All posts by L.J. Longo

I’m a queer author, a geek, a feminist, and an MFA student studying genre fiction. I think that covers all the labels; I don’t really like labels. Rules tend to get me in trouble. I’ve published two romance novels, Evasive Love through Ellora’s Cave in 2012 and Uninvited Love through Evernight Publishing in 2016 and have a bunch more for sale on Smashwords.com. I teach creative writing classes by the beach and professionally edit. If you’d like to chat with me about books, writing, queer/feminist issues, I’m on facebook at LJLongo713.

October Surprise: Inspiration

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: Inspiration

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. So I had politics on the brain. The initial plot-bunny that hopped through my head was about a gay politician who covered up a scandal by claiming the sex worker in those dirty pictures was actually his fiancé.

And that was all I had.

In my first attempts to carve out a story, I thought maybe the politician was the sort of rake who’d make Bill Clinton blush while the younger man was a college student who could barely speak in public. Or maybe he was a secret war vet? Or maybe a born-again Christian… that wasn’t working. Then I thought, maybe the politician was super corrupt and the young fellow was the victims of a sex trafficking thing and… that fell apart very quickly.

With the deadline for the submission getting closer and no idea who I should be writing about, I took drastic measures.

I made a playlist.

I love Spotify because it lets me like any damn song I want and keeps that song in a positively enormous list for me. When I get stuck on a character or a conflict in a Romance book, I shuffle it and let the first three songs dictate where I go from there.

The first song I came to was Johnny Cash’s cover of Eagles, Desperado. It’s an absolutely legendary song, made even more heart-breaking by Cash’s lonesome vocals. It was the perfect starting point for the December in my story. A cowboy type, trying to save his city. Thinking he had to do it all alone without letting anyone see his weaknesses. Whim Deluth became a paragon of his community, obsessed with appearances and haunted by his own virtues.

The second song was so wildly different I nearly skipped over it on instinct. be steadwell’s “What I Want,” is a glorious ode to lesbian seduction (like most of her songs). Lines like “she is a reoccurring dream/ and she came back just like I knew she would” and “I don’t wanna hear you scream/I wanna hear you whisper “Please don’t stop” coupled by the raw sensuality of the song are the reason I’m a huge fan of be steadwell. The May of my story was not going to be a wilting flower, or a soft, inexperienced victim. With that one song, Sunshine became a young, gender-fluid man who knew who he was, who he wanted, and how to get his way. Is it any wonder, the young man became the more forceful of the two?

The final piece to the puzzle came with another less known artist, Rebecca Angel, and her song “Again.” It’s a deceptively simple song. Here are the lyrics without repetition.

Touch me again
like you did before.
My skin cries out
with the memory of you.

I was tempted to include the repetition and the stresses. Half the magic of the song comes from the singer’s pleading, playful, forlorn longing. There’s a lovely spareness and mystery to those few words and the light touch of the instrumentation. It evokes a rich history between these two lovers, hints at something deeply broken, and offers hope that this time will be different, better, and more satisfying.

Three songs that I doubt have ever been put near each other before, but they came together, and suddenly, I had a story to write.

October Surprise: A Bit Odd

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: a little bit odd

October Surprise: not exactly the story I thought I would be writing

I don’t usually write contemporary realism stories. My mind tends to run more towards the thriller and speculative sides of the romance genre.

I don’t usually write May/December romances. The power dynamic of a much older partner and a young person ‘groomed’ for the role always freaked me out when I was a teenager, and I never got over that.

And I never thought I would be asked to write a Forced Marriage between two men. I’m a little like Whim, and my old-fashioned ass is still tickled pink and a bit unused to the fact that gay marriage is legal in the U.S.

But one of the fun things about anthology calls is that challenge to get outside yourself and write something specific to a theme.

Like every other person on the planet, 2020 was a tough year for me. I’d left my apartment in NYC to teach abroad in Shanghai, China, just as the pandemic shut everything down. Abruptly, I was thrown out of my comfortable life with an enriching career and the luxury of my own home and pushed back into life as a cashier, living with my in-laws. I spent most of 2020 joking that quarantine was a writer’s dream, but in truth, I was worn out by fear. Fear of the pandemic, fear of my nation’s negligence, fear of the racial strife that seemed just as dangerous to my family as the disease.

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. I was so wound up in these thoughts that a politician forced to marry to quiet down a scandal was the only story I could dream up. Thinking about a gay, black, uber-responsible Democrat running for governor was therapeutic for me.

