Why I Am Not An Ethical Author

The idea of an Ethical Author badge is floating round the internet again. Full write up here but the basic principle is that authors agree to abide by pledges as follows:

The Ethical Author Code

Guiding principle: Putting the reader first

When I market my books, I put my readers first. This means that I don’t engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books. I behave professionally online and offline when it comes to my writing life.

Courtesy

I behave with courtesy and respect toward readers, other authors, reviewers and industry professionals such as agents and publishers. If I find myself in disagreement, I focus on issues rather than airing grievances or complaints in the press or online, or engaging in personal attacks of any kind.

Aliases

I do not hide behind an alias to boost my own sales or damage the sales or reputation of another person. If I adopt a pen name for legitimate reasons, I use it consistently and carefully.

Reviewing and rating books

I do not review or rate my own or another author’s books in any way that misleads or deceives the reader. I am transparent about my relationships with other authors when reviewing their books.

I am transparent about any reciprocal reviewing arrangements, and avoid any practices that result in the reader being deceived.

Reacting to reviews

I do not react to any book review by harassing the reviewer, getting a third party to harass the reviewer, or making any form of intrusive contact with the reviewer. If I’ve been the subject of a personal attack in a review, I respond in a way that is consistent with professional behavior.

Book promotions

I do not promote my books by making false statements about, for example, their position on bestseller lists, or consent to anyone else promoting them for me in a misleading manner.

Plagiarism

I know that plagiarism is a serious matter, and I don’t intentionally try to pass off another writer’s words as my own.

Financial ethics

In my business dealings as an author, I make every effort to be accurate and prompt with payments and financial calculations. If I make a financial error, I remedy it as soon as it’s brought to my notice.

Responsibility

I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed. If I realize anyone is acting against the spirit or letter of this Code on my behalf, I will refer them to this Code and ask them to modify their behavior.

The principles laid out here seem very sensible. They seem very reasonable. They seem like a pretty basic 101 of being a grown-up who sells books.

I’m not signing this, any more than I’m signing a Motherhood Pledge.

Retaliation

I will not throttle, defenestrate or club my child over the head with a brick, even when provoked.

I don’t have to sign that. Nobody should have to sign that. It ought to be a given, and if it’s not, I doubt a badge will help.

Let us say you are the kind of person whose response to a bad review is to stalk the reviewer online, lie to get her home address, drive to her house. We’ll call you, off the top of my head, ‘Kathleen’. Does anyone really believe that Kathleen, who was happy to lie and stalk, would hesitate at breaking an internet pledge? Or that Kathleen, who wrote a self-congratulatory article in a national newspaper about the whole thing, would have the insight to see that she could not in conscience sign an Ethical Author pledge in the first place?

And it’s not just lack of insight. Does anyone believe that someone who is prepared to copy-paste someone else’s work, go through and change names, plonk a probably stolen cover image on it and sell it as their own would hesitate to claim an Ethical Author badge to which they aren’t entitled?

You probably remember the old Westerns, where the good guy had a white hat and the bad guy had a black hat. It frequently struck me, as a child, that the bad guy’s first act should have been to rob a hat shop, steal a white one, put it on, walk up to the actual good guy as he got off the train, and shoot him. This would have saved me a lot of time on Saturday afternoons. This badge idea is effectively giving away white hats, without any checking, registration, enforcement of standards or sanction for failure to meet them, and hoping only the good guys put them on.

Let’s not bother with practical questions like: how do you define ‘professional behaviour’, when professional author John Grisham is out there defending his paedophile friend because old white men shouldn’t have to go to prison, or Daniel Handler makes racist ‘jokes’ about black authors at a book award ceremony, or Anne Rice encourages her fans to go after negative reviewers, or when publishers put white people on the cover of books about black people so they sell more, or when Hachette and Amazon engage in a months-long spat that massively damages author income, or when…oh, I can’t be bothered, it’s too depressing.

Let’s not question how the list of things an ethical author should do apparently doesn’t include anything about what you write in your books. (‘I may write racist misogyny but I don’t plagiarise it and I pay my editor, so I’m ethical!’)

