Friday, May 25, 2018

Your Cheatin Heart Will Tell on You

Hello again! The wonderfully talented (and funny as hell) Dal Maclean is back to chat about infidelity in romance and other stressful interesting topics. ;-)

We had some thought provoking comments on yesterday's blog ;-) as well as a great discussion on Facebook. The three questions we threw out to readers were:

1 – Do you believe a relationship can survive infidelity?

2 – Do you have personal experience with infidelity?

3 – Barring murder, can you think of a worse “relationship crime” than infidelity?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below and you'll automatically be entered in the giveaway for one of five audio book download codes from (good for any of my titles--including the brand spankin' new The Magician Murders narrated by the wonderful Kale Williams). 

So here we go! 

JL – I’m entirely in agreement about most readers probably preferring their protagonists’ flaws to be of the romantic variety. Like those old Mills & Boons where the hero was temporarily blinded or paralyzed and was a complete asshole because of it (but then luckily ended up with a miracle cure anyway, so no worries!) Addiction and alcoholism is a harder sell—and I’m in agreement on that; I will almost never read a book where the protag is struggling with addiction or alcoholism (although I’ve got no problem writing such a book). I suspect readers would prefer to read about a recovering sex addict than a guy who deliberately and in full control of his senses (if not body parts) chooses to be unfaithful. Thoughts?

DM - I think you’re right. Many readers would prefer to read about recovering sex addicts and recovering drug and alcohol addicts than, as you say, someone who cheats ‘in full control of his senses.’ But again, as I said in the piece, maybe that’s because the flaws we accept in our romance heroes almost require the hero not to be responsible as it were? An addiction is something the hero cant help – it’s an illness (like those Mills and Boon heroes), though done well and with an attention to the psychology, it can be great (I just read a really great one). I’d say though, addiction isn’t a flaw in a hero, so much as a hurdle the couple have to overcome to be together?  Cheating is an active flaw.  I’d liken it more in Romance hero-active flaw-dom to being an assassin or a ruthless slave owner. Just, as I said, less acceptable.
Uh oh. 

The cheating I was talking about though wouldn’t be ‘I fancy a fling with that very attractive person’ but, for example ‘I’m terrified of where this relationship is going and how much I’m feeling, so I’m going to sabotage it’ or ‘I’m miserable and unhappy and so I’m succumbing to temptation’ – both scenarios which would create intense, genuine regret in the culprit and punishment would be losing something they realize too late they cant bear to lose. They made a Big Mistake but they made it as adults. Hence they’d have to face up to consequences. That’s what I meant about a redemption arc.
Of course, in reality, that’s a romantic best-case take on cheating, but Id suggest so is every other scenario we talk about in Romance books, like addiction.  Again that my big question -- if we can romanticize The Mafia, assassination, slavery, rape, torture and personality breakdown, why cant we romanticize infidelity?

JL – It occurs to me that infidelity is probably more forgivable depending on subgenre. For example, it’s rarely a deal-breaker in mystery. Meaning mystery readers might not like it, but they won’t refuse to read the book. And in historical or, better yet, spec fiction, it’s probably not nearly as problematical as it is in contemporary romance.

Anyway, harkening back to your essay, ludicrous misunderstandings aside, I will say that inability to communicate is one of the most realistic problems any couple can face, but that comes more from styles of communication, including the inability to listen properly—which is tied up in personal history and sometimes education and experience. When I read a story where two men are struggling to make the other understand, I really do sympathize. It can be hard to be honest and vulnerable, even with the people you love most.  

DM -Yeah I do agree. That’s actually not that common a trope in Romance is it? I mean that ‘trying to make the other understand’ but failing. It’s not really ‘romantic’ as issues go – and in real life, as you say, it often doesn’t go away for the HEA.

