11 Fun Facts About “Embraceable”

At least I find them fun. I’m only slightly biased. 😉

Embraceable is currently being formatted for publishing. (Woo hoo!) I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some tid bits/teasers about the book.

♩ Susan Harper, PhD, who penned the foreword, is an educator, writer, activist and advocate for a variety of groovy causes, including LGBTQ equality, gender equality, partner and sexual violence prevention and healthcare equality.

♩ My memoir portion starts with an, um, bang—a literally climactic experience that changed my life.

♩ You’ll then read my “Does Dirt Have Calories” and sex ed stories, fleshed out (no pun intended) and in context.

♩ Numerous of the story contributors have uniquely spiffy jobs, including professional cuddling and sex work.

♩ Several authors (and their stories) are religious. Another wrote about escaping a cult.

♩ The story contributors range in age, from 20-something to 70-plus.

♩ Several women who either contributed a story or agreed to an interview with me requested anonymity for safety reasons, privacy or both.

♩ One of the contributors was married to one of the world’s best-selling authors of all time. (And that’s only one of many fascinating things about her.)

♩ Editing the stories (before passing them off to the awesome Mike Sirota for final edits) was challenging and rewarding. It was an honor—and, admittedly, nerve-racking—to hold women’s deeply intimate, personal stories in my hands, making changes I hoped would make them shine even brighter.

♩ A couple of the stories made me laugh out loud. Many are heart-wrenching. All of them inspire me.

♩ 100 percent of the proceeds will go to my work and advocacy to empower girls and women to embrace their sexuality, bodies and selves.

Embraceable book cover red

Embraceable will be available via Amazon and iTunes soon!

Bipolar and Hypersexuality: A Chat with Suzy Favor Hamilton

Last week on Girl Boner¼, I had the honor of interviewing Suzy Favor Hamilton, a celebrated athlete and three-time Olympian whose newly released memoir Fast Girl — My Life Spent Running From Madness details her struggle with bipolar disorder and the hypersexuality it brought on.

Suzy Favor Hamilton credit Daniel Acuna

Prior to being diagnosed, Suzy led a double-life—one as a mother, wife, realtor and public speaker, another as a high-end escort in Las Vegas. While she doesn’t blame the disorder for that work (and has tremendous respect for sex workers), she doesn’t know how vastly her path would’ve been had she learned of her disorder sooner.

Her story is one we can all learn from, whether we’re directly affected by mental illness or not. In our chat, Suzy shared what it was like growing up with a brother with bipolar, how silence about his illness plagued her family and how she ended up developing an eating disorder and having breast reduction surgery after being shunned for her less stereotypically runner-like body. She talked about the day she made herself fall at Olympic trials when dark thoughts had taken over, why she decided to share the truth publicly and more.

Fast Girl jacket art

I hope you’ll listen to the full interview (links below), but I had to share this particularly insightful portion—a message that should be heard and absorbed by many.

When I asked Suzy what she hopes people will most take away from her story, she said this:

I want people to understand that life I went through all this, but life isn’t a fairytale right now. It’s not all happily ever after. It will be a struggle for the rest of my life. There’ll always be situations that come up about this that I’ll deal with, and I know I’ll deal with them and strength, and no shame.

I want others to feel that the stigma of mental illness should not make them feel shamed—one bit. We need to, as a society, really come together and understand mental illness… It’s an illness, just like cancer. And once the disorder takes over the brain, things are going to happen—look at the rate of suicide, how high that is. We can prevent this by educating ourselves to help the ones around us, to recognize the signs.

I’m hoping that people will read this book and look at bipolar in a different way and reach out to ones that they see destructive behaviors happening. Because my story shows and tells so much that is personal, that always isn’t shown in somebody—so maybe asking the right questions, and looking at my behaviors and asking that hard question about the hypersexuality.

Doctors even have a hard time talking about that. They may be embarrassed. So we need to look at sex in a different way, not as a taboo or in a bad way. There is the component of this disorder and sex, and somehow people have a hard time when it comes to sex and a disorder. They don’t want to talk about it. And we need to go there.”

To listen to our full interview, which also features thoughts from Dr. Megan Fleming on how to differentiate between hypersexuality and a healthy, happens-to-be-high sex drive and more, click one of these links:

iTunes    Stitcher Radio   AugustMcLaughlin.com

PS If you’ve enjoyed Girl BonerÂź, I’d love to have your vote in Kinkly’s Sex Blogging Superhero awards! Simply click this link and then “vote.” Thanks for any support! ♄

#OrgasmQuest, Depression and Sex in the Digital Age

As soon as I saw the Huffington Post’s headline, This Woman Is Live-Tweeting Her Quest To Have An Orgasm While On Antidepressants, I knew I had to learn more. The more I learned, the more stoked I became about the story’s leading lady, Crista Anne. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when she agreed to an interview.

The sex educator, blogger and mother of four has struggled with depression since birth. When a new medication began improving her wellbeing significantly, all would’ve been fabulous—if it didn’t interfere with her ability to orgasm. Sex-positive to the core, she set her sights on restoring climax capabilities, sharing her mission on Twitter and her blog and quickly attracting media attention.

