Blog Tour #NYCdreamer: Interview and Giveaway with Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali and Damon Suede


I'm very happy and excited to welcome Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali and Damon Suede on the blog today as part of the #NYCdreamer Blog Tour celebrating their latest releases!

In this round of Q&As with Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali, and Damon Suede, answer #NYCdreamer fan questions about all things related to writing.

Do you believe in "write what you know"?

Karen: Not unless you’re writing a memoir. To me, fiction is taking things you know, and things you’re passionate about, and things you imagine, and blending them all together to create a new reality. All writers draw from their own experiences in one way or another, but a huge part of writing fiction is making things up. When people ask me the inevitable question “So do you DO all the stuff in your books?” I like to answer by saying “Yes. In a hotel room. Stephen King is in the next room reanimating all his pets.” If everyone only “wrote what they know” we’d have a lot of very boring books to choose from. That doesn’t mean play with facts. If you’re writing a character who plays violin and you’ve never even seen a violin, I suggest doing a lot of research so you don’t reference the wrong number of strings or something else that would be “wrong” in a real sense. But if you’re world building a fictional place or time, or you’re writing about fictional people (or cyborgs or mythical creatures), it’s your job to make those things real for your readers, not to present them with things you “know” from personal experience.

Santino: Yes and no? But not really. I strongly believe in using your own experiences to bolster a text if it happens to have characters who are going through things you've gone through, but I definitely do not believe a cop is the best person to write a cop, or that a queer person should only write a queer character, or that if you're of one culture you can only effectively write that one culture. If I'm writing about people or situations I'm unfamiliar with I go ask people who have had those experiences or who know about those things to give me critical feedback.

Damon: I believe that this is one of those odd semantic confusions in the writing community because it sounds like a tautology. I don’t think this dictum indicates that every story needs to be autobiography. I think it’s a commandment to KNOW WHAT YOU WRITE. If you write about vampires you’d better learn something about blood, and folklore, and teeth, and death fantasies. If you set your story in Ancient China you cannot do your research in a noodle bar. Do you homework. Know your material inside and out and only write it when it is as familiar to you as your own life.

Do you outline or are you a pantser?

Karen: Yes. I know many people view that as an either/or question, but I straddle the fence between plotter and pantser. I joke that it makes me a plotzer (which, if you’re up on your Yiddish or you’re familiar with how anxiety ridden I can be, should get a giggle out of you). I don’t do elaborate outlines. And I don’t just sit down and write and see what happens. I usually hear the characters talking to me first. (No, it’s not psychosis. Yes, I’m sure, I actually have a degree in counseling, I’d know.) Once the characters start telling me their story I need to let them tell me all of it until it plays out in my head as if I’m watching a movie. Sometimes they tell me the story totally out of order (which would drive a true plotter insane) and I’ll write the scenes as they reveal them to me and cobble them together in order at the end. Until I’ve seen a scene play out visually in my mind and heard the dialogue, I can’t write a word. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t write it down when they’re in the mood to tell me, they may not repeat it. I’ve also learned the hard way that if I lose a scene (it gets saved to the wrong file and I can’t find it) and I rewrite it and find the original version later, it’ll be almost word for word identical---even if I think it’s not going to be. I once “lost” two entire chapters and after several days of freaking out and scouring my computer I rewrote them. When I eventually found the file and compared it was off by only a handful of words. I don’t know if that makes me consistent or freaky. Or both.

Santino: I outline. Sometimes it's chapter by chapter but most of the time it's scene-by-scene which may seem like total overkill but I have such limited time to write that it's the whole way I can stay organized. This NaNoWriMo is the first time I've tried using a looser outline (a big chunk just says "shenanigans") and I had a lot of trouble and will likely scrap 75% of it.

Damon: I don’t believe in pantsers. (*cue angry grumbling*) Oh sure, some authors will insist that they’re pantsers, and they believe they are because they’re process contains a certain amount of chaos. But I’d argue they are just wary plotters who take the long way ‘round. What they’d call a “rough draft” I’d call a very long, disorganized outline that they then have to go back and rewrite. Remember, I came to fiction from film and an outline is part of the contract you sign. No outline, no treatment, and you don’t get paid. Business requires planning. Of course, people plan differently. All genre fiction comes with an outline; in romance that HEA is there from the start, so you KNOW the plot even if you try to avoid it or ignore it. Most plans are only partially related to outcomes, but in commercial storytelling the plot is always there. Anyone seriously planning a career in professional writing ends up learning to outline on some level because there are deadlines and marketing meetings. After 25+ years, I know that no two stories get written the same way, but I plot it.

When you’re writing who’s in control, you or the characters?

Karen: I’d like to say it’s me because a) that would be the sane answer and b) I have serious control issues. But it’s not. My characters are very insistent and take on lives of their own. They allow me to see their stories, not the other way around.

Santino: I let the characters take the wheel, and then I edit the fuck out of them if they misbehave and stray too far off course.

Damon: I’d say it’s a constantly renegotiated detente. I always know the general shape of a character’s transformation because of the outline, but characters and situations have a way of unspooling in startling directions. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust those instincts and follow them fiercely. The most valuable thing you can develop as an artist is that clear inner ear for your unique voice. Only you can hear that, and anyone else can diminish it. Headstrong characters can destroy a book if you don’t know when to listen and when to redirect them. 

What do you focus on more when writing, characters or plot? What about as a reader?