Let’s certainly not go into what actually constitutes ethical professional behaviour when you have to address polite fans nicely saying bigoted things, or people emailing you to say that they pirated your book and want to complain about a typo, or people who link you to one-star reviews they left you, or people who totally didn’t get your book and say something that is just so unfair

I feel mean having a go at something so patently well intentioned but we all know about the road to hell. And it is a road to hell here, because ethics are not lip service, a badge for your sidebar, but something you live in your acts. You have to think about them, apply them, act on them. If you want to spell them out to readers, do it in your own words. Put in the effort.

And of course you can put on a badge too, nothing wrong with that, if you’re absolutely sure that this whole thing won’t fall off a cliff because it’s totally unregulated. Go for it. But no amount of ethical badges will make Kathleen Hale et al into ethical authors. Behaving ethically is what does that. And your best means of persuading readers, bloggers and everyone else that you are a decent person is still simply to behave like one.

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KJ Charles is not one of Nature’s joiners. Since you ask, my reviews policy is here and the reasons why I have one at greater length here. The rest you can deduce for yourself by following me on Twitter @kj_charles.

Seeing the People in your Head: characters in cover art

I once edited a romance author who would not describe characters. She mostly wrote tight third person on the heroine (that is, reader in the heroine’s head), and never had her heroine itemise her looks in a mirror, so her heroines were entirely featureless, and her heroes were given the absolute minimum of ‘tall,dark and handsome’. Asked to fill in character description sheets for the art form, she would refuse point blank and demand a landscape cover. She insisted that the reader should be able to physically identify with the heroine, to become the heroine, and that description just got in the way.

Obviously this makes a huge and rude assumption about the motives of romance readers (I don’t need to imagine a different life for me, thanks), not to mention their gender and race. Also, it meant her characters were fairly indistinguishable. And mostly, romances with landscape covers never sell. So I politely attempted to suggest that she might just fill in the goddamn cover form and stop bitching already, and got an email in return informing me that she would not tolerate a cliched, trite stock image on the cover that looked nothing like the characters in her head.

Which is, I suspect, what the ‘no description’ thing was about. She had a long career, she had written many books back in the days of illustrated covers where you could dictate what the characters looked like rather than having to sacrifice your firstborn to the Stock Photography Gods in the hope of someone roughly the same species as your hero, and she couldn’t handle having the person on the cover be different to the one in her imagination.

(Incidentally, the designer did a cover with a random guy in a jumper, safe in the knowledge that the author didn’t have his phone number. She went ballistic.)

Ask any author and you are likely to get wails of agony about cover models. The grossly overused ones (there is a whole blog series about this), the ones that look nothing like the character. Ask a cover artist and you’ll get wails about authors doing ludicrously specific descriptions and the difficulty of finding anything halfway decent on Shutterstock. Ask a reader and they’ll probably complain that the cover doesn’t look anything like the person in their head, who is not the same as the person in the book anyway.

No, not kidding. Stephen in A Charm of Magpie series is 5’0 tall, a fact which is repeatedly made clear. Yet I’ve seen readers insist, point blank, that he’s taller, or at least fight against it.

In The Magpie Lord, my inclination was to make Stephen taller.  Unfortunately, the text kept reminding me that he was not tall. (Kaetrin, romance reviewer)

Equally, Jake in the Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon is a dark-haired cop, unless you read what the author actually wrote, which is that he’s blond. I have to tell you, this is wrong: Jake is dark, dammit. I am not alone in this opinion, so much that Lanyon has commented with bewilderment on it. The books do actually make it clear he’s blond.  But…well…not in my head, he’s not.

I quoted Kaetrin above, from her blog post on the default hero and heroine. She says she has a tendency to ‘reset’ her mental image of heroes to a particular physical default (e.g. dark-haired six-foot white guy) unless the writing prevents her.

Do other people have their own default characters?  Might this explain (at least in part) why, when two people read the same book, they might see something completely different in the characters?

Certainly, two people can read a book and come out with a totally different mental image of the main characters. I was browsing reviews of a book I liked recently, one with both heroes on the cover, and came across a string of reviews which said:

  • the cover was perfect for both characters
  • the cover had a good Hero A but Hero B was nothing like the character
  • the cover had a good Hero B but Hero A was completely wrong
  • the cover was totally wrong for both characters
  • the cover was just a routine stock image thing with no effort put into it

(The last of which…I feel for the designer.)

