Lambda Award Finalist and Gay Historical Fiction Author, Erastes

This week I had a chance to speak with Erastes, a writer who has established herself as a solid gay historical fiction author. Her first novel Standish (Regency) was nominated for a Lambda Award and her second, Transgressions (English Civil War) is part of the ground breaking line by Running Press and was a 2009 Lambda Award for gay romance.

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Where do you live? City, town, island, country?

I live in the country – about ten miles from the nearest which is Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, England.

I was raised in towns and always longed to live in the country and feel incredibly lucky to now be living in an area which would have made me jealous when I was a kid. Open farmland, black skies with a billion stars, wildlife everywhere and a short ride to fabulous beaches.

Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn, but could you share your greatest accomplishment?

Honestly I think getting published in the first place was a massive achievement considering that gay fiction was nearly entirely written by men at the time and the “m/m” genre hadn’t started but I’m so happy that my first publisher gave me a chance.

Hmm – I assume you mean writing one?  If so – I suppose I’d have to say it was “Junction X” my last but one novel set in the sixties.  I think the reason my writing has sort of hit a barrier is that I consider that the best thing I’ve written and don’t know–in fact am scared that I might not be able–if I can ever write anything half decent again!

Juntion X MediumWhere do you write, and in what format? (computer, tablet, paper, recorder)

I write on a laptop. I’d love to be able to dictate – the dictation software has improved a LOT in the last few years but I’m a complete seat of your pants writer and I simply don’t know what the next sentence will be let alone the next chapter. My fingers simply take over and if I try to dictate it I just sit there and go …”.er…..”  Occasionally I’ll resort to paper if I’m hit by a muse when I’m away from the computer – I was in a traffic jam for three hours once on the way to work (this is hugely rare in Norfolk where the idea of a traffic jam is a sheep in the road) and wrote the first 3 chapters of “Transgressions”

What inspires and challenges you most in writing?

I’m inspired by many things, things I hear on the radio, a chance sentence I hear in the street, a photograph found online, or conversations with friends will send me off for my notepad making notes for a project that may never coalesce.  My Mother – who died a few years ago – was my greatest inspiration as she was a real matriarch, someone who had achieved everything she had set out to do (except living till 300) and encouraged me every step of the way.

My challenges are to do better. Just do better. I’m not satisfied with writing the same book with the same plot every time – although I know I could and would probably sell more of ’em if I did, especially in the hetero market, LOL – each book has to really excite me, each sentence has to be a challenge in itself, and I constantly want to put my characters in situations that I have no clue how they are going to resolve – and I learn something about them if and when they do. I find the process endlessly fascinating, but as you can probably see – not easy.

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You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) must know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?

Ah, Oops – I’ve already answered this. Very much seat of your pants. I may have a glimmer of an idea – such as a character, or a location or an event (such as a ball or a wedding or a hanging or something) but that’s it, I have no idea what’s after that. I love – LOVE – getting to know my characters because it’s an entirely organic process and it happens on the page as I type. In fact my readers get to know the characters/locations at exactly the same pace as I do – perhaps that’s why my writing has been described as “immersive”

How do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)?

One word: Procrastination. I think I can blame Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen which I must have watched at a very very young age, and he says he is someone who puts stuff off. Well that’s me. Never do anything today that can’t be put off till at least tomorrow–or often next week. I’m distracted by the merest cat’s whisker, let alone the 3 whole cats I have vying for my attention (plus one very bouncy dog). However when writing does hit me I obsess on that and nothing else – I have a bit of an obsessive personality, and will concentrate on one thing (at the moment it’s knitting) for any length of time. I’ve learned to live with it. My muse has buggered off right now, but I’m sure it will be back and the knitting can be put to one side. At least I’ll be warmer this winter.

