A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Family is the Real Mystery

Ah, the joys of extended family gatherings! Pick your holiday. We love our families but the filters always seem to come off in conversations with them.

Don’t you love the questions your family members ask?  They often go something like this:

"Why do you write mysteries?"

"When will you write a real book?"

"Why do you want to write about brutal crimes like murder?"

Warning signs flash in my head as I bite back a scathing response. It’s sorta like the troll reviewer—Do Not Engage.

I’d have a different reaction if I were asked those questions at a signing or writing event. (Okay, I’ve never been asked about writing the “real” book at anything writer-related.) At a family gathering? Yeah, well, I’ve learned to smile, nod and change the subject.

Carolyn Hart says she answers these questions this way: “Murder is never the point of the mystery. Mysteries are about the messes people make of their lives and how they cope.”

Why can’t I come up with a great answer like that on the fly?

Given time to think about it (I’m a writer, not a stand up comedian), I’d explain that the attraction and defining features of a mystery are suspense, puzzles, and courage. Unlike action adventures and thrillers, mysteries are about the characters—not the murder.  Even a police procedural focuses as much on the detective as it does the actual unraveling of the case.

Lately I’ve been writing “lighter” stories, closer to the traditional mystery. Traditional mysteries cover their own swath of landscape, but run the risk of being accused of either “Cabot Cove” syndrome (where everyone in the small town dies or should be moving away from Murder Central) or otherwise dismissed as unrealistic, "cozy" little stories in little villages populated with “cute” people with “cute” jobs.

Again, I think those critics miss the point. The focus in these stories is on the characters and the relationships. There’s pain and passion, heartbreak and violence, despair and fury. It’s life as most readers live it, ordinary, unremarkable, and fraught with emotion. My favorite review says the reader wants to be “besties” with the heroine—a woman she relates to.

Rather than running from trouble or relying on forensics, computers and high tech,
the traditional mystery sleuth explores the relationships between the victim and the victim’s friends and enemies. The key is the motive--what caused turmoil in these lives? Thankfully, everyday dramas don’t often end in murder, but violent emotions resulting from those fractured relationships impact the lives of everyone involved.

This is what the traditional mystery is all about. The traditional mystery focuses on the intimate, destructive, frightening secrets hidden beneath an apparently placid surface. Readers know the jealous mother, the miserly uncle, the impossible boss, the belittling friend, the woman who confuses sex with love, the selfish sister. They encounter their counterparts in their lives—and understand that nothing can be more powerful than jealousy, anger, hatred, lust, and fear.

It is how these emotions destroy that fascinates both readers and writers of traditional mysteries. Every day we see proof that evil often triumphs. We want a world where goodness triumphs, where justice is served, where decency is celebrated. When people read or write a mystery, they affirm their commitment to justice, decency, and goodness

Now if I could condense that into a one-liner to zing across the dining room table at my brother…

What to you see as the appeal of the traditional mystery?

And how to you respond to those unfiltered family questions?

~ So About the Money

A traditional mystery solved by an amateur sleuth, who follows both the money and the relationships.  No farm animals were harmed in the writing or telling of this story.

Catch up with Cathy on either Facebook or Twitter. Sign up for her newsletter to hear about her next release. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Writing About Holidays

With Easter this past weekend I began thinking about what holidays I’ve included in my stories. It made me wonder, how do you write about holidays in you books? Do you include them or ignore them?

Obviously there are books written for specific holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day (especially for Romance books). And in my current work in progress I mention, or actually include scenes with several holidays:
Halloween (in passing), Thanksgiving (in more detail) and Christmas (before, during, and after). Of all my stories, this one has the most holidays to write about. And each gives me new ways to show more about my characters—including a few things they’d rather not share!

Do you write about traditional holidays, using your own experiences, or do you explore different ways of celebrating based on your character’s personality and circumstances? Does you tough Navy Seal have a soft spot for Christmas because it brings back happy memories? Or maybe he goes all out because his childhood lacked that kind of happiness? Or maybe he ignores it because it doesn’t match his macho image?

Does your heroine hope for a special Valentine’s gift or a romantic night on the town? Holidays can provide a wealth of emotional baggage to explore, not only with what you include, but what you ignore or leave out.

Do you avoid religious aspect of some holidays or include them? What kind of comments do you receive from your readers? Does that influence what and how you write about certain holidays and their traditions?

For me, I look for any opportunity that lets me explore my characters’ childhood experiences, good or bad, and what impact it has on their adult lives. Holidays can be a great way to show some hidden emotions they may not want to talk about—and exactly what I want to expose to and for my heroine or hero.