JL – I kind of divide readers into two camps. (Well, three camps if we include readers just skimming for sex scenes. ;-D)  One camp has trouble believing in happy endings if the problems between the main characters are sufficiently painful and realistic. It doesn’t matter how much relationship work the couple does, these readers always have trouble believing anyone could surmount big issues like…infidelity. Heck, these readers have trouble with even the suggestion of infidelity, say a kiss that shouldn’t have happened. The second camp are the readers who, like you and me, enjoy the struggle to achieve that happy ending. In fact, I prefer those stories because to me the couple has been tested through fire and their love is triumphant.

DM - Yes again totally agree! Lisa Horan at The Novel Approach said in her review of Object of Desire I write ‘Genre Non Conforming Romance’ which was a revelation because-- who knew? She wasn’t talking about cheating there--there isn’t actually any cheating in OOD or BL. But--she’s right I think. That’s what I’ve been writing without realizing it, and perhaps what you wrote, more bravely with Jake Riordan in the brilliant Adrien English series?

 The second part of the audience you mentioned which includes you and I, may be more open to that kind of story? We value the struggle and a real fight for a happy ending.

But I also think people are right to say that Romance is a unique genre in that there is a kind of contract with the reader. Many people read it to relax--for the joy and security of knowing what’s coming.  That’s what the contract is. And I totally get that and understand the sucker punch of being dragged out of that comfort when you didn’t want or expect it, and get given something different that you didn’t want. I didn’t mean to bend the rules of the contract guys! It just keeps happening…

JL – One hundred percent in agreement that, when a book is labeled genre fiction—and regardless of what that genre is—there is an implicit understanding that writers will abide by the terms of the “contract” formed with the reader. If the book is labeled Western, there is an expectation of cowboys. If the book is labeled Mystery, there is an expectation of detecting—and a solution. If the book is labeled romance, there is an expectation of true love and a Happy Ever After.

What’s less clear, in fact, what I find fascinating is how “infidelity” can be defined, depending on the reader. As mentioned above, there are readers who get angry if the hero exchanges a kiss or even considers fooling around. Now in real life, these things happen. They just do. And that should be the point. Moral fortitude is tested by resisting temptation, not by never being tempted. It’s like courage. Courage is how you behave under fire, not being blind to a real and present danger. Also I notice timing is very important to some readers. I had a character break off his relationship over the phone and then go have sex with his romantic interest. One reader was troubled by this “infidelity.” To me, infidelity would have been not breaking the relationship off. As far as I know there is no official wait period once you’ve ended things.

DM - That’s a great point. The comfort zone in defining ‘cheating’ differs. For some it’s lying and betraying. That’s pretty clear. But as you say, for others it’s more… zero tolerance than that? I’m thinking of Jason in The Monet Murders – he didn’t half get it in the neck for a one night stand, even though Sam had broken up with him. He was hurt, he was trying to distract himself, he was being human. But there’s an element of ‘he has no business being human--he’s in a romance book’. Same with Ben in Bitter Legacy and  Tom in Object of Desire.  It’s how far Romance readers are prepared to tolerate that kind of ‘humanity’ in their heroes. I come from a fanfic tradition as you know and it’s definitely redder in emotional tooth and claw there. Maybe MM Romance comes more from MF romance? Maybe it’s evolving into a hybrid of both?  Or maybe not?

Actually, on this point, I read recently that there’s a sneak Third Romance Rule (after 1-Happ ending 2- No Cheating) that readers expect to be followed. Maybe that’s what’s in play here. The love interests must not have sex with anyone else after they meet in the book, even if they’re in sexual relationships with other people when they do meet. This applies even if they don’t commit to each other for some time in the book. For some readers, a character breaking that rule is tacit cheating (even if its awkward to call it that)- as Jason, Ben and Tom discovered. I crashed through that one in both books without knowing it existed.

 JL – Yeah, I would have to say that third rule is more of a guideline. 😉 If not outright wishful thinking. That said, I’m in complete agreement with your observations on inveterate cheaters. It’s one thing for extreme circumstances to result in a Big Mistake. The inability to resist any temptation…that’s just...ugh. Whether it’s gluttony or sloth or promiscuity or an addiction to QVC, the inability to control one’s self is something as a society we really, really look down on. We don’t like weak willed people, so fair enough that horn-doggery should be condemned in romance.