Which would you say of your books falls most into the mystery/thriller genre?

meremortals200x300I’d say it was Mere Mortals which Lethe published. It’s close to my heart because I set it in Horsey Mere which is one of the Broads (local word for lake) around where I live. It’s an amazing evocative place and unchanged for centuries. My protagonist is adopted by a stranger for reasons he does not know and finds himself taken to a wonderful gothic house on an island in the middle of a lake – and when he’s there he finds three other young men also adopted by his benefactor. set in Victorian England when life was extremely cheap, especially for orphans who could fall through the cracks of society far too easily, my protagonist finds out why he was adopted and what purpose his benefactor has for him and his 3 new friends.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I don’t know if I have any these days. I am of the opinion that if you fancy something then you should do it and not feel guilty. I videogame a lot and have done since the first days of “Pong” way back when, I knit, cook, watch a LOT of tv and, as I live alone, apart from pets, I am lucky that I can please myself as to what I do and when I do it. I suppose I’ve grown horribly selfish about that kind of thing!  But I’d rather regret the things I did rather than the things I didn’t do. As it is, I regret nothing!

After your book(s) come out, have had you ever had to deal with homophobia, and if so, what form has it taken?

I wouldn’t say homophobia as such–although my ex-workplace looked a bit askance at my work and hardly encouraged me–but I have faced a lot of strange reactions from both the gay community and the straight community and the writing community as to “why would a woman be writing about gay men” some people even going to so far as to imply that I was betraying my own sex because I should be writing about women’s issues. It’s a thorny subject that raises its head every time some new quarter of the media “discover” the genre and they always seem to think they were the first one to raise it.  I’m a bit baffled by the whole thing–I don’t, and never have, been in the slightest bit interested in the sexuality or gender of any writer. To me they were always just names so it never occurred to me wonder who or what they were – it still doesn’t. We are all people and anyone has as much right to write about any topic they please.

transgressions hi resOn behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

Thank you so much and if anyone wants to ask me anything, I’m contactable by email on erastes@erastes.com. My website is www.erastes.com

Last question; will you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

My next release will be “I Knew Him” which will published by Lethe in 2014. It’s set in the 1920’s and is VERY loosely based on Hamlet in parts. It’s written in first person from the point of view of “the Horatio” character in Hamlet. Harry, the protagonist is best friends with young Holland who he accompanies back to Holland’s family home in the summer to attend his mother’s wedding to her brother in law. as the book progresses, we learn much about Harry and his wants and the way he gets what he wants and it’s not all pleasant! I think Harry is probably the most amoral character I’ve written about and very, very sarcastic. Like a deadly and much, much cleverer Bertie Wooster, he has been described.  I hope you’ll try it when it comes out.

frost fairmeremortals200x300 muffled drum

GayRomLit 2013 – Experiencing My First-ever Gay Writer’s Con in Atlanta

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(Volunteering at the Wilde City Press table during the Massive Book Signing Event)

Let me first say, my experiences attending my first-ever GayRomLit 2013 convention in Atlanta are by no means comprehensive. Many more author readings, sponsored evening dinner and party events, and discussion panels took place during the four day event, but I tended to concentrate my time with the gay mystery, thriller and suspense sub-genres. After all, the con was dedicated to Gay Romance.

I spent most of my limited time at GRL utterly star-struck and often forgot to have photos taken with many of the writers I sought out to meet, like T.A. Webb, author of the incredible City Knight gay romantic mystery/suspense series set in my town, or that of native Atlantan Max Vos, who writes mostly gay and erotic romances, but his latest P.O.W., is an a gay military romance, dramatic thriller novella from MLR Press; or Anel Viz, whose tome The City of Lovely Brothers, (which I just had to purchase and get autographed) is an old west, historical family saga chronicling the lives of four brothers who own the Caladelphia Ranch, the youngest of whom has a love affair with Nick, one ofJP Bowie and me_GRL 2013_A the ranch hands; or Lloyd Meeker, whose latest release with Wilde City Press is Enigma (A Russ Morgan Mystery), already queued up on my iPad.

