Author Interview – L A Witt

comfy chairMy guest today is a best-selling author best known for scorching erotica and erotic romance, writing both M/F as Lauren Gallagher and M/M as L A Witt. Her series of novels – Rules of Engagement, Cover Me, The Distance Between Us, Changing Plans and, with Aleksandr Voinov, The Market Garden – all have an avid following. In addition she has written many standalone works to delight her readers ranging from speculative fiction to steampunk and back via historical and contemporary romance. Her latest release, co written with Aleksander Voinov, is Unhinge the Universe, an exciting historical drama set in 1944.

Welcome L A and thanks for agreeing to the interview.
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Author Interview – Aleksandr Voinov

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My guest today has many strings to his bow with a successful publishing history in both German and English and now, additionally, as part owner of a highly successful publishing house, Riptide Publishing . Aleksandr Voinov’s work has been described as “darkly erotic, filled with gritty, violent, sexy incident” and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take the time to answer some of my questions.

Hi Aleks!

 Aleks: Hi Elin! Thank you for inviting me over for a chat!

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Review: On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

ebook  – 289 pages (approx)

Review by Alex Beecroft

 First Impressions

 I love the cover – all that gold and rigging and lovely ruffly shirts. A proper naval jacket immediately catches my eye, but the piratical scarf and the fact that that’s clearly not a naval ship (with those crows’ nests) already suggests an interesting conflict.

My initial impression that this was going to be a romance between Kit and his delightful fashionable friend Tristan. The two of them had such chemistry that I was quite sad when currently turned-ashore Lieutenant Kit got a job as an elderly gentleman’s valet and set sail for the Leeward Islands. But soon their small merchant vessel is attacked by pirates and Kit is taken captive aboard the Africa, captained by the gentleman pirate La Griffe (Griffin to his friends.)

Kit is gay, but he has all the ingrained prejudices and internalized homophobia appropriate to a naval officer, for whom sodomy is a hanging offence. I liked the fact that he did not experience a sudden inexplicable change of heart on simply seeing Griffin.

I also liked the fact that Griffin is a cut above some romance-novel-pirates, who would think nothing of a bit of dub- or even non-con. I really dislike the whole ‘irresistible alpha male semi-forces himself on other bloke, confident he will like it in the end, and of course he does’ trope. It’s one of the things that generally puts me off pirate novels – all that threat of rape. Fortunately Griffin is too proud to force himself on an unwilling partner, which means that instead we get a relationship of slowly developing respect between the two men.

Kit is put to work doing such things aboard the pirate sloop that he can be trusted to do without sabotaging the ship or damaging his own honour. This gives rise to another of the great joys of the book, which is the fact that even without the m/m romance element this is a wonderful Age of Sail novel. I would almost go so far as to say that it’s an Age of Sail novel with m/m romance elements rather than a m/m romance-novel with AoS elements.

Elin Gregory’s research is impeccable, her scenes of shipboard life are endlessly engaging, full of lively characters, great nautical battles and intrigues and raving sailing. Anyone who has enjoyed Master and Commander, or Hornblower, would enjoy this novel as a thoroughly entertaining bit of historical swashbuckling.

The romance is slow developing, but I think it’s all the more convincing for that. Both men have time to show their finer qualities, which in both their cases are fine indeed. They also have time to work through their issues, making the development of the love between them more easy to believe. By the end, when Griffin is betrayed by one of his own men, it’s just as easy for the reader to be on the edge of their seat with nerves about how he will ever come back as it is for Kit.

Speaking of swashbuckling, there’s something satisfyingly old school about the ending, where by old school I mean ‘reminds me of classic pirate films like Captain Blood’. It’s a delightful twist, completely unexpected at least by me, and yet properly foreshadowed early on, so that when it does happen you go ‘oh, so that’s why…!’

