Author Archives: Alex Beecroft

About Alex Beecroft

I write M/M Romance, Historical and Fantasy novels . You can find out more about my novels at my website: http://alexbeecroft.com

Games Workshop versus Spots the Space Marine

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Oh for heaven’s sake! I have only just read about this http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/02/06/space-marines-and-the-battle-of-tradem-ark/

It seems that the enormous corporate RPG giant, Games Workshop, is suing MCA Hogarth, an indie author for whom I have the greatest respect, because she heinously published a book called “Spots the Space Marine.” The charge? That GW owns the phrase ‘space marine’ and she’s therefore infringing on their copyright.

I might have some respect for GW if they’d chosen to test the strength of their case on someone like Robert Heinlein, who has also written about space marines. But no, they decided to take their multi-million dollar hammer against an indie author writing to pay for teaching materials for her daughter’s education.

I might have some respect for them if they chose to protect the copyright of a phrase they had created themselves, but ‘space marine’? That’s like a marine, in space! What else would you call them? Will they try to copyright ‘space ship’ next?

MCA Hogarth writes a damn fine tale, and also provides regular useful business advice on her blog/LJ. I have no hesitation in recommending her work to anyone who enjoys thoughtful SF with gorgeously intricate world building. I would suggest that you snap up a copy of Spots the Space Marine while they’re still there to be found. But if the worst comes to the worst and she has to take it down, her Kherishdar stuff is wonderful too.

Guest post by Kevin Klehr

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Welcome to Kevin Klehr, whose first novel has just come out from a pro publisher, after having been picked up by them from the self-published version. He’s here to talk about the journey from self to pro publishing:

From Self-Published to Book Deal

 

 

About ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel on Thursday nights, as that was the only free time I had (My partner, Warren, had started playing tennis on those nights).

It was handwritten in a journal and called Staging Life. I had written about five chapters when a friend bought me a ‘How to Write’ book for my birthday.

The first paragraph of this How To book clearly told me that if I was writing without my plot being clearly laid out, to stop right away! I made a chapter by chapter story outline, but this totally killed the creative process. The journal was then left in the bottom drawer.

Several years later a young man captured our hearts (no, not in the way you’re thinking). He was charming, charismatic, and just needed a little help in learning to love himself as a gay man. Warren secretly lent him my unfinished manuscript, which he returned to me enthusiastically. He demanded I finish it. So I did. Within months a novella was born.

The first draft was taken to an assessor who loved my style of writing, but pointed out some major flaws. Like the main character in The Great Gatsby, my protagonists watched drama unfold around them, but were not directly affected. Secondly, she thought that the love interest between my two main characters which happened out of the blue in the last chapter, should be the main focus of the whole novel.

Thirdly, she didn’t like my first chapter. A fantasy telling of Warwick and Allan’s life up to the point to which they die. She found two problems with this. Firstly, the real world was as fanciful as the Afterlife. No clear distinction between the two realities. Secondly, she made me realise that how they died should be one of the mysteries that should be told in flashback. Keep the audience guessing!

One thing she did like was the fact that my main character was sometimes inappropriate in social circumstances. She told me to make this his main personality flaw and pointed me toward Joe Keenan’s My Blue Heaven. In her words she said ‘turn up the ‘tude’.’ This was very good advice.

I kept using her as my assessor for two more drafts, finally taking the novella to novel length. Eight drafts later my self-published novel was finally born (after many many rejection letters from publishers).

Along the way there were two mistakes I made that might be worth mentioning for young players. The first I didn’t go through with, but it’s so important to note.

One publisher was interested in my book. When I looked over the contract, one thing that stood out was my lack of control over my own copyright. I’ve worked in broadcast media, so copyright law is something I know a bit about. In this contract, not only did they want exclusive world rights, they also wanted me to write to them and seek their permission if I wanted to write anything in the future. Plus, only they would have the right to end the contract, even if I desperately wanted to.

A lawyer also pointed out that their payment of royalties was far below the industry standard. Once I asked this publisher a few questions, they dropped the publishing deal like a hot potato.

My second mistake was using a different assessor for one of my drafts. One publisher (in fact, many) loved my writing style but not the uncommercial nature of my book. They suggested a few ideas on making the plot more sellable, after only reading the first chapter. So I decided to use them to assess my novel (as a backdoor way of getting them to read the whole manuscript).

