. And writing books with tatted up characters, of course.



Ink & Flowers is about a shy, repressed art student, and a gruff ex-tattoo-artist with a heart of gold. It was recently released as an audiobook through Less Than Three Press, and I’m super excited and happy with it!

Click Here to buy it in audio from various retailers or Here to see the ebook version.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Blog

On Free Speech

How does one protect freedom of speech without condoning the actions of those who’s speech you’re protecting? I like to think it’s possible. The very notion of “free speech” says that people are allowed to say things that others agree or disagree with without fear of being legally or physically attacked. But there’s a line where freedom of speech and “hate speech” intersect. Where the hateful, racist, sexist or homophobic words of people cause harm and pain to others. Free speech is necessary because it allows people to speak out against their governments and their superiors without being silenced. But because of this, it also allows people to speak out against those who are vulnerable, and cause tremendous hurt while being protected from any legal repercussions. Because of this, I think of free speech as a sort of necessary evil.

When free speech is threatened by outside forces it is, obviously deplorable. Attacking or threatening to attack people who say things you disagree with is evil and unacceptable.  But I find it interesting the way the internet responds differently to similar situations. When terrorists threatened to bomb screenings of “The Interview”, many people responded with an outcry that this was an attack on free speech. However, many more people responded to this with derision, saying that the threat was in no way an attack on free speech, and that the movie The Interview was deeply racist and hurtful anyway. But now, with the similar (and incredibly tragic) attack on the French satire publisher Charlie Hebdo, people are again responding to this by rallying to protect the paper’s right to free speech, despite the fact that the paper has been known to publish plenty of racist content.

And I’ll be honest, seeing all these protests and the “Je Suis Charlie” hashtag has me really, really uncomfortable. And not because I don’t think free speech is important. But because, honestly, I’m much more worried about how the French Muslim community are going to be affected by this, than I am about the French people being unable to safely express their opinions.

Islamophobia runs rampant in America and Canada, but also in European countries. When a white Christian person is responsible for a mass murder or a bombing, he is considered an outlier, or a lone gunman. But when it’s a person of middle-eastern descent, the entire Muslim religion is considered responsible. Following these kinds of attacks, many Muslim people are afraid to leave their homes. They endure horrific abuse at the hands of racists who feel completely justified in their behavior because a very small group of religious extremists’ behavior is applied to the entire religion. Earlier today, the hashtag “KillAllMuslims” was trending.

And I’m honestly more worried about this than I am about the free speech of people in western countries. I imagine being a Muslim person seeing those crowds gathered in France and wondering how many of those people are there not because of the tragic deaths that occurred, but because of the vitriol of their hatred towards Islam. Vitriol that right now they feel completely supported and justified in. I wonder what it’s like to be a person of colour seeing Charlie Hebdo praised and revered as the paragon of free speech, and knowing the the fact that they published cartoons like this doesn’t factor into anyone’s opinion of them. Because for so many people, “free speech” doesn’t mean being able to stand up to an oppressive government, or live their lives free of persecution. It just means being able to say whatever hateful, racist things they want, and get away with it.

My heart goes out to the people and families of people who died today. I condemn the actions of the shooters whole-heartedly. I think it’s important that people and papers be allowed to say and print what they want without legal repercussions. But I’m extremely critical of the fact that this is what the media and the public have chosen to latch on to and focus on.

The whole thing just makes me very uncomfortable.

Posted in Books

My Diverse Books 2015

So, with the #weneeddiversebooks movement still going strong, and everyone tweeting about their hopes and desires for #Romance2015, I thought I’d take a minute to take stock of how I’m doing diversity-wise with my books.

I’m doing this both because I want to highlight and promote my books in the hopes of getting them to people who want to read them, but also because I talk a lot of talk about writing diverse fiction, but at this point I don’t feel like my books 100% back me up. I want to see where I’m lacking, and how I can improve going forward.

I also want to encourage my author friends and followers to do this as well, because I want to read and support all your diverse books as well! So, without further adieu, here are My Diverse Books 2015:

Stories with a gay main character:

Stories with a bisexual/pansexual main character:

Stories with a lesbian main character:

  • None! In fact, I don’t currently have any books published with a female main character. This is something I really hope to remedy in the future, and I currently have two books in the works with female main characters. I’m very excited!

Stories with a transgender main character:

Stories with a non-white main character:

Stories with a main character with a mental illness/disability:

Stories with a main character who isn’t super thin/athletic:

Stories with a main character who is aged 40+

  • None! But people fall in love later in life too, so I want to write about that as well.

So, most of these lists are pretty sadly short. I especially need to make more of an effort to write female main characters, and more trans characters! And the two can definitely intersect. I also want to write more characters with disabilities, and who aren’t traditionally attractive and/or young.

I’m a little worried about this list though, because I don’t want to make diversity in my stories into something that I can check off and then go back to writing perfect white cis dudes. I want to throw out the idea that those characters are the default, and that everyone else is a special alternative. Writing diverse characters means that every time I come up with a new character, I’m drawing from the complete well of human experiences, and getting a new, unique person every time. It’s not about creating a character and then arbitrarily assigning them a minority. It’s about allowing my characters to be that way in the first place. If I chose human beings at random, and asked them to tell me their stories, I know those lists up there would fill up pretty fast. So I hope that in my writing I can reflect that.

