Trusting my author instincts

Something has changed in my approach to writing.

Or perhaps it’s just a change for the book I’m currently working on. I usually meticulously plot chapter by chapter, but for the sequel to Social Media Central, that’s not the case. Maybe it’s because it needs twists and turns as its a dystopian thriller. It’s better for me to surprise myself by which dilemma Tayler finds himself, while I work out ways of bailing him out.

I have a mass of notes for this project and although I did plot many chapters for the first quarter of the book, I didn’t follow the plan. The same things happen, just not in the same order and sometimes not in the same way.

Social Media Central also ended up being written with the same approach.

While I had much of it plotted I went off course to experiment with other ideas. Even several versions of the same scene were penned before I felt the details were right. And while I knew the ending would be about Tayler giving in to mass culture by becoming famous for creating something just as mundane as cat videos, a better ending came as I was writing it.

And so too with my current project. I trusted myself to start it before I had worked out three quarters of the plot. Yet I’m finding inspiration in daily life and through random thoughts that have become the notes which are driving the story. Usually these ideas help shape the next draft of a book but this time I’m working through my chaotic ideas, piecing them together as I go along.

My other work in progress hasn’t been approached the same way.

The Midnight Man is a Magic Realism story about a guy finding the man he needs in his dreams. This was plotted, as all my fantasy books are. It’s currently resting before I tackle it for its second draft, and as usual, other new scene ideas have come up.  This is my usual approach.  For this project I feel I need to include more backstory and to give my main character an obsession for muesli bars.

So maybe I’ve found a new way of working. Or maybe just a different way to approach a particular genre. I’m enjoying where this ride might take me. The irony is I read Stephen King’s book about writing recently and found he doesn’t believe in plotting. It was the only advice of his I didn’t agree with. Yet here I am working closer to his style.

It seems I’m more confident to break my own rules these days.

Words. They have power!

I’ve often blogged about my favourite editor, Mary Belk.

She was assigned to my first novel and totally helped me re-imagine it. But I realised something the other day. I have no idea what she looks or sounds like. That’s not unusual as I have the same relationship with my current editor, Jason.

I wanted to Skype Mary but she wouldn’t allow it. The same book, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, was assessed over three drafts by a woman named Janet who I’d met. I even had one of my consultations over the phone.

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Photo courtesy of Start Up Stock Photos

But without knowing her voice or seeing her face, Mary sticks in my mind.

She taught me so much more about writing. She’s passed on since so I’ll never get to know what she looked like (yes, I’ve Googled. Nothing!) or hear her voice for the first time. Yet, through her written words, she’s touched me.

This made me ponder my other modern relationships, especially those I only experience online.

There’s a stark difference between those who use words and those who use images.

Those that I know in real life that share pictures, I feel connected to. Those that I know personally who only use pictures but I don’t see regularly, I feel are disconnecting. Yet others who I’ve never met but share comments with regularly on social media feel closer.

I know you’ll probably read that last paragraph again. If you’re my age and remember the difference between an acquaintance and a friend then you might recognise that in an online age, this distinction has already blurred.

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Image by Kellipics, courtesy of Pixabay

I used to love talking to friends on the phone for hours as a teenager.

Often a phone call seems like a hindrance now. And if you ever ask me what was humankind’s greatest invention, I’d pick language over the wheel any day. And even though a picture is worth a thousand words, we don’t communicate just by sending images back and forth.

Words are what affect us. They comfort us. They show us what we all have in common.

Ideas, and where to find them.

I’ve been travelling.

I took some time off to realign my life. Before this trip my day job got very hectic, taking over both my time and my thoughts, and forcing my current writing project to feel abandoned. Yet, in a way, this has turned out to be a good thing.

The work in progress, titled The Midnight Man, is about Stanley, a middle aged guy in an unhappy relationship who finally meets the man of his dreams. The only problem is this man is literally in his dreams. He doesn’t exist in the real world.

