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Daily life: Shared universes, mentoring, and Christmas

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Dec. 30th, 2008 | 08:42 pm

"We should have a Slavefic Tropes wiki! . . . Like . . . You Know, That Thing Where the kindhearted but inexperienced master leaves the broken slave alone all day in a house full of food, and when he gets home the slave faints from hunger at his feet - and when he wakes up, the master is like 'what the hell, kid, I left a seven-course meal for you in the kitchen!' and the slave is like 'But master, I didn't have permission to eat!' You know, that thing! And we could have links to all the fics where that happens, and variations (like 'I didn't have permission to jack myself off' and 'I didn't have permission to sleep anywhere but in the refrigerator')! . . .

So we could index the character tropes, like the Oliver Twist sweet trembling orphan slave, and the Artful Dodger mischievous cruisin'-for-a-bruisin' slave, and the You Can Beat Me Up, But You Can't Break Me Down defiant and angry slave, and so on. And the slave trainer master, and the reluctant master ('I never wanted a slave, for slavery is morally repugnant, but due to circumstances totally beyond my control I am FORCED to have a criminally attractive and sexy and submissive slave kneeling at my feet,' with subtropes for 'AND OH WOE IT IS TERRIBLE' versus 'and um, actually it's quite hot, as it turns out'), and the cold scary master with an eventual heart of gold, and the spoiled-and-entitled-but-goodhearted young master. . . .

"And there could be indexes for plot tropes, too, like the Oops, There's My Core of Steel moment when the sweetest most obedient boy in the world suddenly discovers there is one thing he Cannot And Will Not Do, Not Even On Pain Of Death. And the Did I Hurt You Darling moment, when the gentle master finally gives way to his passions and nails the slave to the mattress, and afterwards he's like 'shit, shit, I didn't mean to, are you okay?' and the slave is like blissed out in a puddle all over the mattress and going 'um, YES?'"

--Maculategiraffe, of course. And, er, yeah, I've done the Did I Hurt You Darling moment. But hey, at least it was prisonerfic.

Topics in this post: Author envy. Recommendations of two slavefics. Old Guard. My Muse drops in like a kamikaze attack. When micromanagement isn't enough. Law Links. Keeping to the schedule (mine and my apprentice's). Captive of my Muse. Miscellaneous reading and writing topics. Weekly totals. That darned water-engine research; plus, Christmas preparations and writing plans. Those reins of power again. Review of Jane Carnall's Keptverse. New comments my writings; plus, prisonlit. Negotiations and dependence. Review of Jane Carnall's MirrorM*A*S*H and its sequel. Christmas and typography and Olympia 1949. In service to my Muse. I've got to get myself offline now. Yes, now. Demanding bunnies. Monthly and yearly totals. Borrowing a character and promising to give him back afterwards, only slightly worn.

For newcomers: Background to my writing entries | Background to my mentoring entries | Background to my simplicity entries | Background to my home entries.

*** 14 December 2008. Writing: Author envy.

As you can see from my first rec below, I've discovered a slavefic series I hadn't encountered before. It happened in a roundabout way; kitsune_kitana had linked to one of my stories in their rape recovery bookmarks at Delicious, which my domain stats showed up; on that list I discovered a reference to a community dedicated to stories in this slavefic universe; and from then I discovered the series that inspired the universe.

In fact, the author of the series has inspired two communities devoted to her 'verses.

"This is totally disgusting," I told my apprentice. "Nobody should be allowed to have that many panting fans."

Meanwhile, Whipster (which was published a week ago) has sold two copies. I should be excited - ten dollars! As much as I earned in the entire month of November from my Kindle e-books! - but I'm just hoping that this is a case of slow-but-steady sales rather than a case of me failing yet again to sell e-books.

On an up note, one hundred people have accessed the online edition of the first part of "Whipster." I'll just hope that there's no connection between that and the low sales of the e-book edition.

*** 14 December 2008. Writing: Recommendations of two slavefics.

Poisontaster: A Kept Boy. (Latest chapters.) The slave wants sex with his master. The master thinks that would be sexual abuse. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, female homoerotic fiction, alternate universe, class/rank themes, erotic love stories, mental illness themes, real person fiction (CWRPS), shared universe (A Kept Boy), slave fiction. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. References to topics of violence.

It is awfully intimidating to a writer to visit a fellow writer's Website and discover that their current word count is over one million.

Poisontaster's slave story A Kept Boy is still under novel length, but it's a work in progress, with such an avid set of fans that a shared-universe LiveJournal community has been set up for stories by other authors, set in the same universe as A Kept Boy.

The story itself is a familiar one to anyone who reads slave fiction regularly. An abolitionist who is forced by law to keep slaves buys an abused body-slave. The body-slave wants only to please his master and can't figure out why his master won't have sex with him. The abolitionist wants desperately to have sex with his new slave, but his principles won't permit it. Angst ensues, for thirty-plus chapters.

"Jensen's still getting used to things, finding his feet. All he's ever been is someone's body-slave."

"And you're going to fix that?" Ever asks, a weird coldness to her tone.

"Sure. Why not?" Jeff pushes up out of the chair, gathering up his unfinished plate and now stone-cold coffee for transport back to the kitchen. "I may not be able to give him legal freedom. Yet. But I can do my damnedest to give him every bit of freedom a slave can have in this world. And that includes freedom from me."

The author has a talent for humor.

Even from the first time Jeff saw him, Jensen was always . . . self-contained. Fastidiously clean, impeccably groomed and the same sense of physical deliberation as a cat. That's Jensen in a nutshell. So seeing him mussed, dirty and half-naked, in the middle of shedding his clothes is a little bit of a shock. A pretty pleasant shock from where Jeff's cock sits, dirty traitor.