DM - Yeah I’m with you on that. I talk big about realistic flaws but in the end, we are talking… carefully chosen flaws. An inveterate cheat is pretty unattractive imo and one of the most unromantic concepts out there.  Personally, as a reader, I can’t deal with consensual non-monogamy as an endgame in Romance, so I’m marshmallow to the my core.

 One thing I’d possibly quibble on is promiscuity as a plot choice (if it’s not some sort of compulsion I mean).  Ben in BL used promiscuity deliberately as a defensive barrier against any romantic commitment and an emotional distraction for himself–it was a choice, not a compulsion or a helpless need for rampant sex with lots of men. A lot of readers though were very sure that he could never change his spots because promiscuity is looked at compulsive like inveterate cheating–an inability to resist any temptation.

JL – Oh, definitely! Plus, Ben was NOT in a committed relationship. When you’re young and single, is fooling around a lot genuinely promiscuous or is it just…normal male-in-his-sexual-prime behavior?

DM - So I think maybe there can be nuance. Ben for example, now he’s found someone who fits so perfectly what he wants and needs, will be compulsively faithful. Tom uses sex as part of an avoidance of commitment, sometimes as an avoidance of confrontation or loss.
On the whole though, yeah – pffft to horndoggery!

JL – You wrote: ‘Redemption and Forgiveness.  Genuine mistakes, genuine regret. All are powerful drivers of romance for me’. 
Ding Ding Ding!!! This. Like you, physical torture, abuse…that’s a no can do for me. A bad man on his knees? (Er… ) That’s romance.

DM - It really is. That’s putting it…perfectly!


Faithful reader, what do YOU think? Comment below!

Oh, and Dal has a giveaway going too! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Holding Out for a Hero - Dal Maclean

Hey, Dal has a new book out! 
This week on the blog we're doing something a bit different.

This morning we've got my dear pal Dal Maclean in to blog on a topic dear to both our hearts: infidelity. ;-)

Admittedly, it's a delicate subject. But I've known Dal for a number of years now--I've been a fan of her writing forever--and one of the things that drew us together is what I think of as a shared positive pragmatism regarding human nature. Human beings make mistakes. Good people do bad things. In fact, bad people occasionally do good things. Ink and paper notwithstanding, it's not a black and white world. And Dal and I instantly recognized in each other's work that sometimes painful mix of realist and romantic.

Anyway, there's lots to think about in this post!

TOMORROW the conversation continues as Dal and I bat around the topic of infidelity (and other character flaws) in our own writing and reading habits. Again, it's all happening right here on the blog.

We're hoping some of you will pop in and join the conversation!

1 – Do you believe a relationship can survive infidelity?

2 – Do you have personal experience with infidelity?

3 – Barring murder, can you think of a worse “relationship crime” than infidelity?


As an author feeling their way in the MM genre, I’ve been doing some thinking on MM romantic heroes -- what readers do and don’t want, and what they will and won’t tolerate.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be saying the unsayable here but--

I think most of us would probably say we like heroes ‘with real flaws’, but maybe we’re not being entirely honest about that. I mean, we’re not talking real flaws, like farting in public, or chainsaw snoring. or crotch scratching, or halitosis.  I would assume. We mean romantic real flaws, flaws the hero can have and remain a ‘romantic’ hero to the reader. 

I should declare a position here and admit that, (while excluding the farting reality) when I say I like flawed heroes, I mean flawed heroes, in the sense of emotionally flawed.  The kind of heroes who generate genuine emotional conflict.  And (to clarify again), by emotional conflict, I mean the kind of relationship conflict not solely generated by external events (e.g. Hero 1 and Hero 2 are madly in love and know it, but are kept apart by bad guys/homophobes/simple misunderstandings which they overcome to be together).