This is my mistake – I rewrote the book taking on their ideas, but those ideas didn’t really work in the context of the whole story. My partner suggested that I simply should have sent the most recent draft, but I was desperate for a publishing deal. Five hundred dollars later they criticised the novel in its new form, making me wish I’d listened to my husband.

Even my psychic (don’t laugh, she’s extremely good) looked at me sternly while we were talking about something completely different, and asked “What did I do with that woman!” She was referring to my original assessor. I said that I was just getting another opinion to which she replied “She understands what you’re writing about!”

 

The book was out for three months from late September 2010, but I had problems getting local bookstores in Australia to stock it, as it was too costly for them to import from the UK. This is where fate stepped in. I researched self-publishing companies in the US, but also stumbled across a couple of publishing houses who hadn’t had the chance to reject my novel. One of them was Charles River Press.

 

It was Sunday. I was home alone. I read my email. There was a complimentary message from a publishing house that liked my first chapter and wanted to know if I wanted a publishing deal. I stared at the laptop screen and said “Hell, yes!” (I actually used another word for ‘Hell’, but you get the idea). Within two days I had a contract to sign.

 

For the first three months of 2012 I stripped back my over-written style; deleted scenes and added fresh plot twists, under the guidance of my assigned editor. I was unemployed at the time, so this was my 9 to 5 gig each working day.

 

Another tip for writers – trust your editor. When her first suggestions were emailed to me, I wanted to scream. “She doesn’t get the book!” I complained to my husband. But as I read the reworked novel to myself over three days, I realised she was right in her advice.

 

This has been a long process. Maybe eight years. I’ve both grown as a person and learned a lot along the way.

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Dancing with Destiny

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For all the pseudo-medieval world building there is out there in Fantasy land, it struck me yesterday that there’s very little dancing. People build castles and set demons on their peasantry, or arise out of humble beginnings as a kitchen drudge to kill (or tame) dragons, but magic seems to be very much of the ‘read a grimoire and point a wand at it’ variety.

As a morris dancer, I am offended at this. Or perhaps offended is too strong a word, perhaps I mean ‘mystified.’

You see, even now, I go out with my morris dancing side at 5.25am on a May Day morning and do the dances required to make sure the sun comes up for the rest of the year. On plough Monday, I and my side (technical term meaning ‘a group of morris dancers’) go out to do the dances required to make sure the fields will be fertile. Just this weekend I was dancing for one side and playing the special morris music for another side at Mill Road Winter Fair. Admittedly, this had no sacred purpose other than getting in some money for beer, but for your average pseudo-medieval peasant, I’m sure getting the beers in was a sacred activity in itself.

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The morris dance has a history so old no one can tell with certainty how far back it goes. Some say it arrived in the UK from Spain in the 15th Century. But then what are we to make of the fact that the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance is danced with horns that have been carbon dated as being a thousand yearsold?

(This is actually a vid of the Thaxted version of the dance, because the honest-to-goodness real Abbots Bromley dance doesn’t look anything near as impressive. As Sir Terry Pratchett says, ‘Things that try to look like things often look more like things than things.’)

Of course morris is not alone in being a magic dance once performed to achieve all kinds of good things. Here is a vid of the Romanian Calusari dance, once danced in secret to heal the ill and frighten away evil spirits.

Speaking of Terry Pratchett, I give him big credits for including the morris in his Discworld, and for inventing the Dark Morris, danced at midwinter. He gets my ‘approved by dancers’ stamp. As does Tolkien, whose Silmarillion featured the elf-princess Luthien defeating the Dark Lord by way of a magic dance. This is heady company, but I can at least claim that my hero in the Under the Hill books is a morris dancer, and that I mention Dandiya Raas in passing.

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Within the pavilion, they found the lips of wells. A cold air came up from them, and the water within was black and smooth as jet. Ben didn’t understand how the villagers could possibly unite these passages to the underworld with the kind of prancing and ribbons and flower scenes of the fete.

“This is…old,” he said, feeling it, not stopping to wonder what he meant.

