Drama Queens with Love Scenes is a decade old.
My tale of two friends who end up in the theatre district of the Afterlife went through eight drafts before Charles River Press initially published it in December 2012. So, on this very important milestone, I thought I’d share ten facts about my first novel.
1. My assessor hated my original first chapter.
This chapter introduced the main characters, Allan and Warwick, visiting Allan’s uncle. They end up inside his home made rocket which tips over during its launch, killing our main characters.
The fact that there was a fantasy element in the only chapter set in the real world, annoyed her. She also explained that as the story is set in the Afterlife, this first chapter was like idling your car in the garage but not moving (i.e. the plot was yet to take off). Then she explained a novel doesn’t need to begin at the beginning if it’s irrelevant to the rest of the story.
So, the first chapter opens with Allan and Warwick in the Afterlife, with no memory of how they got there. Their death, which is not from a failed rocket launch, is one of the mysteries Allan and the reader try to solve.
By the way, she also didn’t like my initial title. It was called Staging Life. Thank the gods she made me rethink it.
2. It was initially self-published.
After countless rejections, a British team called New Generation Publishing were offering a unique service, long before self-publishing was mainstream. So I thought, why not? The self-published version was released in 2010 for only several months with my own B-grade cover art.
Soon after, I finally had an offer from the book’s first traditional publisher. It’s this traditional version I’m basing its tenth birthday on.
3. The editor-in-chief threatened not to publish it.
Their offer to publish it came from my submission of only the first chapter. A year later when their editor read it, her remarks were forwarded with a nasty email from the editor-in-chief saying:
You call this an erotic novel? If you don’t spice it up this novel will never see the light of day.
It wasn’t an erotic novel. I initially replied pointing this out, then calmed down and wrote a nicer email saying if you want an erotic novel I can write one. I really didn’t want to write one but if it meant being published when my first novel was about to be killed, I had no choice.
In the end I compromised. I popped in three sex scenes on my editor’s request, after initially arguing against them. But it was my first publishing deal and I didn’t want to seem difficult.
To this day, I still don’t like them as they add nothing to the story, but one sex scene leads to a comedic chapter, and one of the characters created to be a sexual partner shows up again later. So, I couldn’t just delete the sex scenes. I’d have to do rewrites and at the time I was backfilling a senior role at work, so I didn’t have the time.
4. The initial rewrites took me three months.
Mary Belk was its initial editor, and even though I had it professionally assessed through its first three drafts, she taught me so much more. Scenes were rearranged and several were combined for pace. She also made me add another mystery to the plot, and taught me the importance of ‘show don’t tell.’
Below is fan art (with a typo) of a short excerpt. The submitted draft of this novel described the decor. Through Mary I learnt to write in a way which explains nothing, but allows the reader to use their imagination.
Ms Belk wrote to the editor-in-chief praising me as a writer. She passed away before the book was released, but strangely, the day before my next two books were published, her email account sent me spam. One was a LinkedIn invite and one was just everyday spam. I like to think these were her way of saying ‘good luck’ from the beyond.
5. I got in trouble because I asked too much of the cover artist.
Hey, I was new to the process and didn’t realise until the editor-in-chief sent an email telling me all future artistic requests should be sent through him.
I initially found the cover model through a stock image search. In the original photo he is a waiter, but I wanted him to be an angel. So, a lot of work went into this cover by artist, Laurie McAdams. Even the director’s chair in this pic was originally a dining chair.
6. The book was dropped by my publisher while I was at a literary festival.
With my first novel under my belt, I saved up the money to go to New Orleans for the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. Charles River Press weren’t interested in the sequel but a new gay publisher, Wilde City Press, were.
During the festival I received an email from a new staff member at Charles River telling me they were dropping the book. I wrote to Wilde City immediately seeing if they wanted it. I was in limbo for a few days while at a book festival where I was basically promoting a book which was no longer available.
In the end Wilde City took it. The cover art below is by Australian artist, Adrian Nicolas.
7. The popularity of Guy, the angel, surprised me.
There was a whole year between signing the initial contract with Charles River Press and when they were planning to publish it. So, I started writing the sequel without Guy in the cast.
In between, Drama Queens with Love Scenes came out and everyone loved him. One blogger said they’ve put in a request for Guy to be their own guardian angel. Another described him as the emotional centre of the story. Some even wanted the romance in the novel to be between Guy and the main character, Allan, and not between Allan and Warwick.
Needless to say, Guy was instantly written into the sequel.
8. The novel lost its second publisher.
Wilde City Press went out of business. At the time, my third novel, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes was rejected, my Romance novella, Nate and the New Yorker, was accepted, but overall, my sales were low. I thought this was normal for small authors like me so I didn’t question it until I got that rejection.
With further low sales for my Romance novella, I took up a challenge by friends to write an erotic tale. I was at a crossroad. Good reviews, bad sales. Surely a sexy tale would gain readers who would then discover my other works. With no response from Wilde City, I looked around until my assigned editor, Jason Bradley, suggested NineStar Press.
NineStar contracted my erotic novella. I soon learned that my editor, Jason, was also working for them and looking for acquisitions. That’s why I got signed. I was very lucky.
Soon after, Wilde City closed their doors, so my other books moved to NineStar.
9. The term ‘Actors and Angels Series’ was invented while writing an email.
Initially I referred to the first two books as the Drama Queens series, but I always thought this didn’t encapsulate the idea of theatre in the Afterlife. When Jason emailed me to confirm the name of the series, this is what I wrote:
It’s what I’ve been calling it, but if we can think of something better…
Dead folks series?
Dead thespians series?
Dead theatre folk in love series?
Only kidding on the above. I have been calling it the Drama Queens series but as one reviewer pointed out, some readers don’t connect it to theatre. They’re more likely to think drama queens are prissy gays.
Is Dead Theatre Folk series too dark? The Theatre in Heaven series.
I’m rambling now as I have my morning coffee. But as these are books that need to be found by theatrical gays, maybe we should re-brand the series title? Theatrical Gays in Heaven. No, that’s too silly.
I’ll be at work in 40 minutes so I’ll have more time to ponder. If I don’t get back to you in a few hours, Drama Queens it is.
Gay Actors in the Afterlife. No.
Or what about Actors and Angels series? It covers all bases, Thespians and the afterlife. So that gay guy in his theatrical society searching Amazon will get what these books are about from the series title and the individual titles! So we must add theatre to the Amazon meta tags.
Yes! Let’s re-brand them Actors and Angels series. It will also hint that the books are magic realism.
You’ve just seen my morning thought patterns play out in this email. I was going to delete the first paras but I thought you’d enjoy seeing how I got to my conclusion.
10. It is now one of my best selling books.
I don’t like reading my published work, but several years ago I wanted to compare how my writing has improved and added it to my ‘to be read’ list. I still haven’t read it, but thankfully many others have.
Its sales in recent years have surprised me. And the sequels are finally being bought. Drama Queens and Adult Themes hardly ever sold while Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes never sold even after it won a Rainbow Award.
But ten years on, the novel which started my writing journey still delights readers with its quirky tale about two friends who may have been lovers when they were alive. They just can’t remember.
Further blogs about this book: