Interview with author M.J. Duncan

Who or what inspired your latest novel Heist?

 

A tumblr post, actually. There was an article in Smithsonian Magazineabout a wealthy collector known as “The Astronomer” who hired thieves to break into a London warehouse to steal rare books for them. My Muse took that idea and added, “Let’s add lesbians!” so yeah. That was how it all started.

 

Who or what inspired you to start writing?

 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Mostly short stories, like most kids who dabble with words, but I wrote my first novel when I was still in high school. It was a totally cringe-worthy attempt at becoming the next Patricia Cornwell—whose stuff I was obsessedwith at the time—but it was words on the screen of a brick of a laptop and I was quite proud of it at the time. I then went on to become a Creative Writing major in college, which meant I got to write a lot of words and learn a lot of B.S. theories about what makes “good” writing that I completely ignored. Then life happened and writing kind of took a back seat for a while, and I eventually fell back into it with fanfiction. That was great because I was playing in someone else’s sandbox and could just refocus on finding my voice again, and then I eventually thought “why not?” and started working on Second Chances.

 

Who is your favorite character from your books and why?

 

God, that’s like asking me which child I love the most! I love all of my characters for different reasons, but I’m definitely the most attached to Bryn Nakamura from Spectrum.Her whole path-to-self-acceptance/awareness very much mirrors my own, so I feel very protective of her in a way that I don’t with my other characters who all start their stories knowing that very important part of themselves.

 

How do you approach writing a new storyline?

 

Most start with an idea for a particular scene. For Heist, it was that first robbery in Paris. Characters are next, because my stories are all very character-driven. I’m not a fan of drama, I avoid confrontation like the plague in real life, and to me the “real” story is the two characters falling in love—everything else is just shit that happens to them in the course of that journey. Anyway, once I have the characters, I come up with a very, very rough idea for the arc of a story that feeds into/incorporates that scene I mentioned above, and then I start researching the shit out of everything about the world/careers/lives of my characters that I don’t know. Honestly, this is my favorite part of the process. I love learning new things and putting them to use to make my stories (hopefully) more believable, but then when the story is done I can move onto something new. Once I feel like I have a working-knowledge of everything important, I cobble together something that looks like at least the skeleton of actual story arc in Scrivener and start hacking away at it all.

 

 

Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?

 

I know I said my characters drive my stories, but the story also dictates what I will need from each character to make the whole thing work. In Heist, for example, I needed Parker to have a reason to know the less-than-honorable skills that she knows, as well as a reason to have to use them. The key points in Sheridan’s personality were born of the same need—she had to have a reason to resist falling for Parker. Everything else, all the little details and quirks that make them real, flow from there as the story progresses.

 

Where is your favorite place to write?

 

I have a great little office in the basement, but I do pretty much all my writing at the kitchen island because my dog Hunter doesn’t like going downstairs (he’s a big dude, 140 pounds, so he’s not exactly built to manage stairs). Every time I do try to go downstairs to work, he’ll grudgingly follow me down there, rest his head on the desk so he’s staring at me, and cry until I give up and go back to the kitchen. At this point, I’ve basically given up on using the office, but maybe someday I’ll get back to it. Or maybe not. It really is convenient working right next to the kettle and snacks.

 

What is your writing process?

 

Besides what I said already? It’s pretty much: open Scrivener, look at where I left off the day before, and try like hell to hit my word count goal for the day. Oh!, and try to not get distracted with shiny new ideas. Some people can have multiple projects working, but I’ve found that I work best focusing on one story at a time.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

 

I’m definitely getting better at plotting chapters for the story. I went at Second Chanceswithout any kind of a plan besides getting Mac and Charlie together and pretty much just winged the whole thing, but I’ve learned to see the helpfulness of actually planning further ahead. Switching from Word to Scrivener helped with this, too.

 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

 

Definitely Scrivener. It’s seriously the best large-project writing program I’ve ever come across.

 

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?

 

I honestly treasure every nice comment anyone has ever said about my work. But the messages I treasure the most are the ones where people reach out to tell me that a particular character touched them in some way. Writing is a very solitary process for the most part, so whenever I get a message like that it’s like, “Okay, I’ve done something good.”

