LGBT Crime Fiction: A Mystery Writers of America Panel

MWA-NY Event promo graphic

If you’re in the New York City area, I hope you will come out for the Mystery Writers of America-NY Chapter’s February 3rd event where I’ll be speaking with three other authors about the status of LGBT crime, mystery and thriller fiction.

Moderated by author Ann Aptaker (Criminal Gold, Tarnished Gold), the panel will address the challenges of ‘crossover’ from LGBT-niche to mainstream readers. Is there a way out of the LGBT ghetto? Does there need to be? How do LGBT authors themselves respond to books with hetero sex and romance storylines?

Purchase tickets here and join the Facebook page!

 

 

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Read an Excerpt from the Werecat Series

From time to time, I’ve posted excerpts from my published work. For 2016, I thought I’d do that in a more organized and committed way. I’ll be posting passages from each of my books over the next few months and cross-linking them on my website so that they are easier for visitors to find.

Of course, if you enjoy what you read, you can follow the buy links at the end of the excerpt to get the whole enchilada. :)

First up is an excerpt from my Werecat series.

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The series is paranormal action-adventure with a moderate ‘heat level’ romance, perhaps comparable to the HBO series True Blood, but focused on feline shifters instead of vampires of course. One of the things I enjoyed the most about writing it was exploring feline mythology, particularly in Amerindian cultures, so I thought I’d share an excerpt that explains a bit about the world in which the story takes place.

This scene is from The Rearing (Book 1) in which twenty-two-year old Jackson Dowd meets a mysterious drifter Benoit in Montreal. Early in the story, Benoit forces on Jacks the ‘werecat gift’ so that they can be mates. Here, Benoit explains to Jacks the origins of their supernatural natures while they are waiting for a train in upstate New York. I added in a couple of images from around the web related to werecat mythology.

~ ~ ~

“Our ancestry goes back to the ancient world, when cults in Africa, Asia and Central America worshipped the great cat,” Benoit said. “Werejagaurs trace our origins to an Olmec King from the Yucatan who performed ritual sacrifices of young warriors, trying to merge their life-force with martyred felines.

“His necromancy didn’t work, but he was so determined to emulate the jaguar god, he killed his favorite beast, laid it at the god’s altar and plunged a dagger into his own heart so he would die beside it. He was said to have been reborn with the shape-shifting magic. Little was recorded about and what happened to him, but some centuries later, in the same region, the Aztecs had an unstoppable army of jaguar-warriors.”

Jade sculpture of an Olmec Werejaguar god, retrieved from latinmericanstudies.org

Jade sculpture of an Olmec Werejaguar god, retrieved from latinmericanstudies.org

“How did you become a werejaguar?” Jacks said.

“It was a long time ago, when I was sixteen. My father was French, but we travelled the Americas during my childhood. He had a hand in a little of everything, running goods from Guyana through the Caribbean Islands and all the way up the Atlantic to Québec. We were staying on a sugar plantation near Cayenne when the Portuguese and British landed to take the city. We ran off into the countryside to escape the bloodshed. It was nighttime. It was chaos. They were burning everything in town. I got separated from my father, and I wandered deep into the rainforest looking for him.”

Jacks hadn’t been the best student in history class, but he knew a conflict between the France, Portugal and Great Britain placed Benoit’s story something like two hundred years ago.

“You’re talking about colonial times.”

Benoit nodded. The space inside Jacks’ head expanded. How could Benoit have lived so long? There were some fine wrinkles in the corner of his eyes, but if they indicated something like a lifeline, he had one groove for every fifty years. He looked like he was in his late twenties, or early thirties at the most. Could it be another miracle of the werecat transformation? Jacks’ breath halted, waiting to hear the details of Benoit’s story.

“While I was wandering that night, there was a she-jaguar stalking me, though I didn’t know it at the time. She must have been very old, from the glory days of the Aztecs. The Europeans had conquered the native people with their gunpowder and their missionaries. There were very few of her kind left.

“Near daybreak, she showed herself to me when I was cornered on the bank of a river. Her spotted muzzle was big enough to wrap around my head, and she was so near she could close the space between us in seconds. I couldn’t move, even if there had been time or a place for me to go. I had never seen such a powerful animal.