 

 

 

 

 

(L-R; Meeting author JP Bowie)

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(Fans crowding around featured authors for autographs)

And how ‘bout them authors of the super-hot, mega-hit Zombie Boyz? When I say hot, I mean HOT; mega chills, thrills and sizzling gay zombies, the perfect read for this Halloween season. The writers of the collection of three novellas (penned in pairs) had folks standing in long lines at each of their tables; the writing teams are Ethan Day & Geoffrey Knight, Eric Arvin & TJ Klune, Daniel A. Kaine & Ethan Stone (unable to make the event); needless to say, the print-books were snatched up well before the Massive Book Signing Event was over Saturday afternoon. In fact, as I walked up to the table to purchase the novel from the only author who had a copy of Zombie Boyz lefZombieBoyz_bk_cvrt, Daniel K. Kaine was signing the last one. I should have purchased a copy earlier in the day, but just got too busy with finally meeting people I’ve known for years online but never met face-to-face. Judging from the event, I’d predict print novels will be around for a very long time.

Speaking of the Massive Book Signing Event, the three hour affair featured seventy registered authors perched behind tables with their wares; books, swag and eager pens, awaiting the long line of excited fans for the door to finally open, a reported four hundred and fifty attendees (including writers who came as patrons). The scheduled authors were spaced throughout a large ballroom and surrounded on the perimeter by the sponsoring publishers; Samhain Publishing, Dreamspinner Press, MLR Press, Totally Bound, Wilde City Press, Extasy Books, Riptide Publishing, Stiff Rain Press and supporting publisher, Dark Hollows Press.

I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer my time and help out at the Wilde City Press table during the booking signing event. As you may know, I currently have an erotic thriller novella (co-written with Alex Morgan) out from Wilde City Press, Switch Hitter, and a forthcoming full-length mystery/suspense novel releasing Nov 2013, Pretty Boy Dead. For an introvert like me, this chance presented the perfect forum for

SwitchHitter_cvr-FINALmeeting new people, readers and writer’s alike. I found it incredibly exciting when buyers approached the table with wide eyes and excitement seeing the print books available for purchase, at a discount no doubt. Also thrilling for me personally was when someone recognized my name which hung around my neck, all attendees wearing the badges to identify each other. I was recognized more for moderating the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense group on Facebook and for the weekly author interviews I’ve been posting to the site, which I’m excited about as it shows my efforts for self-promotion are starting to make an impact. For a relatively new writer on the scene, the overall experience was immeasurable.

Several members of the Facebook Group I moderate (Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction) had asked me to share my thoughts upon attending the con what was “selling”, what readers seemed to clamor for and/or what were readers looking for they were challenged to find at the event. Clearly Gay Romance was in hot demand, but when looking even closer within the niche market, I noticed a great deal of interest in all things sexy, erotic and zombie! That’s right, anything and everything that featured zombies and/or demonic plots with gay romance was in great demand based on my unscientific analysis upon attending the Author Signing. The Zombie Boyz collection from Wilde City Press clearly sparked the delight in many, as well as Bad Idea from Damon Suede, and most mainstream gay romance, such as Jordan Castillo Price’s very popular PsyCop series and gay erotica, which made up a significant portion of featured authors.

One affair close to my heart was the charity event to benefit Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc, an Atlanta-based nonprofit corporation whose mission is to take homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths off the street and transition them into more permanent housing arrangements. The event was the body-painting of authors who graciously displayed their nearly-naked bodies as canvasses for fans and other writers to “create” and to help raise money for Atlanta’s LGBTQ homeless youth. If you would like to support this critical organization (of which my partner and I support through donations, volunteerism and monetarily), this year Featherweight Press published Lost & Found, an anthology of stories about gay teens and young adults that will tug at your heartstrings, but ultimately end in HEA; where writers donated their royalties for the compilation to benefit Lost-n-Found Youth; the donating authors were Dakota Chase, DC Juris, Jeff Erno, Tabatha Heart, Caitlin Ricci, Diana Adams, DH Starr, Michele Montgomery, MF Kays and T.A. (Tom) Webb.

Geoffrey Knight_Ethan Day_GRL 2013

(L-R; Geoffrey Knight and Ethan Day, Wilde City Press)

I would be remiss without thanking my gracious WCP hosts while volunteering my time at their table for the event. Thank you so much Geoffrey Knight, Ethan Day and Dolorianne for making my experience not just a great time, but also fun.

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(Author, Publisher Geoffrey Knight)

WCP Table_Author Signing

(L-R; Lynn of MANtastic Reviews, Dolorianne Morris & Geoffrey of Wilde City Press)

 

GayRomLit 2013 in Atlanta – Thrills, Spills, Mystery, Mayhem & Things That Go Bump in the Night

As most of you know, I attended a few events at GayRomLit 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia this week. Since I live in the city commuting back and forth Friday and Saturday was easy. I had family commitments in the evenings, so wasn’t able to attend the nighttime gatherings. This will be the first posting of two planned about my experiences at GRL 2013.

The first author panel discussion I attended was Storyteller Spotlight – Thrills, Spills, Mystery & Mayhem, hosted by Geoffrey Knight, EM Lynley and JP Bowie where the authors discussed writing in the mystery, thriller and suspense genres with romantic elements. After all, GRL is focused on gay romance.  JPBowie_GeoffreyKnight

Attendees also got the opportunity to ask questions of the panel, which proved to be very focused on specific series penned by the authors and questions about future releases. I found it personally interesting when JP Bowie described while writing the books in his Portrait series of mystery and mayhem with protagonists Peter Brandon and Jeff Stevens, how secondary characters introduced later in the series grew larger than life and demanded their own series, thus Nick Fallon Investigations was created and now spans four wonderful novels.

One aspect attending GRL as a participant I enjoyed the most was being introduced to authors of the genre I enjoy reading the most; gay mystery, suspense/thriller novels. Though clearly the event’s main focus is gay romance, lots of sub-genres were featured. Already familiar with the works of Geoffrey Knight and JP Bowie, I was so excited to get an introduction into the romantic mystery/suspense novels written by EM Lynley. She shared her thoughts of writing the Precious Gems Series, which she describes as “Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone, only gayer!” The first novel is Rarer Than Rubies, the second IFox_Final_lr-210x330talian Ice and the forthcoming third book, Jaded. I plan to ask EM Lynley to participate in my weekly author interviews. One question I asked of the panel is how they feel about cliffhangers. All but one steered clear of their enjoyment of them. No surprise, author Geoffrey Knight loves to use them, as exampled in the wonderful mystery, suspense/thriller novel, “To Catch A Fox”, which he co-wrote with Ethan Day.

Another author panel discussion I attended Saturday morning was titled Storytellers Spotlight – Things That Go Bump in the Night, hosted by authors Ally Blue, Rick R. Reed and Marquerite Labbe, aptly asking “What makes your heart race and your pulse pound?” Is it Romance or horror…or both? It was interesting listening to the writers share their ideas of the genre, how they go about plotting out their novels (Rick R. Reed is a total pantster!) and how they feel about mixing gay romance in stories involving ghosts, werewolves, malevolent demons, ancient curses…that creepy house at the end of the lane.

thebluemooncafeAllyBlue

All read from their books, each as thrilling and terrifying as the next. Reed read from his “The Blue Moon Café”, which is chilling tale about a serial killer werewolf let loose on Seattle’s gay men. He read from the novel where the werewolf is first introduced as he waits patiently for the perfect moment to taste blood. I can tell you from first-hand experience having read the novel, you will be chilled to the bone, as was the audience rapt in Reed’s soft, sexy voice as he read from his novel.

Ghosts in the windI can also attest to the scary prose author Labbe read from her novel “Ghosts In The Wind”; the discussion and subsequent reading of the terrifying “Jackal Wraiths that devour souls” almost sent me scurrying for the door, it was that scary!

However, I did manage to ask a question of those sitting on the panel; “Do any of your books scare you?”; all answered “no” and Ally Blue added (and I’m paraphrasing here) that knowing what is about to happen removes the fear, but she gets a thrill out of knowing “what” is about to happen, challenging her even more to build that suspense to a point of terrifying the reader.

In part two of my experiences attending GayRomLit 2013, I’ll share some of my personal thoughts about attending my first gay writers convention, my impressions of what seem to be selling most in the market today and of my experience volunteering behind the Wilde City Press table on Saturday during the Massive Author Book Signing.