I have, to date been incredibly lucky with my covers. If they aren’t the people in my head, they are at least in the same postcode. The one I had the most trouble with is the model used for Stephen. He’s not bad, I like him, he just isn’t how I see Stephen. Interestingly, he’s also the one for which I have had the most reader comments…and they have all been how lucky I am to have such a perfect model for the character.

Obviously, I want to howl He doesn’t look like that! But I’m wrong. Because if the reader thinks he looks like that, then he does. The reader’s Stephen is an intersection of their brain and my book and the character himself and possibly the cover image. That will always be the case, and it’s why my author was absurd to refuse description to ward off anyone seeing her characters in the way she didn’t want. The readers were never going to see what she saw anyway. They were going to make their own characters. All that her anti-description stance did was to ensure that they saw a default stock image.

Did I “create” Mr. and Ms. Default in response to a certain… blandness in characterisation in my reading?  In other words, was there a vacuum and Mr/Ms. Default was created by my imagination (aided perhaps, by pop culture) merely to fill it? (Kaetrin)

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I have been musing on this because I received an epic compliment this weekend. Reader Lydmila Tsapaeva sent me a drawing she did of the main characters of Flight of Magpies (and if you’re thinking this whole post is just an excuse to share it, ssshh).

01Magic_London

Obviously, I love this, and the fact that she did it, and just everything about this. I have rarely felt so thrilled. But what’s fascinating for me is, here are my characters visually mediated through a reader’s mind. I can see how she sees them. The Magpies cover designer, Lou Harper, is outstanding but she’s still stuck with finding and using existing photos of actual people*; Lydmila is going from my imagination via her own to the page, putting in characterisation and movement and interaction and life. This is as close to me seeing someone’s experience of reading me as it’s going to get.

For the record: Crane (the arrogant blond) and Jonah (the dark-haired pest) have been teleported from my brain here: we are in full agreement. Crane is quiveringly perfect for me. Lydmila’s Stephen (short redhead) is more, ooh, manic, less vulnerable than mine (though a lot closer than the cover photo model), and my Merrick (gentleman’s gentleman) is a lot rougher than hers. Which isn’t to say they’re ‘wrong’. They can’t be wrong: they’re how she sees the characters. But it’s fascinating to see how they work against (with? alongside?) how I see them, to consider the elements in what I wrote that may have led to her interpretation, from book character to image. And if you’re a Magpie reader, I’d love to know how they stack up against your version.

(Here, for comparison, are the photo versions of Crane, Stephen and Jonah (on the right of Jackdaw). For me, Crane is 8/10, Stephen 5/10 and Jonah 9/10 if he was a bit skinnier. I told you I was lucky.)

CaseOfPossession-A300 CaseOfPossession-A300 jackdaw small

*Let us all take a minute to consider that the Magpie Lord cover model actually exists as a human being. My God.

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Give me cover art complaints, criticism, funny stories or an explanation of why I’m wrong about Stephen in the comments!

Flight of Magpies is out now. Jackdaw is out in February. Huge, huge thanks to Lydmila Tsapaeva for the glorious art.

Hands up who forgot to put her new release on her own blog…

Look, it’s been busy, okay? In the last six weeks I have left my job, released a story in the Another Place in Time anthology, done a lot of freelance editing work, written a metric ton of blogs for Queer Romance Month including these on historical romance and happy ever afters, announced the sale of my Regency gay romance trilogy to Loveswept, and lined up another project TBA shortly. And it’s my birthday tomorrow. Frankly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I forgot to put my own blog tour and new release on my own blog.

*abandons plans to launch social media promotional service company*

FlightOfMagpies300Right, well. Flight of Magpies is out (*cough*yesterday*cough*), the reviews are nice, and you can find the various bits as follows (the giveaway runs till 2 Nov so you may still have time to enter):

I will also be visiting Becky Black in the near future, in the unlikely event you need to hear me communicate ever again….

Review policies, or How To Not Become A Stalking Author

It hasn’t been an impressive time for the author community in the last few days. Kathleen Hale got a full page article in the Guardian (trigger warning for stalking, general warning for repellent disingenuousness and dishonesty) which allowed her to massively extend her stalking campaign against a reviewer. Another author one-upped Hale by travelling the length of Britain to hit a reviewer over the head with a wine bottle, leaving her needing stitches and pressing charges. What next? The British government selling arms to writing groups on the sly?