Personally, I love reading about relationships where Hero 1 and/or Hero 2 are facing and overcoming their own character flaws and issues, which create problems between them, though said issues may also stem from external pressures (e.g. fear of their own sexuality, fear of societal condemnation, fear of intimacy, inability to trust, other emotional ties, emotional unavailability etc).

I love stories where the conflict is real, and not an error in communication -- once perfectly summed up to me by Josh Lanyon as the ‘But Darling, She’s My Sister’ get-out-of-jail-free card for emotional battles. The thing is, I don’t want main characters to get out of jail free. I want them to have to fight and claw their way out of jail.  But that’s me.

Which brings us to what are accepted to be MM romance reader’s lines in the sand, and what I was advised about Romance Rule No 1 kind of surprised me, and kind of didn’t. 

In MM, it’s acceptable for a romantic hero to be a killer or a torturer or a corporate shark or a gangland leader or a thug or a slave owner. He can break down his love interest psychologically through torture combined with great sex; he can physically punish and/or even permanently scar/mutilate his love interest. He can break his love interest’s heart by leaving him without giving the love interest any choice in the matter, because He Knows Best. But -- he must not, under any circumstances, be a cheater.

If infidelity arises. it’s generally okay to have a hero cheated upon to push him toward his true love, but if the cheater returns, it’s to beg forgiveness and be kicked forever into touch.  Romance Rule No 1 though  - neither hero must cheat, or their character is pretty much irredeemable. It’s incredibly unusual for a character who’s cheated to get to the HEA or even the HFN.   Non-monogamy is acceptable if it’s consensual  – threesomes, ménages, open relationships. No problem. It’s cheating that’s de trop.

So - is it down to intolerance of dishonesty between lead characters?  On the surface it seems so, given ménages and threesomes are definitely okay in the genre.  Yet, heroes lie to each other all the time in various plots, about all kinds of very important, sometimes life threatening, and definitely happiness-threatening things,  and that is easily brushed past by readers.

 So why is the Cheating kind of lying, under any circumstances, the ultimate Romance transgression?

Perhaps, infidelity is too real?  It’s a situation in which readers are more likely to have been personally wounded or seen others wounded, in real life -- as opposed to finding out their partner is a mafia hitman or a slave owner or whatever.  It’s a closer to a farting, snoring, scratching flaw. Is that why?

Yet.  On the other hand.  Isn’t infidelity a rich seam to mine in touching on (relatively) realistic emotional conflict in a romantic relationship, and what drives people to behave in certain ways? Even in the once-removed-from-reality genre of plot-driven romance?

I’m coming at this by the way, as someone who can’t even read ménage books because of my inability to cope with one hero loving someone else as much as he loves my fave. I can’t read consensual threesomes or open relationships and really enjoy them. I have a fatal weakness for possessiveness and jealousy.   I am OTT into monogamy and true love as a romance reader.   Yet, as a reader I love seeing Infidelity explored and taken by the scruff and shaken out and overcome in Romance, vanishingly rare as that is in the genre. Possibly, because it is an ultimate romantic challenge.

 Yes I love fluff, but first I love the emotionally hard-core to get to Fluffsville. Challenge and reward.

To clarify yet again, I’m not talking about inveterate horn-dogs who cheat compulsively and forever.  I’m not talking about the Leopards Never Change Their Spots kind of cheating. I’m talking about cheating driven by a real issue.  A thing that happened for a coherent reason. Coming back from that believably, is a huge challenge for a reader and writer, and if it’s done well…?  It’s The Prodigal Returns. Redemption and Forgiveness.  Genuine mistakes, genuine regret. All are powerful drivers of romance for me. 

