Thursday, August 21, 2008

Featured Author: L.J. Sellers

We’re nearing the end of August and here in Texas it is, of course, hot. So it makes sense that we have ultra hot author L.J. Sellers this month on Straight From Hel. Her mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, is getting great reviews. The former fiction editor of The Northwest Review said:
Sellers rewards her lucky reader with the best of both worlds: good old-fashioned, curl-up-in-a-chair mystery, and grown-up drama that weaves through socio-political themes as provocative as they are compelling.
Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, blogger, and novelist. She also does occasional stand-up comedy – to quote Paris, that’s hot. She’s agreed to answer my questions (and yours – just post them in the comments section at the end of this post).

Welcome L.J.! Let’s get started.

Helen: You're a journalist and an editor in addition to being a writer. Have you been surprised by the writing process? And, if so, did that change the way you edit for other authors?

L.J.: I was a journalist before I was an editor. In fact, being a good writer makes me a better editor. I understand more than just where the commas and clauses go. I also have a good ear for syntax and an intuitive knowledge of structure, pacing, and tension. Also, being a writer, when I’m editing I sympathize with the author and try to be gentle and not interfere with the author’s voice and word choices. Being someone’s editor is about on par with being a dentist. Essentially, I’m taking a person’s money to point out his or her mistakes. This is painful—at the time—for the writer. Hopefully, in the long run, the author appreciates the final result.

I was also a journalist before I became a novelist. For years, I didn’t think I could write fiction. But as soon as I started, I loved it. And now I’m hooked. Being a journalist (and a little bit anal), I write my stories from an outline. I like to have a map of where I’m going. So I’m surprised, and usually pleased, when a story turns in a direction I hadn’t planned on. Another thing about the fiction writing process that surprises me is the amount of rewriting. With nonfiction pieces, it’s easier to say “good enough” and send it off. My novels are complex and I sometimes lack confidence in my fiction voice and style, so I feel compelled to revise and revise and revise.

Helen: Despite the title of your book, The Sex Club, it's not erotica. It's mystery/suspense that's garnered great reviews like, "expertly weaves together criminal intrigue, murder mystery, and human drama with biting social and political commentary." You've said some readers had trouble with the title. Have reviewers had the same problem?

L.J.: I think the title turned out to be a split decision. People either love it or they're turned off by it. Because the book’s format is a mass market paperback and the story is by an unknown author, major newspaper and industry reviewers passed on it. Not being on a first-name basis with most of them, I haven’t been able to get their feedback on the title. But reviewers in the mystery community have said wonderful things about the novel and none commented on the title. Some readers in the mystery community have been put off by the title, and others are confused by it. It doesn’t sound like a mystery to them. From my perspective, the title is appropriate and gets your attention. If anyone who’s read the story has a better title, I’d love to hear it. I can always use it for a reprint down the line.

Helen: Since you're not only a novelist but also an editor, did you still use outside readers to critique for you? Was editing your own book harder or easier than editing for others?

L.J.: I’ve started using beta readers to get feedback as I go along. This is a challenging process that requires thick skin. It’s also important to have several readers, because reading is a subjective experience. One person loves a particular story development, and another wants you to cut it. When this happens, as the author I have to go with what I like. But if all three beta readers hate something, then I cut it out.

And of course, I hire editors to line edit my manuscripts before I ever send them to agents or publishers. I can only edit my own work to a certain point, then I have to let someone else do the finish work. I have a tendency to leave out articles (a, an, the) when I’m cranking out a scene, and when I read it back, my brain fills in the missing word because I know what I meant to say. But I love editing other people’s fiction manuscripts—much more satisfying than fine-tuning my own.

Helen: Having the finished book in print is never the end of the process. Now you're marketing. What have you discovered? Is marketing harder than you thought? Are you having fun? Does it take time away from writing the next book? (Okay, that's more than one question – sorry.)

L.J.: To the last three questions: yes, yes, and yes. Marketing is harder than I thought. The actual tasks are not difficult because communicating comes naturally to me. But the volume of tasks is overwhelming, and the payoff, so far, seems small. (If this sounds like whining, please ignore it.) But still, I am enjoying it. I love meeting new people, trying new things/challenges, writing short personal essays (aka, blogging), and putting myself out there. And the more exposure my novel gets, the more positive feedback I hear—which is very gratifying.

Yet, of course, it takes time away from writing the next novel. But you also have to build a readership for that novel. It’s always about balance. I work on my novel first thing every day before I do anything else. I try to save most of the marketing for evenings when I might otherwise be reading or watching TV. So I try not to let promotional efforts directly replace writing time. But it happens sometimes anyway.

