I’m recycling an old post here today because I think it’s very timely.
I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch. I think even though it may be harder than ever to practice in a world that seems to be going down in flames, it may be more important than ever to try this little exercise.
“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak about gratitude here today because I’ve been conducting a little exercise lately, and I would very much like to share the results with you.
See, I’m a bit of a Human Eeyore. I have a tendency to see the worst case scenarios. I don’t consider this pessimism—instead it feels more like realism to me. In fact, that’s part of why I like writing romances. I believe in happy endings, even though I think few of us get them. Not only does writing make my day a bit brighter, but if a single story makes it easier for someone to get through a bad day, then I feel like I’ve done my job as a writer. That’s what I call success.
You know that scene in Jupiter Rising? The one where the main character wakes up each morning and recites, “I hate my life.” Yeah, that could be me. I’ve been struggling with depression, job burnout, and caregiver burnout for a while now.
Recently I became inspired by several people I follow who have been posting daily about the things they are grateful for in their lives. This prompted me to attempt to do the same, though to be honest, I found it easier some days than others. Still, I was determined to give it my best shot. Every day for an entire year, I would post three things I was grateful for or three things that made me smile.
I haven’t managed to do it every single day, but I’ve been doing it for nearly two months now, and I’m starting to see some changes in my life. First of all, it is seldom the Big Things that make me feel a sense of gratitude. Big Things don’t come into our lives every day. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. Taming the feral cat hanging around the house. Getting mentioned on a “Best of” list. Having someone leave an awesome review for one of my stories. Getting a surprise gift in the mail. Hearing from a friend that I’d lost touch with. Rain on the roof at night. The ghostly vision of a full moon just after dawn. The intensity of the constellations in a winter’s sky.
I found myself waking, not with the thought of how much I hated my life, but wondering what three things I was going to find to post about that day. Even if the morning started off rocky, I’d remind myself I still had to come up with three things—and that very thought changed my entire attitude toward the day. Little by little, my first thoughts turned to what would I find to make me smile that day, and let me tell you, that’s a powerful thing.
I’ve never been a big fan of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ because if I don’t believe something, I can’t fake my way into it. But this exercise has taught me that the mindset of gratitude is contagious—and the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it becomes to see the good things that you have in your life. And when you see your life as one of plenty instead of one of wanting, then good things seem to find their way into your life. Sounds like voodoo, I know, but I challenge you to give it a try. If you can’t commit to an entire year, at least 30 days. Spend 30 days finding just three things each day that make you smile. You’ll be glad you did.”
So. Here’s the thing. That exercise was easier to practice when I was ‘only’ depressed. Before the added burdens of profound anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness that 2017 has wrought. When everything is going to hell in a handbasket, practicing gratitude isn’t the easiest task to give yourself. There are times when we need to be outraged. When we should be upset. When we should march. Raise our voices in protest. Persist. Reclaim our time.
But I saw a valuable piece of advice someone shared on Twitter recently in which they said their therapist told them it was important to practice self-care because we as human beings weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of trauma and anxiety. Sometimes we must disconnect. Recharge. Soothe.
It’s the only way we can stay in the battle long-term.
So with that, consider practicing gratitude in your own fashion on whatever scale you can manage. These days, I try to take a photo of something that makes me happy and post it. I’m also reading—a LOT. Stories that make me happy. Stories that make a crappy day a little bit more bearable. I’ve said all along that was my intent in writing and sharing my own stories, so it only seems right that I find peace in the works of others.
If you enjoy audiobooks, Fool’s Gold is now available on Audible. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance by the 2016 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and is narrated by the talented Gary Furlong. Do check it out!
If you’re a reviewer with a website and would like to review Fool’s Gold, feel free to contact me (link below). Until I run out, I have a few codes available to share.
Bio: Sarah Madison is a writer with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.
Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for The Boys of Summer. The Sixth Sense series was awarded 2nd place for Best M/M Mystery Series in the 2014 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards.
Yes, I’ve been AWOL for a while. Life has been kicking me in the teeth lately, and I’ve bailed on a lot of commitments as a result–my monthly post here being one of them. Truth be told, while I’m in this mood, I need to take a break from posting about my experiences at Writer’s Police Academy. I’ll come back to that thread at some point, I promise, but first I’d like to talk about something else: battling envy as an author.
I’ll be the first to admit I struggle with this. As an interesting sidebar, I’ve noted that depending on what social media site I’m on, I’m a slightly different personality. I tend to be more policitcal on Twitter and reveal a bit too much of my personal life on Facebook. When I had an Instagram account, I was relentlessly perky. Weird, huh?
Not really. I think the account tends to mold your responses and interactions there. Facebook in particular tends to shape two different kinds of posts depending on the feedback you get from your followers. Either your life is wonderful and perfect as you post images from your trip to Bora Bora, or your life is on the skids–so bad you’re starring in a country music song.
I like Facebook, but sometimes I have to avoid it. Studies have shown too much time on social media–and in particular, Facebook–can make you depressed. I believe it. I’ve posted about that fact before. Marketing gurus tell us we must spend time on social media, making connections and interacting with fans. Mental health experts tell us we sometimes need to take breaks from social media.