This behaviour, coming on top of far too many incidents of online and other harassment, has led to a lot of angry pushback, including a number of blogs holding review blackouts to make the point that authors need reviewers. I see reviewers saying things like, “I’m going to stop reviewing, it’s not worth the stress,” or “I’m only going to read books from dead authors because at least they won’t come round my house.” (On the evidence of this week, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Some people will clearly resent that one star from beyond the grave.)

Of course, most authors aren’t like this. Most of us don’t respond aggressively to reviewers in words, let alone call them at work and turn up at their house and write malevolent articles in national newspapers about them and physically assault them. Most don’t, but because of the way fear and intimidation work, a number of reviewers are scared that the next time they one-star a book, the author will be one of those few who do. So the question going round reviewers is, very simply, how do I tell?

cathy p

Various solutions have been mooted. The #AuthorYes hashtag has been used to name authors who have a track record of not being aggressively unpleasant at people. Suggestions have been put up of kitemarks or websites to identify ‘safe’ authors, and just as quickly shot down as impractical. Some authors have their review policy (‘I promise not to stalk you!’) stated on their website (as I do), but a lot of people have pointed out that that means nothing. It’s behaving well that counts, not claiming that you don’t behave badly. Words are empty.

And this is true, but I’d like to give a reason why a public review policy works for me.

My page says that I don’t read Goodreads or Amazon reviews and that I will never respond to them, either directly with abuse/stalking/wine bottles over the head (that bit’s implied), or with encouraging my fans to go after reviewers.

You may say: Yeah, whatever, you could be lying. And I could. This is the internet; people lie. I could be poring over every word posted about my books on Goodreads. I could be making obsessive lists of people who say mean things and drawing angry penises on them. I could not be a cat-owning freelance editor at all. Maybe I’m an international hitman who writes gay romance while I’m waiting to shoot controversial politicians, and the cat is a catfish. You’ll never know.

But the point isn’t whether I can make you believe I don’t hale out over reviews. (This is a new verb which I hope to see adopted.) The point is, my posted reviews policy keeps me on track.

I know reading Goodreads /Amazon reviews is a bad idea. I used to read them, and discovered what a bad idea it is first hand. I have done a flowchart on what a bad idea it is. But I’m still tempted because I’m a human. When I go to Amazon and see on the thumbnail that the number of reviews has jumped and the star rating has changed, my finger twitches over the mouse. But I have a posted review policy and if I click, I’m a liar.

And say I am a liar. Say I fall off the wagon and read my Goodreads reviews (declaration: this has happened) and there’s something really stupid and wrong there that any reasonable person would understand I just had to take issue with…

Well, I’m already a liar to myself by reading the review. But if I respond, I brand myself publically as a liar—as someone who has just done something she said she would not do. If I so much as subtweet a grumble about a bad review, someone will recognise it and know I’m a liar. If I link to it on my Facebook page with a hurt comment about ‘why are people so mean?’ in the hope that my fans will give the reviewer a hard time, I will be waving my hypocrisy and dishonesty like a banner. If I leave a snide or angry comment on a review, I will deserve extra condemnation because I said I wouldn’t do that. I’ve given myself a Toxx clause, to make myself stay the hell away.

This is not to say that reading reviews is a bad act. Read them by all means if they don’t act like Dr Jekyll’s potion, turning you into Author Hyde. But obsessing over reviews is where all this appalling absurdity seems to start.

So I have a public stated review policy, not because I expect anyone to take my word for it, but because it raises the stakes for me when I’m tempted to read reviews, let alone respond. It’s the reminder of your weight stuck to the fridge door, the green sash of the Victorian teetotaller, the Note To Self that says: Right now I am thinking clearly how I should behave, and I am taking this opportunity to control the behaviour of my future self, who may be less reasonable.

Obviously I hope that I’d never behave like Hale even if I read every word of every one-star review. Frankly, I’d hope that nobody would. But even normally reasonable people can get obsessed if they feel they’ve been wronged (eg by someone giving their masterpiece a mere three stars on Goodreads), and the internet fosters obsession. We all know how quickly upset can turn to anger and retaliation, how fast responses can escalate, how very easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole.

I’ve nailed my review policy across the mouth of the rabbit hole. To reassure reviewers, sure, but primarily to keep myself out.

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FlightOfMagpies300Flight of Magpies is out on 28 October, and the blog reviews (which I am allowed to read, so there) are looking nice.

Don’t forget to check out Queer Romance Month, and just a reminder of my somewhat fantastic news, if you missed it…

Announcement: KJ Charles Regency m/m trilogy to Loveswept

I’m pleased* to say that Loveswept, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will be publishing my Regency gay romance trilogy Society of Gentlemen, starting August 2015.

*pleased, n., Brit. Leaping up and down, squealing with joy, and running in circles making noises only audible to dogs

This is Loveswept’s first queer romance.  I am absolutely delighted to be doing this with them. Here’s what Society of Gentlemen is about:

Society of Gentlemen is set at a time of incredible privilege for the few and social turmoil for the many. Regency England is torn by war, poverty and social unrest, ruled by a draconian government. People are starving, rioting, rebelling. But the aristocrats dance on, in their glittering existence of balls, gambling, silks and scandal…

The trilogy covers three couples between autumn 1819 and spring 1820. A young Radical discovers his noble birth and is catapulted into a world of privilege, fashion and murder with a dandy as his guide. A government official and a revolutionary seditionist find common ground in their unconventional desires, under the threat of the gallows. And a lord in love with his valet struggles to find a way across the social abyss that divides them.

I am running out of adjectives for how thrilled I am about this. Obviously because me! Trilogy! Loveswept! Penguin Random House! ME!!!  But there’s another reason which is a great deal more serious and less about my kudzu-like ego.

Badge-1-300x300Back in August, I was involved in the conversations that led to Queer Romance Month. One of the reasons a group of authors put QRM together was our frustration with the idea that queer romance is a subgenre of romance, like erotic or historical — something distinct from, you know, basic default romance. Sure, queer romance is a specific thing that people look for, for good reasons, and marketing requires all books to be tagged in such a way that people can find them. But queer protagonists are as valid as any other, those love stories are as important as any other, and those books might need to be tagged but they sure as hell don’t need to be segregated, to be published and reviewed and treated as something inherently different.

That was what I wrote about in the first post to go up on the QRM site, ‘Love is Not a Subgenre’.

Women are not a subgenre of men, and queer is not a subgenre of straight, and multicultural romance is not a subgenre of romance about white people. … It shouldn’t be ‘making it a factor’ to have other characters taking centre stage. It should just be a reflection of our world, where actually lots of people are gay or female or Asian or trans or mixed race or bi or asexual or or or.

I believe passionately that the big romance publishers should be publishing all kinds of romance, queer and het, with protagonists of whatever age or race or colour or creed or gender identity. Tag them for search, yes, just as you’d tag any book. But publish it all together.

I’m delighted my trilogy will be Loveswept’s first gay romance, to join the other books putting queer romance in the mainstream. I hope there will be many more, with gay and lesbian and trans and bi and many other protagonists telling their stories alongside their het counterparts until it becomes, as it should be, an unremarkable thing.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that. But I find it intensely pleasing that I wrote ‘Love is not a Subgenre’ out of frustration on this very topic when we began setting up Queer Romance Month in August, yet that I can announce this trilogy while QRM is still running in October. And I’d like to see this deal as a sign of better things on the way in the genre, a broader and more inclusive reach. Because as I said in my QRM post, it’s pretty simple really. Queer romance is romance, people are people, love is love, and we can all use another good book.

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A Fashionable Indulgence (Society of Gentlemen 1) will be out from Loveswept in August 2015.

For a taster of the Society of Gentlemen world, my short story ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’ features two characters who will appear in the trilogy. It’s in the anthology Another Place in Time, available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe, along with five fabulous m/m historical romances by five of my favourite writers, and is a Dear Author Recommended Read. All proceeds from its sale go to support AllOut.org., so go buy it, okay?

Read more on ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’ and my inspiration for Society of Gentlemen here.