“She must have known enough to sort me out from the foreign men who would kill her for her pelt. Maybe she needed to pass along the gift to somebody before she died or maybe she felt something more for me. I’ll never know. After she attacked me and slashed her chest, my father and a group of men gained up on us, following my screams. They shot her, and then stood around in disbelief as her feline body transformed into a young Aztec woman. They buried her by the river. We never spoke about what we saw again.”

“How did you survive all this time?”

“My father managed to work out some business dealings with the Portuguese, and we migrated back to Québec. After what happened to me, he vowed to never return to South America. He settled into the fur trade, which was very profitable. We had a house and a shop on Rue du Petit Champlain, among the wealthiest residents of Québec City. Over the years, I came to know my feline nature, but my father turned a blind eye to the changes I was undergoing. He blamed himself for losing track of me in the rainforest, and I don’t think he could bear to face what had happened to me.”

“What about your mother?”

“I never knew her. My father said she died in childbirth, some native girl from Guyana. He said I should always say she was French to avoid people’s prejudices. I was his only son. He wanted to make certain there would be no issue about his holdings passing to me. The inheritance came sooner than either of us had imagined. Our fourth winter in Québec, he died of pneumonia.”

Benoit’s face was hard. Jacks let a moment pass in silence. But he couldn’t keep the questions inside him contained for long. “What happened to the business?”

“I kept my father’s trade going for awhile, but while my friends and clients grew older, I wasn’t changing through the years. I had to disappear from people who knew me. I sold off everything and placed funds in foreign bank accounts. I traveled around the world, never staying in one place for more than ten years at a time. I became bored with it after awhile, which is why I returned to Québec. It was the closest thing to home for me.”

Jacks’ hand interlaced with Benoit’s as he thought about his remarkable past, and the profound accident of the two of them meeting in Mont Royal Park.

“How did you figure it out — what it meant to be a werecat, and all this history?”

“The information is out there if you weed through all the nonsense about witches and demonic possession. I had decades to study it. I visited Aztec ruins in Mexico and spoke with Zapotec mystics. I lived with the Ashanti People who worship the leopard in West Africa. In Masharata, India, there are villagers who have knowledge of the magic through the cult of Waghia, the Lord of Tigers. I realized what that she-jaguar did to me wasn’t a curse. It was the greatest gift anyone could give me.”

“Why did you choose to give it to me?”

Benoit’s hand tensed and gradually relaxed. “I sensed in you someone who could be my mate.”

Jacks’ words tripped over themselves. “What…how?”

“Panthers are solitary, but even we need companionship. Especially when we grow older, and we see that a life without connection is empty. I wasn’t looking for a mate, but I found you in the park that night, and I felt your link to the past, a miracle really. There are very few who are suited for the transformation.”

Jacks glossed over his last words, unsure of what he was saying. Instead he asked: “Were there others —” He fumbled for the phrasing. “You converted?”

There was a glimmer in Benoit’s eyes. “There was another many years ago.” His voice trailed off. Jacks gazed at him expectantly.

“I had a lover in Vietnam.”

Jacks squeezed Benoit’s ribs, teasing out more information.

Benoit glared at him in reproach. “You’re already showing your feline jealousy.”

Jacks laughed. “I want to know about your Vietnamese lover.”

“He was handsome, and graceful, and when he reared he became the most magnificent orange and black striped tiger.”

Jacks drew into himself. How did he measure up to a tiger? Benoit nuzzled against his neck.

“But he wasn’t loyal to me.”

“Why are you a panther and I’m a mountain lion?”

Benoit shrugged. “The traces of the old spiritual traditions open up our potential. My maternal ancestors had their roots in the Amazon people. Yours must descend from North America. The Ho-Chunk and Cheyenne tribes hold the cougar with great esteem.”

Illustration of the Wampus cat, a legendary feline monster that has its roots in Native American folklore. Retrieved from cryptomundo.com

Illustration of the Wampus cat, a legendary feline monster that has its roots in Native American folklore. Retrieved from cryptomundo.com

Jacks thought on it. He had always been told he was a mutt of German and English heritage, but he had seen in his mother’s box of old photographs an old-fashioned portrait of his great-grandmother. She had long, straight hair, high cheekbones and a darker complexion, like a Native American. It had always been a curiosity, though his mother had said nothing about the photo and buried it beneath the others in her scrapbook box. Now, that discovery rang through Jacks with much more meaning. It was possible he carried Native blood from a branch of his family tree.