“Yes,” Chris agreed, leaning on the lip of the well, looking down. He tipped a penny into the shaft, and they both listened to the plunk as it hit the water. Ben stepped up beside him and saw his face broken into circles on the surface. “But then so is the dancing. The flowers may be to placate the spirits that live here—to tame them. That may be why the church is here too. But the morris dance is different.”

“It’s not as stupid as it looks.”

Chris laughed and leaned back on his elbows, the deep drop behind him. “You have a way with a compliment. But you’re right. The dance…flouts everything. Everything but itself. ‘See,’ it says, ‘we’re men. We’re alive and strong and beautiful. Bollocks to everything else.’ It’s a kind of defiance to this sort of thing.”

“Like the haka, but with pansies.”

Chris slapped his top pocket, frowned as if he’d expected to find something there, came up empty handed. “Yes, well, the haka’s a bit unsubtle, isn’t it? morris is a lot more English—male-combat display, but with irony.”

“Hankies and flowers instead of swords.”

“Exactly.” He slid a sly look in Ben’s direction. “We’re undercompensating.”

Ben’s turn to laugh. “I’d like to see what for.”

~

I think dance makes an interesting and unexpected vehicle for magic in a fantasy, and one that hasn’t yet been overused, but maybe that’s my ignorance talking. Can you recommend any other books in which ritual dance forms a part? Why do you suppose there are so few? Is it really that uncool? If so, why?

October is for Bloodsuckers

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That may be overstating the position a little, in fact. But this October we start with our new policy of themed months, in which each month we all blog on a similar topic. This month, as one might expect for the month in which Halloween falls, the theme is the paranormal. As a result, I am musing about vampires.

I’m writing a novel with vampires in it at this very moment. Which probably makes it a bit odd that I have to confess that it’s been a long time since I saw the appeal of bloodsucking corpses in opera capes. Is it just me, or is it widely accepted that the lure of vampires is thematically almost identical to the popularity of rape in romance stories? Ie, our dear repressed reader likes thinking about sex but has internalised the idea that they ought not to. As a result they are stuck in a mindset where they want to be forced into it, so they get to have it, but to not have it be their fault.

Maybe I am making this up, but I feel sure it’s old hat as a theory, that the blood drinking part of vampire stories, with the penetration by pointy objects and the swooning etc, is symbolic for sex. So the appeal of vampires as a whole is the appeal of sex to someone who isn’t really comfortable with dealing with sex except at arms length through a metaphor. It’s all very Victorian, I can’t help thinking. Surely we don’t still associate sex with death in quite such an overwrought, repressed-but-guiltily-titilated manner? Aren’t we all a little more liberated than that, more comfortable with our own sexuality, these days?

Judging from the popularity of sexy vampires, maybe not.

But what about those of us for whom sex is not a terrifying (but strangely attractive) monster in the room? Is there anything vampires can do for us? Can they be used as a different metaphor? Can they be made interesting in another way?

I think so. One of the best vampire shows I’ve ever seen was Ultraviolet, the TV series with Jack Davenport as a cop turned reluctant ‘leech’ hunter. (Look at that ‘leech’ as a nickname for vampires. Doesn’t that already give everything a different slant? Wonderful!) In this series, vampires were bloodsuckers in the sense that they were the people who latch onto your emotions and drain them dry. They would use all your soul – dreams, compassion, fears, everything sacred to you – to manipulate you. This series took ‘sexy’ vampires, allowed them to do everything possible to snare the viewer’s sympathy, and yet by the end of it you honestly believed these were irredeemable monsters, and if you were anything like me you detested them with a passion you’ve never felt for any other villain in your life.

It made vampires interesting again, as monsters.

That’s what I’m going for in my book – vampires as monsters. We seem, IMO, to have lost the horror we should have at the thought of a parasite that takes the body of your loved one and uses it to suck the life out of you. Vampires as a metaphor for AIDS, I could see. Why hasn’t someone done that yet? Or perhaps they have?

What do you think? Is there mileage in the monster still, or are you too busy enjoying the sexy kind to want anything different from that?

Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

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Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

 

With our last post, we disgruntled some readers by taking examples from mainstream fantasy rather than LGBT fantasy and you may be thinking that I’ve done it again. It’s probably true, because The Left Hand of Darkness, or LHD as I’ll call it for short, is not an LGBT book. But it is a Q book. Or at least, it has been, for me, the only book I have ever read that gave me a glimpse of what life would be like in a society where people were more like me.