I saved the first part of this question for last because the entire answer would take seven pages—that’s how long my marketing plan is. So I’ll highlight a few of the surprising and/or important things I’ve discovered:
• There are so many more novels being published than I ever imagined. Fiction has to be the most competitive market in the world. (The upside: I’ve discovered a lot of great stories and great new writers.)
• In this competitive market, buying ads to promote your product is mostly a waste of money.
• Giving away books is one of the best ways to build readership and word-of-mouth buzz.
• Internet technology and new applications are not that intimidating. They can be quickly mastered even by those of us who didn’t own a computer until we were 30.
• There are hundreds of interesting, funny, caring people—readers, reviewers, librarians, bloggers, and authors—who seem happy to know me. (This is the best discovery of all!)
Helen: In all this marketing you're doing, and all the questions you're answering, what's the one question you haven't been asked that you wish you had been?

L.J.: There are many provocative issues in The Sex Club, but the one that no one has asked me about is age of consent. In the story, a 14-year-old girl has a sexual relationship with a 40-something man. She ends up dead and unable to tell her side of it, but the man claims that she seduced him. Readers are left to decide for themselves what really happened. I left it that way on purpose, hoping to stimulate some discussion on this issue.

This is a very touchy subject with a lot of gray area, and I have mixed feelings about it myself. One of the reasons I wrote the novel is because of my concern for the increased level of sexual activity in young teenagers. In general though, I don’t believe that we should incarcerate people for consensual sex. But when does consensual sex cross the line and become a predatory relationship? For example, if two 14-year-olds have sex, no one would consider throwing either of them in jail. (And my personal belief is that this activity is not immoral either.) But if a 15-year-old female has consensual sex with an 18-year-old male, most state laws allow the male to be sentenced to prison. This seems a little barbaric.

What about the case of the 14-year-old girl and the 40-year-old man? Should he go to jail, even if she seduced him? I think most people would say yes. Most people would argue that a female that young is not capable of making an intelligent, mature decision to engage in sexual activity. But is this attitude fair to mature, young girls who have very real sexual needs? And is prison really the best socially corrective response for a man who—foolishly and selfishly—chooses to succumb to the advances of a minor?

Then of course, there’s the new twist: female teachers having sex with 14-year-old male students. My personal reaction is “What is the attraction?” (I wasn’t attracted to boys that age when I was that age!) It seems like such a bad idea for so many reasons. But if the sex is consensual, should these woman go to prison for it? Or should they just be banned from teaching and subjected to mandatory counseling about responsible sexual behavior?

I don’t have all the answers. But I believe that every case should be judged on its own circumstances. And for sure, there are some state laws that need to be tossed out. As a culture, we need to at least question and discuss our long-held belief that teenagers are not capable of making rational decisions about consensual sex.

Helen: Some of the reviews have called The Sex Club “excellent,” "extremely satisfying,” and “enthralling.” I would add: a book that makes you think. I’m looking forward to the next book in the Detective Jackson series: Secrets to Die For.

Thank you so much L.J. for answering all my questions and for writing such a great mystery.

When L.J. is not plotting murders, she likes to hike and cycle through the Willamette Valley, but she’ll keep checking in during the day to see if anyone posts a comment or question for her here. So ask away.

I’ve already mentioned that L.J. is a journalist, an editor, a novelist (of course) and an occasional comedienne. Here’s something new – she’s giving away THREE copies of The Sex Club! There are three ways to enter and, yes, you can enter for all three chances.

1. Come up with an alternative title to The Sex Club. Post your title here in the comment section.

2. You’ve read what L.J. has to say about the age of consent. How do you feel? The best response posted here in the comment section wins a book.

3. Be the first to email L.J. and say, “I want The Sex Club and I want it now.” Send your email to:

Good luck! The Comments section is now open.


  1. Here in Wisc. they are pretty strict on age of consent. Should teens go to jail or be arrested for giving in to their hormones? No. Save the jail space for the true pedophiles, rapists and murderers that get out on technocalities or "good behaviour" or reduced sentences only to committ the same crimes or worse. Some people do need to be kept locked up for society's good; and some "crimes" shouldn't be as labeled.
    Girls as seducers... sure, but 14 is still 14 and still not mature, even if they think so. Too bad that society is pushing girls into adult relationships and telling them that being "tarts" is cute. It isn't.

  2. And excuse my terrible typing - it should be technicalities.

  3. 1. Come up with an alternative title to The Sex Club. Post your title here in the comment section.