Please let me know in the comments if you think of any other categories to add, and let me know the stories that you would like to see in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I hope everyone has a wonderful new year!

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Christmas gave me an opportunity to replenish my stock of cat photos. Feast your eyes on the cuteness!
Posted in Blog, Books

So How Was My Year?

What a question! So much happened this year, not all of it good. I struggled with depression and anxiety, and for a few months I didn’t do any writing or social media, and considered whether or not writing was actually something I wanted to do. In the end I came back to it, of course. Because I didn’t really wanted to quit. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it. I’m still not sure if I can. Being online, putting myself and my work out there, it’s incredibly stressful and hard on me. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and meaningful. So I’m keeping on.

Mental illness is so often invisible. You fight, sometimes every day, just to be at the level of normal that other people take for granted. But I know that I’m not alone in this either, since so many authors struggle with things like depression and social anxiety. For all the drama that goes on in the online publishing community, I still get to feel like I get to have a community of people who understand me and support me, and that’s pretty amazing for me.Ink & Flowers

Anyway, despite all the down moments, 2014 was still pretty awesome. I feel like I became more confident in myself, especially in my gender identity, and I continued to put myself first and try not to feel guilty for doing what I need to to make myself happy.

I had two books come out this year! Ink & Flowers in June and To Summon Nightmares in November. The positive critical reception to them has been wonderful! Both of them are on a level of quality that I don’t think I could have achieved in years past. I really feel like I’ve improved as an author, and to know that I’m constantly improving and becoming more and more able to tell the stories that I want to tell is really rewarding. I also did a lot of writing this year, and, as a “LGBT author”, I’m making an effort to To Summon Nightmareswrite more novels that aren’t just cis m/m. I’ve been writing almost exclusively stories with trans characters this year, and I just finished writing my first f/f!

All in all, my life is pretty good. I have a wonderful partner, and a stable job, and a place to live with enough food to eat, and a little bit of money left over. I got to take a couple trips into Vancouver earlier this year, one to see Wicked live, which was totally on my bucket list, and one to go to the Pride Parade! I haven’t been able to make it the last few years, so it was absolutely lovely to be able to go and have that sense of community and support that you don’t really get in a small town.

So, plans for the new year:

Keep on writing! I’ve found that there’s real value in pushing myself to continue, even when I don’t feel like it, although I’m going to have to keep my mental health in mind and take a break if I really need one. I just started a m/m superhero story that I think is going to be fun to write. It insists on being about teenagers though, so when I do finish it, deciding what to do with is going to be a challenge. But I’ll deal with that when I come to it. After that is a blank slate, but I hope to be able to get Skylark Tower and Witch, Cat and Cobb published sometime next year. Double Take is also coming out in January, which will be a lovely start to the year.

With luck, the bf and I will be able to get a mortgage in the new year and buy our own condo sometime next year! So that’s where the majority of our $$$ will probably be going, although I do want to get another tattoo, since I didn’t get one this year. Oh, and I’ll be travelling south to Seattle to attend the Gay Romance North West convention! My first author convention, and I’ll finally get to meet a bunch of people that I’ve known on the internet for years. I’m one part excited, and one part terrified, with a dash of absolute panic about the whole thing, but I do think it will go well. Which reminds me, I need to get a passport.

Anyway, if this post comes off as a little bit discombobulated, it’s because I’m still recovering from this!

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Christmas fondue! It was lovely! See my tumblr for more photos. I also got some wonderful presents, including a freaking awesome Spider-man mug. (My love for Spider-man runs deeeep.)

So here’s hoping everyone had a very merry Christmas, and wishing everyone best of luck in the New Year! Love you all!

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Wouldn’t be complete without a kitty photo, of course!
Posted in Blog, writing

Being Conscious of Your Narrative

So last week I talked about diversity in fiction, and why it’s important to have a variety of stories about diverse characters. Some of those stories should address the issues of privilege and discrimination, but it’s also important to write stories about diverse characters that don’t function solely to expose prejudice, and just show diverse people as the real, rounded individual people they are. And this sentiment is echoed by a lot of people. There’s a great discussion going on online about how important it is to include people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identities and backgrounds in stories. But what I don’t hear discussed often enough, is how it’s not good enough to just insert diverse characters into your story, you have to also be mindful of the narrative of your story, and the way those characters are used in the narrative.

A few examples come to mind of wonderfully written, complex, developed minority characters who were completely betrayed by the narrative of the story. 

1. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I haven’t even seen every season of Buffy (I know, I know) but I’ve heard enough people lamenting Willow’s fate to know what happened. The show’s creators spent years developing an amazing gay character (problematic bi-erasure aside) that people related to and identified with, and then threw everything away by having her turn evil and die, and incredibly common and harmful trope surrounding lesbian characters. (Edit: my apologies, as mentioned in the comments, Willow doesn’t die. Her girlfriend Tara dies, and Willow reacts by “going dark”. Queer characters have a history of being evil and/or dying, and the show hit them both in one fell swoop, which was disappointing after they had done such a good job developing Willow and Tara’s sexualities and relationship.)

