Author Interview – Aleksandr Voinov

comfy chair

My guest today has many strings to his bow with a successful publishing history in both German and English and now, additionally, as part owner of a highly successful publishing house, Riptide Publishing . Aleksandr Voinov’s work has been described as “darkly erotic, filled with gritty, violent, sexy incident” and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take the time to answer some of my questions.

Hi Aleks!

 Aleks: Hi Elin! Thank you for inviting me over for a chat!

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Author Interview – Sam Starbuck

comfy chair

My interogatee today is Sam Starbuck – dreamer of dreams, spinner of stories, teller of tales short and tall. Sam’s blog, a winner in the 2010 Author Blog Awards, is so well attended that he laid on refreshments in Sam’s Café and he has pioneered a unique method of novel writing using peer group appraisal that led to the founding of Extribulum Press. He has recently published a novella by a more traditional method – The City War, part of Riptide Press’s “Warriors of Rome” series – and since Rome, Republican or Imperial, is close to my heart I decided to try and get him into my Comfy Chair.

All right there, Sam? Here we go!

~~~
Elin: The City War is about one of the best known incidents in historical Rome. What inspired you to retell it?

Sam: It’s always easier to retell a historical story when everyone knows a little bit about it. But because everyone knows a little, and very few people know a lot, it’s also really fun and interesting to tweak it slightly — to say “This is how it could have been” and make people look at the story differently. I like taking stories that everyone knows and turning them on their head — you see it done a lot with fairy tales in popular media these days. And at this point the story of Julius Caesar’s assassination is almost fiction anyway; it did happen, but most of us know it from pop culture references or Shakespeare.

Elin: You have been publishing successfully with your own set up Extribulum. What prompted you to go down the more traditional route with The City War? Did you find the process very different?

Sam: I have to admit that I didn’t have The City War written and ready and just decided to send it to a press. I was linked by a friend to Riptide Press’s call for stories of Ancient Rome, and noticed that the Warriors of Rome collection only had thirty days left before the submission deadline. I wanted to adapt an idea I’d had about Cassius and Brutus being lovers, because while Caesar is interesting from a military and a tactical standpoint, I’ve always felt that there was more potential for interpersonal exploration with the men who killed him. It seemed like the perfect time to actually sit down and write the story, and I liked the challenge of writing it in a month. I’m a fast writer and fortunately the novella word-count limit was within my capacity.
The process is different mostly once you’ve got the first draft in, and mostly it was different in my head. With independent publishing I really only answered to myself and the readers, but with small-press publishing you have people depending on you, you have deadlines that matter because if you don’t meet them someone else has more work to do. There’s more pressure, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re a procrastinator like me.

It’s still about the story — rewriting for clarity, making sure there are no typos or continuity mistakes — but you have a group of people who are specifically dedicated to helping you out, which does take some weight off your shoulders. And once the final draft was in, I was done; no typesetting, no coding, I could just take a breath and wait for the finished product. For some that might be nervewracking but for me, giving up control of that part gave me some time to process and come down from the excitement of the writing.

Elin: I know one author who can’t write without copious amounts of Diet Coke and another whose first priority is to establish her characters’ playlists. Do you have any writerly habits, without which you find the composing process difficult?

Sam: I don’t think I have as many habits as others do. For a long time, writing was something I had to do on the fly — when I had no students during office hours as a grad student, when I had nothing to do at the desk during my first job, and now on lunch breaks and after work. I had to get used to working in a variety of environments and frequently in public.
I think the only thing I really have trouble with is noise — the ambient office noise around me doesn’t bother me, but I can’t listen to music or spoken word audio while I write. I find the words too distracting.

Elin: This is a horrible question to ask but here goes – where do your ideas come from?

Sam: Ideas come from all over, really. Sometimes it’s a situation you’d like to see someone put into, or a situation you’ve experienced in real life; sometimes I see photographs and wonder about the people in them, or news articles, or stuff on the television. A lot of writers will say that there’s no way to explain how they get their ideas, but I know mine mostly come from the world around me, and the more I interact with that world, the more ideas I have. The City War definitely came from history, and I am a Classics nerd so I have read the original life of Caesar and the life of Brutus, but also from seeing Brutus played sympathetically in a production of the Shakespeare play, and wondering why such a moral man chose to throw in with a slightly shady character like Cassius.

