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Why Being Responsible Matters

This past week or so has had a lot of negatives, and as McKay pointed out in her post, it’s made writing more difficult. We’re pushing through it, because we have a deadline, but I admit it’s sapped a lot of joy and energy out of our  process. But what I want to talk about isn’t the election, although in a way there is some resonance with what’s on my mind. Specifically, I want to talk about Torquere Press, LLC, how their failure to own up to their responsibility to pay has affected us beyond a loss of money — and why it matters to us.

To be a publisher is to be in a position of trust. Authors bring the fruits of their labors to a publisher, and trust that, in exchange for a percentage of the profits, the publisher will market their work, collect the revenues, then reimburse the author in a timely fashion. This is, in many ways, no different than how it’s managed in my day job. I work for a company that pays me by the hour for my efforts. In exchange for a percentage of my billable rate to the prime contractor, my company collects the revenue from the prime, and passes my percentage on to me. I trust my company to properly bill the prime and give me my cut, just as McKay and I trusted Torquere to collect from the distributors and pass our money on to us.

It was Torquere’s responsibility to pay for certain things out of their half of the revenue, just as it was our responsibility to deliver things according to their schedule, and help promote our own work. Just as we wouldn’t expect Torquere (or any publisher) to assume responsibility for the expenses we incur in writing (for instance, the cost of internet access, computers, or the food we eat while writing), it’s not our responsibility to assume their expenses for running their business. They’re supposed to know what their expenses are and plan accordingly. If things go badly for them, in no way does that give them the right to dip into the profits that belong to the writers and use them for anything else. Period. That is the only honest way to run a business. Using the author’s share of revenues for anything else is irresponsible and dishonest.

Now, I fully realize that there are expenses incurred before a book makes a dime of profit. Editors, artists, ISBNs, etc, all cost money, as does marketing. These are up front costs similar to those in any business, and tend to be an issue more for a company that is starting up, not one that has been in business for years. But my major complaint against Torquere in using that argument to justify not paying us is that in our case, is that it’s pure bullshit. All of our titles except the most recent one were well past the point of recouping the up front expenses, and at any rate, the vast majority of our works were published under Torquere Press, Inc, not Torquere Press, LLC. Which means that the previous owners of the company paid the up front costs for twenty two of our twenty five titles, and Torquere Press, LLC, was just collecting profits off of us. Any expenses they incurred, or losses they suffered, were not and are not our responsibility. If they took risks on authors whose work didn’t pay off, that was not our fault, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it from the money our work earned. If they had medical expenses, or took vacations, or spent too much money on something they shouldn’t have bought, or owed legal fees… again, that is not our responsibility. As professionals, we fulfilled every obligation to Torquere Press, LLC, that we contracted for. They, however, failed us by not paying us.

Which brings me to the subject of our profits. They owe McKay and I each almost $1400 just for 2Q2016 (which includes 1Q2016 from most of the distributors), and I know from tracking our sales ranks that what we’re owed from Amazon sales for 3Q2016 (earned in 2Q2016) is just as much, if not more.

In the grand scheme of things, what is owed to McKay and I might not seem very much. But there is more involved here than just the financial aspects. When Torquere failed to fulfill their responsibility to us, it meant that time we would normally have spent writing was suddenly taken up with other things. Like getting our rights back. Well over 75% of our totally back catalog was with Torquere, which means that we have taken a very large financial hit over and above just the money we’re owed outright. And while we’ve managed to place some of our stories with another publisher, and will be self-publishing others, it’s taking up time and effort that we’d prefer to put into  writing new stories. It’s robbed us of momentum, we resent that almost as much as the loss of revenue. Multiply our feelings and experiences by the dozens of authors Torquere has failed, and it’s a horrible breech of trust.

We do understand that as writers, the failure of a publisher is a risk we take. It makes sense for authors to spread their stories around to different publishers, just to lessen the impact if any one of them fails to live up to their contractual responsibilities. But it’s galling for a publisher to blame the writers for the company’s problems, and even more than that, it’s immature and irresponsible. If a company has problems, it is only professional to own up to them, not place blame everywhere except where it belongs. Not to lie and try to pretend things are fine. It’s irresponsible to ignore problems and hope they’ll go away. It’s immature and unprofessional to ignore emails and other attempts at communication. It’s wrong to make others pay for your own mistakes. It’s appalling that they seem to believe they can walk away unscathed, having misappropriated money that wasn’t theirs. It’s extremely troubling the lesson they are teaching their children by their actions.  They have violated their position of trust — if McKay or I were to do the same thing, we’d lose our jobs. And rightfully so.

We hope Torquere Press, LLC, will step up and take responsibility for their actions and their debts. It’s the right and responsible thing to do, and the only way they can salvage their reputation. But if they don’t, no doubt Karma will catch up with them eventually. It has a way of doing that.