2. Daisy Fitzroy from Bioshock: Infinite. The game goes to immense trouble to set up the city of Columbia as a false utopia, where the rich white bourgoisie live in luxury, while the poor black and Irish workers are exploited. One character whom we are led to sympathise with is Daisy, an African American maid who becomes the leader of the inevitable revolution that occurs. For the first half of the game, we are shown just how awful the situation is, and how justified Daisy’s actions are. And then Daisy is abruptly killed by, and her death used as character development for the white, female main character. To add insult to injury, the formerly sympathetic rebel group is then condemned in the narrative, and it is implied that they are nearly or just as bad as the wealthy bourgeoisie because they resorted to violence.

3. Well, just read this: Visual Representation: Trans Women in Comics

These are all fairly extreme examples, but there are also a million little ways in which minorities can be negatively represented. Female characters constantly falling for and/or being less competent than the male main character. The same female character dying to further the male main character’s character development. And even just plain old stereotypes like gay characters being interested in fashion and black female characters being “strong, independent women.” There’s a seemingly endless trail of pitfalls to avoid when writing diverse characters. And often a narrative tool or trope isn’t inherently bad, but it’s been used so often with regards to a particular minority, that it becomes a harmful stereotype. And of course there’s the simple but dangerously easy pitfall of including diverse characters, but in the end making them less important in the narrative, and ultimately sacrificial to the needs and character development of he majority characters. Like I said, there’s really no foolproof way of avoiding hitting some of these stereotypes, which is why it’s important to accept that when you’re writing about a minority you’re not a part of, you are going to screw up, and behave graciously when you do.

So why do we write these tropes? Why can’t we seem to avoid falling into these pitfalls? Well partially it’s because, like I said, there are just so many of them, you’d need extensive history and study to unearth them all. Although, here is an excellent reference page from tvtropes: Avoiding Unfortunate Implications. (Yes, that’s three external links in one post. Next you know I’ll be writing academic essays and citing my sources.) The other reason is that, unfortunately, we’re steeped in these stereotypes. A lot of the time it’s subconscious, and for a lot of authors, we rely on our subconscious knowledge of stories, plots, and characters to produce our work. I mean, yes, some authors study narrative extensively and produce best-selling books based on a perfected formula. But for a lot of us (myself included) we’re mostly winging it, allowing our experience with stories and our natural creativity to guide us. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories we experienced growing up and are continuing to experience are deeply racist, homophobic and sexist in ways that aren’t always visible on the surface. If we’re not careful, we take these deeply hurtful tropes and insert them into our work, without ever becoming aware that we’re doing it.

I don’t really have any easy tips and tricks or life hacks to help avoid putting harmful stereotypes into your stories. The number one thing is just to be aware, be critical of all the media you consume, and look for patterns that you want to avoid. It’s also really important to listen to people from the minority you’re writing about, and if possible, ask them to beta your work. And be creative, for goodness sake. Don’t use tired old tropes in your writing. Come up with new ones. Subvert the old ones. Have the girl save the guy. Make your main character a person of colour. Make the story revolve around them. In fact, write a book with no white people in it at all! Write something different. And write something real.


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Part of Less Than Three Press’s Trans Geek Out Collection
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


Posted in Blog

Rethinking the Default

I’ve got a lot to say about this. How to organize my thoughts…

So a while ago, a fairly large review site posted a review of a book that was mostly positive. However, at the end of the review, they lamented the fact that the main characters were in an interracial relationship, but that fact wasn’t addressed and explored fully in the book. The reviewer felt that it was impossible for people in an interracial relationship not to receive backlash for it, and that the book should have addressed and included that backlash.

Similarly, another author I follow recently received a review for a short story they wrote in which both of the characters ID as trans. The story is a fairly short, cute romance, but the reviewer thought it was odd that the author didn’t delve deeper into the characters’ past, and their trans identities.

Noticing a trend?

Both reviewers assumed that if the characters belong to a minority, then that fact has to be addressed in the story. For them, the characters identities/race were just sitting there like a big elephant in the room waiting to be addressed, and they felt let down when it never was. Now, if the characters in the books had been white and cis, would they have reacted similarly? Felt let down if the white characters didn’t at some point contemplate their privilege over any non-white characters? Or if the cis characters never stopped to think about when they really realised that they were cis, and all the ways they perform their gender to make sure people know what it is? Probably not.

For most readers, characters who are white, cis and (for readers outside of m/m and f/f) straight, are the default. The invisible norm. They assume that characters are going to be this way unless they have a specific reason to be otherwise. Something that serves the story. The reason for this bias is our culture, and our culture’s stories. Mainstream movies, books, television shows. The vast majority of these stories have main characters who are white, cis and straight. And if they aren’t, you’d better believe that the story revolves around that fact. I read a post a while back that talked about famous, award winning roles by African American actors. The vast majority of them are roles that are based on real people, and real events. Black actors are very rarely allowed to step outside of specifically “black” roles and play characters who’s race isn’t the main point of the movie. (Unless, for some reason, they’re Will Smith.)

