Holiday writing

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Monday musings for the beginning of the holiday season

By A.J. Llewellyn

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

When I first started writing romantic mystery novels in 2007, my novel, Phantom Lover, sold surprisingly well when it came out in June of that year. I was keen to get my next book published, but my publisher had other ideas. She sent her authors a list of upcoming title releases and I was dismayed to see she’d already filled release dates through the New Year.

I emailed and asked if there was any chance somebody might drop out and one of my books could fill a slot. She said there was always that chance, but I got the feeling this was unlikely.

A week later, she called and asked if I could write a quick Christmas story for a December release. She needed it to be short, around 20k and needed it ASAP since one of her authors had dropped out of her planned holiday schedule.

A Christmas in June

I said yes immediately but had no idea what I would write. A Christmas story in June! I took my dog for a walk because I get my best ideas walking her and it came to me. I’d written two sequels to Phantom Lover but knew they wouldn’t see the light of day until Spring—at least—of 2008.

Since I didn’t want people to forget my two men, Kimo and Lopaka, I came up with what I thought would be a funny, sexy between-the-numbers tale. Fly Me to the Moon was so much fun to write. I played Christmas music and ate Christmas-style fruit cake from the British tea shop around the corner. It was yuletide in my home for the three days it took me to write this book.

It sold very well, launching my career. Since then I’ve written a dozen holiday stories and to be honest, I can write them regardless of the season. I’ve come to understand that publishers require their books well in advance of publication for a variety of reasons.

With holiday books they want them months before the release date so they’re not handling things like last minute final line edits on Christmas Eve.

My favorite holiday other than Christmas, is Thanksgiving (because everybody celebrates it) and until a few months ago I’d never actually written a book around that particular celebration. Not sure why. But I really wanted to write one. It’s been a difficult year for everyone but in California, we’ve been in lockdown since March 17 and I was feeling really sad.

I was going to miss seeing my family and friends and enjoying my aunt’s amazing baked yams (okay, what I was really going to miss was the marshmallow topping on those babies).

Urgent inspiration

A few months ago, after I’d signed up for a Thanksgiving book, I was stuck. What to write? What to write? I sat at my computer working on everything but that story. A friend called, suggesting we drive to Beverly Hills. I thought it was a great idea. We could walk the streets we love so much and maybe find some cake and coffee!

On the way she told me about the house she was thinking about buying in West LA and we passed by it.

I was astonished at the vivid blue-painted front porch, blue trim on the white windows and she said, “Oh, yeah. That’s the haint.”

Say, what?

Haint blue on house in Savannah, GA. Source: Orangebean.com

“Haint. Haint blue. Supposed to ward of ghosts. Big thing in the South.”

You don’t say? I was anxious to get home and Google haints and warding off ghosts. It was rough getting through that afternoon because I was feeling inspired. I raced home when I could and did a boat load of research. I love research. I love myth. I love legends and paranormal romance. I had so much fun concocting Kill the Moon and hope I won’t offend any ghosts or boo hags by bending myth a little bit. I hope you get the chance to read it when it releases on Friday the 20th. I wrote it long before the Thanksgiving holiday, but it was firmly in my heart with every word I wrote.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, and as Andy Borowitz once said, “For those of you who cannot be with family, please resist the urge to brag.”

A.J. Llewellyn

 is the author of over 300 M/M romance novels. She was born in Australia, and lives in Los Angeles. An early obsession with Robinson Crusoe led to a lifelong love affair with islands, particularly Hawaii and Easter Island.

Being marooned once on Wedding Cake Island in Australia cured her of a passion for fishing, but led to a plotline for a novel. A.J.’s friends live in fear because even the smallest details of their lives usually wind up in her stories. A.J. has a desire to paint, draw, juggle, work for the FBI, walk a tightrope with an elephant, be a chess champion, a steeplejack, master chef, and a world-class surfer. She can’t do any of these things so she writes about them instead.

A.J. I started life as a journalist and boxing columnist, and still enjoys interrogating, er, interviewing people to find out what makes them tick.

How to find/friend her:

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter by emailing ajllewellynnewsletter@gmail.com – each month she gives away a free ebook!

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The joys of the greyest month

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Monday musings

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

By Scott Bury

We’ve entered what my neighbor called “the ugliest month.” It’s easy to see what she means: grey skies, naked trees, the bite of the wind.

Hallowe’en is over, the full-on insanity of the holiday shopping season and its excessive decoration and celebration have not started yet. The upcoming observance of Remembrance, Armistice or Veterans’ Day casts its own pallor.

And this year, there are the continuing pandemic and a certain election in one country that add their own tinges.

But there has always been something about November that appeals to me.

Grey following orange and yellow

November is the month for wearing leather jackets and warm sweaters. The month when the winds bring the promise of snow and skiing and skating.

