I have nothing much to report this week, as I have taken some time off between releasing the last in the Larkspur series, and starting in earnest on the next series, while also working up ideas for The Clearwater Companion. It was my birthday last weekend, and I released ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ on the same day to mark my birthday and that of Archer, Lord Clearwater, though he was born way before me, in 1859. I chose that as his birthday so I would remember it.
Thank you so much to my readers who jumped in and purchased Legacy over the weekend, it shot up to #9 on the new release chart for LGBTQ Historical fiction and shared a screen with KJ Charles and her fabulous latest releases. It makes all the hard work pay off, for sure. Thank you.
This week, I am doodling notes for a possible new series. More mysteries, the same time period, the same mix of fact and fiction, but with entirely different characters. Exactly what this is to be, though, I am not yet sure. I am in a state of ‘getting over’ the last 18 connected books in Clearwater and Larkspur, and moving on. There’s a danger I will simply reinvent the same characters, so a break is needed. This week, I am catching up on some other writing jobs while making my notes, and next week, I shall be abroad for a week, so that should clear my head too. It’s a good idea to take a break now and then. I’m known for leaping straight from one thing to another, and when you’re writing a connected series, that’s easier to do.
In fact, after writing Deviant Desire and knowing I wanted to carry on, and after getting through ‘Twisted Tracks’, I found the rest came more easily. One reason for that was because I had, by then, created my five main characters, and didn’t need to think too much about them. They develop through the rest of the series, of course, but I only had to think about the new additions, developing the villains, moving time and character arcs forward, and so, found both series easy to write. Now, I am nearly at the end of one journey and at the start of another. I am changing trains, you might say, and, like Clem Carter in the Larkspur series, heading for an unknown destination.
Midnight on the Great Western – ‘The journeying boy’
A few days ago, I received the internal file for my next novel, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, and as usual, it looks great. This is thanks to the work done by Scott and Mark at Other World’s Ink, a Mongoose Author Services company I started using a few years ago.
I think I came across them via their other site, Queer Romance Ink, where I list all my books. In fact, QRI is one of only two places online I pay to publicise my books, because they are the only ones that are worth it, if you ask me. (The other one is All Author, a separate enterprise.)
Before OWI offered the layout and cover-building services they now have, I used to do the internal layout of my books myself. This involved using a thing called Adobe InDesign, which I managed to get to grips with in a very basic way, and it was a long and nerve-wracking process, for me. Each chapter was a separate document, then turned into NotePad format, then set out in individual ID files, and there were things about headers and footers, and getting the page numbering right was a nightmare, and I was always worried I’d forget to insert a chapter when combining all files… Now, I send the guys the Word docs for the MS, the front matter, back matter, any illustrations or maps, and a couple of days later, it comes back looking perfect. Their service also allows for unlimited changes, so when we find the occasional typo I’ve left in a book months after it’s published, I can send them the amendment, and back comes the improved version at no extra charge.
Anyway, I’m very pleased to say that OWI now takes all the strain and stress out of the book layout for me. (They also organise blog tours and may other author services.) And I’m pleased to say they’ve come along today to tell us more about themselves. Earlier this week we took a moment to ask Scott a few questions about his work….
Have you always worked in graphic design and book layout?
I’ve been using Photoshop since the late 90’s. We took a trip to Kauai and fell in love with the island, and decided we wanted to live there. And if we were going to do that, we would need a job there. So we decided to get into web design. We jumped in feet first, bought Photoshop, and with the help of a graphically-inclined friend, just started using it. For most of the first fifteen years, I mostly used it for photo manipulation – resizing, touch-up, color enhancement and the like.
Then I started working with layers, and composing new things, and eventually began to create book covers. My first attempts were a bit amateurish, but over time I got better. I mostly do my own covers and cover wraps, which are a lot of fun, finding the perfect art to make a cohesive print cover.