So whether it’s an Easter egg hunt, a special gift under a Christmas tree, or a New Year’s toast, I’m going to search for those emotions and rescue a few hearts along the way!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From Mary Stewart

Welcome to an occasional series of guest bloggers.
Today our visitor is Jeannette de Beauvoir.
We hope you enjoy these posts as well as our usual fare!

~~~the Not Your Usual Suspects team~~~

Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From Mary Stewart

That’s a slight exaggeration, of course; but not as much as you’d think. I grew up in France, the daughter of an American mother and a French father, and my mother’s TBR pile was always toppling over with the English-language books she shared with me—and in fact insisted I read. Romantic suspense appealed to me from about age nine on, and we had (thanks to trips to Paris to raid W.H. Smith’s bookstore) nearly the entire Stewart opus. And I fell in love with those books, over and over again, reading and re-reading them until I had entire portions down to memory.
I may have been unconsciously following her style when, in my early teens, I myself began writing; but it was as an adult that I truly came to see Stewart’s whole opus—20 adult novels over 40 years—as the best writing classes imaginable.
Her opening lines draw readers immediately into the story and the personality of the protagonist (talk about “you had me at hello”!). Check them out:
·       “Carmel Lacy is the silliest women I know, which is saying a great deal.” (Airs Above the Ground).
·       “The whole affair began so very quietly.” (Madam, Will You Talk?)
·        “I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned king.” (The Crystal Cave)
·       “My lover came to me on the last night in April, with a message and a warning that sent me home to him.” (Touch Not The Cat)
·       “I met him in the street called Straight.” (The Gabriel Hounds)
·       “In the first place, I suppose, it was my parents' fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta.” (Wildfire at Midnight)
Her descriptions of places have you smelling the flowers she lovingly names and feeling hot sun on your face; whether you’re in southern France or Greece or Lebanon or Austria or England, you have an instantaneous and extraordinarily vivid sense of the locale. “Her eye for detail could be used to maximum effect—the texture of a cloak or the color of a sky—with nature to the fore of the action,” reads one of her obituaries.
And she can scare you with the best of them. Other authors, darker than Stewart—I’m thinking Thomas H. Cook, Phil Rickman, masters of suspense—may be able to build atmosphere; she weaves it around you until you suddenly realize your heart rate is increasing and your palms are sweating.
The relationships she enables are no less complex. I use the word “enables” intentionally: these don’t feel like artificial creations, but like real organic feelings that come from the characters rather than the author—she’s just letting them flow through her. Her protagonists are smart, educated, independent, with a strongly developed sense of humor and not without faults; and so are their romantic interests. The development of these relationships (along with the requisite misunderstandings and obstacles) is both natural and sophisticated.
Her novels are filled with literary allusions, and they’re smart: she fully expects you to keep up, but never in a heavy-handed way. I’ve always felt with authors like Umberto Eco that if you don’t speak Latin you miss all the good jokes; Stewart’s allusions are unobtrusive and clever. She prefaces chapters with appropriate quotations from classic literature, and her protagonists have all had classical educations. “Mary Stewart sprinkled intelligence around like stardust,” columnist Melanie Reid wrote in the Glasgow newspaper The Herald in 2004. “The fineness of her mind shone through.”
So what did I learn about writing from reading Mary Stewart? To put readers in the story’s context as early as possible, preferably in the opening line. To nearly always write in the first person—yes, it’s limiting, but it’s also intense. To present a protagonist that readers will care about. And to be (old-fashioned as it sounds) a lady about it. Sensationalism is out, lyricism is in.
Want to learn to write? Read Mary Stewart. Want a fantastic story? Read Mary Stewart. Want to see how the best of the best of romantic thrillers unfolds? Read Mary Stewart.
Mary Stewart’s last book was published in 1997; the rest of us are still just trying to keep up.

Jeannette de Beauvoir’s most recent novel, Deadly Jewels, came out in March 2016. Kirkus Reviews says that it "cleverly weaves real events into a mystery/thriller whose flashbacks contain the clues to solve the puzzle," while it's the top pick of RT Book Reviews, "seamlessly weaving the historical and the modern, de Beauvoir crafts a mystery that gives her engaging protagonist... a strong return. De Beauvoir's voice and character development are stellar."

Reach Jeannette at:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Email.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The ghost and the rational woman

When I was little, I had a recurring dream. I was inside a huge, sunlit room that was crowded with furniture. As I threaded my way across the room, long, scaly green arms with clawed hands would reach out from under the furniture to grab at me. I eventually outgrew the dreams. And the monster under the bed, and the one in my closet. Not to mention the one in the basement.

I was now a Rational Woman. Despite this, I am willing to admit that not everything in life can be explained rationally. But since childhood, I haven’t encountered any situations that couldn’t be explained away.

Then last spring I stayed at a hotel where I’ve stayed many times before: a funky older hotel with tons of character and charm.

And ghosts, apparently.

In all the times I had stayed there, I’d seen no evidence of ghosts or felt anything “weird.” The possibility of ghosts never even occurred to me. This last spring, however, another guest casually mentioned that the hotel was haunted. I had a good laugh (at the person’s expense, I might add) and carried on. Then that evening, I repeated the story to someone who is familiar with the hotel and for whom I have a lot of respect.