Flight of Magpies, the third in my Charm of Magpies trilogy, is out on 28 October, and the blog tour with giveaway starts at Love Bytes 22 October. God forfend I should shut up about me any time soon.FlightOfMagpies300

If you’re new to queer romance, hit me up here or on Twitter @kj_charles for recs, or visit Queer Romance Month for fascinating posts, flash fiction, giveaways and tons of good book advice.

Living in a Box: gender and genre

A lot of people are angry about the gendering of children’s books. Well, just look.
activity books
Boys are brilliant, girls are beautiful. Boys have adventures, girls are surrounded with pretty ornaments. Check out @lettoysbetoys if you want to go into the whole sordid mass of pink and blue that is gendered children’s publishing.

Just to head off two things at the pass:

1) It is perfectly possibly to publish for kids who like pretty frilly things (or things that go, or dinosaurs, or adventure) without slapping a gender exclusion on it. Usborne and Parragon have both stopped publishing specifically ‘Girls Activity/Sticker/Doodle’ books without noticeably reducing their output. @LetToysBeToys tweeted this interesting image just today from one of the most obnoxious purveyors of gendering. See? Not that hard, is it?

neutral

2) Girls’ and boys’ brains are not ‘hard wired’ to like particular colours. Any preference is entirely cultural. A Ladies’ Home Journal article from June 1918 decrees, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Meanwhile pink in Japan isn’t historically associated with femininity, but with sex. A ‘pink salon’ is a brothel that specialises in oral. Just saying.

Back to the point. I have two kids, a boy and a girl. My son is a scabby-kneed thug with a head full of football who draws dinosaurs and spaceships. He also draws flowers. Aged 3 he had a pair of trousers with big yellow sunflowers on that he wore till they fell apart. He used to wear his big sister’s dresses all the time to nursery, and when I painted her toenails, I painted his too.

Here are some things that adults have said. Adults dropping off their own kids at nursery; adults at family barbecues with kids and grandkids running around.

  • Why are you wearing a dress? You look like a girl.
  • Aren’t those girls’ trousers?
  • You don’t want to let him wear make up… [with knowing look, like he’s about to catch The Gay from exposure to nail polish]

They don’t say these things so much any more, of course, because he doesn’t do it any more. He’s five now and he’s learning. They taught him. They taught him when he was three years old, crying on my lap because his three-year-old friends had mocked him for wearing a dress. (Hmm, I wonder where they learned to do that.) They taught him that the doodle book he’s been happily using for the last 12 months must be rejected because now he can read ‘For Girls’ on the front.

Don’t start me on what they are teaching my daughter. Don’t even start.

‘Bastards,’ you cry. ‘Who are the jerks pushing this crap on our kids? Who are they?’

Well, they are us. They are children’s publishers, an industry dominated by intelligent, thoughtful, politically aware, socially liberal women, who publish ‘Brilliant Pirate Book for Boys’ and ‘Pretty Princess Book for Girls’ because it sells, and because if Usborne and Parragon aren’t doing it, then the other players can swoop in and clean up on their market share. And they are the people who make up that market share, because that’s what ‘it sells’ means: people buy it. You buy it. I buy it. Because it’s easy to snatch a colour-coded sticker book off a crowded shelf. Because it takes work to know a child. Because one book can’t hurt. Because girls like pink and boys like blue.

So we tell kids what the norms are, what shape box they should fit in, and because kids are the most conformist creatures outside ants, they do their obedient best to fit. But kids grow. And if your box doesn’t fit when you’re three, it sure as hell won’t fit at twenty-three.

I’ve been privileged to be part of Queer Romance Month, running through October, several posts a day, with authors and allies talking about all aspects of queer romance. The theme we set for the event is, ‘Love is Love’. But alongside that, a second theme that’s coming out incredibly strongly from writers and readers is, ‘I need to see myself in books. I need to know that I’m not alone.’

I would have given my right arm for some believable, realistic queer characters when I was a teenager. Maybe then I would have seen myself and learned that there’s nothing wrong with me. (LA Witt)

For the first time, I’d read a story with two main protagonists with whom I could relate. I desperately wanted them to be happy. I recognised their fears, hopes, and dreams, because they weren’t dissimilar to my own. I felt represented in the pages. It finally all made sense. (Amy Dunne)

When I look at gendered kids books, I see part of a machine that tells children what they ought to be and want, churning out the boxes for kids to go in. When I look at QRM, I see adults crying out because their boxes didn’t fit them, and they hurt.