My formatting work started similarly. I bought Vellum, a Mac formatting app, when I first started publishing my own work. It wasn’t cheap – about $300 – and I figured I could defray the costs by doing some book formatting to other authors. I’ve done more than a hundred books for scores of authors.
Do you work for specific genres?
No, although I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy the most. They’ve always been my go-to genres. But I’ve done formatting and cover wraps for those genres, horror, romance, erotica, historical, mystery, YA, plays, poetry, non-fiction, and more.
Can you remember how you first met James/Jackson?
On Facebook, I think. He was one of our QueeRomance Ink authors, and was having trouble with formatting. He asked me to tackle his latest book. And now, nine books later…
Is he easy to work with?
LOL yes he is. He’s very specific about what he wants in his books, and that’s a good thing. I have a whole word file on his specifications. 😛
He also gets back to me quickly, although the Atlantic Ocean slows things down a bit…
Do you enjoy working on his books?
It’s fun to put his books together, and to see what kind of artwork he includes each time. I only get glimpses of his actual writing, but that’s enjoyable too. I always smile when a new Jackson Marsh project arrives in my inbox.
You can find the full gallery of the covers that Scott has done from scratch here and here is the link to his own website:
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy week to chat to us. As you can see they are a pair of very talented guys, I would now be lost without them.
Looking forward to the rest of the weekend, I have a walk planned this afternoon with my husband, Neil. We are going to visit an old friend who lives on the beach in a nearby bay. The sun is out and I am looking forward to stretching my legs. Tomorrow I will hit the button on Amazon for the release of The Larkspur Legacy at the same time as celebrating my 60th birthday with a glass of bubbly. Mrs Norwood is in charge of lunch and festivities, photos are sure to follow on my facebook page. Have a great weekend!
This morning, I received the final layout files from Other Worlds Ink, so The Larkspur Legacy is ready to go. Only three more days and I will upload it to Amazon, and the Kindle version should then go live on Saturday night/Sunday morning (GMT + 2).
Before that, you can find out more about OtherWorldsInk and their services, because we’re arranging a chat with them for Saturday’s blog. They arrange blog tours and publicity, do book formatting and cover design and are a great help to me. I’ve used them since ‘Negative Exposure’, and now no longer have to spend hours setting out my pages and doing the best I can, because they do it for me. More about that on Saturday.
As for the next work in progress,
I have already begun on The Clearwater Companion by gathering my notes, cuts, excerpts, images, and other ideas. Right now, I am typing up the notes from my bible (series notebook). We may not use all of them, but as long as I have them all in one digital place, I’ll be able to work with them much more easily. It’s a pretty thankless task, but a couple of hours a day and I should have both large notebooks transcribed in a month, and I can then set about seeing what’s what.
Meanwhile, look out for The Larkspur Legacy, the series finale to the Larkspur and Clearwater books. You should be able to get it from Kindle on Sunday (the print version may take a day or two longer to appear).
Proofing a book and making it ready for publication.
The Larkspur Legacy, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series, is now being layed out and when that’s done, it will be ready for publication next weekend. Meanwhile, I thought I’d have a look at the blurb and talk a little about the proofreading stage. As you can see from the title, I’m never sure whether I should write proofreader or proof-reader, or even proof reader. And that’s why I have one. More about that in a moment, first the blurb.
The Larkspur Legacy full blurb reads like this:
The Larkspur Legacy
The Larkspur Mysteries
‘Lord Clearwater, the Larkspur Academy has forged a bond among its men that will last long after they have left us and made their own way in the world. You are to be commended for the enterprise, but you should not be surprised by it.’
Barbary Fleet, December 1891
Henry Hope lies in a coma, and Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother’s secret treasure is on hold. But when a new clue comes to light, Clearwater and the academy men resume their greatest adventure. It is also to be their most dangerous.
With murderous enemies behind, the unknown ahead, and a warrant out for Clearwater’s arrest, no-one is safe. Loyalties and friendships are tested as the men face harrowing confrontations, a war of attrition in the national newspapers, storms, gunfights and death.
