Trusting my author instincts

Something has changed in my approach to writing.

Or perhaps it’s just a change for the book I’m currently working on. I usually meticulously plot chapter by chapter, but for the sequel to Social Media Central, that’s not the case. Maybe it’s because it needs twists and turns as its a dystopian thriller. It’s better for me to surprise myself by which dilemma Tayler finds himself, while I work out ways of bailing him out.

I have a mass of notes for this project and although I did plot many chapters for the first quarter of the book, I didn’t follow the plan. The same things happen, just not in the same order and sometimes not in the same way.

Social Media Central also ended up being written with the same approach.

While I had much of it plotted I went off course to experiment with other ideas. Even several versions of the same scene were penned before I felt the details were right. And while I knew the ending would be about Tayler giving in to mass culture by becoming famous for creating something just as mundane as cat videos, a better ending came as I was writing it.

And so too with my current project. I trusted myself to start it before I had worked out three quarters of the plot. Yet I’m finding inspiration in daily life and through random thoughts that have become the notes which are driving the story. Usually these ideas help shape the next draft of a book but this time I’m working through my chaotic ideas, piecing them together as I go along.

My other work in progress hasn’t been approached the same way.

The Midnight Man is a Magic Realism story about a guy finding the man he needs in his dreams. This was plotted, as all my fantasy books are. It’s currently resting before I tackle it for its second draft, and as usual, other new scene ideas have come up.  This is my usual approach.  For this project I feel I need to include more backstory and to give my main character an obsession for muesli bars.

So maybe I’ve found a new way of working. Or maybe just a different way to approach a particular genre. I’m enjoying where this ride might take me. The irony is I read Stephen King’s book about writing recently and found he doesn’t believe in plotting. It was the only advice of his I didn’t agree with. Yet here I am working closer to his style.

It seems I’m more confident to break my own rules these days.

Ideas, and where to find them.

I’ve been travelling.

I took some time off to realign my life. Before this trip my day job got very hectic, taking over both my time and my thoughts, and forcing my current writing project to feel abandoned. Yet, in a way, this has turned out to be a good thing.

The work in progress, titled The Midnight Man, is about Stanley, a middle aged guy in an unhappy relationship who finally meets the man of his dreams. The only problem is this man is literally in his dreams. He doesn’t exist in the real world.

Image by Stux, courtesy of Pixabay

It’s still an undernourished first draft.

It’s not even that. This draft is not completed. I’ve already had to print it out twice and re-read it, as there were several gaps of time between working on it. In short, I rediscovered my own novel. Met the characters again. Reconnected to what it was about.

But while I was away, finding time to just be me, the story became much clearer. As a rule, I generally plot my novels and before leaving home I rearranged several scenes to heighten the drama. Away from home, more interesting plot twists came to mind.

I found a dream-catcher in a gift store in San Diego.

It’s not like I’d never seen one before, but it struck me odd that I didn’t come up with the idea to use one in my story. It makes perfect sense that Stanley would try any means to bring his lover into the real world.

I continued to note various life philosophies as I travelled. These thoughts began to link with the themes in the book, but more importantly I decided to make the dream sequences more vivid. I think that’s an offshoot of travel. Life becomes more vivid. Travel allows you to dream and let’s face it, those dreams aren’t dreary.

Image by Lysons-editions, courtesy of Pixabay

So now to work.

Once more I have to print out the manuscript and rediscover it, making notes to add more depth to Stanley’s night time rendezvous with his lover. And to work in my travel-fuelled musings on life.

Nate and Cameron

The Nate and Cameron Collection has been released in paperback. This book is made up of two previously released ebooks, Nate and the New Yorker and Nate’s Last Tango.

I’m writing this blog several weeks before its release because something has already fascinated me as reviews of the second story started coming in. Readers are both wanting Nathan and Cameron to sort out their differences or simply break up. I’m pleased with this reaction.

When the first story was initially released by the now defunct Wilde City Press, the blurb promoted it as a Romance Novella. I thought this strategy would appeal to more readers. Half were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t while the other half were furious that it didn’t stick to the promise.

The original first edition Wilde City Press cover.

Yes there’s a rich dude who’s a dreamer trying to court a realist, but the realist, Nate, hasn’t let go of his last relationship because his ex was his soul mate.

The reviews of the second ebook, Nate’s Last Tango, have said that Nathan and Cameron need to learn the art of communication rather than using travel to elongate a kind of honeymoon. But the reviewers have conceded this is the point. Several have mentioned this makes the negotiation of their lives reflect a real relationship.

Warren and I, years and years ago

When my partner and I first got together twenty-seven years ago we too would have arguments that kept us from talking for days, yet it was important for us to work on our relationship. We both knew this one mattered.

