2016, my writing journey in review

Hello my lovely readers, it’s time for a rare blog post. I’ve totally abandoned my blog in the past few months because I’ve been working on a lot, and posting elsewhere. Namely on Twitter, three different Facebook groups (Get Hasselled, Team Swole – a spinoff of the Twitter hashtag #romancefit,  and H2), and Patreon (where I post lots of exclusive shorts, early excerpts and news, and host bimonthly chats, etc). Things got a little hectic.

But anyway, I’ll start out with a tip: For those who don’t already do so, I strongly encourage you to participate in the weekly Romance Writer Chats on Twitter (@RWchat). I look forward to it every week because not only is it a time to see what other romance writers are saying about the biz, it’s a time for me to stop and reflect on my own processes. I think reflection is important for everyone, not just writers, but for us I truly think it helps us to get some clarity about our craft and our goals.

What are we doing? Is what we’re doing effective? How do we feel about what we’re doing? What would we like to change? And then creep on what other people are saying to get really helpful tips.

Last week’s RW Chat focused 2016, and our writing journeys. Up until then, I hadn’t really sat and processed the roller coaster ride of this year. But I’m glad I did.

My career up until now feels like it’s been on fast forward. This is partly because once I decided to write professionally, I added writing (the thing I used to do for free and for fun) into my workaholic tendencies and have spent the past two years murdering myself with my schedule. I can tell you now, publishing 7 books in a year and a half ain’t easy. And writing/editing 7 more for 2017** ain’t easy either. The way I approach it also isn’t healthy (I have a full-time day job, two chronic health problems, and I don’t sleep or eat very much. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s unhealthy), which is why this reflection time was necessary. I need to stop living on coffee, protein shakes, and cookies.

Out of everything that happened in 2016, I think what I’m most proud of is my internal growth and confidence in my decisions. For a long time, I constantly worried what people thought of my choices. I worried so much that I didn’t do things I wanted to do or write things that I wanted to write. I didn’t want to be labeled a “sell out” by folks who’d known me since I was writing free fiction. That concern will likely never fade but this year, over time, I stopped letting it hold me back.

Instead of worrying that my writing and my style was changing, I embraced those subtle changes. I want to write gritty romance like Five Boroughs, but I also love writing the romantic emotional journeys found in Cyberlove. And writing The Barons, my sports series releasing with Berkley/InterMix next year, has honestly been the most enjoyable solo writing experience I’ve had in a long time, and it’s also my most romantic series to date. So even though I worried about people accusing me of “chasing trends” or “selling out” by writing popular subgenres, it was a good move for me.

My biggest surprise in 2016 was the attention both Five Boroughs and Cyberlove has received. Both the outpouring of love and emotion from Five Boroughs readers who related to those characters, and the attention Cyberlove received from authors I admire and mainstream media (We were in the Washington Post! Whoaa!), blew my mind. As a M/M romance writer I realize this is a small measure of success compared to the super star romance authors out there, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.

Another big surprise in 2016 was deciding to go to my very first convention. That’s right, guys. The mysterious Santino made an in-person appearance at Shameless Book Con (No, I didn’t wear a mask. Yes, people saw my face. NO, there are no pictures of it. People were VERY respectful at SBC), and I loved it.

I got to hang out with people I’ve become grateful for meeting and befriending this year (namely Megan Erickson, Karen Stivali, and Amy Jo Cousins), meet enthusiastic readers, and got to know fabulous writers I admire but had only ever spoken to on social media. I honestly hope I can go to another con in the future. Out of everything, I count that trip as the most positive experience I’ve had in a long time. In general. Not just in terms of writing. I spend a lot of my life closeted, hiding things so people won’t learn about my second career, and only getting to talk about my greatest love (writing) with a few people. But at Shameless, I was surrounded by people who love writing and reading romance. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could be myself.