 

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

 

I don’t know if there is one book that has really influenced my life. Or, at least, there isn’t one that immediately comes to mind that I can point to and say, “Yes, that one.”

 

Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?

 

Eventually, yes. I am still working on finishing up my latest story, Pas de Deux, but my goal is to have it out in March. It’s another LONG one, though, so we’ll see if I can swing it. *sighs* I really need to learn how to write shorter stories. Anyway, it’s a kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Symphony in Blue.Kinda-sorta in that it’s in the same universe, but not-really because this time the story is about Mallory moving past everything that went down in Symphonyand finding her happily ever after. There are two people in every failed relationship and two different stories about how the relationship got to that point, and while she was painted as the necessary villain in Gwen’s story, she wasn’t in her own and I hated leaving her where I did.

 

How do you take your coffee?

 

Like Maeve Dylan, I prefer my coffee to not taste anything like coffee. Usually a splash of flavored creamer (it’s peppermint mocha season!) and milk is enough, but I’ve also done the hot chocolate mix thing that I gave to Maeve.

Review of Heist by M. J. Duncan

Heist

When I saw that M. J. Duncan had a new book out, I was ecstatic. She’s one of my all-time favorite authors. Heist was a little different from her other books. It kept me on the edge of my seat wanting to know how the book would play out.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Life is full of choices. Some are easy, others are more difficult, and then there are the ones that aren’t really choices at all. For Parker Ravenscroft, helping her brother always fell into that last category—risks be damned. All that changes when Sheridan Sloan re-enters her life. As their relationship grows from friendship to something more she’s forced to choose between her brother and her own happiness. Picking one over the other isn’t the end of things, however, because the ghosts of her past choices have the very real power to destroy the future she so badly wants.

 

I was sucked into this book from the beginning. It reminded me a bit of a mystery novel in some respects. The way that Sheridan was looking for the thief while Parker was trying to hide her involvement in the heists. I also liked Parker’s motivation for stealing the books. She wasn’t doing it for the thrill or the money like a lot of thieves. Parker was doing it to help her brother. When he got too greedy, she knew when to step away.

 

The romance aspect of the book was phenomenal. I’m a sucker for a slow burn and this book delivered. The chemistry between Parker and Sheridan was electric. Even though Sheridan was an FBI agent and Parker was a criminal they fit together perfectly.

 

Kelly was one of my favorite characters. The way he gently teased Sheridan about her relationship with Parker really made the book for me. Also, the way he constantly was getting bested by the women in the FBI.

 

The one problem that I had with the book was the way that the conflict ended. It was kind of swept under the rug. Never really brought up again. I wish it had played out more and they were forced to deal with the consequences.

 

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves a slow burn romance.

 

Heist is available on Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.

Review of Seeing Red by Cara Malone

Seeing Red

I have always loved a good fairy tale. Seeing Red: A Sapphic Fairy Tale by Cara Malone hit the right spot with its modern-day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood by The Brothers Grimm.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Hunter has spent the last two years running in place.

 

Trying to get ahead of the bills.

Trying to provide for her sister, Piper, and her nephews.

Trying to finish her nursing education.

Trying to keep Piper out of her criminal husband’s claws.

 

Big, bad Jed Wolfe is a con artist, a manipulator, and he’s currently doing ten years for counterfeiting. Now is Hunter’s best chance to convince Piper that he’s bad news and they can survive without him.

 

Except the mortgage is overdue again, there’s an eviction notice stapled to the front door, and Hunter can see it in Piper’s eyes. She wants to crawl back to Jed and ask him how to dig out of this mess.

 

They’re getting desperate and Hunter begs Piper not to be like him.

 

Then along comes a beautiful girl in a red cap. Her grandmother is sick, she needs Hunter’s nursing help, and the pay is great. It’s just what they need and soon Hunter is able to catch her breath. Stop running in place. Start to feel something that she hasn’t had time for in years.

 

Happiness. Desire. Love.

 

Until one day an old, familiar feeling returns.

 

Suspicion.