That’s advice I can accept. I find that too much time on Facebook and the like (I’m looking at you, Twitter) makes me depressed. Despite knowing most people post about the good things in their lives, skewing us into believing their lives are better than ours, I find Envy, the green-eyed monster, often stalks me when I read the happy posts of others.
These days, I don’t have the energy to deal with the frequent melt-downs and drama either.
But today, after weeks of reading books I thought were problematic at best and stank like sewer gas at worst, I read a book that was really good. One I could barely put down. One that pulled me in and got me involved in the lives of the characters, even though it was a genre I seldom enjoy. And miracle of miracles, the author put real obstacles in the paths of our protagonists, not simple misunderstandings that five minutes of conversation would have resolved if the characters hadn’t been such blooming idiots.
And like always when this happens to me these days, I felt a pang of envy that I would never write anything half as good.
It’s bad enough when you read something that stinks but made its way to the bestseller lists. You know the writing is subpar and the plot grates on your writerly soul, and yet thousands of people rushed out to buy it. Worse, they seem to be gushing over it. Even the people who admit they hated it couldn’t help but buy the next book in the series because they had to know what happened next. Look down your nose all you want, but storytelling like that can’t be as bad as you think.
But at least with a story like that, you can tell yourself its very badness is what attracted some readers to it, and since the author is laughing all the way to the bank, there’s no point getting on your high horse about it.
No, those stories, even though their success is inexplicable (and makes you grind your teeth with rage) are somehow easier to accept than the others.
You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that are so damn good, it takes your breath away. They remind you why you fell in love with books in the first place. No, they aren’t such masterpieces that people will still be reading them generations from now, but they are damn fine stories just the same.
And it kills you that you don’t write that well.
In some ways, this kind of story is harder to take than the drek that inexplicably become a bestseller.
Stop. Take a deep breath.
First of all, this Unbelievably Awesome Writer didn’t become that way overnight. Like you, they wrote. A lot. With passion–sometimes more passion than execution. What they didn’t know, they learned. They put in their time at the keyboard, honing skills until they produced the story that caused such powerful envy in you. Stop fretting about how good they are and how you’ll never write anything a fraction as good. These authors were like you once. You are on the same journey as they are. They are just farther along on the path. That doesn’t mean they are innately more talented than you are. Talent alone is meaningless without the grit to achieve your goals. And it is one thing that can be improved on with training and practice.
Second: this writer whom you hold in awe probably has half a dozen or so authors that make them sigh and fear they will never write anything as good as Writer X. There will always be someone better than you at any stage of the game, be it writing, or making money, or creating art, you name it. And there will always be someone worse than you, who either doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize their work stinks or isn’t prepared to do the work to make it readable, or simply because they are new at it and are farther back on the path. You can bet the author you’re in awe of has authors who awe him or her. Has days where they think their work sucks. Sits biting their nails for the first reviews to come out after promising themselves they wouldn’t read them. It’s the nature of the game.
Third: just because you love it, and the story seems to be univerally loved on all fronts, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Read the reviews of your favorite books by your favorite authors. Most of them have their share of unkind reviews, same as you. And if someone can hate a story you love SO MUCH, that’s a pretty good indication it’s not for everyone. Everyone–believe me EVERYONE–gets bad reviews and rejected from time to time. Don’t let them dimish your dreams and goals.
Fourth: though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who are going to think your stories are awesome. Don’t disparage their intelligence because they like your stories. It’s rude at best and insulting at worst.
Fifth: Read more books just like it. Yes, read more books that make you cry with envy over how good they are. Don’t read crap. Your brain absorbs what you continually expose it to. Crap reading translates to crap writing. Want to be a better writer? Read the good stuff.
Most of all, let the writer know what you thought of their work. For all you know, your feedback may be the one thing that prevents them from pulling all their hair out and chucking the writing business as a lost cause.
In the meantime, I’m back to reviewing the audio version of Fool’s Gold. With any luck, it will be up on audible.com before the end of August.
Hello readers! To my chagrin, I realize we Authors Speak writers posted not one single post in the month of July. I, for one, didn’t realize I’d missed my day to post until it was long gone. Some of us were more on the ball than that, but just had a crazy calendar and didn’t make it. I hope this month is better, and I’m going to kick off August by posting on time. But… (isn’t there always a but?) because my calendar has gone crazy this month, I’m recycling. Don’t get me wrong! This post is completely right for the day!
Let me explain.
As you may have realized, I like to talk about other authors’ books. A few years ago, on my sylvre.com blog, I did that by featuring “lessons” at Gay Romance University. In 2014, I made a lesson about Anne Barwell’s book, Shadowboxing, the first book in her World War II historical Echoes Rising series. Read on to revisit that day in class!
Why is this the right post to republish today?
Because today, the final book in the series has been launched at DSP Publications! Happy release day, Anne, and congrats on creating a series truly worth the read.
Please take your seats people, we want to get started…. What’s that? Boxer shorts? Certainly they’re allowed…. Yes, sir, briefs, certainly. Sure, speedos are not only allowed but encouraged. Be comfortable, but do pay attention in class.