My biggest discoveries in 2016 were 1) self-publishing, 2) Patreon, and 2) Pacemaker. Okay, I know I self-published AFTER MIDNIGHT but I did that without knowing what I was doing. There was no marketing plan, no real strategy. With Cyberlove, me and Megan have really made a push to get those books out there. And you know what? I loved the process.

As for Patreon… its honestly been a blessing. How it works is people pledge at different levels to get access to different content with a monthly subscription. The lowest level of access grants readers access to exclusive short stories, excerpts, and more. Other tiers open up for reader chats, buddy watches, and special requests. It’s a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. In December, I wrote 15K of original material for my patrons, but they loved it and so did I. I even got inspired for an entire novel based on the short I wrote! Not only that, but the additional income has helped me a lot. I don’t talk about my issues a lot, but besides massive debt, mortgage, and other stuff, I have ridiculous medical bills that come from having been through chemo and radiation with quarterly MRIs and what not. Not to mention two chronic illnesses–one of which is my back. That was another big 2016 surprise for me! Instead of me having a messed up back due to a wreck, it turned out… my back was already a mess! My constant pain I lived with wasn’t normal. *eye roll at self* SO anyway, Patreon has been a godsend. Or a spirit send. It’s just been fucking amazing.

And Pacemaker… WELL. This program is incredible. I don’t even know how to describe it. Let’s just say, I tend to push myself a lot to write X amount until I’m a wreck if I don’t reach it. I try to plan but my plans fall apart. I’ve been using Pacemaker since the beginning of December, and I’ve managed to hit every goal, pace myself without wanting to rip my hair out, and plan a calendar for future projects. You can look at my profile to get an idea of what I mean.

If I had any regrets for 2016, I would say it’s not pacing myself more. I’m in that frame of mind where things have been going well as I try to carve out a place for myself in this huge genre, and I’m so afraid of missing out that I’ve been taking on more than I can reasonably handle for someone who is writing a full-time book load on a part-time basis.

So what are my goals for 2017? Slow the fuck down. Uh, after I write out my 8 contracted books, anyway (3 left!). I don’t want to blow my load in the first two years of my goddamn career (or, as normal people say, burn out). I want to enjoy the small successes I’ve had and give myself more time to work on things I care about. I also want more time to READ. I’ve greatly fallen behind on that this year.
So that’s it, folks. That’s my year in review. Let’s hope I meet some of my goals or at least try to do so. And uh, let’s also hope I start using this blog more instead of spreading my posts around at other places.

**A full list of my upcoming releases can be found on my Books page!

By |December 26th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

FAST CONNECTION is coming!

FAST CONNECTION, book 2 in the Cyberlove series, is coming out tomorrow! It seems like just yesterday me and Megan Erickson were brainstorming the plot of STRONG SIGNAL and now its sequel is locked and loaded on Amazon.

Writing this series has been an incredible experience, and this book in particular was so much damn fun. I can’t wait until readers meet Luke Rawlings, the grumpy silver fox, and get to know Dominic Costigan better–the wisecracking blond gymrat. So far ARC readers are loving these two and commenting on how steamy their connection is. And when we say it happens FAST, we’re not kidding. This book is hot but it also deals with very real issues like adjusting after life in the military, family, and falling in love despite barriers. I hope you all enjoy it and preorder now!

FastConnection-f

After a decade of serving in the Army, everyone still expects me to be Dominic ‘Nicky’ Costigan–the skirt-chasing player. They don’t know I’ve been spending my days trying to figure out my post-military life. Including how to pick up guys.

When I meet Luke on a hookup app, he makes it clear it’s for one-night only. That’s fine with me, because I’m down to see what this silver fox can do. But after I arrive at his doorstep, it doesn’t take long to realize we have serious chemistry, and we end up meeting again.

He’s got more walls around his heart than a military base, but I think he’s as addicted to me as I am to him. He can’t resist me for long. I mean, who can? Except Luke’s rules exist for a reason, and when I test his limits, things get complicated. Maybe too complicated.

*FAST CONNECTION is a standalone, full-length romance novel with no cliffhanger*

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By |July 10th, 2016|Uncategorized|12 Comments

First and First is here!