The idea grew inside him. His cougar nature might be part of his ancestry, a tradition of cat mysticism, passed down through an immutable bond. He had never felt like he was part of any religion, or any group for that matter. In fact, something inside him had always resisted the idea of being part of a community, and he wondered at that moment if it could be some lost spirit within him, refusing convention, wanting something more that would root him in the world. His mind roamed broader, considering the concept of a collective soul, and thrumming vagaries, the inheritance of ancestral wounds, and drawing strength from one’s forefathers.

In a moment, he was rearing. His feline eyes stared up at the star-speckled sky, and he could trace the lines of many constellations. They gradually came into focus as an expansive plane of images he had never seen before in the stars. A soaring falcon, a rattlesnake, the round head of a bear. There among them was a proud cougar, standing on its hind legs, looking down on him.

The springtime night was fresh and crisp. Jacks leapt down to the train tracks. His muscular limbs propelled him forward at an unbreakable pace. He slackened his jaw, the air filling up his lungs, feeling free.

~~~

If your interest is piqued, you can pick up The Rearing at Amazon, BN.com, or iTunes. And if you’d like to get the first three installments all together, here are buy links for The Trilogy: Amazon, BN.Com, iTunes.

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Giving Thanks to Family, Friends, and Fans

happy holidays

About seven years ago, I took up writing seriously. I was nearing forty, and you could say it was a bit of a midlife crisis. That may sound young for a midlife crisis, but taken literally, you’re a pretty optimistic fellow to call a major lifestyle change in your late forties or fifties a midlife crisis. With all of the bad habits I’ve subjected my body to over the years, I’ll be quite glad to reach my seventies.

I think of it as a midlife crisis in the sense that it had started hitting me hard that I had always loved writing fiction, but I had never made the time for it. Since college, through a combination of practicality and a healthy beat-down in creative writing classes, writing became my dream deferred. That’s not to say that I regret making a career as a social worker, but I felt like a big part of who I am had been left unventured. In Eriksonian terms, I was caught in that quandary of stagnation versus generativity, which brings to bear the big questions about meaningfulness and what kind of artifact of your life will be around after you’re gone.

To most of the people around me, my decision to ‘come out’ as a writer came as a surprise. I had been a social worker and an educator for over a dozen years, taking up the cause of LGBT youth. I’ll always be proud of that work and consider myself privileged to have made a career out of service to my community. Still, there was an entirely different creative side of me that I needed to explore.

I started working on a novel, joined a writer’s critique group, attended workshops and conferences, and read books about plot and structure and writing craft. I took the leap into submitting my work for publication, and in 2009, I placed my first short story in a literary journal. I followed up with that at a pretty brisk pace with more short story publications and now three books in print and two more coming out next year.

This writing thing of mine is more than a passing phase. It hasn’t brought me fame or fortune, but I keep at it because I love putting words on the page and I know this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. I also know that I couldn’t do it without the incredible support of my family and friends and the readers who have taken the time to let me know that they enjoyed what I wrote.

So, as the holiday season has us thinking about togetherness and giving, I wanted to thank the many people I have been fortunate enough to come to know as family. You’ve encouraged me, tolerated me during my reclusive, moody periods, and been there to celebrate with me. Thank you, and may 2016 be a stellar year for all of us.

 

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The Trilogy e-Book in Stores this Week

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For the one-year anniversary of the special edition paperback, Vagabondage Press has released the Trilogy as an e-book, now available at retailers everywhere!

That title includes The Rearing, The Glaring, and The Fugitive, with all the artwork from the covers, and at a great price: $5.99.

You can pick up the Trilogy at that special price at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.

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Pop Up Swap! With Elin Gregory!

POPUPSWAP

I’m quite excited to introduce a new feature to my blog. It’s called the Pop Up Swap. Basically, it’s an opportunity to get to know some of my favorite authors better by exchanging our books and having a virtual dialogue about them at our respective blogs.