Crista Anne had wonderful thoughts to share on mental illness, our bodies and the damaging taboos surrounding both. Listen to our chat using the link below, then pop back to read our after-chat.

The episode also features my interview with Chad Kultgen, a controversial author whose novel Men, Women & Children brilliantly illustrates ways internet technology affects many people’s lives and relationships. Oh, and he also shared one of the most incredible animal stories I’ve ever heard. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it! I may never look at squirrels the same way again


Girl Boner Radio with August McLaughlin:

#OrgasmQuest and Sex in the Digital Age

iammightypurewand

Crista Anne, in all her rainbow wonder! #OrgasmQuest

An After-Chat with Crista Anne of #OrgasmQuest

August: What’s one thing you wish would change in how we deal with or view mental illness in the U.S.?

Crista Anne: Narrowing it down to one thing froze my brain for a moment there. I suppose most of all I wish that mental illness was viewed like any other serious health condition, because it is. Cancer kills, so does depression. That would be a glorious start.

August: What’s one of the most common myths about depression?

Crista Anne: That depression can just be willed away. That people can just decide not to be depressed, or that we’re lazy. Depression is an illness. The brain can get sick, just like any other part of your body.

August: I love that sex toys, along with masturbation, have helped you manage your illness. Any personal favorites?

Crista Anne: My personal favorites as of this moment are the Njoy Pure Wand, Original Magic Wand and the Tantus Tsunami dildo. The combo of the magic wand and tsunami is was helped get me that first masturbatory orgasm!

August: What type of toy would you recommend to someone who’s new to, er, toyland?

Crista Anne: A lot of people suggest weak, “non-threatening” vibes to folks who are new to toys, which actually annoys me a great deal. A weak vibe isn’t going to show people the glorious things that sex toys have to offer! A We-Vibe Tango is a “lipstick” style (the shape of the vibe resembles new lipstick with a flat area at the head, which is where they get the name) bullet vibe that has a great deal of power, is decently quiet, waterproof and rechargeable.

August: Many parents aren’t sure how to talk to their kids about sexuality. Any suggestions for newbies?

Crista Anne: Start early with simple things like modeling consent (they don’t have to give hugs if they don’t want to, stop tickling when they say stop) and using anatomically correct terms for body parts. When they are young, we started telling the kids that we needed Mommy & Daddy time to spend together without kids around so we can have special grownup time. When kids naturally start exploring their bodies, we teach them that we only touch our bits (since we have kids with penises and vulvas it’s our catchall term) with clean hands and when they have privacy. Visit the Scarleteen website, which is geared for teens but has a great deal of information and ideas on how to start these conversations. Kids are going to pick up on how uncomfortable their parents are when having these conversations, so try and get an idea of what you want to before hand. Practice if needed so you can come off as approachable instead of uncomfortable and unapproachable.

August: May I send you some Girl Boner goodies as a thanks for being awesome?

Crista Anne: Always! I am shameless when it comes to swag. I’ll return the favor when I restock my Crista Anne goodies.

****

How exciting! You know what else is exciting? Crista Anne will be joining us for #BOAW2015. If you haven’t yet registered and would like to, visit this post. For tips and reminders along the way, RSVP on the Facebook event page.

What did you think of the interviews? How about #OrgasmQuest? Has mental illness affected your ability to maintain a healthy, happy sex life? I always love hearing from you! ♄

Celebrating my Birthday with Authors’ Sex and Fashion Tips!

Each year near my birthday, I ask myself whether I’ve earned the next number. If I can say “YES” to these questions: Have I lived authentically? Followed my heart? Grown as a person? I feel I’m doing a-okay.

Moving forward is always groovy, especially when it brings you cake!

Moving forward is always cake-worthy!

Starting this year, I also ask whether I’m doing more good and reaching more people. I had to grow into these newbies; there was too much self-work to be done earlier on. I’ve learned that living authentically, and all the work it requires, allows us to not only live more fully, but to discover and fulfill our life’s purpose. While mine continues to unfold, it undoubtedly involves my writing, radio show and activism—entities I can scarcely separate.

The past 12 months have brought intense challenges, but also profound joy, growth and beauty. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my show came into fruition just as the biggest trials began. No matter how trying a day or week has been, I’ve found solace and invigoration at the station. Before the microphone is my happy place, whether I’m on top of my game that particular day or not. And on bright days, little tickles me more than sharing them with fans, guests and friends.

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my capri-carious birth-mas this year than to share my happy place with fabulous writers and friends! Yesterday on Girl Boner Radio, 12 authors shared their top sex tips, which ranged from ways to prioritize intimacy in a hectic life to how to prepare your mouth for some scrumptious oral play. (Yum. I’m so trying that one.) You’re going to love what these authors had to say!

I also chatted with my fabulous friend Rayne. As the founder and CEO of Style by Rayne, she’s the the fashion expert for numerous TV shows and has become the go-to makeover specialist for LA matchmaking companies. Her book, Ultimate Guide to Style, teachers readers fun, simple ways to go from “drab to fab.” Rayne shared 5 awesome tips for feeling and looking your best this New Year’s Eve. This led to an intriguing chat on boobs and bras you don’t wanna miss! Especially if you’re as clueless about bra-fit as I am.