FIRST AND FIRST, the third book in my Five Boroughs series, is now available! I’m thrilled for you guys to read it. Here are some things that might surprise you about this novel:

1. A lot of readers are reading this book as a standalone and THEN going back and reading the first two in the series! Don’t be shy to try it just because you’ve not read SUTPHIN BOULEVARD and SUNSET PARK yet! (if you haven’t, SB and SP are now on sale at all retailers for $0.99 and $1.99!!)

2. Many early readers have said this is their FAVORITE book in the series so far!

3. First and First is more romantic than SB and SP.

4. If you HAVE read the other books, previous 5B characters have cameos :]

5. Well maybe this won’t surprise you but… don’t read in public. This book is steamy. A reviewer recently said the sex scenes are so hot they made her eyeballs sweat.

I can’t wait for you guys to dive into Caleb and Oli’s story!

FirstandFirstFSCaleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and independent. He cut ties with his own family because they wouldn’t accept his sex-positive lifestyle. Caleb can’t decide if he’s envious or smitten, but after a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, he realizes he’s both.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

Amazon | ARe | BN | kobo | DSP | Goodreads

By |April 18th, 2016|Uncategorized|1,519 Comments

Your Cyberlove Stories (part 1)

For those who don’t know, my co-written gay romance STRONG SIGNAL releases tomorrow. It’s about a gruff soldier and a charming video game streamer who meet online and go from gaming rivals to flirtatious friends to two men who share immense amounts of love and respect. In preparation for the release, Megan Erickson and I asked people to fill out a Google Form and share their own stories of cyberlove whether they met a spouse or a close friend online

We got over thirty stories! The amount of people who met significant others on social media or World of Warcraft or in Romancelandia was astounding. In a couple of blog posts, Megan and I are going to share quotes from these stories as well as people’s thoughts on Internet connections in general. STRONG SIGNAL‘s release week will be spent celebrating online connections.

Cyberlove via Gaming

“My sister met her husband online through playing World of Warcraft. Eventually they met in person and later he moved across the country so they could be together. They have now been married for over 7 years and have a 5 year old son.”

-Nicole

“I love the dynamic of online connections. It reminds me of older times when couples (and friends and family) communicated via letters. The way someone writes says a lot about them. What they choose to put into words. Which words they use. Add gaming/role playing to that and you’re getting a lot more out of an evening together than shouting across a crowded club or eating popcorn at the theatre. You instantly have something in common.”

-author Kelly Jensen met her husband on a MUD, which is a text-based MMORPG

“We discovered that we shared a love of really well-drawn characters. We discussed the game characters at length, and eventually moved to another play-by-post role-playing forum, where we started writing characters and their adventures together. We met face-to-face for the first time in 2011, I believe. Then, at one point, one of us suggested, hey, why don’t we try writing a book together? And the rest is history.”

-author Jenn Burke met her co-writer on a video game forum

“I used to have a love/hate relationship with WoW because the gaming culture can be so misogynistic, but like my friend Row said, I’ll always be grateful for WoW because I met two of my dearest friends in-game.”

-Bats met their best friends on World of Warcraft

“It’s a lot easier to talk to people when you can type out what you want to say, reread it, and fix shit so you don’t sound like an idiot.”

-anon, met their husband on World of Warcraft

Cyberlove in Romancelandia

A lot of people discount internet relationships because they know that people can pretend to be someone they’re not. And that’s true. That happens a lot online. And sure, it’s easier to hide behind an avatar and pretend you’re half or twice your actual age or weight or whatever other thing you want to hide or misrepresent. But there are two important things that get overlooked: 1) just because you’re talking to someone who’s sitting across the table from you doesn’t mean they’re being honest with you or telling you everything 2) it can be a hell of a lot easier to talk about personal stuff online, so often times you get much more frank, real conversations with people there than you would if you were speaking to the same person face-to-face. “

-author Karen Stivali met Karen Booth on a literary agent’s forum

“I think sometimes it’s easier initially to share things with people who are “similar” to you online because there’s a barrier of the screen between you. You don’t have to worry about how you sound or how you look or where you live or how much money you have. Online, you’re simply “you”. But then real friendships develop and, if you’re lucky, those friendships transcend everything because it was formed on the person you are on the inside, not what you are on the outside.”