Partly because I wished for a real-life Whim so much, I couldn’t bring myself to make him the sort of fella who would coerce his lover into a marriage. So, it ended up being Sunshine, the younger man, who was applying the pressure. It’s a little bit odd, so is Sunshine, so I wrote the story the way I needed to and hoped for the best (more on this in another post).

By the time I submitted it, my nerves were back. I knew I was walking the line of the most important part of the theme, and kicking myself for being cavalier with the rules, with spending months on this story with such an obvious flaw at the very heart.

I fully expected a rejection.

So when Evernight’s email came back, I was devastated but not surprised. It read: “Thank you for your submission. The story doesn’t fit the anthology requirements (almost opposite with the younger man being the forceful party)”

And then I stopped reading and wallowed for a while.

It wasn’t until a day later when I received a follow-up email asking for my response, that I went back and finished reading the initial email.

“… but the acquiring editor really enjoyed your story and is willing to bend in this specific case.”

So moral of the story, kids, finish reading your emails.

I hope you enjoy “October Surprise” even if it’s a little bit odd.

October Surprise

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

Selection from “October Surprise”

A blackmail letter sneaks onto my desk in early spring. I’m on a call with a local school board member who needs to be reminded he’s essential, and I open my mail with indifference until the handwritten lettering peeks through. Chisel-tip marker, quite beautiful, if I’m honest. I look at the envelope again—good forgery of City Hall’s seal.

The message reads: I know your secret. When we meet, you’ll give me what I want. No questions asked.

The fellow from the school board pauses, so I mirror enough of what he’s said to make him continue on.

There’s a tiny part of me that’s pleased to receive a blackmail letter as the mayor of a mid-sized city. Death threats, I’d grown accustomed to during quarantine two years ago. But to be blackmailed … that’s proper validation.

The greater part of me is confused. Do I have a secret worthy of extortion? I’ve spoken openly, though not frequently, about my sexuality. I’m not exactly proud of my time in the Army, but there’s nothing to publicly shame me. As far as I know, I’ve never been successfully bribed. Maybe something from before. Before the military. Before my political ambitions.

Sunshine will know which of our old friends sent this.

I return the letter to its envelope, tuck it into my jacket pocket, and focus on my phone call.

After I’ve soothed the school board official, I sit in the silence. City Hall is a tomb after hours, a pristine echoing place, especially my office. The clean empty walls are cool and crisp as snow.

The last time I talked to Sunshine—not so much talking as moaning and panting, if I’m honest—I hadn’t returned his calls. He knew I wouldn’t. I’m the mayor of a mid-sized city, aiming to be governor, and he was … is … a strange kid. Feral, lawless, but not in a mean way. Boy’s heart is pure gold, just … unpredictable. He’s magic to kiss, heaven to hold, and impossible to keep. For me, anyway. Someone with less ambition and a softer heart might tame him. But he’s too fragile for my strength, too odd for my world.

Still, he answers the phone when I call. As usual, he doesn’t speak first.

“Sunshine, it’s me.”

“Who?”

“William Duluth.”

“Naw, it ain’t.”

I smile to spite myself. “It’s Whim, then.”

“Shame on you, Whim, forgetting yourself.”

Considering the blackmail letter filling my pocket, is there shame in forgetting what deserves to be forgotten? “I’m glad you remember me. How’ve you been, son?”

Sunshine bucks against the small talk. “What color’s the sky where you are?”

“Black.” Then I look out the window and consider the darkest part of this southern sunset. The springtime heat floats in a haze above the asphalt. Rows of city-approved palmettos and oaks sway in the glow of streetlights, and the skyscrapers hemming in the historic district reflect the peaceful twilight. The glowing dome of City Hall dims the stars. “Hazy gray.”

“I’ve been where the sky is purple in the night.”

“You outside the city?”

“Yup. Just ’cross the river. I like your town, Mayor Whim.”

His endorsement means more to me than a dozen donors. “Proud to hear that. Listen, I’d like to—”

“Where and when?”

“Sunshine, you don’t even know why I’m calling.”

“You sound lonely.” I bet he’s smiling to hide his own aloneness. “You know I’ll keep you out of trouble.”

In more ways than one. “Nothing has changed, son. If I’m honest—”

“I know it.” He has no patience for my defenses.

