Showing posts with label Seven Weeks Of M.Christian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Seven Weeks Of M.Christian. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seven M.Christians: Number 3 - My Mission In Life

Check it out: as part of my Seven M.Christian series I just posted the second installment as part of my on-going Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker column for the always-great Erotica Readers And Writers Site:

My Mission In Life

Being a writer – or, to be a bit more precise, the way I became a writer – has really affected how I view the writing life ... well, actually any kind of creative life. Part of it, of course, is that it took me a long time to actually become a professional -- but more than that I think it's the transformation I went through during that far too lengthy process.

Like a lot of people, when I first began to write with an eye to actually getting published, it was a very painful process: the words just didn't come, I was always second-guessing my stories, felt like my characters were dead-on-arrival, and doubt was around much more than confidence or even hope.

But, as we read in our last installment, I kept with it and was able, finally, to step into the word of professionalism. But an odd thing happened during those years: I actually began to like to write.

Shocking, I know (and, yes, that was sarcasm), as that is what writers are supposed feel, but when I wrote like I should have said loved: sure, the words were still clumsy, the plots a struggle, the characters stiff and uncooperative, and I thought more about being out-of-print than ever getting into-print, but somewhere during those years something just clicked and I began to look forward to losing myself in my own tales, having fun with language, playing with characters ... I began to see the joy in actually telling stories.

But, more than that, I began to see the magic – which gets me, in a rather convoluted way, to the title of this little piece. Working on my stories, before and after being a professional, I developed a real appreciation for what it means to be a creator. Distilling it down a bit, I began to see writing – or painting, music, etc – as very special: what a creative person does is truly unique, incredibly difficult, and immeasurably brave.

Think about it for a second: how many people out there, milling about in their lives, have ever even considered doing what a creative person does. Sure, they may think about it, dream about it, but very few actually take even the simplest of shots at it: a creative person is a rare and special treasure. Now consider this: not only are creative people one percent (or less) of the people walking this world but they are willing to actually get off their day-dreaming clouds and do the work – often against overwhelming odds. We hear of the successes, of course: the award-winners, the 'names,' the celebrities – but we don’t hear about millions of others who tried their very best but because of this-or-that they just weren't in the right place at the right time with the right creation. Lastly, even the idea of stepping into a creative life – especially a professional one – is awe-inspiringly courageous: not only do we do the work, struggle with every element, fail and try and learn and fail and try and learn but, despite it all, we keep going.

I call this installment "My Mission In Life" because I've been there, I know the pain of rejection, the struggles of trying to create something from nothing and so when I work with, talk with, or teach – though my classes – anyone doing anything creative I always remind them of their rarity, their dedication, their courage.

I once wrote a little piece that kind of got me into trouble – especially with other writers. In it I laid it on the line: you will never be famous, rich, or have one of your books made into a movie, no one will ask for your autograph ... but, if you remember that what you are doing is rare, special, and brave then some of that might actually happen. The trick is to remember the magic, to forever hold onto the pure enjoyment that comes from creating something that no one has ever seen before.

I don't use the word magic lightly: when it happens just right, when we put it all together, what creative people do is transport people into another world, show them things that they may never have ever considered, and – if we are very lucky – change their lives. If that is not magic then I don't know what is.

So, "My Mission In Life" is (1) remember my own lessons and not lose sight of the joy in creation, the specialness of what I am trying to do, and the courage I have in sending my work out into the too-often cold and uncaring world; and (2) to tell as many creative people the same exact thing.

Sure, some of us might be 'known' a bit more than others, sell more books, make more money and all the rest of that crap – but I sincerely believe that anyone who has dedicated themselves to creation, of any kind, deserves support and respect. No one who creates is better than any other person who creates: we all face the same difficulties, the same ego-shattering failures, the same Sisyphian tasks of trying to get out work out there and noticed.

What writers do is magic -- pure and simple: we are magicians using only our minds, imaginations, and lots of hard to work to use only words to transform, enlighten, transport, amuse and maybe even enlighten.

As a writer, an editor, a friend, and now as a publisher, it is my heartfelt "Mission" to remind anyone who creates that they are truly special: published or not, 'successful' or not, rich or not, famous or not, we are all magicians – and that we are all in this together and that there is absolutely no reason to make an already tough life tougher through needless competition, arrogance, conceit, or just simple rudeness.

