I have heard now that my Don’t Read in the Closet summer free novel, “Chasing Death Metal Dreams” is formatted and ready – it should release on the M/M Romance Group’s Love is an Open Road Stories sometime in the next couple of weeks. (I’ll post when it does, of course, and there will be a download link.)
This book, more than any I’ve written, made me step out of my comfortable space. Carlos and Nate are young gay men – but that’s by now at least a familiar stretch. But Carlos is also transgender, Hispanic, and a metal musician. And those are new spaces for me.
Anyone who writes a story, at least any that isn’t a first-person autobiography, has to move outside themselves and get into the head of a character who is not a carbon copy of themselves. It’s one of the joys and challenges of writing fiction – trying to walk in another person’s shoes.
The challenge is always there in any new story – to be addressed with a combination of imagination, research, empathy, and good advice. (*insert enormous gratitude for generous beta readers here.*) But while some aspects of writing fiction about lives we’ve never lived are more of a technical challenge – historical accuracy, for instance – others are more of an emotional challenge.
When we present a character who belongs to a group that seems marginalized, or at risk, the stakes feel higher. So for Carlos, the metal music scene has its passionate devotees who will no doubt find my mistakes, but I’m not very worried about those errors. They may irritate, but will hurt no one.
The transgender F2M part of the story feels more presumptuous. I had trans beta readers, but I’m still very aware that I’m presenting one, fictionalized, look at a guy who represents a frequently-maligned and misrepresented group. Will I offend someone living the truth of my fiction? Will I perpetuate stereotypes? Cause a potential ally to take the wrong track?
Carlos, to fit the wonderful prompt request, represents the most familiar, easy-to-parse version of trans – the guy who knew from early childhood that he was a boy, and whose struggle is to live that truth as a man. Am I therefore perpetuating the myth that all transgender folk know as kids who they really are? (Many don’t or can’t articulate the incongruity they feel, even as teens or young adults.) Or that they all want to land squarely into the stereotypical center of their identified gender?
And then the Hispanic culture was another stretch. (Again, a huge thanks to my Hispanic beta readers!!) But even with their help, did I get the wrong feel? I surrounded Carlos with Caucasian characters, partly to cut down on dealing with Spanish in emotional scenes. Was that isolation a betrayal by reducing sympathetic minority secondary characters?
Readers will have to see for themselves. As always, my errors will be my own. But it feels more risky than, say, messing up Mac’s police culture, or Daniel’s Navy experiences.
And yet, that’s one thing I love about this summer event – the prompts push me into writing spaces I might otherwise hesitate to try. If we all played it safe, so may good stories would never come to life.
The DRitC crew don’t give out definite release dates for the stories. So I don’t know exactly when my readers will get to meet Nate and Carlos. (And the band, and the cat :) ) But I’m told it will be in the next two weeks. I’m looking forward to it.
And we have a signed contract. :)
The narrator Jonathan and I chose for Into Deep Waters is Kaleo Griffith. He’s an actor and a voice artist, with quite a few audio books to his credit (mostly M/F). He’s also starring in an upcoming feature film Six Gun Savior with Eric Roberts, which premiers next month. And he’s not half bad to look at…
Of course that played no role in choosing Kaleo. (Really – I carefully didn’t look at pictures and bio till afterward.)
I actually chose Kaleo as our narrator because, amid all the good auditions, his most closely fit my vision of how Jacob and Daniel would sound, both as young men and as old guys. I also appreciated the way he made me not just hear but feel the more intense narrative passages. Kaleo told me afterward that he actually read almost all of the book before doing his audition. That extra effort showed, I think, in his approach to scenes – knowing how they fit into the story made him give the right quality to his tone.
I’m excited to see him get started, which may happen as early as next week. Right now Jonathan Penn is working on preparing the book text for audio. As newbies to audio, we’re finding some things that need altering. There are times when I use placement on the page and italics to separate out internal thoughts from other parts of dialogue. There are scene breaks that say “****”. So part of the job is deciding where such things need elaborating or tagging for the listener. It’s interesting.
I do want to say there were several other very good auditions. I’d like to give a little shout out, for other self-pub authors thinking about audio, to Buddy Hatton, who was one of the unsolicited auditions we received. He made our top 5, and had a lower hourly rate than most others. If you are inviting auditions, especially if your characters are older, not in their teens, you might add him to your invited list. I really appreciated the time all the narrators gave in sending us their work.