-Eileen Griffin met Nikka Michaels in an Original Sinners RP

“There is a connection with Lisa that I have never found before. She gets me. She gets my insane love for books and never judges me for talking about the characters as if they were real people. She gets all my ticks, the good, the bad and she laments and celebrates with me without reservation. She is the person I can fire off an email, message or text to with ridiculous glee or the need to vent/rant and knows that I don’t require I lengthy response, just an ear to get it out. I look forward to our chats every day.

From books to work to marriage to kids to dreams to just our lives, she’s my person now.”

-Sara met her good friend Lisa on Goodreads

“I think especially when you’re a writer, it’s unlikely you’ll know people in your everyday life that write, and especially that write the same things you do. It’s so nice to have an online community for that because writing is a huge part of my life. My online friends know what I’m up to in a way that my family and friends in my regular life just don’t.”

-author Michelle Hazen met her best friend and critique partner while writing Vampire Diaries fanfic

Cyberlove on dating sites

“We exchanged AIM handles and chatted via IM several times and it was an instant, incredible connection. After my first IM conversation which lasted several hours, I told my sister: “I’m going to marry this man.”

-Nicole met her husband on Match

“The dating website was called interracialmatch.com. This was my 4th time trying and I was honestly going to call it in after all the previous duds. One day I get a message from him complimenting me on my pic. We just starting sending emails back and forth and from there a relationship started to grow.”

-Mama’s Dirty Lil Reads

“We are proof that, yes, opposites do attract.

He was top of his class in high school and a college drop out because college wasn’t challenging enough. I had a Master’s degree. He’s a geek to the core. I could barely tell you who Princess Leia was and I had no idea who or what Firefly was. He has a music and movie collection that could be on display at the Smithsonian because it’s so big. I had my favorites and didn’t deviate much from it. He’s messy. I’m neat (with some occasional messy habits). And there are days he drives me absolutely insane to the point I want to make him sleep in his car. “

-Kelley met her husband on Match

“I’ve experienced the gamut on internet personal connections. I’ve seen, evil and heartbreak, but I’ve also known heaven and joy. Don’t let one bad interactions ruin it for you. Just be smarter the next time. You’ll never know what you might find next, if you aren’t open to new experiences and try.”

-@slayrwanab met her husband on a religious dating site

Cyberlove in Fandom

“For about 8 years she was one of my closest friendships, online we talked about everything and anything. We went through several chat services like ICQ, AOL, Yahoo, MSN. We video chatted. We sometimes even talked on the phone. We sent each other gifts by mail that took months to reach the other, etc. Ironically, by the time Facebook was starting to become a thing in México, somewhere around 2008 we had stopped talking. I had gone on a year of studying abroad and hadn’t been online much and she had started university and we had drifted apart.

But then, during my first semester of uni in México City I got a friend request on Facebook and I recognized her! I was extremely excited about the fact that we might reconnect. But she surprised me even further. Her first message to me, posted to my Wall was something along the lines of: “I am 99% sure that you were sitting behind me today in EconMath. Meet tomorrow 15 minutes before class at the at the atrium?”

And that was how after almost 10 years we first met in real life. We didn’t go to class. By the end of the semester we were roommates.”

-moniq met her good friend Pauline in Harry Potter fandom

“It might sound nerdy and antisocial, but I find it exciting to meet new people through the internet, even if I won’t ever meet them (though it hardly ever happens if our connection grows strong enough) And damn, some of the most interesting people I know, I know from around the internet and, I mean, I would have never had known them if not for us speaking and sharing experiences and thoughts with each other. “

-Lavi met her best friend in an anime art forum

“Two of my best friends I met online–my soul mate and my bunny. We’ve stood together during my pregnancy, the loss of a parent, the declining health of a loved one, the ups and down of our marriages…they’re my rocks, and I only hope I’m the same for them.