 

I thought the book started off kind of slow. It took me a little while to get into but once I got into it I was hooked. Hunter was a great character. She would do anything to keep her family safe. She didn’t want her nephews to have a hard life like she and her sister had. While Hunter worked hard to take care of her family. Piper pulled cons trying to provide. I loved how Piper’s character ended up.

 

I really liked Kiera’s grandmother. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Alzheimer’s patients. Even though it wasn’t Kiera’s main reason for moving in with her grandma I think it became important for her as her grandmother’s disease progressed.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fairy tale retellings.

 

Thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

You can purchase a copy of Seeing Red by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of When the Stars Sang by Caren Werlinger

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I have been wanting to read a book by Caren Werlinger since I first saw an interview with her on the Lesbian Book Readers Club on Facebook. I thought she was very charismatic and her books sounded amazing. When I saw her latest book When the Stars Sang listed on NetGalley I jumped at the chance to read it. Let me just say that I wasn’t disappointed.

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Kathleen Halloran’s brother drowned during the last summer they ever spent with their grandmother on a remote island off Maine’s coast. Like a siren’s call she can’t resist, Kathleen is pulled back to Little Sister Island. She leaves her job and her girlfriend, packs up her few belongings, and moves into her grandmother’s cottage.

Molly Cooper loves life on Little Sister, where the islanders take care of their own. Kathleen Halloran doesn’t belong here, and her arrival stirs up unwelcome memories for the islanders—including Molly’s brother. Molly is certain Kathleen will pack up at the first big blow. When she doesn’t, Molly begins to see maybe there’s more to Kathleen than she thought.

Sometimes, before you can move forward, you have to look back.

This book hooked me in from the beginning. I couldn’t put it down. I really enjoyed how the characters had so much personality even the side characters. I liked how the island town kept to the old ways of their ancestors. It really drew me into the story. The book is so well written.  This book made me feel so many emotions and I enjoyed every minute of my reading.

The romance between Molly and Kathleen was so believable. Both women had so much to overcome in order to be together. They both needed to get over the past in order to commit to their relationship. I really liked how when Kathleen first came to the island Molly was hesitant about her. It made their relationship seem more real.

As everyone knows I am a sucker for a pet in books. This book delivered. Blossom, they stray dog Kathleen takes in, was amazingly written. He is so cute and derpy. I liked that he followed Kathleen everywhere she went. He also alerted Molly when Kathleen was in danger and helped to locate her. I also really enjoyed Miss Louisa and Miss. Oliva. I think they were my favorite characters in the whole story. The way they mothered and cared for Kathleen was amazing.

The only con for this book is that it has cut to black sex scenes. I didn’t find this to be a problem, but some readers might not like that.

I would recommend this book to everyone. It is one of the best books I have read this year. I cannot speak enough praise for it.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

You can purchase a copy of  When the Stars Sang by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Take Your Medicine by Hannah Carmack

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When I saw the novella Take Your Medicine by Hannah Carmack on NetGalley I was drawn to it because it was about a girl that has vasovagal syncope. This is something that hits close to home for me because my younger sister suffered from vasovagal syncope. I am also a huge fan of gothic literature and Alice in Wonderland so what is there not to like.

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Alice “Al” Liddell is from Echola, Alabama. She leads the life of a normal teen until the day she’s diagnosed with vasovagal syncope – a fainting disorder which causes her to lose consciousness whenever she feels emotions too strongly.

Her mother, the “Queen of Hearts,” is the best cardiothoracic surgeon this side of the Mason-Dixon Line and a bit of a local hero. Yet, even with all her skill she is unable to cure her daughter of her ailment, leading Al into the world of backwater witchcraft.

Along the way she meets a wacky cast of characters and learns to accept her new normal.

Take Your Medicine is a southern gothic retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

This book took me a little while to get into but once I got into it I was hooked. I really liked the relationship between the names of the characters and Alice in Wonderland characters. One of my favorite characters was Rabbit. I could really relate to her. Her being anxious about dancing and socializing was very relatable.

