A warm welcome to authors Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali & Damon Suede joining us today here at our blog.
All three took the time to answer some wonderful fan questions!
Welcome Santino, Karen & Damon 🙂
Love Bytes was kind enough to host Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali, and Damon Suede during their #NYCdreamer blog tour to celebrate the upcoming releases of three NY-based novels: SUNSET PARK (releasing December 11), MOMENT OF SILENCE (releasing December 18), and PENT UP (Released November 20).
They’re doing a Q&A using some fan questions about life, romance, and being a writer.
How do you identify and what’s your preferred gender identification?
Karen: I’m a straight, cisgender female. If we’re talking Kinsey Scale I’m a zero or 1 or a D0 on the Purple-Red spectrum. Since childhood the majority of my closest friends have been guys so, even in terms of friendship, I tend to gravitate more naturally toward people who identify as male.
Damon: Gay male. I’m a little leery of the alphabet soup gendering because I don’t really believe in strict binaries and almost every attempt to label complexity turns it into mush. Because I was raised by a very out lesbian mom, my labels tend to get caught in the slipstream. I’m gonna go with cisgender gay male.
Santino: I’m a cisgender bisexual male, and prefer he/his pronouns. Someone recently said I was “homoflexible”, and I had to Google what that meant. Post-Googling, I’d say it’s inaccurate. I’m pretty equally interested in all of the genders. It just so happens I’ve been seeing more dudes in the past few years.
Marital status? Romantic life?
Karen: Married. Recently celebrated 20 years together. Romantic life? No complaints.
Damon: Married to the most loving, virtuous, handsome, funny, sexy, interesting man on the planet. Sorry y’all. There was one and I snagged him. 🙂
Santino: Happily single.
If there was a book about YOUR life, what themes would it include?
Karen: It would definitely involve the Friends-to-Lovers trope. Pretty much every relationship I’ve had other than a random date here or there started out as a friendship, including my relationship with my husband. We’d known each other through mutual friends for almost five years before we got involved. In the months immediately prior to us dating we became much closer friends than we had been before that. Being friends first definitely complicates relationships—it adds dynamics and risks and expectations that don’t play into dating someone you don’t already know and who isn’t a part of your social circle. That’s a big part of the reason I gravitate toward Friends-to-Lovers stories in my writing. I like the complications and the depth that goes hand-in-hand with taking a friendship to a new level of intimacy. In MOMENT OF IMPACT I take that dynamic even further because it’s a Roommates-to-Lovers story—brand new relations and already living together. What could go wrong?
Damon: Eek. Yeah. Ummm, most of my relationships have hyperbolic elements that sound ridiculous in retrospect. I lived with a wealthy, ex-model plastic surgeon on the Upper East Side obsessed with dominating the A-gays up there as a power couple. Oy. That definitely sounds like a Harlequin Presents. I’ve survived two crazy, tortured musicians in walkups in the East Village waiting for the big call that eventually came. I dated a blue-blood molecular biologist while he was experimenting with tagged chemotherapy for HIV treatment and modeling for J.Crew. For an embarrassing stretch in my twenties, I had a strange, kinky folie à deux with a Brooklyn cop who liked dirty talk and being handcuffed. And those are the POLITE stories. Seeing them listed together makes my life sound like a tacky Lifetime movie. Hell, I even met my husband at a gay rodeo and then we dated long distance for years because he was a federal forensic investigator working on high-profile cases while I was screenwriting on location. So yeah…um NYC apparently brings out the category romance in my libido.
Santino: BILLIONAIRE! jk. Probably also Friends (or fuck buddies) to Lovers. Also, Enemies (or rivals) to Lovers. I tend to fall for people I trust, or I go to the extreme opposite and end up sleeping with someone who isn’t afraid to tell me a thing or two about myself. I love sassy people. And I love people with big personalities.
That being said, you’d have to throw in a couple of tragic past elements (parental issues and past substance abuse issues) for it to really come together. My past has shaped my personality, and the way I interact with people, in very specific ways. I’m a pretty classic case of “I’ll remain distant because I don’t want people to expect too much from me because I’ll just fuck things up anyway”.
Do you consider yourself to be a romantic person? (and would those you’ve been in relationships with agree or disagree?)
Karen: Yes and no. I’m a sucker for things that tug at your heartstrings. I cry at sappy commercials. I don’t enjoy reading books that end in tragedy. I crave HEA endings and that’s why they’re the only kind of endings I’ll write. I’m also an extremely sentimental person. I have boxes full of ticket stubs and notes passed to me in high school and dried flowers given by past bows. But I’m more of a pizza-in-PJs-watching-a-movie together person than a fancy-dinner-and-dancing person…and little gestures tend to mean more to me than grand ones done for effect…and I’m more likely to be cynical or realistic with real life relationships than to have them be idealized (like they are in the books I write and the books I choose to read). As to people I’ve been in relationships with? I think they’d say I’m an atypical romantic. And I’d agree with that.
My books are more romantic than my reality because, well, they’re fictional. But there’s a strong element of realism. I don’t write world famous rock stars or billionaires—I write real people falling in love and often doing extra romantic things to win back the object of their affection. I love figuring out what those romantic gestures will be and how they fit the character and the dynamics of their relationship.