I’ve met a ton of other friends online as well. Some friendships stay in cyberspace while others move into in-person space. Brighton Walsh and I made that transition. We live near one another, so our Tweets and texts moved to coffee and writing dates, and now we get together every month or so for dinner, drinks, cheesecake, and writer talk. i think the internet is a wonderful place to meet new people, find those souls so much like your own, and grow friendships. I know I won’t be unplugging anytime soon. “

-Ellis Leigh met her two partners in crime in fandom


Strong Signal

I was counting down the months until the end of my deployment. My days were spent working on military vehicles, and I spent my nights playing video games that would distract me until I could leave Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid behind.

That was when I met him: Kai Bannon, a fellow gamer with a famous stream channel.

I never expected to become fixated on someone who’d initially been a rival. And I’d never expected someone who oozed charm to notice me—a guy known for his brutal honesty and scowl. I hadn’t planned for our online friendship to turn into something that kept me up at night—hours of chatting evolving into filthy webcam sessions.

But it did. And now I can’t stop thinking about him. In my mind, our real life meeting is perfect. We kiss, we fall into bed, and it’s love at first sight.

Except, like most things in my life, it doesn’t go as planned.

*Strong Signal is a standalone, full-length novel with no cliffhanger*

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By |February 14th, 2016|Uncategorized|3,031 Comments

We’re bringing the Darkness again!

Last October, Judith (of Binge on Books) and Anna Hullum (of awesomeness) assembled the New Avengers. JR Gray, JC Lillis, Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, and I joined forced to produce 5 spooky Halloween tales. For the start of festival season, they’ve done it again and this time we’re tackling Carnivale.

FollowMeIntoDarkness-Full-Size

I really loved this prompt because it unleashes a realm of possibilities when it comes to exploring themes of decadence, masks, and released inhibitions. I tried to do something different this time around and wrote a story that was low on heat and high on whimsy. Hurricane follows a self-conscious introvert as a grifter takes him on a wild ride one Mardi Gras night. I hope you guys check it, and its four sibling stories, out!

Follow Me Into Darkness: Five Tales of Carnivale Romance

Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.

Hurricane by Santino Hassell
Interesting things never happened to Zay. He was the wallflower everyone forgot about as soon as the booze began to flow, and Mardi Gras had never been an exception. But after a chance encounter with a devil-may-care grifter, this year’s celebration brings adventure and whirlwind romance.

If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis
Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying high—he’s playing the title role in a new TV drama about Hamlet’s teen years, and tonight they’re having a Mardi Gras cast party in a possibly-haunted castle. But Ven’s lost all his mirth since his boyfriend suggested they “take a break,” so he plans to skip the bash and brood in his trailer all night. Then the exasperating guy who plays Horatio challenges him to a Shakespearean soliloquy-off, and Ven knows his actorly honor is at stake. He says yes to the duel, trudges off to the the party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.

Masked by J.R. Gray
Blistering heat and half-naked masked men as far as the eye can see, but Heath runs into the one face it’s taken him fifteen years to forget. Javier is plagued with a life of regret, but when a second chance confronts him, can he let go of his hang-ups and seize the moment?

The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper
Isah plays the role everyone expects: malleable and cautious, a true queen. But what others see as a queen’s appropriate modesty is really just a disguise for what Isah has never told anyone, the thing no one can ever know.

This body, dressed in the queen’s gowns, is a lie.

Once a year, at carnival, Isah dons someone else’s clothes and becomes them for a night. A young cook in stained whites, or a stableboy in worn breeches. As long as no one gets too close the pretense holds.

Until two strangers look past all the characters and Isah finally exposes the person behind the mask.

Touched by Roan Parrish
Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.

By |February 5th, 2016|Uncategorized|2,818 Comments