So, that’s my guilty truth. I find reading books that deal head-on with infidelity and other huge emotional conflicts and still lead to a believable happy ever after,  incredibly rewarding.  How small is the minority I’m in with that?   There’s me and…

For the record my own difficulties with character behaviour in MM romance lie in physical torture, pain, maiming or death for a loved character or by a loved character, even if it’s called hurt/comfort. There speaks my marshmallow core.  Go figure as they say across The Pond.


Dal has a brand new book out this week called Object of Desire. The book is terrific--no surprise there--so go buy it now!

AND three copies of Object of Desire are up for grabs thru May 28th.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 18, 2018

Five Things I Learned While Writing The Magician Murders

Yep! Now available in audio too!
Part of the fun (or maybe the word is "challenge") of writing a series is how the characters change--sometimes in unpredictable ways--throughout the course of the books.

I mean, characters change (and hopefully grow) in standalone novels too. If at the end of the story the main characters are exactly who they were at the start of the story, there's a problem. Every story--even a short story--is ideally supposed to have some kind of a character arc.

But with a series you have so much more room to stretch out and explore. It feels kind of luxurious. I'm only three books into The Art of Murder series, so there's still room for plenty of surprises and developments.

(Personally, I think five is the ideal number of installments in a series, so I'm pretty sure five books will be the final count for Jason and Sam--but you never know.)

Anyway, here's what I learned in the last book.

1 - Though neither Sam nor Jason is by nature insecure, they trigger each other's deepest insecurities. I'm not sure if I have another couple with quite that dynamic. Everyone is vulnerable during the process of falling in love, but with Sam and Jason it cuts a bit deeper than that.

2 - Sam is willing--well, maybe willing isn't exactly the word--but Sam will make compromises for Jason in every aspect of his life, including the job, that he would not (or at least never has) made for anyone else. That's kind of a big thing. Sam might not be ready to get married and settle down at this exact moment in time, but he's prepared to make the kinds of concessions that preface that kind of commitment.

3 - Though Sam has been in trouble for cutting through red tape with a chainsaw, and will not waste time on diplomacy when blunt force trauma can achieve faster results, Jason might actually be the one willing to break the law in his mission to protect our artistic and cultural heritage. I'm still thinking that one through, but yeah.

4 - Sam is, um, ambidextrous. ;-)

5 - Sam scares Jason a little. Not in a...I'm afraid HE'S a serial killer too!!!! way, but Jason has an uneasy awareness that you can't stare into the abyss and not be changed by it. Mostly his fear is for Sam--but maybe not entirely.

Next week we've got something special! On Thursday Dal MacLean is posting on the ever-delicate topic of infidelity in romance--and on Friday we dig deeper into the topic with a bit of back and forth discussion on the topic. I hope you can join us!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Here's What's Next...

Moving right along... :-D

So two weeks ago (it seems like a lifetime) my dad wound up in the ER with a very slowwwww and erratic heartbeat. He's 87 and in pretty good health, still sharp as a poniard...but clearly not immortal. Much angst and drama commenced, but the long and short of it is he now has a brand new pacemaker and is recovering at home.

That's the good news, and really all things considered, there is no bad news, but I did not do a lot of writing during that time. As in none. It's just really difficult to write funny, wacky stories when you're worried and anxious and not sure what's happening.

Anyway, I'm back to work now on In Other Words... Murder. Yep, it's going to be late. We're now looking at the end of June.  And after that comes The Ghost Had an Early Check-out. 

While I'm not working as quickly as I'd hoped, I am working and producing more steadily than last year, and that's the other good news.

And here's the proof of life (just keep in mind this is rough, rough, rough):

Chapter One

“That’s one word,” J.X. said.

“Hm?” I was studying the colorful travel brochures littering my lap and the raw silk ivory comforter. Walk in the footsteps of the Colosseum’s ancient gladiators, cruise canals in a golden gondola and live La Dolce Vita! read the cover of the brochure I held. I could practically feel the blue of the Roman sky beneath my fingertips.

There was a bewildering array of options. Everything from private guided tours with personally tailored itineraries to culturally themed coach tours.  We could do an eight-day Adriatic cruise or a fourteen-day grand tour by rail.