“Let’s—as a thought experiment—keep it professional. Set some boundaries.”

He laughs at my attempt. “Come and fuck me, Whim.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose, frustrated by his transparency and by the excited energy zipping through my spine. “I’d rather meet in public.”

“How’d that work last time?”

Last time. Winter. He’d worn a pink scarf from a street vendor, a long trench coat, and— I learned when he’d sauntered into my condo later—nothing else. The brightness of cheap cashmere on his mysterious dark skin … the platinum blond cloud of his shoulder-length afro … the memory burns my blood.

“It was a good effort.”

“We know how this goes, Whim. It’s like playing with matches in a pile of newspapers.”

Or a flamethrower in a weapons bunker.

“Come on over and start a fire.”

Beautiful Chains

Billion Dollar Love: Manlove is Evernight’s newest anthology about, as the title suggests, billionaire bad boys.

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, or Bookstrand

My story in Billion Dollar Love is “Beautiful Chains”

In this “Phantom of the Opera” meets “Moulin Rouge” m/m romance Harper Brosh, a dancer with a fledgling theater company seduces Mr. Ito, the theater’s mysterious patron. While the sparks fly with the eccentric billionaire (who Harper has never seen unmasked), Harper is surprised as anyone to find himself falling for timid stagehand, Carlos.
As Mr. Ito get more possessive and demanding, Harper must make a choice between his passion for theater and his heart.

Selection from “Beautiful Chains”

Outside New York City, people’s heads turn when I pass—with as much confusion as admiration, as if tall, blond, and skinny is a new breed of humanity. But in NYC, no one stares when I get on the uptown B, no one points me out to their friends. No one tries to strike up a conversation or suggests with cheerful ignorance that I ought to be a model.

The doorman to the condo tower notices me. But doormen in historic apartments on 5th Ave. are as subtle as the gilding on the ceilings; they blend in with all the dizzy little details. They recognize who belongs and know when they want attention and when they want to slip past unseen.

But somebody is watching when I enter the penthouse suite.

It’s not a true penthouse, not in the sense of being the very top of the building or having the rooftop terrace. But with the decorative beams on the ceiling and the sunken marble floor, it’s damned close. Central Park peeks between other luxury apartments, and across the room, I can look slightly down on Rockefeller Center.

I unwrap my red scarf and peel out of my fall jacket, slinky as a showgirl. After all, there’s a genuine silver hook to hang it on. I bend to politely remove my shoes, then rake my hands through my curls to settle them. Putting on a little show for the man I can’t see yet.

The room is lit only by the city’s false starlight and the blinking lights of hidden electronics. The darkness purrs with machines. A smart tower to command the lights and heat and music. At least one camera and God knows what else this dark, minimalist décor is hiding.

The centerpiece is the kabuki mask on the far wall. Even in the darkness the silver and gold catch the light. It’s a demon face. Black and hollow-eyed, the lower half is carved away to let the performer rant and roar, but the cheeks and eyes and brow are extravagantly detailed. Inlaid with precious metal to give that inhuman face the impression of an ever-changing expression. The glowing big screen TV hangs beside it like a caption box.

“Welcome Home, Omocha.”

I freeze at the steps, poised to walk down into the sunken den, but helpless before that mask. My heart taps a ghoulish Bob Fosse routine, one frenetic pulse inside an ocean of darkness and calm. If I could remember free-will, I’d turn and flee, but he’s here, and he’s watching.

So, I stand tall and dignified, in a casual first position, and watch the mask and the screen for further instructions.

The text does not change.

It ought to be a command. Half-riddle. Half road-map. A precursor to tonight’s torture.

Once, it read: “Ice. Cool down in the kitchen.” And I’d found a bowl of ice in the freezer. I’d spent fifteen minutes gliding it over my lips, around my nipples, into my ass. Playing by myself while he watched from … somewhere. He’d emerged like a phantom, faceless in the shadows, but hot as the sun. He’d burned away the chill, stolen more than my breath and sanity as he fucked me.

Once, it read: “Ropes in the bedroom.” And I’d found a silken rope and a kimono to match folded on his huge bed. The light in the room transitioned to an eerie blue light when I changed into his costume. But my lover didn’t come until I looped my hands in a noose. Wearing only that strange mask, he’d more than explored my body that night, tying me down in a dozen different ways, opening and shutting the robe as if debating whether he preferred me to look more lascivious or innocent while he fucked me.