Elin: The City War is historical. Trace and Nameless are contemporary with a little twist of paranormal. You have also written Other People Can smell You a college survival guide. Is there any other genre that you are eager to try? Any you wouldn’t touch with the longest sharp stick?

Sam: When I was a younger writer I used to really like moving around between genres and even media — prose to screenplays to poetry, and stories from all over the place. I’ve settled down a bit and generally I write either contemporary lit or magical realism, but I wouldn’t mind trying more science fiction if I could come up with a plot I felt hadn’t already been done. I admit science is not my strong suit, though, so I’m a bit wary of scifi as a writer. I like it as a consumer.
I think really one of the few genres I haven’t done much with is the murder mystery, because in all honesty I’m terrible at mysteries. I like reading them, at least some of them — the old classics from the twenties through the fifties are often my favorite — but I don’t have the kind of tricky brain I think it takes to write them. Plus they usually have a large cast of characters, and the more characters I have to track, the more scatterbrained I become.
So…there’s nothing I’d never go near out of sheer dislike, but I’ve reached a point where I know what I do well, and I choose to avoid what I do badly.

Elin: So what next? Are you working on anything now? Can you tell us about it or do you prefer to keep stories under wraps until they are finished?

Sam: Oh, I don’t mind talking about stuff, but sometimes I never finish it, so it’s always a toss-up. For Riptide, I’m looking at writing a piece set during the second world war, about the Monuments Men who ran around Europe trying to rescue precious artworks from the ravages of war. In terms of other work, I’m a little adrift right now; the holidays always make it harder to focus. But I always have a few things in the pipeline, which leads us to…

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something?

Sam: Absolutely! This is a short clip from the opening of Pirate Country, a sequel to my novel The Dead Isle.

***

The new airshipyard of Australia, housed in a dusty field just south of Canberra, was bustling in the late morning light. Shipbuilders recruited from the ports at Sydney were at work on boats and engines, metal and wood creaking. In the great shady balloon house the clack of sewing machines could be heard, and cries of greeting as an automobile laden with Chinese silk from the trade ships to Asia pulled up to the loading door. The sun turned everything golden, sawdust dancing in the air.
Jack Baker shaded his eyes from the roof of the chemistry building, balancing precariously on the central beam, studying the airshipyard critically.
“Saying goodbye?” Murra asked, head and shoulders emerging from the window below the roof. Jack, his sun-bleached hair ruffling in the wind, looked down and smiled.
“Just watching it all go,” he replied, settling the wide-brimmed bush ranger’s hat back on his head. “It’ll run fine without me. Practically already is.”
“Bet you wish you were down there elbows-deep in the guts of an engine,” she said.
“Maybe.”
“Come inside, Jack, the train’s leaving soon.”
Jack grasped the angled flagpole at the edge of the building, sliding down it deftly; she obligingly backed away from the window so he could swing inside, boots-first. The staff, engaged in the delicate process of making and bottling helium, were used to his habit of coming in through windows and didn’t even look up as he descended the staircase, Murra a step ahead.
“How long until the first ships take sky?” she asked, as they walked through the yard towards the gate, where the afternoon train could run them back to Canberra. Jack had a Harrison, a gift from the automobile-maker, but Murra’s brother Memory had asked to borrow it that morning for some errand or other.
“Two weeks, maybe three.”
“Sure you don’t want to stick around, be certain nothing goes wrong?” she asked.
He smiled. “I’d like to, but it’s well in hand. Purva’s ready to go, and I’m afraid she’ll hijack the ship and go without me if I stall.”
“And you miss the air.”
“More than anything,” he said wistfully, turning his head up to the sky. “I didn’t know I could miss flying so much.”
***
The City War
By Sam Starbuck

Senator Marcus Brutus has spent his life serving Rome, but it’s difficult to be a patriot when the Republic, barely recovered from a civil war, is under threat by its own leader. Brutus’s one retreat is his country home, where he steals a few precious days now and then with Cassius, his brother-in-law and fellow soldier—and the one he loves above all others. But the sickness at the heart of Rome is spreading, and even Brutus’s nights with Cassius can’t erase the knowledge that Gaius Julius Caesar is slowly becoming a tyrant.