So there we are – next step is sending in the finished script, and seeing what Kaleo does with it. I can’t wait to hear it!
This is all new to me – I’m using ACX to handle the auditions, contracting, etc. Or I should say, Jonathan Penn is, on my behalf, because wow, it’s so much easier with help.
It turns out that the second step, after deciding to take the plunge, and choosing some narrators who might be good, is to audition them. For this you have to create an audition script from the book.
*Point one that we found out in the process – your script should only be about 5 minutes long.
We started with a longer one, and had to cut it back. With Jonathan’s help, I decided that our audition script needed to include several things.
– a scene with narrative and conversation from the beginning, to check on the “Young Daniel” and “Young Jacob” voices, and narration pace
– an emotional scene, for what is sometimes an emotional book. (I picked a bit of the scene in the water, for those familiar with the story.)
– a sex scene (because yeah, some narrators do not give good sex ;) )
– an older-guys scene, to see if the narrator can age the voices into their 80’s well
Jonathan went even further, and made note of a couple of small points
– an obvious typo – did the narrator catch it and fix it, or read it as written?
– a word that has idiosyncratic pronunciation
– a descriptive phrase that was a bit awkward
Then we loaded the script, invited the 10 narrators we hoped to hear from, and figured we’d get a few nibbles.
To my delight, we got 9 of the 10 invitees sending in audition readings (and the tenth – Charlie David – was interested but not available in the time frame; so flattering to have all of them bother to respond :) We also got 4 other auditions sent in from people we didn’t invite, and 3 of them were also very good. This is where Jonathan made it easy on me – he did an initial ranking of the 13 auditions on a bunch of aspects. Then he sent me the ranking chart and the auditions I wanted to hear. I did the same kind of ratings on my top 5, with my own criteria and we compared notes.
No one was perfect – the guy with the best sex scenes didn’t age the voices as well. The guy with the best voices had melodramatic narration. The guy with the most wonderful, emotional narration had less ideal sex scenes. Of course, it could never be that simple.
And of course, of the top 5 narrators, Jonathan’s 1st choice was my 5th.
But we worked through the points of who we liked and why. We also looked at costs. You can either offer a royalty-sharing scheme, or up-front, hourly rates. My 63K story will take about 7 hours. The guys we looked at charge between $110 and over $300 per hour. I can understand why royalty-sharing would appeal to authors, but it is a gamble for narrators who have to do the work up front. I had decided to offer to pay the hourly rate, because I wasn’t sure any of the great narrators I wanted for this story (which is dear to my heart) would choose to royalty-share, given the uncertainty of an audio book based on a free novel.
So I gulped a little at the cost (and hoped hard that I’ll make it back), and took hourly rates into account. We also looked at availability, since patience isn’t my strong point. Most of the guys said they could do it in August, one said the end of July, one not till September. In the end, we picked a guy who was my number 1 and Jonathan’s number 2, and mid-range in cost. A guy whose reading made me feel the emotions of Daniel as he found Joseph, in that water. Someone I’m excited to hear read the rest of the story.
The next step was to offer a contract. And once the contract is signed, we’ll wait until the narrator has a block of free time, and he’ll do a first recording, which we then get to listen to and edit. I expect attentive listening will be tough for me – I can’t even read my own work aloud. But at the same time, I can’t wait to hear what this guy does with the story. It’ll be about a month.
I’ll keep you posted.
What a weekend that was. I still smile now and then, just from the high of it.
The US Supreme Court confirmed the right of equal marriage throughout the nation. A hundred important legal rights come with that, from medical decision-making to financial benefits to family building. And despite foot dragging here and there, it will be implemented everywhere. In our lifetimes.
And in the lifetimes of so many older people whose lifelong fight for recognition of their love is finally achieved. I teared up at the picture of the two Texas gentlemen in their eighties, sharing a kiss as husbands after 54 years together.
We owe so much to all the people who came out in the decades past – the ones who took risks and stood up and taught their families and friends and neighbors that gay was just another adjective for people whom they knew, trusted and cared about.
I went to pride this weekend, and the mood was joyful. There were kids and adults of all ages, all celebrating together. School buses with rainbow garlands. Equal opportunity Daleks, ready to exterminate without prejudice.
Drag queens and major corporations all coming together under the rainbow. How wonderful. And here and there I saw couples in their fifties, sixties, seventies, holding hands with bright eyes, and looking at the rainbow-sparkling kids around them with delight.