Today we burst into laughter rather than fight. This is how I see Nate and Cam. If another tale gets written I’d like to take it from a point where they’ve worked a lot of things out, but that doesn’t make a good story.

Regardless, the two tales of Nate and Cameron have made it from ebooks to an old fashioned paperback. Thank you NineStar Press.

Having no time to write.

My current work in progress is suffering.

Well, maybe I’m being melodramatic but this has been a year of less time to write. First off I had to step into a new role at work meaning my luxurious three day working week changed to four sometime during March.

Monday is currently my only day to write because try as I might, I can’t sit at the keyboard and simultaneously daydream while my partner’s home on weekends. I need complete silence to hear my own thoughts.

Image courtesy of Start Up Stock Photos

But Mondays weren’t always my own.

I was blessed with a new publisher who re-released my existing work and brought out three newbies. So some Mondays meant going through my editor’s, line editor’s or proof reader’s notes. I can’t be cross about that. It’s one of the advantages of having a good publisher.

The problem is, you start losing the plot.

Earlier this year I had to re-read my first several chapters to re-engage with my own manuscript. In recent weeks when I’ve written a few chapters I’ve wondered if certain characters still spoke the same way they did at the start of the book.  I feel like this is the roughest first draft I’ve done in a while.

Image by Edar, courtesy of Pixelbay

There has been an advantage, though.

This tale, The Midnight Man, is about a middle aged man who meets an enchanting younger guy in his dreams, causing him to reevaluate his own life. When I started I only had half the book plotted. With time away I’ve been able to cement the story-line from random thoughts and real life experiences. The chapter by chapter breakdown is now complete, although I have a few new ideas to add to the tale.

Usually these additions are conceived between drafts. When complete, probably very late in the year, this first draft will have all elements in place so that in the next draft I can expand on some of the twists.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The irony is that I wanted to start this novel last year but other works demanded to be completed. In hindsight this was my instinct telling me that I’d need those new books this year for my new publisher.

In October I start a new position.

Same place, better working hours. I’ll be back to three days with some extra shifts from time to time to teach. I’m relieved. The Midnight Man can get the time it deserves.

Plus they’ll be edits and marketing for Social Media Central, my newest contracted novel.

My writing life returns to normal and I can’t wait. I’ve worked years toward that goal. Life is for dreaming.

Guest Blog – Christian Baines

I’d like to welcome back Christian Baines to my website. When asked to join the team of authors sharing their thoughts on writing, Christian took a unique approach, and I’m glad he did. Today he offers perspective as he calls for certain characters in gay fiction to be fleshed out more honestly.

Plus he’d like to offer one reader of today’s guest blog any one of his novels, but you can read about how to enter at the end of this post. For now, he’d like writers to consider women.

All About My Mother
(and my sister, and my aunt, and my best friend, and my daughter, and my high school beard…)

Thanks Kevin, for having me back on the blog! As I write this, we’re barely more than a month into 2017, and already two events this year that have inspired me. One took place when millions of women (and men, and others) who hit the streets across the world to stand up for women’s rights in what was the perfect response to a man who waves his misogyny and hatred in our faces like the world’s most graceless matador.

(Don’t worry, this post isn’t about politics!)

My other flash of early 2017 inspiration came through Pedro Almodovar’s newest movie, Julieta, based on the stories of Canadian writer Alice Munro. Cult figure Almodovar has been Spain’s most popular filmmaker since his breakthrough hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He’s one of my favourites, and a huge inspiration when it comes to storytelling.

Pedro Almodovar

Pedro Almodovar

Weird as it may seem to link something as important as the Women’s March to a simple movie, both reminded me (as Almodovar’s films often do) of how much we, particularly as gay men, owe to women, and how we sometimes sell them short in our stories. For the uninitiated, Almodovar is an openly gay screenwriter and director who not only brings a gay sensibility to his films, but also tends to focus on female characters. You can see it right from his first movie, Pepi, Luci, Bom. In fact, a straight male is almost never the protagonist in an Almodovar film, and Julieta is no exception, being all about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Sometimes, he plays them for comedy or eccentricity, tottering around the screen in Gaultier couture and high heels. But in his less comedic films, Almodovar’s women have become increasingly powerful and complex, nowhere more so than in Volver, a personal Almodovar favourite in which the male characters seem almost incidental.

Even though it’s tough to find a single healthy gay romance amid the broken embraces of these movies, there is one important question for gay fiction and romance writers to address.


How do you effectively bring women into your gay labyrinth of passion?