She told me it was true. She told me that she seen the ghosts, too. And she had been with someone else at the time, someone whom I also respect. They’d both seen the ghosts.

I must have gone a little pale because she assured me that the ghosts were absolutely harmless, even when they appeared at the foot of your bed.

I didn’t sleep much that night. Or the whole time I was at the hotel.

There I was, a grown woman, intelligent, mature, experienced—freaked out at the thought of ghosts in my room. And I never even saw one! I didn’t need to. I actually wanted to change hotels, but I wasn’t about to admit to anyone why, so I stayed. Even after I got home, I still felt creeped out by the whole situation, waking up in the middle of the night and wondering if there was someone—or something—in my room…

The only reason I admit to this now is because I finally got over the irrational fear. I decided to face it in the only way I, as a writer, know how. I wrote a ghost story.

The novel’s almost finished. It started out as modern Gothic, but now, I’m not too sure what it is. It doesn’t matter. Somewhere along the way, after scaring myself silly with some of the scenes, I got over my irrational fear.

I’m going back to the hotel in the fall. I am myself again, a modern woman with a (mostly) logical mind and an appreciation for the rational.

And if I sometimes feel someone watching me when no one’s around…? Well, that can be our little secret… 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Did You Hear It?

Anyone who has written a book knows how hard it is. Sometimes we agonize over the simplest words, be it the best adjective, verb, noun or best preposition. We want every word to carry as much bang for its buck as we can manage within the space we have to tell our story. If all goes well... Voila! We have a book, a story we're ready to set out into the world, a tale we hope many, many people will fall in love with as much as we loved (hopefully) writing it.

I just have one question for you. Did you hear it? Did you read it out loud to yourself and make sure everything sounded like you want it to?

(Here's an old shot from one of the first books I narrated before the world turned digital. Back then the book was printed - double spaced - on paper. Now it scrolls on an iPad with no need to stop so the narrator can turn the page. It's a huge time saver. Although it does cut down on the chance for a break!)

Not everyone reads their books aloud before being released into the world, but I'll admit I'm a huge advocator of the process. Not only am I better able to find typos, but it gives me a chance to hear my characters out loud. And sometimes - yes, I'll be honest - sometimes they sound really ridiculous. Be it melodramatic or annoying or bitchy or childish... reading aloud helps me find the spots that need refining.

Truthfully, I never read my books aloud before I heard my first book on audible. But after narrating my first book, Danger Zone (the second book in the Adrenaline Highs series), it was something I vowed to do with every book. I learned a ton. It helped me curb run-on sentences, sticky alliteration and character faults to name a few.

Just remember, it doesn't matter if your book is going to be an audio book or not (although it's an awesome thing of course), what matters is giving our readers the best possible story/characters we can with every book.

Okay, time to come clean. Who reads their books aloud before releasing them into the wild? And if you don't... I'd love to know why.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Words of Wisdom

To coincide with the upcoming release of my Dylan Scott Mystery Series box sets, Carina Press asked me to share a writing tip. Well, that’s easy. The one thing that has kept me going over the years is this: 

"Write, write, write. You can polish later. What you can’t do is edit a blank page."

Which, in my case at least, rather ties in with this wonderful quote from Ernest Hemingway: 

"The first draft of everything is shit."

(Oh, so true.)

This got me thinking about the wise words that writers have given us over the years.

One of my favourite tips comes from Mark Twain: 

"Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

That definitely applies to me as ‘very’ is one of my many demon words. Others are ‘really’, ‘actually’, ‘simply’ - the list is almost endless.

More wise words from Ernest Hemingway: 

"Write drunk, edit sober."

It was Jack London who gave us this gem: 

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

This piece of advice from Stephen King rings true too: 

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time - or the tools - to write. Simple as that.”

Fortunately, I always have time to read. :)

Maybe as mystery writers, we should heed Raymond Chandler’s advice: 

“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

Hmm. I might try that one…

Whenever we complain of writer’s block, perhaps we should pay attention to Philip Pullman’s words: 

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

This is another personal favourite from Janet Ivanovich:

"Respect and love your readers. Write for the reader."

Having said all of the above, Lev Grossman’s words come to mind: 

“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” 

Do you have any tips you’d be willing to share with us? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Between a rock and a hard place…

Like most authors these days, especially indie authors, we're often asked to collaborate on group projects.  Like boxed sets, anthologies, continuities to name a few.  Sometimes these are wonderful things and the story practically writes itself.

Other times—not so much.  Especially when you are working with a group of fabulous authors who are absolutely wonderful to work alongside, and you're the stumbling block.  The only one who has a story which refuses to get written.  At least not the way you want it. 

Cue the suspenseful music. 

I'm writing a contemporary romance with lots of sensual heat between the H and H, and in addition to this being a romance (of course), the dang thing wants to turn into a mystery.  It's not supposed to be suspenseful.  Nobody else in the group is writing suspense, yet my characters are screaming at me to put in a mystery to be solved. 