A time of anticipation of other things.

Going out takes a little planning, but not as much as deepest winter: a jacket, shoes or maybe light boots, maybe a hat.

For me, the beginning of fall is a time of new starts. The end of the heat and humidity of summer also releases me from summer languor of the period. I always get ambitious again and start several projects at once: home improvements, new books, new promotion plans.

By November, I can concentrate on one at a time, which allows me to actually complete them.

I’m not alone in this: November is National Novel Writing Month, an annual event where people commit to writing 50,000 words in a single novel between November 1 and 30. That amounts to nearly 1,700 words a day, every day. I did it once, in 2012. The result was One Shade of Red, my spoof of a certain much celebrated and much castigated bestseller.

But the point is this: November, the greyest month, is a month when we can get things done.

So let’s enjoy this time of year. Break out the warm jacket, the waterproof shoes, the hat. Don’t forget your mask!

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When real life blurs into fiction

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Monday musings by BestSelling Reads authors

We asked your favorite bestselling writers how much of their life makes its way into their writing?

The answers are as varied and as entertaining as their books.

DelSheree Gladden

The main areas of my life that show up in many of my books are the Southwest as a setting and the local mythology used in a variety of ways.

Using some of my personal interests and hobbies as character details adds depth.

I love baking, which lent itself to my Eliza Carlisle series, and many of my characters enjoy art or dancing, and reading.

Gae-Lynn Woods

How much of my life shows up in my writing? Quite a bit, and in three specific ways.

The first is from story ideas. Each of my books is the product of a very real experience in my life or the lives of friends or family. The stories end up looking nothing like the experiences they come from, but each is triggered by a real event.

The second way is in setting. The Cass Elliot novels are set in East Texas, where I currently live. Forney County is imaginary, but the pastureland, forest, and architecture in this area flavor each novel. Cass’s home town, Arcadia, is an amalgamation of two local towns.

The third way my life shows up in my writing is through characters. Although Cass Elliot and Maxine Leverman are their own “people,” each contains elements of my personality. Cass has more of my serious side and Maxine ended up with the smartass part of me that refuses to spend time thinking through consequences.

Other characters come directly from my life. For example, the Grove twins are based on my brothers when they were teenagers; the thee ladies of the Lost and Found Detective Agency are women I work with; and Sheriff Hoffner is based on the worst boss I’ve ever had. One character, Hugo Petchard, is a composite of the many annoying, inept people we’ve all had to work with, and he’s great fun to write!

Alan McDermott

My life is all about my books these days. From the moment I wake I’m on my laptop, and often spend 12 hours at it. I take regular breaks and exercise for an hour each morning, and I cook most nights, but the rest of the time is spent staring at the screen.

I wish it wasn’t like this. I wish I could actually write something—anything—instead of just gazing at the last paragraph for hours on end.

I think my next project will be about an author who has writer’s block, so if I don’t make progress I can just tell myself it’s part of the story!

Scott Bury

I like to insert people I know into my stories and novels, and what I’ve found is that my victims, I mean subjects, are delighted with the idea.

For my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth, I based the hero, Javor, on both my sons. He looks like my older son, and has the personality of the younger. Meanwhile, the wise old man of the story, who turns out not to be so wise, after all, is based on an old university professor of mine, many years ago.

Vanessa Storm, hero of the Hawaiian Storm mystery series, is based on my lovely wife, Roxanne. The villains of the first book in the series, Torn Roots, are based on a certain neighbor and an ex-girlfriend, respectively.

Of course, the biographical Eastern Front Trilogy tells the story of my father-in-law, a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War.

I have sprinkled names that readers of this blog may recognize into other books: Corinne O’Flynn, Christine Nolfi and Sam Gilmour, to name three. It’s a lot of fun!

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Bestselling writers love the spooky season

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Photo by Tom Roberts on Unsplash

It’s true: your favorite bestselling authors write scary scenes because they love to be scared, and they love scary things. One love they share is a love of the best holiday of the year: Hallowe’en.

Gae-Lynn Woods

Halloween conjures a fantastic memory from trick or treating when I was a kid. We lived in a little neighborhood in Irving, Texas and made the rounds on Halloween night with our plastic pumpkins and dad in tow. Most of the houses weren’t really decorated, but one house was spectacular! They had spider’s webs. Skeletons hanging in the trees. Spooky music. And a very long path from the sidewalk to the front door.

We bravely made the trip past all the creepiness and knocked. The door swung slowly open with a long creaaaak, and a ghost literally floated down the hall to the front door! Like any sane kids, we scrambled for our dad, who was bent in half, laughing. It took ages before we believed that the ghost was gone and got brave enough to follow Dad up the path to the open door and take a piece of candy from the bowl.

I’d like to say that I’m now a rational adult and understand that the sheet on a wire was a neat trick, but I can see that ghost floating down the hall and still swear it was real!