The fight for equality is not over, but the Supreme Court’s statement means more than just marriage rights in an extra 13 states. It is a statement of equality that we hope will resonate far beyond the legal issue of marriage. We still need to fight, and vote, to keep the progress going, but this weekend was for celebration.
It felt apt that I am currently in the middle of a project to get my first audio book release. Because I chose Into Deep Waters for that release. And that book is my homage to older men like that couple from Texas, who lived quiet lives of love and hope through all the hard years.
I submitted the audition script – or rather my angel on this project, Jonathan Penn, did – and invited ten of the narrators you guys have mentioned to me as favorites. I hoped a couple might be interested. To my delight, nine of them are submitting auditions. A wealth of riches. I’ll be listening and trying to somehow make a choice soon.
I don’t know how this book will do. The ebook is free, so I’m not sure how many people will choose to pay for the audio. But it’s a project I’ve wanted to try for a long time, and most of my self-pub books, to which I have the audio rights, are freebies. So I decided that I wanted Into Deep Waters out there. Whether I do any others or not, this is the book I wanted to bring to a bigger audience if I can. It’s exciting, and I look forward to the next stages of the process.
Happy Father’s Day…
My own dad was born in 1918, and died nine years ago. I still miss him, and always will. He was the kind of man who made you believe the romance book heroes, proof that men like that can be found – honorable, compassionate, intelligent, gentle, courteous and a man who always put his family first.
He was a teacher, who loved nothing more than seeing a bright young mind catch on to a new idea. He was a researcher with a huge respect for evidence and science and good decision making. He was a gardener, who made roses grow wild and fragrant, and brought them to my mother.
Despite having been born almost a century ago, he was one of the most open-minded men I’ve met. He judged people only on the content of their characters, never on superficialities. He spoke up against prejudice and bigotry and oppression, of all kinds.
He never raised a hand to us kids, but we wanted desperately to meet his standards. We’d almost rather have been smacked than know that we had disappointed him. But he also understood our human failings and gave us the chance to try again. He was soft-spoken, and encouragement came more easily to him than criticism.
I heard him swear once, in all my life. When we were out on a lake in a little sailing dinghy, and it sprang a leak and sank, he said, “Damn.” Once. Quietly.
He was a great dad, and a beloved grandfather. We were all blessed to have known him.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, those still with us and those gone ahead… and most of all those who are fathers in spirit to other men’s children, the step-dads and uncles and Big Brothers and mentors, to the neighbours and teachers and everyone who takes that place in a child’s life, and gives them time and attention and love.
I had an interesting conversation with a trans guy who is a friend of mine. He was talking about how he’s both pleased, and yet feeling a bit invisible, with recent increases in trans stories out in the public eye.
The easiest narrative to understand, about being trans, is the one where the little trans girl at the tender age of two and three and four rejects all the boy stuff – the work-boots and football jerseys and toy trucks. She insists on wearing skirts and growing her hair out and wants to play with dolls. And as she grows up, she never wavers from this stance. Eventually, she takes hormones, has surgery, and becomes the feminine dress-wearing, nailpolished girl she always wanted to be. And the little trans boy cuts his own hair short, won’t wear a skirt, and wants a football helmet for his birthday.
And that is how it goes for some. Without a doubt. It’s also the easiest narrative for cis-gender folk to understand – the one where the child is sure about their misgendering from the very start. The one where the trans person loves all the stereotypical trappings of their identified gender. It’s not easy for those kids, by any means, but it’s clear and unambiguous.
But for this trans friend of mine, and many others, it wasn’t that simple. Lots of trans folk don’t realize in childhood why they aren’t quite at home with themselves. The differences between boys and girls in childhood are often more a matter of culture than biology.
It’s sometimes only at puberty and beyond that the dysphoria begins to have a focus. Their developing bodies feel wrong, and their social roles don’t fit. They may hate the way they are changing physically, or dissociate from their lives, in an uncertain way that is hard for them to understand until they are out in the world. Until the concept of “transgender” breaks through for them.
Some trans folk also want to transition, but may not want to squeeze into all the stereotypes of their identified gender. Some trans guys want to be a bit femme and wear nailpolish. Some trans girls still want to ride broncos and play hockey. Just like cis guys and girls.
The trap, though, is that for those trying to transition who don’t totally conform to all the stereotypes, there is a constant second guessing by acquaintances, family, and potentially even medical professionals. “If you want to keep your hair long, are you sure you’re really F2M and not just a bit gender fluid?” “If you like driving monster trucks, how can you think you’re a girl?” “Are you sure you don’t just wish you were thinner/taller/more athletic?”
