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….

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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.