This week, my accent is on an outstanding indvidual who dares to swim outside the mainstream—someone I’m proud to call a friend and colleague, Susan Mac Nicol.
Susan, let’s get personal.
…What ten words do you think best describe you?
Moody. Loyal. Driven. Tenacious. Forthright. Creative. Fierce. Protective. Opinionated. Humble.
…Give us a very brief overview of your life.
I was born in the UK in Leeds and moved over to South Africa when Dad got a contracting job over there in the building industry. I’m the daughter of a chippy (carpenter for this who don’t do UK speak) who loved Dickens, theatre and classical music. He was no doubt the one who woke up the creative in me, the one who moulded me into who I am today, I wish he could see the me I’ve become.
My husband and I have just celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary, after being together 38 years. He’s my rock and the one person I can count on, as well as my kids who are the two best achievements I’ve ever participated in making. Every day they make me proud with the adversities they face, and their triumphs are the only thing I need to be happy.
I’ve worked in the motor industry, the financial services industry and now the publishing and writing industry. The latter is the one I’m enjoying the most because it feeds my creativity and working within the genre has been a humbling experience, learning about the people who live it every day. I’ve learn so much since being a part of it.
…Give us a quick look at your homoerotica novels.
Ha, I won’t list them all here because it’s quite a long list. I can tell you that you can find them all in publication order here: https://www.authorsusanmacnicol.com/the-book-store/
I think the best way to describe them is “stories featuring gay men.” I like to think this matters because it’s a story first, and the fact both main protagonists are blokes is simply the way it’s turned out.
I’ve written twenty-one M/M books, and four M/F ones. They are all different, and there’s no rhyme or reason for this, it’s simply whatever takes my fancy at the time. A chance phrase I hear, a hotel I stay in which needs a story told about it—they all come from my memory flotsam.
…Do you strive for a message or theme in your work? If so, what?
I try not to proselytize when I write my stories, but oh boy, it’s tough. Of course, as writers, we can’t help our own beliefs and ideals creeping into our work like sly foxes into a henhouse. One book in particular, Love and Punishment, I took a bit of flak for because of my stance on retributon. I make no apologies for it, though. It’s a work of fiction, something people tend to forget. I can say this: all my life I’ve written poetry about persecution and discrimination, which I hate with a passion. I have a short anthology of this on my laptop, never published because I didn’t think it was very good 😊
…Would you describe yourself first as a writer of gay themes/characters; or first as a writer, period, without limiting yourself to any genre or sub-genre?
The second. I write a story and the fact I mostly write gay characters now doesn’t mean that will always be the case. I’ve been writing an NA fantasy novel since I was sixteen, an adventure story, a coming of age story, a classic heroes tale and one day I’ll finish this and hope it’ll find itself in a completely different market. I also want to write a dark psychological horror one day too 😊
…What is your opinion of exploring the angst of the gay world in your writing? Or do you write about characters who happen to be gay and whose sexual preference is not their most defining characteristic or even an important part of the story? Maybe some of both?
I think the one constant in my M/M books is that my characters all know who they are, embrace their sexual orientation and are comfortable with it. I don’t see myself ever writing a story about someone trying to find themselves, or come to the realization they are gay, or bisexual or anything else. I prefer to write about men already confident in who they are and rather focus on their story and relationships than anything else. A normal couple undergoing angst and trauma, coming to grips with tragedy and past history, and making it through. Always making it through 😊
…Many romance/erotica authors struggle with the bedroom stuff. Do you get turned on writing sex scenes? Or would you rather skip and go lightly, concentrating on the emotional rather than the erotic?
I confess when I started out, the sex scenes were fun to write, seemed to be what people wanted, and were certainly what I was reading when I was immersing myself in the genre. I did the same and people seemed to like it. Then I realized it was getting boring, even in my own writing.
I’ve become jaded at the prevalence of sex in the stories I read now, using it to solve problems, tune out reality and simply depict men as constantly going at it. I am a page skipper and I probably skip over all but the first sex scene nowadays. I also get frustrated at the people who think penetrative sex is the be all and end all of a gay romance book. I’ve been in many reader forums where this had been touted as being a DNF or a reason not to read another book from that author.
