Friday, June 28, 2013


This week our guest is my dear friend Harper Fox. I think Harper is one of the most gifted writers I know, which makes the fact that she is also one of the most humble and appreciative all the more touching. She also has a wicked sense of humor and an unholy love for a gritty and goofy British crime drama from the 1970s called The Professionals.

Harper's latest book is a brilliant romantic saga of Vikings and monks called Brothers of the Wild North Sea. She's been talking about this book practically as long as I've known her, and it's turned out to be both a critical and commercial success. In fact, Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review.

So, without further adieu...Harper Fox.

Didn't you start out as a poet? How did you end up wearing that viking helmet and quaffing meade?

Well, it's so embarrassing - I was meant to reincarnate as Charlotte Brontë but the karmic angel only had time for initials that day and... Well, here I am - Conan the Barbarian. Seriously (as far as I'm capable of serious), I did start out as a poet, yes, and I remain very proud of the work I had published in some tiny but reputable Northumbrian magazines which have since plunged into nonexistence for want of funds, thus adding to the poignancy of the whole situation. But I've always been an ordinary poet, or a poet of the ordinary, and I don't have separate sections of my brain assigned to poetry and prose. No, it all seems to come out of the same murky well, and in many ways Brothers Of The Wild North Sea is a poetic novel. Robust, hairy and sexy, but poetic, if poetry is the compression/channelling of much meaning and emotion into clear and lucid language and the ability to bring that far-flung shore right to your door. :-D Seriously seriously, I just like mead. And how I look in horns.

What do you tell literary pals who smile pityingly at you when you admit to writing romance? Or do you admit it?

I *do* admit it! I do, I do. My first admissions were overcompensating challenges: "I write ebook porn! Wanna make something of it?" Then I switched to defensive mode: "Yes, they're *categorised* as romances, but if you take the time to read them you may find they transcend their genre in sensitivity and substance." Now, through sheer exhaustion, I tell the truth. "I write erotic romances between men, mostly for the US ebook market." I do in fact have that archetypal literary pal, who to give her credit never smiled pityingly, but for whom I proved a bitter disappointment simply because a woman of my gifts is meant to starve in a garret, not catch a lucky niche wave in a genre she loves and do pretty well out of it!

What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned while researching Brothers of the Wild North Sea?

God, I wish I could say it was a fascinating sidelight on religion or archaeology, but in fact it was underwear. I won't go into details - what, you think I'm gonna blow all my best bits right here?! - and you'll have to read the book to find out, but let's just say that Caius and Fen have something in common in that department.

Is it true your new home is haunted?

At the risk of sounding completely unhinged, I'm afraid so. Yes. Absolutely. The radio-monitor incident was horribly true in every detail. Mrs H and I avoided the subject with each other for months then had one of *those* conversations: "What? You feel like you're being watched from behind when you sit in that chair too? You too catch someone moving from the corner of your eye in the yard? You feel that chilly, heavy sensation in the front room?" Now, granted, we're both hysterical Lit grads scoring fifteen out of ten on the susceptibility scale, but it's getting a little odd. The lady who lived here before us did so happily for a very long time, but she had fourteen Alsatians and - well, let's just say "created her own atmosphere". It's okay. We're airing the place.

 Boxers or briefs? No, seriously. Why should this question be reserved for male authors? Why shouldn't everyone have to answer?

Why indeed? If I'm putting myself out there as a female author of M/M lit, I damn well should have to answer this question, and the answer is... BOTH! Oh, yes, both. When you have to write as many sex scenes as I do just to feed the kiddies and keep the missus in mink coats (*joke!!!* on both counts!) you need plenty of beneath-the-trouser variety just to keep things sparky. Or... Oh! Were you asking for my personal preference? Boxers, definitely. Cojones as big as mine need room to breathe. (Josh, if I've gone too far, please just censor that last bit.)

I wouldn't dream of it, my darling! ;-)

Are you a fulltime writer?