So, because of all this, we start to see white, cis, straight people as the “default” and everyone else as the “other”. Which is incredibly faulty logic, but it forms the basis for a lot of discrimination. And this default is no more present than in movies and books with straight, white, cis characters, and in the criticism of stories that feature the “other” without devoting the story to that fact. But when minorities hear criticism like this, what we’re hearing is “there is nothing interesting or important about you besides your struggle and your pain. You are not a full human being, with a life and interests and dreams beyond your struggle. No one wants to hear about you falling in love, or saving the world, or achieving your dreams, unless it is secondary to hearing about your subjugation.” And right now, it kind of feels like no one does.

That’s why it’s so important that stories exist with minority characters that don’t make that fact the main point of the story. And I’m not saying that stories about minorities’ struggles aren’t important. I’ve written them, and they can be incredibly useful in educating the public and changing people’s minds. But so can the stories that just have minority characters in them, for no reason except that those kinds of people exist in real life. We need these stories, and lots of them, so that maybe one day, the “default” will just be human.

I should note, also, that it seems to be much more common for authors to receive backlash for writing a minority character if they belong to that minority. There seems to be this very shitty universal assumption right now that if a white person writes a book about a POC, they’re being forward and brave and breaking stereotypes etc. but when a POC writes a book about someone like themselves, they have an “agenda” and the book needs to be more harshly critiqued. Which is bullshit, but there you go. I sometimes wonder if my decision to make Luke in Ink & Flowers of Chinese descent would have been more harshly criticized if I was Asian-Canadian myself, and I think that yes, it probably would have been. And that’s a problem, and something white authors have to keep in mind.

Getting off track a little here, but this topic is a whole can of worms that I could probably write a million more blog posts about. I’d love to hear people’s opinions in the comments. Have you ever read a book with a minority and felt that it was missing something by not being about their race/gender identity? Do you think “coming out” and “racism” narratives are still important, or that they should be retired for the time being in favour of more books and movies about “incidental minorities”? What are some defaults that you’ve had to unlearn, as a writer or as a reader? Let me know! And thanks for reading!


I’m excited to announce that Ink & Flowers will be available as an audiobook from Less Than Three Press on December 28th! LT3 now has a collection of audiobooks available for download on their website, and from Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Check it out!

Ink & Flowers [Audio]

About to lose his apartment, and desperate to avoid having to move in with his horrendous relatives, shy art student Luke impulsively agrees to a deal from hell: sex with a man he doesn’t know in exchange for a couch to sleep on.

His new “roommate” Cooper is everything that Luke hates: crude, uncouth, and covered in tattoos, not to mention openly gay. Luke has all but resigned himself to a miserable fate when it turns out Cooper might want something a little different than he expected.

Ebook
Print

Posted in Blog

Tips for Writers: Beating Self-Doubt

Every writer gets it sometimes. That feeling of crippling self-doubt. You’re writing away, minding your own business, and suddenly you decide that you might possibly be the worst author who ever lived. Maybe you got a bad review, or you’re staring down a recently finished manuscript and realising how badly you missed the mark. Your writing is awful, childish, lacking in subtlety. You’re a joke, no one will ever want to read your work. You tell yourself that this feeling is normal, and irrational. That every author feels this way sometimes. But what if in your case, it’s true? What if everyone who’s read your book and said they liked it was lying? What if those reviewers were just being nice? You’re so embarrassed, you just want to crawl into a hole and never let anyone read another word you’ve written.

Okay, stop it. Slap yourself firmly in the face, and snap out of it.

It’s harder than it sounds, and there’s really no way to escape that nagging self-doubt. The only thing you can really do is ignore it and keep writing. The less attention you pay to it, the less you wallow in self-doubt, the easier it gets to ignore it. So what if you’re a bad writer? (Hint: you’re not. No, not even you.) The only way to improve is to keep writing. So, below are some tips on how to shut that little voice in your head up, and keep on writing.

1. Remind yourself that while you’re definitely not the best author out there, you’re not the worst either. The end goal isn’t to convince yourself that you’re the best author who ever lived. People who genuinely think that are almost always terrible writers. You should never be completely satisfied with your work, or you won’t keep striving to improve. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not the worst author in the world, by far. Look around the internet, find some examples of truly horrendous published writing. Don’t spend more than a few hours looking, and don’t be cruel about it, but get a sense of the range of writing quality that’s out there. Allow yourself to accept that you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of bad authors to good authors. You’ll probably never be right at the top, but neither are you right at the bottom. And you can always be working yourself up the spectrum.

2. Remember that everyone likes something different. The thing is, even the most critically condemned books, the ones with godawful writing, or horrible plots, or ridiculous, cliche characters- plenty of them are still very popular. There’s no real, tried-and-true quality indicator for books. What one person finds tedious and boring, others will revere as a classic. What another person finds highly entertaining and emotionally impacting, others will write off as trite and overwrought. Those books that everyone on the internet loves to complain about? At least as many people bought and enjoyed them, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Everyone likes something different, and even if you find your own writing absolutely horrendous, there is someone out there who is going to love it. Maybe even a lot of people.