Rayne even let me do the styling! Bet you can't tell. ;)

Rayne even let me do the styling! Bet you can’t tell. 😉

My birth-mas wish this year is that you all find ways to live more authentically—which could involve switching out your bra, apparently
  I also hope you’ll tune in to my show and check out these wonderful guests’ thoughts and work. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did!

Unless you’ve already subscribed, visit this link on iTunes to download or stream the show:

Click here: Girl Boner Radio Holiday Sex & Fashion Tip Extravaganza!

Featuring: 

Crystal Ponti, author of Clash of the Couples

Kassandra Lamb, author of Fatal Forty-Eight

Elle, author of The Fall

Catie Rhodes, author of Forever Road

Lauren Brim, author of The New Rules of Sex

Emmie Mears, author of Storm in a Teacup

Amelia Aimes, author of The Devil Made Me Do It

Mary Pauline Lowry, author of Wildfire

Tameri Etherton, author of The Stones of Kaldaar

Piper Bayard, author of Firelands, a Post-Apocolyptic Tale

Rich Gabrielly, author of Uncovering the Hidden Currency of Marriage

A.O. Peart, author of Reclaim Me

And our featured guest, Rayne of Style by Rayne! Who you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as @StyleByRayne.
Rayne_Style by Rayne
**FUN CHANCE! Sign up for Rayne’s weekly Rayne Checks before New Year’s Eve and let us know you did below or via Twitter for a chance to win a free holiday fashion critique and copy of her style guide! No need to live in LA for the critique—she’ll conduct the session by email. 🙂

As a gift to you all, the show also features an incredible rendition of Wonderful World, performed by Gayle Davidson and her band, Giraffe! The album, which ROCKS, is available on iTunes.

*****

When I consider days like this, when I’m blessed by the chance to share the stage with such brilliant folks, I have no doubt that I’m on the right track. Thanks for your ongoing support! I’m so grateful you’ve been a part of my year.

Love,
August ♄

Are You Prudish About Porn? An Interview with Author Emily Southwood

How would you feel if your significant other called you up one day and announced he’d landed a job filming porn? That’s exactly what happened to Emily Southwood two years into a relationship with then fiancĂ©. While she’d long considered herself sexually liberal, the news stirred up mixed emotions, challenged her beliefs about pornography and set her on a path of self-discovery. She and her relationship ended up benefiting tremendously from it all and she’s shared her experiences in a witty, relatable and ultra-insightful memoir entitled, Prude. I hope you’ll check it out!

PRUDE-f_print-2

I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily last week on Girl Boner Radio, and loved what she had to say. She was also kind enough to reply to additional questions for you all afterward. Check out her thoughts below and listen to our radio chat using the iTunes link that follows. Seriously, you’re in for a treat!

An After-Chat with Author Emily Southwood

August: What inspired you to become a writer?

Emily: That’s hard to pin down because I have always wanted to be a writer. I failed grade one because I couldn’t read, so maybe there was a bit of a “I’ll show them!” reaction in there somewhere. I’m pretty defiant! I started writing reams of bad poetry in high school. From there, I studied creative writing throughout my twenties and never tried to do anything other than make enough money to buy time to write. It takes forever and pays little, but it’s one thing I never doubt I should be pursuing.

August: I love that. How have your loved your ones reacted to your openness about sexual experiences and pornography in the book?

Emily: They have been incredible. First and foremost, there’s Robbie, who gave me cart blanche to use anything about him. Luckily he’s hard to embarrass! My parents also really surprised me. My dad’s a pretty conservative British guy and I would have understood if he didn’t want to read Prude. But he did, and he even called to tell me which parts resonated with him. My mom is my biggest cheerleader. She tells everyone about the book her daughter wrote about porn. She makes me blush! My family’s openness surprised and impressed me—it’s been an unexpected benefit to this whole experience.

August: Too awesome. Our moms should meet! 😉 How did you move past your own discomfort in revealing so much of yourself?

Emily: It was a process. In initial articles and drafts on the topic, I glazed over a lot with bad puns and abstraction because I had trouble admitting what I really felt: Robbie filming porn made me jealous and crazy! By the end, I was just trying to use the best details to reveal my emotional journey. Focusing on the writing and on connecting with readers allowed me to put any self consciousness out of my mind. Put it this way: I’m now way more concerned about whether a reader found a paragraph compelling than whether they know about my sexual quirks.

August: Why do you feel it’s important, particularly for women, to talk about porn?

Emily: This is an unscientific assumption, but I think it’s more common that dudes watch porn, joke about porn, and share what they found online. Robbie did with his friends growing up. My girlfriends and I didn’t, and I think mostly because we just didn’t think it was something for us and/or didn’t want to be labeled either prudes or sluts. I think that’s changing. Women are watching and producing more porn, and hopefully feeling empowered to take or leave what they do or don’t enjoy. It’s when we’re off in our own corners making assumptions based on porn that communication can misfire. So talk about it, ladies!

August: How have the experiences featured in Prude influenced you as a mother?

Emily: It’s hard to say at this point (my son is a-year-and-a-half old) but I think I’ll be much more prepared to have some tricky conversations with him down the road. I feel much more comfortable talking about sex and porn because of this strange journey. All that said, I’m pretty sure mothering a teenager will manage to make me feel like a prude all over again!