Tonight, the empty mask leers, as if it also remembers every time I’ve come.

“Welcome Home, Omocha.”

The flickering smile on the mask isn’t real. Just the product of an overworked imagination that’s already on high-alert and one hard shove from a drop into madness. Welcome home? What the hell do I do with that?

Nominated for Evernight’s Best Paranomal Romance 2019

Freeing the Witch is nominated for an award!

I’m so ridiculously thrilled about this. If you liked the book, please vote for it here:

Evernight’s Best Paranormal Romance 2019

Freeing the Witch is the hardest romance novel I’ve ever written since it’s about two people who are very different than me. They are shy and self-effacing and the kind of folks you want to get a happily-ever-after. Even though one a wolf and the other is a witch. So really its an Enemies to Lovers story, but with genuinely sweet people.

Emaula Whispel thought she’d be happy if she could live outside her mother’s magical stone tower, but when Emaula starts working as a chef at her friend’s trading post, she becomes smitten with Porter, her co-cook. Now Emuala’s magic is obsessed with possessing this quiet, charming wolf, and the budding witch has to fight to control her powers and her lust, to prevent her new friend from becoming her accidental victim.

If you’ve not read the book, click here to get it from Evernight or contact me. I still have a few author copies to give away!

 

Lea Bronsen has a new series and it’s going to kill me!

One of my favorite fellow Evernight Authors (she’s so deliciously dark) has written a new psychological thriller! Since I love multiple point of views and don’t mind a walk on the dark side, this looks like a perfect series for me. Except for cliff-hangers… But Lea will make the wait worthwhile.

 

 

From Lea Bronsen herself:

I’ve always been fascinated by dark psychological thrillers that mess with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. I toyed with the genre writing my debut novel Wild Hearted, but labeled it a crime drama. Its sequel, Carnivora, evolved over six years to become a full-blown hold-your-breath thriller that deals with grave issues such as kidnapping, child sex trafficking, and self-harm.

Telling five parallel stories with as many voices, it gives you the perspectives of a police informant, a hunted gangster, a mad avenger, an inconsolable girlfriend, and a psychotic kidnapper. I pull no punches weaving these stories, so be prepared for a dark, gritty, and graphic read – a little dirty on the erotic side – that I hope will play with your strings and stick with you for a long time.

Please note that this is part 1 of Carnivora and I am currently working on parts 2 and 3, so if those cliffhangers at the end are killing you, be patient. The continuation is right around the corner!

 

 

Blurb

Fight evil with evil.

TOMOR
Crime lord Tomor is serving a life sentence behind bars. Without warning, he’s abducted by mysterious men. A sick manhunt is on, with people around him dying like flies. He will need all his street flair and gangster skills to prevent his loved ones from ending up on the death list.

LUZ
Luz grieves the loss of her lover while striving to take care of their baby. The last thing she needs is to fall for the new neighbor.

DAVID
A year after he betrayed his adoptive father and sent him to jail, David is slowly rebuilding his life. Then everything falls apart again: he learns that Tomor has escaped, and his police connections lead him to a child sex trafficking ring involving cold, powerful men.

The cops are in over their heads with “Project Carnivora” … Perhaps the only one who can help bust the pedophile predators is an equally vicious devil: Tomor, the country’s most hunted criminal.

 

Available from

Books2Read / Amazon.com / Amazon.uk / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iBooks / Smashwords

Put the book on your to-read shelf on Goodreads

See photos that inspired me to write the book on Pinterest

 

 

 

Excerpt

“Time to change your bandage again,” the nurse mutters, voice cool, and pulls my orange-colored sleeve up to the elbow.

She unrolls the long strip of bandage from my wrist and tugs at one corner of the gauze plastered on my wound. It sticks as if glued to the freshly grown skin, and instead of removing the gauze carefully, she tears if off hard, discharging pain through my arm, wrist-to-shoulder.

I open my eyes and lift my head off the pillow. “What the fuck are ya doing, trying to reopen the wound or something?”

“Like you care.” She stops pulling and glares, gauze between her fingers. “I can see who you are inside. You’re playing tough, aren’t you, bad guy? But you can’t fool me.”

“Shut up.” I lay down again, huffing, and stare at the white ceiling above me with its rows of long neon lights.

“You’re a good man.”

I glance back. “I said, shut the fuck up.”