Image by Stux, courtesy of Pixabay

It’s still an undernourished first draft.

It’s not even that. This draft is not completed. I’ve already had to print it out twice and re-read it, as there were several gaps of time between working on it. In short, I rediscovered my own novel. Met the characters again. Reconnected to what it was about.

But while I was away, finding time to just be me, the story became much clearer. As a rule, I generally plot my novels and before leaving home I rearranged several scenes to heighten the drama. Away from home, more interesting plot twists came to mind.

I found a dream-catcher in a gift store in San Diego.

It’s not like I’d never seen one before, but it struck me odd that I didn’t come up with the idea to use one in my story. It makes perfect sense that Stanley would try any means to bring his lover into the real world.

I continued to note various life philosophies as I travelled. These thoughts began to link with the themes in the book, but more importantly I decided to make the dream sequences more vivid. I think that’s an offshoot of travel. Life becomes more vivid. Travel allows you to dream and let’s face it, those dreams aren’t dreary.

Image by Lysons-editions, courtesy of Pixabay

So now to work.

Once more I have to print out the manuscript and rediscover it, making notes to add more depth to Stanley’s night time rendezvous with his lover. And to work in my travel-fuelled musings on life.

For the love of pens!

Last Friday I encouraged my workmates to try writing with the fountain pen on display in a gift shop we entered.

I had one as a teenager and loved the way it glided on paper. I wanted others to experience this. After a few attempts they got it.

Image courtesy of The3cats via Pixabay

In a world where most of us cramp when we overuse a manual writing implement because our fingers drive today’s communication tools, it’s refreshing to reacquaint ourselves with feeling like we have a more direct way of spilling ourselves onto the page.

It’s more organic when we need to write on a post it or leave a message for someone on scrap paper. There’s one instrument between ourselves and the final product, not a digital reconstruction with choice of font. Our penmanship is ours. It’s our style, and on the rare occasions we see it, it reflects something back to us.

Image courtesy of StockSnap via Pixabay

Yet even now I use my phone for dictating plot twists rather than using my notebook. I have even been gifted two beautiful engraved pens, one from a friend and one from my mum. But at least I used one of them to take notes at a social media marketing seminar the other night and it felt natural.

Having a good pen in your hand is a treat worth rediscovering. The ink flows through craftsmanship. It’s tactile and alive. It’s you. A life story told in the handwriting itself.

Nate and Cameron

The Nate and Cameron Collection has been released in paperback. This book is made up of two previously released ebooks, Nate and the New Yorker and Nate’s Last Tango.

I’m writing this blog several weeks before its release because something has already fascinated me as reviews of the second story started coming in. Readers are both wanting Nathan and Cameron to sort out their differences or simply break up. I’m pleased with this reaction.

When the first story was initially released by the now defunct Wilde City Press, the blurb promoted it as a Romance Novella. I thought this strategy would appeal to more readers. Half were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t while the other half were furious that it didn’t stick to the promise.

The original first edition Wilde City Press cover.

Yes there’s a rich dude who’s a dreamer trying to court a realist, but the realist, Nate, hasn’t let go of his last relationship because his ex was his soul mate.

The reviews of the second ebook, Nate’s Last Tango, have said that Nathan and Cameron need to learn the art of communication rather than using travel to elongate a kind of honeymoon. But the reviewers have conceded this is the point. Several have mentioned this makes the negotiation of their lives reflect a real relationship.

Warren and I, years and years ago

When my partner and I first got together twenty-seven years ago we too would have arguments that kept us from talking for days, yet it was important for us to work on our relationship. We both knew this one mattered.

Today we burst into laughter rather than fight. This is how I see Nate and Cam. If another tale gets written I’d like to take it from a point where they’ve worked a lot of things out, but that doesn’t make a good story.

Regardless, the two tales of Nate and Cameron have made it from ebooks to an old fashioned paperback. Thank you NineStar Press.

