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Her Smile is now an audiobook

(Also, I’m not dead.)

Her SmileHer Smile is now an audiobook. Yes. With a professional actress reading it in sexy, sultry tones. You know you want to hear this.

If you don’t care about how I made this happen, go ahead and buy it. It’s only $3.95 – oh snap, it’s even discounted! C’mon, that’s less than you spent on coffee today. You’ll need to have an Amazon account.

As another incentive, you should know that the original text of Her Smile has been revised and expanded. If you already own Her Smile in ebook format, download it again and you’ll see the revised version. (Or if you’ve already got it downloaded, it should update automatically.) If you’ve never read it, give it a go. It’s half the price of the audiobook – a mere $1.99 – and I think you’ll have a good time.

So, you might be asking…

How did you get an audiobook done?

About six months ago (not coincidentally, about the last time you heard from me) I started looking into the possibilities of producing an audiobook based on something I’d written. I knew practically nothing, but I thought it’d be fun.

My first concern was about, well, sexual content – was it allowed? Unsurprisingly perhaps, that’s not an issue. Just as there is almost every flavor of kink in ebook form on Amazon, there’s a similar diversity when it comes to audiobooks. It’s basically right there, and all I had to do was go looking for it on Amazon and Audible. You can do the same.

Then the question was how? I don’t know any voiceover actors. I’m pretty sure no-one wants to hear me reading and trying to do the sexy woman’s voice. Turns out there’s already a solution in place: ACX.com. The site is part of Audible and Amazon, and basically acts as a marketplace where authors can find producers who’ll work on their audiobook. Essentially you create a profile, put up some audition material and wait for auditions to come in.

So, I had to pick something to let people audition for.

I chose Her Smile for the obvious reason that it was short. Paying a professional to read your work isn’t cheap, and I couldn’t really justify paying for a whole novel to be produced, unabridged, which at my length could easily run into thousands of bucks. Just like when I’d used it to test the ebook publishing process, Her Smile came to the rescue again.

I took some care with the audition material. I chose several sections of Her Smile, wanting to ensure I could get an idea of how a potential narrator would perform in a ‘normal’ scene, in a sex scene and when reading female or male parts. I wanted a female narrator, although in theory it could have worked just as well with a male narrator who could manage a good female voice. Female was my preference though, so once I’d prepared my audition materials, I put them live and crossed my fingers that someone – anyone – would audition for this thing.

I didn’t really need to worry. In less than a day I had a number of auditions to listen to. Turns out ACX has a lot of producers, and apparently no-one has a problem with my weird fetish fiction! Before too long I was nervously downloading samples of various producers, getting ready to squirm in my seat at the sound of people reading my words.

I didn’t squirm. Much. Every single audition I heard was professional, and several were really good. I actually had a decision to make; I’d half-expected to have no-one apply, so now I had to figure out who I wanted to give the ‘part’ to. Such responsibility!

(By the way, if you’re wondering how it feels to hear a total stranger read – no, not read, perform your writing… well, it feels pretty surreal. And good. Surreal and good. But mostly good!)

Her Smile - audiobook cover

It didn’t take long to make my final choice. Despite a number of good auditions, Ruby Rivers stood out to me; not just because of her performance, which was great even at audition stage, but also because she was friendly, helpful and quick with her responses to my frequent questions. Fantastic for a first-timer like me. Needless to say her price was also right!

Ruby really was superb to work with, and if I’m honest, we could have wrapped the book in about a month if I hadn’t been so slow. Since when did I ever do anything fast, though? First I wanted to do a ‘polish’ of Her Smile that turned into more of a heavy revision, adding almost 1,500 words to the total, but still leaving it as a ‘short’ story. Then I needed to give Ruby some direction on her performance, to get it closer to what I wanted. Finally I made some new cover artwork which you can see above, paid Ruby, and that was that.

So now we have what I believe is a world first – a professional actress narrating a piece of female mask fiction. If nothing else, you’ve got to be intrigued, right?

I’d love to do this for future works, but basically it all depends on your reaction and on sales. So, you know what to do: buy Her Smile in audio form today, and let me know what you think, either below or via the usual contact page.