Her eyes shine. She rips off the remaining gauze, ignoring my grunt of pain, and throws it in a bin. “Look.”

No fuck.

“Look at it,” she insists, voice low and demanding.

No. I know what I’ve done, and I can imagine what it looks like. A six centimeter-long deep, reddish, scratched-up ridge along my artery. Layers of skin, fat, meat, and whatnot must be visible and sweating a pinkish liquid from the reborn pores. I don’t need to see it.

I guess the girl wants me to be so horrified, I’ll never attempt suicide again. That’s right. She wants to shock me into acceptance.

You gotta be fucking kidding me, little thing.

She shakes her head. “I don’t understand why they gave you the life sentence.”

“You mean they shoulda given me the chair?”

Instead of responding to my sarcasm, she pivots to look up at the clock and widens her eyes as if realizing she forgot an appointment. Face tense, she returns to her work, applies some cool, gel-like liquid on the wound, and bandages it with quick routine moves.

What’s up with her? In my three days in this woman’s company, I’ve noted the things that make her tick. Maybe she’s upset because I’m leaving the infirmary soon. Earlier, she said she didn’t know when I’d be ready to go back to my cell. She probably knows now, but doesn’t want to tell me.

The door opens. She jumps.

A uniformed guard pokes his head in, checks the small room, and exits.

She seems frozen in place, features tense. Staring ahead and taking deep breaths as if trying to regain composure.

I cock my head a little. “What’s going on? They gonna transfer me?”

She visibly swallows and fixes her gaze on some point on the wall.

I snicker. “Are you sad ‘cause I’m leaving?”

Ha, I can be so ugly, when the girl clearly likes me.

As she sits there avoiding me, I take the time to check out her tits, and drink in the amazing sight of their pressing against her green blouse with each breath. She doesn’t have a name tag. Come to think of it, none of the personnel do. Evidently, so the inmates can’t identify their ‘caretakers’, and should they by some miracle leave the premises, track them down.

I nod to her blouse. “What’s your name?”

She twists back to me, brows raised, before shaking her head. “I can’t tell you that.”

“C’mon, I’ll never see you again.” I grin, then add with an ironic snicker, teasing her, “They’ll never let me slash my wrists, or hang myself.”

She looks away and busies herself collecting the medical stuff, throwing a quick, almost invisible glance to the door. What the hell is making her so nervous?

Coldness fills my chest. Something’s up.

“Come on, Babe,” I coax with my most gentle, sensual voice, wanting to buy time. “Tell me your name.”

“Why?” she whispers, fidgeting with the roll of bandage.

“’Cause I want a name to your pretty face when I jack off in my cell.”

 

About the author

Lea Bronsen likes her reads hot, fast, and edgy, and strives to give her own stories the same intensity. After a deep dive on the unforgiving world of gangsters with her debut novel Wild Hearted, she divides her writing time between romantic suspenses, dark erotic romances, and crime thrillers.

Meet Lea Bronsen on

Website / Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads / Amazon / Pinterest

 

 

Freeing the Witch

Happy Friday the Thirteenth, Everyone. I know I’m having a good day because I get to announce the official release of Heart of the Mountain 2: Freeing the Witch just in time for Halloween!

*Update: Freeing the Witch won runner-up for Readers’ Choice Best Paranormal Romance. Save 25% off 2019 Readers’ Choice Winners with coupon code WINNERS2019.

Easily the hardest to write and probably the best of the romance novels I’ve written, Freeing the Witch is about Emaula a sweet, shy witch who is trapped by her psychopathic mother who is slowly eating her soul and has cursed her to be poisonous to the touch. She is saved by her friend Jasprite (heroine of Hiring the Tiger) and whisked to the jungle mountains of the south where she meets the effortlessly charming Porter, a wolf she immediately falls in love with but can never touch.
The wolf-pack is deeply suspicious of witches, and Emaula’s curse makes her particularly distrustful, so Porter finds himself for the first time ever disagreeing with his pack. He loves Emaula and he knows she wants him, what he can’t understand is why she’s so hesitant about it. And even if he could get her to admit her feelings, and smooth over the tensions with the wolf pack, there’s still that evil mother to contend with.

Starting today, you can find it online at Evernight Publishing: here.

Or on Smashwords: here.

Emaula and Porter’s love story has been particularly weird for me to write because it’s so sweet (my roommates have been listening to me complain for months about how hard it is for two shy people to fall in love). Generally my characters are as much in competition with each other as they are with the outside world; this is the first time I’ve really tackled a romance between not just one shy person, but two.