I am. Carve those two words with pride upon my rain-lashed, mossy tombstone, if you will. Er, in due course. I get up at six in the morning and write until nine. Those are my golden hours and if I miss them I spend the rest of the day in a dismal, self-flagellating slough of despond, having failed to answer my purpose in existing. I am actually that serious about it. I find I need to have two projects on the go - one "live" book and one either in the planning stages or finished and in edits, so after paying my dues to the house and Mrs H in terms of gardening/grouting/guttering, I'll attend to project #2 in the afternoons, and evenings are mostly given over to my braindead stuff, like marketing (as anyone who's witnessed my efforts in that department will testify). So, yes - I'm fulltime in the sense of spending my whole working day  as a writer, and also in the scary sense that my writing is now the sole income for our household. Did I say scary? I mean, of course, wonderful. Okay, scary *and* wonderful. Wonderful because I am *so* bloody proud and happy to have the privilege of supporting myself and the people I love in this way, and scary because - at the moment - it's a subsistence wage, a real scrape. But it's there, and it's getting better. Josh, you told me when I set out in this game that backlist was key to income, and I was all, like, "Dude, ain't nobody got time for that sh*t!" And I was right. I didn't. I had to do my Evil Day Job for another three years while I built my backlist. So - um - actually, that means *you* were right...

What's the last piece of music you listened to? Did you sing along?

"Work" by Iggy Azalea. Ought to be ashamed, a woman of my age, but there you are - I love it. "No money, no family, sixteen in the middle of Miami" - ah, I remember how it was, other than the giant generation gap and the totally different circumstances. Not only did I sing but but I tried the hooker-heel strut up and down the greenhouse in my wellies.

How did you and the missus meet?

Ah. Short, true story - just shy of twenty nine years ago, she emerged from a dark corridor in our university building, and her blue eyes shone with their own light, and her hair was like sunshine on a wheatfield, and that was it. Love at first sight. Happens!

What are you working on now?

My "live" project is my A Midwinter Prince sequel, The Lost Prince. Doing interviews with you is obviously very stimulating, Mr L, because I didn't realise until twenty seconds ago that the thing I've been calling AMP2 for months and months even *had* a name. But I like The Lost Prince. It's simple, and as you'll see, does exactly what it says on the tin. I love Laurie and Sasha very much and seeing them through the next stage of their relationship, the tough stuff that lies beyond first romance, is pretty intense. I'm beyond the halfway point now and am about to commit myself with an **ANNOUNCEMENT** - drum roll, naked Chippendales leaping out of cake - that I'll release The Lost Prince in August. Project #2 is my next novella, pinned up on the drawing board and decorated with a million post-it notes and enough arrows to keep the Wars of the Roses in business. This will be called Serpentine, and is set in the wonderful, magical countryside of the Lizard in Cornwall. I'm tackling a period piece for the first time, a post-WWII story, and I can't wait to get cracking on it.

What do you love most about writing? What do you like least?

Most - the dreaming stage, the planning, when everything is fluid and possible and my plot and protags are vibrantly alive to me. I think most writers will know what I mean - that golden time before you have to start making stuff make sense. :-D And the least - oh, the opposite of that, when the outline is written, the deadline is set, it's six in the morning and you have to write a sex scene with a migraine and no inspiration. Doesn't happen often, thank God, but you really meet the pure hard work of writing then. In a weird, bad way it's actually good, because it reminds me that, outside of those ecstatic times of being plugged right into the creative vibe of the universe, this is a job like any other, a possession and a privilege, and I need to treat it as such.


Have you ever broken a bone?