This is a personal reminiscence, because this is a book very personal to me. It’s taken me a long time to work out what exactly it is that I am, because neither of those things are very high profile – I am genderqueer and I am asexual (though het romantic). These things took a long time to figure out because in my day (yes, I am that old) and in my suburban culture we didn’t have words for any of that stuff. I’ve mostly identified as ‘weird’ and ‘frigid’.

So intellectually I had no idea why, when I read this book first, twenty or so years ago, it hit me like a breath of paradise. It hit me like finding out I had somewhere where I was home. I still haven’t read another book that did the same thing (though some of my love for Sherlock Holmes comes down to recognising him as a fellow ace. Oh, I hate it when they give him a girlfriend!)

Anyway, scene setting aside, let’s talk about the book: Read the rest of this entry

Crossing the Line

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Do You Cross The Line? By Alex Beecroft

Here’s a topic that’s on my mind at the moment – crossovers and crossing genres. As an author I hold my hands up and confess to being a serial monogamistas far as inspiration goes. That means, if I’m fired by enthusiasm for the 18th Century, I’ll spend five or more years writing stories set in the 18th Century. And that’s great, isn’t it, because people will get used to the idea that if you pick up an Alex Beecroft book, it’ll be set somewhere around the 1750s and will probably involve sailing ships. I’ve got this branding thing sorted.

The trouble is that eventually my happy little butterfly of a writer’s mind decides its got all the juice out of the celandine of historical fiction, and flits off to the bluebell of fantasy instead, where it hopes to suck up enough sugar to last another half decade. But butterflies are flighty things, and who knows how long that will last before it’s off to the daisy of contemporaries or the purple flowering loosestrife of gothic murder mystery? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, who knows when it will cycle round to historical again and set in for a five book series set in the stone age?

From my point of view as an author, I love the fact that I can write about what takes my fancy at any time, and I’m rather pleased to know that if one obsession peters out, I can find another one. It’s much preferable, from my POV, for me to be writing from love and enthusiasm than it would be if I felt compelled to write more of the same over and over because that was what was expected of me. I think that writing something simply because I felt I ought to would make my life not worth living, and it would also lead to the slow but inevitable descent of my stories into lifeless rubbish.

At the risk of being a little controversial, I can’t help feeling sometimes that that’s what happened to the later volumes of Harry Potter, or the Anita Blake novels – the authors got fed up of churning the same thing out and lost interest, and it showed.

But I can’t help wondering what readers think of that. I, for example, know that I will read anything at all written by Ursula LeGuin, no matter what the genre, but I will only read CJ Cherryh’s Science Fiction and not her fantasy.  What about you? Will you follow an author whose work you enjoy across genres? Or do you think “oh, I wish she would stop messing about with werewolf cop romps in Barbados, and get back to her 12th Century gardening detective novels.” Does the butterfly author risk losing everything every time they try something new?

And since I’m talking about crossing lines, lets talk about crossovers too. Here I’m on even more personal territory. I’ve realised that while I love historical romance and I love fantasy and mystery, what I’d like most would be to write historical fantasy romance. Maybe even historical fantasy mystery romance. The book I had most of a blast writing was The Wages of Sin – a historical ghost story murder mystery m/m romance.

Even my new Fantasy novels, Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon and Under the Hill: Dogfighters have a strong streak of World War II in amongst the elves and the contemporary romance. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it – trying to amalgamate all the genres I like into every story.

But again – lots of doubts. Does, say, a historical fantasy appeal to both historical and fantasy fans, or does the presence of fantasy put off the historical fans, and the presence of history put off the fantasy ones, so it ends up appealing to neither?

These are the questions that are keeping me up recently, and I don’t have any answers. What do you think? Is it a good thing if authors jump genres? Should they change pseudonym if they do to avoid confusion? Is it a good thing to amalgamate genres, or should the genres be like noble gasses and resolutely refuse to be made into compounds? And if you like the idea of crossovers, what would you like to see crossed over with what, and why?

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Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find me at http://alexbeecroft.com or http://alex-beecroft.livejournal.com I talk more on LJ