To sum up. I can’t actually think of anything bad to say about this, other than that the pace and emphasis of the story is more that of an Age of Sail novel than that of a romance. To me that makes the book all the better. Lots to read and get your teeth into as well as a proper pace for the psychological journey Kit has to go on. But those who prefer a more wham, bam, thank you man pace may find it a little slow going. My advice would be to relax and enjoy the ride, because what a ride it is.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA | B&N | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

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Author Interview with Adam Fitzroy

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My guest today is Adam Fitzroy, author of five non-erotic M/M romance titles available from Manifold Press. Romances set in the White House, on Flanders Fields and on the border of England and Wales, some contemporary, some historical and some BOTH, have met with critical acclaim.  Thank you, Adam, for so kindly agreeing to answer my questions.

- Hi, Elin; it’s lovely to be invited, thank you!

Elin: You have written contemporary stories and historicals, which do you prefer? Do you find contemporaries easier to write than history?

Adam:  No, not at all.  In fact I’m far more at home with historical subjects, and I think the reason is that I’m a bit of a dinosaur; with contemporary subjects I have to keep reminding myself that the characters will have access to mobile phones, computers, the internet and so forth, and that they will be able to find things out quickly which would have taken a previous generation weeks or even years to discover.  I like a slow pace of storytelling, something that will be an immersive experience for me when I’m writing it and will hopefully be very much the same for the potential reader, and that somehow seems to be at odds with the faster pace of contemporary life.

Elin: When writing historicals, what do you enjoy most about the process? Do you enjoy research for its own sake?

Adam:   I love research; I love solving little problems and discovering how things would have been done in a bygone era.  To me, learning about a ‘new’ historical era is like learning a new language; I need to acquire a lot of information before I can write so much as a single word.  What job or profession would my characters have had, for example, and what would they have earned; how would they have made a journey from Point A to Point B and how long would it have taken them?  I’m also fascinated by historical diet, furniture, houses, clothing … and the fact that, whatever their trappings, human beings are essentially the same and have the same or similar hopes and dreams, fears and failings throughout history.  I love getting inside their heads and understanding their concerns, seeing how like us they are – and, in other ways, how very different.

One place where I draw the line in historical fiction, though, is with language – there is absolutely no point in trying to write historically-accurate dialogue full of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ because it runs the risk of sounding like a bad parody of Shakespeare; a far more straightforward course is to stick to relatively simple English and indicate to the reader by the subject matter they’re discussing that these are not contemporary characters.  Ellis Peters did this to good effect in the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books, which in my view makes it an example that’s very well worth following.

Elin: I’m fascinated to see that you have set a romance in the White House with the President, no less, as one of the protagonists. What inspired that story?

Adam:   I’ve been a bit of ‘Presidency buff’ ever since I was a child, and I love the whole panoply of White House life – the staff, the settings, the prestige and the power – although I must admit that I’m less enthusiastic about the actual politics; I just see the Presidency as the American equivalent of royalty, with similar glossy trappings under which are very often flawed human beings.  I adore movies with a White House background – and as you can probably imagine I’m a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, too – and basically with ‘Dear Mister President’ I set out to write the story of the kind of movie I would really like to be able to sit down and watch.  That’s my starting-point with most of my books, in fact; I try to write something that would be entertaining to me if someone else had written it.

Elin: Your novel Make Do And Mend is set during the early part of the Second World War in rural Monmouthshire. Can you explain why you chose such an unusual place to set the story instead of a more glamorous location?

This farmhouse, the site of a former youth hostel, is the site Adam chose for the fictional Hendra.

Adam:   There were two main reasons; one was that – as far as I knew – nobody had ever done it before, but the other was the old advice about ‘writing what you know’!  The location where the story is set is not a million miles from where I live, and I often pass through it by train – which you might think would lead to a superficial acquaintance with the area at best – but I’ve been doing so on a regular basis since the 1980s and it’s sunk in gradually, somehow, by osmosis.  I’ve also covered a lot of the same ground by car and also on foot, I should add – I walked the Wye Valley some years ago – and read up quite a lot about it.  Eventually I became fascinated with one particular valley, one particular road, one particular location … and over a period of several years the story of Harry and Jim slowly took shape in my mind.