Yes, once. Very dramatic story. I was about seven years old and I walked through a field full of horses. Something spooked them and one of them ran me down. You know how horses are meant to do anything rather than step on a prone human body - well, mine had missed that memo, and I broke my collarbone. Now, remember this was back in the days before they had proper medicine, so I had to be kept in bed and immobilised for about three months because the bone had swung down near my lungs. I don't remember anything at all about this time except some brightly coloured building blocks, which I'm told I played with obsessively. Wouldn't read, wouldn't pay attention to my home tutor, nothing. I'd been quite bright up to this point, honest! I suppose it was just a shock response, and I did emerge, although I still gaze yearningly at Lego. But maybe I was in some kind of authorial larval stage, pupating the future, and those building blocks were symbols of brilliant plots to come! (Unlikely, yes, but I do clutch at straws from time to time in a desperate bid to explain myself to myself.)

What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

A convincing choice between boxers and briefs. Motivation is everything, really; you can't just have the guy turn up in scarlet Calvin Kleins one day for no reason at all. Seriously? The ability to step inside an MC's skin. That's all. Does it feel right in there? Does he walk, does he talk, does he feel and function as vibrantly as you do, or are you trapped outside him, painting his picture from there? If you're inside, you can conjure his perceptions, motivations, complexities - I won't say effortlessly, because it often hurts to make that transition and it doesn't always work - but certainly with conviction. I try to write novels where the MCs exist strongly in their own right and aren't just vehicles for the story. I know it's worked if, a couple of years after the book's been published, I can reach out with my mind and be quite sure what Tom and Flynn from Driftwood or Cam and Nichol from Scrap Metal are doing right now; if the characters have quickened so that they exist for me - and hopefully for my readers - beyond the limits of the book.


What is your most favorite dessert in all the world?

Oh, goodness, a really nice creme-de-five-star-review served up with royalty-cheque custard. :-D But I'm also a sucker for Mrs H's bread-and-butter pudding, made with Mighty White bread and big fat juicy raisins and nutmeg.

Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?

I'd like to write an out-and-out ghost story, and maybe Serpentine will be it. Maybe. I fear it because the feedback I get from readers is that they're not keen on paranormal elements in my work, and if there's one thing I value in this life, it's my readership. Hey, I have a readership! I'm faint and giddy even now at the thought. And I'm pretty scared of alienating or p*ssing off a good portion of the amazing people with whom I interact, with whom I've formed real friendships and whose opinions mean so much to me. But the idea of telling such a tale has a huge appeal for me - I was raised on MR James and Conan Doyle, and I love the little shiver down the spine, the glimpse beyond the veil, that a really good ghost story can deliver. Maybe my mission will be to convince the folks who don't like paranormals that they might just like *this* one...


Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

I'm Aurignacian! Researching my family tree was a pretty short and depressing exercise, so I decided to skip all that recent malarkey and jump back 40,000 years or so via the National Geographic's human-genome DNA project. Yes, I - and several million other people, but it still feels kind of special - belong to the culture that produced the oldest-known example of figurative art, the Chauvet cave paintings and (debatably) the world's first musical instruments. Are you surprised yet? No? Okay, try this - you can't draw a counter-clockwise circle in the air whilst simultaneously circling your ankle clockwise.

Or *can* you?

Many thanks to my good friend and mentor Josh for hosting this interview and making you try!

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Travel On This Train Regularly!

Yes, I should be writing. Instead...rambling thoughts on audio books, ACX, and the changing face of publishing.

Just finished listening to the first fifteen minutes of In From the Cold, narrated by Alexander Masters. I’m loving what I’ve heard so far. Masters’ voice is deep and dreamy, which perfectly suits the opening pages of I Spy Something Bloody  with Mark mostly zonked out of his skull, thanks to pain killers, PTS, and exhaustion. Anyway, I think this is going to go over well with readers. Listeners. Listening readers.

I stumbled across a blog Neil Gaiman did about audio books back in 2011 and he made two excellent points -- excellent then and probably more excellent now. Pay attention to your audio book rights. Don't hand them over without a second thought (as we all used to do for years and years). And if you hold your audio book rights, think about doing something with them. Like ACX. Not that I haven't had my issues with ACX, but so far they seem to be the best solution to the problem of the humble rest of us affordably getting audio books produced and distributed.