The only option not available to me was staying home.

“Kill. Slang. Three words,” J.X. said. “First word starts with ‘D’.”

It was eleven o’clock on a Friday night in late October and we were cozily tucked up in our master bedroom at 321 Cherry Lane. J.X. was doing the San Francisco Examiner crossword and I was figuring out our spring vacation plans. It really doesn’t get much more domesticated than that.

“Do away with,” I replied absently.

He was silent as his pencil scratched on paper. He made a disgusted sound. “You’re right. How’d I miss that one?”

I glanced at him. “Bad clues. ‘Do away with’ isn’t slang. It’s a phrasal verb.”


He regarded me for a moment, then nodded at the scattered brochures. “What do you think? What looks good to you?”

“I don’t know. They’re all pretty expensive.”

“Money is no object.”

I snorted. “It might not be the object, but it should be a consideration.”

He got that dark-eyed earnest look he always wore when applying the thumbscrews. “I want to do this for you, Kit. I don’t care about the money. I want us to have this. We’ve never gone away on vacation together.”

“Yeah, I know. Possibly averting an international incident.”

His mouth quirked, but he said coaxingly, “Think about it. You and me. Hot, naked sex in a gondola.”

I gave him a look of horror. “They have gondoliers, you know!”

He laughed. “Okay, then how about a gondola ride at sunset and candlelight dinner on the terrace of our private villa--followed by hot, naked sex beneath the stars?”

I cleared my throat.

“We could explore Rome’s catacombs—or just visit a few museums and galleries. We could see the Pantheon and the Colosseum. We could go to Florence and see the Ponte Vecchio. Or spend a couple of days swimming with dolphins off the Isle of Capri.”

Despite the fact that I don’t like to travel—hate to travel—a lot of that did sound kind of appealing. I said, “Private villa, huh?”

“Whatever you want, Kit.” He was suddenly serious, gaze solemn, the line of his mouth soft. Such a romantic guy. Especially for an ex-cop. Well, really, for anyone.

“It sounds…nice,” I admitted. It sounded better than nice. Maybe even kind of lovely.

His smile was very white in the lamplight. He tossed the newspaper and pencil aside and drew me into his arms. We fell back against the mattress. The brochures whispered and crackled beneath us as his mouth found mine. He kissed me deeply, sweetly, whispered, “Maybe we could make it a honeymoon…”

My eyes popped open.

Before I could reply—not that I had a reply ready—the bedroom door pushed wide and a small voice said, “Uncle Julie?”

J.X. sat up. “Hey, honey.” He sounded only the tiniest bit flustered, plus got bonus points for not springing completely off the bed as I had done the first few times this happened. “You’re supposed to knock, remember?”

“I forgot.” Gage said huskily, “I had a bad dream.”

Gage was J.X.’s five-year-old nephew. He was spending the weekend with us, as he did a couple of times a month.

“A bad dream, huh?” J.X. opened his arms and Gage climbed into bed between us, snuggling against him. “We don’t have bad dreams in this house.”

I threw him a look of disbelief. He meant well, but come on. Everybody has nightmares.

“What did you dream?” I asked.

Gage rolled me a sideways look. Over the past four months we’d forged a truce, but he still largely took me on sufferance. Which was okay because, frankly, I’m an acquired taste: best consumed with cream, sugar and, yeah, a generous heaping of sufferance.

“Monsters,” he said tersely.


“Monsters?” J.X. repeated thoughtfully. “There are no monsters here. This is a monster-free zone.” He gave Gage a little squeeze. “You know what we do to monsters in this house?”

Gage shook his head, his gaze wary.

He was right to be wary because J.X. pretend-growled, “We tickle them,” and pounced.

Gage squealed and the two of them rolled around on the travel brochures, Gage wriggling and kicking—managing to land a few well-aimed blows at me in passing—before finally sitting up and resettling themselves against the pillows bulwarking the headboard.

