Readers, help me out. A reviewer for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association concluded that my Joe Harding series is “A welcome addition to romance and military fiction collections, Captain Harding belongs in any adult fiction collection.” “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War,” the first book in what turned out to be a trilogy, was voted Best Romance by readers in the TLA Gaybies poll and named best book of 2011 by the historical romance blog, Speak Its Name. “Only Make Believe,” the second in my Florida-veterans series, was named Best Gay Mystery / Thriller of 2012 in the international Rainbow Awards competition, with an honorable mention ranking of number eight among almost 500 entries. I could go on.
“Welcome Home, Captain Harding,” the final novel in the trilogy, seems to have failed to find an audience or to have drawn much notice. To date, there are only three reviews (two five-star, the third very critical) on Amazon.com. Reviews on other platforms were similarly sparse. I don’t know why this is, and I’m hoping readers will give me some feedback. If the truth hurts, so be it. In my former life, I was the restaurant critic on a big-city daily. I can take it. I’m tough.
To kick off the discussion, let me list several possibilities that come to mind.
First, my novels are novels, not strictly one genre or another. “Only Make Believe,” my first, was a finalist for the Lambda Foundation Mystery Award. Katharine V. Forrest, the eminent editor and author of the Kate Delafield lesbian mystery series, told me later that it did not win because it is “not really a mystery.” That’s right, it’s as much romance and why-dunnit as it is who-dunnit. There’s more sex than sleuthing. It’s been in print, off and on for more than a decade. More than one reader has told me it’s on their desert-island list or that he or she has read it multiple times. What’s not to like?
“Welcome Home, Captain Harding” is similarly composed of elements of romance, adventure, well-behaved erotica and mystery. That’s how I write. I’ve seen a lot of the world and have stories to tell. Most of them don’t fit the tropes and conventions of typical romances, mysteries or thrillers. To paraphrase my publisher, Steve Berman, “If Elliott was writing heterosexual fiction, no one would try to shoehorn his books into one genre or another. They’re novels.”
Second, unlike my other five novels published by Lethe, there are no human beings on the cover of “Welcome Home, Captain Harding.” This was, in part, the result of my mistaken impression that I’m better at thinking up cover images than some of the very talented and skilled people I’m lucky enough to work with. I certainly won’t say that every character-driven novel needs sexy models on the cover. Quite often, however, it doesn’t hurt.
Third, I’m a trained historian. Probably ninety percent of the military and government action in the Harding novels is based on verifiable, well-documented incidents. Each of the three novels contains at least one spectacular plane crash, criminal interference by the CIA and high-level misbehavior by senior officers who should know better. The fatal incident in “Welcome Home” was captured on video and resulted in a major investigation by the Department of the Air Force. A commanding officer pleaded guilty to charges of dereliction of duty. Before, and while writing the novel, I watched the footage and read the damning reports numerous times. B-52 bombers (which I worked around in a minor way when I was in uniform) are highly complex machines, their maintenance and operation equally multifaceted. It may be that I ended up giving the reader too much technical information.
Fourth, maybe we shouldn’t have noted that “Welcome Home” is the final novel in the series. Several readers who contacted me or posted on line were unhappy about it. More than one suggested a later-in-Joe’s-life continuation. That could happen but it’s not on my mind right now.
Finally, and avoiding spoilers as much as possible, Joe’s emotional and romantic arrangements at the end of the book are unconventional, even by the standards of popular fiction. I didn’t plan it that way, honest. When I’m writing, to some extent I’m taking dictation. The characters are there–talking, joking or making love, and I’m typing as fast as I can. This time, the characters took over the narrative toward the end of the story and I had to let them have their way. Rewrites to make it fit with earlier incidents in the book? Sure, required. That’s why a book is also called a “work.” It’s what I do, and what I’ve just finished doing in polishing a third novel in the Florida-veterans series, tentatively titled “Sunset Island,” to be published by Lethe later this year.
OK, readers, I’m ready. Hit me up.
Elin: Welcome Home Captain Harding is a terrific book, and rounds off the series in a very satisfying way. Can’t WAIT for the new Florida-veterans offering! Roll on September.