I got a Nikon Camera

focus

With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding

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Welcome Alexis Hall, who has joined to talk about a book we both enjoyed.:  in the space of 2 months I have gone from reading no NA, to reading 4 in a row that have been so good, Trust the Focus being the last of them, and in some ways he best

AJH: Thanks for having me, Karen. The best, eh? Them’s fightin’ words. What are the other three?

K: Amy Jo Cousins, Off Campus and Nothing like Paris, and Lisa Henry Mark Cooper Vs America, in no particular order

AJH: Gosh, I’ve read all of those and I’m not sure I could really rank them. I think they’re quite different books – TRUST THE FOCUS, to me, has a quite a different feel to other NA I’ve read because it’s sort of what you might call late-stage NA. The others are all college set, which give them a certain tone and style and set of preoccupations. College (university) life is quite restrictive after all. But TTF is a road trip story and while its protagonists fit the NA age bracket I found it kind of refreshing to leave campus and dorms behind.

K: Yes, I see that, but fir ne it still has the starting out in life vibe, I loved the road trip, it’s really a romantic thing to be taken away from normalcy and focus on the journey as opposed to the end result

AJH: Also all symbolic and shit.

K: somehow I expected you to be more lyrical, but yes

AJH: I’m keeping it real. Seriously, though, I found TRUST THE FOCUS surprising in my many ways, not just as NA (which, as I’ve said, can sometimes feel quite restrictive to me in terms of the type of stories you can tell) but as m/m.

K: I also have never red any Megan Erkison before, and was wiped away by the credible emotions that she portrayed; I was worried that there would be shed loads of angst, which there wasn’t. Also she normally writes m/f I wonder if that made her not follow the normal lines?

AJH: Maybe. I’m wary of speculating too much about what sort of factors produce certain books. I do like it when, err, het romance turn to queer though because they tend to more concerned with the romance than the queer, and that really works for me. It seems to give more scope for exploring authentic emotions and telling genuinely tender and romantic stories, rather than starting from the idea that a queer romance is different to a het romance. That works for me, as a reader and a writer, because I’m all about normalisation, but of course it may not work for everybody. And some queer people don’t want queerness to be influenced by heteronormative paradigms and some readers want to read a particular type of romance.

K that’s an interesting perspective, perhaps that why it reads more authentically emotional that others, I felt it was about the characters and their relationship as much as their sexuality

AJH: Again, wary about words like authenticity because it’s such a subjective idea. I think what TRUST THE FOCUS is unabashedly emotional – not in the Victorian melodrama sense, but as in ‘about emotions’ and I liked that a lot. I liked the fact that Justin and Landry have a deep, warm and mutually supportive friendship. I liked Justin’s relationship with his dad, and his grief at his lost. I liked the way they handled the transition of friendship-love to romantic-love and the broader context of a loving friendship circle. God, it’s just so fucking nice. In the best possible way. Idealistic and compassionate. I want more stories like this.

K: I think that it’s OK to say authentically, because it’s for me. But yes there is a lushness? About it, although they do try and hide how they feel, for quite a lot of the book, the emotion is weighty. I cried more than a couple of times.

AJH: Me too. Love and grief is a really potent juxtaposition. And themes of acceptance tend to undo me as well. I’m kind of a smoosh for the right sort of happy queer story.

K ah the grief, I was properly worried over this, I have read books where the grief is pervasive that the happy feels like an imposter, and I have to say it was so well done. There was the feeling of loss, yes but also he warmth of a life well lived.

AJH: Erickson has a light touch as a story-teller I think. I mean it’s not that there aren’t deep things going on, it’s just they’re very carefully handled so it never becomes overwhelming or depressing. I think the framing device – the journey – helps a lot as well because the narrative and the emotions are always moving forward and developing.

K: I love friends to lovers, probably because it’s more like life; most people I know have been friends or have met through a friend, their current partner. Sometimes though the UST can get really oppressive in books when there is FtL, but not here

AJH: Is friends to lovers a big thing in m/m? Either by accident or design, I haven’t really read many. I’m sort of wondering if it’s connected to ideas about male friendship lacking intimacy or whatever.

K: I hadn’t thought of it like that, I was basing it on people I knew, as opposed to m/m books. But you’re right, when I think about it, there aren’t that many. And when they are its mainly gfy

AJH: I wonder if it’s a broader cultural. I mean you can find lots of depictions of friendship between women so we all know what’s that supposed to look like. But friendship between menz even has its own portmanteau for God’s sake (bromance) which kind of makes it feel slightly outlandish. And it’s meant to follow this set formula of antagonism to grudging respect to taking bullets for each other. Whereas Jus and Lan have this very deep, real friendship even aside from their romantic love. And that was nice to see on page. Also I liked the fact it wasn’t a GFY.