EJS_Author

*****

To stream or download our radio chat, visit this link on iTunes: Married to Porn

To learn more about Emily, visit her website and blog: EmilySouthwood.com and connect with her on Twitter: @EmilySouthwood.

We’d love to hear from you! What did you think of Emily’s thoughts? How would you feel if your significant other took a job in the porn industry? Do you discuss porn with your partner or girlfriends? 

Freedom’s Hand: Hell Revisited

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” — Philip Pullman

I’ve long believed that stories can, and do, change the world. The most important ones never leave our hearts or minds, no matter how many we read or how much time passes. Mike Sirota’s latest work, a social thriller entitled Freedom’s Hand, is one of those stories. Set in modern times, Freedom’s Hand is equal parts thrill, terror, heartache and inspiration, bringing necessary light to issues many people mistakenly believe ended with the Holocaust. I posted the following review on Amazon:

Important and compelling! 5.0 out of 5 stars

Mike Sirota has a way of pulling readers into his stories in deeply emotional ways. With FREEDOM’S HAND he goes beyond mere storytelling and
nearly forces the reader to contemplate real evils in the world and, more importantly, the necessity and possibility of escape. Dark, suspenseful and deliciously un-put-downable, FREEDOM’S HAND is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in some time.

I’m honored to have the author here today, sharing thoughts on the story, the hellishness therein and how he managed to step into the dark places writing it required. Thanks so much for joining us, Mike!

Freedom's Hand Ebook Cover

Just like the name of my blog (“Swords, Specters, & Stuff”)—and one of my websites—professes, most people know me as a writer in genres such as sword & sorcery, sword & planet, horror, paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction. That is why my newly released novel, Freedom’s Hand, may come as a surprise, for it is none of the above. But given where a great deal of the story takes place—inside a concentration camp on American soil—it may prove more disturbing than any previous gore-fest I’ve written. Why? Because it HAS happened in the past. For real.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” ― Elie Wiesel

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” ― Elie Wiesel

THE STORY

As with many things, the actual creation of Freedom’s Hand has a history—in this case a long one. But before I get into that, let me offer a plot abstract, at least for the early scenes. The story opens in 1943 Poland with a teenager named Nathan Adler inside a crowded cattle car, one of many pulled by a locomotive on its way to oblivion. Nathan’s mother and young sister are with him. Eventually the train pulls into Auschwitz. Nathan, a sturdy young man, is taken aside to join a work detail. His mother, a cripple, is put on a line to the gas chamber. The sister, four years old, staggers about helplessly before being torn apart by guard dogs as Nathan watches.

The majority of the story takes place in 1994. A now elderly Nathan Adler, a widower, is on a summer driving vacation with his family: his daughter, Susan Lowe; her husband, David; and Heather, their eight year old, Nathan’s beloved granddaughter. Nightmares of the past still torment him, but he manages to deal with them.

Then, the nightmares become real once again as the family is kidnapped in Nevada by a white supremacist group called Freedom’s Hand. Thrown into a cramped, stifling compartment in the back of a church bus with other prisoners—mostly blacks and Mexicans—they are transported to a strange compound deep in the searing desert. While the others are incredulous, Nathan seems to know what is happening; he’s been there before.

The compound, enclosed by towering fences topped by barbed wire, is called LAGER—the German word for “camp.” Manned by an army of brown-shirted thugs, Lager is the brainchild of an enigmatic man who, early on, is known only as the Commander. This monster is dedicated to the systematic extermination of all minorities. His “technical advisor” is Unterscharfuhrer Heinz Kell, an old man now but once part of Nazi Germany’s Protection Squad, the SS, and a prison guard at Auschwitz. Kell had been a personal nemesis to the young Nathan, and their meeting now—fifty years later and a world away—is monumental


Just as I would hate to give away how this confrontation ends up, so am I loath to say much more about the story without revealing too many key plot points. David and Susan Lowe, as the main protagonists, must call upon courage that they would have thought unimaginable if they are to survive this Hell on Earth called Lager and save their family from this camp of swaggering monsters. The odds are seriously stacked against them.

WOMEN AS SEX OBJECTS—WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

To give just a little away: Susan, in order to save the life of her daughter, becomes part of the “entertainment squad.” Incredulous when she begins to suspect what they want of her, she is told by one of her captors, “You’ll do what God in His wisdom meant for all you bitches to do when He put you on this earth!” This degradation mirrors what the Nazis did to many of their female prisoners.

"History is herstory too." — unknown

“History is herstory too.” — unknown

MONSTERS REAL AND IMAGINED

I’ve written about human monsters before—think Bruno Leopold in Fire Dance—but the Commander presented a different kind of challenge and, in retrospect, became the most difficult character that I ever created. What makes a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Pol Pot, or a Joseph Kony tick? These are heads that the average person doesn’t particularly want to delve into, but as a writer you have no choice—not if you want readers to believe that your characters could be motivated to engage in actions so heinous. So how does one do this?