Then he gets past the holy crap, wet dream come true and onto the fact that Jensen - who'd gone out as immaculately kept as ever - is as dirty and disheveled as if he's been mugged. "Jensen?" Stepping across the room isn't really a conscious decision, nor is putting his hands on Jensen's bare shoulders. A man's skin has no right to be this soft.

But the author can also move almost seemlessly into high pathos.

Once, when Jensen [had] still been quite young, Lord Cruise had taken him into the big downstairs ballroom, blindfolded him and then spun him around until Jensen was reeling and lightheaded.

"Now, find your way out," Lord Cruise had said and let him go.

Dizzy, blind, Jensen has no idea how long he bumbled around the ballroom, walking into the furniture, the pillars that had surrounded the perimeter of the huge octagonal space, gashing his feet on the little things Lord Cruise had left scattered on the floor. Long enough for him to give up, curling into a little alcove where he could touch the walls on either side and feel the third at his back. Long enough for hunger and thirst to sharpen his sense of disorientation. Long enough that he'd sobbed for Lord Cruise, please, please.

And Lord Cruise had come, wrapping Jensen in both his arms and holding him against the warmth of his chest. "This is what it is to be a slave," Lord Cruise had said gently, tugging the blindfold from Jensen's eyes and peppering his face with soft kisses. "A slave stumbles around in a dark room with no idea of what dangers there are or what way to go. A slave needs his master to show him the light, to show him the way to go, without damaging himself or anything else."

He'd carried Jensen out of the ballroom, crunching the broken glass and sharp bits of metal harmlessly beneath his shoes. He'd carried Jensen all the way to his own bathroom and picked the detritus from Jensen's bleeding soles with his own hands, bandaging them carefully and lovingly. He'd put Jensen in his own big bed, and ruffled Jensen's hair fondly. "And this is what a master does," Lord Cruise explained, curling up next to Jensen. "He takes care of his slaves. Do you understand, Jensen?"

Jensen understood.

The result is a compelling, character-driven tale about two sympathetically portrayed men, both striving to understand what the other wants and needs. It's a conflict story, but the conflict isn't between two people; it's between two ways of looking at the world.

Maculategiraffe: The Slave Breakers. (Latest chapters.) Three
slaves deemed difficult are sent to the
slave breakers for retraining. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, alternate universe, BDSM fiction, class/rank themes, erotic love stories, family relationship themes, femdom fiction, shared universe (The Slave Breakers), slave fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

Like Poisontaster's A Kept Boy, The Slave Breakers has inspired a slew of shared-universe tales. In other ways, though, Maculategiraffe's series is very different from Poisontaster's. A Kept Boy is the tale of a master who is an abolitionist. The Slave Breakers is the tale of a master who is quite sure that there is nothing wrong with slavery; the only thing wrong is that good slaves are paired with bad masters. Therefore, he concludes, the best thing to do is to arrange for good slaves to be bought by the right masters.

The series is a trilogy, telling of three slaves who are trained by the master and his wife - the "slave breakers" of the title. I once put forward the notion that the series was a form of domestic fiction, only to have the delighted author inform me that she was an ardent fan of domestic fiction, and therefore she was not at all surprised that this feature had crept into her slave stories. Here is a scene that could have come straight out of Louisa May Alcott's domestic school novel Little Men:

After dinner, as on most evenings, the five of them sat in what Bran's mistress called the lounge. It was a quiet time. Alix sat at her desk, sorting through the day's mail. Greta nestled comfortably in a soft chair with knitting in her lap. Holden and Yves were seated at a low table, playing a game that looked like chess, but appeared to have different rules, or at least different stakes, judging from the tragic whimpers from Yves and unholy chuckles from Holden whenever Holden made a move, and the almost unnerving intensity with which Yves considered his own moves. Bran curled in an unobtrusive corner of the sofa . . .

The power of the series lies in its variation of characterization - all of the masters and mistresses and slaves have quite different personalities - and in the character growth that causes the series to travel in unexpected directions. Here, for example, is a side story about a slave trying to nudge into order a new slave . . . who, as it happens, will one day become the first slave's master.

Jer sat down next to him and patted his arm.

"Quit being such a baby," he said bracingly. "So he fucked you. You're a sex slave, if you hadn't noticed. Sex slaves get fucked by their masters. It's really not a big deal."

He expected one of Holden's trademark glares for that, and was all set to roll his eyes in return, but the gaze Holden turned on him, bleak and sick and empty, made his own stomach sink a little despite his conviction that Holden was making a huge deal about nothing. Obviously it wasn't nothing to Holden, but Jer was really having a hard time relating to a nineteen-year-old sex slave who acted like sex was some kind of unbearable trauma.

Of course, Holden had acted more or less this same way when the master had ordered his hair shaved off, so Jer was leaning towards him just being an enormous drama queen by nature. He wasn't looking forward to Holden's first serious whipping. Argounov usually left the discipline of the new slaves to the veterans, and since Holden had a tendency to make himself into more trouble than it was worth to deal with - that and the fact that Jer was still ranking high and could deflect the others - he'd managed not to get himself anything worse than a few kicks and slaps and punches on the hall. But if Holden didn't shape up soon, Jer wasn't going to be able to protect him much longer, and if this was how Holden reacted to sex and haircuts, he might just combust from the indignity of a whipping.

Jer was really starting to wonder about this former master of Holden's. Holden refused to talk about him, ever, but judging from the way Holden had been acting, his former master had never hit him, yelled at him, restrained him in any way, restricted his diet, suggested he wear makeup, suggested he cut his hair, or had sex with him. Either that, or Holden was clinically insane.

Or both. Couldn't rule out both.

As this passage suggests, Maculategiraffe shares one important quality with Poisontaster: an ability to move the reader, within a few sentences, from tears to laughter and back again. It's a characteristic that other writers can envy.

*** 14 December 2008. Mentoring: Old Guard.

My apprentice has discovered why his prospective roommate went missing this month: he's in jail on a felony charge.

"Your life is an unending soap opera - you do know that, don't you?" I commented to my apprentice.