Looking back towards the Hendra from the road to “Sermon Pass”

 

Elin: I can understand that Adam. It’s one of my very favourite places. Now, could you give me a reading recommendation, either in your genre or out of it? The type of book you would wade through a flood to rescue.

If you enjoy reading about men coping heroically with impossible situations you will enjoy this book.

Adam:   There is one book above all others that always springs to the forefront of my mind when this sort of question is asked, and it’s the one I would take to the legendary BBC desert island with me – Nicholas Monsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’.  It’s probably the book that’s had the profoundest effect on me since the day I sneaked my father’s copy out of his bookcase when I was a teenager.  Monsarrat’s unsentimental style, his eye for detail and his characters – together with the overwhelming conviction that he has been in these places and seen these things for himself – combine to produce not only a powerful and absorbing narrative but also, looked at in another light, an example of the kind of book I would give my eye-teeth to be able to write.  He portrays, strongly and convincingly, the sort of devoted relationships between men that are all about love and not even remotely about sex; Erikson and Lockhart, for example, are closer to one another than they are to the women in their lives – and there’s Ferraby and his affection for his young friend Rose, too, which I’ve always found extremely moving.  I must confess that the surnames Lockhart and Ferraby appear in ‘Make Do And Mend’ as a direct tribute to ‘The Cruel Sea’, which some readers may have spotted.  Other favourites may come and go over time, but this is one book that will most definitely remain with me forever!

Elin: What’s next from the pen/word processor of Adam Fitzroy? Can you tell us about it or do you refer to keep the details to yourself until the work is finished?

Adam:   I’ve recently started – and it’s giving me a bit of trouble at the moment – a book about two male teachers of different ethnicities who meet and fall in love while working in a school in the East End of London in 1966.  They bond over trying to create – completely from scratch – a school cricket team, using the most unpromising materials.  Cricket is among my many enthusiasms, and in a way it’s odd that I’ve never written anything about it before, but of course it offers an ideal meeting-point for people from completely different cultural backgrounds.  I would like the book to be about unconscious prejudice of all sorts – whether originating in race, gender, age, social class, sexual orientation or anything else – but hopefully not ‘preachy’ in any way; it’s enough, I think, to show that sometimes people’s unthinking predispositions can be overturned, and it needn’t be by any great dramatic revelation – just gradually learning a little bit more about their fellow human beings.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Adam:   This is from ‘Make Do And Mend’ – the air-raid sirens have gone off during the village Christmas Dance, and the characters are sheltering in the crypt of the church:

Like all such occasions, it was almost fun at first; they crowded together in the vault, and it soon became warm enough to be comfortable, and for quite a while there was nothing but silence overhead.  Someone had brought over a set of dominoes and the top of a long-deceased Lyon’s slab tomb was turned into a table where the game was played with great enthusiasm; Gwen and the ward sister – her name was Hilda, it transpired – were deep in conversation; Blanche leaned against Kitty and fell asleep, and Kitty in turn leaned against Jack.  Harry, under some obscure compulsion not to rest even for a moment, circulated slowly like the host at a particularly unsuccessful party; he and the vicar, working together as if they had rehearsed it, stepped gently over stretched-out legs, found Alka-Seltzer and headache tablets and extra blankets, distributed magazines and sandwiches and light conversation wherever appropriate.  By the end of the first hour, however, when optimism had turned to resignation and novelty had already begun to pall, there began to be a minor rumble of discontent amongst the ranks.  People had already started to talk about making a dash for it back to their own homes – to pets shut in, to children being looked after by neighbours – when the sounds of approaching violence became audible in the distance.  Parry ARP, out in the graveyard with his fellow wardens, twitched the curtain aside to say “Here they come”, and husbands pulled their wives closer to them and friends pressed tightly against one another’s shoulders in order to be in contact with someone, anyone, in a time of fear.  The church may well have stood for a thousand years before tonight, but it would be no proof against a direct hit; if that happened, there would be a thousand years of solid masonry and carved oak down around the ears of the shelterers in an instant.