Will love and friendship be enough to secure the lives and futures of Lord Clearwater and his crew? Can they solve the riddles in time, and will anyone ever know the meaning of the seemingly unlockable riddle? Behind four points ’neath gifted crook, the light awaits for those who look…
The Larkspur Legacy follows on directly from ‘Starting with Secrets’ and is the culmination of both the Clearwater and Larkspur mystery series. It is not necessary to have read the Clearwater Mysteries, but to get the best from this ‘end of season finale,’ you’re advised to read both, the Larkspur Mysteries in particular, and to read them in order.
With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story combines historical fact with fiction. As with all of Jackson Marsh’s mysteries, the novel contains humour, love and action, while offering the reader the chance to solve the clues with the cast of disparate, well-drawn characters.
“This is a book that could have been written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dan Brown.”
That is what you will see on Amazon when the book is published.
For me, the important things to remember when writing a blurb are:
It is not a synopsis
It is selling the book
Use power words
Keep it brief
Entice the reader
Other authors and advisors have other advice, but those are my rules to myself.
I start by writing what I want the browsing reader to know, and I don’t care how I write that draft. Then, I go through it knocking out as much as I can that’s not necessary to convey the backbone of the story, and then I go through it again using power words.
I try to keep blurbs down to 150 words or less, and only three paragraphs.
1) The premise of the story: Henry Hope lies in a coma, and Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother’s secret treasure is on hold, when…
2) The ‘thing to draw the reader in’: But when a new clue comes to light….
3) The great question or hook: Will love and friendship be enough…?
As for power words, I mean words and phrases like:
Greatest adventure, most dangerous, murderous enemies, the unknown, harrowing confrontations, war of attrition, storms, gunfights, death…
I also prepare the blurb before I send my MS to my proof-reader, because it makes sense for a third party to check it as much as they check the MS.
I’m lucky to have found Ann Attwood, and she has been my proof reader on every Jackson Marsh book and a couple of my later James Collins titles. It’s important to have a good working relationship with your proofer (who is not necessarily also your editor, in fact, I believe they should be two different people, but that’s up to you).
I invited Ann over to tell us a little bit more about herself and how she got into proofreading.
I started proofreading in my twenties (a long time ago!), mainly doing technical documents, but I have always read a lot.
I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when I was around 16. My mum had the hardback edition, which was really heavy to carry around, and, of course, I read all Jane Austen’s books, and Georgette Heyer’s. As you can see, I am a big romantic fiction fan.
I worked in banking (sorry) until I had my family, but reading kept me sane. After they all started at school I was working in a preschool, but had to give up when I damaged my back. I needed something to do.
It wasn’t a big leap to get into reading ARC editions, but many had so many mistakes from lack of editing, I think, so I began sending corrections to the authors.
It wasn’t long before I was asked if I would proofread or edit professionally, so I set up a Facebook page (now Meta), and it snowballed from there.
To be honest, it’s so long since I started working with James and his Jackson persona, I can’t remember how we met. Probably a recommendation, which is how I’ve gained most of my authors (there are about 40 or 50 on my books. Some send regularly a book a month, others may send one or two a year)
James is easy to work with, and his books are extremely good. I enjoy following the plots and untangling the mysteries to see if I reach the same conclusion. The stories are extremely well thought out, and he has obviously done a lot of research. All that is left for me to do is fix his typos and enjoy myself immersed in a brilliant adventure, ensuring there are no continuity issues (which there usually aren’t).
This last book, the finale in the series, is his longest and best yet (IMHO). All the loose ends are tied up, but no spoilers here.
As well as editing and proofreading for my indie authors (genres include romantic, historical, paranormal, sci-fi, crime, and murder mysteries), I proofread for the online edition of a financial magazine, and edit for the marketing arm of a PSP software provider.
Thank you Ann, you sound like a very busy person and I very much appreciate being one of your clients.
