How BDSM is Like Frozen Yogurt

So, I’m reorganizing the way I handle my blog(s), email list, Patreon, and social media. I’m going to crosspost a monthly “news and notes” across all platforms. It’ll typically open with what I call “Thinky Thoughts,” followed by the “news” of where I’m going, where I’ve been, what I’m working on, and what’s new to read.

Previously this material was scattered across my various social media and then usual compiled in the newsletter, with sporadic posts at Patreon as well, but now that I’m about to start posting more fiction content to Patreon, it made sense to streamline the rest.

This post is the first full “news and notes” update I’m putting on my main blog at (and onto Tumblr and Medium and everywhere else it crossposts like LJ, Dreamwidth, Goodreads, etc!). Wherever you’re reading it, welcome! Come hear my tale of WHY it is that I’m about to start posting more to Patreon, and how the answer relates to the issue of How BDSM is Like Frozen Yogurt.

(If you’ve already read my newsletter or patreon update, this is the same stuff…)

In this newsletter:

  • Thinky thoughts: How BDSM is like Frozen Yogurt
  • New free read: “A Novel is An Empathy Engine” at Uncanny
  • Book rec: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
  • Upcoming appearances: ICFA! Nebs! Etc!
  • Talks are live on YouTube now!
  • WIP Report
  • Photos from recent travels
  • Daron’s corner

Thinky Thoughts: How BDSM is like Frozen Yogurt

First a quick note about masks and COVID at cons: I just got back from Capricon in Chicago, and a few weeks back we had Arisia here in Boston, right in the midst of a COVID surge. Both cons required masks, and both cons have reported minimal spread afterward. Arisia only 8 cases out of 1200 attendees.

Every time I post about this, people try to send me links to studies showing that “masks don’t work.” Of course, these same people aren’t interested in seeing the studies that show masks DO work. What seems evident from the cons I’ve been to over the past two years is that if you have a science fiction convention with a mask mandate, you get low (but not always zero) spread, and if you have no mask mandate, you have dramatically more cases. If you’re a mask skeptic, I would think of it this way: Maybe that’s just because the “mask believer” behavior is less risky in all respects while the “no more masks!” crowd is more likely to carry COVID, not because of masks per se, but because of other behaviors? The cause doesn’t actually matter, only the results, and so net result: I will be preferentially attending the cons that require masks.

The other mitigation strategy I’ve been employing at cons which I’m really enjoying is this: when I want to have a “let’s catch up” meal with someone at a con, instead of going to some noisy restaurant or bar, is having them up to my room and getting either room service or ordering some form of delivery food. It’s quieter and we can actually catch up with fewer distractions! And post-COVID, my brain can’t handle distractions as well as it used to!

And with post-COVID life on my mind, I am now attempting to re-focus my career on my self-publishing efforts. There are a few reasons for this, but one is definitely a feeling that time is finite. The COVID infection I had in September probably shortened my lifespan and/or my brain’s useful working years remaining. And I have a LOT of stories I still want to tell.

Another is that it’s become clear to me that right now the big publishers are just not that into me. The “kink fad” is over for them. But in indie/self publishing, the readers are still there. If you haven’t heard me gripe about it elsewhere yet, The Vanished Chronicles is not going to come out from Tor, even though they’ve had the series under contract now since Obama was president. I got reassigned to a new editor a while back, and she’s not enthused about it. So the rights are coming back to me, and I will be putting the wheels in motion to self-publish in the future.

Do you remember back when there were exactly two places you could get frozen yogurt and they were knock-offs of each other? TCBY and ICBY: The Country’s Best Yogurt and I Can’t Believe it’s Yogurt. The main place you would find TCBY and ICBY was in airports and in mall food courts. I don’t know which one came first, but the point is that they were a staple in these big capitalist slots for decades. They were basically like soft-serve ice cream, but made with yogurt, which was nominally “health food” but whatever.

Then in the early 2000s, here in Cambridge, MA, a company started up called Berryline (their two stores were along the Red Line T, one by Harvard and one by MIT) with the concept that they wanted frozen yogurt that actually tasted like yogurt (much more sour) and not faux ice cream. They quickly had lines out the door and expanded to a third location, etc.