Even though Kristopher Lehrer’s last name means ‘teacher,’ as we examine the early pages of our textbook, Anne Barwell’s novel Shadowboxing, it is Kristopher who is most in need of schooling. Oh, he is a learned man, it’s true—a physicist working on an important, possibly world-altering project. Unfortunately Very Important Projects often become the clouds where a scientist’s head is most comfortable. Kristopher’s attitude, as the novel opens, is reminiscent of the fearless forward motion of a horse with blinders.
To illustrate, consider this: Kristopher’s friend—the man that could have been his first true love if Kristopher had been honest—is Jewish, and in World War II Germany the yellow Star of David he must wear means that he is in danger every time he steps out in public. And, though David is a respected physician, he can no longer practice medicine for the same reason. Yet when Kristopher meets him for coffee he has no clue why his friend is upset, or scared. Read along in your text (or look over your neighbor’s shoulder if you haven’t yet picked up your text). We look at what happens when David challenges Kristopher’s naivety, beginning on page eight.
“Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?” David spoke quietly, as always, but there was an underlying tone of fear in his voice that Kristopher didn’t remember hearing before. David’s emotions were always controlled; it was something that Kristopher had envied. “Have you any idea of their real agenda?”
Kristopher snatched his hand away, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating. Why had David come to him? Surely he couldn’t have presumed to use the closeness they’d once had to further whatever agenda he had? “I’m a scientist, David, trying to make the world a better place, just as you are. We are working for the advancement of science and for the good of the Fatherland.” The last sentence came out sounding like the mantra it was. Any doubts that Kristopher had were always dealt with efficiently when he repeated those words. While he knew the potential danger of the device they were working on, the chances of anyone considering utilizing the catastrophic component of it were remote.
“You always were naïve, Lehrer.” David raked a hand through his hair and replaced his glasses, adjusting them when they slipped down his nose. “Wake up and take a look at what’s going on around you before it’s too late.” An edge of desperation and fear sharpened his voice as he lowered it to almost a whisper; it sounded as though he was talking about the end of the world.
“Too late? Too late for what?” His earlier fears of being used vanished at David’s tone. Kristopher’s voice rose in pitch, all attempts of hiding his conflicting emotions lost as he tried to desperately work through his rapidly escalating confusion.
David shook his head, unwilling to say more, his eyes darting nervously around the small Kaffeehaus before his gaze settled on the man who had entered several minutes earlier. “I have to go. I’ve said too much already.”
“Wait!” David was already halfway out the door before the word was out of Kristopher’s mouth. He pushed his chair back, ready to follow his friend, then hesitated, suddenly unsure as to what had just happened.
A week later, dining at home with his sister Clara (whom he loves and depends on) and his father (with whom he has a strained relationship), he is shocked to hear that David has disappeared, and clueless as to why such a thing had happened. What’s more, he is just as dumbfounded when Clara says (on page 11)…
“Poor Kristopher.” Clara rolled her eyes. “You’re so involved in your work that you haven’t noticed what’s going on around you.” There was no teasing in her voice now. Whatever this was about, it was something very serious. “It’s because he’s Jewish, of course.”
… as he is when his father says…
“They are Jewish, Kristopher. What other reason is needed? Better that they are rounded up and sent somewhere more suited for their place in the scheme of things. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Jews are nothing more than parasites interested in taking control of the economy for themselves.”
We, the readers can take our first lesson from this, and the downhill spiral of father-son relations that follow. Please take this down in your notebooks. It will be on the test:
The longer you keep your head stuck in the clouds of denial (about anything, really), the more it hurts to pull it out.
Our next unit of study follows Kristopher as he goes about his work the next day. The clouds around his head have been disturbed, but not quite dislodged. Feeling cranky and a little wooly due to a poor night’s sleep, he enters his boss’s office when the boss is out, and rather clumsily knocks a pile of papers on the floor, and reads this sentence on one of them:
Cue ominous music.
We look forward to putting these plans into reality. Such a device will ensure the continued success of the Fatherland during this war against our enemies.
Kristopher’s head falls from the clouds with a mighty thud, which hurts and can’t be ignored even by a dreamy physicist.
Gott im himmel, as my very German mother would have said. Here Kristopher had been, believing he was working on nuclear fission for peaceful purposes, and suddenly he realized he’d been living in a lollipop world.
For a number of minutes, our scientist is unable to think straight. He knows what he saw, but he’s unsure of what he might do about it, or even how to keep from getting in trouble for standing in his boss’s office with his pants down (figuratively of course, because that would be far too weird).
But a guard comes along, Obergefreiter (Sargent) Schmitz, and helps him organize his brain and move his body, thank goodness. Of course, at first, Kristoffer is afraid that Schmitz will actually contribute to his danger, but he soon realizes he was lucky the Obergefrieter came along. He leaves the office that day still waffling about what to do. Like most ordinary Germans of the day, he loves his country and has some significant blind spots about it—a phenomenon not unknown at any age of the world in just about any country, including all of those where readers of this blog might be living today. But you don’t become a leading physicist if you are slow-witted. Once Kristopher’s sight is forcibly cleared, he cannot escape the truth about the leaders of the Nazi regime and what their intentions are.