Will they let me just put in a small mystery, one that can be solved in a short time without a lot of action and adventure?  On, no—they want to have a full scale, multi-character, over-the-top suspense with dead bodies, a trail of clues, danger, peril, and a hunky detective leading the charge. 

So what did I do?

I told them to shut up, that they'd get their story the way they wanted it, only it would have to be two deadlines away.  I think they are okay with that, but now I'm going to have to start over with a brand new idea and a brand new story for the novella that's due in just a few short weeks.

Wish me luck—because I'm going to need it. 

Kathy Ivan is a USA Today Bestselling Author who spends her days sitting in front of a computer, working on the latest story and planning and plotting her next romantic suspense, because after all who doesn't love a good mystery?  You can contact her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website.  Her latest (although not a suspense/mystery) release is part a Kindle World, available exclusively on Amazon, Could This Be Love. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

When Dreams Come True

by Janis Patterson
It’s not often you get to live your dream, even if just for a short while.

Since I was a girl I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt. Even though I had read every book on Egyptology in our local library system by the time I was nine, formal study was not an option. I still studied on my own, though, and got involved with Egyptology whenever I could, though could never make my dream of being on a dig happen. In 1992 I made my first trip to Egypt; though the tour I took was far from stellar, the country and the people were unparalleled. Once back home I enlisted some like-minded friends and in my mother’s den we hammered out the parameters of the organization that became the North Texas Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt. I had my own apartment then, but of all of us only my mother had a room big enough to hold those organizational meetings. She passed away years later, and now I live in the house.

When we started the chapter, I said we had to have a publication, so I started one. During the nine years of my reign (and I use that word advisedly) the Newsletter of the North Texas Chapter was the only monthly publication of ARCE in the world. After a while, it was recognized and archived as a scholarly journal by many museums and universities. Lately it has become just an electronic publication, but I don’t have anything to do with it now, though The Husband and I are still enthusiastic chapter members. One of the unexpected blessings of my ARCE involvement is the fact that I met my husband at our first official chapter meeting. He has always been as fascinated by Ancient Egypt as I and even proposed to me in the moonlight garden of the Mena Hotel across the road from the Pyramids.

As for living my dream, that happened one year ago this month. While I was writing THE EGYPTIAN FILE (done under my Janis Susan May brand) I needed information about the archaeological excavations at El Kab. Having been raised that if you need something, you go to the top, I contacted the Director of the El Kab excavations, Dr. Dirk Huyge. He was very kind and helpful and we became friends. A few months later he suggested that I do a book about the El Kab dig house, then mentioned it was haunted.

The dig house, properly styled Bayt Clarke, was built in 1906 as a retirement home by an English Egyptologist named Somers Clarke. He loved his home – loved it so much he was buried in the courtyard. It was a disappointment that his specter did not materialize for us, but every other thing about this trip was perfect. The crew was lovely, being both friendly and helpful, even to the point of brainstorming with me. The Husband and I had our own guest room, a large chamber with two enormous domes. One of the things that struck me about this room was that it had two mirrors hanging on the wall – both entirely in keeping with early 1900s style, with beveled edges and engraved flowers at the top. About 11 inches by 15, they probably hadn’t been moved since being hung when the house was first occupied. What was memorable about them, though, was that while one was slightly foxed with little circles of silver missing here and there (but still definitely a mirror) the other was nothing more than a pane of glass with no trace of silvering left at all. That was just too delicious not to put in the book!

The common room was enormous, with four great domes. It had been split in half with a short wall of latticework – one half was the office area, with desks and tables jammed together, the other half with a long table covered in red and white checked oilcloth where we all ate. Just outside a set of French doors there was a long terrace running the length of the house and overlooking the Nile. To be able to sit and eat and watch the Nile flow past… pure Heaven. Across the river was cultivation, that looked – as my sleuth put it – rather like the idea of Eden from one’s childhood.

Neither were we confined to the house. We were free to wander the grounds, and a couple of times we got to go visit the dig itself. The archaeological site of El Kab is enormous – 40 some odd soccer fields worth, and surrounded by a 2,500 year old wall that is some 12 yards high and 11 yards thick. There is a sacred lake – now choked with reeds – and the ruins of a Greco-Roman town, the remains of a temple, some houses that go back before the Old Kingdom. There is even evidence of some Badarian culture there – so old it does not compute in my small brain. If one counts the current town of El Kab, which has migrated some quarter of a mile away, the site has been in continuous occupation for over 3,000 years.

One day Dr. Huyge took off from work and drove us around the countryside. We saw places that tourists seldom if ever see. A huge temple cut into the side of a mountain with an enormous courtyard. Another temple scarcely bigger than an average room, but with paint so bright it could have been painted yesterday. The remains of an ancient Sacred Way, where pilgrims would come to the temples to honor their gods – while just a mile or so beyond it ran the smoothly paved modern highway, choked with cars and trucks. Two great rocks that were almost mountains in themselves – one called Vulture Rock both for its fanciful resemblance to a vulture and the fact that vultures used to nest there but don’t any more, and the other unnamed, but covered with ancient graffiti – the ‘folk art’ of the ancients.