In Freedom’s Hand I use a series of flashback scenes, spread out over many chapters, to show how a monster evolves. Preceding each flashback the Commander is usually talking to his second in command, a friend who addresses him as “Martin.” Over time we learn that Martin’s mother was the most famous actress of her era, his father one of the world’s richest men. We experience Martin as a boy, a teen, a young man, and so on, not only with tons of emotional baggage but also with incidents occurring at each stage that could spur some racial or religious intolerance and motivate hatred.

But enough motivation to make someone go out and erect a concentration camp in the desert of the American Southwest and dedicate a life to destroying human beings?

STEPPING OUT OF MYSELF

To accomplish this I truly had to separate Myself from Myself—from who and what I am, from all I believe—and become the mind and the voice of a monster. In a chapter titled “Revelation” the flashback scene has Martin as a young man. He has just graduated from a military academy and is staying with a friend in Chicago. The friend takes him to a rally in a suburban park, where a neo-Nazi group has challenged—and won—their right to free speech in court. (This is based on a number of true incidents.) The park is in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, one where many Holocaust survivors live. They are out in force, as are many other Jewish and African American organizations, to protest the speech given by Robert Earle Wesley of the New Socialist Front. Martin is minimally interested, and because he hates crowds he really wishes that he were somewhere else—at first.

I modeled Wesley after George Lincoln Rockwell, an infamous American Nazi of the 1950s and ’60s. His rants against Jews and blacks were poisonous—and so was the one that I put in the mouth of Robert Earle Wesley. To this day I remain stunned that I could have ever written such words, or imagined such thoughts. But to make their stories work, writers sometimes have to step far out of their comfort zones. I mean, does Thomas Harris have his doctor for dinner with some fava beans and a nice Chianti? Does James Patterson enjoy some of the same simple pleasures as his greatest antagonist in the Alex Cross books? I think not; yet Hannibal Lecter and Kyle Craig are two of the most believable and chilling monsters in all of fiction.

I won’t share any of Wesley’s diatribe here; you can read it all and judge for yourself. But as the chapter ends with the police breaking up the demonstration it is evident that Martin has been affected by what he has witnessed:

They had stopped the words, but the young man still heard them and would continue to hear them. He saw them rush Wesley off, in a different direction. He would not reach the man; not today. But he would find him. He had to find him.

Because now, for the first time, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

As I said before, the history and evolution of Freedom’s Hand is a story by itself. You’ll find that story at this link: Freedom’s Hand: Behind the Story.

*****

To purchase Freedom’s Hand, visit this link via Amazon.com. You can also connect with Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

Any thoughts or questions to share with Mike? In addition to being a prolific writer, he’s a skilled editor and writing coach. In other words, he’s a WEALTH of information! And friendly, to boot. If you’ve read Freedom’s Hand, I hope you’ll share your thoughts!

Mini Muses: What’s On Your Writing Desk?

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Albert Einstein

Great question, Al! I don’t know many writers without somewhat cluttered desks. Mine’s cluttered and I don’t even have one, technically. My “desk” more often looks like this:

IMG_2306

Or this:

**Potentially dangerous. Do not try this at home!**

**Potentially dangerous. Do not try this at home!**

Or…this:

August zoo

“Don’t bug me – I’m WRITING!”

I read a fun Writer’s Digest article recently on items various authors keep on their desks for inspiration. J.T. Ellison has a sign near hers that reads: There are no rules except those you create, page by page. The sage advice helped her complete her first novel. Gregory Frost keeps a coyote figurine nearby because he sees coyotes as analogous to wirters; both create but almost always at our own expense, he said, and almost always out of desire, without pondering the consequences. (Hmm… Interesting!)

It struck me as I read that while I don’t have a desk per say, I am inspired by keepsakes. I’m also prone to losing office essentials, like guitar picks and pens… So! I created a non-desktop on my piano. And I have to say, I am digging it! Here it is so far:

photo-105The quote is one of my favorites, and music is where I go when I’m lost for words or need clarity. My parents’ wedding photo reminds me of the familial love I’m continually grateful for. Like art, elephants remind me of all that’s beautiful in the world. Like writers, they’re precious, sensitive, intuitive creatures. The flower reminds me that beauty changes and crystalizes over time, but doesn’t die, and the pens—oh, the pens! I just love them.

I’d love to hear about your workspace. Do you have a writing desk? What objects inspire you? 

Mike Sirota on Writing, Indie Publishing and His New Release!

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” — Gloria Steinem

For Mike Sirota and his readers, that’s a very good thing.

Mike is one of my favorite people, and not merely because he edited In Her Shadow and was wearing a Beatles shirt when I met him (although obviously—perks!). He’s as kind as his tales are terrifying and seems to enjoy writing and helping fellow writers equally—both of which say a lot.

I’m reading his brand new release, Freedom’s Hand, now and have to say—it’s AWESOME. If you enjoy character-driven, suspenseful, heart-wrenching stories (and who doesn’t?!?), I highly recommend that you zip over to Amazon and nab a copy. Read on for more of the ins and outs of his wonderful story and why it came into fruition.

FREEDOM’S HAND, by Mike SirotaMike Sirota books author editor

As a teenager, Nathan Adler barely survived the horrors of the Auschwitz death camp at the hands of the Nazis. Fifty years later he could not have imagined that he would live the nightmare again. This time, however, the concentration camp is not in Poland. Erected by Freedom’s Hand, it exists as a citadel of suffering and death—in the desert of the American Southwest.