My last few books—Damaged Goods for example, Living on Air, even Worth Keeping, which was my best success to date—they had no penetrative sex and in fact, Living on Air is thin on sex scenes as a whole. I’m all for sex where it furthers the plot or has a deeper meaning; but when it comes to simply filling pages to give the readers a vicarious thrill, whether wanted or not, I’m not going to do that.
…I’m in your corner there, Susan. “Living on sex” is a gossamer life, not real at all. Tell us what excites you most about being a writer.
The experiences. God knows it can’t be the money, right? Since starting to write, I’ve made a great friend in a Shaman/Druid/Wizard, seen his incredible house, been to some wonderful places for research…a light house, a circus…met incredible people who are passionate about diversity. I became a trustee for the Being Me Campaign, met Anders at Divine Magazine and become Editor in Chief, made some crazy friends through pole dancing, and had opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of before. I even made a best friend in my publisher and she’s a constant inspiration who pushes me when I need it.
All this would never have happened had I not penned that first story and sent it to a publisher.
…By the same token, what turns you off? What are the nuts-and-bolts part of writing that you’d rather skip, but that have to be confronted and conquered?
As I said before, I’ve become weary of writing sex scenes. Everything else is as it should be, including edits and rewrites. When I first started out, edits were so laborious, and I hated them. As I’ve honed the craft of writing, I now don’t see as many red lines as I used to, so it’s become a lot more pleasurable knowing I’m getting things right.
…Now flesh out your ideal readers. Who do you wish you could reach out and speak to, call your fans, help you spread the word about your books? And how have you tried to do that (if at all)?
Good gracious, I’ve tried everything. I use any social media I can, I have a website, I pay for sites like AllAuthor and Queer Romance Ink to showcase my books, I belonged to various organisations like The Romance Writers of America and The Romantic Novelist’s Association (but no more). I’ve done the blog tours, the book trailers, the author conferences, the signing events, the groups thing on Facebook, Bookbubs, I used to chase reviews so my Amazon status could climb…so I can safely say I’ve given it my all. And this is all stuff you HAVE to do to get any traction, because sitting on the sidelines hoping someone finds your book is not going to cut it. So as tough as it may seem, author branding and platform building is a must. It has loads of benefits such as finding friends like you and is a lot of fun as long as you aren’t constantly in people’s faces.
Yet you know what? The best way of getting the word out about my work is word of mouth. And this I can’t control. Selling books nowadays is the luck of the draw, it’s the clique you associate with, it’s the circles you’re in and, dare I say it, the mood of a reader on any given day. If they want to read a book like yours, they’ll find it. If another one pops up and that sounds better, of course they’ll buy that one instead. I do the same thing. And every time someone kindly recommends one of my books, I do the happy dance.
All a writer can do is keep writing great quality books, be as visible to the public as you can, given you also have a real life and graciously accept you can’t change anything.
Susan, you are an inspiration to me, and probably to many writers. Honestly, with the excellence of your writing and the sheer hard work, you deserve to ride the pinnacle of success.
…Will you describe for us your proudest moment or crowning achievement?
Of course, it would be hearing my first book was accepted at a publisher. That was a great day. I’d never expected anyone to take it on. The second achievement has yet to be declared, I can’t say anything about it right now but it’s really exciting!!! I’ll be able to tell you more about that hopefully soon.
My own favorite word, beyond a doubt, is an f-word. So I ask you:
…What is your favorite word? Why?
Respect. This may surprise you but I’m not a huge believer in the single word ‘love.’ Saying ‘I love you’…what does this actually mean? I believe this is made up of a number of emotions and human traits, the biggest being respect, as well as acceptance, tolerance and compromise. Respecting the other person’s nature, their flaws, their dreams, their ambitions, their frailties and their right to be an individual, no matter what—that’s love.
…Now sell a book. Give us a reason to buy it.
So, I wrote this amazing story and you simply have to check it out. *Grins* It took me a long time and a stay in a circus in a cold caravan with no flushing toilet or running winter, in the middle of winter, so I made sacrifices to write this book. You should buy it.