I also like the relationship between Al and Rabbit. It felt really natural. That first love type of relationship. I thought that it was very authentic that Al didn’t know how to react to their first kiss. She was just discovering her attraction. I wish there was more to this book.

 

The only problem that I had with the book was Al and her mother’s relationship. It seemed really smothering. Like Al was not allowed to have a life of her own outside of her life with her mother. It seemed that because Al was sick her mother didn’t want her to do anything other than staying home, study, and mind the garden.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes Alice in Wonderland. As well as anyone who likes YA novels.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

You can purchase a copy of Take Your Medicine by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Hearts Like Hers By Melissa Brayden

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Lately, I have been hooked on romance novels. When I saw Hearts Like Hers by Melissa Brayden listed on NetGalley I couldn’t pass it by.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

No one pencils in falling in love.

 

All work and no play has Autumn Primm in the market for a little excitement. Her Venice Beach coffee shop, The Cat’s Pajamas, is her pride and joy. While she doesn’t mind the long hours, she finds herself staring dreamily out the window, imagining the life she’s yet to lead. The time has come to take off the apron and see what the world has in store.

 

Kate Carpenter needs to get away. And quick. A small-town firefighter, Kate’s been crowned a local hero for reasons she can’t quite get behind. An open highway and some time off have her fleeing the scene to sunny California to catch her breath and put some distance between herself and the unwanted acclaim. Dreamy Autumn Primm was never supposed to be part of that bargain. What Kate needs is a temporary escape, emphasis on temporary.

 

I wanted to like the book more than I did. I just couldn’t get into the relationship between Autumn and Kate. I felt like everything in their relationship moved too quickly. The women seemed to fall in love almost instantly.

 

I also had a problem with Autumn’s fertility journey. I was really excited to see someone going to a fertility clinic for insemination. I have been looking for a book that would accurately portray the process that many lesbians go through. While this book tried it did not accurately portray what happens. Everything moved much too quickly.

 

While I did have problems with the relationship and the insemination there were good aspects of the book. I really liked Kates backstory about why she came to Venice Beach. She was my favorite character in the story. I also liked the details about Autumn and her friends. Their backstories made the story stand out.

 

While I wasn’t wowed by the relationship aspect of the book. I would still recommend it to anyone who is interested looking for a lighthearted read.

 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

You can purchase a copy of  Hearts Like Hers by clicking here.

 

 

Review of Crossing the Wide Forever By Missouri Vaun

Crossing the Wide Forever

Most people know I love a good historical fiction novel especially set in the developing American frontier. So, when I saw that Crossing the Wide Forever by Missouri Vaun on NetGalley I jumped at the chance to read it. I was not disappointed.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Cody Walsh leaves Arkansas for California. Lured by stories of opportunity, even for women, Cody disguises herself as a man and prepares for the arduous journey west. 

Lillie Ellis leaves New York to accept a post as a schoolteacher on the frontier near a small homestead she just inherited from her uncle. Lillie’s ultimate desire is to become a painter, and she hopes the Kansas frontier will offer her the freedom to follow that dream. In the nineteenth-century, a young woman has few options in the East that don’t revolve around marriage and motherhood. Lillie is interested in neither.

Cody rescues Lillie after a chance encounter in Independence, Missouri. Their destinies and desires become entwined as they face the perils of the untamed West. Despite their differences, they discover that love’s uncharted frontier is not for the weak in spirit or the faint of heart.

 

I really enjoyed this book. I liked how it was from the point of view of both Cody and Lillie. When they had conflicts, you could understand them from both of their points of view which made the characters very relatable. I also thought their romance was sweet. It seemed to develop naturally and not be forced like in a lot of lesbian fiction. The story also kept me on the edge of my seat. The ending was amazing one of the best ending I have ever read. I also appreciated that Cody was portrayed as butch. The only problem I had with the story was sometimes phrases were used that took me out of the period setting. But that was only in the first portion of the book.

 

If you like historical romance novels I would highly recommend this book. Also, if you like strong butch women this is a great book for you.

You can purchase a copy of Crossing The Wide Forever by clicking here.

 

 

A big thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review Crossing the Wide Forever.