    I can't yet, haven't read it. But I will, and I will. Have to say, though, I lIKE the title - it's catchy and intriguing for a suspense/mystery.

    2. You’ve read what L.J. has to say about the age of consent. How do you feel? The best response posted here in the comment section wins a book.

    It is relative. My Great-Grandmother was wed at fourteen to a thirty year old man, and it was not illegal and scarcely raised a community eyebrow. Biologically when the menstrual cycles engage, a female is ready to reproduce, and in many societies, in all recorded history, women have begun mating in their early teens. As for unwed sex between early teens, either amongst themselves or with an older partner, in this society - and this is putting aside the religious sanctions against unmatrimonial sex - if it is truly consensual it is not hideous to me at all, but it's a dangerous path, very risky, could be devastating to the younger partner and bring legal hell down on the elder. But there are far more heinous activities people wandering about in the pursuit of self-happiness can wind up involving themselves in than a sexual coupling with someone of a different age group.

    3. Be the first to email L.J. and say, “I want The Sex Club and I want it now.” Send your email to:

    Just sent it off. Think I was the first. {-:>

  4. I'm just dropping in to say hello. I'm one of those writer/blogger/reviewers who knows LJ, so I followed her over to throw some support her way.

    As for another title... I have no idea. I like it as it is, as that's the basis for the book.

  5. I think one of the biggest problems is that young people today mature more slowly (emotionally) than they did in the past, when people married at 14 and 15 (and died at 40 or 50). But our bodies mature even faster than they used to because of better nutrition and all the hormones in the water.
    Despite the fact that I don't think sex at 14 is immoral, I agree with Marvin; it is risky. In addition to disease and pregnancy, there's a risk of serious emotional pain. That is the subtext of The Sex Club, which is really a cautionary (but nonjudgmental) tale.

  6. Welcome Susan. Glad you dropped by. You'll find other LJ Sellers fans here!

  7. D'oh! I hate having to catch up while I"m at work 'cause I don't have the chance to think of decent answers to these contests... No matter what, I'm totally intrigued by the book now! And I think I'd LOVE LJ as an editor, based on her comments.

  8. This is really not the kind of topic you can weigh in on quickly while at work. Just having my book title pop on the monitor could be trouble!

    And I'd love to be your editor! Keep me in mind.

  9. I admit the title put me off. Then after reading the book, decided the title was exactly right.

    This is such a major issue in our society on so many levels. The media pushes our young into becoming sexually active long before their brains and hearts are ready for the responsibility. And, of course, they become prey!

    I saw the photographs of prom in my tiny rural newspaper, with the prom queen's neckline plunging to her navel and thought, "Hello!" In an ideal world we could all run around naked and not become sex objects. In this world, dressing as provacatively as a whore will result in very adult attractions and behaviors. What's not to figure out here?

    We cheat our children when we steal their innocence, and as I've said a million times, the media does exactly that by giving information that isn't age-apppropriate. Parents have an almost impossible challenge. I could go on forever about topics you raised, LJ. Teens trying to murder adults... how common is that now? Why is it part of mainstream thinking?

    And then there's the issue of HIV which you hardly touched upon but is clearly a threat with the practices you've described in the book amongst 13 year-olds. Mercy.

    Every parent, every teacher, every counselor, every minister, every.... one who cares about children heading into the teen years needs to read this book!

    Oh, and it was also a good mystery, and good piece of writing. ;)


  10. I've been meaning to ask you.... who's eye is on the cover of your book? What a compelling photo... worth a thousand words!


  11. No idea. My graphic artist bought that image from iStock for about $5. It was quite a find. But again, people either love it or they hate it. Another writer friend of mine was reading my book while she was in the hospital. She polled everyone who came into her room and asked if they would pick up the novel in a bookstore. She says the large majority said "no." They didn't like the title and they thought the person looked too young.
    It was a Catholic hospital :)
    I love the image and cover too. It's bold. I like to be bold in my writing and my presentation.

  12. I haven't yet read the book--but plan on it (I do reviews, you know--hint :-)!!). For that reason, I really can't comment on the title--I know it caught my attention :-)

    I can't resist vociing my opinion on the question, however. I have a 15-year-old son and five nephews (ages 18 through 21) so can see that teen years well (including growing up with all sisters).

    I will limit my comments to consensual sex. I have known young girls 12 and 13 that looked and acted 17 or 18--and actually lied to men about their ages.