After much soul-searching, presumably some hand-wringing, and a few horrid nightmares, Kristopher Lehrer confronts his boss… and is told in no uncertain way to mind his own business. The encounter goes from bad to worse. (You can read about this in home study, chapter three of the text.) When he is discovered in the room with his dead boss by the same Obergefreiter Schmitz, he figures his number is up.
Thank heaven for pleasant surprises, large and small. When Schmitz asks Kristopher if, as smart as he is, he can come up with no better plan than to threaten the guard with broken glass, here’s what happens (at the beginning of chapter four).
“My plan? […] I don’t have a plan. […] Do you honestly think I would be standing here waving a piece of broken glass if I had a plan.”
“Good point,” Schmitz admitted.
[Text elided by blogger… er, I mean university professor Lou Sylvre. Kristopher says:]
“Have you come to hand me over to the Nazis?” Whatever happened he didn’t intend to go easily.
The corner of Schmitz’s mouth turned up in a half smile before he shook his head. “I’m here to help you, Herr Dr. Lehrer.”
“You expect me to believe you?” Kristopher wished the desk behind him would disappear into thin air, although it still wouldn’t be of much help as Schmitz was blocking the path to the only door. “I know you’ve followed me for the past week.” He noticed the slight look of surprise on Schmitz’s face with a degree of satisfaction.
“You need to trust me, Dr. Lehrer.”
You may guess that Kristopher isn’t so sure that’s the best course of action, but like people everywhere when they’re in danger and want to trust someone, he looks for a way to do so.
“Give me one good reason.”
“The Nazis will be here in, Schmitz said, consulting his watch, approximately ten minutes. Either you trust me, or you tell them what you’ve just told me. I doubt they will believe your story.”
His voice softened. “I do.”
Now, students, you may have guessed that the Obergefreiter isn’t really the Obergefreiter. His real name is Michel, and he’s not even German. And his interest in Kristopher, like Kristopher’s trust of Michel, soon weaves into a whole new feeling. After negotiating much hell and highwater together, Michel soothes a startled, overwhelmed Kristopher in his own native tongue.
“A l’aise, Kit. Je suis ici… Ssh, tout est bien.”
Yes, Michel is there and all is well for the moment. There’s a whole lot more trouble to face, more evil to evade, more heroes to meet—all kinds, German, foreign, soldiers, everyday people. But Michel does whatever he needs to do to keep Kristopher alive. And since this is Gay Romance University, it isn’t giving away secrets to let you know, that once Michel has seen to the matter of Kristopher’s continued existence, he gets the opportunity to use a little French term of endearment.
“It’s all right, mon cher. I love you. I’m not letting you go.”
That is the end of our lesson, today. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, click the link provided above (just below the gallery of cover images) to find the books in the DSP Publications store.
I thank Anne Barwell, Kristopher, and Michel for the privilege of treating the serious story of one of the world’s most painful times with a bit of irreverence. Truthfully, the heroes in this story are a reflection of all the real life heroes on every side of that war and every other, especially the quiet ones not lauded in headlines. They all deserve our gratitude, and I take no such service or sacrifice lightly.
Thanks for reading, everybody! If you’d like to check out or revisit the rest of the GRU posts, just go to
I confess, when I saw the K9 handler pull up on that first afternoon at WPA, during the open Q&A session with various law enforcement and emergency personnel, I was immediately drawn to watch. Having owned many high-drive German Shepherds myself, I couldn’t help but admire the power and beauty of these dogs, as well as the appreciate some of the similarities between these working dogs and my own.
But it was impressed upon us just how different these dogs are from any family pet.
I’ll try to make sense from my hastily scribbled notes.
The K9 units are subdivided by specialty training: SWAT, patrol, drug work. A typical shift is 10 hours/ day (though the officers are paid for eleven hours, to include grooming and care of the dogs), four days on, four days off.
Unlike the other units, the drug units frequently rely on sporting dogs for drug work—Labradors, Pointers, etc. It makes sense, as many of these breeds have been selected for their sense of smell as well as a willingness to retrieve. Handlers are only allowed to stay with the drug unit for 5 years before moving into another division—presumably to help prevent burnout.
Most of the ‘police’ dogs are imported from Germany. Handlers undergo six weeks of intensive training, but it can take up to a year before the handler/dog team is call ready. Handlers are expected to train daily. The length of time spent training depends on both handler ability and the capability of the dog.
The cost of a single dog plus training runs between $12-13 thousand dollars—it’s a major investment for a police department. The K9 handler spent a good deal of time discussing protecting that investment, as there had recently been a local case of a dog dying in a police car due to overheating. The cars have fixed grills in them that allow the windows to be rolled down without the dog being able to leave the car. Newer police K9 units have heat sensors that will roll down the windows automatically if the car becomes too hot. Lights and sirens also go off, and a text is sent to the dispatch, the handler, and the captain. As a system of fail-safes, it should be foolproof, and yet many departments have older vehicles well-past retirement age due to budget cuts. All three management systems failed in the case of the heat-related dog death.