We magicians should stick together – and never forget why we are all here: to experience the joy in telling stories.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Seven Weeks Of M.Christian: Week 7 - The Future

Here it is: the last installment of my seven (possibly terrifying) weeks of M.Christian... reasoning behind this is that I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

"From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign myself The Old Man Mad About Drawing."
- Hokusai Katsushika

You may not think you know Hokusai Katsushika but you do, he's the Edo-period artists and woodblock painter most famous for his The Great Wave off Kanagawa – which, no doubt, you've seen a million times.

I don’t really have a bulletin board – at least not a physical one – but Hokusai's statement is always right in front of me ...along with Kipling's rejection letter from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hokusai's sentiment is, to me, what I want in my life – how I want the rest of my life to go: a long life, sure, but more than anything I want to keep getting better and better ... both as a writer but also as a person.  I've already mentioned that scene from The Paper Chase – and with it the desire to create something truly wonderful – but there are naturally more than a few things I want to happen in the future.

But before I say anything more I have be honest: writers do not have careers.  We have determination and, most of all, luck.  We really can't plot or plan our professional lives – far too often things just happen.  I didn’t plan on being a pornographer, an editor, or a publisher, though I am very grateful for the opportunities and the lessons they, and my writing life, have taught me. 

With that in mind, when I look at the future I always keep more doors open than closed: yes, I would like to have fun with a lot of literary projects but I will always never let these fantasies get in the way of stumbling across anything that could take me in a totally new, and possibly wonderful, direction.

I'm a firm believer in stretching yourself creatively.  Not to repeat, but I never planned on being a pornographer (let alone a queer one), editor, publisher and so forth but when the opportunities came I gave them a 100% shot.  As I tell my students in my classes: you never, ever, know what you might be good at until you try.

With that in mind there are more than a few things I want to do that I simply have never tried before.  A great pal of mine, for instance, has written a lot of one-act plays – so I'd love to try my hand at that.  The same goes for screenplays: I haven’t written one – and I love the movies – so I’d trying something like that could be a lot of fun. 

The same goes for comic books.  I know I've missed the boat on that one – the good old days of freedom and a sense of play -- but it still could be a delightful, and revealing, experiment.  I actually have done a short one (called Masquerade, with my pal Wynn Ryder) but I'd like to give a longer work a shot.

Even though I've written quite a few novels I have many more sitting in the back of my mind that I'd really like to get out – and, not to bite the hand that's fed me – I'd like to get away from queer fiction ... not because I haven't had fun but because I'd like to stretch myself by trying not just new sexual orientations but whole new genres.

I would also really like to play with the entire concept of what fiction, storytelling, can be.  Not to give away any secrets but I've always been fascinated by augmented reality games – if you don't know what they are it's where a story, often with multiple endings, is told through a wide variety of modern media (Twitter feeds, blog posts, traditional novels, and even text messages).  I'd also like to experiment with even more ... unusual forms of story-structure.  Again, not to give too much away, but I do think the entertainment of the future will be much more interactive: giving the reader/player all kinds of options and choices. 

Writing novels like Me2 and Finger's Breadth have been incredibly challenging and rewarding – so even though I would like to do a lot of very different books – I still think there is a lot more there to play with.  The book I'm working on right now is another spiritual sister to these books: crowd dynamics, social interaction, the subconscious need to conform, the manufacturing of lives and lifestyles ... a very fun toy box to play with.

One of my more well-know books is a collection of science fiction erotica called The Bachelor Machine (originally put out by Greenery Press it was reprinted by Circlet Press and a new edition is coming soon from Renaissance E Books/Sizzler Editions).  But the thing with The Bachelor Machine is that it's ... a tad dark: very much reflecting the noir-ish cyberpunk feeling of the time when most of the stories were written.

It bothers me – quite a lot – that the world seems to have become terrified of the future become scared of the future: it feels like every book, every movie, TV show, etc, that comes how shows the next few years are either totalitarian and oppressive or post-apocalyptic.  Of course a lot of it is that it's just cheaper, easier to make the world an antagonist for the protagonist to combat and overthrow but I'm concerned that all this negativity is beginning to leach into our souls – that we can't think of the next few years with anything but dread. 