While bringing our classic pairing of two male MCs out in the live flesh, it can be easy to forget our female characters. They might slot awkwardly into overused tropes, or even come off as nasty obstacles to budding love. I’ve read women in gay romance played as bitchy homophobic relatives, or as bitter ex-wives or girlfriends…which is not entirely off limits. There’s definitely room for these characters and all of their dark habits. But as authors, we need to be careful not to reduce them to stereotypes. If they’re not properly developed, with real motivations for their nastiness, characters of any gender come off as cartoons. A male author writing such female characters looks misogynistic, and a female author writing them looks insecure, or at best, appears to be making some weird attempt to ‘protect’ her gay babies. While that formula might appeal to certain readers, it’s kind of condescending. It also doesn’t reflect the important roles women often play in our lives as gay men, and I’m pretty sure most readers can tell.

My experience is obviously going to be different to yours, but we each know who the important women are in our lives, and why. Maybe it was a mother or sister, who gave us the freedom to explore our interests and gender identity free of traditionally ‘male’ expectations. Maybe it was an aunt who inspired us with her eccentricity, or came down hard on us to build up the strength we now use to deal with prejudice. Maybe it was an understanding or inspiring teacher, coach, boss, colleague, or counsellor. Or maybe just that really good friend who played prom/formal beard, or took us to our first gay bar because we were too scared everyone was going to hit on the fresh meat, or who pushed us to go say hi to that cute guy who was so far ‘out of our league.’ Or maybe it was an acquiring editor who said ‘Yeah, this is good. Can you send me the full manuscript?’

Or, just the one who read something we wrote and told anyone that would talk to her about books to check it out.

Image courtesy of Voltamax, via Pixabay

It’s kind of impossible at this point to count the women who’ve played a role in my growth as a gay man and writer, or who’ve helped me in some way to feel comfortable in the skin I live in. But there are lots, and I’m pretty sure many other gay and bi men can say the same. There’s no strange law of desire, even in gay romance that says female characters should be any less developed in our stories. Sometimes they might even be a part of the romance (but oh, don’t get me started on the response I’ve had to doing that!). Sometimes they’re authority figures like Patricia Bakker, or lifelong friends like Isobel, who know the protagonist almost better than the protagonist knows himself. Sometimes they’re…whatever Mary is in Puppet Boy. All need just as much effort and development as your male protagonists.

One of my pet peeves in fiction (of any kind) is the strong woman. It’s a well-meaning cliché, but seriously? Men get to be smart, conflicted, snarky, insightful, reserved, assertive, etc etc etc… You will never hear a book promoted as having a ‘Strong male lead.’ Yet women are supposed to be satisfied or grateful if their representation is ‘strong’ and…that’s that? Really? We owe it to our female characters, readers, and the real women in our lives to go beyond this. ‘Strong’ should be the starting point of the character’s development, not the end. And if she’s not strong…does it really matter? Is there really no room in our fiction for characters who aren’t ‘strong’ (whatever that means)? In a character development pool of hundreds of potential traits, is ‘strength’ really the only way to make a character stand out in an interesting way?

Of course, good gay stories don’t need female characters in major roles order to be effective. Worse than an absence of women is a token character that’s been shoe-horned in there just to ‘represent.’ But it shouldn’t exclusively be an all-boys’ club either, because our lives aren’t. I’m so excited when I read complex, well realised female characters in a gay novel. Where it’s clear the author has thought about how important women can be to us, or is giving us an insight into a real woman who had a positive effect on their lives, or whatever. To me, it’s a sign gay novels have truly achieved mainstream acceptance, where gay love and sex is neither taboo nor fetishized, but is just another part of life, like the wonderful women we know.
Though I’ll probably never write a tell-all book all about my mother (insert ‘Christina’ gag here).

One thing I love about Christian Baines is that like me, he’s a film buff. So he has a question for readers who’d like to win any novel-length title from his backlist. Those who answer correctly will go into the random draw. The question is:

How many Pedro Almodovar movie titles are referenced in this blog post?

To be in the draw, please contact with your answer by using the email form at


beast puppet Baines

This giveaway closes on Friday April 7.

Thanks to Christian for being a guest blogger for the second time, and sharing his thoughts once again. His last post asked if there really is a happy ever after. You can read his thoughts on that topic here.

For more on this talented fellow Australian author, check out both his personal blog, Fiendish Whispers, and his author site.

Thanks again, Christian.

Writing Erotica

From Top to Bottom is a short tale about three sexually adventurous men who, um, well, decide to become more sexually adventurous. I originally wrote this for my last publisher who, when first contacting them, was told that erotica and romance are what sell best. I wrote a romance that has been both praised and critiqued for not being true to the genre. As for this naughty novella, it was a challenge set by my partner and two friends.


It wasn’t easy.

My first contemporary novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes (relaunching on April 17), was originally contracted to a small general publishing house in Boston. When it was first edited I received a nasty note from the head of the company complaining about the lack of sex in the book. He went on to say ‘How can you call this an erotic novel?’

That book was magical realism, and anyone reading that would have worked that out. There was never any discussion about it being erotic.


So the editor encouraged me to add sex scenes.

I protested once. It was my first book contract so I didn’t protest beyond that. I added three sex scenes to that novel, which to this day I don’t believe are needed. But they’re light scenes so they don’t distract too much.

She gave me advice on writing these erotic scenes, which I didn’t follow, but thought I should add in this blog for others who might like to know. Apparently, you sit on a towel, naked, in front of your laptop and just type whatever comes into your head. Don’t censor it.

Three days later go back as the author and tidy it up.

So how did I write the scenes for From Top to Bottom?

I’ll keep that a secret but will admit I had to find various ways to let loose and write. What I was more interested in was the characters and their journey during the story. Each one comes to terms with something different during their sexual exploration, each finding their new path with humour.

Writers Tips – ‘Nathan Burgoine

This week’s Writer’s Tips comes from a Canadian writer who has guest blogged here before. Last time he spoke about the importance of speaking up. You can read that post here.

Nathan 'Burgoine

‘Nathan Burgoine

I first met him at the Saints and Sinners Festival in New Orleans, but due to my jet lag I didn’t get to socialise as much as I would have liked with my fellow writers. It’s a mistake I won’t make next time even if my eyes are struggling to stay awake.

Here are Nathan’s tips.

I recently sent in a manuscript for a novel, and the last steps involved something I’ve started to think of as my “Foible List.”

If you’ve ever been edited, you’ll know the slightly embarrassing realisations that come with the process. My very first short story, Heart, came back with a note about adverbs (I’m sure we’ve all gotten that note) and though I didn’t know it at the time, my “Foible List” had just begun.

The next short story I sent off? Before I sent it, I took a moment to re-read the story specifically looking for those adverbs. They were there. Even though I’d known it, they’d snuck right past my fingertips and onto the page. I removed most of them, and sent off the story.

I think with that story, I got my first knuckle-wrap for using the word “asked” when the dialog make it perfectly clear there was a question being asked. I made a note—a physical one, not a mental one—and then remembered the adverb thing and wrote it down, too.

The Foible List: a bunch of things to check before I send in my final copy.

Since then, I’ve added a lot of things to my list. Some of them have become a bit of an in-joke with my editors and fellow author friends.

For example? My characters smile like idiots and nod like bobbleheads. I was in a group workshop in New Orleans when this was brought to my attention, and it brought a welcome levity to the whole group (there’s nothing quite like having one of your idols compare your characters to “bobbleheads” by the way) and we had a good laugh.

In my first drafts you’d swear they had springs in their necks and had been sucking on happy gas. The smile-and-nod hunt is one of the first things I do now when I’m done a first run through a piece.

If you create your own Foible List, you’re making your writing better and doing your editors a favor (always a good idea). And it’s fun when you realise you’ve searched a draft and finally not found one of your old bad habits there. My most recent novel’s draft had almost no nodding whatsoever. I was really, really pleased.

Then I found over a hundred smiles.

You win some, you lose some.

Your Foible List will be your own, but there are three things on my list that I think more of as advice that could apply to every writer.

Image by kuzeyli, courtesy of Pixabay

Follow the Rules.

This seems basic, but especially in my first love—short fiction—I’ve heard so many editors talk about the number of submissions they receive that don’t follow the guidelines from the call for submission. Twelve point Times New Roman font might not be your favorite font, but before you send it in, follow the rules. Anything you can do to make your editor’s life easier is something you should do, and here’s the thing: what’s the message you send when you don’t follow the basic rules set up in the submission call? You’re saying ‘I don’t follow rules,’ or ‘I didn’t bother to read the instructions.’ What would you expect someone who didn’t follow the guidelines to be like if you offered critique or editing notes?

Basically? Treat the submission guidelines line a job interview. You wouldn’t show up dressed inappropriately, or without your resume, or with a cup of coffee and your slippers, right?

Read it Out Loud.

I find so many mistakes, repetitions, and just plain awkward moments when I read pieces out loud. I may look like an idiot walking around my house reading my book to my dog (who often walks away while I’m reading it—he’s a tough audience) but sometimes I notice he pays attention when I’m reading something I feel confident in, and so, yeah. Coach the Husky sometimes offers his seal of approval.

This is even more important if you’re planning to do a reading, or if you’re thinking of releasing an audiobook. On the page is different from out loud, and the two can inform each other with great effect.

Image by Unsplash, courtesy of Pixelbay

Line Edit Backwards.

If you’re like me, when you get to the line edit stage, you end up realising, over and over again, that you’ve stopped line editing and started reading. Line editing is tedious, and when you’re hunting for those last few typos it’s easy to lose focus and just read your prose.

So, along with reading it out loud, I learned another tip from a fellow author: start at the end, and go backwards. Line by line, backwards. I’m much less likely to get lost in the flow of the story, and I find my brain doesn’t substitute in correct words where the wrong words are written.

I hope you find those helpful. And hey, by all means, share your own Foibles.

“He raised his hands to an imaginary god” is one of my Foibles, Nathan. And I use too many similes. My intuition told me I should go through my unpublished work at the end of last year, and sure enough, I saw many repeated in different novels.

I also read aloud, but I do it before I start my writing day. I go over the last chapter completed to make sure it all sounds perfect. Of course, by the time the next self-edit happens, nothing is always perfect.

Thanks Nathan for your advice. To get to know this author, visit his blog. I just did and learnt about Great Jones Street, which is what I like about his blog. There’s always an update on what he’s been up to and as a writer, what to keep an eye out for.

Next week another guest who’s guest blogged for me before, Christian Baines.

Writers Tips – Technology with Nic Starr

Last week we met Nigel Bartlett, an author who resides in Sydney that I met at Melbourne’s Queermance Festival. Nic Starr also lives here in Sydney and I met her at the same event.

Nic dips between indie releases and romances for Dreamspinner Press, but I’m not going to say too much more about her as she’s written a lovely introduction in her guest post.

nic_rustic-memory-e-book-cover nic_charlieshero_postcard_front_dsp nic_rustic-moment-e-book-cover

Over lunch one day, Kevin asked me about the tools I use when writing. It led to an interesting discussion about how technology can be used to complement a very creative process. Following that lunch, Kevin asked if I’d like to share that information on his blog. So here goes.

I come from a corporate background. I have always been extremely analytical and worked in the areas of process improvement and project management – data, spreadsheets, project plans and so on.  My escape from all of this was reading and getting lost in stories, and eventually I started reviewing and blogging. One day someone (another m/m author) asked me why I didn’t write my own books. To be honest, I was surprised – it wasn’t something I’d ever considered, after all I was a process driven person, not creative. But the seed was sown, and now I can’t imagine not writing. However, I have managed to incorporate all my structured tools into my writing process. So, let me share some of those processes and tools with you.

Each of these tools help me streamline my process, manage information, and increase my productivity.

Scrivener – I adore my Scrivener! Scrivener is a piece of software that enables me to store my research, manage character profiles, and draft my manuscript. It allows me to outline my story and capture ideas. It makes a breeze of composing a synopsis, and can be used for formatting the final output.

Scrivener in action

Scapple and Aeon – Scapple and Aeon both integrate with Scrivener. Scapple is mind-mapping software. I use it as the first main step in my story development process. I brain-storm the story outline and capture in Scapple. I import into Scrivener, where each idea becomes a ‘scene’ in Scrivener. Once in Scrivener, I can re-order and modify as needed. Aeon is used to manage the timeline of my story. It’s particularly useful when working on series where you have overlapping timelines.

Dragon Naturally Speaking – I’m relatively new to the world of speech-to-text but I’m giving it a try and having some good success. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking when I’m sitting at my computer and it captures my speech and converts it to text.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

Voice Record Pro – This is a handy app on the iPhone (it might be available on other platforms but I haven’t checked.). I use this when I’m out and about, or not in front of the laptop. I record my scene or ideas, basically anything I want to capture. The app syncs to my Dropbox account so I can retrieve the audio files later. Once I’m back at my computer, I transcribe the recording using Dragon Naturally Speaking. Voila!

Pinterest – I’m quite a visual person. Pinterest is the tool I use to save photos and music etc, related to each of my stories. I do keep a lot of images in my Scrivener research folders too, but it’s nice to have the inspiration boards on public display in case any readers are keen to see them. The photos might be inspiration pics of the main characters, or rooms of the houses where they live, or recipes they’ve cooked, music they listen to, and so on.

Pinrest in Action

Evernote – Perfect for storing information. I use Evernote to manage lists of character names, future story ideas, and book title suggestions. I also clip articles to my Evernote that cover many topics related to the craft of writing and book marketing.

5KWPM – Another handy little app on my iPhone. I use it to do motivational writing sprints.

MS Excel – My key spreadsheets cover sales data, novel tracking (capturing all the milestones for each book), and my writing plan.

Dropbox – back up, back up, back up!

I haven’t gone into a whole lot of detail about each tool, but since I do get a lot of questions about my writing process, I’ve decided to do a more detailed series of blog posts on my blog in early 2017. If there’s something you’d particularly like to know more about, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to address it. I’ll also be inviting some authors, such as Kevin, to share their experiences.

Thank you so much for having me visit, Kevin. I’m looking forward to hearing how Scrivener is working out for you.