And photos, lots of photos (once I figure out to resize them)! Stay Tuned…

 

The Author of “Captain Harding And His Men” takes a moment to chat about his books

My guest this week is the multi-faceted Elliott Mackle, author of the very popular Captain Harding series, among other fine novels.

Where do you live?

I moved to Atlanta 40-some years ago for graduate school at Emory University and never left the neighborhood.

Writers rarely like to toot their own horns; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Never taking myself, my writing or my influence too seriously.  Back when take-no-prisoners restaurant reviewers were the newest best thing in journalism, I became dining critic for a major daily, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We had a circulation of something like 600,000. My editor instructed me to rate Atlanta restaurants against the best in New York, Miami, San Francisco and Rome and not against the tired traditions of the past.  Guess what? I broke some windows and shut down a few grease shacks, but the restaurant scene in the ATL heated up, people took notice and the level of food, service and sophistication soared. One local magazine called me the most powerful man in town. Horse douvers, I replied. Cox Communications has the power and merely delegates it to me. As for the novels, I’ve been fortunate enough to draw many favorable reviews, win a few prizes and attract fans from Australia to the U.K., with California evidently my best market. But I’m no Tom Clancy. Which is fine by me. Clancy is R.I.P. and Mackle’s still around.

You just applied to be a critic and were hired? No way.

EM in USAF Blue UniformI started cooking at the age of eight. My family owned hotels and restaurants so I knew the culinary back stage. I served four years as a food service officer in the Air Force. After grad school, I did PR for the State of Georgia’s child nutrition program and gradually picked up food-writing assignments with small local and state journals and magazines. Eventually, I was offered a column on what was then the region’s most influential alternative newsweekly. People (though not necessarily restaurant owners) liked what I wrote. When the reviewing slot at the AJC opened up, I gave it my best shot.

Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?

We’re the typical gay family on the block. I work at home, pay the bills and breed and show miniature schnauzers with a veterinarian partner who lives in North Georgia. That takes me to dog shows around the region every few weekends.  My life partner is much older and frail. His role is caring for the retired dogs here at home.

Sugar Atlanta KC 2013

I have a small group of friends, none of them writers, who get together for lunch or dim sum at least once a week. We chew through whatever’s happening or bothering one of us. It’s been noted that a lot of the action in my novels takes place over food and drink. That’s no accident; that’s how many people operate day-to-day. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s a useful narrative device that seems to have carried over from restaurant reviews to fiction.

CHAHM Final Front CovWhat inspires and challenges you most in writing?

Once I get a set of characters talking I pretty much take dictation. That leads to two problems:  Cutting conversations down to the essential elements and crafting just the right transitions and scene-setting descriptions without slowing down the action.

Inspiration? The dialog I’m carrying on both with readers and other writers; the sense that my fictional entertainments give pleasure to people who are unfamiliar with, say, the dangers of being homosexual or a war-widowed party girl in small-town Florida in 1949 and the ways in which men and women of that period – or the Vietnam era – managed to escape prosecution and build lives together.

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) would like to know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?

At heart I’m an essayist so I plot everything out. I start with an outline of about 50 pages that includes the first and last grafs of the book. I usually hand it to one or two of my beta readers, follow up by making the suggested changes and get to work filling in the blanks.

In 1996 you worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and wrote about the Olympic Games, the basis of your novel, Hot off the Presses. What was it like to work for the premier newspaper of the South during the Centennial Games and how did your experience influence your corresponding novel?

Hot off the PressesIt would take a stronger man than I not to be caught up in the excitement of a world-class event such as the Games.  It would take a much stronger stomach not to be sickened by the commercialism, selfishness, rudeness and stupidity displayed by the organizers and sponsors as well as some of the participants and athletes. I’d been a fan of televised Olympics and “Wide World of Sports” since college and seeing some of the events on site was unforgettable. I’m thinking of cross-country horsemanship, diving and javelin, the latter seldom featured on TV because it doesn’t photograph well.