Damon: I’m a cynical romantic. I wish the world worked as well as escapist genre fiction but I also understand the ways it does not. Let’s put it this way. I loathe clichés and cheap sentimentality which are often mistaken for romance: boxes of chocolate and bouquets from the deli. That’’s regurgitation, not romance. What I love is extravagant gestures and nobility. I love the way life explodes into moments of opera when you least expect it. My husband accuses me of being cruel, but even he admits that I have a romantic core beating under the crust…I just don’t unleash it casually. LOL
Santino: I… don’t think so? It’s hard to tell. I like doing things for people I care about, I like buying things for people I care about, and I genuinely like pleasing them. But I’m also… really quick to lose interest and fail out of dating if it seems inevitable that it won’t work out. I’m really not for forcing relationships when there are fundamental issues that don’t change after several attempts to fix them. Some people think that makes me a quitter. But as much as I believe in HEA, and as much as I *do* want to find someone who is right for me, I just as strongly believe in not staying with someone when you’re not a good fit.
Sex scenes — do we write from experience?
Karen: When I write sex scenes I think my real life experiences seep into the writing about as much as they do in any other scenes. I don’t take actual experiences or exact situations and transcribe or fictionalize them, but I do focus a lot on sense memory and visceral sensation. I’ll call on my own memories so I can make sure I’m in my character’s head figuring out what he/she would be feeling/hearing/smelling/tasting…. And obviously choreography sometimes requires either real life recall or, sometimes, re-enactment. You know. For research.
Damon: Obviously…and not at all. LOL I think any writing you do has to come from a personal and authentic place if you want it to be something other than generic bullshit. At the same time, I find memoir generally boring and direct adaptation ditto. So most of my personal experiences end up more as mulch than material. Fragments make it through undigested, but I want intimacy to reflect the characters in a story, not to write myself into every book explicitly. Specificity is the deal, and personal experience is usually the core of meaningful detail.
Santino: More or less. I don’t base every scene on my own sex life but having experienced certain things helps during the writing process. I have something to visualize and a memory recall so it helps when describing and trying to hit up all the senses, and it’s also easier to figure out if a certain position would work.
Best and worst experience since you began writing?
Karen: Best experience? An email I got from a recently-out teen who was feeling completely isolated and alone, read one of my books and contacted me to tell me that he “didn’t know happily ever after endings were possible for people like me.” I love getting reader email, but I think that one in particular will always be my favorite.
Worst experience? When I had submitted my first book to publishers I got an offer from one and, as you’re supposed to do, I asked if I could have a week to contact the other publishers who had the book so they could have a chance to reply as well. Instead of waiting, the publisher rescinded their offer. And one of the companies I had told about the offer replied that “we would have been interested but it’s our policy not to counter offer so we’re passing.” So basically what should have been the best day ever—OFFERS! ON BOOKS!—became a total nightmare. Luckily a third publisher wound up offering on the book so my research on “local bridges suitable for jumping off” was not needed. But losing two offers in one day, because of each other, made for one really bad day.
Damon: Best experience is almost impossible to pinpoint. I feel so blessed to get paid to make up stories for a living, The interaction with fans, the shift in the industry I’ve watched up close, the connection with talented colleagues. How about this one? I was at RWA the RRW chapter president, still nervous about where I fit into the romance genre as a whole. Kristan Higgins gave the keynote and she KILLED it. I wept and laughed through her speech. I’d never read her books before, but I immediately needed to buy all of them because she was so gracious and hilarious. Major bestseller and a beautiful spirit to boot. As I was leaving the ballroom, I saw her standing with her husband. Unable to stop myself I walked over to gush, but then she turned she said, “Oh! You’re Damon Suede! Hey!” And before I could express surprise or ask a question, she pointed to her husband and said, “Firefighter” as if that explained everything. And then she hugged me. I felt stunned, grateful, welcomed, relieved, thrilled, and hopeful all at once.
Worst experience: At one point in my first year writing fiction I had so many people demanding THEIR exact idea of the sequel to Hot Head right now that in a thirty day period I went completely gray and lost 40 pounds because of stress vomiting. F’realz. Thousands of emails from people urging/scolding/begging/helping me write a book that I was terrified to get wrong. Even as I type this three new ones came in tonight. Those messages are sent with love, and I’m honored by the passion, but that constant relentless pressure has occasionally felt like having my balls crushed under a cinder block.
Santino: My best experience so far has been the number of readers who contacted me to say they could relate to Michael Rodriguez in SUTPHIN BOULEVARD. Despite him being a Puerto Rican dude from South Jamaica, Queens, I had people from all over the US and other countries writing to me to share their own stories about family, addiction, and loss. It was incredible.
The worst experience? There’s been a few incidents that caused me to reevaluate how I interact with readers, and I’m still trying to figure out the right balance of open and friendly, and being so available and responsive that people become demanding with their expectations of me. This is partially why I wrote another blog post for Love Bytes about Author/Reader boundaries and being protective of your “dance space”. It isn’t something that’s applicable to 99% of people who interact with me on social media, but there have been a couple of cases where people became possessive and controlling after attempting to befriend me.