Once at the dig Dr. Huyge took us for a walk along the Nile outside the wall. Here was Eden indeed. Great leafy trees closed in, some trailing their leaf-tips in the water, others reaching toward the sky. The river waters came right up to where we were standing, and visible beneath the surface were great cut stones. This was, Dr. Huyge told us, the quay where the pharaoh’s emissaries would land when they came to El Kab. History and one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. This is the magic of Egypt.

I couldn’t help it – I started writing the book while we were there. As soon as the table was cleared after a meal I dug out my computer and would type away. This seemed to fascinate the crew. To be honest, I was so impressed by them. They were so learned, so professional… and all so much younger than I. It never occurred to me that the feelings could be reversed, until one afternoon (when everyone worked in the house on the day’s finds) I heard one whisper to another in tones of awe, “She’s writing a novel while we watch!”

History, beauty and respect as an artist. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that!

Friday, March 11, 2016

But Can You Make a Living at It (Continued)

Writing has always been a tough gig. It's full of rejection and disappointment and, even when you're successful, most writers don't earn enough to live on. That said, plenty of people do still earn a living at writing. I earn my living writing--and have for a number of years now. And even if most writers will not be able to support themselves, a lot of them will be able to successfully supplement their existing income--which is no small thing.

So I thought it might be refreshing to talk to four such authors--to read some success stories, to hear some good news. The interview began over on my blog and it continues here.

Click here to meet our authors and read the first part of the interview.

What’s the toughest part about writing in this current publishing climate? Do you think things have gotten worse or better since you began?

S.C.: The hardest thing is you have to pump books out quickly. There is no way to do that and not have the quality of writing suffer. Sorry. It’s not possible. Writing takes time. You need to set the book aside and let it simmer while you work on other things. If you have to have a book coming out every month there’s no way to give the stories the fermenting period they deserve and need.

I think things have gotten worse. Even long established authors have to push books out faster.

 Also, KU is the devil. It is one of the scariest things to ever happen to publishing. Amazon is going to keep dropping the payments to authors, mark my words. KU authors are already essentially giving away their books for free. You have to have over 1200 people READ your KU book to make $500. That’s horrifying.

 Also some readers are being trained by desperate authors to think all books should be free or only 99 cents. Authors only get a percentage of that 99 cents, by the way. Writing is hard and it’s a job like any other job. Try walking up to your Starbucks barista and announcing you will only pay 99 cents for the double shot, soy, half-caff, iced latte today. She’ll laugh you out of the shop. That’s because good things cost money.

C.S: I believe there are a lot of valid concerns to be raised, but we’d be reading my response to this
question all day. Ultimately, I think a major point would be the amount of work authors are expected to produce in a single year. Its changed dramatically, because now to not have a new release for several months can bury your name. You can be lost, because there is simply so much being published every day. So authors have to work harder and harder to break the surface. I worry for those who get burned out or grow to dislike what they are great at and once passionate about.

Felice: Honestly I think it’s KU and what its done to publishing standards. Amazon has wrestled control of the market and now they set the standards. And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t take advantage of it at first. But when I sat down and took a long hard look I didn’t’ like what I saw. And why would you sign up for exclusivity without knowing what you’re going to be paid? We wouldn’t do that for anything else, I don’t know why we allow it.

 But because it’s so much easier to publish today, almost anyone thinks they can. So they put up books that are poorly edited, or not edited at all, or where it’s obvious that the author has never taken a class on craft. To me that is so important—the craft of writing itself. An author friend of mine once said to me, “Writing is easy. Good writing is damn hard.” And she was so right.

David: Good question.  In my opinion the climate has gotten worse in the last 10 years.  What I find to be most disconcerting is that it is too focused on what’s hot at any given moment—the subgenre du jour.  Someone writes a highly successful book with a particularly unique slant or focus, and suddenly the market is flooded with similarly-themed books—and, unfortunately, many of the books that get published on the coattails of a best seller can be so poorly executed that they’re painful to read.  This is no less true of M/M or LGBT publishing than it is about mainstream publishing.  I’ve been reviewing books for over a decade—mostly mainstream and only recently with M/M and LGBT publishers—but the story is the same. 
I understand intellectually that publishing is a business, but I think there needs to be more of a balance between the artistic aspect of writing and the business need for profit, especially at a time when making money in the industry is more difficult than ever before for all parties involved.  When the stories writers create exist only as commodities churned out in droves to make a fast buck, and value is no longer placed on quality, the truly magnificent books that are still being written often get lost in all the noise.  On a positive note, I know from recent personal experience that at least some of the M/M publishers out there are working hard to improve the quality of their releases.

