Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Guest post: Etienne

Today I have the wonderful Etienne on my blog, answering a few questions and talking about his novel, Sold! (which is graciously offered with a 25% off coupon on Smashwords--see below for the code), and sharing some wonderful excerpts. (I've had to remove the excerpt after an email from Blogger flagging the content. I'm sorry.)

What got you interested in writing?
If memory serves, reading a number of stories on line that featured bad grammar and worse spelling made me think, “I can do better than that.”  I had that urge for a very long time before I succumbed to it.

How long have you been writing?
If I’d been asked that question more than two years ago, I would have said “ten years.”  However, that would have been incorrect.  A year or so ago, I uncovered a manuscript I’d written consisting of 100 typewritten pages.  The fact that the pages were typewritten dates them to before 1984 when I first acquired a personal computer and discovered the joy of using WordPerfect 4.1 and stopped using my typewriter for much of anything. I still use WordPerfect, now on version X6 (16) because it is superior in every respect to that other word processing program.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Other than the old classic advice: write about what you know, I would add, be true to yourself and write what you feel.  Whatever you do, don’t write to suit what you think someone else wants—if you do, the quality of your writing will suffer.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
It has happened to me a couple of times and I simply ride it out by doing other things until my muse comes back to life and the words begin to flow.  As I wrote in the preface to one of my books, my muse is a capricious bitch, sometimes hiding from me, and sometimes riding me mercilessly with her spurs digging into my sides.  On those latter occasions, the flow of words goes from a trickle to a flood.

Who is your favorite author and why?
The late Robert B. Parker is my all-time favorite author.  His spare but elegant prose is beyond compare, and he was better at dialogue than any author you’d care to name.  He was found, slumped over his desk, three years ago this month and he is sorely missed.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
You have to be able to grab, and hold, the reader’s attention and interest, and you have to do it early on in the story—there are many ways to do that.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?
Sometimes one, sometimes the other.  I may come up with what I deem to be a terrific plot idea and develop characters to fit; or I sometimes come up with very specific characters and have to find something for them to do.  What the wind up doing evolves into a plot.  More often than not, once the characters have taken on a personality, they dictate where the story will go.

Are you working on anything at the present you’d like to share with us?
My first published novel was The Path to Forever, and it was followed by a sequel, Prognosis: Forever.  I’ve just submitted for consideration, Children of Forever, which will make the Forever series a trilogy.  At the moment, I’m working on book two of my current trilogy in progress.  Scourge (book one of The Ivory Solution) came out in November.  Book two will be titled Cleanse, and I hope to have it ready for submission by Spring.

What are you reading now?
I’m in the middle of re-reading all of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels in order.  I think I’m in the middle of number twenty-two in the series.  I’ve read all of them before, but in revisiting the books, I keep finding hidden gems.

What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Books written by the aforementioned Robert B. Parker, and books written by W. E. B. Griffin.  I particularly like the latter’s several series about the military.

How do you come up with the titles to your books?
Sometimes painfully, sometimes with my partner’s help, and sometimes they just fall in my lap.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When a publisher actually purchased my book and sent me a check as an advance against royalties.

What inspired you to write your first book?
An idea popped into my head, and I decided to run with it.

Describe your writing space.
The fourth bedroom in our house is tiny, and suitable only for a nursery or small den.  We’ve turned that room into a den.  It contains two recliners—one for me, and one for our resident Irish Setter, along with my stereo and my collection of classical music.  I sit with my laptop in my lap and write until I cannot write any more—at least in that session.

What was the hardest part of writing a book?
The polishing of the finished manuscript.  No matter how many times I work my way through the chapters, checking everything, it is hard to resist the urge to do it ‘one more time’, because every time you check a book, you almost always find something that needs fixing.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
That depends upon my muse, when she is full flower, I write from can til can’t.  When she is being elusive, I edit things already written, or find other things to do.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read or listen to classical music.  The famous British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once said in an interview that “there hasn’t been a memorable tune written in the last thirty years.”  I sort of agree with him on that, so I kick back and listen to Bach or Mozart.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
My first book was published in early November of 2010.  My eighteenth title was published in mid-November of 2012, and no, I didn’t write all eighteen of them in that period of time.  Five of them were actually written in that time frame, the others were earlier writing that I pulled from my files and polished for submission after my first book was accepted for publication.  It’s hard to choose a favorite, that’s kind of like asking someone with several children which one he favors.  That being said, I still like my first published book, The Path to Forever, and I love coming back to the characters in that series.

Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I posted stories on line for almost five years before my first book was published, and have heard from hundreds of readers.  Happily, all but about five or six of those e-mails were positive, some almost embarrassingly so.  People seem to get so wrapped up in particular characters that they can get a tad cranky when you write the words “The End”.