And not every trans person wants surgery. That’s not a simple topic at all. And yet there are those who think that it’s the only valid proof someone is “really” trans, when they surgically change their bodies to fit. It isn’t. Not wanting surgery doesn’t mean you aren’t “sure” or “committed” to your gender identity.
So as we try to be allies to the trans community, it’s good to remember that there is no one trans story. Insisting “these people know from birth that they were mis-gendered” is a common way to try to say, “Yes, this is real!” But it’s not always true, and we need to be careful that we don’t exclude the individuals who take another path to their true identity, by focusing on the simplest story.
**disclaimer – the pictures are purchased stock photos; I have no reason to think these are, or are not, trans individuals.
For someone with a bunch of books out, I’m still fumbling around to find the best way to share my excitement over them with readers. I’ve had so many lovely reviews over the last few years (Thank you, wonderful reviewers!!), and my response has always been to do happy dances in private. But a dear friend (yes, you, Edmond Manning) told me that readers don’t mind being directed to a few of the good reviews.
In fact, he insisted I should toot my horn a bit more.
For those who know me, you know I loathe tooting my own horn. Horn tooter, I am not. In fact, when it’s time for horn tooting, I run out of the house, down the street, and climb a tall tree, hiding in the branches. As much as I love to write, I have an innate desire to throw my books to the public and run.
I do want to share Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) with friends and readers who like my work. I want you to know I’m proud of this book. I like how it turned out.
So if you will permit me to share with you a few quotes from earlier reviewers, I’ll do that. If you’d like to talk to me, post a comment, or email me. I’ll be sitting up in the tallest tree at the end of the street.
“Kaje Harper’s The Rebuilding Year was one of my favorite books of 2012. It was the story of two seemingly “straight” men at an unsettled point in their lives, a time where they are discarding their past and trying to rebuild a future for themselves, and in John’s case, hopefully for his children as well. Now comes the sequel, Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) and, with this story, I found myself falling back in love with John and Ryan, and their relationship. Never quite the fan of the “gay for you” trope, Harper made a serious argument for John and Ryan’s feelings in the first book.
“I love how Harper lets us see into their decision making process and relationship dynamics through their conversations, actions and lovemaking. Harper allows her characters the strength and depth that lets them act responsibility and respectfully towards themselves and those around them. Yes, this is a book about grownups in a thoughtful adult relationship.”
From Hearts on Fire Reviews:
“The long-awaited sequel to “The Rebuilding Year”, this book was everything I could have hoped for, and more! What I loved most about this story, besides the characters themselves, is the way the situations were handled. The way the men just took life a day at a time helped to strengthen their own relationship in the midst of chaos. These are ordinary guys who have an extraordinary love for each other, but who live otherwise conventional lives and continually draw together to reinforce their relationship, rather than be torn apart by the push and pull of family dynamics.
“It is such a pleasure to read Kaje Harper’s writing. Her writing style is engaging, her characters are three-dimensional, and the situations are realistic. The fact that this couple worked together to overcome family prejudices and pressure from both John’s ex-wife and Ryan’s brother, while maintaining their strong bond and growing closer together, made this book an absolute pleasure to read. I wish these guys were my neighbors.”
From Love Bytes Reviews:
“The Rebuilding Year is one of my all time favourite books. It fuelled my addiction for gay-for-you storylines and cemented my opinion that Kaje Harper is one of the best m/m writers that I’ve read. So finding out that there was a sequel to that book was both ridiculously exciting and kind of scary. As much as I was desperate to discover what happened next, sequels have the potential to ruin the first book and the idea of that happening to The Rebuilding Year was terrifying. I’ve only read the book about ten times. I’ve still got many re-reads left in me. Luckily, this book gave me exactly what I needed to contentedly leave Ryan and John living their happily ever after.”
I also have an interview and another kind review on The Nocturnal Library where Maja asked me some fun questions about my writing in general and this book in particular.
It’s so wonderful for me as an author to see people enjoying my books. And I had to laugh with pleasure when one of the mid-range reviews (from Dani(ela) on Goodreads) started out with “So here’s the thing: Kaje Harper can write the shit out of anything. I appreciate her books because they are often about real people, real life.”
Even when one book or another isn’t a perfect fit for someone, I still have the very best readers around. They make me believe that my stories are worth publishing, worth promoting, even if it’s from up in that tall tree, and with a push from a friend. :)