Mike Sirota on Writing, Indie Publishing and His Latest Release

AM: You set this story aside for quite some time before moving forward with publishing. Why now?

MS: Actually, I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts at marketing Freedom’s Hand in its nearly three decades of existence. Let me go back to its beginnings to say that, initially, I never planned on completing the manuscript until a publisher had made an offer. My then-agent convinced me that Simon & Schuster would take it on, but I needed to finish it. So I did—and they didn’t. Too controversial, or something like that. Imagine that—ME controversial! Afterward, I just left it “in the drawer” and went on to the more fun things that I enjoyed writing—until my long estrangement from the writing game.

But last year I pulled it out of the drawer and re-read it, as I did with a few other unpublished projects. Aside from some easily reparable crappy writing, I found it a powerful story, and I recalled how much emotion I’d put into it so long ago. I also realized, sadly, that it remained relevant even today. Hatred and intolerance always seem to be in vogue. People are tortured and killed by the hundreds, the thousands, and more in the name of twisted ideologies. For me, this makes Freedom’s Hand somewhat of a statement.

AM: Amen to that. Any advice for writers who are grappling with similar issues—wondering when to set a story aside versus self-publish it or seek representation?

MS: I don’t think that my experience with Freedom’s Hand and what you’re asking is an “apples-and-apples” thing. If I were a new writer and had a finished manuscript, I would want to see it published as soon as possible. But in my experience, most novices cannot be objective enough to judge if their project is ready, or as I call it—professional grade. They’ll need at least one other set of eyes for that, and I don’t mean their spouse or sister-in-law. A professional evaluation by a writing coach or editor will help that writer determine if the project is READY. While that could be costly, it will definitely speed up the process.

AM: As you know, I LOVE thrillers that address social issues. Yours does so beautifully. Why are its central issues so important to you? What compelled you to write about them? 

MS: My parents were Eastern European Jews who immigrated here in the early twentieth century. I was raised in a predominantly Jewish, lower middle class neighborhood in The Bronx, post-WWII. Many of our neighbors were Holocaust survivors, though I didn’t know this, or understand why they had numbers on their arms, for a long time, because no one would talk about it. When I finally did learn about it—and discovered that some of our own family members had perished in the camps—I was enraged. That anger stayed with me for a long time and proved the catalyst for Freedom’s Hand. (Readers might be interested in a story that I wrote about my childhood experience, titled, The Number People.)

AM: That’s horribly sad, and one reason I think stories like Freedom’s Hand are so important. You’re skilled at making the reader empathize with and fight for the protagonists, in Freedom’s Hand included. How do you approach character development? 

MS: My characters are reflective of most human beings: flawed. We’re just ordinary folks trying to get by in a challenging world, hoping to love and be loved. But sometimes, ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary situations—especially in fiction—and it is how they handle these necessary changes that, I believe, appeals to readers. In Freedom’s Hand we have David Lowe, a nerdy schoolteacher from suburban Chicago, suddenly pitted against a host of murdering, racist thugs in order to save his family. In Demon Shadows, successful novelist Paul Fleming has writer’s block because he misses his kids after a contentious divorce. This doesn’t exactly prepare him for the horrors he will soon encounter at an isolated writers’ colony, but somehow he’ll need to rise to the occasion. Bottom line: readers understand my characters because they see some of themselves in them, and they’ll be rooting for them to overcome whatever challenges I choose to throw in their path.

AM: You can have dinner anywhere in the world with any two authors—living or dead (but rejuvenated!). Who would you choose? What and where would you dine?

MS: The first one, easy: Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is my all-time favorite writer, and my muse. Without him I would never have begun writing. I can think of so many for a second choice, but let’s go with Mark Twain. I think that would be a hoot! His quotes are priceless and often make my day. I would invite them for seafood at one of my two favorite places: the Fish Market in Del Mar or Monterey Bay Canners on Oceanside Harbor.

AM: Awesome! I’m coming. 🙂 Seems as though you’ve been published by just about everyone over the years. What do you love most about being an indie author?

MS: Being in control of everything regarding your books. Not having to rely on the whims of a publisher to promote—or not promote—you, or not even matching your own efforts for the small percentage you’ll earn in royalties. Yes, it can be great to have a BNYP (Big New York Publisher), and once in a while even a newbie can become a mega-author.

But so much of that potential success may rely on things over which a writer has no control. Let me share one of my own BNYP stories. I landed Bantam Books for my novel, Demon Shadows, and thought I was on my way. I had a champion there, an executive editor who loved my work. She contracted me for a second book, The Well. Demon Shadows started out fine, about 25,000 copies sold per the initial royalty statement. The Well was about to be published. Then, my editor left Bantam. Losing your champion can be death to a writer. The Well was published but put Out of Print less than two months later. It never had a chance. I never received a royalty statement for it, or any other for Demon Shadows. And people wonder why I got out of the game back then?

AM: What’s next in the pipeline for you?

MS: A historical novel, a real labor of love that has spanned over three decades and is just about ready. It’s a Native American story—what else? Though fictionalized, it is a remarkable true story that deserves to be known by far more people that are presently aware of it. Enough said.