Raine Thomas

I’ve loved fall and Halloween since I was a kid!

October kicks off three months of holiday festivities…what’s not to love about that?

On top of that, both kids and adults get to dress up and play pretend, setting aside reality for a short while. I write fiction, so naturally this appeals to me. 

Aside from the candy (duh!), one last thing to love about Halloween is the “safe” thrills and chills it often invokes.

There’s something invigorating about a fun scare!

DelSheree Gladden

My family and I love Halloween! We spend most of the month watching scary movies and like to stay up late on Halloween night to watch our favorites.

I also love dressing up and making costumes, even though my kids are too old to dress up (their opinion, not mine) and my husband isn’t the biggest fan of dressing up either. Every once in a while I convince him to dress up, and if we ever finish our basement we’ll host a Halloween party down there.

I also love scary stories, in movie or book form, and enjoy learning about the mythology behind various cultural traditions surrounding the season. I’ve been collecting them for future Ghost Host books, if I ever get back to them. On my list is Dia de los Muertos and some of the Santeria traditions.

Scott Bury

Hallowe’en is my favourite yearly celebration primarily because it’s a day devoted simply to fun. No expectations, no pressure, just an opportunity for play.

Hallowe’en is also the season to indulge your favorite fantasies, to give yourself powers you cannot hope to wield at any other time of year. It’s time for love potions.

It’s also in fall, when nature puts on its most spectacular display, when you can wear your favorite sweater and leather jacket again. It’s just a sensual delight.

Putting up ghoulish decorations, hanging little ghosts and webs in the front yard, playing spooky music, handing out candy (which may or may not happen this year) — it’s all good fun. Plus, I look good in a cape.

David C. Cassidy

As a horror writer—and an all-round horror film lover—I know I’m not alone when I say that those gusty October nights around Halloween stir those deep desires for some good old-fashioned scares. Who doesn’t pop in a copy of The Shining or Halloween into the Blu-Ray player around the 31st? Just hearing the opening notes of John Carpenter’s haunting theme always gives me goosepimples and has me sleeping with the lights on.

For a lot of people, this is their favorite time of year—their favorite “holiday.” Dressing up, pulling pranks, scaring the screams out of little ones with some eerie music or some downright disturbing costumes or “blood-soaked” decorations … it’s just damn good fun.

We all fear something, and I think horror fans fear lots of things. It’s why we read horror. Why we watch it. It gives us power knowing we can face our fears with the surety we’ll come out on top—it’s just a movie, just a book. And Halloween? It’s our one day of the year where we get to turn the tables and be that thing under the bed—and have a blast doing it. It’s just damn … good … fun.

Now where the hell’s my Freddie Kruger glove?

Step into our web …

There’s more spook-tacular news coming from BestSelling Reads!

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Maps and fantasy

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Monday musings on fantasy writing

By Scott Bury

A map is a necessary feature of any fantasy novel.

Tolkien’s map from The Hobbit

Ever since Tolkien and Lewis, and maybe before, every fantasy novel has a map at the beginning or the end of the book.

It’s not necessary, but I find a map often helps. I also think a good map would help with any historical fiction as well as some others, to show the reader the relationships between settings in any story, to give an idea of how close or far apart key locations are. 

The trouble is, with a lot of fantasy novels, the map is childish looking. Totally unsatisfying for anyone who knows the first thing about maps.

It seems that every fantasy writer thinks that Pauline Baynes, the illustrator of the maps in The Hobbit, set the rules of cartography. 

But they’re not as good at drawing maps as Baynes. As a result, their maps are not detailed, nor realistic nor, more importantly, believable.

One good example is the map of the fantasy world in the bestselling Eragon by David Paolini. Obviously inspired by the maps drawn by Tolkien and Baynes, it’s particularly unsatisfying and child-like. It displays a lack of understanding how geography and geology work. 

This is not the only example. All the writers of fantasy seem to think mountains look like individual little cones, sometimes topped with a charming snowy peak. Rivers conveniently go through cities, which always have a hill for a castle with four towers in it. 

Coastlines are remarkably smooth, and borders between kingdoms are regular, rather than the tortuous, twisting and contentious messes you can see in virtually every part of the word, shaped by centuries of warfare and politics. 

Likewise, the societies were always limited and simplistic. There is a good kingdom and an evil kingdom. Their allies are also either good or bad, but less extreme. Tolkien, Lewis, Pratchett, Turtledove and most others follow this trope. George Martin is the one author who comes close to reflecting the complexity of international relations and dynastic politics in his Song of Ice and Fire series. But even that is not as complex, nor as far-reaching as the real ancient world was.