K: The friendship reminded me of the kind that you have when you’re small, before you become indoctrinated with how you should behave, and it’s about how you want to. They were unabashedly supportive of each other in such a lovely way; it was quite reminiscent of female friendships

AJH: I just really liked seeing male-male friendship depicted so boldly and unapologetically. Was there anything that didn’t work for you about TRUST THE FOCUS?

K; I found Justin’s mother quite one dimensional, I mean I know that she was there to add tension, but it was like she was so bad, and his dad so good. No shades of anything, and yet the other relationships were much more layered.

AJH: I agree. There’s this double-bind in m/m isn’t there, because there’s such a history of misogyny in the genre that – with awareness of that context – you can’t really afford to portray female characters negatively. But then … some people just have crappy parents. But she did seem both shallow and unremittingly rubbish, and in this quite bland way.

K; exactly, it was such a shame after all the complexity to have a wicked mother hoist upon me. I also have issues with the ending, it was kind of abrupt?

AJH: Hmm, I confess I didn’t notice. Like, it didn’t pretend to have a gazillion answers and conclusions. It left Jus and Lan in a good place together, which was sort of all I was looking for or needing.

K: sorry, I didn’t mean the end , end, I meant how story came to its conclusion, the whole book was quite languidly paced, and it was quiet and gentle, Then bam, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it shocked me, but it seemed sudden. Mind you, I’m nit sure how everything could have come together better, so I ‘m nit picking really

AJH: I do see that actually. My only niggle – and spoilers ho – are Lan’s random sexual abuse experience in the back story. Like, apparently he went to a gay club and some dude, uh, semi-fucked him in the toilets. And, as a result, he didn’t really have any sexual experiences before Justin. I just … I don’t know … it didn’t feel a necessary part of the story to me? I mean, it doesn’t actually – in practice – affect his experiences with Justin, and it seemed like maybe Erickson wanted her two guys to come to each other with similar levels of experience, she needed an excuse for a completely-comfortable-with-himself queer guy not to have screwed around. But I felt it came off a bit incidental compared to Off Campus which deals with sexual abuse in a really deep and complex way. And also I’m epically bored of ‘raped or nearly rape’ being Standard Faggot Backstory Number Three. Like this is just a character developing thing that happens to gay people. *scowl face*

K; its actually used quite a bit in het as well, but I think that as there are more diverse stories it’s not always so apparent. The whole non con/ rape issue in any book really troubles me, and it’s totally difficult to get right emotionally (for me anyway). there seems a tendency to get people to fuck their way out of it, which thankful didn’t happen her. But I do see your point

AJH: I think I’m over-sensitive to it, in all honesty. But it did seem particularly half-arsed here. To me, anyway. It just feels like people default to it. But, blah. It didn’t actually have a negative impact on my experiences with TRUST THE FOCUS, which is definitely going onto my favourites list.

K: mine too, thanks for taking , it’s been a blast, you are welcome anytime.

AJH: Very much my pleasure, Karen. Thank you for having me!

The final curtain

Originally I had wanted my last post here to be a jolly interview with one of my favourite authors, but instead it’s a version of a post that I’ve been in the process of writing for about 4 months. I keep picking it up, and putting it down, sometimes in the hope that my concerns will blow over, sometimes because I’m sure that I’m being naive and sometimes because I feel that the validity of my opinion would be questioned. However events over the last few weeks have crystallized some of my thoughts – and here we are.

I started reading romance again about 18 months ago, and blogging a year ago, and I knew nothing about either the on line romance or blogging communities; but I started reading, tweeting and interacting and a year later here I am, in some ways more confused than I was when I started.

Now it wasn’t news to me that certain types of people look down on those who read romantic fiction, but I wasn’t aware that the romance community has some proud and passionate supporters who claim, correctly that much of the community and industry is not only feminist in outlook, but is also run by women. Good news !
Then as I read more I noticed that there were rules, very stringent rules that were set down on what constitutes romance, and this is when I started thinking- what is going on here, but I was new and just because I didn’t agree with some of the rules didn’t mean that they were wrong did it ?

Then I discovered m/m romance, didn’t even know it existed, and I got thoroughly hooked. I was lucky enough to meet some authors and bloggers who were part of this, and gained, I hope, some friends. I also noticed that some bloggers and reviewers in genre romance (for that is its name) were dismissive of authors et al in the m/m romance community. This troubled me, mainly because it seemed a little personal and hurt some of my new friends. I still said nothing, at this juncture mainly because I didn’t feel that I was qualified.

On October I got involved in a small way in QRM, which opened my eyes to many different types of romance, it was fantastic and exciting, and at the same time exposed more levels of unpleasantness. A very good friend of mine was vilified over comments made on a post there. This introduced me to something called sub tweeting, like talking behind someones back, but in a public space, so that the person you are talking about eventually finds out. The very definition of passive aggressive behavior in my opinion.
My friend was really hurt by all this. Although I posted comments on QRM, I did nothing more.