 

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Giveaway!

We are giving away five ebook copies of “Blood Bathory: Like the Night” (the first Blood Bathory book) on Amazon! All you have to do is follow us at Amazon and you’re entered! You can find the giveaway here! Good luck!

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Being Dependable

I’ve had a bad experience with an editor lately – an independent one, not one of the wonderful folks at Torquere or Dreamspinner – at a place called “Wicked Pride” that I thought based on reputation would be reliable. Unfortunately, after three months and having prepaid $172, all I’ve gotten back of my ~28K is a half-editted word doc (when I submitted and asked for a google doc), and a lot of empty promises. I am highly disappointed, especially since the owner assured me that she prided herself on her professionalism. I have kept all the emails, and I can prove that she said she was finished but “googledocs wasn’t letting her share the doc”, then she said she would do it again, and it didn’t show up. THEN there was a litany (I haven’t counted, but no less than four or five times) where she promise she was “almost done” and I’d have it “in a few hours”. Always some excuse why she couldn’t – the flu, then multiple hospitalizations, then computer problems – some of which may have been true, but I have my doubts, ESPECIALLY after she promised to refund my money and didn’t. Now she is refusing to answer my emails or facebook messages at all, which I find highly unprofessional.

So you indy writers out there, please be wary of hiring editors, even if they look professional. I guess I should have gotten recommendations, so if anyone has a recommendation for a good, reliable editor, please let me know. And don’t be afraid to spread the word that Ari had a horrible experience with Wicked Pride and that Tash Hatzipetrou (the owner/editor) is unreliable and unprofessional.

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Writing what you know…

So, one of the cardinal rules of writing fiction is to write what you know – draw on your own knowledge and experiences to help shape your characters and stories. For those of you who have read our stories, you may have noticed that we use a lot of different locations and have characters from a wide variety of occupations and with a varied set of skills. For those who are curious, McKay and I really do draw upon our life experiences for these things.

When it comes to locations, you may have noticed we tend to favor the South. Both of us are born and bred southern girls, so that made it easy. Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, Richmond and rural Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas… all of these are places we have either lived in or visited, and I think that gives our writing a certain authenticity. My absolute favorite city on the West Coast is San Francisco, so we’ve used that, too. I’ve travelled a lot in the Caribbean, and the locale in Caribbean Blues is based on a place I’ve actually been in Port Lucaya. McKay and I have both been to London, and we’ll probably be including it in something in the future, and since I was raised in Miami, it’s probably only a matter of time until Florida shows up, too. 😉

As far as characters, many of ours are based on the types of people we tend to like or be attracted to — yes, there is a reason there are quite a few tall, dark-haired, snarky men in our stories. 😀 Some characters are based on real people, both celebrities and people known to us. When it comes to their occupations… well, English professors, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and yes, even the mercs are familiar to us. I have worked with a great many military people from all branches of the services over the course of my career, so it was easy to bring those characters to life — plus my father was a paratrooper in WWII, and I grew up on his stories of the Pacific theatre. McKay and I are both geek girls, so our nerdier characters have a firm basis in reality.

Aside from personal experiences, good research helps, but I  prefer to use things I actually know. One of the beauties of writing with a co-author is that we both have different experiences to draw upon, so it quite literally doubles our comfort zone. So while neither of us ever has been a gay man (unless there is something McKay hasn’t told me), we hope that the real-life aspects that we bring to our writing accomplish the goal we both have for our writing – to tell a story that will entertain our readers, and bring them back for more.

 

 

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In a world…

So, today I wanted to talk about finishing what you start.

I think, in the world of writing, this is one of the hardest things to do. I can’t tell you how many stories McKay and I have that we started and either the idea just wouldn’t gel, or the characters wouldn’t speak up — and even, on rare occasions, the characters just wouldn’t get interested in one another no matter how much we tried. I think every writer must have a folder of things that didn’t pan out, and that’s fine. But what do you do when you’re two books into a series of three and the last one refuses to let itself be written?

Fortunately, we didn’t have that happen with Blood Bathory, although I think writing that third book was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. We KNEW how it had to end, of course, because that was obvious, but just because you know where you’re going doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get there, or how long it will take. Or what unexpected things you might discover along the way.

McKay can correct me, but I think we made something like three or four starts on BB: Be Not Proud before one finally worked. Mostly, it was the characters not coming together properly, which is probably, in my book, the absolute worst thing that can happen. We knew these guys well, but they kept wanting to show unexpected quirks that would cause us to have to go back and rethink where the story was going. And it wasn’t one character, but both of them who did this to us. In the end, we finally did get the dynamic worked out, and I believe the story is actually stronger for all the time we put into writing things that DIDN’T work. But while the act of discovery was working itself out, there was more than one grim moment when I wondered if we might be in danger of committing the cardinal sin of not finishing a series. Thankfully, our sins –thus far — remain only venial. 😉

Which brings me to world building. The Blood Bathory universe is a fantastically detailed one, and it sometimes is hard to walk away from something you’ve spent so much time — literally years, in this case — building up. McKay and I both have talked about setting other things in the universe, because we’ve gone to great lengths to create a reality that is logically consistent and self-sustaining. Gaia’s playground is large and varied, and other hazards face the theriomorphs and Dark Guardians.