Porter and Emaula both have a lot of growing to do before they can acknowledge their own worth and fight for their mutual love.
But that’s also the reason this is one of my favorite stories. Their happy ending, because of course there’s a happy ending, is sooo earned.
So pleased to finally share this with the world.
I hope you guys enjoy Freeing the Witch.

White Privilege, Human Decency, and the Blackout at Rockefeller Center

Yesterday I was at work when the power went out everywhere from 72 and 42, knocking out Broadway, Times Square, and of course Rockefeller Center where I give tours. I was on break between the tours and for a moment, my normally boisterous colleagues all fell silent. I knew we were all sharing the same thought, “Is the building going to fall on us?” I imagine a lot of people who live in New York had that same thought or some version of it.

When the silence broke, the first thing that was said wasn’t an expression of fear or a reassurance. It was a call to action. “We’ve got to get people out of the underground.”

As a tour guide, I know the concourse of Rock Center better than anyone (it connects everything from 5th Ave to 6th Ave under Rockefeller Center across four blocks), so I went down into complete darkness with my phone flashlight along with everyone else who was on break. At that moment, we didn’t know a fire in a manhole had overheated a transformer and knocked out the grid; we just knew that there was thousands of people in pitch darkness who didn’t know the way out.

After the concourse was eerily empty (you could hear the tap of security’s footsteps echoing across 22 acres of underground), I went out to the street level to try to keep the area outside of Top of the Rock entrance cleared. We had people stuck on top and in elevators between the 2nd and 66th floor and lots more trying to figure out what was going to happen with their tickets to the top. It was amazing to me 1) how money-minded people can be (“I know there’s a firetruck coming and you want the street clear, but you say you’ll honor my ticket tomorrow or give me a refund? Why don’t I get to go to the top for free?” is literally something I heard) and 2) how good people are at hiding inner turmoil.

The majority of my co-workers are POC and ‘black-out’ has a whole other level of meaning to their community that I was a white rural person was not familiar with. There’s a history of riot and race violence associated with power-outages in the summer in big cities and I saw the undercurrent of distrust from many tourists (the majority of whom were white). I didn’t understand why so many people approached me, though the only thing that marked me as an employee was a branded baseball cap and a dangling ID card (not a proper starched black shirt or red vest uniform). Not until I went back inside where my co-workers were dealing with the tension in their own way; making nervous jokes about riots, looting, and “black outs” (as in “oh, the blacks are out! Get indoors”). Suddenly, I understood the question ‘where are we safe?’ and their side-long glances at my co-workers.

These were the same co-workers whose immediate response to a power outage is “get the people underground out of the building, even if the building might be falling down.” The same co-workers who were calling parents, spouses, and children to leave “if this is my last moment” voice messages to loved ones. Many of them were in the city on September 11th and we didn’t know what caused the power outage (exactly 42 years after a major black-out in 1977 which seems almost too close to be coincidental), but they still returned to the street to smile and reassure customers their tickets would be honored at a later date.

When the elevators and all three decks were cleared (less than an hour after the outage!), we were all briefed about the extent of the outage and let go early. On the way to Port Authority, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Times Square which was dark for the first time in decades. Broadway was far from silent since most shows had closed, but the performers came into the streets to present unaccompanied opening numbers or improv riffs with the audiences. It was an inspiring and energizing experience in good-will and I’m glad I got to see that.

I started the walk with a big crowd of my co-workers and I got to see more of those distrusting side-long glances, occasionally from armed police officers. One of my friends, a tiny woman of mixed Puerto Rican and Haitian dissent, teasingly said she’d protect me when the looting started. I’m about twice her size and keenly aware that I was not the one in danger.

I’ve never been more aware of the strength of every-day people or of the incredible privilege of my skin color.

Three Lessons From The Brooklyn Writers’ Workshop

So last weekend I went to Brooklyn’s Writer Conference and I learned a lot about how to start a novel, what YA is (according to one agent) and especially how to pitch to an agent. I’ll be writing about those other two topics later on, but this pitching thing is tough. I got a request for a partial and two and a half requests to send first chapters (I’ll explain the “and a half” below), so fairly successful. I wanted to get my notes on it out into the world so that I could reference them myself the next time I pitch.

