Friday, March 27, 2015

Author! Author! JL Merrow

Good morning! Today we have a special treat. I turned my magnifying glass on JL Merrow who -- if you don't already know this -- writes amusing M/M mysteries. I know we have a lot of devoted mystery and romantic suspense readers here, so how's about a warm round of applause for the Divine Ms. M.?


Josh, thanks so much for having me here! I’m delighted to be here today as part of the Heat Trap blog tour. JL

JL - Your sig line reads Award-winning gay romance with a dash of humour. And no tea.AND NO TEA??!! Are you sure you're English? Are you POSITIVE?

OTHER JL - *climbs on soapbox* Look, let me get one thing straight. The English=tea drinker thing is a total myth, perpetuated by BBC exports such as Midsomer Murders and Downton Abbey...

*climbs off soapbox; cries*

Okay, okay, I admit it. The British Isles are awash with infusions of Camellia sinensis. It’s just me who’s immune to its tannin-laced allure. What can I say? I just don’t like the stuff. Never have. Oh, I tried to like it, when I was younger. I tried for years. I didn’t come out as a non tea drinker until well into my teens. I just smiled, and choked the vile stuff down, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? It’s a social convention.

Even in adulthood, long after I’d given myself over to the blissful joys of the coffee bean, I’d occasionally find myself keeping quiet about my unusual tastes and just drinking the stuff down. It’s one thing proudly telling your contemporaries you never touch the stuff. But elderly relatives? They’re from a different world. They wouldn’t understand.

God rest you, Auntie Margaret, with your buttered tea loaf and your ever-full teapot. I hope you can look down on me now, as I fill my cafetière with rich, sensuously aromatic coffee grinds, and not condemn.

JL - The protagonist of your Plumber's Mate series is Tom Paretski (a little nod to Sara there?) and he is indeed a plumber. A psychic plumber with a talent for finding things, but a plumber all the same. What made you choose that particular highly unglamorous profession for Tom?

Ms Merrow - Well, there was this rather good-looking young man who came to fix my bath taps one day... *g*.

Actually, in all seriousness, Tom is the one of my characters who has been evolving the longest. I had the idea for a plumber with a minor psychic talent (less of a medium; more of a small, as the late, great Sir Pterry Pratchett would have said) many years ago—way before I was ever published. I remember one night in Budapest, sketching out ideas on a bar napkin. (This may sound pretentious, but is actually true. And pretentious.) All of which I promptly put on hold for years after, until I was a bit more confident with this writing gig.

But you know what? I like unglamorous professions for my protagonists. It’s fun. There are so many big, butch heroes out there with big, butch professions. I like writing about guys who don’t have all that going for them, but are sexy nonetheless. Witness my rat catcher in Caught! who was born out of a Yahoo group discussion on least sexy professions.

(And, you know, that young man with the taps was rather good looking.)

JL - So tell us about the new book HEAT TRAP. This is the third one in the series, so that's usually a turning point. Is that the case here?

MM - Ooh, I did not know that. No, seriously, I didn’t. And yet... Tom will be at a very different place in his life, in some ways, in book 4.  And no, I’m not telling you in what ways. No spoilers! ;)

Heat Trap has Tom and Phil coming to the aid of a recurring character in the books, Harry Shire, the landlady of the Devil’s Dyke pub—or rather, to the aid of her newest barmaid, Marianne, who’s being stalked by her ex. It’s set during a rare British heatwave, so fuses are short and tempers frayed all round...

JL - Do you have any food allergies? Do you have a funny food allergy story to share? Here on this blog We love stories about people who blow up like balloons, turn purple and start to choke. Do you have a story like that? ;-D

MM - I am boringly unallergic. But avocado makes me sick as a dog—will that do? ;) Also bananas. And some strange cheese in Slovenia, that wasn’t cheese at all but made from pig fat *shudders at the memory*. 

And for an island-born writer with the name Merrow, I’m ridiculously reluctant to eat fish.