Nic xx

To find out more about Nic Starr and her books, check out her website.Thanks Nic. And yes, I love Scrivener, and like you, I record notes and quotes on my phone. You have me curious about Scrapple and Evernote, though. Something I’ll have to check out.

Next week will be our last Writer’s Tip for this series and comes from a Canadian writer who has been a guest blogger before on my site – Nathan ‘Burgoine. CLICK HERE to read.

Writing Tips – Nigel Bartlett

This charming author resides in my own city, Sydney, but I met him in Melbourne. It was during the Queermance Literary Festival, a small event for us gay themed writers down-under. He also has the sexiest website for a writer I’ve seen so far. It’s perfect! Everything you need to know is on one page.

Meet Nigel Bartlett, the author of the Vintage/Random House release, King of the Road. This crime novel is an example of how far we’ve come in representing gay characters in the mainstream. The protagonist just happens to be homosexual, but this fact means little to the story. He just is, and that’s fine.

Here are Nigel’s tips for writing…

1. Don’t be afraid of the brick wall.

When I’m writing, I often reach a point in the story where I think, “Oh crap, now what?” That’s because I’ve put my character in an impossible situation.

In the past, I would panic at that point. I’d probably stop writing for a few days and wander around in a funk, thinking I’d have to ditch a few chapters, rework whole scenes, go back in time and take my character down a different path.

However, if I did that, I’d almost certainly find him facing another brick wall, and I’d be faced with the same decision all over again.

Instead, I’ve learnt that these impossible situations nearly always just seem impossible – and that they are, in fact, story opportunities. They’re opportunities to build suspense, have my character use his wits to get out of this situation and even for him to head off in a direction I’d previously never thought of.

In the old days the answers would come to me at random times – on the bus, in the shower, while chatting to a friend. That still happens of course, but now, instead of going into a panic and abandoning the writing, I brainstorm. I step away from the computer, take up my pen and notebook and I have a written conversation with myself.

“What would you do if you were in that situation, Nigel? What would your character do? What might he do that he’s never had the courage to do before?”

I write bullet points of crazy ideas, hare-brained options and ridiculous strategies – and out of those comes something workable and realistic.

Often these situations are quite mundane, but they’re vital to the story. For King of the Road, my character David had ‘acquired’ someone else’s iPhone, but he couldn’t get into it without the passcode, so I had to think of a realistic way he could do that. I had to think of a way for him to find out the passcode in a way that was realistic and wouldn’t make the reader think, “That would never happen.”

In another situation, David didn’t know the password to someone’s computer, so he simply couldn’t get into it – but that in itself became part of the story. David had to abandon the computer and use other means to find out what he needed to know.

For my next book, David wants to find out someone’s address, but the only information he has is a car number plate. I’ve managed to find a way of doing this, which I’m quite excited about. I wouldn’t do it in real life, but that’s because I generally avoid breaking the law. David, however, can do what he likes, because he’s fictional.

The other day I was discussing with a friend ways you could discover personal information about people without them knowing, and two cops walked past. I hope they didn’t hear me!

Image courtesy of Unsplash, Pixabay

2. Pay attention to life

Writers need to observe what’s happening around them. Indeed, it could well be the case that we’re writers because we’re observant, and that we want to put down on paper our reactions to what we see in the world.

These days, though, it’s far too easy to have our heads buried in our smartphones when we’re out and about. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but I know that many of my best ideas come during those times when I’m watching strangers.

Waiting for a train, bus or ferry, walking to work, standing in line at Woolworths – these are all times when (if I’m paying attention) I can focus on the way someone walks, the way they smile (or don’t), the way they talk to someone else, the way they attack their sandwich, the clothes they’re wearing, their hair, their jewellery, the slogan on their T-shirt, the mole sprouting out of their neck.

I started writing King of the Road before the days of smartphones. I was in Brisbane once and waiting for a river ferry with my parents and some friends. I noticed a young guy also waiting for the ferry. He was in his mid-20s, tanned, dark hair, muscly arms, clearly a gym-goer.

The way he was standing reminded me of a Greek statue, and it seemed to me that he was quite conscious of the way he looked, the way he held himself – as if he was posing for an audience.

I thought to myself, “He’s so up himself. He thinks he’s a right Adonis.” I was being both dismissive and judgemental while also (reluctantly) admiring him for the effort he’d put in during his workouts.

Somehow, that thought became a line in King of the Road about one of the principle characters, a police officer called Fahd. And, in fact, it shaped his whole character and the way David views him. Fahd, with his Adonis-like attitude and David’s divided feelings about him, now plays a central role in my next book.

If I’d had my head in my phone, who knows what would have become of Fahd?

Image courtesy of Start Up Stock Photos

3. Push your boundaries

I’d never dreamt of writing a crime thriller. I thought King of the Road was going to be a literary novel focusing on a family’s trauma – how a family tears itself apart when a gay uncle loses the child he’s been looking after for the weekend.

In the first draft the plot was boring. It was full of angsty, blame-filled conversations, long silences and lots of rumination. Nothing was happening, and the people in my writing group told me so. One of them said, “Nigel, this is about a missing child – it’s a crime story.”

It had been years since I’d read a crime novel or thriller. I’d loved Agatha Christie as a teenager, but only as a guilty pleasure. In my late 20s I’d devoured John Grisham’s The Firm while on holiday. I’d also terrified myself by reading Silence of the Lambs after seeing the film (the book is scarier, just FYI). But I’d never thought about writing that kind of book.

When confronted by my writing group, I could have gone either of two ways: I could have ignored them and struggled on with a boring story with no plot that would probably never have been published. Or I could have risen to the challenge and tried something I thought was both:

a) beneath me (I saw myself as a literary writer) and

b) beyond my capabilities.

Strange, I know, but I used my snobbery about crime fiction to mask the fact that I both loved it and thought I couldn’t write it.

I chose the second path, but that meant doing something totally new and scary for me. I became a huge advocate of the motto “learn by doing”. I started rewriting King of the Road as a crime thriller and at the same time I taught myself about the genre.

I read Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, Peter Temple, Peter Corris, Patricia Highsmith, Jo Nesbo, Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben. I read heaps and heaps of great crime fiction. I read one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books and I thought, “That’s what I want David to become by the end of King of the Road – a gay Jack Reacher. Fearless, independent, tough.”

I watched crime and police dramas on TV – The Bill, Luther, Scott & Bailey, The Wire, Jack Irish, The Killing, Whitechapel. I watched the Dragon Tattoo films, the Jason Bourne movies, high-quality dramas like Michael Clayton (with George Clooney), kidnap stories like Ransom (with Mel Gibson).

I’d like to think I was a good student and learnt well. I learnt by reading, watching and (most importantly) by doing. I pushed my boundaries and went beyond them. I couldn’t believe it when King of the Road was published. It went on to be shortlisted for Ned Kelly crime fiction award.


For those here in Australia, you can order Nigel Bartlett’s novel at Booktopia, or for US readers, buy it at Amazon.

Next week we’re going to meet another fellow Sydneysider, Nic Starr, an mm romance writer with technological tips. CLICK HERE to read.

Writing Tips – Historical Fiction with Michael Jensen

I met Michael Jensen online. He was part of a trio who organised a unique promotional opportunity for gay themed writers like myself. It was a fiction giveaway which resulted in gaining subscribers to our newsletters (so as a bit of shameless self promotion, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter – click here).


But back to Michael. He is an author and editor. His books of gay historical fiction include two series, The Drowning World, which is set in 5500 B.C., and The Savage Land, which takes place on the American frontier. Man & Monster, the second book in The Savage Land series, was a Lambda Award Finalist (under the title Firelands).

Michael is also the co-founder of, which covered pop culture for gay and bisexual men, and eventually become one of the largest and most influential LGBT websites on the internet. In 2006, was sold to MTV/Viacom in a multimillion dollar deal. As editor, Michael interviewed hundreds of writers, directors, and actors, breaking numerous stories and advancing the issue of LGBT visibility in Hollywood.

Michael lives in Seattle, WA with his husband, writer Brent Hartinger.

Today he tells us all about writing historical fiction.


If you’re anything like me, you hear that word, think of a college term paper, and immediately get the heebie-jeebies. I mean, who wants to spend all of their time researching the economy of Papua New Guinea or the religions of southern Africa or the impacts of industrialisation on 18th century Pennsylvania.

And yet, any good novelist will have to do at least some research if they want the details in their book to ring true. If you’re writing a book set in Seattle, you need to know locals call the main freeway through town “I-5” and not “the I-5.” If you don’t, at least some of your readers are going to get pulled out of the story and wonder what else you might be wrong about.

And if you’re writing historical fiction, you’ll most likely have to do quite a bit of research. I know that sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. And to help make it a little bit easier, I’ve put together some research tips for you.

1) Make sure writing historical fiction is for you

I know that might seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious things are the ones we most easily miss.

When I was in college, I got it in my head that I wanted to be on the water polo team because I liked swimming laps for exercise. So I went out for the team and pretty quickly discovered that playing water polo involved a lot more swimming than I ever wanted to do. Fortunately, I figured that out before I’d put months and months of effort into it.

So before you start writing historical fiction, first make sure you’re going to like doing the research because you’re going to need to do a lot of it. Think back to those term papers and research projects you had to do. Did you enjoy the work? Loathe it? Try and trick someone else into doing it for you?

Hint: If the idea of reading a non-fiction book about history makes you pull the covers over your head, you probably aren’t cut out for this.