I’m calling it a pop-up because I am offering no guarantees on when or how often I’ll be doing these swaps. They could pop up at any time and disappear faster than a New York City landlord can raise the rent and send starving artists out on the street.

For my inaugural swap, I’m thrilled to have strong-armed, or rather politely convinced the delightfully talented and all-around delightful Elin Gregory to participate!!

Sheep Avatar

Elin is a tad camera shy, but this is her favorite avatar

Elin Gregory is a British author from South Wales who writes historical fiction primarily in an M/M romance vein. She has a really interesting bio.

Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman fort! She reckons that’s a pretty cool job. It certainly provides more than enough inspiration for her writing.

Although Elin usually writes on historical subjects, she has also written contemporary and historical paranormals, science fiction, crime and a Western, none of which have, as yet, been published. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow.

Elin’s first published stories appeared in the British Flash and Tea and Crumpet anthologies produced by the UK Meet team. Her historical novella, Alike As Two Bees, and her first novel, On A Lee Shore, were published in 2012. Elin still can’t quite believe it. However, there are always new works on the go and she is currently editing a novel about the British Secret Service between the two World Wars, finishing one set in 6th century AD England and contemplating one set during the Second World War. For more about Elin, visit her blog.

Hereford, South Wales

Hereford, South Wales, where Elin calls home

I’m a bit abashed to say I don’t recall precisely how Elin and I met. It was somewhere in the ether of the Internet, whether the blogosphere or the Twitterverse or the Triberr kingdom. I think our correspondence grew out of participating in the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

In any case, across an oceanic divide, we struck up an online friendship. A shared love for ancient world stories helped with that. I won Elin’s Alike as Two Bees in a contest, and I instantly became a fan. I persuaded her to swap our recent releases and have a conversation about them.

This is my interview with Elin after I read A Taste of Copper, which came out from Love Lane Books in 2014. Here’s the book’s back cover blurb:

Olivier the squire worships the Black Knight and takes a fierce joy in his prowess as he defends a bridge against all comers. Olivier only wishes that his master loved him as much in return instead of treating him as a servant and occasional plaything.

Then word comes that the King desires to cross the bridge. With an army approaching, a bright eyed archer enticing him to desert and the first cracks beginning to show in the Black Knight’s gruff demeanour, Olivier is left wondering if his honour is worth more than a chance for happiness.

 

Andrew Peters: Elin! Thanks so much for agreeing to this experiment of mine. I loved Alike as Two Bees, and I just fell in love with A Taste of Copper. There are many aspects of your work that I admire, and the first question that comes to mind is: where and how did you learn to write so well?

Elin Gregory: Well? My goodness, I think my editors might take issue with that, but thank you very much anyway. 😀

I’m very old school, brought up with books that had lavish descriptions, no inhibitions at all about using adverbs, and believed in taking their time to allow a story to develop – a very far cry from today’s style of ‘grab the reader by the throat in the first sentence or don’t bother’.

It’s been very hard to walk the line between writing what I want to write and what is acceptable in a modern market. As for learning, I’ve always told or written stories. I’ve aped the styles of the authors I most admire, and I try very hard to accept with good grace the advice of beta readers and editors. A book can’t be written by committee, but no author should be above taking the hint whether something is working or not.

AP: Before I quiz you about A Taste of Copper, I’m always curious about female authors who primarily write gay male characters. Of course, many authors in the M/M genre are women as are many readers. What draws you to writing M/M romance?

EG: I suspect that you would get a different answer for as many authors as you questioned. In my case it’s partly identification.

Heresford countryside

Herefordshire countryside

I was convinced as a child that there had been a horrible mistake and that all this pink and dollies and ‘but you’re a girl’ shit would stop at some point and that when I grew up I’d be the Lone Ranger. Sadly, as time passed that didn’t happen and, in a time where there were no words for what I felt and no apparent alternatives, I had no choice but to lump it.

Thank God for books and films with wonderful amazing heroes with whom I could sadly and secretly identify. I didn’t want to be their girlfriend, I wanted to BE Aragorn, Mr. Darcy, James Bond, Hephaistion, or Francis Crawford of Lymond. And I could never understand why the hero would be yearning over some tedious female when he often had a strong and brave friend with whom he could share adventures.

