Overall, I enjoyed “All This Could Be Yours” by J.V. Speyer. It had a lot going for it. This is an enemies-to-lovers interracial mafia romance, lower on the spicy scale, which was refreshing. Straightlaced FBI agent Maddox Price goes undercover, posing as the boyfriend of a mob kingpin’s son, Tanner, who’s openly gay and wants to rat out his family, at Tanner’s brother’s wedding. I liked how the fake dating premise and the paranoia of Tanner’s family with the constant surveillance added tension and depth to their relationship.
This story had a lot going on. I expected Tanner’s trauma to be overwrought and the portrayals of his mobster family to be over-the-top stereotypical, but the author didn’t go the one-dimensional route, which I appreciated. I did not however buy that an FBI agent like Maddox, committed to seeking revenge against the mob his whole career, would suddenly switch to falling in love with a mobster after a week of feeling sorry for Tanner and his stories of the things that he had done. It needed better defined character motivations. Despite the instalove, I thought the characters were interesting. I just expected him to have developed feelings and maybe wrestled with that a little more than he did.
I also questioned the author’s legal research; they kept going on about how people couldn’t be convicted of crimes if they were committed under duress and I question their understanding of the law. Just a quibble as someone who works in the legal field; little details like that can throw me out of the story.
Despite my reservations, I found this an entertaining read with a plot arc that kept me interested to the end. I liked the growth of their relationship overall and the chemistry between them; if you don’t mind surface infatuation turning on a dime to instalove you may like this book even more than I did. It was a satisfying plot arc with a nice balance of action and romance. The author’s writing voice was engaging and the story was easy to follow. I’d read more books by this author.
I’m not usually a fan of Omegaverse stuff. Although I find it intriguing, I also find the physiology bizarre and the mind of whoever invented this subset of werewolf lore is seriously twisted. If you don’t know, Omegaverse is a type of shifter-focused fantasy fiction that came from Supernatual fandom, because of course all twisted things come from Supernatural fandom. It involves a complicated hierarchical culture with Alphas, Omegas and Betas, psychic mating bonds and bizarre rituals, including male pregnancy – not trans men, but men with uteri. If you google an explanation of the so-called biology it is quite bizarrely complicated.
At any rate, I usually don’t like Omegaverse stuff because by and large it is fairly awfully written. The same old storylines and tropes. But I was intrigued by this series because the universe was so different; the idea of a dystopian hellscape in which werewolves and humans battled it out for dominance and experimented on each other drew me in. And it did not disappoint.
“Love and War” by E.M. Lindsey is the story of two prisoners in a human lab, the Alpha werewolf Kor and the human Misha, who help each other escape and join Kor’s wolf pack to plot revolution. This is a dark romance between the two with unsettling, deep themes that the author handled sensitively. Misha was experimented on by his father and genetically altered to be an Omega – not quite wolf, not quite human, and nobody is sure whether he’ll survive the change, or a mating bond with an Alpha wolf. But the two are inextricably drawn to each other.
The characters and the strong, engaging writing voice in this story kept me interested throughout the book. The worldbuilding in this was rich and beautifully imagined. I loved the idea of a battle-scarred general losing his sight and being forced to navigate leadership and a first-time mating bond while blind. I also liked how they handled Misha as an Omega; instead of making a docile, weak partner, Misha was complex and layered, someone who stood up to his mate and was a historian and philosopher, a soft counterpart to Kor’s recklessness.
The heat in this was quite spicy and I thought the sex scenes were well done. This series does have mpreg in it, which is normally a squick for me, and I fully expected to be weirded out by Omega sex. But the smut was well written and the pacing was spot on.
I’d read more of this series and by this author. The characters and the storytelling are what make this book unique.
I never expected to be so charmed by a hockey romance as I was by “The New Guy” by Sarina Bowen. In my search for any self-published books that are good, different and not about vampires, I’ve landed on some genres and topics I’d never normally read. Hockey, for example. I wanted to read contemporary, I’m trying to broaden my reading of gay romance and I stumbled across this new release on Amazon. I don’t even like hockey, but I really liked this book.
“The New Guy” is a steamy romance with spice about a hotshot hockey player who keeps getting traded, Hudson Newgate. His teammates call him “New Guy,” a nickname that sticks. He lands with Brooklyn for a new season. One night, to let off some steam, he winds up at a bar does something he hasn’t done in awhile, flirts with an attractive guy. Turns out this guy is his new neighbor, and even worse – his team’s new athletic trainer. And Hudson’s deep in the closet as a bi guy. Gavin, too, comes with baggage of his own; he’s a single dad whose husband died, and he doesn’t know if he can let himself love again.
