Posts Tagged 'Bold Strokes Books'

Writing is like…


It was spring break my first year of college, and I was going to be stuck on campus. With nearly everyone gone and nothing to do, I decided, practically on a whim, that I was going to write a book in one week.


An impulse decision, as I had not developed anything in my folder of book ideas. I sat down on my bed, computer on my lap, and asked myself: What is the one book I’d always wanted to read?


The answer came far more easily than I had anticipated: a superhero story set in a fantasy world starring a lesbian protagonist. An amalgam of my favorite genres with a main character who I could relate to.


Three days of planning, plotting, and developing the idea, and then seven days of writing. As a student, I had never been able to completely give my time over to writing. Being able to write all day, to live and breathe the story as I wrote it, was incredible. It was also exhausting, and when I typed out ‘the end,’ I didn’t look at it again for months.


The Iron PhoenixThe first draft of The Iron Phoenix was the worst draft I’d written in years, full of uneven characterizations, dropped plotlines, thin worldbuilding. But it had a spark, and that drew me back to the mess of a draft. Revising it took the better part of two years (and a lot of patience from my wonderful critique partner), but with each pass, the dead parts got stripped away, and the essence of the book I was trying to write became clearer.


I’m not very good at ‘writing is like’ analogies because, for me, the nature of writing changes from book to book. I’ve written manuscripts that have been like building a home (or so I imagine): careful blueprints, steady constructing, finishing fixes, and minor polishing. And I’ve written stories that behaved more like a road trip: a rough map of the freeways with a clear destination with little to no idea of what I’ll see on the way.


Some writers are explorers, knowing nothing of the terrain except what is right before them. Others are engineers, constructing each piece carefully, fitting interlocking bits of the story together.


As I consider the process of writing The Iron Phoenix, it proves difficult to pin down to a specific analogy. Writing it did not feel like constructing anything, or following a map. Instead, I felt like I was unearthing the story from all the books . I knew what was buried beneath all those plot ideas, secondary characters, and fantasy descriptions. I knew what I was searching for as I wrote it, and each word I put down, each word I rewrote, brought it that much closer to the surface.


So, perhaps, for this book at least, writing is like archaeology, a slow uncovering an artifact, learning its secrets one at a time.

Searching for a Happy Ending


**There’s a song out right now by Lukas Graham called “7 Years,” it’s delightful and really moves me. (Take a second to listen to it sometime, It’s on loop in the background as I write this blog)**

Miss MatchAs the release of Miss Match approaches, I find myself doing some things I never imagined I would do. I’m answering Q&A’s, planning podcasts, doing interviews, sharing things that feel like secrets…I often wonder if I am giving too much of myself away in these instances. Am I too free with my truths?

I was once told that true success in life comes from finding joy and passion in all that you do: your work, your home life, your play, the way you love, etc. It’s about the delicate balance of juggling all the parts of yourself that make you feel whole. And for some of us, there are many, many parts to juggle.

The most common questions I am asked these days are: “What made you want to write Miss Match?” And “what makes Miss Match special to you?” The answers to these questions are much more complicated than I can sort out truthfully in a few easy sentences.

I want to tell you about a story, a story about someone searching for a happy ending:

As a little girl, I loved to read. I wrote poetry and played music and was endlessly creative. As I got older, I pushed aside some of that creativity in the pursuit of academics and a career in the medical field. I became a professor. I had students to teach and a business to run and I probably worked too much. But I was happy. Blissfully ignorant and happy.

In the fall of 2012, two months after my twenty-eighth birthday I was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic cancer. I wasn’t given a lot of time to think about the weight of that diagnosis- within two weeks I was rushed into surgery and treatment in hopes of saving some semblance of my life. After a long and complicated surgical intervention with subsequent hospital stay, I was sent home to heal enough from the surgery to start chemotherapy. The worst of my treatment was ahead of me, not behind me and unfortunately for me, I knew all too well what to expect- this was something I taught my students about.

Leaving the hospital with my new friend, "Happy Feet.”

Leaving the hospital with my new friend, “Happy Feet.”

I’d been fooling around with words for a while when this happened. I’d written a few one-shots and even drafted an outline for the beginnings of what would become Miss Match about two weeks before my life got turned on its head. I went from being very busy, juggling two full-time careers to being essentially trapped in my house while undergoing treatment. I had a lot more time to reflect on what I wanted to accomplish in my life and suddenly was faced with the fact that I may have a lot less time to accomplish those things than I had originally thought.

Miss Match came to me as a dream on the summer before my diagnosis but became a reality when I needed a distraction from the side effects of the treatment that was intended to keep me alive. I wrote every day for as long as I could tolerate sitting. I wrote as often as the neuropathy from the chemotherapy in my hands and feet would allow. I dragged myself out of bed even when I felt my worst because I was dedicated on making sure that I would give my characters something I may not get for myself: a happy ending.

That’s why I decided to write a romance novel. I wanted to write a story about two people, overcoming obstacles in their lives and finding someone else to help them realize their true potential for happiness was within themselves all along.

The process of Miss Match getting published was a long and difficult one for me. I submitted the story to Bold Strokes Books just as I was finishing chemo. I received a note from Radclyffe with some advice to rework the story a little and resubmit. I used the summer after chemo to do just that and was making great progress until three months after I finished treatment, they found more cancer, this time somewhere new.

It was like hitting the reset button and tumbling back to the bottom on the long and windy path I had been on for almost a year. It was only eleven months after my initial diagnosis and I was back in surgery and facing another six months of chemotherapy. As I recovered, I spent my time trying to learn and improve my craft because I had made the decision that I was going to be a published author no matter what it took. I resubmitted my manuscript and by winter 2014 I had signed a contract: Miss Match was really happening.

Getting’ Christmas Eve chemo in style

Getting’ Christmas Eve chemo in style

When I was diagnosed at twenty-eight, I never thought I would live to see thirty. Suddenly, getting to the next decade of my life was something I was desperately hoping for, instead of running from like most of my peers. Getting older doesn’t scare me, never seeing “older” does. Even with a contract, there was no guarantee I would ever see Miss Match in print. That was a difficult, but important thing for me to accept: life goes on whether you are ready or not.

As sobering as my diagnosis was, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the things that had been forgotten along the way. It gave me the chance to put all of my “adulting” responsibilities to the side and really focus on the parts of me that had been neglected for some time. Remember that little girl I mentioned earlier, the one that loved music and art? She made her presence known in a way that could not be ignored. She reminded me that once upon a time I wanted to be a writer and that the possibilities were endless. Had I not been diagnosed and subsequently treated for cancer, I don’t know that Miss Match would ever have been published.

Fast forward to today- a copy of Miss Match sits next to me as I write my next WIP. It’s a little surreal, looking back, organizing my thoughts, recounting the events that brought me to this moment…it almost feels like it happened to someone else.

Miss Match came to me as a dream, but in the end, writing Miss Match got me through the darkest time of my life. Samantha and Lucinda were so vivid and so real to me because they came to me when I needed something to help me get through the difficulties of my own life. I was able to express the usual levity and playfulness of my true nature through their dialogue and flirtation. I could put my passion for life on display when they danced and *truly* showcase it when they loved. Writing a story about a matchmaker who has failed to find love for herself when she finds it for everyone else, was just the right distraction I needed in my own life. And when a beautiful dancer with a troubled past, resigned to living a life alone crosses paths with that same matchmaker? Well, that felt like a story that needed to be written.

The reason that Lukas Graham song gives me all the feels is because I really hope I see sixty years old. I really hope my story gets told and I really hope I have many more stories to share with everyone. Miss Match is about two women searching for their happy ending and wading through all of life’s challenges with hopes of finding it. It was a dream to write, even if the reason I wrote it was kind of selfish.😉

As I embark on the next part of my life, I am looking forward to all of the adventures Samantha and Lucinda have in store for me. As of right now though? I’m living my life every moment.:-)



Fiona Riley

Anatomy of a Table of Contents

By Tom Cardamone


I’ve not seen much discussion on how writers lay out their table of contents when it comes to ordering a short story collection, yet it is probably as equally important as the title and cover. Really, we’re talking about the alignment of singular pieces so the whole tells an additional story.

When I put together my first collection, Pumpkin Teeth, I followed the old advice of placing your three best stories at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. That way more experimental or unusual work would be able to stand on its own in between, the uniqueness would breathe, buttressed by the previously published, or what you just knew were stronger stories. Plus you get to “wow” the reader at the beginning and leave ‘em satisfied and wanting more at the end. So after that, I went with what felt organic in terms of each stories’ placement versus voice, content, theme. Since the goal is for the sum to be greater than the whole, what does a misstep look like? A sudden change in quality. That unpublished work has to stand on its own. The editor’s input here is really important. On its own, if the piece works, it can be more daring than what made its way into print, harder to place but somehow more solid. Though it’s essential that there’s not a too sudden shift it tone. It is okay to pivot, but something jarring can give the reader an excuse to put the book down or question the veracity of the collection.

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I was fortunate enough to place several of the stories that appear in Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe, prior to the book’s publication. The opening story, Owl Aerie, was previously published in the second issue of Chelsea Station. I was never able to find a home for the second story, MS Found in a Bookstore. A tribute to Poe, and a personal favorite, these stories go together as both have a New England location and youthful first person narrator. (I really gave this one my all, as Poe has been a lifelong obsession, from reading his poem, Alone, in the seventh grade and feeling that bolt of recognition, to further readings, visiting his homes in the Bronx and Philadelphia, his grave in Baltimore, reading biographies, obsessively collecting marginalia -finally paying tribute in a short story seemed overdue). To mix things up, I followed them with a brief tale of a dragon hovering over a park in Queens.

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The middle of the book contained two super hero stories (well, in one, Ice King, the villain is the more prominent character, but that’s kind of my thing –I edited a collection of gay super villain tales a few years ago. I’m always rooting for the bad guy). Though not overtly linked, they inhabit the same universe, one I’ve written short stories in before, and hope to return to again. The stories that follow include an epistolary tale between a Roman Emperor and a life-long friend that turns darker and darker. I’d always wanted to write something in an epistolary format; pleased with the results, I knew that I couldn’t open the book with a series of letters, but thought it would work better toward the end, the change in form hopefully refreshing/intriguing to the reader. Doubling down, I considered it a solid enough piece of writing to put between two shorter works, one, a tale of zombies in Japan, nearly flash fiction, the other derived from a dream I had in 1999 when I was living in Hell’s Kitchen where I realized I worked in beheading factory and woke up with a start. This let me end with two fully realized, previously published pieces. The last one, Halloween Parade, was in the running as the title of the collection, but I didn’t feel it flaunted the book’s gayness as much as Night Sweats. I did like that the story was such a New York tale –almost half the stories take place within New York City, the place where I found my voice, identified my fears, and then started using one to press the other to the page.


Thirteen tales. Is that the rule of thumb with short story collections? I think I picked up the requirement from Nabokov’s Dozen (remembering/writing about this book makes me want to revisit the master’s shorter work again). I’m not sure if this is universal, though. But the number thirteen felt right and was aligned with the sinister themes throughout Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe.

And to further support the title, I called the Table of Contents page Drops of Sweat.

Too Long for a Short


threeI’ve long been a lover of short fiction, and my path into writing came from that direction, too. My first published work with Bold Strokes was a short story, “Three,” that was accepted in an anthology of gay vampire erotica, Blood Sacraments.


When I wrote “Three,” I’d recently re-read Dracula (I often read books on a similar theme when I’m trying to spark an idea for a short story), and I’d been inspired by Dracula’s three wives. They’ve always struck me as a strange part of the narrative: who were they? Why were they there? Why three of them?


What came from those musings was the kernel of the idea for “Three.” I wondered what it would be like if the various supernatural beings of the world—not just vampires, mind you, but demons, and werewolves, and even wizards, say—became more powerful if they created groups of three or more. From there, I decided to make it even more important: those who weren’t a member of a group of three or more had, in fact, less power, less resistance, and were easily kicked around by those who did have a group to call their own.


In another moment of inspiration, I decided to play with the “must be a full moon” notion about how things get a little wild and crazy on the nights of the full moon by making the three nights the moon is full be the time those groups gathered and reinforced their bonds with each other. That left the ones flying solo relatively safe to run amok and try to get their own needs met—all within three crazy nights.


“Three,” then, became a short story about a vampire without a group of his own, Luc, trying to get himself through another month by delving out on the first of those three nights of relative freedom. Instead, he bumps into a rival (a demon who is also on his own, Anders) and the two of them butt heads (and then other parts) when they discover Curtis, a handsome young man they’d both like to spend the evening with who proves curiously resistant to their influence.