You have to remember that this was in the days when ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ was literally silenced and books that did feature same sex relationships were either pulp porn unobtainable in rural Herefordshire or so heavily coded as to be almost unintelligible. But in my pre-teens I fell in love with all Mary Renault’s characters without understanding the subtext and I wrote my own stories about “jolly good pals.” Eventually a friend pointed out that there were hardly any ‘feel good’ historicals with happy endings for gay men. Most focused on angst and persecution and weakness. He wanted something where the relationship wasn’t the source of conflict so I wrote Alike As Two Bees.

Alike As Two Bees by Elin GregoryAP: I’m a huge admirer of Mary Renault as well. She’s pretty much the gold standard for ancient world historicals in my view. But I think you and your friend make a good point about the traditional place of gay men as tragic characters in historical fiction and elsewhere. Speaking of Alike As Two Bees, I thought you captured an ancient Greek time period with compelling authority in that book. A Taste of Copper moves ahead a thousand years and then some. I know you work in a museum so I’ll hazard to say you have another area of expertise outside of writing. What is the research process like for you? There’s such detail in A Taste of Copper, from the description of armor and costume to daily life.

EG: It’s SO handy to be able to put on a helmet to see how much you can see through the eye slits! Also I work in a castle so I know how appallingly cold and damp they can be. Apart from that I’ve got friends who are re-enactors so have been able to poke around their very well made and accurate kit to handle weapons and to experience the God-awful smell of tallow candles and the scarier aspects of medieval food production.

I’ve also attended lectures by experts in various fields and have access to a terrific library. Then there’s the BBC. Yes, they are scraping by on a licence fee so sometimes they cut corners, but when they decide to do something properly they put a lot of effort into it. In a recent programme about the development of Celtic culture they had managed to source proper early Roman Republican army kit. Was it 100% accurate? I don’t know, but I really appreciated that they had made the effort.

Castle-Museum

Gates to the Castle-Museum where Elin goes to work each day.

I make an effort too, though I know I’m never completely right. You have to know that you don’t know something in order to look it up and there’s always, always someone who knows more than you do. My advice is to do your best and accept the criticism with good grace.

AP: My very favorite character in the book was the rakish archer Hywel. For people who haven’t read the book yet, please scroll down a few inches on the page to skip some spoilers. I was rooting for Olivier to choose Hywel, and while his other love interest, the bullish, withholding Black Knight Maheris, evolves a bit into a softer and more expressive mate, I felt like Olivier and Hywel could have made for an interesting pair. Is there the possibility for a future for the two of them, perhaps in a further installment of the story?

EG: I’m so glad you liked Hywel. He’s my favourite too. In fact Olivier and Hywel enjoyed a much ‘closer’ relationship in my original manuscript, but I was warned that readers wouldn’t like it so had to cut that scene. But I love Hywel dearly, and I have an idea for a story where the cast is assembled again and Hywel finds someone who can keep up with him. I just need to find the time to write it.

AP: I enjoy romantic stories, and I especially like stories that show me something about the world that I didn’t know. For the lay reader, such as myself, there’s an assumption that England in the Middle Ages was a brutal place for most people, though it’s appealing to romanticize that era with visions of lush castles and chivalrous knights and beautiful princesses bedecked in fancy gowns. I know your book is essentially a romance, but I wonder if you thought about that balance of realism versus fantasy as you developed the story.

EG: Oh yes. I had to make some changes from the original manuscript mostly because medieval attitudes to hygiene would be unpalatable to modern readers. This was a culture for which washing was purely cosmetic, practical or a matter of comfort. Clean skin suggested that one was rich enough not to have to work. Greasy hands might slip on a sword hilt. A man would use his knife to cut his toenails, slit an enemy’s throat and cut his meat at table, with just a perfunctory wipe of the blade in between so the iron didn’t rust in the sheath. It was believed that one got sick by God’s will. To be clean was valued but most people had only one change of clothes and there’s no way to launder the heavy padding under armour. All fighting men stank.

Medieval Bath

Painting of a man getting a bath, something that didn’t happen too often in the Middle Ages. Retrieved from medievalists.net