Having no time to write.

My current work in progress is suffering.

Well, maybe I’m being melodramatic but this has been a year of less time to write. First off I had to step into a new role at work meaning my luxurious three day working week changed to four sometime during March.

Monday is currently my only day to write because try as I might, I can’t sit at the keyboard and simultaneously daydream while my partner’s home on weekends. I need complete silence to hear my own thoughts.

Image courtesy of Start Up Stock Photos

But Mondays weren’t always my own.

I was blessed with a new publisher who re-released my existing work and brought out three newbies. So some Mondays meant going through my editor’s, line editor’s or proof reader’s notes. I can’t be cross about that. It’s one of the advantages of having a good publisher.

The problem is, you start losing the plot.

Earlier this year I had to re-read my first several chapters to re-engage with my own manuscript. In recent weeks when I’ve written a few chapters I’ve wondered if certain characters still spoke the same way they did at the start of the book.  I feel like this is the roughest first draft I’ve done in a while.

Image by Edar, courtesy of Pixelbay

There has been an advantage, though.

This tale, The Midnight Man, is about a middle aged man who meets an enchanting younger guy in his dreams, causing him to reevaluate his own life. When I started I only had half the book plotted. With time away I’ve been able to cement the story-line from random thoughts and real life experiences. The chapter by chapter breakdown is now complete, although I have a few new ideas to add to the tale.

Usually these additions are conceived between drafts. When complete, probably very late in the year, this first draft will have all elements in place so that in the next draft I can expand on some of the twists.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The irony is that I wanted to start this novel last year but other works demanded to be completed. In hindsight this was my instinct telling me that I’d need those new books this year for my new publisher.

In October I start a new position.

Same place, better working hours. I’ll be back to three days with some extra shifts from time to time to teach. I’m relieved. The Midnight Man can get the time it deserves.

Plus they’ll be edits and marketing for Social Media Central, my newest contracted novel.

My writing life returns to normal and I can’t wait. I’ve worked years toward that goal. Life is for dreaming.

Adventures in Self Publishing – Part 1

This is an interesting year of me.

It’s one of those years where things just seem to fall in place. My day job is moving forward with opportunities, and I got signed up to a new publisher after my former one folded.

I even got a contract for my non-queer novel which, although I had a gut feeling I would be offered, I also had a strange notion that something wouldn’t be quite right. My instinct was spot on! I was offered a contract which stipulated that I would receive no royalties until the publisher made back $US2,500 to cover the costs of editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, book proofs, printing and shipping, and legal fees. The term ‘vanity publisher’ came to mind.

The main character.

My partner congratulated me.

He was proud that I finally got a contract for this particular book. I didn’t reply to the publisher’s email. In fact, it took me a week to respond.

It’s hard when you want a contract so bad, yet you smell a rat. I went over my other contracts with other publishers and couldn’t go past the overcharging for services just to deny me my royalties. So before I actually said ‘thanks, but no thanks’, I let my social media friends know what was going on.

The futuristic city depicted in the manuscript.

People were alarmed on Facebook.

Everyone who responded was worried I was going to take the bait. Some of the comments included ‘I wouldn’t do it, Kevin. Find another way‘, ‘Do not sign. That is crazy. Better to indie pub than that craziness‘ and ‘Yeah don’t sign. Better to self publish.’

I know some very successful indie authors, so the notion of self publishing is less daunting then it was, say, ten years ago. Social media has made it easy to be seen in the right circles. And I know I could self-publish for half of what that dodgy publisher was claiming a book costs to release.

So I have a new project this year.

I’ve already arranged to have the manuscript edited by a person I have worked with before. I also know who I want as the cover designer even though I haven’t asked him yet. I’m catching up for lunch with an author friend who self publishes some of her work and always has the best advice. Another author friend who up until now has been traditionally published, is also considering her first indie release. We’ve joked about learning from each other as we go down that path. And I’ve made a list of actors to approach for the trailer. I hope they say yes.