However, amidst all his financial worries, my apprentice hasn't failed to concern himself with the important matters in life. Would I please e-mail a certain master in his area, my apprentice requested politely tonight, so that the master and I could negotiate having my apprentice play with him?

The negotiations with me rather than my apprentice are the master's idea. I asked my apprentice about this gentleman's reputation, and my apprentice told me that one of his fellow leatherboys, whom I will fictiously refer to here as Ted, was worried that the master might be "too Old Guard" for my apprentice.

"Oh?" I said, envisioning someone who kept his slave chained in a dungeon.

"But that was before Ted realized that you're Old Guard," my apprentice added serenely.

*Ahem*. Okay. Turns out that what was being referred to as "Old Guard" was not whips and chains (which, as you'll have gathered, play no role in my relationship with my apprentice) but the fact that my apprentice and I both have a soft spot for high protocol. I guess that my former Anglo-Catholic parish would have looked Old Guard to Ted.

I have to confess that I sometimes feel as though I've been plunged into one of my own stories. I'll spend the evening reading a slavefic series, and in the midst of this, my apprentice will call to ask my permission to take an evening off from his housework. Or I'll be reading one of my old DS stories and will think, "Gosh, it must be nice to have someone to take care of-- Oh, right." I mean, I just can't get used to this being real rather than a dim fantasy that I never even bothered to apply to myself, because things like that didn't happen to people like me.

I've been having a lot of doubts recently as to whether I'm qualified for this role. The only thing that keeps me from screaming in terror at the position I find myself in is the knowledge that my apprentice could be saddled with a lot worse than me. I don't just mean that there are many abusive people out there who would take advantage of my apprentice. I mean that the particular style of mentoring I do seems to work for my apprentice, more often that not.

It's the "not" that continues to worry me, of course. I wish I'd had many more years of training than I actually had, and I wish I had more people advising me than I do. As I put it to a friend recently, "I need more beta readers for my life."

*** 16 December 2008. Writing: My Muse drops in like a kamikaze attack.

"Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am," was Doug's comment on my Muse's latest performance. In the past two days, my Muse has sent me over nine thousand words - nearly one-third of my monthly goal. Which is good, because I had only done six percent of my monthly goal before then.

At any rate, I've managed to convince my Muse to work on Law Links, even though I'm feeding him light prose: stories by and about Poistontaster's Kept Boy 'verse. Me being the evil influence I am, my apprentice has been following my example. In terms of reading slavefic, that is, not in terms of writing, though he did ask plaintively, "How can I be a slavefic fan if I keep wanting to write about abolitionists?"

*** 16 December 2008. Mentoring: When micromanagement isn't enough.

". . . So you haven't gotten much work done today?"

"Not really. I haven't been feeling great emotionally, so I've mainly been playing computer games."

"Well, what were you planning to do?"

"Cook and do laundry."

"So let's start with the laundry."

"Actually, I can't do the laundry yet. I can't reach the washing machine dials because there's so much clean laundry atop the washing machine."

"So you need to clear off the washing machine?"

"Yes, but I can't do that till I've cleared out the dresser drawers so that I can put the clean laundry there."

(*Suppresses sigh.*) "Okay, so the first thing you need to do is clear out the dresser drawers, right?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Fine. We'll start with that. I'll call you back in a while to see how things are going."

One hour later:

"So did you clear out the dresser drawers?"

"No, Sir, because I realized that I needed to eat first, so I made myself some canned stew, but it was too salty, so it made me sick. I'm resting now till I feel better."

(*Suppresses impulse to drum fingers.*) "I'm sorry to hear that you're not feeling well. I'll call you in a little while to see how you're doing."

One hour later:

"Are you feeling better?"

"Yes, a bit, but I realized I hadn't taken my medicine, so I took it, and it's made me sleepy, so I'm going to go down for a nap."

(*Silence on my end, not long enough to be noticeable.*) "Okay, I hope you have a good rest. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

In retrospect, this sequence of events is amusing, but it points to one of the central problems in our relationship: my apprentice has so many health problems that chances are good that, on any given day, if I ask him to do something (including telling him to do things he's already decided he needs to do), some health problem will hit him. And my natural impulse, in such cases, is to tuck him into bed and tell him to rest till he gets better. This is as true of his mental ailments as of his physical ones; I well remember what a whimpering bundle of uselessness I was back in the days when I got clinical depression. I wouldn't want to force my apprentice out of bed under such circumstances.

But . . . Ten sick days so far this month. This is becoming an economic problem now that he's exploring the possibility of getting a full-time job. (He can't take a part-time job, because his state won't allow him to receive medicaid if he works. If he's going to work at all, he needs to receive health benefits from his employer, which means working full-time.) Somehow or another, I've got to help him to learn to work when he's not feeling up to working, at least part of the time. And I'm really not sure how to do that without feeling like a callous slave-driver.

*** 17 December 2008. Writing: Law Links.

I have one scene and three half-scenes left before I'm finished with the novel. And thank goodness too, because I've breached the 150,000-word mark. My darned Muse and his fetish for mega-novels.

Assuming that my Muse sticks with me for that long (and this is always something of an assumption), that should leave me with just enough time to rewrite my gift fic before Christmas Eve. Plus get ready for Christmas; I haven't done much in that department.

My eyes are being cranky at the moment, partly due to a cold front coming through, so I've switched over to writing with my eyes closed and doing part of my fiction-reading in braille.

*** 17 December 2008. Writing and Mentoring: Keeping to the schedule (mine and my apprentice's).

Well, the good news is that I've caught up with where I should be in meeting my monthly goals in wordage, as of the mid-month point. The bad news is that my Muse is slowing down; he gave me the rest of a chapter today but refused to budge during the rest of the day.

However, it was a profitable day otherwise: I read fiction, exercised, edited, proofread, and did a bit of clearing up around the house.