Karen: Characters. Always characters, whether I’m writing or reading. As a reader if I fall in love with a character I’ll read about them grocery shopping because I want to know everything about them. A good character that I care about can carry me through lots of other weaknesses in a book. But if I don’t care about the characters, a book can have the most fascinating plot in the world and I won’t be able to wade through it no matter how hard I try. The same goes for when I write. I need to be in love with my characters and that’s what propels me through the story until I can get them their happily ever after ending. I’m a people person in real life. It’s why I became a therapist. It’s why I don’t like being alone. I crave human contact and I’m nosy by nature. People fascinate me, even when they’re pissing me off. I love getting to know my characters and then figuring out what happens to them as they fall in love. I don’t think I could ever come up with a plot first and then figure out who that plot happens to.

Santino: It depends on how you design your books. I'm a big fan of backwards design. There's usually a theme I want to explore or a scenario that inspired me. At that point, I'll create the type of people who would find themselves in those situations or who would be struggling with those themes. Based on the people I create, the rest of the pieces will come together as far as their journey and how they get there. I don't think you can have one without the other.

As far as a reader, I can love a poorly plotted story if the characters are dynamic and interesting. And I can hate a beautifully plotted story if the characters are awful. So in that case, always the character. ;)

Damon: Here’s where I’m going to be stroppy and define terms. I think that character and plot are two words for the same thing.

Whichever word you use is entirely related to the function and problem of the current writing challenge. Romeo MUST stand under that balcony. Cyrano has to give Christian his words. And Darcy’s first marriage proposal has to be insulting, snide, and hurtful. Their plots are their characters because both are a way of expression transformative action along an arc. I also think that different subgenres emphasize external factors more than internal...but everything comes back to transformative actions.

Meet the authors and read about their latest releases!

Author Bio and Links

Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

SUNSET PARK (A Five Boroughs Story)


Raymond Rodriguez's days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.

David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.

Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.

Find Sunset Park on: Dreamspinner Press / Amazon / B&N

Review Quotes for the Five Boroughs series:

“While this second novel of Hassell’s Five Boroughs novels has all the heat, overwhelming desire and tension that readers have come to expect, he also grounds his tale in very real issues, like class and ethnic divides, social struggles, and the difficulty of growing up.” – RT Magazine

"Having two sexy, dirty-talking alphas wrestle their strong feelings for each other is mouthwatering." -- RT Web Reviews

"Hassell doesn't sugarcoat his vibrant characters, making them as gritty as the Queens neighborhood in which they grew up... There are plenty of steamy sex scenes; overall, a welcome addition to romance collections in urban libraries." -- Library Journal

Other books in the Five Boroughs series:
Book 2: FIRST AND FIRST coming in April 2016

Other books by Santino Hassell:

Author Bio and Links:

Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She's also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. She writes novels about real life, only hotter.

Karen's lifelong fascination with people has led her to careers ranging from hand-drawn animator, to party planner, to marriage and family counselor, but writing has always been her passion. Karen enjoys nothing more than following her characters on their journey toward love. Whether the couples are m/f or m/m, it’s guaranteed that Karen's novels are filled with food, friendship, love, and smoking hot sex—all the best things in life.

When Karen isn’t writing (and often when she is), she can be found on Twitter attempting witty banter and detailing the antics of her fruit-loving cat, BadKitteh. She loves to hear from readers (and other writers), so don't hesitate to contact/follow/like her at:

MOMENT OF SILENCE (Moments In Time, Book 4)
(A standalone novel from the Moments In Time series)


Growing up, Jason Stern led a charmed life complete with devoted sisters, a father who was one of Brooklyn’s most respected rabbis, and a mother who made the world's best babka. He headed to NYU ready for anything—except falling for the wrong guy, coming out, and getting disowned by his once-loving family. In spite of that, Jason managed to graduate with honors. He's got friends who treat him like family, and he's proudly running the largest LGBTQ teen shelter in Manhattan. Life is good, but he's still falling for the wrong men. 

When charming, sexy Quinn Fitzpatrick begins work at the shelter, Jason falls hard and fast. Quinn is tall, blond, funny—damn near perfect. Only if Quinn’s gay, even he doesn't seem to know it. If he does, he's not telling anyone. And he's about one ceremony away from becoming a Catholic priest.

Long hours of work turn to long nights of talking and laughter, and Jason dares to hope this time he's falling for the right guy. But Quinn's got a past to deal with and major decisions to make about his future. When Quinn leaves for a silent retreat, Jason knows the silence may change everything.

Pre-order link: Dreamspinners Press

Other books in the Moments In Time series:
MOMENTS IN TIME (a compilation of Books 1-3)

Review quotes for the Moments In Time series:

“From the very first line in Moment of Impact to the very last line in Moment of Clarity this has been a beautifully told story of love, life, and passion. I have loved these two amazing young men from the start; I have cried for them, I have cheered for them, and I have loved watching them learn, grow, accept, trust each other, and embrace the love they have for each other and I thank Karen Stivali for their amazing journey.” – 5 stars and a Purest Delight rating from Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

“I am completely enamored with these two characters. Stivali created two young men that are such a realistic portrayal of young gay reality today… Loved it, just go buy it now you won’t be disappointed! But start with the first installment if you haven’t read any of the three yet, this series must be read in order.” – 5 Stars from MMGoodBooks Reviews 

“Realistic and brilliantly written…I have loved all the books in this series and the author doesn’t disappoint at all with Moment Of Clarity! I completely fell for Collin and Tanner and you will too. I highly recommend this novel as well as the entire series.” – 5 stars from Gay Media Reviews

“I thoroughly enjoyed this end to the series, and the whole set. The three novellas are filled with fast-paced plots, deep feels and some seriously smokin’ sexytimes.” – 5 stars from V’s Reads

Author Bio and Links

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at

Pent Up


Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.

Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?

What’s a bulletcatcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart. 

Purchase Links:  Dreamspinner / All Romance / Amazon / iBooks / B&N


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