    The teen years is so confusing for those going through it--many are determined to explore their sexuality. While I do not believe it should be a crime for an older person to have sex with someone younger if it is not forced--I do believe it is the responsibility of the older person to stop and question the why behind it. Many of these young girls don't want sex--they want love or attention--often the younger person doesn't even understand the real reason behind this.

    I believe it is any adult's responsibility to question whether the teenager really wants sex--or something else. I don't think many find it a crime--and honestly did not mean any harm--it is more a matter of being unresponsible--or taking advantage of emotions.

    As for two teenagers enagaing in consensual sex--that is always going to happen. Many parents haven't explored actual sexual relationships with their children. I have taught my son that--yes, he will eventually meet a young girl he has sexual feelings for.I have also taught him he needs to consider if he is ready for a family at that point--because protection can, and often does, fail. If he isn't ready to deal with the consequences, he needs to avoid it. I have also told him that if he truly loves the girl, he is showing disrespect for her if he asks--and she doesn't respect herself much if she asks him.
    Do I mention marriage? No. That would be hypocritical, since I never married myself.
    I think I've gotten off track here--what I'm trying to say is between teens, it is a matter of what values are instilled and for an adult who is contemplating sex with a teenager, it needs to be a matter of responsibility. Legality should not be an issue. Trust and responsibility should be.

    Okay--you can have the soapbox back, I'm off to see what havoc I can create elsewhere :-)

  13. But, we're talking about 13year-olds in this novel, and it's not an unusual age in our society anymore. Plus, we're not just talking about everyday sex. Am I getting into spoiler territory here? It's the combination of carnal knowledge and experimentation, juxtaposed against the complete cluelessness of ramifications that I think is all too real and serious in today's society. I can't imagine myself in the kind of online chats you mention, much less a kid in Middle School?? Yikes!


  14. The club and the activities in this novel are based on real events, and the "group thing" happened at least five years ago. I've read many polls that imply young teenagers are engaging in more nontradtional sex, and for many reasons. There's also a culture of denial. The thinking is: If I'm not engaging in vaginal penetration, then I'm not really having sex. And I'm still a virgin. And I can't get pregnant. So I don't need to use condoms and it's all cool. Our teenagers deserve a better education.

  15. If America didn't have such a sick relationship with sex, a lot of these issues could be dealt with openly and in a way that would provide our children with valid information and enrich their sexual understanding as adults. Instead we juxtapose sexual hypocrisy against titillation and end up with a culture in which everyone's doing it but no one is willing to talk about it. Children are anti-educated through so-called "abstinence programs" while our sexual impulses play out in our media and advertising. We freak out over every hint of sexuality, which only pushes our desires underground and increases sexual objectification.

    The fact is human beings start have strong sexual urges as early and 10 or 12, certainly by 13 and that's the point at which they need real information that hasn't been denuded of value by outmoded religious mores that ignore reality and end up putting our children at greater risk of disease, early pregnancy, and psychological and emotional pain. We're so committed to the idea that sex is something dirty and immoral that there is little hope our children can have healthy sexual relationships, even once they become adults and enter into "morally sanctioned" relationships.

    My own first sexual experience was at age 12, and I was by no means rare in my peer group. What was different for me is I happened to come of age during a brief era when sex education in schools actually taught about things like condoms and, instead of trafficking the fear-mongering disinformation campaigns favored by our prudish contemporary culture, discussed the nature of desire and its social, emotional, and health implications.

    Today, we've demonized sex to the point that even normal sexual behaviors are cast as some kind of awful evil, and no longer can young people trust us to provide accurate information. And yet, kids still get horny, same as always. They can't trust us to properly educate them, only to vilify them for the most common, natural desires in the entire history of life. So what else can they do but take their desires underground and pursue them without benefit of support? And if we catch them, what do we do? If they're girls, we call them sluts and whores and if they're boys we tag them as sex offenders. Meanwhile, we continue to sell soda pop and bubble gum with T&A and act like the worst thing anyone could ever do is pop a boner or engage in heavy petting.

    We're a sick culture. Our fear and hatred of the sex we secretly crave is the surest symptom of that sickness.

  16. Um, sorry for coming on so strong there. This is a subject that I have a bit of, er, passion about it. Sometimes I let it get the better of me.

  17. That's okay, Bill. I have a passion about this subject too. That's why I wrote The Sex Club and devoted so much time and energy into bringing it to readers.

  18. I have been in awe of the discussion going on here. Thank you everyone for stopping here and sharing your thoughts and viewpoints.

    And, of course, thank you L.J. for writing such a great book.

    Doesn't mean the discussion has to end. I just wanted to make sure I said that.


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