Around the same time (I’m bad at time so it could have been earlier or later) there was a big fuss about anonymity for bloggers/ reviewers when a couple of authors located people who had published negative reviews. A number of blogs stopped reviewing, and there was a lot of talk about privacy, especially reviewers privacy. I then found out that some of the bloggers had been responsible for trying to ‘out’ authors identities and sexuality. Despite the hypocrosy of this, aprt from some grousing again I did nothing.

Then, before Christmas a reviewer on Goodreads was attacked, again behind his back, because he wrote an enthusiastic review of a book and updated it causing the review to re appear at the same time. Over and after Christmas this spiraled into some very personal comments and also highlighted some terrible behavior from people who pride themselves on being among other things academics and feminists. For me this was the final straw.

I see the romance community as a microcosm of society, and it needs to change. We should be better than this.

I have taught my daughter that name calling, back biting and discrimination on gender, race, religion or choice of lifestyle is wrong and yet I have sat and watched it happening on line. No more.

I don’t find it acceptable, and nor should anyone, that people are targeted because of who they are. If you disagree with what they write then disagree intelligently referencing the writing. None of us have the right to make it personal, and when it becomes so then stand up and be counted. And be a grown up, do it face to face.

If people choose to be private, there is usually a reason. Respect it.

If someone is cruel to a friend, be supportive, it often seems that there are more cruel people around than kind ones. Don’t add to this.

I am sure that many will find this naive, but I would rather be naive than silent.

No music, shocking

In a town called…

Prosperity_500x750

 

It seems fitting that the penultimate post on this blog will be a book review, finally.

Hopefully either just before, or just after Christmas I will be involved in a new review site so it will be all about books,  no more meandering about plays and gin; although of course I will continue to enjoy both of these, often simultaneously.

This is however a kind of review of Prosperity by Alexis Hall, and as Iron and Velvet was practically my first review there is a kind of completeness about it.

I was quite resistant to reading Prosperity, as Alexis is one of my favourite authors, and I’d heard that it was written in cant, which is a type of private language.  It sounded scary.

My grandparents were once part of a circus, and they spoke the circus language- Parlari, especially when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying.  A lot of the words have drifted into ‘normal’ English as well, such as bevvy, karsi (toilet) kushti (good) and I’ve been hearing it all my life, so really the language, that was a bit of a smokescreen.

I was actually worried that I wouldn’t like it, I really enjoyed his previous books, but this just seemed a little too different, then I started seeing the reviews:

 

i am nearly deranged with the happy.

whores! and pirates! and yet more whores!

people of earth: i tell you it’s bloody wonderful.

crackling with energy and humour so sharp and sweet i cackled like a witch over a cauldron.


This story is gorgeous in places and fun in others. It’s told from the first person point of view of one Piccadilly, who is sort of irrepressible and sweet in spite of not spending much time on the right side of the law.

 

it uses the pulp*-iest and funnest of settings and concepts to say real important things. I love everything about the Prosperity world and I can’t recommend this and the linked books highly enough. 

*Pulp is my highest form of art, just so we’re clear. 

 

It’s not an easy book, but it’s one of the best I’ve ever read, in or out of the romance genre. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

 

There is a lot of humour along with the philosophical messages. The characters are all unique and you get invested in them despite or rather, because of their flaws and failings. They all seem the have hidden inside them hearts of gold,

 

These should have made me feel better, but in fact I felt worse. These were all comments from people I liked, and who’s views on books I admired, and usually agreed with.  My mood at this stage was moving from apprehensive to a mild state of panic, so despite having begged for an advance copy of the book I decided to NOT read it at all.

And life returned to normal.

 

I then mentioned to ‘someone’ about the whole stupid panic thing, and she said, as if speaking to an idiot, which is very slowly – ‘I enjoyed it so much, I’ll read it again with you’ what was I supposed to do? It’s not as if its Kujo, the worse that could happen was I wouldn’t like it, and I could lie and day it was amazing – or I could do something I’ve done once before, read the reviews, summarise them – and not actually read the book.  Don’t judge me.

I did neither, with some hand holding I read it, and it was amazing.

One of my books of the year in fact.

The language, both in terms of the cant and the descriptive voice is wonderful.  The storyteller, Piccadilly is of the street, he’s sharp, funny and hungry, he wants; to learn, to grow to be loved, and he’s a thief. So he uses the language that a 19th century thief would. And it works, it’s not difficult to understand at all.

I’m not a big Steampunk reader, but the idea of the alternative universe, that has enough of history in it to be real, combined with the creativity of inventing new things is ridiculously heady to read, and you become immersed in the world. I would drop random words and phrases, usually insults, into my conversation for weeks afterwards.