But the fact is we are living in the future: I can watch pretty much every movie or TV show ever made, I can listen to just about every song ever written, I can read ... you get the point.  More importantly, though, is that we are now living in a world where just about anyone can create anything: from films indistinguishable from Hollywood blockbusters; songs that normally would have had to have been distributed by corporations to be heard; books – of course – that can be written and read that never could before; and even physical objects (through 3D printing technology) can be designed and manufactured by anyone, anywhere.

Socially, as well, we are seeing tremendous changes in how we live our lives: gay marriage is becoming more and more acceptable; marijuana reform is spreading; and even the basic concepts of work, play, marriage, love, affection, and life transforming right before our eyes.

So I'm working on a kind-of sequel to The Bachelor Machine – but this time my mission is to write erotic science fiction stories that take the usual nightmare cliché's (genetic engineering, mind and memory alteration, artificial intelligences, total information awareness, and a lot more) but instead of sowing fear I'm working to describe a world where, sure, things may be radically different – even almost unrecognizable – but where people are happy and the world is not just safe but also amazing. 

Writers can't really know their futures, and I certainly can't see what’s over the horizon, but like with these stories I'm working on, I'm working very hard to see over the horizon at possibly-challenging, maybe-even incredibly difficult challenges that will, hopefully, in the end lead not just to beautiful stories but a more enlightened life.

That you all for reading these installments: its been a joy to write and, hopefully, a pleasure for you to read.  If I could leave you with anything it would be to paraphrase the painter of The Great Wave off Kanagawa: "To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Chris, but today I sign myself The Old Man Mad About Writing."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seven Weeks Of M.Christian: Week 6 – What Is Success?

Continuing my seven (possibly terrifying) weeks of M.Christian, here's my newest installment... reasoning behind this is that I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post - once a week, for seven weeks - a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

I was recently introduced as a successful writer: which immediately got me thinking – always a good thing. 

What is a successful writer?

We really should start by clearing the board a bit and admit that success is a pretty meaningless word.  I know a few writers who have only written three or four books but have made indecent amounts of money from them, I also know writers who have written dozens and dozens and dozens of books, and I even have a few writer friends who have won amazing awards – so which one is the most successful?  The reality is that for every literary success story there's usually a dark side: the author who makes a lot of money may very well be trapped by the genre that brought them that nice, juicy income – they simply can't afford to write anything else; the writer who has written dozens and dozens and dozens of books may be respected but has to live in their parents' basement; and the author with all those awards may be terrified by the thought of it's all downhill from here.

When I teach my (commercial begins – Sex Sells: How To Write And Sell Erotica class – commercial ends) I always take a few minutes to remind my students that writers are professional liars: it is, after all, our job to convince people that we are everything from aliens from the dark nebula, a serial killer, a turn-of-the-century grand dame, or whatever/whoever else – meaning that when I writer opens their mouth about anything you should always take what comes out with more than a grain of salt.

Writing, without a doubt, can be a very tough life.  Sure, as I mentioned, what we do is special, brave and even magical, but it can also regularly, methodically kick you in the gut: bad reviews, poor sales, rejection, rejection, rejection ... it is not for the weak.  It's not a surprise – though it is a bit shameful – that some writers deal with the harsh reality of being a writer by wearing an armored suit of arrogance.  They are the ones who love to tell you about their great new sale (though it took them a decade to do it), their amazing award (though no one really respects the quality of their work), the thousands of words they just wrote (that is nothing more than gibberish), or the huge royalty check they got (but will never see again). 

I have a rule: if I happen to have a fellow writer in my life who doesn't make me feel good about me or my work then that person can no longer be in my life.  Yeah, that might be a bit harsh, but anything or anyone that keeps me from working at what is already a damned hard thing to do is someone not worth having around.  The same holds true for blogs, twitter-twits, Facebook 'friends' – if you are not a positive thing in my life then you are simply not going to be in my life.  Writing can be tough, as said, so there's no reason to keep people around who make it any tougher.

So what is success – especially for a writer?  If you've been kind enough to read these little pieces you probably know where this is going ... but bear with me.  I really don't think success has anything to do with awards (I love this quote: "Awards are like hemorrhoids: eventually every asshole gets one"), money (which is extremely slippery for anyone doing anything creative), books or stories written, fame (just watch All About Eve), or anything similar.

