Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Eliot Grayson – I’m an editor by day and a romance writer by night, at least on a good day. I’m more of a procrastinator by day and despairing eater of chocolate by night when inspiration doesn’t flow and my day-job clients are driving me to insanity. Go ahead and guess which of these is more common.
My steady childhood diet of pulp science fiction, classic tales of adventure, and romance novels surreptitiously borrowed from my grandmother eventually led me to writing; I picked up my first MM romance a few years ago and I’ve been enjoying the genre as a reader and an author ever since.
Thanks so much, Eliot, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Eliot Grayson: I have more of a style than a genre, because I genre-hop like crazy. All of my published works are MM, but so far I have historical, alt-historical, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal romance. If you throw my WIPs into the mix, there’s also science fiction and mystery/noir, although I don’t expect those books will see the light of day for another year or two. But I think my style is fairly distinct. My characters are wry, snarky, and sometimes a little edgy. My mom says (and I know…but my mom is my harshest critic, believe it or not) that my personality comes through in my books, and my personality is snarky and a little edgy. Who knew? Apparently my mom and my readers, since those are words that come up a lot in reviews of my books.
I like to see the absurd side of life, no matter where the story is set, and you won’t find perfect people having perfect sex in my books. You will, however, find the occasional decapitation, a lot of banter, and flawed people being given the chance to win in the end. I write the books I’d like to read, basically. If anyone reading this interview has read my books and thinks my writing reminds them of other authors, I’d be fascinated and delighted to hear who those authors might be.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
EG: This is an important one for me to answer, because I hate the thought of other, younger authors (I’m not aged, but I’m also not fresh-faced anymore…) making the mistakes I made. I had this idea in my twenties that my writing had to be perfect to be published. I also thought, and I believe entirely wrongly, that external validation was necessary via an agent, a publisher, a magazine editor, or what have you. Now, keep in mind that self-publishing the way it exists now wasn’t a thing when I was in my twenties. But I could’ve gotten started much, much sooner than I did, and I regret not putting something out there a lot earlier than I did. Concern about perfection prevented me from finishing anything, and discouragement about finding a publishing venue kept me from overcoming that concern.
And then, when I did self-publish my first book, it didn’t do much. Like a Gentleman isn’t a bad book, but I’ve developed a lot since then, as people do when they get older and wiser. It’s also a very niche genre (MM Regency). I think a lot of authors get discouraged when a first release sinks like a stone, and so did I, for a little while.
Basically, I’d tell myself, and I’m telling other new authors now: As long as your book is the best you can do *now*, rather than in some mythical future where you’re a better writer, and as long as you’ve made sure it’s objectively not a big ungrammatical mess, take the plunge. And then write another book. Don’t dither for years like I did!
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
EG: I do, although I have a little Post-it note sign on my desk recording the number of days since a Goodreads-Related Workplace Incident, and I know I shouldn’t! Good reviews make me happy, although occasionally I find positive comments as baffling as the negative ones that seem unreasonable. I had a review recently mentioning that the reader’s favorite part of my book was a subtle reference to a song I’d never heard of by an artist I had likewise never heard of. I’m glad that reader found something to enjoy (since it wasn’t a positive review overall), but I was deeply confused. I was just as confused after I’d Googled the lyrics of the song, so go figure.
Bad reviews used to send me into a tailspin, but now I mostly shrug and sometimes I even laugh. And oddly, the reviews that have gotten me the most worked up were positive reviews in which the reader expressed bafflement at having enjoyed my books despite my [insert the reader’s speculations on my personal flaws, lack of intellectual rigor, and cluelessness]. I spent a while arguing with myself in the shower later and wishing the reviewer had emailed me, so that I could respond, rather than posting a public review that no sensible author would acknowledge. (More advice for newbie writers: DO NOT ENGAGE! There’s no way to win. Publicly addressing readers/reviewers will always make you look bad. However, arguing the point in the shower, while crazy, is at least not going to get you in trouble.)