Other than Piccadilly the cast includes :  a crime lord, an ex-missionary, an opium soused navigator and my particular favourite the petticoat and boot wearing pirate captain who is at one with his ship, who teaches Dill to read.

The comment by KJ Charles hits the nail on the head though, it’s great fun to read, and it’s exciting and funny and poignant and at the same time is about love, honesty, friendship and acceptance.

Thank you to Alexis for writing it, to all those who allowed me to nick bits of their reviews, and to Kat for holding my hand.

The good news is that there is free short out on Monday 8th Dec, and a whole volumes of shorts on in January.

My song choice is Mecca by Wild Beasts, which fittingly is one of my songs of the year, the lyrics are very apt.

 

 

To find just one

When I heard about Queer Romance Month, I thought what a great idea, but what can I do?

I felt as I read the first few posts, what value could I contribute ? When people started recently (ish) to use the word queer, it felt a little odd, as for me it had connotations with the culture of the 1930’s and it felt slightly trendy, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve not joined in a debate for worry that I would use the wrong word to describe someone/ thing or had to resort to Google after reading something because the language was not mine. But I now feel that queer is actually a much more inclusive descriptor.

When I read this http://www.queerromancemonth.com/izzy-van-swelm   it really resonated with me. In my teens I identified more with my best friend, male, gay, than I did with my female friends. I was attracted to men but the responses of my female friends were miles away from mine. With hindsight, feeling a bit of an outsider I aligned myself with others who were as well; although at the time it was much more organic than that.

I gave up trying to explain how I felt different after being called an attention seeker, and then was told I was ‘normal’ because I was a woman who was attracted to men. I had my own sense of normalcy and just got on with life. I’ve already said this once today, I wasn’t straight (in the 2.4 kid’s kind of way) but I wasn’t gay. There isn’t a tag or label that accurately described me; and I am now thankful for that.

My reading life has mirrored my real life, I started reading romance- Mills + Boon followed by Georgette Heyer , then a full on feminist phase with Dashiell Hammet on the side-  from then on I pretty much read anything. Romance being pretty much hit and miss for me mainly due to the reinforcement of the heteronormative paradigm (a phrase of course I had to Google, but totally relate to now I know what it means). Two things changed my reading experience – joining Goodreads and discovering Queer romance (although at the time I wasn’t that enlightened and it was m/m romance). From then it has been full steam ahead, and I’ve read a lot of Queer romance in the last eighteen months and interacted with the larger community as well.

What I have discovered, surprise surprise, is that while there are some amazing books out there, there are some rubbish ones as well, that putting a tag of Queer or m/m on something does not automatically make it better written.

Even if there were romances written about women EXACTLY like me I would continue to support not just queer romance, but the people who write it, and also the larger community, and will continue to encourage others to do the same.

So in the end, in a round about way, I’ve written about being an ally of a group that I feel as connected to as any other group I don’t fully belong to.

My nan, who came from Ireland and lived in Salford her whole life had a plethora of sayings that she would use to illustrate the frailty of human nature,  one of her favourites was ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’ so by that token maybe we’re all a little queer ?’

I really struggled with music to accompany  this but If you Wait by London Grammar comes close if you only listen for 1min 20 secs you will see why.

 

 

Pulling down heaven

 

Richard Armitage in The Crucible at the Old Vic

Last week I went to see The Crucible. I’ll be honest and say that Richard Armitage was part of the attraction (well I’m only human).

I read the play when I was at school, and loved it, I had an amazing English teacher who made everything come alive, so now when people say ‘Shakespeare/ Dickens/ Hardy (delete as applicable) is difficult/ out moded-  I find it difficult to relate to.  Also the whole McCarthy witch hunt era I find totally fascinating.

The Old Vic was totally full, and the atmosphere was shimmering with apprehension and excitement, nothing compares to seeing theatre, the awareness and absorption of others emotions for me really enhances the actors performances. And I felt so much while watching The Crucible.  It was a wonderful and powerful production.  Anger, that ‘sensible’ people would believe unsubstantiated stories about others, that off the cuff comments get repeated as truths, that fear allows hatred and suspicion to breed and become ‘king’. Empathy that a mistake can take over  the fabric of life and cast a shadow over everything of value. When John Proctor and Elizabeth see each other after being imprisoned at the end of the play, I was reduced tears (along with everyone else) over the brutally honest intimacy.

Talking the following day, while I was gushing over the production, performances and all round gloriousnesses of The Crucible someone said to me, ‘but it’s not relevant anymore’. Really ?  Religious fundamentalism, terrorism in the name of God, homophobia -The Crucible could be about any of these things.

Its as relevant today as it was when it was written, which in a way, is rather sad.

I struggled to find a song that complements this, so here is one that I am really enjoying