This year's list of Houston's Top 10 Authors includes a few firsts. For the first time we have a husband and wife who each made the list separately (Robert Boswell and Antonya Nelson). For the first time, we also have multiple authors with four or more releases in the last year (ReShonda Tate Billingsly and Sophie Jordan). We see our first graphic novelist on the list (Mat Johnson). And we have our first debut novelist to earn a spot on this list, former Houston Press writer (Jennifer Mathieu).
10. Jennifer Mathieu The Truth About Alice
A young adult novel about a girl at the center of a fury of lies and gossip, Jennifer Mathieu's debut The Truth About Alice has been getting rave reviews from both critics and fans. Mathieu is a high school English teacher and says she loves teenagers. While she thinks her books would interest other age groups, she says her target audience is teens. "When I sit down and write, I picture teenagers reading my books," she told us in a recent interview. "I think teenagers are some of the most fascinating people on the planet and I certainly think of them as my audience."
9. Pamela Fagan Hutchins Finding Harmony
While several of the authors on this list write in various genres -- from romantic comedies to literary fiction -- Hutchins is one of the few who also has non-fiction titles to her credit. Along with three books in the Kate and Annalise series (including this year's Finding Harmony), Hutchins wrote the popular how-to What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? and parenting self-help title How to Screw Up Your Kids: Blended Families, Blendered Style.
Hutchins is currently touring in support of the Kate and Annalise series and working on several novels ("I've got the next five or six books planned out, I just need to sit my butt in the chair and do them.") Her latest release, Finding Harmony, is an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-finalist. And she's also the president of the Houston Writers Guild and an instructor with a newly launched writing organization.
8. Tom Abrahams Allegiance
We mentioned Abrahams as an "author to watch" last year when his self-published political thriller Sedition was released. He makes our list this year with another political thriller Allegiance, which is being released in hard back by Post Hill Press. Going from an indie author to a published author with a hard back book and a contract for future titles in one year isn't easy but for Abrahams it wasn't unusually difficult either. He was working with an editor on an updated version of Sedition . She asked if she could pass it along to a publisher she knew and within a few months, Abrahams had a multi-book contract, starting with a hard back release of Allegiance.
If Abrahams looks familiar, it's because he's spent the last 20 years on television as a news reporter covering the White House and politics. It's a job, he says, that's come in handy as he's written his novels.
7. Kerrelyn Sparks How to Seduce a Vampire without Really Trying
New York Times bestselling author Sparks made our list last year with two novels, the historical romantic Less than a Gentleman and the paranormal romance The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo. This year she's back with How to Seduce a Vampire without Really Trying. In this release, Sparks follows a super-sexy vampire who hasn't had any luck in the romance department - for the last 800 years. Then he runs into a warrior princess who decides that instead of killing him, she wants to mate with him.
Sparks' fiction is filled with humor (her vampire romances are called the Love at Stake series). Yes, there's some lusty love in each story, but there are lots of giggles and several laugh out loud moments as well.
Sparks has a motto on her website: "Be brave, be bold, be batty!" It's an attitude we wholeheartedly embrace.
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6. ReShonda Tate Billingsly A Family Affair; What's Done in the Dark; Truth or Dare (Rumor Central); You Don't Know Me Like That (Rumor Central)
The first of two authors on our list with four or more releases this year, ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a former newscaster and one of the most prolific authors in the state. She has more than 30 titles to her credit, including several that have been optioned for production deals. A female novelist version of Tyler Perry, but with a lot more steamy sex thrown in, Billingsley writes what the industry calls "urban" fiction (translation: fiction with African-American characters). Her female characters are strong, smart, flawed and never the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning. There's a bit of a moral, but Billingsley, unlike Perry, never gets preachy in her stories.
Billingsley also released two more titles in the last 12 months as a co-writer. She is really, really busy.
5. Mat Johnson, Right State
Our first graphic novelist on this list, Mat Johnson most recently released Right State, a political thriller for young adults that follows a newscaster who tries to foil an assignation. Set in the near future, Right State was illustrated by Andrea Mutti.
Johnson, the author of the novels Pym, Drop, and Hunting in Harlem, the nonfiction novella The Great Negro Plot, and the comic books Incognegro and Dark Rain, is a recipient of the United States Artist James Baldwin Fellowship and a faculty member at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
4. Robert Boswell Tumbledown
Robert Boswell is known to some fans as the writer of literary fiction, including Tumbledown, which was just released by Graywolf Press. He also wrote the cyberpunk novel Virtual Death, although that was under the pseudonym Shale Aaron. Other novels of his include Century's Son, American Owned Love, Mystery Ride, The Geography of Desire, Crooked Hearts and story collections The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, Living to Be 100, Dancing in the Movies. He wrote the play Tongues and authored several nonfiction titles including The Half-Known World and What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold at Victorio Peak.
Boswell shares the Cullen Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Houston with his wife, Antonya Nelson (she's also on this list).
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3. Antonya Nelson Funny Once, Stories
The female half of our husband-and-wife duo is Antonya Nelson, who makes her first appearance on our list with Funny Once, Stories, a collection of stories that are both humorous and touching. A Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and current holder of the Cullen Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, Nelson filled Funny Once with characters who tend to act now and think later (not such a good plan when it comes to drinking or casual sex). They regret both what they've done and what they haven't done, but somehow manage to look ahead to what they hope will be a better life. We love her wickedly funny prose.
2. Sophie Jordan How to Lose a Bride in One Night; Uninvited; Tease, The Ivy Chronicles; The Earl in My Bed
Here's the second of our authors who released four or more titles in the last year. Like Billingsley, Sophie Jordan writes in variations of a genre. For Jordan, it's romance - she writes historical romances, new adult romances, paranormal romances and sexy contemporary romances. Writing for the new adult audience has given Jordan the freedom to up the emotional factor in her writing. New adult readers are in an intense stage of their lives, she tells us. With characters facing new situations where everything is so deeply felt, Jordan is able to draw those emotions much larger than life.
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1. Dean James, Silence in the Library
Dean James, who has worked as a librarian and bookseller as well as novelist, is often credited with helping other authors just starting out. New York Times bestselling writer Charlaine Harris, creator of the Southern Vampire series which inspired the television series True Blood, says he was invaluable to her early in her career. We've heard the same from dozens of writers, both local and national.
James has written a variety of series of cozy mysteries under several pseudonyms, including Honor Hartman, Jimmie Ruth Evans and Miranda James. It's Miranda James that released the latest title in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series, Silence in the Library. The series of cozy whodunits features a male librarian/sleuth who has a big Maine coon cat for a sidekick (no the cat doesn't talk, but he does seem to think a lot).