3. Focus on your strengths. No one’s good at everything. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. Some authors write such amazing characters that there could be no plot to speak of, and you’d still be happy reading 100,000 words of them just hanging around talking. Some authors are so good at world-building that the characters and plot fade into the background in comparison. Some authors have literally one character that they write a hundred different books about, but their plots are so good that people keep coming back to read them. And some authors (hint: not me) have such beautiful prose that you’ll keep reading well past the point where you have any idea what’s going on anymore, because you just love the sound of the words so much. The point is, while you may be lacking in some places, (and you should definitely work on that, because the best authors are good at everything) you probably have at least a few aspects of your writing that you’re absolutely fantastic at. And even if you’re just passable in some areas (*cough*myprose*cough*) readers who really like the stuff you’re good at will still enjoy it.

4. If you’re published, read your good reviews. If you’re not, save the nice comments your betas or friends have left on your writing. Hoard your good reviews. Keep them easily accessible and whenever you’re feeling down about yourself, go read them, and remind yourself that people like your writing, because you are awesome.

5. Write something just for you. Forget your readers, or the reviewers who didn’t like your book. Remind yourself what it is that you like about writing. Write something that you don’t intend for anyone to read. Write the kind of stories that you like, that you want to read. Actually, you should be doing that anyway. If there’s a particular author you really like and want to emulate, go read something by them, and take mental notes of their technique. Keep writing, keep improving, and enjoy yourself.

6. Write a list of tips for authors on beating self-doubt. 😉


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


I’m running low on cat pictures! I recently received my print copies of A Touch of Mistletoe, so I’ll have to take some pictures of her modelling with them. For now, here’s this one:

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Thanks for reading!

Posted in Blog

A New Kind of Gaming

Okay, let me preface this by saying that I am in no way a “hardcore gamer”. I don’t even own a console, except for a PS2 that I literally never use. I play all my video games on PC, mostly through Steam. (As an example of my ridiculous stubbornness/laziness, I can’t be bothered to buy a mouse, and so have managed to beat several games using nothing but the trackpad on my laptop. Impressive, I know.) I’m very picky about the games I play. I’m not really about leveling up or beating puzzles or anything like that. I’m a story-teller, and I’m interested in games primarily for their value as a story-telling medium. I think that gaming is an amazing new medium for interactive storytelling. Unfortunately, I feel that where games are at right now falls ridiculously short of that potential.

From the scenery in Bioshock: Infinite, you would never guess that you spend most of the game beating people to a bloody pulp.

A while ago, I came across a post on tumblr where people were talking about how they wished that video games would implement a “tourist” mode, in which the antagonists in the game either ignored the character, or were taken out of the game entirely. There were a few really good arguments for this. For one, video game designers put so much work into designing amazing environments for games, and it can be hard to fully appreciate them when you’re being attacked by zombies or soldiers or what have you. Secondly, there are people who would love to play video games, but are disabled in some way, either physically, so that it’s hard to properly work the controls, or mentally, ie. the situations or violence are too stressful for them to handle. And finally, plenty of people (myself included) are just not that interested in stories or games that are based primarily on violence and shooting.

Now, I’m not one of those people who believe that violence in video games has a huge correlation to violence in real life, although I will admit there are compelling arguments to the contrary. I’m not 100% either way, but I’m not convinced that shooting someone in a video game leads people to want to go out and shoot people in real life. More likely it’s the opposite. But there’s a huge portion of the gaming community that gets absolutely outraged at the idea of a game that doesn’t involve huge amounts of violence and killing, at games that aren’t primarily based on how many antagonists you can kill. Imagine if we placed those kinds of limits on movies. Certainly horror and action movies are common, and there are several that are quite good. But they’re only one type of movie. Imagine if experimental movies, or ones that were primarily about relationships, or nature, or ones that had a slow pace, were considered lesser, or called “not a real movie” or the producers of such movies were attacked and told that they were “ruining movies”. That’s kind of where we’re at with video games right now.

That would be my expression too.

And it’s SUCH a waste of potential. If you haven’t heard of the Oculus Rift yet, you should definitely check it out. It’s basically a headset that immerses you in a 3D environment. You can turn your head to look around, there are two screens to actually make it seem 3D, and it makes you feel like you’re actually there. IT IS SO COOL, AND I’M SO EXCITED FOR ITUnfortunately, I’m not excited for the majority of games on it. I enjoy games like Mass Effect, Bioshock and Halo for their story and extensive world-building. I tolerate all the violence in them, even though it’s stressful for me. But I don’t think I could handle being in a 3D environment and surrounded by violence, or having to shoot someone who was actually right in front of me in the face. I don’t think it’d be good for me. I’m incredibly excited for this technology, but really disappointed by the limits it will have because of the state of video games right now.