This is a grumpy/sunshine sports romance with dual first person point of view. At first I thought I’d find the head-bopping startling and it was in the second chapter, but I enjoyed seeing the relationship from each of their perspectives inside their heads. Their voices were each distinct and well done.
I realized what I liked about sports romances and what I find boring about most romances is that the sports aspect gives a backdrop and a setting that makes the romance more dynamic. Most romances use misunderstandings and external melodramatic soap-opera stuff to build the tension, but with sports romances you have the team dynamics and the culture of the game. I liked how the author handled Hudson’s struggle with being open about his sexuality, and how that would impact his professional career. I thought it was sensitively done. Some of the dialogue about his struggles seemed a little talking-points Wikipedia-heavy, like not how normal people might talk, but overall I thought it was handled well.
Overall I loved the romance and chemistry between Hudson and Gavin, and that’s what drew me to this story. I know nothing about hockey but the descriptions of the game and the team culture also struck an authentic tone. This was a lovely, searingly sexy book with great characters that were developed well. Recommended. I’d read more of this author’s work.
“The Devil Wears Prada” meets a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers queer workplace contemporary romance in this lovely novel from Christina Lee, “Undone.”
I’ve been trying to read more indies and I’ve found myself going through a lot of frogs, and not for the reasons people say. Many of them are copy-edited or proofread, but I give up on them because the stories or characters aren’t interesting or realistic. “Undone” caught my attention because of the interesting characters.
This is the story of Shae Shanahan, a 20-something trying to make it in the big city with no clue what he wants to do with his life. He takes a job through a temp agency for a prickly fashion stylist on a talk show, who’s desperate enough to take on an assistant who’s clumsy, indifferent about fashion and can’t even sew a button. Shae learns to navigate Rowan’s moods by giving back snark, and their banter together is delightful.
The first half of the book did a good job of building the slow burn, but not a whole lot happens outside of the office relationship. This is a true workplace romance. Where this book really shines is in the details of working in the fashion industry and the job of a stylist; I could tell the author had worked in the field herself, because it felt quite authentic in a fresh way, without overdoing the infodump which I often find when people have firsthand experience.
I did wish Shae had more character development; he never really changed much beyond small-town fish-out-of-water kid who’s judgmental about rich people, but I found him charming and I enjoyed his chemistry with Rowan. The author was a little too over-the-top with his clumsiness; it was a charming character trait at first, but then she went overboard with the number of times he’d trip over his feet or stumble into things. A little goes a long way. As we grew to understand Rowan better as he opened up to Shae, their seemingly turn-on-a-switch enemies-to-lovers flip made more sense.
I also liked how Rowan was a side – he didn’t care for anal penetration. I don’t see that dynamic often enough in gay romance and I liked how they navigated it and how it had affected his past relationships. Added an element of tension that made the narrative stronger. And I appreciated the single POV; this could have been a dual POV, but I don’t think we would have gotten the same impression of Rowan and how the hate-to-love aspect changed through other people’s perceptions of Rowan and Shae.
All in all, this was a steamy contemporary romance with heart and complex characters, and I found myself peeling back Rowan’s layers along with Shae throughout the story. Really enjoyed this one.
“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Shehan Karunatilaka was a difficult book to read and I expected nothing less. Even grimdark fantasy doesn’t hold a candle to the horrors of real life infused with the supernatural realm. The story is set in 1990 Sri Lanka in a Colombo wracked by ethnic conflict, corruption and bloody civil war. Maali Almeida is a war photographer and itinerant gambler, a closeted gay man at a time and a country when queer identities were infused with trauma and pain. The story starts off with a dead protagonist, on top of all of that, so you know it’s going to be dark.
Maali, painted at first as the politically neutral apathetic character watching the ship burn, has layers to him. He’s always at the wrong places at the right time, snapping photos of dead bodies. Through a kafkaesque in-between purgatory-like existence as a ghost floating between the spirit world and the human world and all the terrors of each, he has seven moons to figure out who killed him and deliver his damning photos to justice. All the while, he has to figure out how to whisper to his best friend, Jaki, and his one true love, DD, to tell the truth after a life of lies and betrayal.