Harry’s father had been killed in just such a way, barely eight months before, when seven hundred German bombers had torn out the historic heart of London; crushed in the ruins of the library at Gray’s Inn, he had died surrounded by the things and places he had loved the most.  Harry, however, could not simply stand still and wait for the same to happen to him.

“I’m going outside,” he said quietly to the vicar.

Eltringham glanced assessingly around the vault; Gwen and Hilda were looking calmly in their direction, but nobody else seemed to have a single thought to spare for either of them.

“All right,” he replied.  “I’ll come with you.”  And they pushed through the blackout, up the twisted stairs, emerging into the chill graveyard where they joined Parry ARP in a little sandbagged redoubt tucked into the angle between nave and transept.  There was already an ominous droning in the air, accompanied by a series of far-off thuds that certainly betokened nothing good.

“They’re coming up the railway line,” said Parry.  “From Pontypool.”  And even as he spoke the separate impacts drew nearer, stitching along the valley with an almost paralysing slowness, bombs falling repetitively one by one by one in a long and deadly rhythm, flashes of light sometimes perceptible where they fell.  “It’s mostly farmland over by there,” he added hopelessly.

“What can I do?” asked Eltringham, in a distracted tone.  “Whatever can I do?”

“Pray, vicar.  That’s all any of us can do.”

“Mr Parry, I’ve been praying continuously since 1939!”

“Well, sir,” replied the warden, “no offence, but I’m afraid it isn’t working.  Maybe you’d better start praying a little bit harder?”

The engine note was clearly identifiable now.  “Heinkels,” said Harry.  “I just wish there was a moon.”

“And I wish there was no war,” responded Eltringham, gripping his arm above the elbow with bony fingers that dug in and stayed clamped there as the thundering menace drew closer, juddering in the tight air, vibrating through ground and stones and bones and blood and souls.

“They’re going over the mountain,” Harry realised at the last moment.  “Over Hendra.  Over the quarry.”

They were above the village, two of them, three, maybe more, ripping holes in the sky, dropping fire from a great height, screaming from darkness into darkness leaving chaos and death behind them.

Somewhere high up on the mountain flames blossomed and rose quickly, and then were gone.

“Jim,” said Harry.

Idiotically, he began to run.

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You can buy Make Do and Mend here:

http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Follow me at the following sites.

Adam’s blog:  http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Adam’s LJ:  http://adam-fitzroy.livejournal.com/

Adam on GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3513066.Adam_Fitzroy

Adam’s Author Page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Fitzroy/e/B00BF045YG/

I’m afraid I don’t do either Facebook or Twitter … still too much of a dinosaur!

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Many thanks for joining us today, Adam, and good luck with the WIP.

Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

France, 1915

Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.

When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…

ebook and audiobook- 18,000 words

Review by Erastes

Anyone who has read and likes Charlie Cochrane will be expecting quality and a sweet romance and you definitely won’t be disappointed in this book. She is consistently good and I always start one of her books with a sense of pleasure. I have to say I ended this one in that state too.

Frank is everything Tom would like to be. He sees the best in things, and can laugh even in the trenches, in the worst of conditions. To do otherwise, he tells Tom would be a road to madness. Tom is much more realistic and finds the war and the conditions next to unbearable.

Such a set-up could be a very hard read in other hands, but Cochrane deals with it well. Somehow she doesn’t lessen the impact of the horror–makes it very clear to us how badly Tom is affected by events that transpire–but it’s dealt with so wonderfully and subtly that it wouldn’t put the most ardent anti-war reader off. It takes skill to do this–a rare skill–which is why most WW1 books are  a much more harrowing read. Tom is living a life not lived; chances never taken, risks never risked and there are instances in his life which therefore he regrets for inaction. And now he’s in the middle of action of a very different sort, he can’t see beyond the end of the next minute.

It’s almost a coming-of-age story, in a way, as Tom has to solve a little but rather satisfying mystery (as the reader should twig onto the truth a long time before Tom) and when he does his life begins to change and he gets the chance to finally risk all for his future happiness.

Told in first person, Tom’s head isn’t the happiest place to be. He suffers (with a good portion of stiff upper lippiness) with a fair smear of depression although he does his duty, even when it’s unpleasant. He doesn’t particularly want to go and see Frank’s family but he does his duty even though the loss of Frank has hit him hard, so hard that only really his parents know how much it’s affected him.

It’s this repression that Cochrane manages to portray so very well. The fact that Tom and Frank had shared a trench and command for a good while but the repression of both men meant that they knew almost nothing about each other–not really–and they couldn’t trust each other enough to let each other know about their secret lives. She really gets into Tom’s mind and is utterly convincing as he unravels the tangle of Frank’s life.

As much as I enjoyed much of the Cambridge Fellows series, I prefer Cochrane’s standalone books. Her writing gets stronger as she finds her style (although she’s just as capable of contemporary, fantasy and historical) and gains strength and confidence in her writing. This is–to my mind–one of the most mature pieces she’s produced, and is romantic enough for those who seek it but thought provoking enough for those who want a more gritty read.

Author’s Website

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Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

All struggling actor Carlo Baresi had to do was pick up a man in a taxi, drive him to the location he specified, then report where he’d taken him. The only problem is, the man isn’t who he claims to be…and they both know it.

Bookstore owner Joe Donnelly has a reputation for helping those in need, but this plan has been a bad one from the second he stepped in. Discovering someone has switched out the taxi driver is one more complication he doesn’t want, especially since Carlo is the kind of distraction that can get a man in serious trouble if he’s not careful.

But the men have something in common other than their mutual attraction. They’re both loose ends, struggling to find out what is really going on.

And murder is always complicated, even when you’re on the same side.. 

ebook  – 144 pages

Review by Erastes

Ms Dean has had me as a fan for a good while, although it’s been a while since she published a gay historical, and I’ve missed her. This was a very enjoyable read I’m glad to say!

I love Noir, I’m a big fan of Bogart and Marlowe and Spade and all that, so I was looking forward to a New York 50’s vibe and in that, I’m afraid, I was a little disappointed. There’s not enough immersion into the era. Dean lost an opportunity here–possibly by sticking to a more traditional for a romance two-POV style rather than a first person narration–in really steeping the story in a Noir feel. Part of the prop shafts for great Noir are mouth watering descriptions of clothes, guns and cars and the reader is short-changed in all these departments. There’s rain, which always adds to the genre, lots of rain and in that respect it’s atmospheric but it could have gone a lot further to really bring out the flavour of the era.

It’s a good plot, although the mystery did confuse me rather, which starts with a great scene of a switched driver and a different contact than the one Carlo was expecting which sets the scene nicely for the growing romance and the mystery. I liked Joe a lot more than I did Carlo–we learn a lot more about him, for a start. He’s beautifully flawed and having tasted tragedy in his life, professionally and personally, he keeps the world at bay. We know much about his character simply from the way he interacts with the people he knows–and doesn’t know. I felt that the “OK, now we are partners” aspect was a tad rushed–couldn’t quite see why Joe would have trusted Carlo quite so quickly, particularly after Carlo violates that trust pretty sharpish.

As for Carlo himself, I didn’t really get him at all. We know very little about him, not his past or his home life, or his past homosexual experiences. I couldn’t really warm to him the way I did Joe because of that, as by the time we are really inside his head he’s entirely smitten with Joe and that’s all he can think about.

The prose is good, as expected with this author, and there are quite a few phrases that were outstandingly beautiful and original which made me bite my lip in jealous fury that I hadn’t thought of this or that analogy or metaphor. The editing needed more work, but I’m used to that with Amber, it’s not a deal breaker, I just wish they’d pull their socks up and get editors who know the right place for a comma.

Once the relationship kicks in, it’s handled nicely and sparingly. The protagonists aren’t forever hard and aching for each other, there’s a major sex scene in the place where you’d expect it, and a glasses-fogging kiss scene which was–for me, at least–was hotter than any sex scene. It takes talent to write gorgeous kisses and not many people can do it as well as Dean.