More characters.

Do you have advice?

I’m going to keep blogging from time to time about this experience as its all quite new to me. But I also welcome your advice if you’ve self published. What should I be wary of? What was your most successful marketing method? How did you grow your social media?

I haven’t given myself a deadline except to say I want to have this work out before the end of the year. Apart from my writing, this will be a further push to my creative side.

The First Novel

Tomorrow I’m going to feel a sense of déjà vu as my first novel gets relaunched for the third time. My last publisher closed down, so I was very lucky that NineStar Press decided to re-contract my works.

An author’s first novel is special. It’s the one they sweated over. It’s the one that was redrafted more than any of the others. It’s the one where a budding author learns their craft.

Drama Queens with Love Scenes started as a handwritten manuscript titled Staging Life, and although I can’t remember how long ago I jotted down the first words into my journal, I can confidently say that it was over ten years ago. The original concept for the book had a cast of dead thespians acting in plays that taught them something about themselves, awakening them to lessons they missed while alive. As I wrote, the plot drastically changed.

In the first draft, friends, Allan and Warwick, visit Allan’s Uncle Bryant in Melbourne. The opening chapter was a slight ode to 19th century sci-fi as a large shiny rocket in the front garden takes the friends by surprise. The uncle and his poet girlfriend, Pamela, decide that Allan and Warwick should take the maiden voyage which they agree to, never believing for once this thing would fly. Something goes wrong and they find themselves in the Afterlife in the second chapter.

When I had this draft assessed, I was slapped on the knuckles for confusing the fantasy world with the real. I was told a rocket malfunction shouldn’t appear as a cause of death because it was fanciful and interfered with the world building of the Afterlife. I was also encouraged not to begin the book at the start, and to make Allan and Warwick’s death a mystery that unfolded in flashback . I took her advice and worked with her for several more drafts.

The original Charles River Press edition featuring Guy on the cover

When the novel was first contracted I was given an amazing editor. Her name was Mary Belk. Sadly she’s passed on since we worked together, but she is to this day the person who has influenced me the most in the way I write. She made me revisit my entire manuscript by combining chapters, dropping a character, and getting me to work harder in my ‘showing, not telling’. I worked for three months revamping the novel and had my doubts about her suggestions quite regularly, but as I sat reading the final draft from start to end, I realised she was right in everything she said. I wrote about Mary in another blog which you can read here.

The mysterious Guy, watching over Allan on the Wilde City edition of the cover

The next stop for my novel was Wilde City, a wonderful gay press who closed down recently. Through this publisher I got the much needed exposure to the right audience. More glbtqi blog sites picked it up for review. And as in the scant critiques that came out previously, my angel character, Guy, was still the most popular character. He has been described as many things including the emotional linchpin of the story. One reviewer claimed that they had even put in their own request to have Guy as their guardian angel. His popularity in this book has always surprised me. I even wrote a blog about it which lives here.

Since Drama Queens with Love Scenes I have written several other novels. The sequel, Drama Queens and Adult Themes, will be relaunched next month, as will my ‘not quite a romance’ novella, Nate and the New Yorker. But what’s equally as exciting as seeing these new editions find new readers, are the first releases of two more works. One of these is Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, the third in the Actors and Angels series. And yes, there’s a horned character who I’ve named Preston in the book.

But for the time being I’m looking forward to my first born being reincarnated – fitting for a novel about actors in the theatre district of the Afterlife.


A blog which goes deeper into the story of writing this particular novel can be found here.

Guest Blog – Christian Baines

I’d like to welcome back Christian Baines to my website. When asked to join the team of authors sharing their thoughts on writing, Christian took a unique approach, and I’m glad he did. Today he offers perspective as he calls for certain characters in gay fiction to be fleshed out more honestly.