The sophistication of ancient societies

The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, knew about China (which they variously called “Qin” or “Seres.”) Rome traded with India, and with far-off places like Abyssinia and Axum. Roman writers listed far-flung tribes in Scandinavia and what is now Russia, as well as in Africa. Their geography extended far beyond the maps of most fantasy writers. 

Maps and direction

Dissatisfaction with maps was part of the inspiration behind my first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth. When I began writing it, many years ago, my children were quite young and seemed to like stories about dragons. So we got a few movies and books, but somehow, they all seemed to follow a few well-worn tropes. The dragons were all friendly, or at least amenable to human direction. 

But that’s not what dragons meant to me. A little reading about the mythology involving dragons reveals them to be immensely powerful creatures, as well as very intelligent. While European stories generally depict dragons as antagonistic. Leave them alone on their giant piles of gold and jewels, or they’ll burn down your town and eat you alive, is the moral.

Asian dragons, on the other hand, are often said to have taught humans agriculture and other wisdom. They’re still not friendly, though. Certainly they are not suitable as pets.

Inspiration

All of this inspired me to do something different.

I guess it started with the map. “How can I make a map look more realistic?” I wondered. Eventually, I found the obvious solution: use a real map.

Which then led me to the next decision: set the fantasy story in a real place. And what is more fantastic than the Dark Age?

Current thinking dismisses the concept of the Dark Age of history. There are plenty of records from the time following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In fact, the idea is highly western-European-centric and ignores the splendid civilizations that persisted through the years 476 to 800 CE: the Sassanid Persian Empire, China, Japan, powerful and sophisticated civilizations in India and Africa and the Americas. 

But it’s still a powerful, romantic idea, a great place for stories.

So that’s what led me to set a fantasy series in the Eastern Roman Empire around the turn of the seventh century CE. 

And it has an awesome map, and I’ll use it in my upcoming sequel, The Children of the Seventh Son.

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Welcome to autumn!

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Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

The beginning of fall always feels like a time for starting projects anew, to get serious about accomplishing things again. 

The lazy summer is over. Vacation is finished. No more languid days watching the world pass by. It’s time to get back to work, get serious again. Time to complete projects and launch new ones. 

Yes, I know this is a week ahead of the official beginning of autumn, but at least where I live, it’s felt like fall for a couple of weeks, already.

September is—traditionally—the time when children go back to school. 

Universities start up again. The harvest season gets serious. 

This year takes this whole feeling to a new level, as schools and businesses reopen after months of lockdown. At the same time, this reopening is fraught with pandemic, attendant restrictions and unprecedented natural and human-made disasters.

Whether you agree that reopening schools and businesses is a good idea, or that we’re ready to do it safely, it’s happening. But then, that’s life—it happens whether you agree with it or not.

Something else that’s going to happen no matter that many people oppose it is the ramping up of marketing and advertising in preparation for the holiday buying season. That’s right: despite the strenuous, if predicable opposition, the Christmas season is also the commercial season. It’s the time when the retail industry makes its money for the whole year, and books are no exception.   

On the up side, if you choose to go along with it, there’s an undeniable feeling of new energy to tap into. 

New books and projects

We can see this with writers, too. You can expect a deluge of new titles on your physical and electronic bookshelves over the next couple of months. 

Sonder

Prolific poet and author D.G. Torrens always has one or two book projects on the go. Her latest collection of prose and poetry, Sonder, will be available before the end of the month. She’ll soon follow that with Chasing Fireflies. Dawn is also planning a psychological thriller-romance novel, with the working title Blindsided.

Fifteen Times a Killer

Alan McDermott is one of our busiest members. His Tom Gray prequel, Gray Genesis came out in June 2020, following close on the heels of Motive in March—which could be the first in a new series.

And he has just completed the writing, editing and cover design of a new novel, Fifteen Times a Killer, his first foray into a police procedural set in the U.S.A. 

The Children of the Seventh Son

Scott Bury has also been busy through the lockdown months. He has completed the sequel to his first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth, and readers can look forward to The Children of the Seventh Son within a few weeks. Like its predecessor, this novel combines historical research with high fantasy and transports readers to the  seventh-century Eastern Roman Empire.

Dead Man Lying

Fans of FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm will be thrilled about her return to the rain-soaked Hana shores of Maui. This time, she’s investigating the death of a country music star. But what starts as a formality quickly becomes a morass of deceit, drugs and multiple murders.

Members to watch

Other members have books approaching completion.

David C. Cassidy: Two new novels, Gateway and 1944.

DelSheree Gladden: Memory’s Edge 2.

Raine Thomas: Never content with one book project in the works, the multi-genre author is working on a six-volume hockey romance series, a dystopian murder mystery series and a new addition to her Estilorian fantasy series. 

Seb Kirby, the master of psychological suspense, is working on two new books: a science-fiction thriller and a legal thriller.

Keep coming back to this blog to be the first to get more details about great reading for the fall!

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