*thinks about it*

 Or perhaps it all makes perfect sense, now... ;)

JL - What's your writing schedule like? Do you write full-time?

MM - I do. Which, to the non-writer, probably conjures up images of the author sitting down at the keyboard at 9am and tapping away solidly until clocking off at 5pm (with appropriate breaks for the consumption of food and vast quantities of caffeine etc.)  Unfortunately, my muse is a total slacker about afternoons. So the creative stuff tends to resume in the evening, slotted uneasily around helping offspring with German homework, explaining that yes, I studied chemistry in my first year at university but no, I can’t remember any of it, and occasionally, even getting to sit down and watch the telly.

JL - Do you believe in ghosts?

MM - I’ve never seen one. But there a lot of people out there who believe they have, so who am I to judge?

JL - Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid? I always ask this question but in your case it might be irrelevant because you've written in so many different genres. Do you have a favorite?

MM - Yea, verily, I am a jack of all trades... I do like to dabble in different genres, it’s true. Hmm. I’m not sure there’s anything I’d like to try which I haven’t. As for favourites... Well, it’s probably the light-hearted contemporary stuff. But I’ve just finished a historical, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing for a change.

One genre you are unlikely to ever see me try is epic fantasy. I used to read scads of it in my youth, but writing it? I cannot be doing with all that world-building. WAY too much like hard work.

JL - writers are notoriously unhealthy. What is one healthy thing you do on a regular basis?

MM - I go to the gym three times a week. To which people often say, “You must be really fit.” And I reply, “You would think so, wouldn’t you?” Sadly, all my time on the rowing machine is largely negated by days spent sitting staring at the computer screen exercising only my fingers (on the keyboard, good heavens, what on earth were you thinking?) and by a wicked red wine and cheese habit. But on the plus side, I get a lot of writing ideas in the gym. You may suspect this is due to the number of young, fit bodies one tends to see there. I couldn’t possibly comment. ;)

JL - I notice a lot of my British writing friends are beginning to sound a wee bit militant about the "Americanization" of their work through publishers here in the States. What's that about? Why do you feel it's so important to retain that British feel and tone? Think of how these publishers are saving you from all those reviews that cite "misspellings" in your work!  ;-D

MM - Heh, I’m not as militant as some—to be shamefully honest, I can never even remember if it’s supposed to be whiskey or whisky, and I’m more-or-less blind to missed-out “u’s”. But I do draw the line at having British characters say “ass” or “gotten”—IF, that is, they’re out of their teens. It’s amazing how Americanised teen language has become over the last ten years or so. Chiefly, it’s amazing it’s taken so long, given how much American TV we watch over here!

What it comes down to is being true to the character. If you’re not true to the character, then the reader who can spot that will be pulled out of the story. Who wants that?  And let’s face it, we Brits can cope with Americans saying “ass” and even “fanny” when they mean bum (although the second one makes us squirm a bit). I think it’s rather disrespectful to American readers to assume they need protecting from the odd arse.

JL  - What do you love most about writing? What do you find most challenging?

MM -

(a)   Writing.
(b)  Writing.

Okay, that’s not terribly helpful. Hmm. What comes most easily to me, without a doubt, is dialogue. Raymond Chandler famously said, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” When I’m in doubt as to where to go in a story, I get a couple of characters to walk through the door and have a bit of a natter.

What doesn’t come so easily is plotting. Which, obviously, is why I started writing mysteries...

JL - When it comes to friends and family are you better at giving or receiving advice?

MM - Oh, giving, yes indeedy. Nuff said.

JL - What are you working on next?

MM - I’m currently working on Book #3 of The Shamwell Tales, which has the snappy yet evocative working title of Shamwell 3. It features, as one of the main couple, a side character from Shamwell #2, otherwise known as Played! (due out June 2015)  After that, I’ll be working on a leap year themed novel, due out by a staggering coincidence (not) on 29th February 2016. After that... Well, I would say it’ll be Plumber’s Mate #4, but a couple of the characters in Shamwell 3 are showing increasing signs of demanding their own story, so who knows...?