As a man with a degree in youth ministry, when I finally came out between the ages of 24-26, I was pretty much a junior high school girl in the body of an adult male, and I behaved as such. I think many of us who were closeted for so long faced this challenge. I’d never been kissed, never been on a real date (not with guy or girl). I ended up, for the next several years, on a relationship crash course of growing up. Those people who never lived in the closet don’t understand why a 25 year old gay guy might makes stupid choices that the rest of world figured out when they were fourteen.

Because we were never fourteen, not like everyone else. (Brandon Witt)

Let every child be a pirate or a fairy. Let boys have pretty prince books if they want them, and girls have adventures if they like. Let princess sticker books have stickers of dragons and swords as well as bangles and cupcakes. Let boys wear dresses and girls wear shoes that are designed to be hard-wearing instead of sparkly. Let kids grow into adults who can accept their own feelings, the way they look, the way they are, without measuring them against the social norm and finding themselves wanting. Stop telling people to be pink or blue, when we all know there’s a rainbow.

‘But the market wants gendered books,’ producers cry. ‘There’s a demand. People want boys’ shoes to be tough and girls’ shoes to be pretty.’ Yes, they do, and they tell three-year-old boys off for having painted toenails, and all the rest, because adults live in boxes too, hemmed in and misshapen by habit and unexamined assumption and laziness.

Change is rarely painless. I know it’s very difficult to be the publisher who says, ‘Let’s not gender books’ when Sales are showing you that they outsell the rest, or who says ‘Let’s publish queer romance alongside het’ when you’ve never touched that market before.

But it’s a lot more difficult to be the little boy who just wanted to wear a dress to nursery.

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Support Let Toys Be Toys and the associated Let Books Be Books campaign here and sign the petition against gendered books.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign supports wide representation of race, gender, LGBT people, people of color, people with disabilities and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities in children’s/YA literature. Find out more here or via the hashtag on Twitter.

And don’t miss the moving and thought-provoking posts coming every day in October from Queer Romance Month.

News, new release and Queer Romance Month

It’s all about the exciting news this week.

First we have the release of gay historical romance anthology Another Place in Time. This is a collection of six stories put together by the lovely Susan Lee, ranging from Knights Templar to 1940s America, written by a selection of some of my favourite historical authors and also me. It’s being published to coincide with the US LGBT History Month, and all monies raised go to All Out. What I’m getting at is, go spend some money. The first reviews are in and stellar.

a consistently high quality anthology, not one of the short stories was less than a 5 star rating for me and I can honestly say I absolutely loved every single one of them (Sinfully Sexy)

ATIPfinalMy story, ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’, is my first foray into Regency. I’ve always loved Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and had immense fun writing one of my own, with a hungover black sheep, a dangerous gambler, and a game of cards for very high and just slightly kinky stakes. I had to learn how to play ecarté for this story, dammit: the least you could do is read it. (This one is very high on the sexytimes, incidentally. Because I felt like it, that’s why.)

Badge-1-300x300Second: October is Queer Romance Month! A group of authors decided to put queer romance front and centre, and this is the result: a full month of posts, flash fiction, recommendations, giveaways and chat about all aspects of queer romance, by a bewildering variety of authors. I’ve been uploading posts all morning, which took ages because they’re too interesting not to read. Check out my introductory post on Love is Not a Subgenre here, and return daily through October for all the goodies. (And follow us on @queerromance too!)

Thirdly, of less import to anyone but me: I’ve made the leap. As of last week I’m now a full time writer and freelance editor. So, uh, more books from me (hopefully), and I’m at kjcharleswriter[at]gmail.com for anyone looking for development/line editing who hasn’t been scared off by this blog. Get in touch!

FlightOfMagpies300And finally, book 3 of A Charm of Magpies, Flight of Magpies, will be out at the end of the month. Stay tuned for a giveaway mid-Oct.

That’s it for news, unless you want to hear how my cat’s doing. (Eating craneflies. Bet you’re sorry you asked.)

 

Keep up on Twitter or join my Facebook group for extra book info and sneak peeks.