…Susan, I bought it, I read it, I loved it, and I reviewed it! Here’s why…
LIVING ON AIR
Cary Stilwell has been existing since he was ten years old, and each year it gets harder to find meaning in his bleak life. The only exception—his work. As a top-billed aerialist in a popular travelling circus, he enjoys accolades and applause, but little else. When notable photographer Rhys McIntyre joins the circus to catalogue its inner workings, Cary fights the attraction that hits him from the moment they meet. But a kind soul wrapped in a beautiful body has a way of battering all the walls Cary has built around his cold, dark heart.
Rhys McIntyre is on his third iteration of reinventing himself. Once a hotdog financier, he embraced his passion for photography and became an eminent war photo journalist. Until one too many bullets lodged in his body, and he gave up the front lines for the softer side of chronicling life. When he accepts the assignment to record life in a circus, the last thing he expects is to find the man crush of his dreams. Except Cary Stilwell is a cold, tortured man who seems incapable of any warm emotion, never mind love. But Rhys is known for his persistence, and this time the pay-off might be more than he could ever have imagined.
At the circus, Rhys is settling in and meeting some of the residents. Cary? Well, he’s being his usual prickly self…
Butterflies shifted in my gut, fluttering in panic. How the fuck did Rhys know that about me? Was I that easy to read?
“Listen to Sigmund Freud here,” I sneered. “Is that your professional opinion? Are you a psychologist as well as a photographer?”
Rhys regarded me, weariness on his face. “No, just a keen observer of human nature. It comes with this job.” He held up his camera. “When you’ve seen the things I have, you soon realise what’s beneath the mask. The smile on the face of an Army official hides the heart of a monster that’s just condemned dozens of people to death. It’s not something you forget in a hurry.”
I had no sarcastic response to that. The pain on Rhys’s face, the sadness in his tone—even I knew to make fun of him now would be an arsehole thing to do. And God help me, I wanted to know what put that desolation in his voice, caused his sunny nature to darken like a cloud passing over him. I was about to respond when a sudden slap to my arse made me swing round to see the grinning face of Stefan behind.
“Keep your fucking hands off,” I growled. “You don’t get to touch me.”
Stefan smirked. “I think no one gets to touch you, Cary. You’re untouchable. God made you cold and frigid, like an ice princess.”
I moved closer, getting up in Stefan’s face. This close, I could see the faint wrinkles on his brow, the thin red lines on his cheeks masked under what looked like foundation. Stefan told everybody he was twenty-seven years old—I suspected he was closer to his mid-thirties.
“One. God did fucking nothing for me so don’t mention him again. Two. Just because you don’t get to fuck me doesn’t mean I don’t get fucked. Or do any fucking.” His eyes narrowed as I moved away, sneaking a glance towards Rhys. His watchful gaze wasn’t friendly towards Stefan. “I’m fussy about who I climb into bed with, and you and Emil don’t fit the bill. Find someone else to be the extra sausage in your double Polish hot dog.”
Rhys gave a strangled cough, and I stared at him. The tips of his ears were pink, his expression a mix of distaste and amusement.
Stefan stepped back, lips twisting in a snarl. “No need to be a bitch, Air Dancer. Just because Greta thinks the sun shines out of your backside doesn’t mean everyone does. Emil and I are no longer interested in your skinny arse, anyway.”
Rhys spoke, voice husky, his accent sexy as fuck. “I think Cary has a fine arse myself. I’d watch the sun rise with it.” He flashed a charming smile Stefan’s way. “On it, even.”
I stifled a reluctant smirk. I didn’t need Rhys knowing I found him amusing.
Readers of this blog will find my review of this superb novel listed on the side panel…or just click here:
The purchase link to Living on Air is https://amzn.to/2sSFTbI
To repeat the definitive link to Susan’s work and social media: https://www.authorsusanmacnicol.com/the-book-store/
This interview is being unveiled on a Facebook group site, MM Rainbow Rebels. We hope the members there will leave a word or two here, and will take the opp to ask Susan questions in “real time.”