Sadly, probably in deference to the “M/M conventions” there’s also a long sex scene after the denouement of the mystery which for me was unnecessary and didn’t interest me at all. I can understand the reason why this scene may have been put in, but my rule-of-thumb is: if you can take out the scene and it makes absolutely no difference to the plot, then it shouldn’t be there. This is appease the sex-lovers of the genre, but I found myself skipping through it to get to a rather more “pat” ending than I liked. I felt the true end of the book had actually happened naturally just before the sex scene which was probably why the sex seemed a little shoehorned in, as if the publisher said “One sex scene isn’t enough!!”

However, it is a well-written, well-paced book which I enjoyed reading. It might not be a keeper, but it gets a thumbs up from me. I have to say that the title baffled me though–what does it mean?

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

Author Interview – Lisa Henry

My guest today is Lisa Henry, resident in Australia but her imagination roams the world and the genres from contemporary drama to ancient history. Her work has received glowing reviews and has been picked as The Romance Reviews top picks.

Thank you very much, Lisa for agreeing to answer my questions today.

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Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?

Lisa: I like to know what makes my characters tick, but I never have more than a vague idea of their physical descriptions in my head. I’ll write sticky notes about eye colour, hair colour, and who is taller than who (otherwise I’d get mixed up when it comes to love scenes) but that’s about the extent of it. When I read I usually like to fill in most of those gaps for myself, and I think a lot of readers do. Sometimes when an author reveals their inspiration for a character I’m very surprised. Wait, that’s not how I pictured him at all!

Elin: Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one with masses of action?

Lisa: I tend to write relationship driven stories rather than action, simply because I think I’m better at it. I love reading a great action sequence, but I do find them trickier to write. In an action driven story you have to keep a very tight pace, and one piece of action has to lead directly to the next and so on. In a relationship driven story you’re allowed more space to breathe and reflect, I think, which suits my style more.

Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Lisa: I’m a pantser who is attempting to be a reformed-pantser, but I have found that whenever I attempt to sit down and plot, I get bored with it because I just want to dive right into the writing. So instead of working more at the beginning with plotting, I work more at the end with brutal editing. There is often very little in common between my first and final drafts.

Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?

Lisa: I love villains, but no moustache-twirlers for me. I like my villains to be more complicated than that, and I think it’s important to remember that “evil for the sake of evil” is incredibly rare. Most villains don’t think they’re evil, which makes them much more terrifying. The closest thing I’ve ever written to a moustache-twirling villain would be Vornis from The Island, but even he’s not evil just for the sake of it. He makes examples of the men who cross him because it is necessary in his line of work. He happens to enjoy it as well, but it’s not done without reason.
I think Nero is one of history’s most fascinating and complicated villains, because he really did start out with so much promise and so many good intentions. Because of that, it’s tempting to be somewhat sympathetic towards him: you can see how the people around him poisoned his mind, you can see how tormented he was, and you can see how power corrupted him. That aside, he was a complete monster by the end, and deserved to die.

Elin: Do you enjoy research for its own sake or do you just do what is necessary for each project? What was the most interesting fact you discovered in the course of your research that didn’t make it into your novel?

Lisa: I can get totally lost in research, because it’s all too fascinating. I love learning about how everyday people lived, and I try to get the details right. I have a by-no-means-comprehensive list in my head that I need to check off before I feel comfortable writing about an historical period. It includes things like what did they use instead of toilet paper, what did they use for birth control, what did their shoes look like, what did their houses look like, and what did they eat for dinner? I think you have to know the basics before you can attempt to recreate a world, even if those details don’t make it to the page.

One of the most fascinating things I learned about Ancient Rome that never made it into He Is Worthy — and was never going to, I just got completely sidetracked — was about cosmetic surgery. Yes, in Ancient Rome you could get breast reductions, nose jobs, and eyelifts. The Romans knew about blood and circulation, and even how to reshape cartilage, but given that they didn’t know about germs, or have much in the way of anesthetic, I imagine you would have to be very brave or very desperate to go under the knife.

Elin: Short vs long – which do you prefer to read/write?