Capitalists took notice. This area is known for incubating successful chain concepts, and quickly a whole passel of copycat chains began proliferating across the country. Pinkberry, Red Mango, Yogurtland, 16 Handles, and more and more. The peak came around 2012… right around when the 50 Shades of Grey hype was exploding.

Kinky books had a similar trajectory. For decades there were a couple of stodgy, reliable outlets for them: Blue Moon Books and Black Lace among them, which could be very reliably found in the chain bookstores like Borders, Waldenbooks, and Barnes & Noble. They were the ICBY and TCBY of BDSM books.

But upstart publishers like Circlet Press, and romance publishers who were starting to dabble in kink, showed there was upward movement in the market, then the 50 Shades boom happened, and all of a sudden every big publisher was acquiring kinky books. When my book Slow Surrender hit the market was at the peak of this boom, which is why that book was sold in Target, alongside Christina Lauren, Sylvia Day, Tara Sue Me, et cetera.

But of the ten (TEN!) fro-yo places that tried to open in my neighborhood during the boom… ZERO of them are still in business. Even the Berryline store that had opened a few blocks from my house has closed. Does this mean people don’t like frozen yogurt anymore? Not at all. There are still a few shops doling it out to dedicated customers. But the craze for it is over.

And the craze for BDSM and kink among the big publishers is over. Does this mean readers don’t want it anymore? No. There are still thriving readerships for both queer and het BDSM, but the authors who are doling it out are back in the indie/self-publishing spaces for the most part.

So that’s where I’m redirecting my energy now. Into my own books and my own efforts. I took a workshop recently, offered by the SFWA romance writers subgroup, about writer burnout. They asked, when was the last time you really felt energized and lit up by your work? When was the last time you really felt on fire for it, like you couldn’t wait to get to the computer to write?

For me, that feeling was when I was juggling serializing The Prince’s Boy and Daron’s Guitar Chronicles simultaneously while I was writing Magic University. Far from feeling “burned out” by all that work, I was waking up every morning with writing ideas, and going to sleep every night thinking about my characters.

So. It’s time I leaned in to my queer and kinky stuff again, time to listen to my muse and not try to chase a Big 5 trend. It was nice to ride a capitalist wave for a while, because that’s what got me out of credit card debt and onto a decent financial footing really for the first time ever. And it would be great if another publisher wanted to throw a lot of dollars (or Euros) at me, but for now I should be concentrating on controlling my own creative and financial future.

What that means is I’m getting organized to start serializing some of my works in progress through my Patreon. My plan is to keep sending out this email newsletter once a month, but I’ll also crosspost it to Patreon (where there is now a free “follow” function) and to my blog(s).

I expect to begin a weekly serial on the Patreon within the next couple of months. What I haven’t figured out yet is WHICH of the back-burner projects to serialize first. One entire book of The Vanished Chronicles is finished and in the can, but I’m letting my agent solicit a few other publishers about that before I do anything with it myself (but I’m expecting it’ll come back to me). I also have a very queer cyberpunk novel that has been in the works for over 10 years. And a “trapped in a game” series that would be ideal to serialize. And so on. I will probably run a poll next month asking for which to do first!

People also keep asking me for book recommendations! I’m going to try to read more, and try to recommend at least one book per month in the newsletter.

Thanks for reading this newsletter whether you are getting it through Mailchimp or on one of my other platforms! (Please consider getting it through Patreon if you’re not as they seem to be the best at bypassing the spam filters…? They have some secret sauce!)

New Essay

I have a new essay up for reading at Uncanny Magazine! It’s entitled “A Novel Is An Empathy Engine.”

My previous essay at Uncanny (“Let Me Tell You…”) goes viral every few years when some new crop of MFA students discovers it and gets their minds blown. (It’s a rant about how “show, don’t tell” is bad writing advice and details how that belief works against both sf/f as genres and anyone writing from a marginalized point of view.)