Once written, I was happy with how the story turned out, and even happier when it was accepted. As always, the editing tightened the story, and that was that.




Later there was another call, this time a gay erotica collection with a theme for angels, Wings, and I couldn’t help but think of my demon, Anders, from “Three,” and before I knew it, I’d written a sequel. After that, it seemed sort of unfair to have a story about two out of three of the guys, but that was solved when Erotica Exotica appeared.


There, I thought. Three characters, three stories. These guys are done. I was chuffed when I received quite a bit of e-mail and comments from readers about the three guys, and was glad I’d spent time revisiting the characters. Especially Anders, the demon, who appeared to be a fan favourite, if short fiction could be said to have fans.


Then Raising Hell appeared, and really, how could Anders not come out to play another time when the opportunity for a demonic gay erotica collection appeared? This story, though, was much harder work, and the original attempts I made at writing my first idea wouldn’t fit in the word count. I ended up scrapping two ideas before the third one worked under the word count limit.


After that, I really did think I was done. I tinkered with the other two ideas a couple of times, seeing if I could get them into shape for a potential anthology sometime far off in the future, but no, the concepts were too big for short fiction.


The “Aha!” moment was more like a face palm moment, really. When I was trying to figure out what major project to work on after Light was finished, I had made little cue cards of all my ideas, and one of the cue cards read “more Triad.” When my husband saw it—I should have mentioned he’s one of the biggest fans I’ve got of the Triad guys—he said, “Oh! Yes! Do that one. Write a Triad novel.”


“Oh, I didn’t mean—“ I started, but then stopped. When I’d written the cue card, I hadn’t meant a novel. I’d meant work on more short stories. But, like I said, facepalm moment.


There was a reason those short stories weren’t working.


They weren’t short stories.


Triad BloodI sent in the pitch for Triad Blood, it was accepted, and I got to work. Writing with Luc, Curtis, and Anders was like putting on a comfortable sweater. I knew them already, their voices were already pretty solid, and once I gave myself permission to grow the story ideas rather than try and cut them back, those two ideas—and a third—tangled up together into one ongoing narrative that became the novel. It was a blast to write, and though writing a novel will always be hard work, and I’ll always love the short fiction process more, stepping these guys from a series of short stories into their first novel was so much less painful than writing a novel from a blank slate.


I hope readers have as much fun reading the fellas in a full length novel as I had writing one. Even better? Bold Strokes is doing an amazing thing all through May: if you pick up any of their titles in e-format, you get “Three” (that original short story that introduces the Triad guys) as a free e-short story. Reformatted on its own with a truly lovely fellow on the cover representing Luc. Seriously. French Canadian vampire never looked so good.


Going back to the very beginning was a real joy, and seeing how far the characters had come was a lot of fun. And sending off the final proof copies for this novel was bittersweet. It really had been a blast to play with these guys again.


Of course, when I finished Triad Blood, I was once again sitting with my pile of cue cards and thinking about what my next project should be.


My husband leaned in the room and just said, “Really?”

I’m working on Triad Soul now.

Let’s talk about sex


“Write about sex – how you write your sex scenes.” When I was trying to think of a topic for this blog, this was my wyf’s suggestion. The problem is all I could come up with at first is ‘I just write them’. But as I gave it more thought I realized quite a lot actually goes into them. Some authors I’ve talked to hate writing sex, even referring to them as “the dreaded sex scenes.” They know many readers want them but they’re not comfortable writing them. I, on the other hand, like writing sex. For me it’s a natural part of the story. Although when it isn’t, I try to allow the story to be what it needs to be.

a-reunion-to-rememberIn my first novel, A Reunion to Remember, there is quite a bit of sex. Those scenes work well for the story. In contrast, in my current work-in-progress, one of the main characters spends the majority of the book avoiding being with the other which equals a lot less sex. Again for the story I’m telling, it fits, at least the way the story is unfolding right now. A number of authors simply prefer to ‘fade to black’ and leave these scenes up to the reader’s imagination. There is nothing wrong with that and there are times where that strategy is best. But I am not going to shy away from a sex scene if that is what the story needs.