But video games are expanding, and new, experimental games are emerging. My favourite new genre is called the Walking Simluator. These games are usually first person, and involve minimal interaction with other characters and little to no violence. They put the focus on exploration, puzzle-solving and story-telling. Below, I’m going to recommend a few different types of games that I’ve played and really enjoyed. I hope these games, and more like them become available. While I have nothing against action and horror games, there is the potential for so much more, and I hope we can achieve it, and that more games like these are made available.


Gone Home

June 7, 1995. 1:15 AM.

You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here?

Gone home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

Go home again.


 Dear Esther

A deserted island… a lost man… memories of a fatal crash… a book written by a dying explorer.

Dear Esther is a ghost story, told using first-person gaming technologies. Rather than traditional game-play the focus here is on exploration, uncovering the mystery of the island, of who you are and why you are here. Fragments of story are randomly uncovered when exploring the various locations of the island, making every each journey a unique experience. Dear Esther features a stunning, specially commissioned soundtrack from Jessica Curry.

Forget the normal rules of play; if nothing seems real here, it’s because it may just be all a delusion. What is the significance of the aerial – What happened on the motorway – is the island real or imagined – who is Esther and why has she chosen to summon you here? The answers are out there, on the lost beach and the tunnels under the island. Or then again, they may just not be, after all…


Portal and Portal 2

Portal has been called one of the most innovative games of the decade. A hybrid of FPS style and a new genre of spatial brain teasers, Portal offers hours of totally unique gameplay. Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals, maneuvering objects, and moving themselves through space in ways that used to be impossible.

Playing Portal today will teach you how to love a “companion cube”, whether a computer named GLaDOS really wants you dead, and why your friends keep telling you
“The cake is a lie”.


Myst

Alone on a mysterious island, you set out to explore its grandeur and mystery. Hear how a chilling tale of intrigue and treachery, defying all boundaries of space and time, is being told.

 Summon your wits and imagination. Every scrap of paper and ambient sound may provide the vital clues which allow hidden secrets to unravel a part of the mystery and lead you one step closer to reversing a wrong that has gone unchecked for ages.




So, if you like video games, or even just exploring and immersive story-telling, check these out! Unfortunately, my cat doesn’t play video games, so I don’t have any videos of her doing so, but here’s one of her sleeping, since it’s her favourite thing to do. Cheers!

 

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Posted in movies, reviews

Thoughts on Mockingjay

Yesterday I dragged myself out of the house in the rain and did quite a bit of walking and standing at bus stops in order to get myself to the theatre to see Mockingjay: Part 1. I almost didn’t go – my bed was really comfy, and I’d already endured a pretty scary doctor’s appointment earlier. But I really wanted to see it, and my holidays are almost over, so I made myself go. And I’m really glad I did.

This isn’t really a review, per se, but I just wanted to gather all my thoughts together about the film. First off, I want to say that I really enjoyed it. The Hunger Games movies (and books I assume, though I haven’t read them) are an incredibly complex and nuanced look into what an oppressive regime looks like, and what exactly is necessary for a revolution to occur. It also manages not to get lost in it’s grand scale, taking time to explore the characters and quiet moments that are necessary to make us care. There’s also no Hunger Games in this movie, which is really a blessing. The story focuses on the real world, and it’s all the better for it.

Normally I don’t like the practice of splitting one book into several movies, because it often feels like a bid for more money, and it can awkwardly break up the arc of the story. But in this case it worked, because the filmmakers used that extra time to develop those quiet moments between the characters. The film didn’t feel 100% like a complete film, and a lot of things have definitely been set up for the sequel, but there were some satisfying character arcs, and it still felt cohesive.

It’s definitely a “girl power” movie. I’ve got some praise and some criticism for this aspect, and I’ll start with the praise. First off, you have all the wonderful female characters. They definitely feel like the focus of the story, with the male characters definitely there, but slightly more in the background. The Bechdel test is blown out of the water as well, with Katniss routinely conversing with her mother and sister, Cressida, President Coin and Effie. The POC representation was … okay. There were diverse characters there, for sure, and no one doubts that Panem is a multi-cultural country, but there’s still a pretty strong lack of non-white main characters. The POC were mostly side characters and background characters (spoiler: a whole bunch of which die.)

The thing I’m slightly divided on is Katniss herself, and her treatment in the film. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, because there’s something to be said for writing minority characters and keeping in mind that they are a minority. But there’s also something to be said for allowing the character to move beyond that. Katniss  is never allowed to forget that she is female. While the Hunger games (and the horrible fake parade for the Capitol) is over, she’s still being coerced into dressing up and performing a part. This is really something that is almost explicitly stated as being motivated by the fact that she is female, and the fact that she’s still trapped playing this part even when she’s supposed to be liberated sort of rubs me the wrong way. And that’s part of Katniss’s tragedy, I suppose, that’s she’s really a very introverted warrior type who is now being forced to stay out of the actual battles and instead be paraded in a costume. And maybe this is something that gets addressed in book three and we just haven’t come to it yet, but by splitting it between two movies, there’s definitely a lot of frustration felt for the limits being put on Katniss.