For me, success is ... have you ever seen The Paper Chase?  For those that haven't, it's about a student (Timothy Bottoms) facing a very difficult time (to put it mildly) in law school.  It’s a great film (hey, it's got John Houseman so it has to be) but the ending has always resounded with me: after spending hour after hour, day after day, night after night, our student works and studies and studies and works – and, at the end, his girlfriend hands him an envelope with his final grade in it.  But rather than open it he simply tears it up, scattering it to the wind: he doesn't need to know what it says because he knows, without a doubt, that he has not just passed but understands the law.

Now I'm not a lawyer (thank god) but that scene, for me, is my personal definition of success.  Sure, money would be nice; an award would be flattering; having a nice, fat Wikipedia entry would be sweet; but what I really want is for one day to write a book that I finish with that same glorious moment of artistic satisfaction: the unshakable knowledge that what I have done is truly, inarguably wonderful.

It's subjective, of course: your version of success if not mine – but I hope this had made you think a bit about what you want your own, personal, artistic journey to be. 

But before I close I have one final piece of advice – one that I tell as many writers as I can, as well as hold very close to my heart: we all might have different ideas of what success is, but the only time a writer truly fails is ... when they stop writing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seven Weeks Of M.Christian: Week 5 - Being A Publisher

Continuing my seven (possibly terrifying) weeks of M.Christian, here's my newest installment... reasoning behind this is that I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post - once a week, for seven weeks - a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

In our last installment we chatted ... well, okay I ranted a bit about what it's like to be an editor, especially as I wear a writer's hat as well.

But, recently, I added another sombrero to my hat rack when I was hired by the (prepare for heaping of praise in ... 1 ... 2... 3...) amazing, fantastic, wonderful, Renaissance E Books as an Associate Publisher. This makes me a very rare critter in the writing world: having my hand in not just writing novels and short stories, but also selecting stories for anthologies, and now books for publication. I often kid that one of these days I'm going to get so confused about who and what I am that I'm going to accidentally reject myself.

Being a publisher, though, has been a tremendously enlightening experience. When you’re an editor – for a site, magazine, or anthology – you’re really just there to pick what you think are good stories and then assemble the whole shebang. But being a publisher is a whole (prepare for cliché in ... 1 ... 2... 3...) kettle of fish.

Now I've dealt with a LOT of publishers in the years since I sold my first work – I lost count at somewhere around two dozen – so I've seen them at their best and, alas, at their worst, so when the amazing, fantastic, wonderful, Renaissance E Books hired me I knew more than a bit about the kind of publisher I wanted to be.

I thought (foolish me) that I knew all about how the business side of writing worked. I even knew that the real power behind the throne of publishing are the distributors: it is they who decide what can and cannot be published, as they are the ones who bookstores (in the past) and ebook resellers (now) go to for content. If they don't carry your book, in short, your book will never see the light of day. It used to be companies like Ingram but now it's ibooks and amazon.

But what working with Renaissance has taught me is there is a whole other side to the business of getting books out into the world – a side, I am rather ashamed to say, I wish I had known about when I was just trying to sell my own books. Now, I was never a cranky writer – in fact I developed a kind of a reputation for being very easy-going – as I trusted my publishers to know what they were doing when it came to dealing with my work, but there were a few times where, in retrospect, I just should have let them do what they thought was best.

This is particularly important now, what with the surge of self-published books. Okay, I might be a tad prejudiced, as I now work for a publisher, but there are a ton of things that a writer has no clue about when it comes to publishing and, most of all, selling books. Authors far too often see the decisions a publisher makes as capricious or even insulting – though that is not to say that there are quite a few publishers out there where that really is the case – but what is actually happening is that the publisher simply has special insight into what can make a book really fly.

Titles, for instance: if you're writing an erotic romance, for example, and give it a title that does not say that the book is an erotic romance it is all but guaranteed to flop. Knowing this – by looking at the sales figures – has put me in the very odd position of having to tell other writers that we need to change their title. It's not a very comfortable thing to have to say, but most authors come around when I tell them the logic behind it.