Cassius fears both Caesar’s intentions and Brutus’s interest in Tiresias, the villa’s newest servant. Tiresias claims to be the orphaned son of a minor noble, but his secrets run deeper, and only Brutus knows them all. Cassius, intent on protecting the Republic and his claim to Brutus, proposes a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. After all, if Brutus—loved and respected by all—supports it, it’s not murder, just politics.

Now Brutus must return to Rome and choose: not only between Cassius and Tiresias, but between preserving the fragile status quo of Rome and killing a man who would be emperor.

The City War is part of Riptide’s ‘Warriors of Rome’ collection and may be obtained here.

If you would like to follow Sam his blog is here and he is on Twitter as @ouija_sam

Comfy Chair Interview – Charlie Cochet

Our guest today is Charlie Cochet, author of The Amethyst Cat Caper and  The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, and rapidly getting a reputation of being the ‘go to’ person for stories set in the Dirty Thirties!

Thanks, Charlie, for joining us today. Let the interrogation begin.

Elin: All the stories and excerpts of yours that I have read have been set in the 1920s and 1930s. What for you is the big draw of the Jazz Age that keeps you revisiting it?

Cary Grant, looking gorgeous

Charlie: Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved classic films, thanks in large part to the handsome, talented, and witty Mr. Cary Grant. He opened a whole new world for me with his movies. Whether it was Hollywood glam or not, his films just drew me in and held on tight. It was a time of elegance and charm. To me, there’s nothing sexier than a man in a well-tailored three-piece suit. The clothing, the music, the movies, the cars, you name it, I love it. I also find the history fascinating. The 1920s and 1930s brought about huge changes. In the 1920s, we were coming out of a terrible war. It was the dawn of the teenager, where folks were breaking away from their parents old fashioned ideals, a break from tradition, and a move into the modern world. Skirts got shorter, jazz music blossomed, it was the age of the flapper, and dapper daddy. With Prohibition came even bigger changes in society, especially in cities like New York, where it brought the gay community into the spotlight. Gangsters and bootleggers ran amuck. It was the age of anything goes.  Lindberg flew across the Atlantic, the first talkie was released, and a young fella named J. Edgar Hoover became director of a fledgling Bureau of Investigations.

With the 1930s came the end of these frivolous and booming times. With the Great Depression came new laws, an attempt to ‘cleanse’ the country over the epic failure that was Prohibition. The stock market crashed, leaving a huge portion of the population penniless and homeless. There were no jobs, veterans of the Great War were living in shanty towns in Central Park with homeless families, and then of course we moved into the Second Word War. It’s just astounding how much changed between 1920 and 1940. I tell you, there are so many plot bunnies, I haven’t a chance.

Elin: The love affair between Remi and Hawk in The Amethyst Cat Caper is an attraction of opposites. Is this your favourite type of relationship?

Charlie: As a romance writer, I love all kinds of pairings, but I really do enjoy a good opposites attract story. There’s just so much you can work with. Do their differences make them friends or enemies? Does it bring all sorts of drama, or is it the source of comedic shenanigans? With Remi and Hawk, their opposing personalities spawn both drama and comedy. Their social-standing will always be a touchy subject, and something they each know by now to approach with delicacy—or in Hawk’s case, just say what you’re thinking and deal with the fireworks later. They’re relationship works because they’re both willing to sacrifice, even if they come to that conclusion the hard way. After all, if you really love someone, you sometimes have to swallow your pride and give in, something Hawk is willing to do to keep Remi. He also takes a lot of things in stride, so he tends to find Remi’s little foibles amusing. Also, despite his behavior at times, Hawk is the more mature of the two. He’s very aware of the fact that he’s 13 years older than Remi, and until recently Hawk was a Pinkerton Detective, so he’s been around the block a few times. At heart though, they share important similarities. They’re both men who are constantly judged by others for their appearance and social-standing. Both have experienced terrible heartaches, loss of love, and family, which bonds them emotionally.
Elin: Huge amounts of research must go into each of your stories. Do you enjoy research for its own sake?

The Chrysler Building – an art deco extravaganza