Because all but two of my books were published by Dreamspinner Press, a publisher that specializes in M/M Romance, some readers seem to be disappointed when they read my books.  Disappointed, I suspect, because they were expecting a typical romance novel, not to mention lots of steamy sex, and I definitely do not write romances.  There’s always a gay couple involved, but in fully half of my books there is no explicit sex.  They talk about doing ‘it’ and they do ‘it’ frequently, but we seldom follow them into the bedroom.  I think what happens in a couple’s bed is best left to the imagination of the reader.  On the other hand, if I deem it integral to the story, there will be some sex.  A good example may be found in Magic Fingers, my book about two former Army Rangers, one of whom had his penis blown off in a grenade attack.  You can’t tell the story of a man with a disability like that without going into some detail concerning how he obtains sexual relief.

Nor is there a great deal of mushy dialogue in my books.  My male characters are mostly the kind of men who don’t run around saying ‘I love you’ at the drop of a hat.  There is a section in my newly submitted book that speaks to this topic:

The speakers are Marco and Dani, who have been a couple for more than twenty years at this point.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said between kisses.
“Don’t be silly.”
“Does it bother you that I’m not more verbally affectionate?” I said.
“In the first place, you weren’t raised that way, and in the second place, I’ve never approved of starting the soup with who we love.  If every third sentence contains the phrase ‘I love you’, it sort of robs the sentiment of meaning.  You don’t have to look any further than my family to see the truth of that—every one of them will ‘I love you’ to death at the drop of a hat, and we both found out how real that was when I told them I was gay and had a boyfriend.”
“No argument there,” I said.  “I remember the occasion quite vividly, even though it was more than twenty years ago.”  His old world and staunchly Roman Catholic family in Boston’s North End had disowned him totally on that occasion—to the extent that they hadn’t even spoken to him for years.  It wasn’t until he was hospitalized after the attack on us that I was able to effect a partial reconciliation by inviting his mother and grandmother to Aragoni.
“In the second place,” he said, “there’s an old but true saying, ‘still waters run deep’.  You tell me you love me at odd times when I least expect it.  That has much more impact than hourly declarations of affection.”
“I can’t argue with that,” I said.

Tell us about your latest book.

Well, it isn’t actually my latest, but close enough—two or three books ago, actually.  I want to talk about my exploration of the subject of sexual slavery which appears in my novel Sold!  I really don’t remember how or when the idea for the story popped into my head, but once it did, it was indelibly there and my muse was in full flower.  I sat at my computer and wrote almost, but not quite nonstop, although I did have two eighteen hour sessions at the keyboard.  This book is certainly the most gritty of all my books, and yes, it contains a fair amount of explicit sex.

Sold! is the story of Winston Martsolf and his lover, Clancey Witherspoon.  They met as roommates in prep school and have been a couple for six years when the story begins.  Winston joins the Peace Corps after graduation from college and Clancey joins it as well, because, as he says, “where Winston goes, I go.”

Sold! explores what happens to Winston, who, on his first Peace Corps mission in Africa, is captured by slavers.  He is eventually sold on the block and becomes the sex slave of an oil sheikh, but not before some rather disturbing things have been done to his body.  As his captor explains, “Many of these arabs like to mount young blond men, but they don’t like to be reminded of the fact that they are males, so you will be sexually nullified.”

The rest of the story is devoted to Winston and Clancey beginning a new phase of their lives, and the arrest and prosecution of Winston’s father.  We learn that Winston’s grandfather had left some two-thirds of his fortune in trust for Winston because he didn’t trust Winston’s father.  We also learn that Winston’s father has been siphoning money from Winston’s trust to prop up his struggling business during Winston’s absence.

A couple of reviewers either didn’t read the book carefully, or failed to understand Winston’s nature.  Despite the fact that Winston makes it very clear that he is more than a bit stoic, and has had extensive yoga training, including the related mental discipline, they don’t seem to understand why he isn’t cowering somewhere in a corner, bewailing his fate like a Victorian heroine.  Winston is, as he says, focused on two things: survival and ultimately, revenge.  That, and his mental discipline gets him through his two-year ordeal.

Here’s a very nice review of the book by the well-known Amos Lassen:

Purchase Sold! on Smashwords and use coupon code MR82D at checkout to receive a 25% discount:

If you want to read more about Etienne, visit his blog:


  1. Thank you, Hayley, for the opportunity to post.


  2. Well.

    Well then.

    It's amazing to find that I do, indeed, have boundaries. I haven't recoiled like that in a long time. Thank you for the fair warning, and... we share Robert B. Parker as a favorite and an influential writer, and... and that's about it. I guess it's just as well that I found out what would have ambushed me otherwise, and I thank you for giving a semblance of a fair warning.


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