Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Checking Him Out...For the Holidays! Festive fun with Sol and Adam

It's the holiday season!

Fun first...

 And a thought...

I'm not going to get ranty, but however you celebrate, if you are one of the fortunate, take that little spark of festive magic and do something wonderful with it. It could be life-changing for someone else, and it will make you feel nice.

Now the hard sell! :)

Me? Hard sell? As if! I had a job doing door-to-door canvassing for a kitchen company once. I lasted a day.

But! I am selling something, so here goes...

I wanted to officially launch Checking Him Out For the Holidays, which is available to buy for around $2 / £1.25 via Beaten Track, Amazon (Kindle), Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, and a few other places by now, I would imagine. If you went torrent hunting you might even find it there, but I'd rather you bought it.

I took it as a sign that I was finally getting somewhere when my recent novel, Crying in the Rain, made it to the file-sharing sites within three days of release. There's nothing I can do about it, but each of those downloads means a little less income for me, and this is my job. Needless to say, I'm hacked off, but hey! People wanted my work enough to steal it. Like diamonds. ;)

What perhaps stings more is that I give away a lot of my writing as it is. Aside from always having one or two books available for free on my website, Checking Him Out (whence came Checking Him Out For the Holidays) is a free, full-length novel. I wrote it earlier in 2014, as part of the Love's Landscapes anthology, and in November decided to upload it to Amazon, ARe and Smashwords. It's been downloaded almost 30,000 times in five weeks.

That's a lot of free, I'm sure you'll agree!

And that's great. I'm so happy that people are reading AND enjoying my stories.

Which leads me rather marvellously into explaining how this little festive tale came about.

I love my characters, I do. Eventually. For those of you who have read Checking Him Out
you'll know that Sol Brooks - the main character - isn't an easy man to get to know. And that's how it was for me when I began writing. I think it was somewhere around Chapter Eight before Sol finally started 'speaking to me'. Until that point, I was a little puzzled by his behaviour and his thought processes, but then he revealed his secrets to me, and it all started to make sense.

Sounds mad, I know, but the characters become very real to writers in the process of telling their story. We miss them when it's over. So if a few readers suggest that they'd like to read more, and there's more story to tell, we'll often happily oblige.

Hence, a holiday story was born.

Didn't I make that sound easy?

It wasn't - this isn't me complaining. I love writing, but to put in context my frustration at the illegal downloads mentioned earlier, we're talking 150+ hours of work to create a 24,000 word holiday story.

Just thought I'd say.

So anyway, here it is: a story filled with gifts for my readers, to say thank you very, very much.

Special thanks to Alexis Woods, K.C. Faelan, Nige the Pige, and Andrea Harding. You are wonderful.

Happy Holidays!

Checking Him Out For the Holidays

Freelance engineer Sol Brooks doesn't do the festive season. He thinks it's boring and overly sentimental. With the rest of the household laid up with 'the flu', Sol's planned on using the time to crack on with some work.

His mother, however, has other ideas.

And so does Sol's husband, Adam.

A stand-alone holiday special featuring Sol and Adam from Checking Him Out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Red Hot Christmas - Launch! December 15th PLUS Meet Shaunna Hennessy - star of the story PLUS First Christmas Giveaway!!!

Next Monday (December 15th) marks the release of my second Christmas story of the year, Red Hot Christmas, so we'll start as we mean to go on, by officially revealing the FABULOUS cover, created by Natasha Snow.

Natasha's a brilliant cover artist / designer, and such a great person to work with. For both Red Hot Christmas and Crying in the Rain, I gave her a brief outline of the story and her first ideas were what we eventually went with, even though I fuss and fret and go all around the world before I reach the conclusion that she had it right all along.

I think it's what comes of writing a series, whereby Crying in the Rain and Red Hot Christmas are chronologically #5 and #11 (full list at end of post), although I wrote Red Hot Christmas last Christmas, and wrote Crying in the Rain during the summer. By this point, the characters are so familiar to me that I have a clear picture in my head of what they are like - it's more of a psychological profile than a physical presence (which is also how I see people in 'our realm'). It makes me a bit too picky when it comes to having any likeness of the character on the cover, which is why in the past I steered clear with all my dull, dull covers. They're soon going to be replaced with all-new wonderfully appealing covers, which is very exciting!