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
EG: Oh God, such a pantser. As I’ve gained a little experience in writing and finishing and publishing full-length works, I’ve gotten better about knowing in advance about what word count a particular story’s going to need (although I always go over by 10k or so, and now I’ve started assuming that will be the case). But the details of what’s going to happen in that word count remain hidden from me until I’m writing them, no matter how often I consult oracles or argue with myself in the shower. I recently submitted a proposal for a book in a shared-world project (Sarina Bowen’s World of True North — keep an eye on this, because there are so many awesome authors contributing to this), and once it was accepted I was thrilled but also horrified…they needed an OUTLINE!! This just isn’t part of my process in general, one reason why I struggle so much with writing anything with a mystery plot. I absolutely can plot out a whole story, but once I start writing it goes so far off the rails that I rarely try. This is something I’d like to work on. I’m never going to be an author who knows what’s going to happen in each chapter in advance, but it’d be nice if my plot twists weren’t as much of a surprise to me as they are to others!
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
EG: Keeping the elements that made the The Alpha’s Warlock, the first book in the series, popular with readers, while still making sure the new viewpoint character had a distinct voice and characterization. I wrote TAW in the first person, using only one narrator. That felt right for the story, but it also meant that a lot of what made that book what it was came directly from that character’s personality. Readers liked Nate’s snark and the sarcasm, and I wanted to keep that — but Arik, the narrator in Captive Mate, had to have his snark and sarcasm coming from a very different place, if that makes sense. It’s been both challenging and interesting for me to explore the different ways people can arrive at an equally sarcastic view on the world. Nate is more defensive, while Arik is more cynical. I had a lot of fun writing them both, but writing a series in first person is a challenging project.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
EG: There are a couple of them in this series! So far the Mismatched Mates series has two novels, The Alpha’s Warlockand Captive Mate. I’m working on a standalone novella right now that’s going to be part of a large group giveaway in January. A couple of characters from the novels make cameo appearances, but knowing who they are isn’t really necessary to enjoy the novella. I’m also hoping to write another short standalone novella in this world for release in December. But the main series is going to have at least three more novels.
Now, I love Colin, a side character in Captive Mate who’s going to be a main character in the third novel. But I know what my readers really want: a book about Charlie, a vampire who runs a nearby town, and his mysterious bodyguard Dor, who’s some kind of extra-dimensional being and who I think is everyone’s fan favorite. Dor’s going to be such fun to write once he gets his chance to be center-stage. He’s not human, and so it’s going to be very interesting to portray someone with a completely alien frame of reference. I know sci-fi writers (like you!) grapple with this aspect of characterization frequently, but it’s not something the rest of us get to play with quite as often. Colin’s book will be great. But I’m secretly looking forward to Charlie and Dor just as much as my readers are!
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
EG: I loved writing Arik, the viewpoint character, because his twisty-turny mind was so much fun to explore. But from a craft perspective, I really enjoyed writing Matthew, Arik’s alpha-werewolf enemy and then lover. Getting a character’s motivations onto the page in a way readers can respond to without ever giving them a glimpse into that character’s head directly is a hard line to walk. Obviously, a character isn’t going to start monologuing about his secrets, so he has to show what he’s thinking and feeling in other, subtler ways. However, you may not always want the viewpoint character to understand what his love interest is thinking, even though you need the reader to do so in order to find him sympathetic! I hope I pulled that off, although I suppose I’ll need to leave that up to the reviewers to determine once and for all.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
EG: I’m not sure if it was the very first book that made me cry, but the first really crushing book-crying incident I can recall is the day I stayed home from school (maybe 9th grade? that’s lost in the mists of time), kind of with a cold and kind of because I wanted to read. (My mom was pretty chill about that.) I’d read The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After as a much younger kid, but keep in mind, this was in the days before books delivered instantly, and the further sequels had been out of print for a while. It wasn’t until about 9th grade that The Vicomte de Bragelonne and Louise de la Valliere were available in print again. Having read those, I moved on to The Man in the Iron Mask at last, reading my mom’s old leather-bound copy of it. So now that the scene is set, me in my bed with a box of Kleenex (luckily I needed them for the cold already and had them at hand), with The Man in the Iron Mask propped up on my lap as I snuggled in my nest of pillows…
[Spoiler alert! Since this book was published in the mid 19th century, I feel like everyone’s had ample opportunity to read it if they’re interested in doing so, but still…spoiler alert.]
Well, so I got to the part of the book where Porthos dies. That made me cry. I was already sobbing lightly, primed for the next blow. And then, shortly after, his valet Mouston dies of a broken heart while weeping into a pile of Porthos’s coats.