The narrative arc was twisting and meandering, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style I’m coming to recognize from South Asian authors that’s distinctly unlike our Western plot arcs like the hero’s journey. This is a quest of sorts, a hero of sorts, but it’s also an anti-quest, without a destination you might expect, and the hero is an anti-hero, but his story is Sri Lanka’s story, the tale of a country and all its private intimacies and trauma and lies and promises. Sparks of dark humor fly throughout, whether you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry or to rage, but this is a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the trail of corpses of dead babies it leaves behind and the scars of a country searching for a better future.
It was a challenging read but I’m glad I made it through to the end, because it made me think, and it taught me a lot about the history and culture of Sri Lanka in a unique supernatural lens that you don’t see often in Western-focused fiction. A dark and yet somehow hopeful vision of Sri Lanka, held together by blood and sinew and the hope of people who still yearn for justice and peace, by a stunning, prescient Sri Lankan author who is one to watch.
“Age of Vice” by Deepti Kapoor is a sweeping epic of an India reaching toward the future while saddled with the shadows of its past. I’ve read a few chonkers lately that could have been 600 pages instead of 400 but not so with this book. Kapoor’s prose and characters had me hooked from the start.
This is the story of Sunny Wadia, a tragic anti-hero who’s a sort of Indian Gatsby, living under the thumb of his ultra-rich gangster father who runs a seedy chain of liquor stores. It’s also the story of a cast of characters that are all richly drawn, their motives and flaws vividly imagined. It’s his rise as a naive party boy who just wants his father’s love to his fall after he attains the one thing he’s ever wanted, for his father to understand he can be ruthless too.
There are no villains in this story, not really; no winners and losers, just a complicated portrait of pain and tragedy. This was an action-packed thriller but it was more characters and backdrop than defined plot.
Kapoor’s prose was my favorite part of the whole book. Haunting, lyrical, crisp and economical, she had me gutted from each chapter. This is a real tour de force, a gritty, glitzy epic that devastated me. Highly recommend.
Here’s everything I’ve been watching and enjoying on my various streaming services lately.
Warrior Nun – I only just discovered this fun sapphic show with elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately it got canceled after two seasons even after fan outcry so now’s the time to watch it. It’s a thoroughly weird urban fantasy spin on the chosen one trope surrounding a nunnery with a unique, violent mission.
The Protector – A Turkish urban fantasy with another chosen one trope about a man who works at an antique shop in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with a dark supernatural past.
Wednesday – The spinoff of the classic TV show the Addams Family is a fresh take with nostalgic nods to the original. Purists might find Wednesday’s teenage attitude too rebellious but I thought it updated the original in a way the original would have done.
Emily the Criminal – A dark, gritty film about a woman unable to hold down a job who turns to credit card crime to survive.
Emily in Paris – A very different sort of Emily who’s an American who works as a marketing executive in Paris and is always coming up with clever ways to save the day and has romantic adventures along the way. Finally, a show that uses social media that’s not obnoxious about it because Emily’s a marketing exec so of course she would document her life for millions of likes.
The Recruit– A young lawyer and adrenaline junkie takes a job at the general counsel’s office at the CIA and gets more than he bargained for but talks his way out of it anyway.
The Bastard Son of The Devil Himself– A pair of star-crossed lovers finds themselves at the crossroads of a war between Fairborn witches and blood witches, with some poly bisexual action in between. The universe in this show is quirky and different, urban fantasy at its finest, even if it runs to the gory for my taste.
The English – I’ve really been enjoying Emily Blunt’s portrayal of an Englishwoman in the American West forced to join up with a Pawnee and former military man to survive.
Three Pines – A quirky detective show about a bizarre murder in a small town in Canada that is at once both very French and very Quebecan. There is even an old lady who carries a duck everywhere.
James May: Our Man In…– A travel show featuring a funny, quirky, relatable British host who takes the time to learn the language and spends a whole season exploring a country. His takes on Japan and Italy were real and perfectly irreverent. I think the travel documentary as a genre has languished since Tony Bourdain’s death but people like James May and Stanley Tucci are putting their own spins on it.
The Devil’s Hour – A creepy psychological thriller starring Peter Capaldi in which a woman wakes up at 3:33 a.m. every night.
Interview with the Vampire – I can’t say enough about this show. The original gay vampire dads with a fresh modern take.
Dark Winds – A crime thriller set in the 1970s on a Navajo reservation starring tribal police as the investigators, with a noir vibe and supernatural undertones.
The Banshees of Inisherin – A wonderfully written drama about a friendship that is falling apart, a suicidal man in a world of Catholic guilt, at a time on an island off the coast of Ireland when rural life came to a reckoning. Dark comedy and so very Irish.