Mike Sirota August McLaughlin

****

Thanks, Mike!  Now it’s y’all’s turn. Have any thoughts or questions to share with this fabulous writer? (He’s also a writing coach and has about 20 zillion additional titles out; he’s a mega resource!) Who would you invite to your author date besides me? What would we you eat? 

You can also connect with Mike Sirota on Facebook, Twitter (he just recently joined!) and his coolio blog, Swords, Specters, and Stuff. His latest post features more juicy bits about Freedom’s Hand! Good stuff.

What’s REALLY Thrilling About ThrillerFest: Fabulous Authors Weigh In!

“An artist cannot fail. It is a success to be one.” – Charles Horton Cooley

What do you get when you put a bunch of story lovers with dark imaginations together in one of the world’s most dazzling cities? Besides Sharknado. (Kidding. I have no idea what that is.) I’m sure some of you guessed right: ThrillerFest. “Thriller” may be intended to describe the book genre, but the biggest thrill of the annual conference is undoubtedly its people. I’ve honestly never encountered such a warm, supportive crew—and I’m not talking blood-curdling, criminal heat.

I first attended two years ago, namely for AgentFest. (Think speed-dating with agents.) I hadn’t read the “how to pitch” tips on the website or attended the pitching preparation panel. Sitting outside the agent-filled room, internal butterflies spasming, a fellow writer who’d done his due diligence voluntarily filled me in. I used a couple of his tips and ended up meeting my agent that day. Then last year, I met Lee Child for the first time. Thinking I would shake his hand and scurry off, letting him get onto whatever it is that super famous authors do, he shook my hand and said, “August McLaughlin. Now that’s an interesting name. What do you write?” (Huh?!?) We chatted for a bit, as though we were from the same planet! 😉 Whether a writing newbie, a volunteer or a librarian, bookseller or agent, ThrillerFest folks are truly that congenial.

I really should've offered him my smoothie.

I really should’ve offered him my smoothie.

Rather than share my own ThrillerFest experiences this year, I thought I’d give you a glimpse through the eyes of some of my favorite attendees. I’m so honored to share their thoughts, and hope you’ll not only read their words, but visit their websites. I suspect that you’ll be grateful you did.

*****

JOHN DIXON, Author of Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster / Gallery, February 2014), inspiration for the upcoming CBS TV series Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger:

“This was my third and favorite ThrillerFest, partly because I came to it loaded with happy news—my first book deal and the stop-the-presses announcement that CBS TV ordered the show based on my debut novel—but mostly because of the people with whom I could share it: excellent friends, some old, some new, all of them smart and charming and practically glowing with good energy. That’s the magical thing about ThrillerFest; everyone, from bestsellers to aspiring authors, comes together in the spirit of celebration and support. I’m already looking forward to next July!”

Twitter: @johndixonbooks
Facebook: John Dixon

Left to Right: Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

JON McGORAN, Author of Drift

“I didn’t get to many panels, but the ones I went to were excellent. The YA panel was particularly good. R. L. Stine did a great job moderating, hilarious as always, but he also managed to keep things moving and informative, with lots of great insights from Barry Lyga, Michelle Gagnon, Lissa Price, Kat Rosenfield, Linda Gerber, and Allen Zadoff. The best part, of course, was seeing old friends and making new ones. It’s not always easy being a writer, and you definitely make sacrifices, but once again I was reminded that one of the best perks of being a writer is being able to hang out with such amazing, smart, warm and hilarious people.”

Twitter: @JonMcGoran
Website: http://www.jonmcgoran.com

AUSTIN S. CAMACHO, author of the Hannibal Jones thriller series:

“ThrillerFest was one great moment after another. The highlight for me may have been seeing Ann Rice interviewed by her son (Christopher is the best interviewer EVER!) But my favorite memories are meeting with so many Facebook friends I’d never met in person before. Yeah, turning those electronic pals into 3-dimensional friends that was a series of favorite memories. And many will join me at the next great conference, Creatures, Crimes & Creativity.”

Twitter: @ascamacho
Facebook: Austin Camacho / Mystery Thriller Author

Austin S. Camacho

Austin S. Camacho and Maria Hudgins

D.P. LYLE, MD, ITW VP Education/Member Services; CraftFest Director; Author of the Edgar-nominated author of the Dub Walker Thriller Series:

“ThrillerFest was very special this year and I have many great memories including being ravaged, or is it savaged?, by a host off insane vampirettes, dinner with the wonderful R.L. and Jane Stine at their marvelous home and again at the Awards Banquet, and the opportunity to interview my friend and Spotlight Guest T. Jefferson Parker. And of course hanging in the bar with August as well as Heather Graham, Jennifer Hughes, Kathy Antrim, Twist Phelan and her husband Jack, Hans Watford, Phil Donlay, Bob and Pat Gussin, Tony and Tori Eldridge, and many others.”

Twitter: DPLyleMD
Website: www.dplylemd.com

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold, Twist Phelan)

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Alexandra Sokoloff, Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold and Twist Phelan)

 DANIEL PALMER, author of Delirious, Helpless and Stolen:

“Interviewing my father in front of a packed ballroom during his Author Spotlight appearance was a highlight, as well as an honor and a privilege.”