Favorite comment to hear from a reader/pet peeve comment?
Karen: Favorite comment: “I feel like I know these characters—like they’re real people in my life.” Biggest pet peeve: “This was not my experience so it can’t be anyone’s experience.”
Damon: Favorite is always when someone spots an easter egg I buried in the story for the folks who dig into the details. I love sharing that excitement, and meeting people who read that way. Least fave comment, “What you should’ve done is…” Whenever someone tells me what I ought to have done, I figure they need to go write that book for themselves because they aren’t actually reading what’s on the page. I totally get when people don’t like a book, but when they rewrite a book they’re not actually reading it.
Santino: Very similar to Karen’s, my favorite comment is along the lines of “The characters felt real.” My least favorite always starts with “I couldn’t relate.” I’m leery of people who only want to read and write books about characters they can relate to. To me this is a reason why there is a lack of diversity in romance.
What advice would you give new writers?
Karen: Finish. The. Book. I must have said those three words at least 1000 times to the writers I’ve mentored. But it’s worth repeating as many times as necessary because I think it’s the most important piece of advice there is. When you’re a new writer it can be so easy to get caught up in tweaking this, and changing that, and applying some new idea or technique, or renaming your chapters, that sometimes you get so wrapped up in the minute details you don’t realize that you have yet to finish the project. Finish. The. Book. Then you can edit and tweak and cut and paste and rewrite to your heart’s content, but you have a (semi)finished product to work with. Prove to yourself that you can write a whole damn book. Then work on making it as close to perfect as you can.
Damon: Write every day and kick your own ass. There are no shortcuts to success and the only way to learn how to write a book is to write one and then rewrite it until you’d willingly let someone write it on your back with a knife because it’s just that perfect. Too many young authors expect some kind of magical bypass that skips all the boring, frustrating bits. Writing is a long, slow climb up a greased incline and most people find little success and less respect. If you don’t love this job enough to do it every day and get better every time you do it you’re going to have a long, tedious, unsuccessful slog.
Santino: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Even if that person is yourself. It’s easy to feel discouraged, and it’s easy to compare your success to others, but at the end of the day it all comes down to you sitting down and writing the book.
SUNSET PARK blurb:
A Five Boroughs Story
Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.
David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.
Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.
Cover Artist Paul Richmond
Cover Model Juan Forgia
Cover Photo Credit Mel Seser Photography
Find Sunset Park on:
Other books in the Five Boroughs series:
Book 1: SUTPHIN BOULEVARD
Book 2: FIRST AND FIRST coming in April 2016
Other books by Santino Hassell:
Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She’s also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. She writes novels about love…like real life, only hotter.
When Karen isn’t writing (and often when she is), she can be found on Twitter attempting witty banter and detailing the antics of her fruit-loving cat, BadKitteh. She loves to hear from readers (and other writers), so don’t hesitate to contact/follow/like her at:
MOMENT OF SILENCE (Moments In Time, Book 4)
(A standalone novel from the Moments In Time series)
Growing up, Jason Stern led a charmed life complete with devoted sisters, a father who was one of Brooklyn’s most respected rabbis, and a mother who made the world’s best babka. He headed to NYU ready for anything—except falling for the wrong guy, coming out, and getting disowned by his once-loving family. In spite of that, Jason managed to graduate with honors. He’s got friends who treat him like family, and he’s proudly running the largest LGBTQ teen shelter in Manhattan. Life is good, but he’s still falling for the wrong men. When charming, sexy Quinn Fitzpatrick begins work at the shelter, Jason falls hard and fast. Quinn is tall, blond, funny—damn near perfect. Only if Quinn’s gay, even he doesn’t seem to know it. If he does, he’s not telling anyone. And he’s about one ceremony away from becoming a Catholic priest. Long hours of work turn to long nights of talking and laughter, and Jason dares to hope this time he’s falling for the right guy. But Quinn’s got a past to deal with and major decisions to make about his future. When Quinn leaves for a silent retreat, Jason knows the silence may change everything.
Publication Date: December 18, 2015
Pages 230 (76,000 words)
Cover Artist Anna Sikorska
Other books in the Moments In Time series:
MOMENT OF IMPACT (Book 1)
MOMENT OF TRUTH (Book 2)
MOMENT OF CLARITY (Book 3)
MOMENTS IN TIME (a compilation of Books 1-3)
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.
Pent Up: mix business with pleasure and take cover.
Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.
Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?
What’s a bulletcatcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart.
- Release: Dreamspinner Press, 20 November 2015
- Subgenre: romantic suspense
- Length: 100,000 words (novel)
30 November: Prism Book Alliance
30 November: The Novel Approach
1 December: FB Party (with 8 authors)
3 December: Guilty Pleasures?
4 December: Love Bytes Reviews
9 December: Joyfully Jay
11 December: Ever After
14 December: Heroes & Heartbreakers
17 December: FB NYC party
21 December: Scandalicious Book Blog
28 December: Sinfully Sexy…