White Lotus – I have mixed feelings about this show. I keep trying to like it because I love dark comedy with a horror or thriller vibe, but I find the characters unlikable and I think the main dark comedy vibe is the cringe element which I am not a fan of. I keep expecting it to get better because it gets so much hype. I like the idea of it.
The Gilded Age – For fans of Downton Abbey and beautiful period costuming, I just loved this show.
Mare of Easttown – A depressed detective with eternally messy hair, who is played by Kate Winslet so of course I have to watch it, solves crimes in a small town.
His Dark Materials – What if we lived in a world in which we all had our own personal demons and they manifested as animals? This series based on the books by Phillip Pullman follows Lyra, another chosen one child making her way through this mysterious supernatural world trying to find her stolen friend.
I loved this book. “Tell Me How to Be” by Neel Patel is the kind of book that you need to read cover to cover to fully appreciate. It doesn’t have chapters, but it switches between the points of view of Akash Amin, an Indian-American struggling songwriter, alcoholic and closeted gay man, and his mother, Renu, a sharp-tongued strong mama with secrets of her own who’s upending her life to move to London after her husband’s death.
This is one of those books that’s very hard to read because of the realism; both Akash and his mother struggle with their shame and guilt, but over very different truths, and obsess over it over the span of a week in 300 pages. They talk to their loves who got away in the second person as they are narrating this difficult time – in Renu’s case, a man in London who came from the wrong religion and the wrong class; for Akash, his first love, a boyhood crush whose friendship ended disastrously.
I do admittedly get tired of reading queer angst and trauma narratives; I was happy to finally find gay characters not written by straight women, but sometimes it seems like the only things that get published traditionally are narratives over the shame of queerness before the eventual redemption arc. But I forgave this one because the shame was deeply connected to cultural influences. However, I want to read more queer joy – characters who just so happen to be queer, who might struggle and deal with homophobia and are messy people, but they get happy endings, too. I wish we had more narratives like that.
However, all in all, this was beautifully written, and the way mother and son come together and pull apart throughout the book is very lyrically done. I loved the author’s writing style, the depictions of race in America and abroad and even how race can be differently perceived even in cultures that are considered “marginalized communities.” For example, the Indian-American community is not a monolith of people who all think alike and come from similar backgrounds, as is so often popularly portrayed.
Highly recommended for fans of beautiful prose and marginalized characters authentically portrayed.
I thought I’d return to these ramblings about my writing and publishing efforts but not do them weekly; rather, just an occasional series. So I’ve decided to return to my original plan of self-publishing even though I didn’t query very long, and I’m excited about it.
Feels like I’m one of the few authors who’s not interested in querying, though. Maybe one day, if I have the right book, but the way the market is now, I would need to write sapphic books, since these days it’s all about writing characters that share your identity. Vampires and werewolves are an overdone, oversaturated trope and I think agents often reject them as soon as they see them. I even saw a publisher whose guidelines said paranormal romance but no vampires or werewolves or any combination thereof. What else do you write about, selkies? Mediums? More traditional publishers are picking up queer books, and vampires come and go; but it’s always wait and see every three years what an agent or publisher feels like buying in the heat of the moment.
I write the kind of books that fit into familiar favorites and popular genres, but I write anti-tropes that are difficult to market. I could see myself querying 200 agents and spending a year on sub to find the right person who loves my weird stuff and I’m just not sure it is really worth it; nor do I have the patience to chase that gamble even if I know I’m good enough and my book has wider appeal. Even after you land a book deal you still have to move copies or you’ll be in the midlist forever. Many traditionally published authors with several books under their belt that they’ve successfully queried still need day jobs.
Then small presses, you earn 30-40 percent of the royalties, and they do the work of cover art and editing so you don’t have to invest in that upfront yourself. But many of them rely on their authors for their exposure, you have to do all the marketing yourself, and you can’t track and guide sales plans as easily as if you were doing it yourself. I’d rather query or self-pub than go with a small press, personally. This, even though small presses are friendlier to edgier, riskier topics and subgenres that major publishers won’t touch. Half are vanity presses, poorly run out of the owner’s pocket, and nothing more than social clubs that won’t last for more than a few years, anyway. You can usually tell by their business model, by their website and by their marketing plans. Many, though, are completely legitimate and have an important place in the market.
