Beautiful to a reader, better to a writer

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Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)I few weeks ago I stumbled across Alex Jeffers’ Tattooed Love Boys in the Wilde Stories 2013 collection. I love short stories and speculative fiction but I find often that I enjoy a story while reading it, but forget it not long after shutting the book. Tattooed Love Boys stuck with me. Sure, it was about tattoos, beautiful boys, angels (maybe), and gender switching, which are basically the things I love most. But the writing in this story set a mood and tone that was what made the story stick with me. It had a dreamy quality that made the reader, like the characters, not question the weirdness.

Immediately I went out and got Jeffers’ The Padishah’s Son and the Fox which is both delightful and disgusting. Telling an ‘erotic’ fairytale with all the gruesome darkness of true fairytales, with many unexpected turns the story left me completely satisfied as a reader. The storytelling is lovely, giving you a genuinely visceral response, both positive and negative.

Though wonderful neither of these stories had the length and depth for me to completely immerse myself in, to forget myself in. Luckily the next I picked up was The Abode of Bliss. I read it in two sittings, interrupted only by the need to interact with my family and to sleep. Given the chance I would have read it straight through. Though I was emotionally overwrought when I finished it, so maybe it’s best that I had time to reflect on it when I finished (easily done as I was on a plane).

3597187161_1dcfb09bc4_oThe Abode of Bliss by turns made me laugh and made me weep. Reading it I felt both lonely and loved, and was filled with longing, both sexual and romantic. The prose is poetic though not overblown or contrived. It is evocative and heartfelt but with an emotional distance, as if the story teller is remembering, that allows careful observation. But still I felt close enough to be pulled into the remembered emotions, to cheer and cry for Ziya. I felt entirely inside his world, inside him, a character made up only of a words on a page.

This is how I hope to write. Some day I want to be practiced enough to feel confident that I can tell stories this intense, this clearly crafted, stories that sound this true no matter how made up they are. Here’s the thing about storytelling: it’s all made up, even when it’s true. As far as I can tell, Jeffers isn’t Turkish, (he says in his end note that he’s never been there) but somehow he manages to utterly transport me to Turkey. And carry me there inside the mind of character who feels completely authentic, so fleshed out as to be entirely real, utterly believable.

Jeffers’ books have reminded me that writing what you know is shit advice, it always has been. If people only wrote what they know we’d never have Madame Bovary, or War and Peace, we certainly wouldn’t have Star Trek or Harry Potter.  My own stories, at this point, are merely dirty little tales, with characters hopefully polished enough that readers will love them so much that they feel what the characters feel. They, at their core, stories of young men finding a sense of community in eras before my time. They are stories about things I have no experience of, having never been a young man in the 1980s. But these are the stories I have to tell, the characters who live in my head. So I will do my best to do them justice.

Reading The Abode of Bliss was pure joy as a reader, exactly what I needed for my vacation, to be entirely transported out of my own world. As a reader I couldn’t ask for more out a book.  As a writer I’m thrilled to find books like this that inspire me to try and make my stories much better than they are now.  Books that encourage me to keep writing the stories that come to me. Stories of cities I have never lived in, of people I am not and do not know. I will sleep tonight dreaming if Ziya in Turkey. I will wake tomorrow ready to better practice my craft, to more skillfully use words to bring readers into the world I created.

not far from the tree (part one)

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Guess what I just got?!

IMG_20140530_175850836It’s newest book in my mom’s Rain City Comedy of Manners series, Artemis in the Desert. Just in time for beach reading, bed reading, park reading, weekend reading, airport reading, or really any kind of reading there is. Like the other books in the series (Nine Volt Heart–likeable rock stars, and The Grrrl of Limberlost–punk rock nerd girl coder) it features strong female characters, crazy bad guys and such lush backdrop descriptions that you’ll wish you were there inside the book (well except maybe camping in the cold rain in the desert, you won’t wish for that but you’ll really feel it). And like all her other books, even though I’ve already read it a couple times (in various stages of completion) I’m going to read it again now that i can just enjoy it.

My mom has been a huge inspiration to me. All the usual blah blah blahs: she’s smart, strong, independent, gave me a love of books and words, etc. Lately though she’s knocking it out of the park in the getting shit done department. Writing, editing, and publishing a huge variety of works (her own and other people’s) at a rocket fast pace without sacrificing quality on anything (look at how gorgeous her book layouts are, read how neatly crafted her books are). I aspire every day to her level of productivity and her quality of output.