There are protection vests for the police dogs, but they are seldom used because they weight between 40-50 pounds, greatly hampering the dog’s ability to do its job. No officer will send their dog in on a ‘suicide mission’, but they will put the dog in danger to protect a fellow officer. Ultimately, the police dog is a tool, much as a service weapon. The speaker stated that the dogs weren’t considered part of the ‘use of force’ continuum, but unfortunately, didn’t explain that statement further.
The average working lifespan of a police dog is eight years, after which they are retired with the handler or euthanized. These dogs are NOT socialized. Walking on a leash in the neighborhood is not an option. The handler who spoke with us estimated his kennel arrangement at the house cost about three thousand dollars to make a safe, dog-proof environment. While euthanasia, if the handler is not prepared to retire the dog at his home, may sound cruel after a lifetime of service, it is preferable to the practice of auctioning off retiring dogs to the highest bidder, which some cash-strapped communities have done in the past. The liability of doing such a thing has probably ended this practice for the most part.
The handler and dog are a team—the dog is rarely out of the handler’s sight, and is the handler’s backup in any given situation. Handlers have a remote control which can open the rear door of the police car and release the dog. The handler can direct a search, direct an attack, but in an open brawl, the dog cannot distinguish friend from foe and will attack the most animated person. This is because the dogs are selected for having a strong prey drive, which means they go after anything that moves. I have personal experience with that, as my last shepherd had a strong prey drive. The very first time he laid eyes on a black bear, he chased it up the side of a mountain!
Dogs are usually trained to ‘bark and hold’, which means they will go up to a suspect and bark but not engage unless the suspect moves. If a dog is already lit up with excitement, however, training may break and the dog might engage regardless.
Dogs are frequently used as a locating tool. The handler referred to ‘walkaways’, which are people who are either suicidal, have dementia, or walked out of an assisted living situation. Dogs are used to locate people in buildings or parks, finding them much more efficiently than a human searcher could do.
Dogs are also frequently utilized at traffic stops because an officer can only hold a driver for so long without probable cause, but if a dog alerts on a car, they have probable cause.
The thing that the handler reiterated the most was that, though he would bawl his eyes out if anything happened to his dog, he was prepared to sacrifice his dog’s life to save a human being. The bond between handler and dog is great, but ultimately, the dog is there to be used.
Tune in next time, when I’ll treat you to the highlights of body armor and how it stops certain kinds of ammunition.
In the meantime, check out the reason I wanted to go to WPA in the first place, the FBI guys from the Sixth Sense series!
Over the years since I started writing romance, I have found myself in the distinctly uncomfortable situation of answering the “what do you write?” question inevitably asked in response to the “I’m an author” line.
A huge chunk of my discomfort comes from the fact that the two protagonists in my stories are the same gender (so far, all male). The LGBT community—including (especially) the arts portion of it—still has a long way to go as far as acceptance is concerned.
But today, what I want to talk about is the other part of my response: the romance part.
I recently submitted a request for a vendor table at a local anime convention for myself and a couple of other authors. Now, I am lucky to a point because as a volunteer manager for the con, I have some options general vendors don’t. When I did not get the response I wanted (instead, they gave me something vague about variety of merchandise), I requested more information. When I didn’t get a response to my request for clarification, unlike general vendors, I could go higher. Which I did.
The answer I finally got back shocked and angered me. Okay, “anger” is probably a bit mild. Furious? Livid? That’s closer.
The shock ended up a good thing because it kept me from replying immediately with some not-so-polite phrasing, including where they could put their IT department (the department I manage). Their response was fairly short, explaining that since they checked into it “finding only erotica,” it didn’t fit their “family friendly event.”
I don’t know how they came to the conclusion that the books in question are “only erotica.” Not knowing how that came about, I can only speculate one of two things. One, the books are all about gay men and, thus, automatically considered erotica because of that. Or two, they are romance and simply by virtue of the fact that some romance contains sex scenes, it is thus considered “erotica.” I have seen both of these from the non-romance (and non-LGBT) reading groups. As I was not sure if it was the LGBT aspect—since I wasn’t sure how I could reasonably focus on that—I focused instead on discussing the difference between romance and erotica.
I’d read tons on this in different places, but I thought the best pace to start was my own primary publisher. Since I knew Dreamspinner Press does not publish pure erotica, I went straight to their website. From their submission guidelines:
“Dreamspinner Press seeks gay male romance stories in all genres. While works do not need to be graphic, they must contain a primary or strong secondary romance plotline and focus on the interaction between two or more male characters.” (https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/submissions)
Now, I am well aware there are plenty of LGBT and romance publishers that do publish erotica, so I thought I’d dig a bit further. One of the unfortunate problems with trying to define this is that there seem to be no set publishing industry definitions of “romance” and “erotica.” The best I could find was some background on the differences, per a couple of other romance authors and other industry members.
Sylvia Day said, “Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship…”
“Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and could easily be removed or “toned down” without damaging the storyline.” (http://www.sylviaday.com/extras/erotic-romance/)
(Please note: I firmly believe that any sex included in a book should be there because it does something for the story, either character development or plot movement. That said, in romance, the story still should not fall apart completely if you don’t show the couple’s whole sexual progression. There are levels, including erotic romance—like my Golden Collar series—where this doesn’t apply in the same way, but it still passes the litmus test I found.)