The same is true of covers. An author might have a very clear idea of what they want their cover to be but unless it the artwork immediately reaches out to the reader and screams erotic romance then the book will have a much lower chance of selling well. So, again, I am in the odd position of having to often tell a writer that they may not love their cover but that we have chosen one that says what their book is actually about, that speaks – loudly – to people interested in that kind of book.

Publishers – no duh – are a business, and as such many of their (our) decisions are based on trying to get work out there as efficiently, affordably, and comprehensively as possible. Efficiently in that we often have to really streamline the publishing process – and this is even more important with the new word of ebooks: so we look for writers that are easy to deal with, that trust our decisions, that are dependable, and who trust our decisions are really in their best interests. Affordably in that we would love to have covers that are 100% accurate but to do that is far too often too expensive – which gets back to a book saying, as quickly and as loudly, about what it is. Yes, the characters on the cover may not be exactly how the author pictured them but to do that would mean having a cover created that would be time-consuming as well as expensive ... and, again, the goal is to grab the reader as quickly as possible. Comprehensively in that the new game are ebooks ... now I won't get into the whole shebang about why they are better for authors, publishers, and readers ... but I will say that the publishers that are winning the ebook battle are not the ones with the most titles, the best writers, the best covers, the largest Facebook presence, that tweet like mad but, instead, have worked very hard to get their ebooks everywhere: if your book is just on amazon, for example, then your reach will be very limited. I'm pleased and proud to say that Renaissance prides itself in trying to get its titles in as many markets as possible – which is good news for the company as well as the writers.

Another big shock – and one that a lot of people really don't want to hear – is that very often publicity (including social media) has very little to do with a book's success. I've seen the numbers, people, and some of the best-selling titles our there are by authors who have a very minimal internet presence – they simply have written books that happen to – by luck or design -- perfectly reach their audience.

BUT that does not mean that publicity, social media, and all the rest isn’t important. To put it simply: all the reviews, publicity, social media that-and-that will not sell a bad book (50 Shades of Grey is a rare exception) – but not having a good Internet 'face' can seriously limit a writer's reach and, ultimately, sales. To put it even simpler: PR is not really about selling a single book but much more about keeping your name, and work, in people's minds. That's why we at Renaissance work very hard on publicity and marketing, and really encourage our authors to do the same, but we also know that overnight successes are few and far between so it's important to keep in mind that professional writing can be a really long term endeavor.

This is especially true with ebooks. One of my jobs – as I see it – is to be the publisher I would want to work with as a writer, and as such I routinely tell a writer not to focus on Facebook or Twitter or whatever-else, not hover over their amazon ranking, sales, etc., but, instead, to keep writing. The reason this is something I like to say, and hear, is that if a writer keeps writing then all if takes is one of their books to take off and then – here's the glory of ebooks – all of their books will also become best-sellers.

This is also why, as a publisher, I am more than willing to tell an author what’s the 50 Shades of the moment – but I also vehemently dissuade them from trying to copy that blip of 'success.' It is much better – professionally as well as artistically – to write what they want to write. If they keep at it, get better and better with each book, stretch their range, and – most of all- -- have fun then success will more-than-likely come. If they try to chase the best-seller all they'll end up doing is creating shallow copycats and not the next next next big thing.

In the end, being on the other side of the publishing fence has been not just been educational but has also been a very positive thing for me, artistically: the lesson being looking behind the curtain at the machinery doesn't ruin the art of writing but, instead, can reveal the naked reality behind literary 'success.' Knowing how twisted, odd, strange – if not totally weird – this industry can be sometimes has made me a lot less sensitive to how my own work is progressing ... and I remind myself to take my own advice and not pay attention to the best seller's list and instead have fun, play, experiment and, most of all, keep writing.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Seven Weeks Of M.Christian: Week 4 - Being An Editor

Continuing my seven (possibly terrifying) weeks of M.Christian, here's my newest installment... reasoning behind this is that I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post - once a week, for seven weeks - a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

Unlike some writers I actually became an editor very quickly after selling my first story.  I wish I could say it was because of my staggering personal magnetism, overwhelming charisma, or through the brilliance of my talent as a writer but, to be honest, it literally was just matter of right time (1995, the beginning of what some call the "literary erotica" craze) and the right place (I knew someone who had already done books with the publisher). 