Lisa: I prefer to write long, but I’ll read anything. As long as the story pulls me in, I don’t mind if it’s a tiny piece of flash fiction, or War and Peace.

Elin: Would you say that a short story is harder to write than a long one?

Lisa: Absolutely! For me, at least, which is why I generally write long. Short stories require almost a different skill set. They have to be sharper, and neatly honed, if that makes sense. I like that in longer works I can detour a little bit, and see where it takes me. It probably comes back to being a pantser rather than a plotter.

Elin: Put together your ideal team of men – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?

Lisa: I’m going to choose all fictional, since my chances of a happy ending are stronger there. I think Dean from Supernatural would be great in the case of both muggers and alligators, and demons of course, but maybe not fundamentalists. In the case of fundamentalists, I would want a Special Ops team including James Bond, Boromir from The Lord of The Rings, Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, and Jack Bauer from 24. And, just to cover all bases, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Oh, and Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock. I want him planning the entire operation.

I don’t think I’ve left any room for error there…

Elin: “Had we but world enough and time” and no other commitments, is there anything you would write that you’ve been eyeing and putting off because it’s just too big a project?

Lisa: I want to write a series of novels set in the one universe, full of political machinations that would make the Borgias proud. At the moment I’m leaning towards space opera rather than historical, because that way I can do all the world building myself, and fit all the pieces together without having to worry about historical accuracy. But I wouldn’t say I’m putting it off because it’s too big a project — I’m putting it off because I keep getting distracted by new, shiny ideas.

I’m also being plagued by plot bunnies for a sequel to Dark Space, an m/m romance that came out in December. I’ve never written anything before with the intention of writing a sequel, so this feels entirely ambitious for me. But Dark Space has been so well received, and I loved writing in Brady’s voice so much, that I just know I’m going to have to go back to that world.

Elin: Borgias in space? You can put me down for one of those.
When you have been writing a scene, have you ever scared yourself/upset yourself so much that you decided to tone it down a bit?

Lisa: There was one scene in an earlier draft of He Is Worthy that I cut, because it was just too much. I wanted to show Nero’s brutality, so I had a scene written from Aenor’s POV where another slave was turned into a human torch. When I’d finished it was just too horrible, so instead that scene was cut down to the one sentence where Senna is in the gardens and sees the remains of the slave. I didn’t want to shy away from showing how monstrous Nero was, but that scene was just too upsetting.

Elin: I’m very glad you didn’t put that in the book. The little bit you did include was upsetting enough, though necessary, I think, to get across just how perilous a slave’s position was in that society. What are you working on at present?

Lisa: At the moment I’m in the process of editing The Good Boy, co-written with the amazing J. A. Rock, which is a contemporary m/m with a BDSM theme, which will be released around March by Loose Id. I’m currently writing another historical, set in Wyoming in 1870, with the working title Sweetwater. My MC, Elijah, is partially deaf thanks to Scarlet Fever, and finds himself having to choose between two very different men with two very different agendas.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Lisa: I’ll go with Sweetwater, since this site is all about historicals! This is the (very unedited) opening scene:

1870, South Pass City, Wyoming Territory

A spray of blood hit his face like hot rain, and Elijah Carter clamped his mouth shut.
“Hold him! Hold him!”
The rope had slipped when Dawson made the first cut, and the yearling was trying to buck them off now. Elijah and Lovell had it pushed against the fencepost and were trying to hold it there, Lovell against its hindquarters and Elijah shoulder-to-shoulder with the yearling. Elijah didn’t know which of them had the worst end of it. He wasn’t sorry to be out of the way of those back legs, but if the swinging thick skull of the panicked animal collided with his, he’d be in real trouble. Elijah pushed his forehead against the yearling’s neck. Closer was safer, if they could hold it.
Dawson was drunk, probably. His hands shook too much, and they were weak too. He’d been a good butcher once, back when Elijah first started working with him scrubbing the floors and the counters in the shop and doing the deliveries. Then Dawson’s drinking had picked up, and now he couldn’t even slaughter a yearling without fucking it up.
Elijah’s cheek scraped against the coarse coat of the yearling. He smelled blood and dust.
The yearling pitched forward and Elijah’s grip slipped.
“I said hold him, you simple deaf cunt!” Dawson grunted.
Elijah didn’t need to see the shape of Dawson’s mouth in the lamplight to make out the words. He’d heard the insult often enough.
Hot blood washed over Elijah’s fingers. He dug his boots in the dirt, fighting against the struggling animal. The yearling bellowed — a long, high-pitched sound that vibrated against Elijah’s face, his hands. It moved through him, and jarred his bones.
Elijah closed his eyes as Dawson’s knife passed close in front of his face. He hoped Dawson wasn’t drunk enough to take his fingers with the next cut. He hoped the lamp hanging off the fence gave enough light for Dawson to finish the task.
Working in the dark was dangerous, but it had to be done. The beasts were mavericks, brought down from the hills into South Pass City. They had to be slaughtered and butchered under the cover of the night, and served up on dinner plates all over town before the sheriff came asking questions.
Elijah hadn’t seen the faces of the men who’d herded them into town. There had been maybe four of them, all wearing their hats pulled low. In the darkness, they could have been anyone. Elijah hadn’t stared. It was safer that way. He’d stayed out of the way while Dawson had done business with the men, then Lovell had come to fetch him. And here they were.
The yearling bellowed again.
Blood again. A flood of it this time, as free flowing and hot as bathwater poured from a kettle. It turned Elijah’s stomach, and he fought the instinct to pull away.
The yearling sank to its knees and Elijah went forward with it. He could hear its heartbeat echoing inside his skull, in panicked counterpoint to his own. It beat slower, and slower still.
Elijah was slick with blood. He shifted back, his body aching. He kept one bloodied hand on the neck of the yearling, his fingers splayed. It was too weak to struggle now. Its ears flicked back and forth and its eyes rolled.
The yearling’s breath came in short pants. So did Elijah’s. Kneeling together in the dirt, they waited. Blood, black in the night, pooled around them.
Dawson laughed, lifting his arm to wipe his sweaty forehead on his sleeve. The blade of the knife made an arc in the scant lamplight. Dawson’s skin was yellow and puffy these days. His gut was bloated. Elijah had read enough of Dr. Carter’s medical books to recognize it as cirrhosis. Dawson was an asshole, and every day, every drink, he was closer to death. Elijah had more sympathy for the yearling than the butcher.
The yearling sighed, stilled.
Lovell dropped a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “We’re done.”
Lovell never treated Elijah like a fool. Never pulled his mouth into exaggerated shapes to mock the way Elijah spoke. Never laughed at him or slapped him in the head for being slow to understand.
Elijah rose to his feet, bracing himself against the dead yearling. The beast felt more unyielding now than when it had been struggling against them. Dead things always did. The difference between alive and dead was both infinitesimal and immense: the tiny space of only a single heartbeat was as wide as an abyss.
Elijah spat, and wiped his hands on his bloody apron for all the difference that it made.

~.~

Thank you, Lisa, that was terrific.

If you would like to follow Lisa online you can find her blog here, on Twitter as
@LisaHenryOnline and she hangs out on Goodreads a lot too.

He Is Worthy

Rome, 68 A.D. Novius Senna is one of the most feared men in Rome. He’s part of the emperor’s inner circle at a time when being Nero’s friend is almost as dangerous as being his enemy. Senna knows that better men than he have been sacrificed to Nero’s madness—he’s the one who tells them to fall on their swords. He hates what he’s become to keep his family safe. He hates Nero more.

Aenor is a newly-enslaved Bructeri trader, brutalized and humiliated for Nero’s entertainment. He’s homesick and frightened, but not entirely cowed. He’s also exactly what Senna has been looking for: a slave strong enough to help him assassinate Nero.

It’s suicide, but it’s worth it. Senna yearns to rid Rome of a tyrant, and nothing short of death will bring him peace for his crimes. Aenor hungers for revenge, and dying is his only escape from Rome’s tyranny. They have nothing left to lose, except the one thing they never expected to find—each other.

 

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