Something I really want to crow about though, is the amazing self-awareness these movies have, and the way they’ve circumvented the public’s preconceived notion of what a movie with a teenage girl as the lead is going to be about. I know that when The Hunger Games was first being advertised, I wasn’t that interested. I think this is partially because of my own prejudices and partially because it was being advertised as “the next Twilight.” You had a lot of focus on the love triangle, and not a lot of focus at all on what the movies are really about, which is rebellion against an oppressive regime.

And the brilliant, brilliant, brilliant thing about this is that is is exactly what the Capitol does within the movies. They focus on Katniss and Peeta’s love story, force-feed it to people, tell them that this is what it’s all about. All the while drawing attention away from what’s really going on in the real world. And the paralells between the Captiol and our world are easy to see. The most poignant example being of course, the way our media latched onto the love story and downplayed the revolutionary aspects of the movie. Because of course, this is a story about a teenage girl, an the only thing teenage girls are good for is being silly and falling in love … right? There’s no way they could be interested in overthrowing a dictator, fighting for their freedom or changing the world. The popularity of the series with teenage girls really says otherwise.

Again, the revolutionary aspects of this story are great. I love how the world of Panem is obviously a dystopia, but it is purposely made to be almost indistinguishable from our own. I love how the concept of sacrifice and making the hard decisions is explored and allowed to play out fully. I love all the strong female characters, and the brilliant, subtle character arcs. I don’t love how Katniss is constantly being controlled and made to play a role, and I don’t love how weak her love of Peeta makes her, although I understand that she’s meant to be a flawed character, it just seems to be too convenient of a flaw, considering that she is a teenage girl. And these are all comments on the world-building itself and the basic storyline, which may be more about flaws within the books than the movies. I think the movies, including this one, are absolutely excellent, and are a testament to how well books can be translated into movies if in the right hands. I kind of wish the later Harry Potter movies had been in the hands of these filmmakers. They absolutely know what they’re doing.

So there you go. Mockingjay: Part 1 is an excellent movie. Good, solid film-making, nuanced, complex characters, immersive world-building.  It’s not very long, just over two hours, I think, which is probably another plus of the book being broken into two movies, and it’s two hours well spent. If you’ve not seen the other two movies, I recommend watching them all.

Oh, and there’s also this cutie:

If nothing else, go see the movie for him.

Posted in Blog

Dropping Out

Let’s talk about college. There’s a lot of pressure in life to attend college, especially if you do well in school. People say that you don’t need to study creative writing to be an author, but most of the authors I interact with do have a degree in something, or are studying to get one. I’m always incredibly impressed when someone mentions that they have a degree in something. But I also always feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable. Everyone around me seems to be this accomplished graduate, and here I am, a college drop-out. Is there something wrong with me that I couldn’t finish university? Am I not very smart? Am I lazy, or pathetic? It’s taken me a long time to convince myself that those things aren’t true. There are a lot of factors that contributed to me not enjoying or completing college. It wasn’t for me, and at the end of the day, I have to allow myself to believe that that’s okay. That it doesn’t make me any less important or intelligent. But sometimes it can be hard.

I always expected I would go to college or university. It wasn’t really a question, just something that was in my future. I assume it’s this way for most kids who do fairly well in school. I was smart, I liked reading and writing, I wanted to be an author, but I’d been told from every angle that that wasn’t a valid career goal. I knew I liked writing though, so an English degree seemed like the next logical step for me after graduating.

I was offered a scholarship for the first year of university in my hometown, but I declined it against the wishes of my parents, in favour of moving to a different town and staying with an aunt and uncle while I attended college there. At the time I was closeted, and terrified that my family would find out that I was queer and punish me. I lived in a constant state of stress and terror. I still have anxiety talking about my queerness because I was so terrified that someone might find out. Moving away seemed like a way to relieve stress and escape. Unfortunately, living with my aunt and uncle was even worse, with my aunt becoming extremely controlling and manipulative. Eventually I had no choice but to get away. I rented a basement suite with my partner and got out of there.

Of course then I was suddenly thrust into trying to learn how to care for myself, and save up enough to pay for school, all while knowing that if I somehow ended up with not enough money, I would either be out on the street or have to go back to my family. The idea of having to do so still fills me with incredibly anxiety. So I started working 24-30 hours a week, while still attending school in the next town over, carpooling in every morning and spending 8 hours a day on campus.

If you went to university and had someone paying your tuition and/or living expenses during, I can’t really ask you to understand how incredibly physically and emotionally draining it can be trying to support yourself while also putting yourself through school. You work long hours for minimal pay, only to turn around and give all that money away again so that you can do even more work for free. Maybe some people who are stronger mentally than me might have been able to do it, but I don’t handle stress well. Even now, I have to very carefully limit how much I do, so that I don’t burn out and fall into a dark chasm of depression and exhaustion that is incredibly hard to drag myself out of.