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A new look for Practice to Deceive…?

Since I mentioned I would be publishing (well, publishing-on-demand) Practice to Deceive, I’ve had the tough, tough task of spending many hours going through Shutterstock to find the perfect cover imagery. It’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it.

Seriously, while at times I found myself quite awed by the amount of gorgeous models on that site, it was actually pretty damn hard to find an image that I liked. Ideally I wanted something that needed little (if any) editing; it needed to be relatively clutter free, to have a good, clean look as a book cover; and frankly, it needed to be sexy while not being entirely overt. I’m sure you’ve looked already, but just in case… scroll down (and click/tap to make bigger).

Practice to Deceive: the new cover
Practice to Deceive: the new cover

Thoughts? I think it’s a lot sexier than the original cover, frankly, although your mileage may obviously vary. The model is closer in my mind’s eye to what Linda looks like in the novel (brunette) although I’m sure she’s younger! (The other good news about this choice of image is that the same model is featured in a variety of fantastic images, so you never know, she may appear on the cover of the sequel, too….)

Practice to Deceive - mask fiction novel - cover
Practice to Deceive: the original cover

Of course, you have to suspend disbelief to imagine that what you’re looking at isn’t a woman at all, but a young man wearing a very clever disguise… but that’s what we do when we read, so I think we can handle that.

(By the way, I’ve looked – a lot – for images that could show/display masking, but the fact is, while there’s a few out there, nothing’s quite right for me. When I’m rich and famous I’ll commission someone to do that for me. Don’t hold your breath.)

Anyway, I may still tweak the cover a bit before publication; I may do white-on-dark text for the title instead, although I’m partial to this palette overall. Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you think it’s better or worse than the original? (See right for reference – again, click for a close-up.) Do you think it would be more likely to make you buy the book, if you saw this cover?

Finally, a pretty important question… considering this is planned for the paperback cover… would you have it in your house?? (Perhaps under the bed, or discretely hidden in a drawer… heck, I’d have to do it myself.)

Anyway, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or reach out via the contact page with your thoughts.

More news about other projects this week. Been busy!

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Paperback writer…

Today I’ve been formatting the paperback version of Practice to Deceive, which is long, long overdue for a paperback version! Just like when I first published the book on Kindle, this is really a testing ground for me… and boy, it’s testing.

I forgot how god-damn finicky Word can be when it comes to formatting. While I write in Scrivener and would never change that, to format, you really need to use an external word processor… and Word is pretty much the only game in town. Getting Word to format correctly so you can create a 6in by 9in paperback is a pain in the ass, though. Especially because of Styles. Grrr.

The original cover for Practice to Deceive.
The original cover for Practice to Deceive.

Well, after a couple of hours, it looks like I’m almost there. Right now assuming I don’t make any more big changes to the text size, etc, Practice to Deceive is looking like it will be a 386-page paperback, roughly. (I have no idea what it’ll cost, but as I’m making it print-on-demand, it won’t be cheap. Sorry, but Kindle / eBook will always be cheaper.)

The next big hurdle is coming up with a new cover design for the book. The original cover (shown here) was one I got from a pre-designed cover site. At the time I was fine with it, even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was close enough – a woman, looking sexy and suitably mysterious. Over time though, I came to like it less and less. I’m not a huge fan of the typefaces, and the woman, while sexy, doesn’t really look like I picture Linda (or rather, Billy-as-Linda). It’s an elegant cover, but it’s not quite as attention grabbing as I want it to be.

In the years since I’ve learned a lot more about Photoshop and cover design. I created the covers for A Lie Within A Lie, and think they came out pretty well. So, now I’m tinkering with new cover designs for Practice to Deceive. When I’ve got some final candidates, I’ll share them here and I’d love to get people’s opinions on what they think works. Shortly after that, anyone who’s been jones’ing for a paperback will be able to get one, with the new cover included!

Right, back to wrestling with Word.

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Process

Behind the words: A Lie Within A Lie – The Singer

Writing A Lie Within A Lie took, all told, about 8 years to write. That might seem like a long time. Of course, I wasn’t actually writing every day of all those years – that’s enough time to generate a library – but it took a long time to gestate, is the point. Here’s a look ‘behind the words’ of The Singer, trying to give you some insight into the writing process.