J.X. winked at me. I shook my head resignedly.

“What you want to think about is all the fun we’re going to have tomorrow when you and me and Uncle Kit—”

“Christopher,” I interjected.

“—Uncle Christopher go to the Halloween Hootenanny.”

Gage and I looked at each other in complete understanding. He knew I did not want to attend this Halloween Horror any more than he wanted me there. He knew, as did I, we neither of us had any choice. It was in these moments we could actually walk a mile or two in the other’s mis-sized shoes.
J.X. continued to extol the ordeals—er, delights—of the day ahead which was scheduled to conclude with the movie Smallfoot and dinner at Giorgio’s Pizzeria. 

“So, no more bad dreams, okay?” J.X. concluded.

“Okay,” Gage said doubtfully. And then, “Can I sleep in here?”

J.X. wavered, but stayed strong. “No, honey. You’re getting too big to bunk in here. There’s not enough room for all three of us. Uncle Christopher and I would fall right out onto the floor!”

 And then the monster that lives under the bed would get us.

But see, I was getting fond of the little imp because I didn’t say it. Gage, however had no doubt who the villain of the piece was. His bleak and beady gaze fell on me.

“What about a night light?” I suggested.

His face brightened.

“Nn.” J.X. grimaced. “I don’t think we want to get in that habit, do we?”

He seemed to be asking Gage--who looked to me like a kid who very much hoped they could maybe get into that habit.

“As habits go,” I began. I remembered that I was technically only an honorary uncle and should be not be debating Gage’s real uncle’s child rearing decisions in front of him. I shrugged. But couldn’t help adding. “It’s a big house and it’s still strange to him. I had a night light when I was his age.”
J.X. frowned. “Did you?”


 “Night lights can disrupt sleep patterns. Maybe that’s why you have these bouts of insomnia.”

“You know what disrupts sleep patterns? Being scared there’s a monster under your bed or in the closet.”

Gage gulped. J.X. exclaimed, “Kit.”

Friday, May 4, 2018

War of the Worlds

I was watching one of those DIY publishing success vids this weekend—something to the effect of Earn 7-Figures Annual Passive Income from Your Backlist!—mostly out of curiosity but also because I’m always looking for pointers as far as marketing and promotion. It’s my least favorite part of the job, so yes, I’m open to learning a few new tricks.

This particular course came down to writing erotica, hiring ghost-writers, buying reviews, and a bunch of other things that really have nothing to do with writing. And because my primary reason for becoming a writer was...I love to write and wanted to do that for a wasn't especially useful.

The fact that it wasn't useful to me doesn't mean the formula wouldn't work--there seems to be plenty of evidence that these tactics do work for some people.

Which is interesting because in all honesty it goes against everything I've believed for the last thirty years of my publishing life. Live and learn. See! I can admit I'm wrong.

Once upon a time most of us became writers because we had a story to tell. You can argue whether all the stories were worth telling or whether we have a right to tell certain stories, but mostly people used to become writers because they wanted to, well, write.

I mean, not always. And not entirely. A lot--maybe the majority?--of writers always hoped (and still do?) to maybe one day earn a living at telling stories. But the view of writing as a surefire get-rich-quick scheme is comparatively new.

By the way, I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's hard for a lot of writers coming from backgrounds similar to mine to wrap their minds around.

Until I was watching that vid, my question was always: why would anyone want to tackle a job like writing if you didn't really love to write? 

Because good writing is difficult. As difficult as any other art.

But I see now that it's the wrong question. People who got rich selling Amway or Herbalife weren't necessarily in love with the products. They were in love with getting rich off the products. And while I balk at books being regarded as any other commodity, is that really logical? I don't see anything wrong with the desire to be rich or in trying to find new and inventive (legal) ways to make money.

Right after I clicked out of that vid I stumbled upon the whole #cockygate thing. (In other words, yes, I was wasting time surfing the net.)