So back to checking through the manuscript, your proofer should be able to identify everything from obvious typos to the subtle differences between words, and that’s what Ann does. Although I use a spell check, and a couple of plug-in grammar and spelling checkers in Word, there’s nothing to beat a 3rd party pair of eyes, and an experienced grammarian proof reader. We’re not just talking spelling and typos, but punctuation and consistency of story.There are so many words in the English language that are important to get right, and some of the ones I need a third eye on are these:
And some of my most common typos are character’s names, believe it or not. Often your eye and brain see what they expect to see, not what’s actually written, so I am always missing mix-ups like:
I’ve also put in some accidental typos that have been quite funny (as long as they get taken out). Mind you, nothing is as funny as some of the typos you see left in published classics.
In the Larkspur Legacy, there is one section where one of the characters is reading from an actual copy of Baedeker’s travel guide from 1890, and I couldn’t help quoting it verbatim. Reading from the book, the character says:
‘The façade, towards the boulevard… They must mean this road… Roman circular style… Three stories…” Spelt wrong. “Cottage of the pensioner who keeps the key…”’
The Baedeker travel companions, were very popular in the later 19th century and well respected, but not always so well proofed, it seems. Mind you, I can’t say anything, I am always coming up with new and creative typos: ‘Joe’s not stupid, Sir, he’s dead.’ Instead of deaf, for example. Mostly, I’m able to take them out before they go to Ann, but I also have a checklist of my most common. Form/From, Filed/filled, griped/gripped etc. I have trouble with double-letter words, as you can see, and that’s why you should always hire a professional proofreader, or a proof reader, or, assuming he/she is a compound adjective, a proof-reader.
Proof-reader might not be a compound adjective, actually. I don’t know. Which is why I call in the professionals.
The Larkspur Legacy is due for release next Saturday, 26th March. In the meantime, to celebrate the completion of The Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, I am offering Deviant Desire as a FREE download on Amazon until 22nd March. Maybe you had it on KindleUnlimited before but now you can download for keeps, or maybe send to a friend to get them hooked too!
I am also part of a BookFunnel promo running for the week, over 50 fellow MM author are showcasing their first in series, so if you are looking for a new binge read have a browse. I need clicks on this link to build my BookFunnel reputation so please CLICK HERE
You’ve been hearing about this work in progress for over 15 weeks now and must be getting pretty tired of it, so it’s about time I told you what the next WIP is to be.
First, though, a quick update on ‘Legacy.’
It’s proofed, all the extras are done (map, illustration, covers), and I have begun the process on Amazon, so it now has an ISBN number. I’ve contacted the layout guys and aim to have all the files to them in a day or so, so they can begin their work, and have it back to me well before ‘push the button’ day on March 26th.
Barbary Fleet and Other Matters
Meanwhile, I have started gathering information for The Clearwater Companion.
One of the major parts of this forthcoming book will be the story of Fleet and how he came to the Larkspur Academy, and I have a couple of chapters in draft form which I wrote some time ago. I am currently looking at them, and wondering if I haven’t got a novella here. Maybe. We will see, but ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters’ will be a short story within the companion, which will also have other information, ‘backstage’ news about characters and stories, facts and fiction, and all manner of things that might be of interest to anyone who has read both series.
So, that’s my current work in progress, a companion to the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries for anyone who might like to know some things that are not in the 18-book double series.
Over the next couple of weeks, whilst we wait for The Larkspur Legacy to be published, we (that’s the Royal ‘we’, i.e. Jenine, my P.A.) thought it may be fun to look at the other professionals behind my books. Those people who help transform my file on a computer into a real life published and saleable book.
To start the ball rolling, and to coincide with my cover reveal today, we are talking covers and cover art with a chance to chat with Andjela, my very talented cover artist who has been working with me for over six years.
Let me hand over to Jenine…
Firstly let us meet cover designer, Andjela Vujic. Tell us a little about yourself, Andjela.