Everybody always wants to know about money. So let’s leave it at this: are you making money? Are your numbers going up or going down? What’s more important to you than the money?

C.S: I’m still quite new to having my work published, so I have less than a year of royalties and numbers to study. Am I making money? Yes. But I will have a better understanding of how I am doing by 2017. While money is very nice, because hey, we all have bills (and cat food) to buy, I always remember with every single project I sign a contract for: People are going to read this. They will pay me for this product. It is extremely important to me that every single story I write is the best I could have produced in that moment. It’s only fair.

Felice: I am, but it takes money to make it as well. I pay for editing, formatting and cover art. My sales have slowly gone up. It isn’t the money, though it’s having people read my books and send me messages that they loved my characters and my stories. I had a teacher email me from China telling me she used one of my books to talk about inclusion and relationships. That’s what makes it worthwhile.

David: I’ve made a little bit of money but, truth told, my out-of-pocket expenses—mostly for research and copyright fees—have offset most, if not all, of what I’ve made in royalties. Most of my “profit” has come from the fees I earn reviewing books rather than writing them.  My writing numbers are going up because I have more stuff out there, but that’s to be expected when you’re starting from zero.  At this stage in my life, it’s more about building a body of work, improving my skills, and the pure, esoteric joy of creating something original.  I don’t ever envision a future where I will be able to finance my life exclusively from writing income.  Perhaps one day it’ll help me to finance some nice vacations—because who doesn’t like nice vacations after all?  What’s most important to me is that soon I will have the time and the freedom to write the kinds of stories that appeal to me, and no longer have to punch a clock at some office or worry about whether or not the genres or subgenres in which I produce are in or out of favor at any given moment.

S.C.: Yes, I’m making money, but I can’t live on what I earn. However, I’ve only been publishing since 2013 and my sales have more than tripled.  I call that a win.

The thing I find more important than money is that I succeed at entertaining the readers. I’m always amazed at how personal my stories can be for people. The stories were always personal for me, but I love that the readers can connect so deeply. They worry about my characters long after they finish the book. My made up stories impact peoples actual lives and I find that extremely gratifying. When a reader reaches out to me to tell me how much one of my books touched them, I walk on clouds the rest of the day.

How important do you think it is to network and forge author alliances?

Felice: My author friends are the single most important thing in the world to me. Finding a circle of
author friends to talk to (okay whine and complain to) has helped me more than I could say. I have zero time for pettiness or jealousy. I am always about helping others; why wouldn’t you want to do that?

David: I think it’s absolutely essential.  I learn a great deal reading what other authors have written, but reading alone isn’t enough.  Every writer has her or his own, idiosyncratic processes and rituals when they sit down to write, and I’m no different.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something valuable by heeding another author’s advice and trying new approaches that work well for others.  Personally, I’ve learned a great deal from the personal connections that I’ve made with authors whose work I admire (present company included)—and it’s improved my own work.  I’ve learned about structure and pacing, creating believable characters, writing natural dialogue, etc., etc., from other authors—when I’m able to set my ego aside and stop focusing on the fact that I’m so intimidated by their genius.  Then there’s all that practical stuff about the business end of publishing that they’ve taught me.  I freely admit that I can be stubborn in a lot of ways too, but when experience speaks, I’d be an absolute fool not to listen. 
Plus, I truly enjoy the company of my author friends—both online and in person—as authors tend to be a bit more entertaining than your average Joe or Jane.

S.C.: I think it’s essential. My reader friends keep me sane behind the scenes. Wink, wink. You know who you are.

However, I think it’s important for the authors to be careful not to simply talk to each other. We need to engage the readers. Yes, authors are readers too, but we need to be careful we don’t leave the people who read but don’t write, out. I’ve seen so many readers post on Facebook saying “I’m only a reader.” As if that’s somehow not good enough. Only readers are my favorite kind of readers! They experience the story so differently from another author. Only readers are like gold.

C.S.: Very important. Not only do you learn and grow from those who are more seasoned or others who think outside of the box, but networking leads to lasting friendships. Some of my dearest friends started as ‘fellow author.’

How important do you think it is to keep up with all that’s happening in the publishing industry as well as in this genre? Would you say you were well-informed?

David: For me, it’s important to keep up on trends both in the industry and in the genre so that I keep my expectations grounded in reality, and gain a better sense of what is—and what is not—possible in this rapidly changing atmosphere.  I surely don’t know everything there is to know, but I think I’m reasonably well-informed.  I have a lot of good friends now in the business—writers, publishers, editors, reviewers, and bloggers—who have been an invaluable source of advice and guidance.  I also try to attend at least one writers’ conference or retreat each year and, hopefully, I’ll have more time in the near future to devote to these kinds of events and activities.