Last week I spent a couple of days listening to auditions and picking narrators -- four of them -- for In Sunshine or In Shadow. Brick Shop Audio is producing this project (they also handle the Holmes & Moriarity books) so I’m confident it’s going to be a completely professional production from start to finish. Is anyone going to want to listen to a book of short stories? I just don’t know. It’s going to be a very expensive project and in some ways it’s the riskiest one yet. I'm excited to hear the final results though. (In case, you hadn't noticed, I am very pleased with the way that short story antho turned out.)


Because the narrators are also the producers, I definitely check their backlist when I’m picking narrators. I also listen to their other sample clips on ACX and I check out their website. I want to know what I’m getting. Not just as far as the voice, though the voice is paramount, but I want a feel for how this person conducts themselves. Lately -- I guess this is a sign of the publishing times -- I’ve had problems with indie contractors not meeting commitments, not coming through. So I look for a known quantity, but I’m also not afraid to take a chance on a narrator without a long backlist to their credit. I’ve found some wonderful, fresh talent that way.


In fact, I’ve been really happy with each of my narrators and with the final audio books. It’s hard to know how well the books are doing. I haven’t been able to find any “average” figures for indie audio sales. So far I’ve got nine projects out there and I’ve sold just under 3500 books in total. Is that good or bad? I have no idea. It’s relative anyway, because all that really matters is whether I am making money.


And, despite concerns with Amazon/Audible’s high-handed promotional pricing tactics, I seem to be. Making money, I mean. Certainly the projects are, slowly but surely, paying for themselves. Which is a huge relief -- and the reason I’ve resumed commissioning audio productions.

The other thing that softened my stance was hearing from readers for whom English is a second language. And readers who have physical challenges reading. For both these sets of readers, audio books are more than an indulgence. In some cases they're a godsend. Not that I have ever been anything less than enthusiastic about audio books. Both as an author and a reader. In fact, I've started buying more audio books than ever.

I've read blogs where authors chose two narrators to do a book together -- splitting up male and female parts, for example. I wonder how that would work...

One thing Audible has abandoned, as of the end of this month, is the dollar honorarium paid for each unit sold. So now charging $1.99 for an audio book really is asking the rights holder to take a leap of faith. I don’t disagree with discontinuing the honorarium. It more than served it’s purpose, given that ACX can’t keep up with processing all the titles coming through the pipeline now. I will be sorry to lose that extra dollar per book, though!  It was a nice little perk.

BUT they've started giving authors more promo copies, so that's pretty neat. You readers will definitely benefit from that. And so will I, I do not doubt.  


I read a blog by Bob Mayer where he mentioned paying about $175 per finished hour, which I suppose would make it easier to recoup costs and start making a profit. I pay between $200. and $350. depending on the narrator’s experience, the commerciality of the project, etc.  A lot of authors seem to gravitate to the split royalties option. I’ve done that once (ACX was offering a stipend to sweeten the deal) and we seem to have done all right out of it. I’m not generally comfortable with it because I hate having to be in the position of asking someone to take that kind of a risk on me. And, realistically, sharing rights to the project for the next seven years seems precarious given how much every aspect of the publishing industry has changed in the past two years since I went indie.  


I’ve seen a few comments from narrator/producers on blogs where they talk about royalty share and how the narrator is taking all the risk. That’s mostly true though not completely true. Obviously the narrator is investing time and talent on a project that may never pay off. But the narrator is a huge, huge part of the success of any audio book, so the author is also taking a risk. I’ve loved every one of my narrators, but I hear different things from listeners. Especially the listeners who don’t know me, don’t know my work except through the audio books, and aren’t hesitant to offend my delicate sensibilities and slam my carefully chosen narrator.  


I listen to a lot of audio books (and sample a lot more) and sometimes I just cannot believe the voice over choices some authors make. I don't necessarily mean the narrator him or herself (though, yeah, sometimes). I mean the crazy, tinny, or hollow background sound. How can nobody not hear that?! Is this because it's a share and this is the best for the bucks? This is where the risk comes in for the author. What if you ultimately decided you wanted a different narrator/production? What’s the process there? If you’re sharing royalties, you’re most certainly locked in for the next seven years. That’s going to be a risk for all concerned. Especially if decisions were made to cut corners.