And I broke. I howled. I pulled some muscles sobbing so hard. I couldn’t see the book, because my eyes were swollen and my glasses fogged up so badly they looked like they were crying too. It was so extreme that my mom heard me through two closed doors and a hallway, and came running to find out what the hell had happened to me. When she burst through the door, I managed to say something like, “…the pile of coats…” and my mom, bless her, got this look of total comprehension on her face and just nodded. “Do you need more Kleenex?” she wanted to know. I shook my head and sobbed some more. “Yep, the pile of coats does it every time,” mom said, patted me on the arm, and left me to my misery.
(I still cry every time I read that book. It’s a tear-jerker right up there with the end of The Wrath of Khan.)
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
EG: Okay, now, this is a really frustrating issue for me, and let me tell you why: I love both. Unapologetically. To be fair, I’m a purist on both sides. I love TOS (and the movies with the original cast), and I also love Episodes IV-VI, but hate almost everything else in both franchises outside of that. That said. I find the critiques from either side infuriating! Star Trek enthusiasts sneer at Star Wars fans for loving a shallow, action-oriented crowd-pleaser, while Star Wars fans think Trekkies are snobbish and overly cerebral. Why can’t we all focus on the things any sensible person can agree on, like the fact that Episode II spent like, nine hours with a moody teenager hanging around in a field eating a picnic with a manipulative crybaby? Or the way Deep Space Nine was basically a “hold my beer” moment for the producers of Babylon 5?
Or, we could all watch Firefly together in a spirit of cross-fandom amity, drink a cup of tea, and realize that sometimes you need Spock, and sometimes you need Han Solo. (Now, if someone wrote an MM sci-fi in which a Spock type and a Han Solo type found unexpected and steamy common ground…perhaps we could unite our warring factions forever? Food for thought, Scott!)
JSC: What are you working on now?
EG: So many things! I try to keep up a fairly regular publishing schedule, with a book coming out every two or three months, but I recently signed up for several projects that involve other people’s schedules and won’t have any more releases in 2020.
That said…I have a few things in the works I’m very excited about. In January I’ll be releasing a Mismatched Mates novella featuring a cranky vampire and a rentboy with delicious blood, and later in January there’ll be a paranormal romance that’s part of a shared-element series the lovely Meghan Maslow has organized. (We’re not releasing all the authors in this yet, but it’s such an amazing line-up!) TBD but probably in March, my book in Sarina Bowen’s world will release. This one’s an FBI agent who falls for a chemist with multicolored hair and a party-boy attitude, who may also be connected to the agent’s case…and hijinks ensue. After that, more Mismatched Mates books, including another standalone novella and several more novel. I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I can’t wait to get some of these books out in the world!
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today and for sending me such fun and thought-provoking questions! Live long and prosper, and may the force be with you. 😊
And now for AUTHORNAME new book: TITLE:
Captured, imprisoned, and…falling in love?
Arik is many things. Shaman, necromancer, a little on the snarky side…no one could ever accuse him of being boring. But one thing he never intended to be was imprisoned by angry werewolves. Maybe casting that love spell on the sexy alpha pack leader wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Matthew Armitage has a problem. Several of them, actually. And the biggest one is Arik. The shaman can’t be trusted. He’s dangerous enough to get the entire pack killed. Matthew knows that. But knowing doesn’t make it any easier to keep his mind (and hands) off Arik. Surely everything he’s feeling is a side effect of the spell…right?
It’s not long before enemies of the pack start circling—including one intent on claiming Arik as his unwilling mate. If they have any hope of surviving, Arik and Matthew will need to work together. And if they want a shot at happily ever after…well, they’ll just have to cross that bridge when they get to it.
If they get to it…
Captive Mate can (sort of) be read as a standalone, but works best when read in order as part of the Mismatched Mates series, beginning with The Alpha’s Warlock. This book contains a vivid memory of a sexual assault, but the assault occurs in the past and off-page and is not between the main characters.
Ian unlocked the door without bothering to knock. Not that a lock would’ve kept Matthew in if he really wanted to get out, but if that huge mountain of a wolf was sitting outside all the time…well, I wasn’t loving my own chances of breaking out of there. Nate opened the door, and Ian shoved me inside.
“He’s all yours,” Ian said, and slammed the door behind me.
The lock clicked.
Matthew stood up from where he’d been sitting on the bed.
He looked like shit, with dark bags under his eyes and a tension in his body that practically thrummed in the air.
Although as I watched, that tension started to evaporate. My own nausea was receding, and my headache faded away within moments.
“Are you all right?” Matthew demanded abruptly.