The cover model for Red Hot Christmas is very much how Shaunna is to me. She's passionate, strong, sexy, independent, and she's a redhead. So once again, thank you, Natasha. You're a star. :)

But anyway, you're probably wondering what this story is about, especially if you've arrived here having read any of the gay (male) romances I've written recently. I'm not an author of gay romance per se, or indeed of any kind of romance. I write diverse, realist, contemporary fiction, which means there's romance in there as part of that general tapestry of modern life. There's also birth, death, marriage, illness, education, friendship, family...

I also try to make my books as universally accessible as I can, which means that (with two exceptions) I don't explicitly describe scenes involving sex, violence or abuse, which doesn't mean that my stories are devoid of the emotional stuff. In fact, I've been led to believe they are quite an emotional read. Then there was the sexy chapter in In The Stars Part II that my dear husband said he needed to re-read, just to make sure there were no errors, or something like that... ;)

Red Hot Christmas is really Shaunna's story, and if you are reading the whole series in order, then I should warn you that there are significant spoilers in this instalment.

Just one more thing, Mam...

Whilst Red Hot Christmas is 'stand-alone', it is connected to the other two stories I've put out recently.

Crying in the Rain - the story of Ade and Kris - happens a year before Red Hot Christmas (and if you're reading the series, there are two books and two novellas in between).

A Midnight Clear happens at exactly the same time as Red Hot Christmas, but should be read first, as there are events mentioned in Red Hot Christmas that would ruin surprises in A Midnight Clear. There are a couple of occasions where the narrative of the two stories crosses over, but they are very different stories relating to different characters who just happen to be part of the same group of friends - The Circle.

 You don't have to read all three, but if you are going to, then the order to read them would be Crying in the Rain, A Midnight Clear, Red Hot Christmas.

A Midnight Clear is included in the Boughs of Evergreen Holiday Anthology and the proceeds go to The Trevor Project. And it's cheap! 99 cents! It's only $9.99 for the full anthology (23 stories) - that's awesome, you've got to admit! Plus it's had some great reviews, so you should read it. :)

OK, maybe two more things...

If you like Christmas stories, then you might enjoy First Christmas, which is also part of the series and was released last year, but now has a shiny new cover! To celebrate its shiny newness, there's a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post - 3 copies available (but it's only $1.99 if you wanted to go and snag yourself a copy).

Remember the way you used to feel when you were little? So eager for Santa's visit, sleeplessly counting the minutes till morning, trembling with excitement and anticipation... Will I get what I wished for? Have I been good enough?

Josh and George spent half a lifetime apart, so it matters not that they're all grown up now. For this is their first Christmas together, in their new home. They finally have all that they wished for...

...But perhaps Santa still has a few surprises in store.

This Christmas, join Josh and George for a Christmas story full of festive magic and romance.

Best read in December, in front of a roaring log fire, by the twinkling light of a Christmas tree.

That's quite enough preamble. As mentioned earlier (up there ^ somewhere), Red Hot Christmas homes in on one character (and her significant others). That character is Shaunna Hennessy.

Who is Shaunna?

Let's ask her and see!

DM: Hi Shaunna. Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions.
SH: You're welcome.

DM: First off, that question you're not supposed to ask a woman, but...?
SH: I don't mind you asking at all. I'm 39 and looking forward to turning 40. I'm kind of doing the whole living it up thing in reverse! I've got a brilliant job that I love, great friends and an amazing daughter...

DM: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
SH: Nope. Just me, but I do have quite a few cousins in Ireland.

DM: How about your parents? Are they still alive? Are they married? Are they divorced?
SH: My dad is still alive. My mum died of breast cancer eleven years ago. Dad's doing OK, but he's very forgetful and needs quite a lot of support these days.