I’m guessing that some narrators, the ones who’ve been doing this professionally for years and years, find the developments in voice over as unsettling as mainstream authors found developments in self-publishing. I get a sudden vision of that scene in Hard Day's Night. I fought the war for your sort! But there really is a lot of wonderful talent out there and I can't see that making audio books so much more affordable is going to be a bad thing. Assuming everyone makes their investment back.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Six Books for Six Bucks

For this weekend only, I'm dropping the price of six of my novellas to .99 cents. That's six books for six bucks.

I've tried to get a nice assortment of stories in here: fantasy, historical, and of course mystery and romance.

The selected titles are:

A Vintage Affair
Blood Red Butterfly
The Dark Horse
The Darkling Thrush
Cards on the Table
Out of the Blue

You can purchase them at that reduced price through Smashwords, All Romance Ebooks, and Amazon Kindle. Unfortunately the turn around time at B&N is too slow -- by the time they'd have the new prices approved and posted, the sale would be over! -- but you can buy epub format through Smashwords or All Romance Ebooks.

This sale will end sometime Sunday, so do not linger or tarry. Hie yourself over to your favorite bookseller and start clicking. And if you already have the books, you can always gift them to someone else, right?

Have a terrific weekend!

Friday, June 7, 2013

David Lazarus on STRANGE FORTUNE

I'm delighted to celebrate the (at long last!!!) release of the audio book for Strange Fortune with an interview of David Lazarus, the very talented narrator.

1 - Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating/producing audio books?

I was born in the U.K., but made America my home in my early 20s. I paint and voice act for a humble living, the latter being the more humble. The reason being, the paintbox came first, the reel to reel taperecorder later and finally the Home Studio. A naive conviction that I could make a living in my pajamas doing voiceover work was rapidly dispelled as I learned that there was more to this than a plummy accent, however a love of literature and reading out loud prevailed. I read for the blind, documentaries, ELearning projects, and museum tours, but my preference is the marathon of voice acting; The Audiobook. Thanks in part to A.C.X., I have a few under my belt and more in the works.

2 - How much acting is involved in narrating a story?

Narrating a story is very much about acting - acting with the lights out, as it were, including playing the entire cast of characters with a narrator thrown in. My job is to stage a vocal performance that keeps the listener theatrebound.

3 - What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of narrating STRANGE FORTUNE?

The most difficult and challenging aspect of narrating STRANGE FORTUNE was the love interest between men; not in the heavy breathing sense, but in making the emotional connection palpable.

4 - What character was the most fun to narrate? Why?

I had the most fun narrating Strange because of the challenge of revealing  the vulnerable man beneath the cynical soldier of fortune.

5 - What character was the most difficult to narrate? Why?

The most difficult and challenging character to narrate was Grimshaw because he was etherial and hard to get a handle on.

6 - Was there a particular scene you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?

I do not not feel there is a particular scene I read better than another, however, I do enjoy reading dialogue, including banter, tension and believable affection, or conflict.

7 - How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?

I do not feel that reading erotic scenes out loud is difficult as long as the erotic scenes are well crafted.  That being said, they are no harder [no pun indended] than anything else.

8 - What’s the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?

The most rewarding part of narrating an audio book is finishing it, with all the many files and hours of work, as well as the technical challenges resolved. To me it is like framing a painting, hanging it on the wall, stepping back and knowing I have completed a job well done.

9 - Do you ever find yourself wishing the author (naturally not me!!!) hadn’t taken the story in a particular direction? Or is narrating a much more detached process?

The job of the narrator is to read the story and not critique the author.

10 - Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?

My paintings can be seen at the South Wharf Gallery website or the Sylvia Antiques website . You can also listen to my voice over work by downloading STRANGE FORTUNE by you know who.