It boils down to three things: Tell a Story, Know Your Audience, and Be Human and Professional

Be Human and Professional

I had meetings with four agents and the first one was late to our pitch. I was terrifically nervous, so in a way it was good because I had a moment to sit and feel in control of the space. This also gave me the opportunity to eavesdrop on the other writers pitching.

Oh, we are awkward, nervous people.

I heard a lot of rehearsed and lifeless pitches, and it reminded me of watching middle-school students suffer through their first presentations. The same advice teachers gave you then, counts now. Don’t recite your notes by rote. Smile. Make eye contact.

Now, I’ve got a leg-up on other authors in this way. My day job is as a teacher and tour guide, so while I am the strong, silent, prefer-to-sit-under-the-stairs-and-take-notes-on-mere-mortals type, I’ve learned to command a conversation and talk naturally.

There’s a ton of resources on how to speak confidently at job interviews and in business meetings, but I think the best thing to do treat the agent like a person. They are not a genie who will grant you a best-seller if you rub them the right way (please don’t rub the agents). So, get out of the straight-jacket of a rehearsed monologue.

I can’t believe this is advice we need to hear, but I saw this three or four times (mostly men pitching fantasy to women): don’t argue with an agent during a pitch. I don’t care if she just said that the only good fantasy is about sparkly vampires or you will never sell your book. Bottle your pride, your rage, your contrarian nature and be professional. That agent wasn’t for you; don’t go off on her and make an enemy out of all the other agents in the room.

It helps me to start the conversation with something besides the business (since the temperature was wildly fluctuating at the conference I opened with the weather. Terrible idea in writer, awesome advice for small talk.) Then lead into my name and credentials.

Tell a Story

With one of the agents, I got detoured from my pitch and we went down a rabbit hole about the world. I got so carried away explaining the history of the world, how magic functioned, how it was based off the people in the area I was raised, that I never got around to telling her about the main characters’ stories. Not until she asked me, “what are the stakes? What’s the germ of the story?” I got lucky that she brought us back to that, because the details of my world weren’t enough to sell her on the pitch.

I applied her advice (leading with a log line that I had buried deeper in my pitch) and it lead me to my most successful pitch. I went into charming storyteller mode and told my novel the way I talk about movies and pieces of art. I hit all the marks professionally but entertainingly and it engaged the agent enough to ask for a full partial. We also finished early so I got to talk about my sales as a romance writer, my other work and ideas, and how the market might respond to such a book.

Know Your Audience

A.K.A.: do your fucking research. When I signed up for the conference, I remember choosing one agent who only represented fantasy and thinking she’d be a great fit not for the novel I’d be pitching to everyone else, but for a separate project I’d just finished. So, I signed on for her and thought in my hubris I would prepare a second pitch just for her.

I forgot.

I cannot explain how embarrassing it was to sit down with an agent and have her listen to me pitch a YA fantasy/sci-fi romance and then immediately explain she doesn’t represent sci-fi. It’s especially bad, when you’ve paid for the pitch session. But this is good advice for an email query too. When an agent reads queries, she is working for free, so not researching wastes her time and more importantly your rejection threshold. There you are agonizing for two days, two weeks, two months anticipating feedback and she deleted your email because you didn’t respect her guidelines.

When things went south, I was able to roll with it. I apologized for the misunderstanding and asked how I could improve my pitch and what advice she had (you know besides, doing my fucking research).

Towards the end of our conversation, I thought she was throwing me a bone when she gave me the name of another agent at her company who might fit the work. I almost didn’t write the name down, since I figured it was a pity gesture. But I’m glad I did, because she was right; that other agent would be a really good fit for my book. Because I acted like an adult and didn’t collapse completely under my own humiliation and despair, I have a personal introduction to an agent who has represented a lot of very lengthy books that have sold well. Which is like… half a point, right?

On the other hand, I knew one of the agents dislikes The Fae, so when I referred to my world I was able to speak to that by calling it a kind of post-industrial fairyland, but you know without the fairies. And that really interested him.

So, know the agent, be a kind professional, and tell a story. Pitching is hard; but it’s a necessary step in an author’s career. You can’t level up until you master it.

So… I’m Updating my site

I just want to apologize for the ton of e-mails that have come (and unfortunately will continue to come) your way. I promise normal levels of non-activity will resume shortly; I’m just prepping for a new batch of agent submissions.

Enjoy this brief refresher of everything I’ve ever published. lol.