Plus he’d like to offer one reader of today’s guest blog any one of his novels, but you can read about how to enter at the end of this post. For now, he’d like writers to consider women.


All About My Mother
(and my sister, and my aunt, and my best friend, and my daughter, and my high school beard…)

Thanks Kevin, for having me back on the blog! As I write this, we’re barely more than a month into 2017, and already two events this year that have inspired me. One took place when millions of women (and men, and others) who hit the streets across the world to stand up for women’s rights in what was the perfect response to a man who waves his misogyny and hatred in our faces like the world’s most graceless matador.

(Don’t worry, this post isn’t about politics!)

My other flash of early 2017 inspiration came through Pedro Almodovar’s newest movie, Julieta, based on the stories of Canadian writer Alice Munro. Cult figure Almodovar has been Spain’s most popular filmmaker since his breakthrough hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He’s one of my favourites, and a huge inspiration when it comes to storytelling.

Pedro Almodovar

Pedro Almodovar

Weird as it may seem to link something as important as the Women’s March to a simple movie, both reminded me (as Almodovar’s films often do) of how much we, particularly as gay men, owe to women, and how we sometimes sell them short in our stories. For the uninitiated, Almodovar is an openly gay screenwriter and director who not only brings a gay sensibility to his films, but also tends to focus on female characters. You can see it right from his first movie, Pepi, Luci, Bom. In fact, a straight male is almost never the protagonist in an Almodovar film, and Julieta is no exception, being all about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Sometimes, he plays them for comedy or eccentricity, tottering around the screen in Gaultier couture and high heels. But in his less comedic films, Almodovar’s women have become increasingly powerful and complex, nowhere more so than in Volver, a personal Almodovar favourite in which the male characters seem almost incidental.

Even though it’s tough to find a single healthy gay romance amid the broken embraces of these movies, there is one important question for gay fiction and romance writers to address.

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How do you effectively bring women into your gay labyrinth of passion?

While bringing our classic pairing of two male MCs out in the live flesh, it can be easy to forget our female characters. They might slot awkwardly into overused tropes, or even come off as nasty obstacles to budding love. I’ve read women in gay romance played as bitchy homophobic relatives, or as bitter ex-wives or girlfriends…which is not entirely off limits. There’s definitely room for these characters and all of their dark habits. But as authors, we need to be careful not to reduce them to stereotypes. If they’re not properly developed, with real motivations for their nastiness, characters of any gender come off as cartoons. A male author writing such female characters looks misogynistic, and a female author writing them looks insecure, or at best, appears to be making some weird attempt to ‘protect’ her gay babies. While that formula might appeal to certain readers, it’s kind of condescending. It also doesn’t reflect the important roles women often play in our lives as gay men, and I’m pretty sure most readers can tell.

My experience is obviously going to be different to yours, but we each know who the important women are in our lives, and why. Maybe it was a mother or sister, who gave us the freedom to explore our interests and gender identity free of traditionally ‘male’ expectations. Maybe it was an aunt who inspired us with her eccentricity, or came down hard on us to build up the strength we now use to deal with prejudice. Maybe it was an understanding or inspiring teacher, coach, boss, colleague, or counsellor. Or maybe just that really good friend who played prom/formal beard, or took us to our first gay bar because we were too scared everyone was going to hit on the fresh meat, or who pushed us to go say hi to that cute guy who was so far ‘out of our league.’ Or maybe it was an acquiring editor who said ‘Yeah, this is good. Can you send me the full manuscript?’

Or, just the one who read something we wrote and told anyone that would talk to her about books to check it out.

Image courtesy of Voltamax, via Pixabay

It’s kind of impossible at this point to count the women who’ve played a role in my growth as a gay man and writer, or who’ve helped me in some way to feel comfortable in the skin I live in. But there are lots, and I’m pretty sure many other gay and bi men can say the same. There’s no strange law of desire, even in gay romance that says female characters should be any less developed in our stories. Sometimes they might even be a part of the romance (but oh, don’t get me started on the response I’ve had to doing that!). Sometimes they’re authority figures like Patricia Bakker, or lifelong friends like Isobel, who know the protagonist almost better than the protagonist knows himself. Sometimes they’re…whatever Mary is in Puppet Boy. All need just as much effort and development as your male protagonists.

