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.)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?
• 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!)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck! The Comments section is now open.