 Giveaway: I’m offering a free ebook from my backlist (including Heat Trap) to a randomly chosen commenter on this post.
And there’s a grand prize of a signed paperback copy of book #2 in my Plumber’s Mate series, the EPIC award finalist Relief Valve, plus a pair of rainbow-coloured merino wool blend wrist-warmers, hand-knitted by the author, for one lucky commenter on the tour.
I’m happy to ship internationally, and the more blog posts you comment on, the more chances you get!

Please remember to leave an email addy in your comment so I can get in touch with you if you win.

I’ll be making the draws around teatime on Wednesday 1st April, GMT (no joke!)

Good luck! :D


JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. 

She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour.  Her novella Muscling Through was a 2013 EPIC Award finalist, and her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy. Her novel Relief Valve is a finalist in the 2015 EPIC Awards.

JL Merrow is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Find JL Merrow online at:, on Twitter as @jlmerrow, and on Facebook at

The wrong secret could flush their love down the drain
It’s been six months since plumber Tom Paretski was hit with a shocking revelation about his family. His lover, P.I. Phil Morrison, is pushing this as an ideal opportunity for Tom to try to develop his psychic talent for finding things. Tom would prefer to avoid the subject altogether, but just as he decides to bite the bullet, worse problems come crawling out of the woodwork.
Marianne, a young barmaid at the Devil’s Dyke pub, has an ex who won’t accept things are over between them. Grant Carey is ruthless in dealing with anyone who gets between him and Marianne, including an old friend of Tom and Phil. Their eagerness to step in and help only makes them targets of Grant’s wrath themselves.
With Tom’s uncertainty about Phil’s motives, Tom’s family doing their best to drive a wedge between them, and the revelation of an ugly incident in Phil’s past, suddenly Tom’s not sure whom he can trust.
The body in the Dyke’s cellar isn’t the only thing that stinks.
Warning: Contains British slang, a very un-British heat wave, and a plumber with a psychic gift who may not be as British as he thinks he is.
Available in ebook and paperback:   Samhain | | | ARe

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Spring! Five Things I Love

Happy First Day of Spring!

As a lot of you probably know by now, we put an offer in on a house and this time someone took us seriously! So we're in escrow. We close on the 27th of April -- which is right about when I'll be wrapping up work on Winter Kill. So it's kind of an action-packed spring.

I'm still a little in shock.

But anyway, it's a good shock. I'm thrilled about the house -- and terrified that something will go wrong and we won't get it. I don't think I will really believe in it until we're unlocking the door for the first time and walking across our threshold.

It's been a while since we've shared one of our Five Things We Love and I thought the first day of spring might be the perfect time.

1 - Tacos.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN'T CHOOSE TACOS AGAIN? Okay, This is not intended to be an advertisement, but we subscribe to Blue Apron and I'm really having a lot of fun cooking right now. I'm putting BA on hold for the next few weeks while we get through escrow, so I will miss the enticing boxes of produce and packets that show up every Thursday evening. The next time I cook -- really cook -- we'll (cross my fingers) be in our new kitchen in our new house.

2 -  Vintage home decorating books. Wow. Whole chapters devoted to Where to Place Your TV.

3 - Sinking deep into a new project. Losing myself in that world of my imagination. Writing is such a weird thing. It's like intense daydreaming, only all the while your brain is observing and trying to translate the experience into precise and evocative words. It's a peculiar exercise of creativity and intellect. Keeping that perfect -- articulate--  balance of emotional involvement and dispassionate observation...I think that's what makes writing so different from the other arts.

4 - The way the air changes with the seasons.

Spring feels warm and young. It is fragrant with flowers and grass and sunshine. Autumn and Spring. Those are the two big changes here. Those are the ones you really feel in your chest.

5 - Change.