The first version

A Lie Within A Lie: The Singer - book coverWhen I originally conceived A Lie Within A Lie, the working title was The Babysitter (in fact that was the actual title forever, until I wrote the phrase ‘a lie within a lie’ in the book and thought it’d make a nice title). The idea loosely came from an old comic story and I detailed it in a blog post that I wrote in January, 2008.

At the time the core idea that excited me was a woman staying in someone’s house who’s not what they seem to be. In the comic, it’s a woman in disguise, but I don’t think I ever entertained that idea. My earliest notes – from July 2008 – talk about a man in disguise called Dominic.

At the time it was the story of the Lane family, and the main male protagonist was going to be called Evan. I expanded that to Ethan at some point, although not until after I’d started writing. (I think it was a little nod to Mission: Impossible’s mask-wearing Ethan Hunt.) A few of the other key points of The Spy were established early, too; there would be a sister (originally called Amelia / Amy) and she would have cameras all over the house.

Unlike in the final book, Dominic’s relationship with Evan was established early with Evan clearly being gay, but nervous about coming out to his parents. In the original conception Dominic would meet Evan ‘by accident’ in a club, they’d go home together, and that would be it. Months later, when the Lane kids get a new ‘chaperone’, it turns out she’s actually Dominic in disguise, as he reveals to Evan. Later, he unmasks on camera to Amy, revealing… another woman. In broad strokes this is pretty much exactly how the book turned out, and this was established in 2008.

I started writing then, too. In the first draft I was thinking that Dominic was my protagonist, and the book would be from his point of view. As the reader, you would know from the beginning that Dominic was a con man, and that he wanted nothing more than money from Evan’s family. (You might not have known that his ‘chance’ meeting with Evan wasn’t chance at all. I never did decide.)

This is actually the opening, still preserved in my files:

“Do you come here often?”

He had to raise his voice to say it, and he enunciated every word, just to be sure the boy heard. It was a pick-up line cornier than a wheatfield in Iowa – but that was the idea. Get him off his guard. Get him laughing. It worked. He smiled at that – the first victory of the night – and handed the boy a beer, much to his surprise.

That first 1,000 or so words took a while though. Between July and August 2008 I struggled with the idea, trying to figure out how it needed to be written, what the tone should be and so on. At some point I abandoned what I have, and I believe in consultation with long-time confidante Val, I reworked some of the basic ideas. The book began to get a lot closer to what you’ve read at that point.

Reworking and really writing

Val was the one who suggested that the babysitter be a family relation – an Aunt; he suggested that the kids be stepchildren, not directly related, and he suggested as I recall that the ‘Aunt’ be English. (Because it’s sexier, he reasoned. I agreed, but also realized if the Aunt was English, that would make for some complex backstory. I settled for having her live in England, specifically London, where I’d spent ten years.)

All of that helped move the story forward, but I didn’t start to write in earnest until January 2009. I have no idea exactly why I decided to open the book in a nightclub, and to make Marla a singer, but I do remember that when that scene came together, it wrote very quickly.

I sprinted for a while. I wrote all the way through to the end of Ethan and Marla’s first night together, which I was very proud of, but maybe not for the reasons you’d expect. While I think that scene is extremely sexy, perhaps one of the sexiest I’ve ever written, I was proud because I really felt that I had the potential to actually fool readers into thinking ‘Marla’ was a real woman (possibly in disguise, but still biologically a female). Now, there was every possibility – even likelihood – that people would just assume it was a man in disguise. But I tried hard to make Marla’s reaction as believable as it could be, to write it as if she really was a woman. In reality I knew I was describing a great actor, but that didn’t matter. I was describing Dominic’s performance.

The best moment for me was the sudden reversal by Ethan. Up until the moment he talks about wanting to see Marla’s cock, there’s no suggestion he thinks of her as anything other than a very sexy woman. The fact that he wants more than that – and she can’t give it to him – was a great turning point, I felt.