Plus she’s just super awesome to hang with. If you can’t get to her garden to have fancy gin drink and good hang out, you can still find her other places she hangs. She has a website where she talks about writing, editing, her stories and other various things. You can also follow her Twitter where she is very funny and her Facebook for updates about what she’s got coming up.

on pen names and secret identities

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Why a pen name? The obvious answer is that if you’re writing romance or erotica, it’s separating your writing from your day job.  But even if I didn’t have a day job I’d still use a pen name.  There’s lots of good reasons like branding, and if you write in two very distinct genres you want to keep them separate (essentially brand them with the name you write each with, so I guess that’s still branding).

takano04For me it’s also because I just like names. I grew up in an age of the internet when we were all anonymous, there was no Facebook, we didn’t put our real names on anything. I’ve never been good at coming up with clever internet handles, but I love when other people do. I love the expressiveness of choosing your own name. And the ability to change it like an outfit. As evidenced by the many I’ve had in the last ~20 years: jax, pinklady, starcat, stoneprincess, jayjay, evereadysmile and now flickerjax (and several variations on my real name).

A pen name is a little different. It’s lasting, forever tied to whatever work you created it for. It can’t be changed like a url or a handle. I went through a dozen choices of what to use for the works I’m currently writing and finally settled on one that I think fits the ‘brand’ of the stories and fits me.  I chose a traditionally masculine name (about 9/12 of my list of choices were masculine) not because I’m hiding behind it while writing m/m romance (a quick perusal of this blog or my FB will reveal almost immediately that I’m not a guy). I picked it because I love the name and it reflects me in a way I like. And perhaps because in real life my first name is “masculine” this feels more comfortable. Most traditionally feminine names felt more fake to me than my final choice: Ajax Owen Bell.

My imaginary son is in the ether somewhere thankful he was never born to me because this probably would have been his first and middle names. Actually that was the only thing that made me hesitate about it, but I have no reason to save the name for a child, so I took it for myself. It feels comfortably like my name, correct in a way other choices I weighed never did. They all felt false and thin, but this is solid for me, like this is a name that I already somehow own.

If you’re looking for Ajax Bell, you can find me other places online (psst, over in the sidebar).  Facebook, necessarily separated from my “real life” account, mostly to protect my grandmother from anything more offensive than what I already post, and because my day job coworkers probably aren’t interested in gay romance writing. And of course I’m on the endless rabbit hole of time wasting that is Tumblr. Follow if you like, but fair warning, it’s mostly gay porn, mermaids, and Tokio Hotel in my feed and it gets graphic at times (I do tag because without Tumblr Savior all civility is lost to the world) and my tags probably expose a level of insanity I should be ashamed of (but I’m not, bring on the gay porn German pop star mermen and my ramblings about them, yeah).

Anonymity on the internet is clearly a relic of the past, gone but still mourned. Identity is something else entirely. I think it’s fair to say the person I am when I wake up early and go slog at my office all day is different from the fangirl gleefully watching endless eps of Looking and Orphan Black while reblogging Bob’s Burgers gifs. I have no problem at all with the idea that I need different spaces, different names and (ugh) different brands for those identities.  So here I am, yes it’s me. Still me, no matter what you call me, but if we’re friends (and we are, aren’t we?) feel free to call me JJ no matter what space we’re in.

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not enough time to be lazy

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I’ve been writing a book. Or rather, I’ve been writing a series a books, in fits and starts, in the few hours I can grab between doing this and doing that and pretending to be a responsible adult. I’ve got one close to done and many others started.  Right now I should be pouring through my recent edits and making a crap draft into a good working draft.  Instead I’m drinking chai, watching the rain and listening to the dryer.

Despite having not achieved much more than a long, long walk and few household chores yesterday, I am utterly wiped today. I feel like I’ve been beaten with sticks. Like I could sleep for a week. Hopefully the chai will clear my foggy head enough that I can intelligently string words together in some semblance of story of and character development.

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I want nothing more than to lounge in bed all day and read comics.  Okay maybe something more.  Maybe someone could prepare my food and bring it to me and rub my feet too?  I never think I’ve done terribly wrong with my life until I’m forced to confront my lack of houseboys to do my bidding, then suddenly my choices seem sinister and stupid.  I could have done better.  Sigh.