S.C.: I’m fairly well informed. You should know your genre. We’re a community of artistic types and there will always be drama. It’s good to know what’s going on, but you can’t let it suck your entire day from you.  I make sure that my day is mostly focused on writing.

C.S.: I would say I am reasonably well-informed, and that in part is due to the networking mentioned above. Sometimes I don’t see something that later turns out to be relevant and with author friends, they usually let me know about it! I believe it is important to understand I can’t know and learn it all, and maybe don’t want to. It’s good to have solid ground to stand on, but if all I did was read about the genre and industry, when would I write? A healthy middle ground must be met.

 Felice: I am a news junkie so yes, I read many, many blogs, publications and keep my ears open to what’s happening. It’s not only about the writing. It’s a business and you have to keep your eye on the horizon.

Given the challenges in this current publishing climate, what keeps your passion for the work alive?

S.C.: The work itself keeps me passionate. I love writing M/M. I get lost in these character’s lives and I think about them all the time. I find myself laughing when I write certain scenes, and getting teary at others. It’s cathartic to share the stories bottled up inside.

C.S.: I’ve been writing for a really long time (long time for me, I know, I’m the baby in this group!) and that passion was born from the first smile I saw someone make while reading something I had written. It means everything to me to tell my best story, and for those few hours a reader gives me, to leave them with a smile. It’s remembering that first pleased look that kept me writing for fifteen years, every day, trying to better myself until I reached a point that I could be both proud and humbled to have someone purchase my work. When it’s difficult, I like to remember that. Did I mention I always look at the bright side of life?

Felice: The stories in my head. I love writing them. Even if no one buys them, I’ll keep writing them because it’s what I love to do.

David: For me, writing has never been focused exclusively on getting published.  Publishing is great but if it’s your only goal, I think you lose something along the way.  For me, what keeps my passion alive is that when I finish an original story, it’s a very satisfying feeling.  I’ve created something that didn’t exist before I sat down and wrote it—something from nothing, order out of chaos (which is a pretty apt description of my thought processes even on a good day).  And hopefully—for better or for worse—what I write will be something that will be here after I’m gone.  That’s one of the reasons why, even though obtaining a formal copyright is no longer essential to protecting your legal rights to your work, I continue to do it.  It’s costly and takes forever, but a copyright is a guarantee that what you’ve created will live on after you’re gone—or after your publisher goes out of business—even if it’s hidden away like some alien relic from an X-Files episode in a vast, government warehouse and no one ever reads it again.

What do you love most about what you’re working on now?

C.S.: Oh, well I’m writing the second book in my Snow & Winter series, so just piecing together the mystery is always so thrilling for me. But I think I am especially fond of the MC’s voice. Sebastian Snow is a very difficult and fun, crotchety guy to write, and I think he’ll make a lot of people laugh.

Felice: I’m working on a story about a chef and a rabbi. I love food, so that’s fun and I’m looking forward to sharing a little cultural diversity. I may even put some recipes in the back of the book for my traditional Jewish holiday food.

David: One of my current projects is a bit of a departure for me as it’s more of a thriller than a horror story.  With any luck, it will soon become my first full-blown novel.  There will be romance as well as horror which is also somewhat of a departure.  The reason I’m more passionate about this project is because I’ve been working on this idea for several years and, until recently, it never felt like what I was writing was hitting the mark.  I was about to give up on it entirely but decided a few months ago to give it one more go before I shelved the idea for good.  In the process, I threw out a ton of what I’d already written (more than half, in fact) and stripped the story back to its most basic elements.  Once all the clutter was gone, including a couple of secondary characters that were serving no real purpose, the plot finally started to gel.  I also love the fact that it’s set in locations I know like the back of my hand—Palm Springs, CA and Washington, DC—so I haven’t had to do a lot of research on location to have confidence that I’ve gotten the geography, the history, and logistics right, though I’m always happy to have an excuse for more pool time in Palm Springs.

S.C: I like throwing different types of people together. Right now I have a nerdy pencil pusher type butting heads with a cowboy. I also have a rich kid who hits a bike messenger with his car, and then decides to nurse him back to health. When you get to make up the stories, the possibilities are endless.

What do you wish you had known before you began publishing professionally?

Felice: How time-consuming everything is. How much non-writing work there is to getting your
name out there. And how necessary it is to have a trusted group of friends you can rely on. David: I came into the publishing world with a rather naïve vision of what it would be like and I was ill-prepared for the “office politics” (with a small “p”) that I quickly discovered lurking in the background on social media, at retreats, and at conferences.  I had this adolescent idea that when we all came together in one genre or another we’d be a big, happy family with the same goals and aspirations.  Everyone would get along handsomely and have each other’s backs.  But like any industry, I suppose, you invariably run afoul of sensitive egos, players, and professional rivalries that complicate relationships and make the whole experience something less enjoyable than my ideal.  Cliques form and gossip is rampant, and even the pettiest of squabbles can turn quickly into ugly, public spectacles as people line up to take sides and throw verbal punches at each other.  I will always be a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, my dear friends where necessary but I’m not naturally inclined toward confrontation or conflict.  I find it distasteful, stressful, and hard to get over emotionally.  Truth told, it’s caused me to back away from certain events and people, and I’m unsure of the wisest course to follow going forward.  If anything in this world could ever drive me away from publishing it would be this, but frankly, this kind of thing happens in all walks of life, so I’m not going to allow that to happen.  As I stated earlier, I think making and keeping connections is essential.