My first anthology was called Eros Ex Machina: Eroticizing the Mechanical (later reprinted by the late, lamented Erotic Book Club as Sex Machines) and, if you couldn't tell from the title, is was about people having ... well, sex with all kinds of devices, gizmos, and do-hickeys. 

As with a lot of things, once I'd done one another quickly followed – with a vengeance on my part: as of this writing I'd edited something like 25 anthologies, ranging from pure erotica like the three book deal I got with Sage Vivant (Amazons, Confessions, and Garden Of Perverse) to the non-smutty, and quite literary, pair of Mammoth Books I did with my pal, Maxim Jakubowski (Mammoth Books of Tales Of The Road and The Mammoth Book of Future Cops). 

Now I really wish I could say that there is some kind of trick, or extra-normal talent to editing an anthology.  Oh, sure, there are some things that take a bit of skill and training – which I’ll touch on in a sec – but, by and large, an editor's job boils down to reading, and then selecting, stories.

Of course just this simple part of the job can be the most problematic: what I like, after all, is often light years away from what you might like.  My usual rule of thumb when selecting stories is to look for an author who, first of all, is clearly having fun with the habitually crazy-ass theme I've given them, secondly, knows how to write, and – last but not least – tells a good story.

It shocks people when tell them that, usually, when I edit an erotic-themed anthology, I pay little or no attention to the sex itself.  In fact I typically skim over that part – focusing instead on what the writer is trying to say and how they are saying it. 

As I like to tell people in my Sex Sells: Writing and Selling Erotica class – and have said in my "Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker" column for the incredible, and invaluable, Erotica Readers and Writers site (now – commercial starts – assembled in my new book How To Write And Sell Erotica – commercial ends): a good sex story has to be a good story, beyond anything else.  In fact when I make notes on submissions the worst comment I can make on a story is "just porn:" meaning that there is nothing in the story but page after page of bump-grindy ... and nothing else.

Beyond that I usually select stories that give the book some range and variety – within the limits set by the project, of course.  I'd like to say that I don’t pick stories because the author may or may not be famous but (sigh) I have to be honest that unless it is a very poor story a 'name' can actually help sell a book.  But that does not mean that I only take stories with this in mind – in fact most of the stories I feel are the best are often written by writers who, like I said, are having a fun time with the theme and know that an erotic story is not just about sex.

In addition to being an editor I am, of course, a writer so I really try to be the editor I'd like to be dealing with when I'm wearing that other hat – and because of that I am -- or try really hard to be -- a kind, polite, and conscientious editor: I answer every email, no matter how silly or even insulting, and I always send out rejection letters even though it is a very painful process ... because I am too well aware how much those things can hurt.  But I also take a certain amount of pride in sending out nice rejection letters – if there are such things.

As a writer as well as an editor I can tell you right off the bat that treating an editor as an enemy, approaching them like they are out to steal your work or whatever, is not the way to go.  If someone I reject reacts rudely ... I wish I could say that I turn the other cheek but, honestly, I doubt I will take anything by that author in the future.  Life is too short to deal with prima-donnas and, besides, there are usually stories just a good waiting in the wings.

It's a maybe-silly point of pride with me that many people I've rejected have actually become friends – and, as such, while it won't change a bad story into an accepted one – it does mean I might actually try and help them with their work, or at least encourage them to keep writing.

What can be frustrating about being an anthology editor – please allow me to vent here – is that very, very few reviewers know how to judge them.  The fact is that an editor often has to take what they get – or they've tried to create a spread of approach, style, content, etc. to make the book as well-rounded as possible – a fact lost on many reviewers, who forget this fact and pan a book because a few stories didn't work for them or because they feel the quality of the stories wasn't up-to-par. 

As a writer as well as an editor has also made me very sensitive to bad anthology editors, and so I try very hard act like they do.  As I already mentioned, I always reject – even though it may be a painful thing to do – and I when I say a story has been accepted then it's been accepted: I don't play games with short-lists or change my mind once I've told the author. 

I also feel that an author's work, and voice, is their own, and so I will rarely ask for any kind of rewrite – especially around the plot.  As I writer I honestly can't stand editors who think that, because they are The Editor, that gives them the right to dink with an author's work – with or without their permission.  For me, being an editor just means I'm an administrator of sorts, that my name on the book basically means I created the crazy theme of the book and picked the stories.  That's why I try and downplay myself when I talk about my anthologies and instead focus on the authors who contributed their wonderful stories: it's far more their book than it is mine.