I blinked at him, not quite fluttering my eyelashes, but close. “I’m hungry,” I said simply. “And cramped from being chained up.” I threw in a little pout. “It was awful down there.”
Matthew’s hands twitched, like he was resisting reaching for me. “You look good. More than good,” he said, and then added, more coldly, “I’m sure you’ll survive. But they should have taken better care of — I know you’re just trying to get to me. Fuck!” he shouted, and spun around, his shoulders heaving and his hands rubbing through his hair.
I edged away, but then my back hit the wall. His own common sense, and probably a lot of evidence his brother would have shown him by now of my active involvement in trying to kill him and his whole pack, was obviously having a knock-down drag-out fight with my spell. The spell made him love me, but it couldn’t prevent that love from turning toxic, becoming so intermingled with a vengeful alpha’s possessive, aggressive rage that it was indistinguishable from hatred. So I’d been expecting either care and concern or anger and lust, but not all of it at once.
Oh, this was bad. He wouldn’t need to try to break out of the room when he went crazy, which looked like it was happening any second; I’d be conveniently right there, and he could just break me.
And fuck, but this was ruining my half-formed plans. I’d had an idea of how to manage him if he was stuck in poor-Arik — well, poor-Jonah, since he still had my fake name — mode. I’d milk it for all it was worth. And if he was furious and finally convinced that he hated me but also wanted me, I’d have let him fuck me through the mattress, while appearing to resist, and then used either his remorse or his afterglow against him.
But now both of those ideas were out the window.
Speaking of. I eyed the two windows in the room, both of them regular old-fashioned sash windows just large enough for a full-grown man to climb in and out of. I’d have given a lot to be able to do that right about then.
But no, that could wait until I’d had a chance to lull Matthew a little bit — and then there was the problem of getting the cuffs off. I was short on allies outside of this house, not that I had any here, either.
And I had to work on that.
Change of tactics. I needed to reconcile his competing feelings, stat.
“Look, I cast this spell on you because I was afraid for my life,” I said, a little breathily and a little ruefully. The role of victim didn’t come naturally to me, but I could play one on TV. “I know I’ve done bad things. But — you know what Kimball was like. He threatened me. I didn’t have a choice.”
“You always have a choice,” Matthew growled, gravelly and low. The wolf was pretty close to the surface, it sounded like. “You always — fuck. You did have a choice. You did.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as me.
“Putting the spell on you didn’t hurt or kill you,” I said. “But if I hadn’t — do you have any idea what he was going to do to me?”
In an instant Matthew was right in my face, his hands planted on the wall on either side of me and his eyes glowing.
“Four of my pack died the other night, Jonah. Four. Because I was —” His jaw worked. “Because I was thinking about you instead of my family. Because I betrayed them to Kimball. Because I told the council, and all my betas, that Kimball wasn’t a threat and I was negotiating with him privately to form an alliance. No one was on their guard. No one was ready.”
I tried not to have a conscience; it was an inconvenient burden I couldn’t afford. But that shook me. I hadn’t known the death toll on either side; no one had bothered to tell me. I was sure the Kimballs must have lost a few more than that, but then, they were a bigger pack.
The thing was, it took a lot to kill werewolves. Fatalities were usually pretty low, even in a pack war. Wounded enemies would be left to live or die while the mobile combatants moved on to another fight, and they often lived. I’d been counting on that when I turned Kimball into a monster. He looked fucking horrifying, but that was more for shock and awe. And because I wanted to. I’d assumed most of his victims would live to tell the tale.
No wonder Ian wanted me dead. Those were his friends, people he’d known all his life. It was a weird thing for me, to try to put myself in the place of someone with real connections to other people. But for a moment, I almost saw it from the Armitages’ perspective.
Nope, twinging conscience or not, I couldn’t afford to worry about it.
“Kimball didn’t want me to put that particular spell on you, Matthew. He wanted me to tie you to him directly. If I had, you’d have been his puppet, and it would’ve worked out even worse for your pack in the —”
“You could’ve not done what that son of a bitch and his fucking psychopath of a warlock told you to at all!” Matthew roared. “You could’ve said no!”
“He would have killed me!”
“No, the fuck he would’ve. A shaman’s too valuable. Don’t give me that fucking bullshit, you —”
With a wordless snarl of rage, Matthew wrapped one of his huge hands around a fistful of my hair and smashed his mouth down over mine. He outweighed me by a lot, and his body pinned me to the wall…I could feel his erection digging into my stomach.