I hope we do go back and do more with it one day. But for now, I’m just incredibly glad that we have told our story, told it well, and can be proud of what we’ve done.

 

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Another Herc’s Mercs, Coming Soon!

Torquere Press has just accepted the latest in the Herc’s Mercs series: Where Angels Fear to Tread!

Lee Albright is a photojournalist who loves traveling and the challenge of his job, but when he’s asked to shoot a calendar for charity, he can’t resist — especially since the photos are of the men of Hercules Security, some of the sexiest hunks he’s ever seen. Things get even better when he meets Mr. July, Geo Kensei, and the instant spark of attraction between them quickly bursts into an all-consuming flame.

Too soon their careers force them to part ways, though they’re both anxious for a quick reunion. Then in the midst of a war-torn city they meet again, and now Geo must use every tool and skill he possesses to get both Lee and his client out of danger. His intense focus on the mission is all that’s keeping the three of them alive, but will seeing the side of Geo that’s a cold, professional killer drive Lee away forever?

Keep an eye on torquerepress.com for all our latest stories!

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Winter

It has definitely been an interminable winter in the mid-Atlantic, but we got what I hope is the last snow storm of the season yesterday. It’s now colder than the ninth circle outside, but it’s rather pretty, too! Yet I’d prefer to stay inside and write, to be honest. This southern gal has never developed a taste for temperatures below about 65, even after decades in the north!

snowtree

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Morning Musings

As I’m sitting here before leaving for work, I thought I’d throw together a quick post about a new obsession of mine – the Spartacus TV series from Starz which aired from 2010-2012. As usual, I’m late to the party, but then I don’t tend to watch much television beyond the things McKay and I watch together – namely Sleepy Hollow, The Walking Dead, Hell’s Kitchen (sometimes – not really into the latest run to be honest), and Master Chef. And I never watch things on the premium channels, because I just don’t have the time or interest to worry about what they’re showing. So yes, I missed The Sopranos, I don’t care about Mad Men or Game of Thrones. I tend to be a failure at any pop culture that isn’t related to science fiction.

But one day my husband (who watches an incredible amount of TV) left the set on, I don’t even remember what channel it was, and I became aware of this bloody (and I do mean BLOODY), violent fight happening on the screen, and I looked up and saw a bare-chested Dustin Clare wielding two swords, and I got sucked in at once. I watched the rest of the episode, and by the end I was hooked.

What I saw happened to be a scene from Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which is a prequel series to the main Spartacus saga. I mentioned my interest to McKay, who poked around and suddenly hit me with the zinger that there was at least one canonically gay couple on the show, and once I got a look at Pana Hema-Taylor and Dan Feuerrigal I knew I was lost. I HAD to watch this show, and so I started with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the first season. I was a couple of episodes in when McKay also decided she was interested, but we both really wanted to see the Agron/Nasir romance, which doesn’t happen until the second season. So I skipped the rest of the first season and McKay and I started watching second season.

All I can say is wow. Normally I’m not a fan of blood and gore, which there is PLENTY of in this show, enough to make The Walking Dead look positively mild by comparison. But it’s really sort of over-the-top in the “300” kind of way, so it doesn’t bother me much. And the romance between Agron and Nasir more than makes up for all of it! The beauty of the show is that homosexuality is treated absolutely no differently than heterosexuality. None of the other characters so much as raise a brow about it, and what’s even better is that there is no attempt to make either character “girly”. Nasir is definitely smaller than Agron in physical size, and while he has some truly gentle qualities, he becomes as fierce and deadly a warrior as Agron. The characters are affectionate with one another, as much as any of the het couples, and perhaps even a bit more so. In fact, I think that their relationship is portrayed the most realistically and romantically of any on the show. Granted that almost all the characters have issues (with a capital I!!) but the Agron/Nasir relationship is allowed to blossom and flourish without the overtones of guilt, pain, and betrayal that most of the het relationships have.

Anyway, yes, my new addiction in Spartacus. If you are interested in a show with a LOT of eye candy and don’t mind blood, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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Writing Process Blog Hop!

Welcome to the Ari McKay portion of the Writing Process Blog Hop! Much thanks to Sean Michael for inviting us – you can check out his blog at http://sean-michael.livejournal.com and learn all about how he does his thing!

1) What am I working on?

We usually have at least 2-3 things in various states of progress at any given time. Some things get backburnered indefinitely, and some get backburnered temporarily, but nothing ever truly goes to waste. Everything we write allows us to practice something new.