University for me was just one long haze of dark, early mornings, constantly feeling sick to my stomach, trying to force myself to be enthusiastic about the subject matter when all I could think about was how cold and sick I felt, and how much I wanted to sleep forever. I didn’t eat enough, usually just heating up a frozen lunch halfway through the day and then falling into bed when I got home without bothering to cook anything. One of the things my abusive aunt had impressed into me was that it was bad to spend too much money on food, and that buying food from a restaurant, or basically eating anything besides what she chose to feed me was bad. It took me years to get over that and allow myself to spend enough money on food to keep myself properly functioning. Sometimes I had to take the greyhound home and would walk half an hour (in the dark and cold in winter) to the station and stand there in the cold outside the closed station waiting for the bus that was often extremely late. I also often worked late hours at work and had to walk about an hour to get home afterwards, again in the cold. (I know, I sound whiny, but my point isn’t really about how horrible it was so much as how physically exhausting it was, and physical exhaustion for me, is what makes me unable to fight depression.)

In the middle of all this, out of desperation and a need to escape our reality, my partner and I started telling each other stories. When we should have been working on our school work, we hid ourselves away in one of the few pitiful lounge areas at our small community-college-turned-university and told each other sexy, fun stories about magical people and worlds. One of those stories was what would become The Fairy Gift. I told it quickly over a couple of days, and liked it so much that I decided to write an outline of the plot. Then, on a whim, I started writing it. I hadn’t written anything in years, too busy with work, too stressed to imagine anything. But I was inspired. I wrote the Fairy Gift, and then I kept writing, more cute stories, with fairies and magic and sex. They kept me going.

Then, out of sheer dumb luck, I found myself redirected from deviantart to a yaoi website (yaoifix, I think?) and saw an advertisement for Less Than Three Press, and that they were accepting submissions. I clicked through and looked at a few of their books, and thought that The Fairy Gift seemed perfect for them. I decided why not and submitted a horribly edited draft, but they must have seen something they liked in it, because it was accepted for publication. So cool! I was damn excited and even more damn skeptical. I’d had a friend who submitted a piece of poetry for some kind of publication that turned out to be a scam, and I was terrified that this was something similar. I also at the time had this idea that publication was something that only happened to one author in a million and, as I said, I didn’t believe that it was a real career goal. I didn’t realise that I’d been lucky enough to stumble into the publishing revolution that is romance ebooks. So I was skeptical up until the moment I received my first paycheck. Then everything changed for me.

I realised that this was something that I could do and make money off of. It was a real career goal. Suddenly my priorities shifted away from school, away from the dream of a degree with which I would get some nebulous English-related job that I didn’t really want. I wanted to keep writing. I wanted to publish more books. I needed to make writing my priority. I was slowly drowning in schoolwork, losing weight and falling into a depression that it’s taken me years to crawl out of. I ended up dropping out of two of my classes, and barely passing the other two. That summer I came out to my family, over the safety of the internet, and felt a huge weight lifted off me. I was still writing, and I decided to take a “semester off” school.

I haven’t gone back yet.

And I’m better now. Better than I have been for years. School didn’t work for me. Certainly I had the triple handicap of being poor, queer and mentally ill. But also (and it’s incredibly hard for me to say this, because it’s usually such a source of pride for an intellectual) I’m just not in love with learning. I’m in love with creating, and often learning is an important part of that, but it’s not the end goal. I spent so many years as a pretentious asshole, thinking I was better than everyone because I loved to read and was “going places,” and there’s an incredibly strong culture of superiority amongst students and intellectuals that encourages this. But for me it’s really freeing to finally be able to say this: I’m happy working in customer service. I’m satisfied emotionally with a simple life and a non-prestigious job. I’m not strong enough emotionally to push myself to my limits like some people are. I just want to live and support myself, and write and create worlds. Probably I’ll never write a great, thought-provoking classic. But I want to write stories that make people happy, and maybe one day I’ll be able to do it full-time.

And I want to say this to other young people who might be struggling with school: It’s okay. It’s okay if it’s not for you. Everyone might be saying this is what you have to do, but that doesn’t mean it is. If you’re truly happy learning, then that’s wonderful. If you hate it, but you really want that degree and that job, then keep going. But if you can feel yourself dying inside with every essay you write, if you feel like this thing is sucking away your life, then you have permission to stop. If you need to stop to preserve yourself, and your mental well-being, then stop. You can always go back, if you want to. Maybe you’ll want to, and maybe you won’t. If you’re happiest with a simple, low-stress minimum wage job, then there’s no shame in that. If you’re a writer, and you’re doing this because you feel like you’ll never be a great author if you don’t, please know that that’s not true. College isn’t everything. You can still be an amazing, smart, happy person without a college degree. I know I am.


This is long and dense, and I don’t know if anyone will read it. But I do think it’s important, so I’m going to post it anyway. Love you all, and if you read this far, thank you for reading! In thanks, have an advertisement for my book, and then a picture of my cat.

Cheers!

JK


To Summon Nightmares

To Summon Nightmares

Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was “Ireland’s Favorite Daughter”, a popular teenage author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out publicly as trans, the media’s treatment of him has been less than golden, and these days, Cohen is desperate for escape.

When he inherits an old house in the country, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to escape the press and work on his new book. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a small town murder mystery and falling for the primary suspect, a man whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…

Wordcount: 53,000
Price: $5.99
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Trans, M/M
Excerpt
Buy Here

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Her majesty.