So self-pub it is. I like the idea of creative control, and the fact that I know I’m good enough and my book has wide appeal means to me that I think it has a good chance to sell more than the average of 150-200 copies if I market it right. I’m finishing up final edits now; my editor finished his major edit, and now we are checking it for continuity issues. This is the dark werewolf m/m romantic suspense novel.
Then I’ll figure out cover art; I may invest in an illustrator or do the cover art myself as I’m a photographer and have graphic design knowledge; I haven’t decided. I bought Atticus for formatting. I’m researching marketing and launch strategies. I’m going through several different drafts of my back cover/sales blurb, which is very important for marketing self-pub books. Then to figure out ARC copies and a release date. I am getting so close to pushing this baby out into the world.
I’m about 62k words into Book 2, as well, which focuses on halfbreeds and a side character, Eamon, and his love story with an FBI agent, Isaiah, who has a child whose mother was killed.
In other projects, I’ve decided to work on multiple WIPs this month to see what lands. I’m still working on my sapphic romantic psychological thriller from NaNoWriMo; I’ve got about 24k words in that one. I started a new m/m steamy contemporary fake dating romance about a guy who comes out as bi whose new gay friend is helping him get comfortable with his sexuality; problem being, he’s socially awkward as hell. I’m about 9k words in that one and constantly daydreaming about it so I think I’ll stick with it.
That’s about it for writing and publishing news. Until next time.
One of the things I always hear from writers who want to dump Twitter when Instagram is suggested, “I’m a word person. I don’t do visual content.”
When really, that’s their first mistake, in thinking of it as “visual content.” When you say “visual content” you think you have to have a fancy DSLR, frame a shot with good composition and lighting, and engage in high-class production values. That sounds like a lot of work. When you’re tweeting, you’re also producing content, but you don’t think of it as marketing content because you’re tweeting about your day, chatting to your writer friends, or posting your word count.
Instagram is much the same. In fact, professional photographers struggle to use it because it wasn’t set up for professional photographers. You have to practically hack it to get it to work on your desktop. Slick, professional shots don’t do well in the algorithm. Instagram was originally envisioned as a place for friends to share pictures of their day. They didn’t need to be professional “visual content.” Think snaps of your garden, your food, books you’re reading; I use it to hold myself accountable with my new gym habit I’m hoping to form.
Most of all think of your audience. What does your audience consume? Is your audience even on Instagram? Maybe you don’t need it, if your audience isn’t there. Instagram is all about the aesthetics. Memes sometimes work. But snippets don’t play as well here. No one wants to go to your profile and scroll through a grid full of blocky word pictures. They want to see you, even if you’re not a model. I see a lot of nerdy types on Instagram, so don’t think you have to be skinny and hot for your selfies to get attention. If you’re a horror writer, take spooky, moody shots of your street at night, for example. It’s all about the vibes. And you don’t need a fancy camera. You just need your phone, and to hold your hand steady so you take a non-blurry shot.
But some of my grainiest, poorest lit photographs, too, will get more likes, because people respond to the heartfelt caption. Captions are huge too. Instagram is about words as well as visual content. And you can still post your word counts here; just go to Canva, pick a template, and make it pretty. Don’t forget alt text for the visually impaired. Just please make it pretty. Instagram is all about the pretty aesthetics. It’s where you go to relax from the politics, controversy and arguments on Facebook and Twitter, by scrolling through meditation prompts, pictures of the Northern Lights or even hot people.
Reels are also huge; they started as Instagram’s competition to Tiktok. If you’re stuck with reels, just repost your Tiktok videos. It’s part of the culture; lots of people do that and you won’t be looked down on for cross-posting, since Tiktok and Instagram users often are not the same. Posting reels and stories will help you get boosted in the algorithm because you’re using all of the service’s features.
Most of all it works like any other algorithm-based social network. The more you like and comment on other people’s posts and stories, the more visibility you will attain. It’s slower to build on Instagram because people aren’t as interactive as Twitter and its word-based alternatives. But there is an audience who uses Instagram and no other platform. They tend to be Millennial age, because we grew up using Instagram before Facebook bought it, after we got sick of Facebook when all our parents and grandparents joined up for baby pictures.
Just take a look at the #bookstagram tag and see what genres are popular. YA, fantasy, women’s fiction and romance do well on Instagram. Hashtags also help raise visibility but if you use too many you just double up on tags – and your caption will look ugly. Pick a few and make sure to share your latest posts to your stories so people know how to find it.
Thus wraps my top Instagram tips for writers; hope this helps make the platform seem less intimidating.