I hate change. But I love to force myself off the diving board anyway. I love the cold blue splashing
shock of it. And then how stronger and better you feel after you've been swimming in that change for a while. And how quickly change becomes the new normal.

So what do YOU love this Spring? What is spring bringing you this year?

Friday, March 13, 2015


Two new releases last week. Both of them short stories (I know! How very dare I!) :-D Wedding Favors is the sequel to Perfect Day, and I've talked a bit about it. It's just a very sweet, very simple little story about what happens when you fail to communicate.

What I always find interesting is how often we think we *are* communicating. Because most of us do try in our relationships with friends and family to talk, to share, to express. Sometimes the problem is we're not saying as much as we think we are. Sometimes we aren't listening. Listening is a big, big part of the communication equation. And part of the trick is to listen to what people are not saying.

So that's Wedding Favors. And you can purchase it all the usual places including Kobo and Barnes&Noble and All Romance Ebooks.

And then we have Wizard's Moon.

The kid on the cover looks distractingly like my nephew, but that's another thought for another day. Cover art. And how much better a book does if you put an attractive human figure on the cover.

Anyway. Wizard's Moon is one of those long lost stories. Readers are always asking what I've got in those dusty back file drawers, and a lot of what I've got are short stories or half-written (abandoned) experiments.

Wizard's Moon was my first real attempt at writing fantasy, and my taste back then was very old school. Castles and dragons and elves and magick. I actually found the idea of spec fiction set in a contemporary setting troubling.

But our tastes and our interests change. Which is probably the understatement of the year.

Anyway, here's a wee snippet of Wizard's Moon (again available at all the usual places Kobo, B&N, All Romance Ebooks, etc.

That day was little different than the first. The wild flowers and crimson and gold-clad trees gave way to somber pine as they climbed higher into the purple mountains. The air blowing down from the snowy peaks above them was sharper still and Faro could feel it stabbing in his lungs.

On this day Jaxom spoke briefly of himself and his home in the North Country. He seemed to be reminding himself of these things rather than instructing Faro. Faro imagined a small but comfortable holding, self-contained and isolate. Jaxom was unmarried and without heir; devoting himself to his estates since his return to civilian life. Faro wondered where someone like himself would fit in. He also began to wonder why, when Jaxom’s holdings lay north, did they travel east?

He would have liked to ask questions, but Jaxom’s manner did not encourage. So he listened carefully. He chuckled when Jaxom made some dry comment and tried to meet Jaxom’s restless gaze often. In his years at Quix’s establishment he had discovered that most men desired to be listened to as much as they desired a good fuck. Jaxom Re was an educated man, a man of refinement. It might be that he was one of those who prized companionship as highly as sex. No one had ever desired such a thing from Faro before, but he began to hope it was true now.

He wondered too if perhaps for all his age and experience, Jaxom Re had never taken a boy to bed. This kind of restraint was unnatural, surely? Were that true, it left the thing in his own hands. He would have to watch for an opening. It wouldn’t be wise to let matters continue undefined for too long. He knew that he must make himself as near indispensable to Jaxom Re as he had been to Quix; though it had not saved him from being sold, his position at Quix’s had been secure for years and relatively comfortable. Jaxom had visited a whoremaster; he must have need of a whore’s services.

Faro was out of practice, and unwashed, unkempt, exhausted, after the past two days, he must look like a vagabond; even so it was best not to put the thing off for too long. Better to consolidate his position before they reached Jaxom’s holdings. He was surprised at his own diffidence in the matter.

As on the day previous they rode until Faro was sure he could ride no further, then Jaxom made camp.

“If you will tell me what to do, my lord—”

“Stay out from underfoot.” Catching Faro’s expression, Jaxom said more kindly, “Rest, boy. You look half-dead.”

This seemed beyond consideration. It made Faro uneasy in some ill-defined way. He ignored Jaxom’s order and wandered around the clearing, stiffly picking up twigs for the fire. He felt as though he were a hundred years old.