2) Set aside time for research. Then set aside some more.

Obviously, this depends on a couple of things. How well do you know your subject already? How long a time span will your novel cover? How well known is the era you’re writing in?

The amount of time you’ll need to set aside for your research will depend a lot on those factors.

For my first two novels, Man & Beast and Man & Monster, I ironically had a lot of material for some topics, but a lack of material for others. Both books are set on the American frontier of the late 1700s, so I had a great deal to work with about how people lived, worked, dressed, and survived on the frontier. But the person my book was based on, John Chapman (you probably know him better as Johnny Appleseed) didn’t leave much of a historical footprint when it came to actual facts known about him. That meant that I didn’t have a lot to research about him, so I needed to do other kinds of research to plausibly capture what someone of his age and station in life might have been like.

If you really want to get the feel of your book right, you’re going to need to dive into the research so you can make the details of your world believable. You need to know how people in your era talked, what slang they used, even what kind of curse words they used. What kind of clothing did they wear? How was it made? You need to understand how politics, religion, and the government shaped the day to day life of your characters.

Honestly, the amount of research you can do is probably endless, which bring me to my next tip.

3) Know when to stop researching.

After nearly a year of researching Man & Beast, my husband sat me down one day and said, “Enough. Start the damned book!” And he was right; I had more than enough material to write my novel and get the details right. But I’d fallen into the trap of always wanting to know a little bit more, so I could capture the world a little bit better.

But readers aren’t reading to be dazzled by your research. They’re reading because they want to read a great book with a riveting story. And while your research is important and necessary because it helps build that story, endless descriptions of the streets of Boston or what the Queen of England ate will get in the way of your story and ultimately annoy your reader.

Knowing when to quit is a skill that comes with time, so don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time out. I’ve got pages of notes I took never used in either Man & Beast or Man & Monster. But I’m totally okay with that because I wouldn’t have the facts I did use without collecting all of the other info, then sifting out the nuggets I wanted to use.

4) Reach out to experts.

One of the wonders of the internet is that almost everyone is just a Google search away. Can’t find out how a Russian fur trapper in Alaska in the 18th century might have travelled from Moscow to Sitka? I can promise you there is almost certainly some academic at a university just waiting to answer your question.

For Man & Beast and Man & Monster I needed help with some Delaware (technically Lenni Lenape) words that I wanted to make sure I had right. By searching online I was able to find an expert in the Lenni Lenape who was delighted to help me. Not only did that guarantee I had the words right, but by doing that extra research I was able to add a level of detail and authenticity of which I’m really proud.

So don’t be shy. Your expert will almost certainly be flattered to be asked.

5) Wikipedia is a great place to start, but that’s all.

I use Wikipedia all the time, both in my research and in my day to day life. But when I use it for research, it’s strictly a place to begin my research. As wonderful as Wikipedia is, it isn’t as nearly as trustworthy as a published book, an article from a reputable journal or newspaper, or an original source like a journal. When you do find something on Wikipedia you’d like to use, consider that only as your starting point. Go to the bottom of the page and check out the links to the sources provided. Check your facts there, then check them against another reputable source. Only then can you trust what you have.

6) Google Earth is awesome!

One of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction is the time and expense it can take to visit the places your story is set. Of course you don’t have to do that, but doing so can really add to the depth and texture of your story. But historical fiction can be especially tricky since the further back in time you go, the more that will have changed.

But there is still real value in seeing where your book is set, even if a great deal of time has passed.

My horror novel The Eye, is set on the Georgia coast and takes place both in the past and in the present. It wasn’t possible for me to actually travel to the book’s location, but Google Earth’s satellite images were huge in helping me place the exact setting I wanted. A crucial aspect of The Eye involves a hurricane striking Georgia in a very specific way, something I could determine quickly and easily by looking at Google Earth.

7) Don’t forget original sources. (HINT: Inter-library loan is your friend!)

Google Earth and Wikipedia are both wonders of our modern era, but sometimes nothing beats going all the way back to the beginning. For Man & Beast, I was able to get my hands on some of the original journals written by the very first folks who settled the region of western Pennsylvania where my book was set.

Keep in mind, a lot of these kinds of resources might very well not be online. They’re just too obscure. But using inter-library loan, your local library can usually request those materials from another library system and have them delivered directly to your library. This can cost a couple of bucks, but is often well worth it!

Hopefully these tips will help you as travel back through time gathering all of the information you need to breathe life into your historical novel!


Michael Jensen has several books out, including the Lambda Award finalist Man and Monster. To check out his works and to read his latest blog posts, check out his website.

Also take a peek at his Facebook author page and subscribe to his newsletter and receive a copy of Man and Monster free.

Next week’s special guest is thriller writer, Nigel Bartlett. CLICK HERE to read.