What I came to, in the end, was that the single distinctive difference was a simple question:
“What drives the story?”
In my research, I found in a number of places where erotica isn’t expected to have an HEA. The Romance Writers of America says for a story to be considered a romance, it should have “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” They go on to define that optimistic end as having “emotional justice and unconditional love.” (https://www.rwa.org/Romance)
Beyond the happy ending—or lack thereof—many types of erotica may not even include a primary relationship, and instead is more about one person’s sexual journey. One prime example of this is the Beauty series by Anne Rice (under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure). While there is a happy ending at the end of the series, the story is about Beauty—and her sexual journey—not a specific relationship she is in.
I have been a firm believer that there is a wide variety of heat in romance novels. Everyone has their taste. Some want to read the sex, others want to skim. I’ve been in the mood for lighter stories (with less sex) and some that are essentially one sex scene after another. Both have their place. I don’t believe a romance requires sex, but what I found in my research also says that having it certainly doesn’t automatically make it erotica, either.
In the end, it still comes down to what drives the story. Is it the sex? Or is it the relationship?
Many years ago, when my children were little and my youngest son was in the fourth grade or so his class did a project for Thanksgiving about what they were grateful for. One of the things on his list was that we always had a phone and our utilities were never shut off.
That was a real WOW moment for me.
There was a time that broke was a step up in the world. However, there was never a time we didn’t have a home, or heat or food. Sometimes the home was a tiny apartment that we squeezed into and the food was hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly.
Things are a bit different now. My kids are a dog and cat. More months than not I rob Peter to pay Paul and something is always paid late. But, it all gets paid.
I still have a home–one I own now. I have a car, something I couldn’t always afford. The neighborhood I live in is much better, and I can buy groceries.
These changes are a result, in part, of the fact I now publish books. People pay for those books, which has added to my income. I’m extremely grateful for that extra income and it makes a huge difference in my life.
Along the way from published to royalty check there are a number of people who help authors out free of charge. They give their time and energy to creating blogs where books can be showcased, increasing exposure. They offer reviews, post interviews and run contests.
These blog owners and their reviewers help my career as an author a lot. So, when one of them asks for help raising money for a worthwhile charity there is no way I’d refuse.
See, there are an awful lot of people who, through no fault of their own, don’t have a home, or enough to eat. They might face bullying because they’re part of the LGBTQ+ population. Maybe there are health issues they face and don’t know where to go for treatment.
The point is for many young people times are bleak and they may feel suicide is their only option.
Which it’s not.
I have always liked to give back, be it with my time, my money or something else. I don’t have a lot to offer in the way of financial support, but I do have books to contribute.
When one of the blog owners I work with regularly put out a call for a fundraising project I jumped at the chance.
Kim from Kimmer’s Erotic Book Blog came up with the idea to sell bundles of books at a discount and donate the proceeds to the Trevor Project, which supports LGBTQ+ youth in the United States.
I’m willing to bet everyone reading this post buys books. Here’s a great way to help someone less fortunate, get your book fix, and maybe try a new author. (ppsssttt…my book is the first one in the picture, Gone Away.)
It’s important to give back, even when you don’t feel very fortunate yourself. There is always someone worse off.
Something I’m often asked is how much research I do for my stories.
It’s a good question. I adore research. I’ve been known to dive into the rabbit hole and not come up for air for months. I spent weeks researching The Battle Of Britain to write a simple dream sequence for The Boys of Summer, and what I learned made me determined to share some of the essence of what those young pilots experienced in defence of their country–far beyond the intended scene.
I used my own experiences as an event rider when writing Fool’s Gold, a story set in Olympic level sport horse competition. I once wrote a story about a main character who suffers a spinal cord injury, and immersed myself in both medical texts and the writings of survivors of such injuries.
When I decided to write a series of stories with FBI agents as characters, I knew I needed more than my love of shows such as Bones, NCIS, or The X-Files to give me a feel for how crimes are investigated (even if there is a paranormal element). Among other books, I read A Very Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI by Frank Buttino. I also read books on forensics, profiling, and true crime accounts of hunting serial killers. My wish list on Amazon has everything from bloodspatter analysis to books on training cadaver dogs.
I had a terrific time and I learned a lot. I would definitely go again, given the chance. Because the first thing you need to know about Writer’s Police Academy is that you simply can’t fit it all in on one trip. There are too many courses, there’s too much information and too little time. It was a jam-packed weekend, but that’s a good thing. Think of it like a continuing education seminar in which four different courses are offered at the same time and you have to choose which to attend. It means you have to come back!
The second takeaway lesson I got from WPA is that there’s a reason you’re drawn to certain things. Given I have more of a medical background than the average person, I decided to avoid much of the crime scene courses and concentrate instead in areas where I had little experience, such as ballistics or arson. But shortly into the first day, I realized that I had a natural affinity for some things, and that by avoiding them, I was actually turning my back on the kinds of things I was not only interested in, but most likely to include in a story. I rapidly reassessed my schedule and changed it accordingly. I also changed it when I heard a particular class was good or fun. The great thing about WPA is most courses were offered more than once, with a couple of exceptions. That meant you could pick up something the next day that conflicted with a different lecture before.
So while I took copious notes at the speed of light (just like being in school again), what I really got out of the lectures was a better sense of what I wanted to know more about (and where to find out more about these subjects) and potential contacts for questions among the speakers, many of whom were happy to give out their emails to answer any questions that might arise about procedure, etc.
WPA is held in Greenbay, WI. The venue was pretty amazing. The hotel was a stone’s throw from the airport, and the amenities pleasant. WPA works in conjunction with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to put on the Academy every year, drawing on the lecturers from the college and volunteers to put on a great program. They also get some pretty amazing authors as keynote speakers for the big dinner at the end of the weekend. Tami Hoag and Lee Goldberg were the 2016 speakers. Ms. Hoag in particular was delightful, but I regret to say I could barely keep my eyes open by the time Saturday night rolled around. The buses rolled out at 7 am, which meant you had to have grabbed breakfast and be ready to roll. Classes were scheduled tightly, and sometimes the logistics of choosing to attend two different lectures on opposites sides of campus left you running in August heat for a bus to take you to the next class–or just running, period.
Snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water, and a jacket for when you’re in air conditioning were all essential, as were sensible shoes. And don’t forget your camera! For those who arrived early on Thursday afternoon, there was a prison tour, as well as a special ops demonstration of equipment and police dogs in the parking lot coinciding with registration. I confess, I found the heat debilitating after my long flight, so I probably didn’t take full advantage of the demonstrations.
Our first day started out with a bang–as we rolled into the campus parking lot, we were greeted with a major accident. Two cars were involved. There was at least one obvious fatality and several serious injuries. Some people were still trapped in one of the vehicles, and the driver of the van appeared to be under the influence.
As we watched, police and rescue vehicles came roaring in and took over the scene.
We got to see the ‘jaws of life’ in action, as well as watch as the police put the impaired driver through sobriety tests and then arrest her when she failed. The procedures were narrated throughout so we could hear as well as see what was going on.
Then to our amazement, a helicopter arrived to airlift out the victims!
And that was all in the first hour! You can see why it will take me several posts to go through my experiences at WPA. I want to give as much detail as I can, as it will help solidify the information learned for me as well.
In the meantime, the newly expanded version of Unspeakable Words (Sixth Sense Series Book One) was released on March 1o, 2017! You can check out the series and see while I thought Writer’s Police Academy was such a great idea.
Well, hello there again and thank you for stopping by my little corner of Authors Speak at Rainbow Gate!
Writing professionally requires certain things and not all of them pertain to the technicalities of putting words together to form a story. Sometimes writers have to make choices about what to write. There is the hard reality that we have to make a living as well as writing what we love.
There is absolutely no reason one can’t do both.
That choices can be difficult if one isn’t willing to expand horizons and change a bit. However, there are a lot of choices and with a bit of thought it’s easy to discover there are other stories that need writing.
I’ve always said I’m a serial offender. I write in series. Series have much to offer in the way of extended plots and character development. It’s my writing as well as reading preference.
However stand alone books have a great deal to offer as well. Some stories don’t need four or six books to complete. There are readers who’d prefer a story be told with the covers of one book.
I decided it’s time to switch gears and write more stand alone stories. Some discussion with Lynn West, Dreamspinner Press editor in chief, helped me decide on a good direction to pursue.
Romantic suspense will still be part of my line-up, though I think the Circles series has come to an end. The next mystery will be a full length novel with more development and probably a more complicated plot. However, my mysteries will be in the same high action/adventure (sometimes in the wilderness) style as the Circlesmysteries. I’ll still be working on The Vampire Guard, however it’ll be my ‘written for me’ side pet project stories. Sentrieshas been completed, though I may offer free stories on my website from time to time.
This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve taken a new path. I’ve always tried to live by the adage “I’m nothing if not adaptable”. Honestly, every change of direction for me has always been a good one. I’m excited over this change.
Coming soon, awaiting contract decision and in the works are two Dreamspun Desires books, a BDSM featuring an ice dancer and a hockey player. Of course there is a murder mystery planned, it will take place in Wrigleyville. There may also be a scifi romance in the future.
I hope you’ll join me in my new writing adventure!
I’m always excited and happy to take requests from readers, so if anyone has a plot bunny bouncing around you’d like to share please let me know!
PS…you can find all my books on my website, click on the banner below.
There is also a great new repository site for finding Quiltbag/LGBTQ+ books. Check out Queeromance Inc.
Sorry, I’m a bit late getting here today. I’ve been working a number of things, not the least of which is trying to put some blog posts in the bag so I can get ahead of my commitments for a change. Among other things, I’m putting together a series of posts about my experiences at Writer’s Police Academy last summer, which I plan to share here. As soon as I can decipher my notes, that is!
In the meantime, I’m delighted to share with you the brand new look for the Sixth Sense series!