While I have a degree in scenography, my art extends to painting, dancing and graphic design. I have been designing book covers for the past nine years, and it remains my biggest passion. I am currently producing the majority of the book covers for Foreshore Publishing in London. You can find me on instagram https://www.instagram.com/agazar_design/
Now to Jackson, how did you initially find Andjela?
When I first started as Jackson Marsh, I went to People Per Hour and put up a work request. Something like:
Out of the many offers, Andjela was the designer whose work I felt was most on my wavelength — the most professional — and she seemed flexible. Now, I contact her with a cover idea, and tell her a few basics, such as: What I imagine, what props are involved, the weather (if an outdoor scene), the date/period, and if there’s to be a model/face, I try and send her a similar looking person to the one I want.
At what point do you start imagining the cover? At what stage do you contact Andjela?
I usually start thinking about the cover once I have completed a first draft. By then, everything of importance is in the story, and from it, I extract either a moment as in the covers of ‘Fallen Splendour’, when we see Clearwater (or Andrej) rearing their horse on a clifftop,
Both involve horses, in the way ‘Twisted Tracks’ involve a couple running for a train.
In other words, a moment of excitement from the story.
Other times, I feature the characters, as in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ because it’s more of a biographical story.
Sometimes, I take ‘props’ from the story, and highlight them, such as the cover for ‘Agents of the Truth.’
How easy is it to communicate your ideas, does she understand what you are looking for quickly?
It’s easy, and yes, she knows what I want even when I don’t!
For ‘the Larkspur Legacy’, I wrote,
I had another idea too, and she tried that, and I realised it wouldn’t work. She often does me several mock-ups and doesn’t mind how many times I ask for tweaks.
So, you are both on the same wavelength?
Yes, it seems we are. I only have to send the basics, and she knows what I like and, somehow, comes back with exactly what I was picturing, even though I didn’t explain it very well.
I asked Andjela a similar question…
When Jackson sends you his ideas for a cover is it easy to visualise what he wants?
Yes! We have been cooperating for years now, and we have always had great communication. He is one of my favourite clients-always clear on what he wants, which makes my job a lot easier. His initial idea is often the one we go forth with, in the final design.
You were nominated for a Goodreads award for the cover of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’. Congratulations!
I am so glad to hear that. That cover was a pleasure to create.
Which is your favourite cover that you have designed?
Seeing Through Shadows and Negative Exposure 🙂
Jackson, ‘Shadows’ was nominated for best cover by Goodreads, in your opinion is this Andjela’s best? Which one is your favourite?
I like all of them for different reasons. ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is great because it gives us a ghostly atmosphere, features the owl, and is slightly misleading, which is what I wanted. The colours are also perfect for the mood of the story.
One of my favourites is ‘Negative Exposure’ because it shows the image of either a young male posing for an erotic photograph (a part of the story), or a body lying dead on a rocky shoreline, which is also appropriate. The colours are spot on too.
As for the Larkspur Legacy, as you can see from that email excerpt above, the guides for the cover were:
A sailing ship with three masts
Dramatic journey, travel, adventure, mystery
Map & compass
From that, we have the cover which suggests adventure and danger. Within it, however, are also important props from the story. Also, as this is the end of a series, I wanted to do what I’d done with the final Clearwater book; show a moving object, rather than a person. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ showed a train ploughing through music in the snow. ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ shows a ship ploughing through rough seas against a map. What all that means will become clear when you read the book. Click the photo below to see the new cover…..
Don’t you think it’s fabulous? I’m nearly all the way through my beta read and I can say that it perfectly depicts the thrilling adventure you will be taken on!
Before we finish Andjela has an early birthday surprise for Jackson 🙂 Click on his face for another reveal…
The work in progress news this week. I have the proofed MS back, and am reading through it for the last time; still a few days to go with that.
Meanwhile, I have sent the back cover text to Andjela so she can make up the full cover, and I have estimated the page count to be around 500, including the author’s notes, front and back matter, map and an illustration. I expect to have the covers finalised in a week or so, and we are still on track for release on March 26th.