But still I haven’t answered the question, how do I write sex scenes. Sex scenes can set the tone or mood for many other facets of the book. The same characters can have sex, make love, or fuck at different times and in various ways throughout the book, each lending a different tone to the story. That’s a lot of flexibility. So one of the things I have to determine is the characters’ moods. Has one just discovered she loves the other but isn’t ready to say the words, so she pours all her emotion into a sweet love making scene? Or has one had a horrible day and wants the rest of the world to be drowned out so she asks her partner to take her hard? Is it a scene of discovery or growing passion?

The mood helps define the speed and actions. It determines how much dialogue is needed or how much is too much. If it becomes a conversation rather than a sex scene, it will not be a very good sex scene, no matter how great the conversation. But then you also have to be a bit of a choreographer because all those hands, fingers, and mouths, as well as other body parts…their movements need to be explained like a commentator of a erotic Twister game. And all of the movements need to be driven by the characters themselves. You can’t have random body parts acting on their own, which makes sense but it wasn’t something I thought about until my editor pointed it out.

Tempo is also an important consideration. You need to pace a sex scene just as you would any other scene. Sometimes it’s fast, other times slow, but you need to decide what is needed at that point in the story or for that scene. The characters can even be moving at different speeds in the same scene if that’s want you want as long as they reach the payoff at the same time, or not, it all depends on the story and the characters.

The one question people most frequently ask my wyf is “do you feel vulnerable or exposed by what she writes?” Her answer is, “No, we have a healthy sex life and we talk about sex a lot but she develops the sex scenes around the characters and I’m not a character in her books.” She is exactly right. The sex scenes I write are character and plot driven. They are a piece of a fictional story. I like sex, I like writing sex, but the sex I write isn’t personal because it’s about characters not about my real life. But it also allows room for a lot of exploration. Elle reads everything I write. If she wasn’t comfortable with a scene it would never be seen by anyone else.

So, when I talk to people about my book, who may not draw the distinction, I warn them that there are “steamy scenes” and let them make their own decisions related to reading them. Such was the case when I shared A Reunion to Remember with my six brothers and sisters and my mother.

Very Sharp Teeth



Paladins of the Storm Lord 300 DPIA few years ago, as I walked through an old, overgrown lot, I spotted a fragment of sign that read, “Very sharp teeth.” The rest had long been lost to history, but the words stayed with me. After tumbling around in my head for a few weeks, the words became the drushka, one of the alien races in Paladins of the Storm Lord. Lithe, many-jointed, poisonous: I knew what I wanted them to be, the perfect centerpiece for a novel. I worked in some humans, some gnarly mind powers, some romance, and a bit of mystery. Voila! I had a story I was proud of.

As I was still learning, the novel ended up going through several rewrites and character changes. In college, I wrote a short story based on the Paladins universe, and it went on to win second place in a worldwide science fiction contest. I was on top of the world. I had it made.

Taking what I learned from the contest critique, I tweaked the book some more, sharpened those teeth even further, and tried to sell it to agents and editors. I got a few nibbles, but either the markets didn’t think they could sell a novel with so much LGBT content, or I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. Hell, maybe it was both. Either way, after much soul searching, I shelved it. I still loved it, but if no one would buy it, I knew I should move on to other things. I tinkered with a few other projects before I finally wrote and sold The Pyramid Waltz.

Then after five books with Bold Strokes, Paladins began to call to me again. I thought, I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’m going to give those teeth another polish. I still loved the story, loved the universe, and now I’d learned so much from working with a professional editor and hearing what audiences liked. I made it better, and BSB said yes.

This book has been years in the making, but that just means the diamond is extra polished, right? At its heart, it’s still the same story about a young woman caught between duty and faith, between the lithe alien she’s falling in love with and a megalomaniacal man who thinks himself a god. It’s a book about fighting back against what’s expected.

What I learned from it is to never give up. If you love something, you’ve got to keep fighting for it. Whether it’s your first novel or your twenty-first, you can’t stop striving, can’t stop improving. It’s your work, your words, and you have to stand up for them. Show them you won’t be stopped.Th Pyramid Waltz 300 DPI 1

Show them your teeth.



Barbara Ann Wright’s romantic fantasy series, The Pyradisté Adventures, has won two Rainbow Awards and appeared on’s recommended reading list. Her May release, Paladins of the Storm Lord, is the first installment in a new science fantasy series, and her comedic fantasy, Coils, comes out in September. She’d love to hear from you at her blog.

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