David: I came into the publishing world with a rather naïve vision of what it would be like and I was ill-prepared for the “office politics” (with a small “p”) that I quickly discovered lurking in the background on social media, at retreats, and at conferences.  I had this adolescent idea that when we all came together in one genre or another we’d be a big, happy family with the same goals and aspirations.  Everyone would get along handsomely and have each other’s backs.  But like any industry, I suppose, you invariably run afoul of sensitive egos, players, and professional rivalries that complicate relationships and make the whole experience something less enjoyable than my ideal.  Cliques form and gossip is rampant, and even the pettiest of squabbles can turn quickly into ugly, public spectacles as people line up to take sides and throw verbal punches at each other.  I will always be a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, my dear friends where necessary but I’m not naturally inclined toward confrontation or conflict.  I find it distasteful, stressful, and hard to get over emotionally.  Truth told, it’s caused me to back away from certain events and people, and I’m unsure of the wisest course to follow going forward.  If anything in this world could ever drive me away from publishing it would be this, but frankly, this kind of thing happens in all walks of life, so I’m not going to allow that to happen.  As I stated earlier, I think making and keeping connections is essential.

S.C.: How painful professional edits can be. The first few times you’re edited it feels like you hold out this delicate little treasure, and the editor takes a hatchet and whacks away violently. That isn’t actually what happens. But to newbs it feels that way. I’m way less sensitive now days. I value each editor’s input so much. They are there to protect me and help me tell the best story possible. I now realize it was never a hatchet, it was always a scalpel.

C.S.: Hm…. I’m not sure the best answer. I researched publishing for a long time, from the traditional big guys, to the indie presses in our community most know by name. I can’t say anything really threw me for a loop. That’s one thing I can get an A+ on. Research.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer?

David: The best advice?  That’s a tough one.  Off the top of my head, it would have to be something like this:  No matter how good you think you are today, there is always room to improve, so never stop working on your craft.  Keep writing.  Keep reading.  Find a good editor.  Don’t just network; make real and lasting friendships within the industry.  Get used to the fact that not everyone is going to like you or like what you write, and that’s perfectly okay.  Learn to take constructive criticism and distinguish it from a personal attack.  If it is a personal attack, laugh it off and don’t internalize the negativity—responding to bullies outright only encourages them to ramp up their game.  And last, but not least, enjoy whatever praise comes your way because you worked hard for it.

S.C.: Keep it professional in public.

 Grow a thick skin. Not everyone will like what you do. Deal with it. Accept it. And even if you think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, always be working on writing better. Read, research and put time into learning how to write well. The ideas are the easy part. Executing it takes skill.

C.S.: Practice! Practice, practice, practice. When I learned to play the violin, I was psyched! Look at me, mom! But was I good enough to start applying to orchestras? No. Writing is an art, just like drawing or painting or playing instruments. You have to commit and study and know it won’t happen overnight. You must practice first.

Felice: Learn your craft. Take on-line classes that RWA groups give, find a critique group and really listen to what they have to say. Get edited and proofread before you publish. Have as many qualified eyes on your work before you send it to a publisher or hit that publish button. Pay for quality editing. It shows. Don’t read your reviews.  J If you’re planning on writing M/M Romance, get Josh’s book, Man oh Man, Writing Quality M/M Fiction.


Anything else you want to address?

S.C.: I’d love to thank you, Josh, for having me on your blog, along with the other authors. You could have just asked us what our favorite color was, but you dug deeper and I appreciate that.

Answering these questions actually helped me get a better understanding of what I think and feel about my experience as an author. Maybe readers will find my answers interesting. Maybe my responses will help them catch up on some much needed sleep. Either way it’s a win, win.

C.S.: Be friendly. Be kind. Please never lose your passion. Whether you are a writer, reader, reviewer, artist, publisher, editor… you are awesome.

Felice: I want to thank you, Josh for giving me this opportunity. Your books have always been my inspiration.

David: Last words, huh?  I hope I didn’t come off overly pessimistic today, because despite everything I’ve said, I’m very hopeful about the future of M/M and LGBT publishing, and publishing in general too.  Book lovers will always have to have new books in some form.  I think the best is yet to come once the industry settles into some kind of stasis, and I look forward to many years ahead, reading, writing, connecting, and publishing in whatever mediums evolve.  With that, I’m afraid, my font of writerly wisdom has runneth dry and I should stop talking now.

Thank you to Felice, David, S.C. and Caroll. I appreciate your thoughtful and sincere answers. And I hope this has been interesting to our readers!

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