My next job, after my final read, is to set up the Amazon page and get the ISBN number, so I can add that to the front matter before sending everything off to be formatted.
Meanwhile, Neil read the full draft and had a comment to make. I’ll put it here to whet your appetite.
My proof-reader wrote,
What you make of it will be revealed in time, but there’s not long to go now. If you’ve not started on the Larkspur Series, then now’s a good time to begin the adventure with ‘Guardians of the Poor.’
As I’ve mentioned before, things that happen in this novel have their roots in previous books, and in ‘Legacy’, the skies are darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost, as an old friend of mine used to say. (If only chickens could fly; I think he was being ironic.)
Upwards and onwards, and less than three weeks to wait.
Now that the last in the Larkspur series is almost ready to be published, and I have sent it away to be proofed, what next?
I’ve still to complete the blurb and author’s notes which will also need to be proofread, and I will be working on them later today. As for the next book, I have a few ideas, and I’d like to ask you for more.
My next job is to put together a companion to go with the Clearwater and Larkspur series. For now, I am calling it ‘The Clearwater Companion’, but I also have an idea I might call it:
When I set about writing the Larkspur series, the first book was to be titled ‘Barbary Fleet,’ and I wrote the first couple of chapters to see how it would go. It didn’t go very far. Not because I didn’t have a good idea, but because I was keen to get the Larkspur Academy up and running, and this book was to be about Fleet, his past, and how he came to be in charge of the academy. It was to be a prequel, I suppose, and like ‘Banyak & Fecks’, would lead to the first of the new series. However, I soon realised I didn’t know enough of what was to happen in the Larkspur world, to give it a prequel, and the time wasn’t right for Barbary Fleet’s past. As Fleet would have said, ‘My past must remain in the future.’
I even had an idea for the cover:
That’s actually my husband photoshoped into a picture and created by Andjela, my cover designer. It was a Birthday present for Neil.
Instead, as I wrote the Larkspur series, I kept trying to find a place where I could put Fleet’s past, how he came to Larkspur and what his story was, but I never found the chance. There’s a large twist in his story, but it never fitted comfortably into any of the others.
I’m saving it for the Companion, and it is one of the unpublished sections and stories from the Clearwater and Larkspur worlds that will appear in the finished book.
The book, by the way, will contain a spoiler alert and I will suggest that people only treat themselves to it once they have finished reading both series.
As for ideas, so far I have:
Cut sections from some of the books.
Anecdotes and backstories, such as the one mentioned above.
Drawings of some of the characters like I have in the Larkspur series, but didn’t put in the Clearwater ones.
Some of the author’s notes / information that, again, I didn’t put in the Clearwater books.
Quotes from some of the characters.
An explanation of titles.
Threads through the books that readers may not have noticed.
That list is the result of a quick brainstorm, and there may be more ideas to come. I started a folder for this project over two years ago, but there is little in it. I started writing character biographies, but frankly, that became dull. So, I don’t think we’ll have ‘fact pages’ about each of the main characters. It’s a companion, a bit of fun and an extra, not a Haynes manual.
So, my shout out to you is this:
If you have any ideas, or if you want to suggest what you would like to see in the book, please send them to me either via email or through my Facebook page. Perhaps you have unanswered questions, or want to know something about one/some of the characters that’s not been explained, let me know and I will see what I can do.
This week I have a brief work in progress update for you.
Yesterday, I sent the first half of the MS off to be proofread. I am having a final read through, and when that’s done, the rest will be ready for proofing.
I’m still on track for publication on March 26th (or as soon after that date as Amazon releases the book), so there is not long to wait now.
Currently, my days are taken up with writing, re-reading, editing, and re-reading again.
The cover is ready but I must work on the back text and blurb, and the author’s notes which have proved popular in the Larkspur Series.
Once all this is done, and the book is out, I can turn my mind to The Clearwater Companion, the collection of series-related information and short stories I intend to put together for anyone who has read the entire two series. But that’s for the future. For the moment, it’s back to re-reading.