And mentored, which is the main reason my day was on track; I felt I had to set a good example. I managed the details of my apprentice's day again today, and things went better than yesterday. Among other things, I learned that he hasn't been keeping the records he's supposed to be keeping to manage his diabetes. I hadn't even known he was supposed to be keeping them; he hasn't done so since I met him, over a year and a half ago.

"This doesn't have anything to do with your total inability to record your daily schedule for me, does it?" I teased him. At least I won't have any guilt feelings about helping him to follow his doctor's orders.

*** 18 December 2008. Writing: Captive of my Muse.

My Muse dive-bombed me again today. He tied me to a chair for two hours and forty minutes and forced me to write 4200 words.

"'Forced' you?" said Doug skeptically.

"It was safe, sane, and consensual," I admitted.

At any rate, by the end of the day, I'd written six thousand words. Of course, the first 4200 words were of the wrong novel, but I at least managed to get my Muse to finish up one of the scenes in Law Links that I've been stuck on for several years now. (This novel is going to need a massive check for continuity. I started writing it in 1995.)

Since childhood, I've been in the habit of rewriting scenes immediately after writing them. My recently acquired habit of skipping that step seems to be working well; it prevents me from wasting precious Muse Time on editing (which I can do whether my Muse is around or not). Editing while my Muse is hot wouldn't matter terribly if my Muse were around a lot, but he seems to put in fleeting visits these days.

At any rate, I've now completed two-thirds of my monthly wordage goal and am down to one scene and two half-scenes before I'm finished writing Law Links. It would be nice if I could finish that novel before I have to start on rewriting my gift fic.

*** 19 December 2008. Writing: Miscellaneous reading and writing topics.

My beta reader (who just finished up a story for Yuletide Treasure) said they'd send the beta report on my gift fic tomorrow. Profuse apologies followed for being late.

"Are you kidding?" I replied. "My Muse wouldn't have let me come near any editing before today."

My Muse wandered off overnight; I don't know whether he'll be back. I'd like to meet my monthly quota in December; regardless, though, I'm pleased with the progress I've made so far this month.

I did some editing today and finished up the Website layout for the next update, other than the gift fic layout. Updates are much easier, now that I'm no longer serializing novels. I have only four updates this time: "Whipster," my gift fic, Buried Treasure, and the Toughs bibliography. My fiction and those two recs sites are the only ones I'm planning to update regularly in the foreseeable future, though I do hope to update Leather TOCs some time next summer and maybe put out a final issue of True Tales. Basically, I'm switching over to a fiction-and-recs-only mode.

I continue to have Internet problems every time I try to do any Web searching. Today, I got suckered by my Internet addiction into searching for keywords and links for an original prison lit comm I hope to start. I will not be trying to do active moderation of that; I'm hoping someone who already volunteered will do that. But I really do want a forum on that topic, since prisonerfic (and prisoner nonfiction) edges out slavefic as my favorite subgenre.

Editingwise, I need to finish up Noble. Rebirth will take forever to finish proofreading and editing; I doubt it will be ready before spring, what with my eyes starting into their winter decline. So I'm considering finishing up Pleasure before I tackle "Rebirth." Swinging back and forth between short fiction publications and novel publications seems like a good policy.

Today the weather was supposed to be in the sixties; instead it was in the forties. Bah, humbug.

*** 20 December 2008. Writing: Weekly totals.

An excellent work week. Eleven-and-a-half hours spent on writing (my second highest total ever), forty-three-and-a-half hours spent on core writing-related activities (my highest total ever), and twenty thousand words written. My Muse popped in today, so I'm now over the three-quarters mark for my monthly goal.

I'm still struggling with Internet addiction, though. I'm glad that my gift fic is the last solid writing deadline I'll have till . . . well, till next year's gift fic. Because I'll have gone online no less than five times this month in connection with having that solid deadline. Not that my Internet addiction really needs much of an excuse to pull me online, but I hate giving him one.

*** 21 December 2008. Writing: That darned water-engine research; plus, Christmas preparations and writing plans.

There are not enough steam engine videos online.

I went through YouTube and HowStuffWorks and Blinxx and the Internet Archive and British Pathe, and found virtually nothing. HowStuffWorks did at least offer a video showing a water-wheel generated engine. It had another video on that topic too, but, um, I got distracted by all those guys in tight black tee-shirts and tight black jeans, bending over to look at the engine. (It didn't help that they were wearing key chains.)

There's no working steam engines or water engines in the D.C. area, blast it. The Smithsonian's American History Museum (which just re-opened after renovation) does have nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century engines, and I suppose I should take a return trip to look at them, but I don't recall that they yielded much useful information. So I still have no idea how loud a water-powered engine would be.

In the ongoing category of "What is the media coming to now?": While I was searching for water wheel videos, I stumbled across an episode of a "documentary" series in which the volunteers were checking whether it's actually possible to torture someone with water. Lots of chortles as the volunteers were tied to what looked like a homemade rack.

Great. What's next, a comedy routine on the Nazi concentration camps? I don't know what it is about medieval torture that makes so much of the population start giggling like mad.

On a different topic (well, okay, we're still on the topic of darkfic), my gift fic is back from the beta reader, with no major problems noted. The story will take roughly three hours to proofread, so I've slated tomorrow for that task. Other than that, the only thing I'll do tomorrow is put up Christmas decorations. (This is where an Anglican heritage dovetails with laziness and procrastination; according to the Anglican calendar, it's not the Christmas season till Christmas Eve.)

While I was online, I picked up the cover art I needed for Noble. I'm hoping that, after my Christmas Eve posting, I'll be able to do what I did in November, and stay off the Internet (except for blog postings and e-mail) for a month or so. I've been online far too much this month. It's a wonder that my Muse has been able to get a word in edgewise. I don't think that my experiment of being sorta-on, sorta-off the Web has worked this month. Somehow, I still have to find that golden mean between never going on the Web and being on the Web all the time.

