Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks


Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks

ER: Hi, Santino and welcome to my blog! I’m so happy to have you as my guest today!
I want to start this interview with some general questions on your writing.
As someone who has been reading fiction all my life (I even have a degree in literature) but also someone who never had the desire to write, I’m curious how you decided to start writing. And what made you chose romance rather than any other genre?

SH: When I was a kid, I was a journaler. After a while, writing in the journal helped me to develop this narrative style and voice that transitioned to creative writing classes where I wrote short stories and poetry. Later on, I wrote songs. However, it wasn’t until I discovered slash fanfic, and later original slash and gay romance, that I decided to try my hand at longer pieces.

In terms of why I chose romance—honestly, romantic stories about LGBTQ people were something I’d constantly sought as a youth. As a bisexual kid, I never saw my stories told in a way that was hopeful. I found that romance was the only genre willing to give me something other than gloom and doom for queer people.

ER: Continuing in these lines – what is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

SH: The best thing is receiving feedback from readers who read my stories and were able to relate to them. The worst thing is the way I get caught up in expectations. I’m very aware of what the majority of readers appear to want versus what I want to write, and sometimes it’s hard to make that jive.

ER: Can you share some more details about your writing process – I already know you use NaNoWriMo but are there any other writing methods and strategies that you use in your writing?

SH: My main strategy is to set a SMART goal. That’s super teachery of me, but a smart goal is a goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These days, my goal for writing is to finish one scene per day (in the book with a deadline) on weeknights, and two scenes per day on weekends. I also use a variety of apps to stay focused and shut off distractions.

ER: What is the easiest and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

SH: The easiest thing for me is dialogue. I’m not sure why, but the flow of two or more people conversing, with multiple character voices, is my strength. What’s hard for me is fleshing out a narrative. My writing used to be very terse.

ER: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SH: A total plotter. These days, I’ve been outlining an entire book by chapter and then each scene in the chapters. It helps me stay focused so I can set goals.

ER: And final question on your writing process before we move on to talk in more details about your books. What is your favourite subgenre to write in?

SH: I love writing contemporary romance.

ER: You have written In the Company of Shadows series with Ais and now Strong Signal with Megan Erickson. How does co-writing work for you? Is it easier or more difficult than writing on your own?

SH: I think it’s easier. You have a whole other person keeping you accountable and plotting with you!

ER: Besides being co-written Strong Signal was also self-published. Is it your first self-published book? How was this process different from working with a publisher?

SH: Actually, After Midnight was my first self-published book but Strong Signal was a much more successful endeavor. Megan really knew what she was doing in terms of marketing and promo, and we got great advice from several people. However, it’s so much more work than working with a publisher. That’s the hardest part, I think. Figuring out, and planning, all of the pieces and making sure they come together on time.

ER: So, that’s enough questions about Cyberlove series and now I’m really dying to know more about the Five Borough series, which is my favourite of your books. First off, I’m curious to know how you came up with the idea for this series. (Is there an initial plan that you are following or the stories you want to write/are actually writing change in the course of working on this series?)

SH: Initially, Sutphin Boulevard was supposed to be a romantic comedy about teachers (insert laugh track here). From there, I started thinking about various things—the impact of home life on a teacher, the stress of administration, the attack dog policies of the mayor during the Bloomberg era—and the story expanded. I guess you can see while creating this cast of characters, I fleshed out a lot of their stories to figure out how they would all interact with each other, and realized I would definitely want to tell their stories too. My plan was to write a novel set in each of the five boroughs plus a bonus novel that revisits one of the couples, BUT… I now have more stories in my head than there are boroughs.
ER: The latest release in the series, First and First, just came out this week and I can honestly say, it’s my favourite in the series so far (all because of Caleb, I admit). Can you share more about how you came up with the idea about this story? It’s markedly different from the first two books.

SH: I was intrigued by who Caleb was and part of that is because he was cast in such a negative light in both SB and SP. He was said to be boring, a cold lover, not affectionate, and yet he was determinedly pursuing David and super insecure about Raymond. When I thought about him as a fully-fledged character and not just “David’s ex”, there was a lot of meat to his story. The filthy rich privileged man who appears to have everything except someone to love him. Also, exploring his history of repression was fascinating.

ER: I love Michael and Nunzio but my favourite character in this series is definitely Caleb? It may seem unfair to ask this but do you have a favourite?

SH: Raymond is my favorite. I love writing him so much.

ER: Which book in the series so far was the easiest to write and which the most difficult?

SH: The easiest to write by far was Sunset Park. I wrote it entirely during NaNoWriMo. The characters were amazing together and had so much chemistry that the story kind of fell out of my fingers. The most difficult so far has been Sutphin Boulevard. A lot of it hit very close to home and was emotional to write. Also, I was writing knowing there would be readers who would see alcoholism as a shameful weakness, and not understand why someone would be loyal to an abusive parent, but I decided it was a story I wanted to tell anyway.

ER: And now question I know all the fans of the series what to ask – what can we expect next in the Five Borough series and when is it coming our way?

SH: Book 4 revisits previous couples and I will say now—NO WORRIES. THERE IS NO CHEATING. There were a couple of HEAs that I felt were owed a stronger finale than they got if you catch my drift. Book 5 is about a character who is introduced in First and First. His name is Ashton, and I’m in love with his story.

ER: OMG, Ashton is getting his own book?! #DayMade

ER: Speaking of upcoming releases, what can we expect next from you?

SH: I have a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy coming out with Riptide Publishing starting Fall 2017! And Fast Connection, the second Cyberlove story with Megan Erickson, will be out late in the summer.

ER: I really enjoy crossover series which include all kinds of couples and forms of love, do you plan to have het/trans couple in the Five Borough series? Or to write any non-mm romance in general?

SH:  Among the 5B stories circulating in my brain, there is a M/F story and a F/F story. I also have high interest in writing contemporary M/F romance in general.

ER: If you had total freedom what to write it, what is the wildest/most outrageously different story you want to write? (Please, think of doing so in a perfect world where you don’t have to worry who will publish it and whether people will want to read it)

SH: My biggest dream is to write a queer YA or NA series that gains traction with those age groups.

-          Same question but about a story you want to read.

SH: I’d love to read more epic queer SFF romance.

ER: And my final question is what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

SH: Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing!

ER: Thank you very much, Santino for doing this interview!

SH: Thank you so much for having me!

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Author Bio and Links: 

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is 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.

Santino Hassell's latest release, First and First, came out earlier this week. It's book 3 in the Five Boroughs series but can be read as a standalone and I strongly recommend it to you. 


Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / BN / DSP / Kobo

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  1. Love the interview. Answered so many questions that have crossed my mind since I was introduced to Santino's books. Looking forward to future stories, specially the more solid HEAs and Ashton's. First and First was beautiful, with Caled and Oli finding their love and all the new characters that already stole my heart.

  2. Great interview. I enjoyed reading Santino's thoughts on Sutphin Boulevard in particular. (And yes to more epic queer SFF romance!)


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