Currently, my first-in-series novel, Deviant Desire, is enjoying a book funnel promotion in their M/M Series Starters listing. There are many series-starters on the list, which you can explore from here. This gives me an excellent opportunity to talk about the first story in the Clearwater Mysteries, and to address the title of today’s blog: How To Start an M/M Romance Series.
First, have a deviant desire to write.
I’ve often been asked,
‘How did you start writing the Clearwater series?’
Back in 2018, I’d written a novel called ‘The Stoker Connection,’ and by doing so, unleashed within myself the deviant desire to write more mysteries based on fact, but ones that also included romance and adventure.
I’ve been a fan of ‘Dracula’ since I was 11 and begged for a copy for Christmas. (I was mad on the Hammer Horror films of the 70s and had a thing for creepy castles and what I now know as Gothic.) Dracula is written in the form of diaries and articles, journals and messages, and that makes it all the more real. So, when I set about ‘The Stoker Connection’, I wrote it in diary form, and based the story on a great big What If?
“What if you could prove that the greatest Gothic horror novel of all time was a true story?”
What ‘Stoker’ did was open up another What If? In this case,
‘What if Jack the Ripper had killed rent boys?’
That led to a
and then came the,
‘I can, and I will.’
Why not write a story where the villain is the famous Ripper of history? It’s an unsolved crime(s) that continues to grab the imagination of everyone, from conspiracy theorists to famous novelists, filmmakers to composers, so why not have a go? I’d read just about every book on the subject, seen the documentaries and films, and had gathered an amount of knowledge of the times and places. I’d even lived not far from Whitechapel and often walked its streets.
But… Yes, it had been done before, so I needed a different approach.
Make it a gay love story?
I’d written some classic MM Romance with ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ and other ‘Mentor’ books, and I’d dabbled with gay-to-straight mystery/romance/lore in my James Collins series, ‘The Saddling Series.’ What, then, would happen if I wrote a gay romance set in October 1888, the time the Ripper was stalking the streets of Whitechapel? The only way to answer a question like that is to set about writing one, so I did.
But…?How to make it faction?
Faction being a word for a novel where fact and fiction mix. How to make it realistic without descending into blood and gore, and how to make it dramatic? As if the original events weren’t dramatic enough. First, I thought, because it’s not going to be fact-fact, I will change Whitechapel to Greychurch, so I can create my own world. Greychurch is simply my name of the area of London, and now, eighteen books later, I rather wish I’d just called it Whitechapel, because the series has gone on to be accurate in historic detail apart from the names of a few places. Once they had appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’, it was too late to change them, so I still have Limedock for Limehouse, Westerpool for the Wirral, and St Matthew’s Park instead of Hyde Park. Hey ho! You write and learn.
But… Eighteen books by accident?
Well, yes and no. ‘Deviant Desire’ was meant to be a standalone novel, one that went into detail of the living conditions in the East End in 1888, and one that used facts as well as fiction, told a love story, and that was it. While writing it, I made references and gave nods to some of the facts from the original horrors. Astute Ripperologists may note that I have a double murder on one night, that some of the murder sites bear similarities to the originals (Mitre Square became Bishop’s Square, for example), and there are other hidden references which the avid reader might notice.
Yes, but… Eighteen books?
I’m getting there. The background to ‘Deviant Desire’ was London 1888, but what was the love story? Let’s call on another popular trend, I thought, one that some critics call cliché, and it is, a bit. Rich and poor, across-the-divide, Prince and Pauper, except, not a Prince but a viscount. In the British nobility, a viscount is less than an earl, more than a baron, but still an ancient title that often comes with much responsibility, and as much inherited wealth as debt. Of course, the other character had to be a rent boy, a ‘renter’ as he calls himself, and that’s how we ended up with the two main character’s you see on the cover. Archer Riddington, aka, the Viscount Clearwater, and Silas Hawkins, aka Billy O’Hara, the renter.