You might be asking yourself why anyone would relaunch an old series wit a new look? I’m glad you did! On the surface of it, it probably doesn’t seem to make much sense. A little backstory is necessary.
Unspeakable Words was the very first major story I submitted for publication back in 2010. I did it on a whim, really. I had no expectations of it being accepted by Dreamspinner Press or winding up on their bestseller list for over a month! I’ll be honest, when I got the acceptance email I was flabbergasted–and came very close to snatching the story back from them. I was afraid if I did, however, I would blow my one chance to be a published author. I’ve always wished I’d trusted my instincts and held out for the opportunity to flesh the story out the way I saw it in my mind.
There was an unfortunate delay between Unspeakable Words and the next installment, Walk a Mile. Some of it was inexperience on my part, some of it was as a result of life getting in the way. When I submitted Walk a Mile, I don’t think anyone realized that I’d jumped from a long novella into novel format. I didn’t think anything of it myself–not until I began running into people who didn’t want to buy the paperbacks because the first in the series was only available as an ebook. Truth and Consequences rolled on in the same novel format–it was only Unspeakable Words that didn’t fit the lineup.
So I went to Dreamspinner and asked if it would be possible to expand Unspeakable Words into the story I’d always meant for it to be. They said yes–and then suggested revamping the series look for the revised version. I’m delighted to announce that not only has L.C. Chase done a bang-up job of capturing the essence of these stories–which I was far more capable of conveying due to developing the skills I needed as an author–but you can now pre-order the expanded, revised version of Unspeakable Words! Release date March 10, 2017.
I hope you’ll enjoy revisiting these guys as much as I have–I’m working on the fourth (and final) installment now, tentatively titled Deal with the Devil.
Recently, I found out the hard way what you can expect in a battle to defend your copyright.
First, let me put a disclaimer here: this information, to the best of my knowledge, only applies in the US. You should check into the regulations within your own country.
I’ve posted extensively on my website about the conflict I got into with Amazon over my right to publish A Summer Fling, but I’ll share the highlights with you here: a short time ago, I updated some information in my bio on a long-standing free short story on Amazon.
The next day, I received an email from KDP saying that prior to my submission they’d received a complaint and takedown notice from a third party and they declined to re-publish the story. A story that had been available for the last three years. I was given four days to prove I was the author of the story in question or face a lifetime ban from publishing on Amazon.
I was aghast. My initial thought was I’d done something wrong with the file changes. I contacted friends, who assured me this wasn’t all that unusual, and that Amazon was getting tougher about establishing copyright due to copyright claim jumping as well as people stealing the pen names of established authors to publish their own stories. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.
This is a good time to state here that in the US, copyright is conferred at the time the work is created, and it is not necessary to register it with the copyright office to claim copyright or even defend that copyright in court. Is *is* necessary, however, if you intend to sue for damages due to copyright infringement. I have since learned that having your works registered will go a long way toward defending your copyright in many cases without going to court–something most of us would probably prefer. I also believe in this age where theft of digital products is on the rise (funny how everyone wants access to the end product but few want to pay the actual creator of these works…), it behooves us as authors to think proactively about our stories.
From the US copyright office:
1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.
That said, I was able to provide Amazon with ample proof that I was the copyright holder of the story. I sent in the original draft (written in 2011), as well as links to where it appeared as a free story online during a fest, and then the 2013 Smashwords creation. I also, for good measure, retroactively registered the copyright and provided Amazon with that case number. Satisfied there was no way anyone could contest I was the author of A Summer Fling, I sent the email and dismissed it from my mind.
Only the next communication changed everything. Amazon no longer disputed that I had written the story. The problem was some third party claimed I didn’t have a right to publish the story. WTH?
This was no longer a case of random copyright theft. The number of potential claimants in this case was quite small. Two as a matter of fact. The first party contacted Amazon on my behalf and received a generic email response that told her nothing.
A fourth refusal from Amazon to re-establish the story included a generous invitation to continue publishing with them in the future–and a suggestion to hire a copyright lawyer. In the meantime, I’d been on the phone with Author Central and KDP, and I’d forwarded Jeff Bezos all my communications with KDP–including a statement from a now-defunct ebook retailer (who happened to have closed doors 24 hours before this problem arose) showing they had no publishing rights to my story. Because now I’m suspicious. Highly suspicious.
And then suddenly, I receive an email from Amazon stating ‘on further review’ they’ve decided to reverse their position and put the story back up again. No explanation. I have no idea if it was my loud persistence, the intervention of one of the two possible claimants, or my contacting Jeff Bezos about the matter that resolved it.
I doubt that copyright registration would have made a difference in this case because this was about publishing rights, not copyrights. But I will definitely be registering my previous and future stories with the copyright office as an extra layer of protection.
I will also download copies of *every* agreement signed to allow distribution of my stories. I was fortunate to still have access to a copy of the ARe agreement, even though I don’t know if they were the source of the conflict.
The takehome message here is to be proactive in defending your works. I was facing hiring a copyright lawyer to determine if a free story was being blocked by accident or a malicious attempt to lay claim to all my self-published stories. You can see why I had to seriously consider hiring that lawyer.
Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a large dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.
Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.
If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.