At any rate, between now and New Year's Eve (when I'm hoping to attend the city's annual celebration), I'm going to devote myself to Christmas and the usual in-between-stories stuff: editing, proofreading, publishing, marketing, research, housework, upkeep, family, and friends. Then, on New Year's Day, I'll switch back to composition. (No guarantees, of course, that my Muse won't bug me before then.) (Boy, it feels good to be able to say that.)

On a Yay! note, I've sold five copies of Whipster. Since I'm selling it through Lulu rather than through evil Amazon, I'm pocketing eighty percent of the profit, which means I've earn nearly twenty-eight dollars so far.

Thank goodness; I think I've finally found a successful game plan for my e-books. It won't make me rich, but it will allow me to earn at least part of the set-up fee for the paperback edition, which hopefully will bring in larger amounts of money.


I've realized the perfect solution to my Internet addiction problem:

Allow myself to go on the Web during my research/publishing period. Don't allow myself to go on the Web during my composition period.

That would work, I think, with the help of my apprentice. I'm going to give it a try.

At any rate, I've realized that I can't do my Website update on the same day as I post my gift fic - that's too much work for Christmas Eve. So here's my plan till the end of the month:

* Finish, post, and announce my gift fic.

* Finish the proofreading of "Noble."

* Seek beta readers for a couple of Life Prison stories.

* Post and announce my monthly Website update.

* If I have time, edit Pleasure from beta reports.

* In between the above, do Christmas/New Year's stuff, read turn-of-the-century prison memoirs, read light fiction, do housework, do upkeep, phone friends and family, and catch up on my e-mail.

I'm glad I have nine days in which to do this all, because that last step is a biggie.

*** 21 December 2008. Mentoring: Those reins of power again.

I had a serious talk with my apprentice tonight about my concerns about a leather-related situation he's proposing to get involved in. I'd thought his response would be to get upset that I wasn't giving him the green light. Certainly, he wasn't happy to hear I wasn't happy with the situation, but the talk ended with him asking me to take more control of the situation. I keep underestimating my apprentice's trust of me.

*** 22 December 2008. Writing: Review of Jane Carnall's Keptverse.

Jane Carnall: Keptverse. Taken from an arena where slaves kill each other for the entertainment of free people, a slave is taken to a household where the rules for survival aren't clear. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/male friendship fiction, male/female friendship fiction, female/female friendship fiction, alternate universe, crime themes, employer/employee fiction, erotic fiction, fan fiction (various fandoms), mental illness themes, prisoner fiction, shared universe (A Kept Boy), slave fiction. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

When I'd reached the point in this series where the slave had been pulled from his mind-numbing work, had been unexpectedly sent to a new destination, had been placed into mysterious new circumstances that nobody would explain to him, had been beaten up by the man in charge of the new location, and had been threatened with a nasty death . . .

At that point, I thought to myself, "This had better be one of those stories of Evil Master Repents, or I'm going to regret having started this series."

What is actually taking place, I later learned, is far more terrible than the simple tale of an evil master with a good slave, and is revealed to the reader with a slowness that provides agonizing pleasure.

"Gerard lunged. He was seriously beginning to believe he would kill Richard for a decent night's uninterrupted sleep." Not having knowledge of the fandoms that are being drawn upon, I can't say how much the portrayal of the master owes itself to the canon writer and actor, but it is delicately done, leaving the reader feeling off-guard at every moment . . . just like the slave.

This is an unofficial contribution to the universe of Poisontaster's A Kept Boy - unofficial, because Poisontaster only permits real person fiction at her shared-universe community. You don't need to have read Poisontaster's story, but if you have, the first thing you will notice is how much grittier Jane Carnell's series is than Poisontaster's. No longer is pain presented as an opportunity for hurt/comfort; instead, it is offered as a window into how a society works, and how individuals within that society live up to their own ideals.

Gerard tilted his chair back and folded his hands across his stomach. He was smiling. "I'd say that of all my kids, you two like the idea of my owning Richard least, would you say that was a fair estimation?"

"I don't care what you do with that scumbag!"

Benton took a breath. "I think that it's fair to say we are both personally opposed to the ownership, buying, and selling of human beings. Very strongly so."

Ray glanced at him. "Or . . . what he said. Yeah."

The decision to start the series from the slave's perspective is a good one, because only gradually, as the reader is taken outside of the slave's head, do they realize to what extent something has gone wrong in the slave's mind. In this pasage, one of the employees working at the house offers the slave the opportunity to use the bathroom.

There were disposable safeties in the guest bathrooms. Adam handed Richard one, and watched him get rid of the stubble.

"I thought you looked good in a beard."

Richard's hand stilled. He swallowed, hard, and his hand still did not move. He had been staring in the mirror with the agonised male squint of achieving a close shave, and Adam, watching, saw his eyes close.

After a moment, Richard's hands went down to the sink's edge, and clutched at it. His head bowed. After another moment, his legs shifted, a fraction wider apart. Then he did not move.

This is a work-in-progress, and I look forward to seeing how the series progresses.

*** 22 December 2008. Writing: New comments my writings; plus, prisonlit.

I received a review of "Whipster" - positive, I think. I'm rather amused to note that the reviewer seems most interested in puzzling out why the heterosexual male character doesn't want to have sex with his male friend. Ah, those gay romance reviewers.

Was also delighted to notice Jean Roberta praising Edgeplay in Mayhill in this post. I'd sent the first three-fifths of the novel to her because she was one of the people who answered my call for beta readers for this manuscript, but she also happens to be one of the more prominent BDSM book reviewers. It's the first time I've received any comments on my fiction from a reviewer whom I knew was part of the BDSM literature community.