Only Lovers Left Alive

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tumblr_n61mx7lrnm1r7wwqao1_500Last night I went and saw Only Lovers Left Alive with Darrah.  It was playing, as far as we could tell, only one week, Mon-Thur, two shows a night, at different times each night. At a theater inconvenient to most anyone who would probably be interested in it.  If they could even discover it was playing.  7pm on Thursday and the audience was the two of us, a solitary fangirl (I saw you, ma’am and recognized what you are), and two 50s-ish guys.  I mean I guess the theater can argue the limited run was for lack of interest but, c’mon, Nashville.  Why wasn’t this at the Belcourt,and publicized, like at all?

Still I’m grateful we saw it the theater, and in a quiet theater no less, because it was amazing.  I couldn’t watch the first couple minutes, where everything was spinning.  Too vertigo-y for my delicate brain constitution, but the rest of it was fucking perfect.

I want to crawl inside this movie and live forever. I over identified with Adam’s character, so crawling inside it obviously means Tilda Swinton would be my wife, which is all I’ve ever wanted out of the world. But there’s more reasons than that.  My coworker asked what it was about this morning, and I said, “it was vampire movie, but if I had to use single words to describe it they would be: soft, comfortable, calm and romantic.”  There really wasn’t angst and suffering in OLLA, just a little irritation and exasperation. And of course, the vampire thing.  I started reading Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro when I was 14 or 15.  Yep the vampire thing is kind of over played in pop culture now, but it will always be a huge part of  my emotional and intellectual upbringing.  OLLA was the vampire movie of my goth teenager dreams.  It filled me with the same calm wonder as discovering the Romantic poets did, or finding The Chameleons UK and feeling like someone else really understood my inner world.

The pacing of the movie was oddly relaxing.  There was no real sense of urgency in it, even when people were hurrying to do things. There was tension, but it never felt scary or anxiety inducing.  There was just this pervading sense that whatever came could be handled, somehow.  Which is perfect, if you’ve lived forever and been through everything, sure this too shall pass, you  know it will.  The film was also very much a snap shot. No long flashbacks, only casual discussion of their long past together.  Just here, right now, a small window into a long long life. And everything was left to be inferred.  There was no explanation for vampirism or powers or anything, it was just a given you’d know some parts and figure out others.

And of course now all I want to do is go shop for just the right white leather jacket.  I mean if I can’t marry Tilda Swinton can I at least please be super cool like her?

tumblr_n4zjh1y5fE1sw6awyo1_500I left the theater feeling both calmed and utterly delighted.  I want to write stories like this.  Stories that are merely a slice of life, a small window of a larger tale, but still utterly engaging and interesting. Stories that lack complicated plots but are rich and detailed with character, scene, setting and tone.

I totally recommend OLLA, but watch it undistracted, so you can live in it while it unfolds.

I been missing you, hope you’re missing me

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Wow, so yeah I haven’t really been blogging at all recently, huh? Maybe it’s time to start again.

I’ve been complaining lately to friends about how much I miss LiveJournal. The heyday of it anyway, since it still exists. Recently I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV that I want to squee with someone about.  I miss my old LJ community, a group wide, deep, and diverse enough that at least surely a couple people would be interested in talking to me about which Korean dramas I’m watching, about German pop-glamrock bands, about anime, and about why I might be the only person left who still enjoys Supernatural (do I enjoy it because I watch it in a void without fandom’s influence? I may never know).  But now I feel like I’m just shouting into the void or pestering my friends with things they don’t care about but indulge my babbling out of love (which is actually kind of awesome in it’s own way).

Lacking that community I’ve been trying to seek out folks I lost in the diaspora years ago. Looking the Tumblrs and the Twitters, poking around sites I last saw faces I recognized, but everyone has moved on to unknown fandoms, has changed their names, or otherwise I’ve forgotten how to recognize them.  Which is kind of sad, but won’t stop me from continuing to shout into the void.

So I’ve been watching Ouran High School Host Club (OMG Hitachiin twins!) in fits and starts, mostly when I work out.  Which it’s totally not conducive to working out because I find I’ve often slowed or stopped and am staring at the TV, slack jawed.  I mean really it’s like an entire anime made up of nothing but fanservice.  And layers of meta so deep you need hip waders to get through it.  Somehow despite how obvious it’s pandering is, it’s still gripping and smart enough that I actually care about all the characters.

I found this amazing academic paper, which didn’t tell me much I didn’t know about OuranHSHC, but it did prove that I made major misstep in my life by not going into a field where I got paid to teach and write about things like anime and manga.