I figured there was no way I would be able to replicate that virality, so I just zeroed in on a topic near and dear to my heart, which is fiction as a tool (possibly THE ONLY proven effective tool) for building empathy. While many writers, going all the way back to Aristotle (!) have spouted that fiction is good for the soul, we actually have a lot of proof coming out of cognitive science that both people’s urge to empathize and their capacity for empathy are increased by reading fiction.

Read the new essay here: “A Novel Is An Empathy Engine

Watch more talks online!

By coincidence, I had two separate talks go live on Youtube this past week!

  • “Death to Show, Don’t Tell!” This was a talk that partly grew out of that old Uncanny rant about “show, don’t tell.” I did it a while ago for Writing the Other, where K. Tempest Bradford, Rebecca Makkai, and I spend an hour absolutely trashing the old saw. WTO finally released it into the wild for all to see.
  • The other was the event that I just did with Ann Bannon, the “Queen of Lesbian Pulp” put on by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. The recording is now up for anyone who missed it!
  • Finally, my Writing the Other master class on Writing Bi/Pan Characters is now available on demand. Folks can pay to watch it anytime.

Book Rec!

I’m still kicking myself I didn’t get a selfie with Ryka Aoki when we were on a panel together at Arisia on “Writing with the Rainbow.” (Along with Elijah Kinch Spector, JR Dawson, and Sacchi Green). Knowing that the panel was coming up, I bought the ebook LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS intending to read it before the con. I actually didn’t manage to start it until after the con though, which is just as well, or I would have spent the whole panel gushing at Ryka about what a great book it was.

LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS is a little hard to describe, because the book biz wants to make very hard divisions between “science fiction” and “fantasy” — much the way many people insist on making very hard divisions between “male” and “female,” and then when an example comes along that doesn’t fit their neatly labeled boxes, they get angry and try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Very fortunately, people did NOT pretend this book didn’t exist, and instead embraced its madcap mix of space aliens who run a SoCal donut shop and violinists who sold their souls to the devil. The book garnered a Hugo finalist slot and won the Otherwise Award, and it is a DELIGHT to read. If that’s enough to convince you, just go read it and discover the book’s delights for yourself.

(I get a kickback if you buy through either of these links: Amazon –

What I loved about this book is that all these disparate elements felt like they came together very organically. There is classical music nerdery in spades (you guys already know about my fandom for TwoSet Violin, right?), and a trans coming of age story, and heaps and heaps of Asian diaspora representation. The “representation” felt much more natural to me here than it did in “Death by Bubble Tea by Jennifer Chow, a cozy mystery I also read recently (AmazonBookshop). Both books are set in Southern California and have a lot of scenes set in Asian-family owned restaurants and food establishments. Part of what feels different between them might just be I am not as much of a mystery reader as a science fiction reader. I liked Death by Bubble Tea almost in spite of how it felt a little “paint by numbers”, but I LOVED Light from Uncommon Stars. 

Content warning: Some trans readers may be triggered when Katrina experiences misgendering and abuse in the course of the story. Ryka Aoki is a trans woman and presents a very clear-eyed view of what Katrina goes through, neither sensationalizing it nor downplaying it. Ultimately this is a sweet book with a lot of healing in it, though. 

Works in Progress Report

The Vanished Chronicles, as I mentioned above, is not going to come from Tor after all. I know, I know. We came SO CLOSE to book one, Initiates of the Blood, being released in 2018 that we handed out tote bags and swag at the RT convention featuring the book’s cover. I know this will be disappointing news to some of you who are waiting for it to come out. Now that it’s coming back to me, the title of the book and what format it appears in are up for grabs again. I am expecting I will serialize the chapters on Patreon, for paying patrons only, unless my agent finds another publisher willing to cough up a lot of dough for it. I was never in love with the title “Initiates of the Blood,” so we’ll probably be trying to cook up a new title.

What a Man Wants was a short story I wrote a while back for the Ladies of Trade Town anthology edited by Lee Martindale, but it always wanted to grow into a novel, and I played with expanding it into one a few years back, but projects under contract took priority. Now this one is back on the front burner and I’ve spent most of my writing time over the past few weeks moving this one forward. I don’t know yet what the novel will be called, but the concept behind “what a man wants” is that the pilot who is he absolute best at serving the straight male clients who hire a PerfectWifeTM is actually a man. When this top-rated WifePilot gets tabbed by the company CEO to pilot a bot of his own real-life wife on a business trip, though, hijinks ensue.