On a separate topic: I heard from Morgan-cian tonight that she will indeed serve as co-moderator of the LiveJournal community I'd like to start for original prison fiction and nonfiction. (She had volunteered for this duty a couple of months ago.) So I'm hoping to start that comm before the holidays are over, if her schedule permits it. It was nice of her to give the go-ahead on this, as I gather from Maculategiraffe's blog that her health hasn't been great recently.

I asked her to be co-mod because I really, really want a comm like this to exist and, alas, I've given up hope that anyone else will start one . . . but I can't do active moderation of it myself, for reasons obvious to anyone who reads my Daily Life entries. So I promised to set the comm up and then leave her to do the dirty work of actually keeping an eye on the comm, though I promised to be available for consultation if any big problems arise. I doubt any will; I've never had problems at any of the LJ comms I've started.

So yay! maybe I'll have some good original prisonfic and nonfic to read soon.

*** 22 December 2008. Mentoring: Negotiations and dependence.

In all my imaginings about what I might do in the leather community, I never imagined myself being involved in negotiations on behalf of another person.

So far, things are going okay, though it's clear that there's been a breakdown in communication between my apprentice and the other gentleman involved, probably because some of the communications went through the gentleman's slave. When it reached the point where I was asking my apprentice to talk to the slave, so that the slave could talk to his master, so that I could communicate properly with the master . . .

"I feel like a parent working out the negotiations for an arranged marriage," I told my apprentice.

I found myself having to rewrite an e-mail to the master, because I'm so used to having to explain at length why I'm in a position where I can give my apprentice orders, and I realized that, in this case, the master would take for granted that I had that sort of control over my apprentice.

Such a contrast to the other night, when I was trying to explain, to a semi-vanilla friend, why my apprentice needed me to micromanage him right now. Of course, my friend was right that it's good for my apprentice to develop skills of independence; both my apprentice and I agreed about that the moment we met. It's one of the main goals we're striving toward. But my friend seemed to me to miss the obvious fact that no man is an island.

I'm sitting here, typing on a computer that my father gave me, next to a scanner that my friend gave me, listening to music that my mother left me, drinking milk that Doug paid for . . . My apprentice's emotional dependence on me is no greater than my financial dependence on other people. Yet, because nobody gave me orders on any of these matters, people would assume that I am that overglorified individual: An Independent Person.

My apprentice seems to be having the same problem explaining our situation to his friends. He told me tonight that a friend had said to him, "You have a bedtime?"

"Yes," my apprentice replied cheerfully.

"But what if you're out late on the weekend?" she asked.

"Well, then, I ask permission beforehand to stay up late," he responded.

He commented to me afterwards, "I just couldn't get her to understand that this is a good thing."

I figured that his friend was probably envisioning those horrid childhood episodes of being forced screaming into bed by one's parents. I endured quite a few of those, having had insomnia throughout my childhood. "It's like anything else in life," I said. "If an act is voluntary, as your desire that I enforce your bedtime is voluntary, it takes on a whole new meaning than if you were required to do it against your will."

*** 24 December 2008. Writing: Review of Jane Carnall's MirrorM*A*S*H and its sequel.

Jane Carnall: MirrorM*A*S*H (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14) and MirrorM*A*S*H: Through the Mirror (Author's Website. Later chapters will presumably appear here.) A surgeon seeks to escape from the nightmare of war by buying a brothel slave. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, alternate universe, erotic fiction, fan fiction (M*A*S*H), historical fantasy (Korean War), military fiction, prisoner fiction, prostitution fiction, slave fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online fiction ¶ On-screen sex and on-screen violence.

He hated reading his dad's letters: he hated replying to them even more. Reading them only reminded him, too closely, that there was a world out there, outside the fences of the camp, outside the borders of Korea, a world from which he had come and to which he was supposed to return. Eventually. When they let him go. When he had done enough.

Writing back into this world was worse. He was spinning a story that was a lie from beginning to end. He could not tell his dad the truth about what he was here: he could not tell him what he had become. All he could do was hope that when they let him out, when they told him he could go home, there would still be a Hawkeye who could go home.

Usually, when I read a story, what carries me forward is the characters and the plot. That's why I nearly gave up on MirrorM*A*S*H. The slave in it was whiny, the master was clueless, and everyone else was disagreeable. The author later said that the plotting simply consisted of her "happily thinking up Really Evil Things that could happen to [the slave]." While I myself have not been immune to the temptation to do evil things to my characters while trying to figure out where the plot is going, it was a bit too obvious in this case that the story started off as (in the author's words) "never mind a plot." By the third chapter, I was yawning.

Talk about a clueless reader. The first warning I had that I'd misjudged what I was reading was little hints that the author had created an alternate universe. Then I began to pick up on the fact that this universe was a lot darker than one would expect from the already dark tale of the Korean War. Finally, I began to see that the author was exploring what she calls, in her work-in-progress sequel, "the shadow side" of her characters: the dark undercurrent of potential in the characters, as they appear in our own universe. But only gradually did I realize that she was actually saying something important about the shadow side of her readers.

Hawkeye dumped the man on his cot, kicked his shoes off, and lay down with him. An army cot was designed for one person, but he didn't feel like wasting any time. The man's unconscious body was relaxed and easy to manoevre. Hawkeye meant to fuck him now: he was angry and desperate. The man's life was now better measured in hours, not days.

He knew it wasn't going to happen after a few minutes groping: he was too tired and too drunk. He wrapped his arms around the man, and buried his face in the man's hair. "Damn you," he muttered out loud. "I never meant this to happen." He should have known it: he broke everything he touched. There were no exceptions, inside or outside the OR. The man would have been better off if Hawkeye had picked some other door in the brothel, and left him be.

Even so, by the time I had travelled two-thirds of the way through the story, I was only two-thirds emerged from my cluelessness. Thus the twist that occurred next got past my guard with all the ease of a cold blade in the guts.