Also being on both sides of the fence has made me very vocal about editors who I feel have let their egos get in the way of the project: I do not play favorites when I talk about my books – choosing to mention one author over another – and I always, to repeat myself a bit, do a book with an eye on being the editor I'd like to deal with as a writer. 

Now even though I said that approaching an editor as if they are some kind if enemy, or reacting poorly in regards to acceptance/rejection, contract terms and all that stuff that does not mean as a writer should not have some say in how things are done – but it's far better to do what I do, as a writer, when I come across an editor who is not being either professional or even just kind: I simply don't send them any more stories for any of their projects – and I tell my other writer friends about my experiences.

In the end, being an editor has been a unique and (to use a cliché) eye-opening experience and, I sincerely hope, has made me respect writers even more.  It means a lot to me that writers say that they like submitting to my books – accepted or not – and that I have a certain amount of respect among writers for being understanding and supportive. 

For me, that is a successful anthology: not sales, or reviews, but that the writers in the book had a good time dealing with me but even-more had a fun time exploring the crazy idea I set before them and had a blast writing their stories. 

Like I said: my name might be on the cover but it is – always – the authors who make an anthology ... and they are the ones deserving of not just recognition but also respect.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seven Weeks Of M.Christian: Week 1 - Intelligence Is Imagination With An Erection

The thought of that makes your blood run cold, doesn't it?  Well, rest assured, there's no reason to be scared ... well, maybe not that much of a reason to be scared...

The thing is I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post - once a week, for seven weeks - a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

WEEK 1 – Intelligence Is Imagination With An Erection

I didn't always want to be a writer.  Sure, I was one of those kids: the ones who are too bright, too creative, too curious – and, yes, in case you're interested, I was bullied ... a lot – but actually doing anything with that brightness, creativity, curiosity didn't pop into mind until high school.

But, boy, did it POP.  In retrospect it's more than a bit ... odd (to be polite) how enthusiastic and disciplined I became about writing.  In hindsight a lot of it probably had to do with trying to find an escape from a less-than-perfect family dynamic – but another big motivator was that I'd always been the kid who didn't just talk about doing things: I did them.  Perfect example: I remember, in early elementary school, discovering that the science classroom had a darkroom ... so I went home and over the weekend read every book I could on photography so when I came back on Monday I developed my first roll of film and did my first few test prints. 

Alas, discipline and enthusiasm are fine and good – actually they are absolutely essential in a writer – but my discipline and enthusiasm was focused on Mount Everest: selling a story to the likes of Fantasy & Science Fiction.   Early rejections didn't stop me – in fact nothing stopped me – and I kept trying, kept writing, kept submitting: my goal was a short story a week and/or three pages of writing or three pages of just story ideas.

And, you know, it worked -- sort of.  I've never sold a story to Fantasy & Science Fiction but all that work, all that passion, paid off ... abet in a very unusual and totally unexpected way.

Eventually I made my way to the Bay Area, got married, and – on a total whim – took a class from Lisa Palac who, at the time, was editing a magazine called FutureSex.  When I discovered ... well, sex, my stories got a little more (ahem) mature.  It was one of those stories I was brave enough to hand to Lisa.

What happened next is, to resort to cliché – and hyperbole – is the stuff of legends: Lisa not just liked the story but bought it.  A year later Susie Bright also liked the story and bought it for Best American Erotica 1994.

Sure, it took me ten years of trying (and, yes, you may whistle at that) but that wasn't important.  People often ask me why I write what I write -- lesbian erotica, gay erotica, bisexual erotica, kink after fetish after stroke after stroke – and the answer couldn't be simpler.

I am a writer ... and for someone who lives to tell stories, who worked so hard to hang onto that brightness, creativity, curiosity, discipline, and enthusiasm, finding a way to do what I love to do and be recognized for it, in demand for it, and even paid for it there is simply nothing better.

My name is Chris, my main pseudonym is M.Christian, and I am a pornographer ... and I couldn't be happier.

(by the way, the quote that starts this is by Victor Hugo ... and is a kind of personal philosophy)