Likewise one has to adjust one’s language and mind set. The idea of human rights and the words used to describe them have changed radically over time. There are also words in common usage in the past that cause real distress if used in fiction now. One has to be aware of all that and walk yet another tightrope between historical accuracy and offending your readers. Historical inaccuracy, of course, offends a whole other set of readers. But decisions have to be made.

AP: I’m gathering from your books that you like a story where true love wins out in the end. Do you consider yourself a romantic? And if I might be so bold, have you had experiences that shaped that optimism which pervades the two stories?

EG: Sorry if this is a disappointment but I’m the least romantic person I know. I was never a flowers/perfume/intimate dinner type of person. I would sooner go abseiling or shoot my longbow or watch a film with plenty of explosions and then go for a round of darts and a pint of properly kept beer. This is British beer by the way, which is refreshingly cool to the lips but doesn’t give you a brain freeze.

That said I do like characters, my own as well as other people’s, to enjoy a good happily-ever-after or happily-for-now once the serious business of saving the world, defusing the bomb, getting the serum to Nome, has been accomplished. They’ve earned it. They deserve it. And at least in my fiction I can provide the type of happiness that often had to be very cautious in real life.

AP: What does the future hold for your writing? Are there other historical periods that you would like to explore?

EG: I have a bit of my bookshelf filled with hard backed spiral bound notebooks, one for each potential book. There’s a massive battered one for an untitled book set on the plains of 4th century BC Scythia. A Gleam of Splendour is set in 4th century BC Thebes and is about the Sacred Band. The Hounds of the North – 1st century Rome and Britannia. The Fierce Reaping – 6th century Northumbria. Plans for a sequel to On A Lee Shore – more 18th century pirates. A Perfect Shade of Blue – early 19th century Wales. Calon Lȃn – Wales 1916. Eleventh Hour – London 1928 [almost finished]. The Shepherd’s Hut – England 1940. I’ve got a few for contemporary fiction too, and they scare me worse than tigers because experts on say 6th century Northumbria are rare and few of them read M/M but everyone’s an expert on the modern day.

AP: Those titles sound amazing! I hope they make it out of your spiral notebooks and onto retailer shelves soon! You do a lot to support fellow authors through posting interviews and features on your blog and generally being a cheerleader for our work (do they have cheerleaders in the UK, or am I imposing my American sensibility?). Where does your passion to do that come from?

The Comfy Chair

Elin’s Comfy Chair feature on her blog where she interviews fellow authors.

EG: Ah no, I don’t think we have cheerleaders. Or at least, not yet. We have WAGs – Wives and Girlfriends – who are supposed to turn up, cheer in the right places and generally be a credit to their menfolk. My British sensibilities sort of admire the cheerleaders’ athleticism while being a bit saddened at both groups’ objectification.

BUT – supporting other authors, that was the question. I started off my engagement with the LGBT writing community as a reviewer of m/m historical fiction so I’ve always felt that publicity/promotion is a more important part of my function in the community than my writing.

I do a bit of hosting, I do a lot of beta reading and I’m on the organizing committee for the UK Meet, a weekend long conference for writers, readers, bloggers, publishers etc of LGBT fiction. This year I think [hope] most attendees enjoyed themselves most of the time.

UK Meet

The colorful UK Meet 2015 Team (from l to r) Elin Gregory, Clare London, Cathy Laird, J. L. Merrow, Liam Livings, and Charlie Cochrane.

It’s such a relief to be in a place where one can chat to other people who are just as passionate about their books, where one doesn’t have to explain, excuse or justify what one writes or reads, where one can pick up help, advice, recommendations because everyone understands. I try to foster that type of atmosphere on my blog too. All are welcome from the grittiest realistic gay fiction to the toughest genre fiction to the fluffiest romance. Everyone should be able to find books they will enjoy with characters in whom they can see a little of themselves. That’s something really worth getting passionate about.

AP: Very well said, and thank you Elin for everything you do for our community. Many thanks for collaborating on the first-ever Pop Up Swap!! For readers wanting to learn more about Elin and her work, please do take a trip over to Elin’s WordPress blog, follow her on Twitter and check her out on Goodreads.

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A Quick Addendum/Erratum

via GIPHY

So I just found out that there’s a distribution problem with the e-book version of Banished Sons of Poseidon. That version is available at the publisher Bold Strokes Books, but unfortunately, it will not be for sale at most retailers until October 19th.

Oops! I spoke a little too soon.

Paperbacks are indeed available everywhere. My apologies for the confusion.

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