“Thank you,” Jaxom said when Faro delivered his bundle of sticks. “You’ve a helpful disposition. I suppose I see why your—why Master Quix was sorry to let you go.”

“He’ll be more sorry yet,” Faro retorted bitterly. “I’ve kept his accounts for these past three years. No one in that house has the least notion of record-keeping.” This had been on his mind all afternoon. Part of him was aggravated that all his hard work would soon be undone, part of him was vindictively pleased at the thought of the inevitable chaos.

Jaxom said slowly, “So it was true then, what Quix said about not—your not servicing the customers?”

Faro stared at the fire licking up to reach the stick Jaxom tossed at it. “I served Quix. In whichever way he chose.” Glancing up, he caught Jaxom’s tawny gaze. “Perhaps you think I should have run away?”

“It’s not my affair.”

“I did run away. Twice. The second time…convinced me not to try again.”

Silence but for the crackling fire.

“Your hide’s not scarred. You look well fed.”

Faro tried to smile. “There are other ways of hurting. Ways that don’t leave you ugly.” He offered a smile. “I don’t stand pain well.”

For an instant something darkened Jaxom’s eye. Something that prickled the hair on the nape of Faro’s neck.

Friday, March 6, 2015

And Then There Were None

Something happened to me yesterday that hasn’t happened in a very long time.


I lost a file.


As regular listeners know, the next big story up is Winter Kill. The book has been simmering on the back burner of my brain for a couple of years now. Basically it’s about an FBI agent struggling to hang onto his floundering career who gets sent to the Pacific Northwest to check out a possible serial killing. And we all know how that goes.


My original outline was okay, but it turned out to be way too similar to another idea I had out on proposal. Or thought I had out on proposal. (That's a whole other story and a half.) So I reworked some things, did a bunch of research, and I rewrote the outline to my great satisfaction.


But then the story got pushed back a couple of months because of personal stuff including house hunting and so on and so forth.


Long story short, when I opened the Winter Kill file yesterday morning…no updated outline. According to the date on the existing outline word doc, I hadn’t touched the file  since January 27th . The updates were three weeks ago.


I checked every freaking file and folder on my laptop. No. No. NO. No revised outline. If it still exists, I saved it under something so obscure, even I can’t find it. It’s lost. It’s gone girl, gone.


I did not take it well.


I took it very badly.


It’s pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a writer, barring the really big disasters like…stuff I don’t want to think about. Alzheimer’s. Some physical catastrophe that wrecks the brain and robs the mind of words and pictures. But on the normal scale of bad things that can happen to writers, it’s right up there with fried backup drives and stolen laptops.


And I was trying to think why. Why did it feel so disastrous? It was only a couple of pages. Maybe at most two thousand words. I thought it all up once, why can’t I just think it all up again? But as I opened the file and stared at that rough initial outline… It’s not just that all the new place and people names and initial cursory field work is gone. That’s tough, yes, but that can all be recreated.  


But what can’t be recreated -- not ever, not exactly -- are the story and character details. Not that there were so many, but every word was the key to a line of thought, to images and ideas that were not written down. That didn’t have to be written down, because they existed in the shorthand of the outline.


It’s hard to explain what I mean.  And I don’t want to get all woo woo about what is, after all, an intellectual endeavor.


Some of it will come back as I begin to rework my way through the research notes. But three weeks is a long time given that the ideas had barely crystallized. It’s not going to be the same.


That doesn’t mean I can’t write the book. I can. And for all I know, it’s going to be a better book. The second outline was better than the first, so maybe the third will be better than the second. But that outline -- the pleasure I felt in figuring out that particular version of the story -- losing it is an almost physical pain.


And that is the weird, weird thing about creativity.  And why writing a work of fiction is not like putting together a marketing report.


***Updated 3-15 to say that I -- *blush* -- found the missing file. It turned out it I handwrote the new notes (which I very rarely do) and I left them in the notebook of projects still under consideration (which was the wrong place). So...false alarm. *cough*  As you were!