DM: If you were sent to a deserted island what three things would you take?
SH: Mobile phone? Oh, wait. That probably wouldn't work. I'd definitely take tea bags, and...a distress flare. Ha-ha!

DM: Do you have a hidden talent?
SH: Not totally hidden, as my mates know, but I'm not bad on the footy pitch. These days there's less stigma about girls playing the game, and women's football is becoming really popular, but it wasn't like that back when I was at school.

DM: Do you have a habit you wish you could break?
SH: Not that I can think of. I don't bite my nails, or anything like that. I could maybe drink less tea?

DM: What features do you like the most about yourself?
SH: My hair. I'm a ginger. Well, it's more the colour of barley sugar, and dries into major curls. It's quite long too - when it's straightened out it's past my waist, and none of the redheads in my family have gone grey, so I'm optimistic it's going to keep me looking young forever!

DM: What feature do you dislike the most about yourself?
SH: Freckles. I'm covered in them and I'm fair-skinned, so no lush tan for me. I'm totally jealous of people who can get a good tan.

DM: Do you have a hobby?
SH: At the moment it's doing a short psychology course - part time from home. A couple of my friends are psychologists - they were chatting about it - showing off, really. Anyway, it snagged my interest, but I don't want to make a career out of it. I might study something else next. Pottery? Conversational Spanish? Car mechanics? Yeah, maybe not the last one.

DM: Do you have a guilty pleasure?
SH: Ha! Lots of them. I'm told that I'm the star of a book of some sort?
DM: That's right. It's called Red Hot Christmas.
SH: Red Hot? How about that! Well, you can no doubt find out more about my most guilty pleasure in there...hopefully heavy on the pleasure, easy on the guilt.

DM: What kind of music do you like?
SH: Pop, rock, anything really. My favourite of all time is A-Ha, fronted by the dreamy Nordic sex god, Morten Harket.

DM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
SH: Smelly dog. I know they can't help it, and I love the dog, but he really does stink at times, and then the house does too.

DM: What is your favourite food?
SH: I'm more of a favourite drink kind of girl - tea, strawberry milkshake, blueberry yoghurt crush, or yoghurt-not-smoothie as my dear friend Sean likes to call it. Food-wise, pasta is always good. And I love chocolate fudge cake. Yes, actually. It's chocolate fudge cake.

DM: Do you have a passion and if so what?
SH: Krissi - my daughter. I had her when I was fifteen, so she's been my life. Now she's all grown up maybe I'll find something else to get passionate about?

DM: Do you consider yourself and introvert or extrovert?
SH: Definitely extrovert! On my psychology course we all met up for a 'day school' and they gave us a fun introvert-extrovert test. I came out second highest out of all of us!

DM: What is your idea of a perfect day?
SH: Lie in, cup of tea, maybe even breakfast in bed, followed by doing something fun, preferably with someone fun.

DM: Who is your favorite author?
SH: Err...I don't actually read. Honestly, I've never read an entire book. I love films, and film adaptations of books. That would probably make my favourite Bridget Jones's Diary.

DM: What would the first thing be on your bucket list?
SH: Ooh, that's a tricky one. There is quite a big thing currently at the top of the list. Maybe I'll stick it on my Christmas list too, and see if Santa thinks I've been nice enough to get it. ;)

DM: If I asked you to write an entry in your journal what would it be about?
SH: Depends if you wanted to read it afterwards...just kidding. Right now it would probably be about getting organised for Christmas. My aunty is having my dad stay with her, which is really kind of her, as we've had a hell of a year and I'm looking forward to the break, but I'm not done Christmas shopping yet!

DM: Tell me something no one else knows about you?
SH: That book I mentioned? I have a feeling you'll get to know a couple of biggies in there. Who knows, it might even get a little steamy...with any luck!

 a novella of 33,000 words
December 15th, 2014

Hiding Behind The Couch Series 
in full and in chronological order:

Beginnings (novella)
Crying in the Rain (short novel)
First Christmas (novella)
Breaking Waves (novella)
A Midnight Clear (novella)
Two By Two (season 6 - 2015)

Thank you for reading - have a great Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2014

No more bullying of authors by reviewers

There is a school of thought which argues authors shouldn't read reviews of their work, because reviews are written for other would-be readers. Furthermore, those who argue for free expression in reviews contend that once the work is out there, it is a product, just like any other, and authors should not take it personally if a reviewer hates their 'product'. I can agree with this sentiment - up to a point - and it is precisely why we SHOULD read our reviews.

In every industry, customer feedback is used to improve products and services. Likewise, if we authors don't read our reviews, we can not improve our product. That said, a piece of creative writing is not the same as an engine part, or a sofa, or a coffee maker, for whilst the inventor of a new and innovative product might well pour their heart and soul into it, the end product that we buy off the production line is tried, tested and far removed from that initial creative endeavour. A bad review for a vacuum cleaner, for instance ("this vacuum cleaner sucks - unfortunately not in the literal sense"), is unlikely to cause upset to the manufacturer in the same way that a bad review of a book might upset the author.

There are, of course, those authors who do create 'product'. They've figured out a market place, a formula, a target readership, and they approach writing in the same systematic way as any other manufacturing process. Perhaps for this kind of author, the less positive reviews are not so emotionally difficult to cope with, in the sense that they can say "I need to change that in the next batch" and file it away.

But many authors do not create 'product'. Each work is a crafted, unique piece of art. It is an extension of the author, and thus, when a reviewer critiques that work, they are also critiquing the author. No matter how objective or impersonal the reviewer tries to be, it is still personal to the author. And that's the bit that hurts, or equally, with the good reviews, makes us sing and dance with joy.

When it came to the first reviews for my most recent novel, Crying in the Rain, the initial reviews were mostly just what every author wants to see, and even those that were not especially to my liking were still fair. For instance, one reviewer didn't like my writing style, and I'm sad about that, but it's OK. We're all different. I know other readers do like it, and there are other stories out there more to that particular reader's tastes, so neither of us really lose out. What I found more intriguing was the way in which the characters and their lifestyle were received, and again, this kind of criticism is really about a difference of opinion, but it's also rather complimentary, in that the characters have had sufficient impact on the reader for them to experience an emotion (albeit disdain) towards them.

And then there are the reviews that are, quite simply, unacceptable.

If you're about to argue for freedom of speech, then bring it on. I absolutely agree. However, there are terms to describe the kind of freedom of speech that some reviewers exercise: slander, libel and defamation.

To illustrate this point, and because this review angered me enough to break the months of silence I have endured in the name of professionalism, I'm going to use a two-star review of Checking Him Out.

The review in full (I'll add the [sic] here to cover all of the errors):

I would not have bought this if it hadn't been free, I probably would have tried the preview realized how amateur the writing was and given it a miss. I'm only giving it two stars rather than one because I didn't have to pay for it. I read farther than I should have any only gave up at a point half way through the books when the couple is arguing about the GPS navigation, and I just didn't understand the argument/joke. I tried re-reading that part 3 times. This book needs a lot of research, restructuring and a good editor. Many of the assumptions made are just insulting, such as engineers are more homophobic than other professions. There are a lot of insulting side comments, including one about having a female engineer. I hate the way the (ex)wife becomes an instant bitch. The author seems to know next to nothing about what's involved to get a divorce in MA, find a job in academia, or hold down a job.

Breaking it down:

I would not have bought this if it hadn't been free, I probably would have tried the preview realized how amateur the writing was and given it a miss. I'm only giving it two stars rather than one because I didn't have to pay for it.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I can't really argue with that, although I'd have read a lot less than 30,000 words if I'd hated it as much as this reviewer seems to. That said, I would be interested to know the specific premise on which this writing is adjudged to be "amateur".