I knew then, and obviously know today, that keeping that ‘secret’ was going to be nigh-on impossible. When I eventually published the book I knew I couldn’t keep the transgender elements quiet. However, I got some satisfaction from when I sent the book to early readers. A number of them said they were completely surprised by Marla’s ‘revelation’. So at least some people benefitted!

Writing the early part of The Singer took me through May of 2009. I can’t be sure why, but judging by document creation dates, I took a break and didn’t get back to the story until August of that year.

Crafting the con

I seem to recall about then – Chapter 7 in the final book – I was having trouble figuring out how exactly the next stage of Dominic’s plan could happen. It couldn’t be an obvious play, where Dominic suggests he comes to the US. In case you didn’t realize, Dominic doesn’t have everything planned when he first meets Ethan. It’s only after he discovers who Ethan’s father is that he wonders if there’s some potential here. Once he realizes how attracted Ethan is to Marla, and by extension Dominic, that’s when he decides to move forward with things. However, he also doesn’t want to make the obvious suggestion of infiltrating the Landers household. So he lets Ethan come to the conclusion himself, and then Dominic even resists the idea initially to make his acceptance more believable. This is an essential part of any con; making the person being conned believe they’re driving things, that they’re in control, rather than the con artist themselves.

It’s easier explained than written, however. After everything had exploded (erm, literally) after their first encounter, I needed to make it feel believable that Ethan would suggest Dominic come to the US. It took me quite a while to get satisfied with that, as the latter half of Chapter 9, where Gillian takes Ethan to lunch, wasn’t started until October 2009. For whatever reason I stalled again after that. I remember the book being ‘stuck’ at the point that ‘Roger’ leaves Ethan behind.

It wasn’t until May 2010 that I really started writing again in earnest. The idea of Dominic using another persona – Holiday – was what spurred me on. Holiday’s actions, believe it or not, echoed those of a girlfriend I once had, who for some reason (despite me being devoted to her) worried that I might cheat. To ‘test’ me, she approached me online via IM, trying to get me to agree to a date with this mystery woman. No masks were involved! I dug into my own personal experiences and emotions to try and detail how Ethan felt as reality seemed to warp around him when ‘Holiday’ was revealed.

With that written, I knew I was coming to the big moment; Ethan leaving the UK. It’s now approaching mid-2010 and I really have no idea how the plot is going to unfold when ‘Gillian’ arrived at the Landers house. I knew I needed a stepsister, and wrote the opening chapters of The Spy (then just a continuation, as I had no idea how long it would become) quite fast. Then, right before I wrote about Gillian’s arrival, I hit a wall again.

In part two: the struggle to figure out the book’s ending; the many alternatives plots I considered and discarded; and what got me to the finish line.

If you like this sort of post, going into inspirations and process, let me know in a comment or email.

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What ‘A Lie Within A Lie’ is, and what it isn’t

A Lie Within A Lie: 3D mockup, smallI’ve been a bit hesitant to write this post, but I decided in the end I needed to be honest and open. Here’s the TL;DR version:

Don’t buy A Lie Within A Lie expecting a retread of Practice to Deceive. It’s a different book with a different ‘feel’, and for some, it might not be exactly what you want. Specifically: it doesn’t contain transformation scenes from the protagonist’s point of view.

Here’s my longer thoughts. I think A Lie Within A Lie is a great story, and sexy as hell. So do my early readers (stick around for some quotes). I hope you trust me, and I hope you love the book. But, I wanted to be clear about this so no-one buys it and then screams at me for not making it obvious. (I tried to do what I could with the description, although that might have passed some by.)

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The secret origin of A Lie Within A Lie

Note: This is a very old blog post (from 2008) that I moved over from my previous blog (you can find the original version here). I moved it because it’s a good insight into my original inspiration for what was originally known as The Babysitter, and finally became A Lie Within A Lie.

Can you remember the earliest times you felt – ahem – stirred by the prospect of masks or disguises?

I’m sure we all have a story (unless you just wandered onto this page by accident, in which case, seeya later), and for a lot of us it might involve Mission: Impossible or similar. That’s a common touchstone, but I bet all of us have our own unique memories. If you’re anything like me, those memories haven’t faded too badly over the years, even though your original source may have long disappeared.