*** 25 December 2008. Home: Christmas and typography and Olympia 1949.

A pleasant Christmas this year. I spent most of Christmas Eve finding help for the bat I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog; when the bat rehabilitator left, there was just an hour remaining before Doug and I had to leave for my father's and stepmother's. So we hastily wrapped presents, and I updated my blogs with news of the bat, and then I scrambled into some good clothes and we left.

After dinner, we all went to Christmas Eve service at Christ Church in Georgetown. It's just my father's sort of Episcopal Church: high, but without "popish trappings." I felt popish by comparison; I missed the incest. But the service had a nice choral setting by Healey Willans and a good choir.

My father and I, of course, had more important things to discuss after the service.

"You'd think," I'd say, "that with the modern Church's concern with the arts, parishes would hire decent typesetters to design their service leaflets."

My father promptly launched into a description of how he would have laid out that evening's service leaflet, if he'd been assigned the duty.

Doug nearly burst into laughter. This was because one Christmas, as he and my father and I were emerging from Christmas Eve Mass, I noticed that my father was fuming. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, between gritted teeth, "I do not think Times New Roman is the proper typeface for a Christmas service leaflet."

It wasn't until I met Doug that I realized that there are some people who, upon emerging from a church service, don't immediately launch into a critique of how the service had been conducted. By the time the service actually began last night, we had critiqued, through whispers, the church architecture, the stained glass, the banners, and the music. After the service, we critiqued the sermon and the priest.

This isn't just a quirk of my family. I've never been to an Episcopal coffee hour without stumbling upon some group or another that is dissecting the service, from beginning to end. This seems to be an Anglican thing. I think it arises from the fact that Anglican theology is centered on its prayer book and its liturgy. Everything important that occurs in Anglicanism occurs in relation to its worship. Other Christians have debates over whether homosexuality is sinful; Anglicans have debates over whether the church should allow rites blessing same-sex unions. Other Christians have debates over whether women should take positions of leadership at home; Anglicans have debates over whether women should be made bishops. Other Christians have debates over whether divorce is sinful; Anglicans have debates whether it's proper to ordain men and women who are divorced.

So you get a bunch of Episcopalians together after a church service, and the next thing you know, they're debating whether the rector made the wrong decision in choosing to use a violet altar-cloth during Lent, rather than an undyed one; or whether the parish is headed for hell because the rector has decided to switch to a modern translation of the Psalms.

So Daddy and I discussed church typography on Christmas Eve. Appropriately enough, one of his gifts the next day was Alexander Lawson's Anatomy of a Typeface. I guess he's been paying attention to what books I beg to borrow from him. My stepmother gave Doug and me tickets to visit the Newseum - the museum in D.C. that's devoted to journalism. Doug surprised me by giving me two wonderful books: Workingman's Wife: Her Personality, World and Life Style (1959) and Mary R. Melendy's Perfect Womanhood (1901).

What with the bat, I didn't get Christmas decorations up till today. Our own decorations are hidden somewhere in the midst of all the clutter of our house, so we used Mother's decorations, most of which I remembered from my childhood.

But I didn't remember where they came from, other than the ones my brother and I made. My mother used to tell us every year what the history was of the decorations, but I didn't write down what she said and didn't store it in my memory. Why should I? She'd always be there to tell us.

A suggestion: If you're looking for a holiday activity, sit down with your family - especially the older members - and exchange stories of the past. Then, if you don't have a perfect memory, write the stories down. That way you'll still have the stories when the storytellers are gone.

Here's one from my father, told over the Christmas Eve dinner table:

In 1949, when my father's family was living in a town near Olympia, Washington, it was five minutes before noon, and my father and his classmates were just getting ready to go to lunch and recess.

The ground began to shake.

The teacher promptly told the children to duck under their desks. This was the era of "duck and cover" drills for nuclear war. The shaking kept going on for a long time until somebody shouted, "It's an earthquake!" Then everybody headed for the exit.

"It was just like a fire drill," my father reported, "except that we were going four times as fast as during a drill."

Outside, the children watched as the school building began to crack. It never actually fell, but the school was declared an unsafe structure afterwards.

Nobody was killed in town except one man who had been sitting in his car; the front of the building next to him fell on the car. However, practically every chimney in town fell down.

Daddy said, "My father at that time was an unemployed bricklayer--"

"Not for long," I cut in, having heard this tale before.

*** 25 December 2008. Writing and Simplicity: In service to my Muse.

The Washington Post had this little squib about a ritzy celebration at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery:

Artists were everywhere, and not only on the walls: Nelson Shanks, Lee Friedlander, Sean Scully, Bill Christenberry, Lou Stovall, Morgan Monceaux and others.

"This is a big thing," remarked Mr. Monceaux, whose portrait of the late musician Ray Charles was among new acquisitions featured in a "Gifts to the Nation" hallway. The Baltimore artist, who cradled in his arms a well-worn white teddy bear, was a striking figure in black leather pants and a large silver lock worn around his neck. The bear, he explained, was the last one "given me by my mother before she died." The lock, a big one, signaled "I'm in service to my muse."

Um, yeah. Maybe not.

I was about to make a few choice remarks about journalists' inability to do minimal research (or perhaps just total lack of knowledge of leather culture) . . . but then I ran across this article, which suggested to me that perhaps that gullible reporter wasn't so far off the mark as I'd thought.

(Before I go on to my next subject, may I just say: There need to be more men in this world who turn up for cultural galas in formal leatherman attire.)

At any rate, these thoughts were prompted by a revelation in the middle of Christmas Eve service. (I have my best revelations at Episcopal services. And while taking showers.) The revelation - which wasn't so much a revelation as a honking big reminder - was that my life is now centered around service to my Muse.

I wrote in this blog a while back about how my daily routine was now focussed around writing in the same way that a Christian monk's daily routine is focussed around the liturgy of hours. My monthly schedules are likewise centered around getting particular stories/books published.