For various reasons (including deference to my former employers who gave me the ticket to ride) I didn’t want it to come off as a memoir or reportage. Rather than tell the story through the eyes of a reporter for a daily, I created a narrator, Henry Thompson, who is editor of the local LGBT weekly and who pulls strings to get a reporter’s credentials. Well before the Games he becomes involved with a closeted bisexual athlete favored for gold medals. Partly through his connection to Henry, the jock, Wade Tarpley, comes apart during the competition, losing all chance of a medal, and blames Henry and a mutual friend for the disaster. Henry’s dilemma: whether to report all aspects of the story or pull punches because of his personal involvement.

This was and is the dilemma of many sports and political reporters. To gain access and retain face time, the reporter must often soft-pedal the grittier aspects of what they witness on their beat. Nowhere in my career was this more apparent than at the Centennial Games.  Henry is lucky enough to find a mentor who helps him find his way. I left the AJC the next year, though not entirely for reasons related to filing “make-nice,” dumbed-down columns.

You currently have two series going; “Dan-and-Bud” and “Captain Harding”, both gay historical mystery/suspense/thrillers. How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters?

This may sound crazy, but when I’m working on one of the narratives, I essentially live in it, inhabit the room or car or boat, listen to the dialog and smell the roses – or the camel burgers. It’s a trick I learned doing reviews.  Of course I’d make notes immediately after the meal, and sometime have press kits, menus or photographs on hand as references. But when I began to compose I’d will or imagine myself back in the restaurant, with the food in front of me, a server refilling my water glass and a woman at the next table talking loudly about her ex-husband’s multiple deficiencies.

As far as I’m concerned, Joe Harding, Dan Ewing, Henry Thompson and Elizabeth Boardman are people who inhabit alternate versions of my life. Within the next few days I plan to slip away to Fort Myers, Florida, during the early months of 1950. Dan and Bud will be there waiting, along with a couple of men who drowned under mysterious circumstances.

Only Make BelieveWhat was your inspiration for the incredible, multifaceted Captain Harding?

Men and women who don’t follow the rules laid down by white Christian family men and their prophets have always taken sexual and emotional risks.  In Joe Harding, I wanted to create a military man who takes every risk this side of shoplifting canned hams at the commissary. His sexual partners include an under-age boy, a prize fighter, a medic, a fighter pilot and a CIA thug. He beds the boy on government property. He allows himself to be picked up by the pilot in the base gym’s steam room and by the thug in the bar of a public casino.  The boy’s powerful parents learn of the affair, but Joe finagles a sort of acceptance. The thug and the boxer are unlucky, but Joe eludes serious trouble until he encounters a series of events beyond his control.

 

After your books come out, have had you ever had to deal with homophobia, and if so, what form has it taken?

Not to my face though, it’s hard to judge. A few months after the publication of Hot off the Presses, the Atlanta Press Club asked me to participate in their annual holiday sale and signing for local writers. Hot has a fairly racy cover. Not one of my former colleagues even picked up the book, much less bought a copy.  I haven’t been invited back, nor have mainstream local publications paid much attention to the success of my work.

On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre really want to know.

Last two questions; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

Although personal matters forced me to break off work a couple of months ago, I’m trying to get back to a third Dan-and-Bud tentatively titled Sunset Island. The action happens between the time covered in It Takes Two and Only Make Believe so it’s tricky going. One of the principal subsidiary characters introduced in It Takes Two comes to a bad end. Keeping track of the various guests, staffers and party girls at the Caloosa Hotel and Club requires the mental equivalent of a spreadsheet (I actually did create paper spreadsheets for Harding #2 and #3). The action centers on a wealthy and powerful family of local landowners and a series of men who drown under suspicious circumstances.  The explosive last scene is written. I can’t wait to get it into print.

Welcome_Home_frontcov-210And where can readers buy your novels?

At local GLBT or independent bookstores, on-line vendors such as B&N and Smashwords, or by hitting the Buy the Book tabs on my website: www.elliottmacklebooks.com. The latter will direct you to a choice of booksellers and prices.