The SABR Writers & Editors Guide: I’m also finally writing the “usage guide and advice for baseball writers and editors” book that I’ve been wanting to write since I took the SABR job in 2011. I’m working on sample chapters now and a proposal to send to a publisher. I know it’s got nothing to do with my fiction projects, but I’m listing it here because some of you might be curious, and because it definitely counts as a WIP. It takes up writing time, after all!

There are other irons in the fire, too. And many ideas surging now that the Vanished Chronicles has been freed! More to come in future newsletters.

Next Appearance(s)

I have added some more conventions to the 2024 schedule, including SFWA’s Nebulas conference, which will be June 6-9 in Pasadena, CA, and World Fantasy in Niagara Falls.

I don’t know yet if I’ll do the Nebs in person or only online, but I’m looking at the budget now to see about in-person! Here’s hoping!

And although I have skipped World Fantasy Con for years now, partly motivated by aggravation over the concom’s failure to respect the needs of both disabled professional writers and BIPOC authors, the Niagara con is being mostly run by the same folks who bring us Heliosphere (a NY/NJ area con that I’ve been Guest of Honor for) which impressed me with their commitment to diversity. So I’ve registered.

Upcoming Tour Dates 2024:

  • February 1-5: Capricon, Chicago, IL
  • March 13-16: ICFA, Orlando, FL
  • May 18: RomCon, Ashland Public Library, Ashland, MA
  • June 6-9: Nebulas Conference (still figuring out if I’m going in person or online only)
  • July 11-14: Readercon, Boston area
  • August 7-11: SABR National Convention, Minneapolis
  • October 16-20: World Fantasy Con, Niagara Falls
On the plane to Chicago, for Capricon, and by the way, to have dinner at Alinea while in town.
At Alinea, one of the dessert courses came in a sort of test tube. It was “bubble gum” with boba in it!

Help Me Do Stuff

  • I’m still trying to get a committee together to administrate the a new erotic sf/f award, the Diadem Award. If you’ve got experience or interest in incorporating a non-profit, please let me know!
  • It’s probably obvious, but now that I’m back to self-publishing as my main source of income, I would like to double my Patreon subscribers. If you’ve got a Patreon yourself that would be simpatico, please let me know if you’d like to collaborate on something for our followers!

ABOVE: Hanging out at the bar at Capricon with all four Guests of Honor, K. Tempest Bradford, Ariela Housman (Geek Calligraphy), Victor Raymond, and Catherine Lundoff! Tempest, Victor, and Catherine and I go waayyyyyy back. Ariela is a new acquaintance and is really awesome!

BELOW: A couple of photos from Arisia. Dropping by the OTW table, and before our Meet the Authors Tea Party, doing some green-tea eye gels to try to reduce my undereye circles. (It did not work, alas, but seeing a lot of my old Circlet peeps, including Nobilis Reed, Monique Poirier, Sacchi Green, Bethany Zaiatz, Avery Vanderlyle, and more lifted my spirits a lot!

One Featured Backlist Book

Today’s featured “backlist” book is last year’s release, Bent for Leather, which I lost a lot of the usual opportunities to market when I spent the spring caring for my dad in hospice, and the fall recovering from COVID. It’s a collection of my kinkiest, queerest BDSM stories, including one entirely new science fiction story, “Personalize Your Netherparts.”

Find it wherever books are sold:
• Amazon

“Tan’s collection of recent stories is a symphony of lust: queer desire, heartbreak, power, surrender, and a dulcet submersion into the inner ache of wanting.”
—Sinclair Sexsmith

Daron’s Corner

  • The launch of the new book versions is hopefully happening later this month! There’s still one ebookstore overseas we have to get to take down the old version before we can go into Kindle Unlimited to start with. I’m working on getting that taken off, and then we’ll be ready to go!
  • Watch the Patreon posts for cover reveals!

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