The reason I was feeling a bit restless in the Christmas Eve service was that I was realizing that all this dedication wasn't matched in any way by ritual. I was steeped in Anglican ritual throughout my childhood and adolescence, I'm now hanging out on the fringes of a community (the leather community) that is known for its interest in ritual matters, I'm practicing rituals daily with my apprentice . . . and the activity that is most central to my life (writing) is utterly devoid of ritual.

The problem, of course, is that, for the first three types of rituals, I drew upon community traditions. Even my protocol with my apprentice, which we developed together, had precedents in historical and modern communities. I just don't know of any previously existing rituals that are associated with service to one's Muse. So I can't figure out how to ritualize my writing life in a manner that embodies my dedication to my Muse and also connects me with other communities in the past and present.

*** 27 December 2008. Writing: I've got to get myself offline now.

I had a seven-hour Internet fall. I need to go on the wagon and stay there for a long time.

Fortunately, I'm nearly done with my online work. I finished and posted my gift fic (Re-creation, you guys know its title now). That leaves the Website update (which I'm only announcing on my blogs), this blog entry, and three site-specific announcements for a handful of comms. I should be able to get all of it done tomorrow.

Um, I mean today (the 28th). It's 8:30 a.m. now. I said I needed to get offline, right?

*** 29 December 2008. Writing: Yes, now.

There's nothing like falling off the wagon to convince one that serious measures are needed.

After two days in a row of out-of-control Web usage, resulting in serious physical pain from eye overuse, I set aside my moderate plan for cutting back on Web visits ("I'll only accept Friend requests at my MySpace profile when I visit there once a month. And I'll just accept the requests without looking at the profiles. Well, maybe, I'll just glance at the profile - that's only polite if a fellow author Friends me. And maybe I'll glance, very briefly, at the author's Website . . .")-- I set aside my moderate wishy-washy plan for cutting back on Web visits, in favor of a plan that had teeth:

No more social networking, except at InsaneJournal and LiveJournal.

I'll keep my other profiles online. And I'll update them once a year. But that's it. No more Friend requests, blog entries (except at LJ and IJ), bulletins, continual fiddling with layout, etc. That should save me from at least one month's worth of Web time per year.

Here's how I'll save myself from another nine months' worth of Web time: no posting, whether for recreation or story announcements, anywhere except at LJ/IJ (entries at my own blog or story announcements at fiction communities) and e-mail lists. (The one exception being if I have a question that those kind folks at the Erotic Romance Writers Forum and Romance Divas can help with.)

Since November, I'd already made the break in terms of recreational posting at Web forums - that was the hard part, so restraining from posting story announcements will be easy by comparison.

All of the above decisions were influenced by me analyzing my 2008 domain statistics. What the stats revealed was that the vast majority of people visiting my site via links are coming from three places: LJ/IJ (mainly from my own blogs and story announcements), a directory to online gay porn, and recommendations from folks in the fanfic/originalfic communities.

You guys in the fanfic/originalfic communities are sweethearts. :) As for the online gay porn community, my main access to it seems to be through Nifty and Literotica, which I need to submit to again - I haven't done that since 2005, yet Nifty is still sending new readers my way.

I'd still like to reach the m/m romance community more than I have, but I think I can do that through story announcements at e-mail lists. (Besides, a goodly number of you guys are reading my blog now.)

For the leather community, I'll have to depend on my profile at FetLife doing the trick, because FetLife is like a candy store to me: whenever I go there, I end up clicking on links for hours. I daren't post there regularly.

Alas, there doesn't seem to be any way to reach the gay SF/F community except by attending real-life meetings at the local chapter. Ditto for the mainstream SF/F community.

As for the mainstream gay fiction community, if anyone knows the trick for reaching them, I'd love to know it.

I'll still do once-a-year story roundup posts at the places I was posting at regularly in the past. But other than that: IJ. LJ. E-mail lists. Let that be my mantra.

*** 29 December 2008. Writing: Demanding bunnies.

Oh, how I hate it when plot bunnies bounce all over my brain when I'm not ready to write a story.

Remember that retrofuture series I was researching a while ago? I'd put it aside because I told myself I should get my other series finished before I started a new one. But tonight I had an idea for a story in the series, and now I'm panting to start.

At least the idea is for a part of the series where I don't need to do research. But it's a shared-universe idea, and I don't know yet whether the author will let me use her character in the story. The author is accustomed to loaning out her characters to other writers - but this would be AU and ultimately commercial (since it's for part of a novel I'll want to publish eventually). I don't know how she'll react to my request.

While I'm waiting for an answer, I'm rereading the story where the character appears, and good heavens, he'd be perfect for the scenario I have in mind.

(*Drums fingers, waiting.*)

In other news, I got everything done Web-wise today except finishing up my analysis of the Web stats, notifying authors of my Buried Treasure reviews, and posting this blog entry. I bravely posted notices at my social networking profiles making clear my new no-posting policy.

Tonight I got a letter from a fellow writer - vanilla, as far as I know - in which she called me "boss" (for the second letter in a row) and ended the letter by saluting me. I told my apprentice, "I'm being good by not telling her what that does to me."

*** 29 December 2008. Writing: Monthly and yearly totals.

I put together the chart of my monthly wordage totals (a couple of days early, but I'm pretty certain my Muse won't show up before New Year's Day). Ouch. The toll that I paid for my eighteen days online this month (so far) is clear.

My yearly totals are a lot better; I doubled my output this year. Forty percent of this year's wordage was written in the last two months of the year, so I have bright visions for next year.

*** 30 December 2008. Writing: Borrowing a character and promising to give him back afterwards, only slightly worn.

Hurrah! I'm allowed to use the character I wanted for my retrofuture series set in the Turn-of-the-Century-Toughs universe. So now I can publicly say that Maculategiraffe has given my Muse permission to play with gently host Jesse from The Slave Breakers.

I won't let my Muse be too rough with him. Promise. (*Darkfic writer gives look of wide-eyed innocence.*)

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