In the Cambridge Dictionary (British English), amateur is defined in several ways:

taking part in an activity for pleasure, not as a job

I write for both pleasure and as a job, so I suppose I am, in this respect, fifty percent amateur. However, I suspect the reviewer was working from this definition:

someone who does not have much skill in what they do

Again, we are all entitled to an opinion. I have credentials I could wave around (and will later), but creative writing, and its appreciation (or lack thereof) is an entirely subjective perspective, so I'll let that one pass. For now.

I read farther than I should have any only gave up at a point half way through the books when the couple is arguing about the GPS navigation, and I just didn't understand the argument/joke. I tried re-reading that part 3 times.

And this is the author's fault in what way? None, that I can think of. Moving on.

This book needs a lot of research,

This book had a lot of research, thank you very much, as I will demonstrate in due course.


Nope. The structure is deliberate, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean it needs restructuring.

See, there are these things called narrative devices that we authors like to deploy. For example, there are two main characters in Checking Him Out: Sol, who is hesitant, restrained and overthinks, and Adam, who is impatient and impulsive. A discerning reader might observe that the narrative flow varies according to how much influence Adam has over Sol.

I'm not claiming it's flawless. I'm merely presenting one of many pieces of evidence I could bring forth for your consideration.

and a good editor.

Yes, well I'll thank you on behalf of my editor and the sixteen other people involved in publishing this story, because you've just insulted their work too.

Many of the assumptions made are just insulting, such as engineers are more homophobic than other professions.

Oh, I could tell you a story or three, but it would involve outing engineers that I know wouldn't take too kindly to me doing that, because they work in a homophobic profession. It IS more homophobic than many other professions. This is not assumption, this is social scientific fact.

There are a lot of insulting side comments, including one about having a female engineer.

Likewise, engineering is a sexist profession, or are you referring to the first-person point of view that would make any sexism a character trait as opposed to one possessed by the author? Either way, the issue remains the same: the main character is an engineer; engineering is a sexist profession. Dear sweet reviewer, if you are going to degrade my work on the premise of lack of research DO YOUR OWN DAMNED RESEARCH FIRST! Oh, and incidentally, my first class degree in social science comes complete with a specialism in gender and sexual politics.

I hate the way the (ex)wife becomes an instant bitch.

And look now who's being sexist! A strong woman who stand up for her rights is instantly a bitch. I'm done arguing this point. It's boring.

The author seems to know next to nothing about what's involved to get a divorce in MA...

And this, darling reviewer, is where you irked me sufficiently to provoke this blog post by way of responding to your slanderous attack.

I present for your information, and in no small part to relieve you of your ignorance, Massachusetts divorce law (which, incidentally, I read as part of my research during the process of writing the book):

"Fault" grounds for divorce:

There are 7 "fault" grounds for divorce. With a "fault" grounds, one spouse files for the divorce and blames the other spouse for the end of the marriage. Although there are several fault grounds, "cruel and abusive treatment" is the one that survivors of domestic violence use the most.

You can ask for a hearing 21 days after the sheriff or constable serves your spouse with the Domestic Relations Summons and the Complaint for Divorce. You can get the divorce even if your spouse does not show up for the hearing. After the judge hears your case, the court issues a Judgment of Divorce Nisi. The divorce becomes final 90 days after Judgment of Divorce Nisi.


According to MA law, adultery is "fault" grounds for divorce.

Sol and Elise were divorced after three months because Sol committed adultery. No further argument.

Oh, just one - I had a beta-reader from Boston, who went through a divorce in Boston. It's safe to say that between my research and his reading of the text this has been checked to ensure it accurately depicts a divorce scenario that could happen in Boston, MA.


[The author seems to know next to nothing about what's involved to] find a job in academia, or hold down a job.

I work in academia. I have been a university lecturer for 15 years.

But thanks for your opinion, because it finally convinced me to do what all authors should do, and that is to face up to their bullies.

I refuse to remain silent just because it is deemed 'unprofessional' to respond to reviewers' attacks, which ultimately is what reviews like this are.

I refuse to be bullied and I too will exercise my freedom of speech. If you attack me, I will defend myself. Because I am, just like every other author out there, a person capable of being hurt both emotionally and financially by hateful words of reviewers who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.