Right now, we have a rough draft of the second Herc’s Mercs story (the first is coming out this Wednesday, April 2!) finished and awaiting final edits before we submit it.

We have a rough draft of the third Herc’s Mercs story mostly finished. It needs a couple of action scenes added and a first round of edits. The Herc’s Mercs bunnies hit hard, fast, and en masse, so we pretty much wrote three stories in that universe back to back.

We have about 22k words of a post-apocalypse novella/novel that we envision as a kind of futuristic Steampunk Western. It might be a while before we get back to this one, but we’ve had a lot of fun with the world-building, so we’ll definitely finish it eventually.

But the main thing we’re working on right now is the third novel in the Blood Bathory trilogy! We’ve started and scrapped drafts of this two or three times as we tried to figure out which way we wanted to go with it, and we’ve finally settled on a direction that’s working out really well. This novel will wrap up the battle between the vampires and theriomorphs begun in Blood Bathory: Like the Night and continued in Blood Bathory: Absence of the Sun, which is coming out on July 2. Even though we’re wrapping up this particular arc, we’ll probably revisit this world down the road because we’ve grown attached to the characters and the world we’ve created, and there are definitely other stories to tell!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

With the Blood Bathory series, we’ve tried to create and explore different variations on the traditional types of vampires and werewolves. Our shapeshifters are a kind of shaman, servants of Gaia who protect and nurture life. Their form is determined by their nature, and they can transform at will. Our vampires are cursed rather than undead, and the distinction will be made clearer in Blood Bathory: Absence of the Sun, which reveals the origin of the vampires.

There’s a lot of world-building in the Blood Bathory series, and while there’s definitely a romance (and sex), the emphasis is on the plot, which has plenty of action sequences. World building and character development tend to be common elements of our works in general, especially when we’re creating a series.

3) Why do I write what I do?

We write a lot of different genres! We have a lot of contemporary romance stories, but we also have historicals and paranormal adventures. Even within the contemporary works, we’ve tackled a wide range of characters and settings. Basically, we go where the plot bunnies take us, and we enjoy trying new things. So if we get a particularly aggressive plot bunny biting our ankles, we’ll try it, doing research as needed.

 4) How does your writing process work?

Because we don’t live near each other, we use Google Docs to write our drafts. The benefits of using a collaborative writing tool is that we can both access the documents at the same time and write together in real time when we’re online together in the evenings, and we can access the draft and take our turn in the current scene when we have time during the day. It saves drafts automatically, and the draft can be downloaded as a Word document once we’re ready to start editing and formatting in preparation to submit the story.

We use Evernote to organize notes about our stories, clip webpages and photos we can use for inspiration, write up character bios, and keep an on-going plot bunny list, among other things. We give our novels their own notebook; each series has its own notebook, and our short stories all go in the same notebook. It’s been a very handy organizational tool, and the best thing is that we can both access it from our computers, our smart phones, or our iPads.

Our writing process is pretty simple, and we’ve got it honed to an art form at this point. First we decide on the overall plot, which is determined based on whether we’re writing for a specific call for submissions or we’ve been attacked by a giant, rabid plot bunny that’s sunk its teeth into our ankles and refused to let go. Sometimes, it’s both!

After that, we discuss the main characters. Sometimes, a character will pop up and start yakking at one of us. At that point, deciding who writes whom is easy. We stick to single POV within a scene, but we do alternate POV from scene to scene so that the burden of exposition doesn’t fall entirely on one of throughout the story. On the rare occasion when we do stick to single POV, it’s because either the story length requirement was so short that we thought it wouldn’t be worthwhile to switch or we thought the story would work better seen through the POV of a single character. Most recently, we tried first person POV with “Call of the Night Singers” because we were trying to mimic the common tropes of traditional Gothic horror.

After we finish the rough draft, Ari takes the first editing pass. After she’s done looking at it, I format the work to the publisher’s requirements and take my editorial pass through it. Sometimes, we get someone else to look at it as well if we’re worried about any particular aspects of the story or we want to make sure it reads well. We’re pretty much a well-oiled machine when it comes to writing the rough draft, but we do tend to get bogged down in the editing and revision stage. That part always seems like a necessary evil when we’d rather be starting on the new shiny!

Next week, please check out the blogs of some other fantastic writers:

For author and textile artist A. Catherine Noon, it’s all about the yarn, both metaphorical and literal—spinning a yarn, knitting with yarn, weaving, sewing, painting, sharing stories and good times over a cup of coffee with dark chocolate. She teaches creative writing, creative expression and textile arts. You can find her blog at: http://acatherinenoon.blogspot.com/

Medeia Sharif is a writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction from several different publishers, as well as being a middle school English teacher. You can find her at http://medeiasharif.com