Man, this show is so weird.  It gets as much right as it does wrong and I’m not sure you’d really enjoy it if you weren’t already familiar with anime and boy’s love manga. Or maybe you’d love it and be super disappointed when everything else didn’t turn out to be like the crazed, ridiculousness this anime is.  It’s on Netflix, subbed or dubbed, and I think everyone should watch it and come contemplate Mori-san’s love for Honey-sempai with me. We can talk about how every episode is more batshit crazy than the last. It’s just nuts. Nuts only my fangirl homegirls would really understand. If only I could find them all again.

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There is so much more love in the world than you can conceive of

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Let’s talk about Tom Daley coming out. For those of you who don’t know (I’m assuming a possibility that the media storm about it has only been in the kind of online circles I travel in) Tom Daley is an Olympic Diver from the UK who came out this week in a very sweet little video (link has a transcript if you don’t have patience for a video). I’m very proud of him for his brave act, but I’m more interested in the responses I’m seeing in the media and in comments I’m seeing on stories about this. Really I just want to address the common responses I’m seeing.

1) “It’s no one’s business who he loves.” While in an ideal world this is true. Tom says it himself in his video that in a perfect world he wouldn’t have to do this. I wish he didn’t. But he does because all over the world people are still persecuted, punished, stigmatized, shunned and even killed because of who they love. Coming out is the only way to combat that. When your family, friends, and public figures that you admire make public statements about who they love it makes the entire idea of queerness less threatening. It opens a conversation to help everyone understand that two women or two men getting married isn’t a threat to anyone’s way of life. Because, yes, who your partner is IS a private thing, but it can’t be a quiet thing until we’ve made society at large safe for every one in it. Visibility is key to safety and coming out is key to visibility. So, of course it’s no one’s business who Tom Daley spends time with but until he and everyone queer is 100% safe then public coming outs will stil matter, will still mean something. It’s fine if YOU don’t have a problem with it, but it is important to recognize that your support is much more meaningful than dismissing it as something that is “no one’s business.”

2. Tom Daley “still fancies girls.” This so important and so complicated. Headlines say, “Tom Daley comes out as gay!” People angrily respond that he obviously came out as bisexual since he made a point about liking girls. Headlines say, “Tom Daley comes out as bisexual!” People angrily respond that he did not label himself, so we should not label him, besides he’s young and this probably just his way of easing into gayness or not ostracizing part of his fanbase. This is such an important conversation and it’s important especially because it’s happening. Whether Tom is gay, bisexual or something else actually is no one’s business. He’s been clear that he is with a man, he is very happy and he feels safe and supported in the relationship. That’s all that matters. So why are we arguing about the label? Because bisexuality is a real thing and it is often ignored or erased. Erasure happens because if a person likes boys and girls they generally pair up with one or the other and immediately become identified as gay or straight. Bisexual men are frequently told that they are just not yet fully admitting that they are gay. Bisexual women are often told that they are attention seeking, confused, or just slutty. Homosexuals are as guilty of these responses as the straight majority is. So when Tom Daley says he fancies girls at a time when he does not need too (everyone is going to say he’s gay anyway, everyone knows he’s with a man, so why temper it with mentioning girls?) it matters because it opens to conversation about how sexuality isn’t binary. It isn’t just gay or straight. There’s a whole huge spectrum out there that goes beyond the Kinsey scale. What it boils down to is that it still shouldn’t matter who someone’s partner is, but it does matter that they feel supported in their lives. We’ve been making some strides with gay marriage. As a society we are becoming more comfortable with lesbians and gay men in public spaces. But the whole array of human sexuality, the bisexuals, transgendered, genderqueer, asexual and whole host of other possibilities are still invisible. So when Tom Daley says he’s fancies girls he’s allowing for public conversation, allowing for visibility for everyone who hasn’t yet been invited to the table of acceptance.  No, it doesn’t matter how we label him as an individual, it isn’t our business, but it is our business to pay attention and to listen to our friends and family so we can better understand how they identify and make them feel safe as well.

So congratulations, Tom Daley, on your new found happiness, and thank you for making important conversations possible.

On a more shallow note, holy smokes, Tom Daley is beautiful and his boyfriend is so handsome! And they seem so smart and thoughtful. There haven’t been many present day celebrity romances that have me me all fluttery, but this feels very old school romancey to me, very Bogart and Bacall. I’ll be over here sighing, with cartoon hearts in my eyes, every time I see a picture of them.