One of my pet peeves in fiction (of any kind) is the strong woman. It’s a well-meaning cliché, but seriously? Men get to be smart, conflicted, snarky, insightful, reserved, assertive, etc etc etc… You will never hear a book promoted as having a ‘Strong male lead.’ Yet women are supposed to be satisfied or grateful if their representation is ‘strong’ and…that’s that? Really? We owe it to our female characters, readers, and the real women in our lives to go beyond this. ‘Strong’ should be the starting point of the character’s development, not the end. And if she’s not strong…does it really matter? Is there really no room in our fiction for characters who aren’t ‘strong’ (whatever that means)? In a character development pool of hundreds of potential traits, is ‘strength’ really the only way to make a character stand out in an interesting way?

Of course, good gay stories don’t need female characters in major roles order to be effective. Worse than an absence of women is a token character that’s been shoe-horned in there just to ‘represent.’ But it shouldn’t exclusively be an all-boys’ club either, because our lives aren’t. I’m so excited when I read complex, well realised female characters in a gay novel. Where it’s clear the author has thought about how important women can be to us, or is giving us an insight into a real woman who had a positive effect on their lives, or whatever. To me, it’s a sign gay novels have truly achieved mainstream acceptance, where gay love and sex is neither taboo nor fetishized, but is just another part of life, like the wonderful women we know.
Though I’ll probably never write a tell-all book all about my mother (insert ‘Christina’ gag here).


One thing I love about Christian Baines is that like me, he’s a film buff. So he has a question for readers who’d like to win any novel-length title from his backlist. Those who answer correctly will go into the random draw. The question is:

How many Pedro Almodovar movie titles are referenced in this blog post?

To be in the draw, please contact with your answer by using the email form at https://kevinklehr.com/contact/

 

beast puppet Baines

This giveaway closes on Friday April 7.

Thanks to Christian for being a guest blogger for the second time, and sharing his thoughts once again. His last post asked if there really is a happy ever after. You can read his thoughts on that topic here.

For more on this talented fellow Australian author, check out both his personal blog, Fiendish Whispers, and his author site.

Thanks again, Christian.

Writing Erotica

From Top to Bottom is a short tale about three sexually adventurous men who, um, well, decide to become more sexually adventurous. I originally wrote this for my last publisher who, when first contacting them, was told that erotica and romance are what sell best. I wrote a romance that has been both praised and critiqued for not being true to the genre. As for this naughty novella, it was a challenge set by my partner and two friends.

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It wasn’t easy.

My first contemporary novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes (relaunching on April 17), was originally contracted to a small general publishing house in Boston. When it was first edited I received a nasty note from the head of the company complaining about the lack of sex in the book. He went on to say ‘How can you call this an erotic novel?’

That book was magical realism, and anyone reading that would have worked that out. There was never any discussion about it being erotic.

 

So the editor encouraged me to add sex scenes.

I protested once. It was my first book contract so I didn’t protest beyond that. I added three sex scenes to that novel, which to this day I don’t believe are needed. But they’re light scenes so they don’t distract too much.

She gave me advice on writing these erotic scenes, which I didn’t follow, but thought I should add in this blog for others who might like to know. Apparently, you sit on a towel, naked, in front of your laptop and just type whatever comes into your head. Don’t censor it.

Three days later go back as the author and tidy it up.

So how did I write the scenes for From Top to Bottom?

I’ll keep that a secret but will admit I had to find various ways to let loose and write. What I was more interested in was the characters and their journey during the story. Each one comes to terms with something different during their sexual exploration, each finding their new path with humour.