Like everyone else I was outraged, sure, but also bewildered at what the hell this unknown author could be thinking. I mean, I get the obvious thing she was thinking--Destroy Competition, Will Robinson!!!--but there's no way in hell that trademark is going to stand, and she has to know it, so why start this particular war? What could have convinced her it was a great idea to burn every bridge in the entire world of publishing?

That's when the light came on. Hopkins is not living in the same publishing world as me. She's not operating in the same publishing world as most of the writers I know. She's operating in an alternate publishing world--kind of like Universal's Dark Universe--where writing is a get-rich-quick scheme and keywords are way more valuable than the actual story.

Of course she was willing to go to war to protect her most effective keyword! Her whole writing career is based on it. Burning bridges? She's not looking to forge relationships with fellow authors--other than those enrolled in the same Twenty Books to 50K club. Hopkins is not in love with the creative process. She doesn't *need* to write in the way that so many authors say they *need* to write to stay sane. She wasn't looking to hone her craft. She's not planning to stick around for longer than it will take to make whatever she considers bank.

Which, by the way, is okay. Whether I like it or not.

Granted, it's not quite that simple because clearly there are other issues in the Hopkins case, but for me the takeaway lesson was...we are not alone. The Dark Universe is out there and it's not going anywhere. Hopkins thought of trademarking her keyword first, but she won't be the last--in fact, a friend on Goodreads mentioned that there have already been attempts to trademark "rebellion" and "litRPG." WTH??? The keywords, the stuffed subtitles, the paid reviews and click farm launches and ghost's all part of a new set of strategies for a new breed of writer. Or maybe "writer" isn't exactly the word. I see "authorpreneur" bandied about, and it does seem kind of appropriate.

So long as publishing is viewed as a viable get rich scheme (and there's nothing wrong with the math in the twenty books to 50K line of reasoning) and Amazon doesn't change the rules of the game in any significant way, we're going to continue along this Two Worlds path for the foreseeable future of publishing.

But is that actually as worrying as some of my writer friends seem to think? Okay, it's not exactly inspirational, but when I see someone getting rich off selling real estate or inventing a new household gadget, I don't get angry and start doubting the value of my own work or the wisdom of my chosen profession.

I wanted to be a writer not the manager of an apartment building, so why would I care what apartment managers do all day? Their world is not my world.

It's pretty much the same thing here.

If you want to be a writer--if you love writing itself--you can still make a living at it. Is it more challenging than it used to be? Well, that depends on your "used to be." If you started a decade ago, yes, it's more challenging now. If you started twenty years ago, no, it's a lot easier now, even with KU and all those enterprising apartment managers hiring ghost writers and putting out a book every three weeks or less. Everything is relative. 

Nobody likes to talk money in publishing. Which is to say the people who are doing brilliantly don't mind boasting, and a lot of people who hope to eventually do brilliantly don't mind fudging, but for the rest of us resisting the lure of Kindle Unlimited and keyword stuffing it's hard to get concrete (reassuring) numbers. So here's the bottom line. I've been grossing that magical 6-Figure income for the past five years. Even last year, which was a HORRENDOUS year for me productivity-wise was (which I did not realize until we did our taxes) a 6-Figure year. Again.

Comfortably 6-Figures. Without KU. Without a hell of a lot of promotion. Without giving a thought to keywords or bothering with almost any advertising.

Now that's what I grossed. I didn't take that home because I put it all back into my business. In fact, I lost money last year. Ouch. Second year in a row. Double ouch. But the point is even someone who has been around as long as me and isn't doing a hell of a lot more than the writing itself does not have to resort to the bullshit--which means if you are starting to panic over things like whether you have to commit to KU and everything that goes with it--I'm here to reassure you that no. You don't. You really don't.

Writing still matters. Storytelling still matters. Human interaction still matters. Despite the fact that all we ever seem to hear about is what's happening in the world of KU...there's a whole other publishing universe out there.

Maybe it's your world.