Their story starts with the line,
‘Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate.‘
We don’t know who this man is yet, but within that line, we know Silas is poor, where we are, and that there’s going to be an age-gap element. The story continues… Silas has a best friend, a straight man with a big, er, talent, who works as a rent boy out of necessity, and who is an immigrant from Ukraine. Clearwater, meanwhile, sets his crotchety butler and his gorgeous, sexy footman the task of acquiring a renter for an interview. There are already enough ‘standards’ in the story, and I didn’t want another, i.e. the one where a rich man hires a poor man for a shag. Archer is more noble than that, and is using his new-found wealth to finance a shelter for homeless young men in the East End; rent boys, mainly. Thus, he wants to know what life is like for them and what they would want in such a shelter, and sends his staff to find someone who looks a little like a picture he drew. (There is an element of Archer wanting a fantasy to come true, and boy, does he get it.)
Yes, but…? I’m still getting there.
The story unfolds. Silas and his mate, Andrej, meet Archer. Silas immediately falls for him, and vice versa, at which point, the over-arching theme of the book begins: being gay in Victorian Britain was illegal, so everything that follows must happen away from the public eye.
So, now we have: rich and poor, nobility and renters, the East End and Knightsbridge, gay and straight, friendship and love, a 19 year old and a 29 year old, and our main cast can only love illegally. Oh, and there’s a series of murders taking place too, let’s not forget the villain of the piece. Let’s also not forget that the footman is in love with the viscount, the viscount is in love with the footman, but nothing has ever happened because, even within a nobleman’s house, relationships must not cross the threshold of the green baize door. (Upstairs and downstairs mustn’t mix.)
All these elements continue as the mystery unfolds, reaches a climax, and ends with an ending I was not entirely happy with. I was happy with it as a writer, but it left me feeling that there was something more. A longer story to tell. Characters have arced and changed, but where do they go next? What happens to the footman? Did the Ripper escape? Will he be back? Is he dead? And what am I going to do with this main cast of characters.
They’d already become so real, I knew Deviant Desire had to lead to something else.
It did, it led to 17 more novels.
At last! Yes, you see, I got there in the end.
What started as a one-off became a series, by accident, as I said. I hadn’t planned the series, so my ‘How To’ tip remains:
just get on and write it and see what happens.
It’s easy to base future stories on elements of those in the already-published earlier books, you don’t need to plan ahead. Having said that, as I worked through the series, I made notes of what I might like to see happen when the time was right, what other characters I could bring in, and what historical events I could use as fact in my fiction. Had I done all that before writing, Silas Hawkins was searching for coins… I would have found the prospect too daunting, so I am glad I just said, What if? and got on with it.
How Many Novels make up the Clearwater Series?
I mentioned 18, but that includes the follow-on series, the Larkspur Mysteries. The Larkspur novels include characters from right back in book one of Clearwater, Deviant Desire, and they even include threads that began in the prequel (which I wrote after Clearwater eight, ‘One of a Pair’, but which happens before Deviant Desire and leads into it). The two series are connected, and the five main characters, the ‘canonical five’ (you will note the Jack the Ripper reference) can be found playing parts in just about all eleven Clearwater and seven Larkspur books.
So, to answer the question, How To Start an M/M Romance Series, I’d have to answer:
Plan it, write book two before you publish book one, be passionate from the start, keep notes and a ‘bible’ for details, and keep going.
Do what I did, and start one by accident.
Either way, I now have my own best seller, ‘Deviant Desire.’ Two actually, because the first in the Larkspur Series, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ is also doing well. People like a good ongoing series with characters who develop, and, I am pleased to say, that’s what you get with both the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries.
Note: The last book of both series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is due to be released around March 26th. You don’t have to have read all of the Clearwater books to enjoy the Larkspur series, it can be read separately, but you’ll get more from Larkspur if you’ve read Clearwater. You’re advised to read both series from the start and in order. You can find them all here:
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