Twitter: @DanielPalmer
Website: http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com

Daniel and Michael Palmer

Daniel Palmer and Michael Palmer

BOYD MORRISON, Author of the Tyler Locke Thriller Series:

“Because the Yankees catcher Chris Stewart is a fan of my books, he arranged for me and my wife to get field passes and tickets to the game on Saturday. We had a fantastic time meeting him and watching the game from great seats. Not a bad perk for being a writer!”

Twitter: @BoydMorrison
Website: www.boydmorrison.com

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AMANDA KYLE WILLIAMS, Author of the Key Street Thriller Series:

“No one understands the panic of blowing a deadline or the fear of dry days like another writer. This is one of my favorite things about conferences like ThrillerFest. It’s one big therapy session. Usually in the bar.”

Twitter: @AKyleWilliams
Website: http://amandakylewilliams.com

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

ANNE RICE, Internationally Celebrated, Award-Winning Author of the The Vampire Chronicles (and so much more!)

“What I loved most about ThrillerFest was the generous high spirits of the top flight professional authors who’d come there to host and to mingle with all sorts of up and coming and aspiring writers. I mean the whole atmosphere was hospitable and fun, from start to finish, and it gave aspiring writers a chance to connect with professionals, to learn from them about craft and to connect with top flight agents. It was a terrific event. I felt so welcome. I want to support the International Thrillers Writers in any way I can.”

Twitter: @AnneRiceAuthor
Facebook: Anne Rice Fan Page

This year Anne was awarded the International Thriller Writers Lifetime Achievement Award! Congratulations, Anne!

Christopher Rice and Anne Rice, holding her brand spankin' new award!

Anne Rice with her son and fellow author, Christopher Rice, holding her brand spankin’ new award!

I have chills thinking of how inspiring these folks, and many others who attended ThrillerFest, are. I could go on and on and on… Instead, I’ll pass the mic to you. If you attended ThrillerFest, what was your favorite part? Are you thinking of going next year? Any questions for me and/or other attendees? I always love hearing your thoughts. ♄

5 Things Writers Can Learn from Wall St: A Guest Post by Kourtney Heintz

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” — C.S. Lewis

Well before I met Kourtney Heintz in person, I knew that we shared much in common. We’re both compulsive about writing, for example, both adore dogs (especially our own) and both gave up “glamorous” gigs in the Big Apple for eventual happiness via the pen. Her previous career varied slightly from mine, however, and I figured we could all learn a lot from the recently published author. (Congrats, Kourtney!)

I read a sample of her new release, The 6 Train to Wisconsin, when she’d entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. (She was later named a semifinalist.) Man, was I upset when I ran out of pages; it was that good. Today, I’m honored to share my blog stage/living room with her. I’ll even let her hold my beloved mic. 😉 Take it away, Kourtney!

Kourtney Heintz

Many thanks to August for generously offering me a spot on her blog. She took me under her wing and taught me everything I know about social media. There’s a reason my blog hits and comments skyrocketed after I met her. (You’re way too sweet, Kourtney! Whoops, your mic!)

1) Deadlines Matter

Delays at any point in the process ripple through the entire project. If I let myself fall behind schedule, I was in trouble, my boss was in trouble, and his boss was in trouble. My actions spiraled right up the chain of command.

Even when you’re indie publishing, one missed deadline can snowball into an avalanche and derail your entire book project.

2) Getting to Yes is A Backbending Feat

Most people opened with “No.” “Yes” means more work. If someone agreed to an interview with me, it was time out of their day. I offered to come in early, meet during lunch, stay late. I’d promise to keep it to 30 minutes and be done in 29 minutes.

Any time an agent or editor request a manuscript, they are adding to their workload. Make sure you’re sending out your very best work. Research exactly how that particular agent likes to be queried. Invest time to understand what will make things easiest on them and then do it.

3) Stamp Out Flames Near Any Bridges

I had to build relationships with hundreds of people within my firm. Each interaction had to be respectful and courteous because all future interactions hinged on the current one. No matter how frustrated you get with someone, you never know how integral they may be to you down the road. And there is always more road.

4) Prioritizing Your Day is the Best Way to Stay Productive

I was usually involved in 3-6 audits on any given day–all in different stages of completion.

Everyday, I crafted my to-do list, ranking everything.  My “Top 7” items were mission critical. The rest I’d work my way through. Often a few items had to move to the next day. But I always knocked out what absolutely had to be done.

 5) No One Understands Your Process like You Do

No one knows how much testing and interviewing and digging it took to find an issue and make a recommendation to remediate it.

Same with writing. People will think you play on the Internet all day. They can’t imagine what revising entails. You can try explaining it to them, but the most important thing is that you know what you’re doing and you show up and do it everyday.

Author Bio: Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination. She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

One Sentence Summary of Novel: When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Connect with Kourtney Online:

Website: http://kourtneyheintz.com
Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter
Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomkourtney_heintz
Amazon Author Central Page: http://amazon.com/author/kourtneyheintz
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kourhei

Paperback available from:
Amazon  Barnes and Noble
Ebook available from:
Amazon  Barnes and Noble  Smashwords  Kobo  iTunes

Any thoughts or questions for Kourtney? What has a previous career taught you about writing?