Charlie: A fair amount of information about these time periods I was already familiar with, having done research because it interested me, or I had watched a film and wanted a better understanding of it. When I first started watching James Cagney’s Warner Gangster pictures, I had no idea what he was saying half the time, so I started researching the slang of the period. Things like clothing, music, movies, actors, and certain historical events I already knew just needed to expand my knowledge. Certain brands needed researching, minute details that need following up on, because those little details can make all the difference. Off the top of my head I could name several radio programs that were popular during those times, but I couldn’t tell you the specific year they started, which is something you have to get right if you’re going to mention it in your book. Also, most of my stories are also set in New York, so I’ve had to do a lot of research of the city during the 1920s, and 1930s. Can’t mention the Empire State Building if it hadn’t been finished yet. It’s certainly great fun!
Elin: Have you ever found out a little fact that was just delightful but regretfully decided that you couldn’t fit it into the story? Can you tell us about it or are you saving it for later?

Charlie: I’ve come across a lot of great facts having researched two decades, but I think one I haven’t fit into a story yet is about the Bureau of Investigations when they were first taken over by Hoover. I mean now the FBI is this huge, powerful force, but back then, they had guns but the bullets didn’t match, and that was only after they were given the okay from Washington to carry guns. A lot of the agents had to be trained how to shoot by police officers, and it wasn’t until after the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby that the Bureau were given the power to cross state lines. Even then, there was little training and strategy, with most of the agents recruited being college boys, which is why John Dillinger managed to evade them for so long. It really is fascinating.

Elin: Sequels – like or loathe? Have you plans to continue the stories of Remi or Chance?

Charlie: I love sequels, and I certainly have them in mind for Remi and Chance. They’ve actually been started. I’m just a little slow with my writing. The next book in Remi and Hawk’s adventure will concentrate more on Hawk, seeing as the first book was a little bit more about Remi. We’ll get a look into Hawk’s past, and the reasons behind why he is who he is, also his past will come catching up with him, and he’ll have to face the man who had a huge part in changing his life, something Hawk hasn’t been able to let go of. I think there are plenty of opportunities for Remi and Hawk to continue, especially with Remi’s younger brother coming into the picture. As for Chance, the next book will actually be about Johnnie and Henry. Johnnie is a character I quickly fell in love with, because he’s a lot like Chance as far as attitude, but a lot of the time, Chance is more bark than bite. Johnnie on the other hand will bite. Hard. He’s like a powder keg all the time just waiting to go off, and once he does, it’s hard to get him back under control. He has a lot of issues to work through, but he refuses to let anyone help him, and prefers to pretend what happened to him didn’t happen. The third book will be Bobby and Alexander’s, which we haven’t gotten to see too much of. I think Bobby’s going to surprise us all. You know what they say; it’s always the quiet ones.

Elin:  Is there any genre that you would love to have a bash at? Likewise any that you wouldn’t touch with a very long stick?

Charlie: Well, I’m hoping to tackle contemporary next, though what sub-genres I may end up doing is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think contemporary is harder to tackle. The research might be a little easier as far as research material availability, but there are more things to worry about. For instance, I don’t have to worry about any new technology or social media, because it just didn’t exist. In many ways, they were simpler times. Also the dynamics of certain character interactions, and the consequences brought about by those interactions differ vastly. I mean back in the 20s or 30s, very few men would have been ‘out’, whether to their family, friends, or co-workers. Many led double lives in order to keep their jobs, not to mention there was the danger of being sent to a work-house or prison. So it’s a completely different mindset to get into.

I think the one genre I don’t see myself doing is horror. I’m a wuss when it comes to horror, and I tend to stay away from most horror films, especially of the paranormal kind. As a kid I was always scared of spirits and such. It’s something that’s part of the culture I grew up in. When I was older, I went through a phase of watching Japanese horror films, and they just scared the pants off me. Had to turn on every light in the place just to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. Having an overactive imagination doesn’t help either.

Elin:  Can you tell me a bit about GayRomLit? I know it was in Albequerque and that it was HUGE and sounded rather daunting to this country mouse. What made it so worth attending and should we be saving up for Atlanta next year?

Charlie: This was my first year attending GayRomLit, so as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty nervous. By then I had chatted to several other authors online, and was excited to be meeting them in person. I certainly had plenty of fan-girl moments. My first day at GRL, I was overwhelmed not only by the sheer size of the retreat, but by the fact that all these amazing people had gathered here to celebrate a genre they felt so passionate about. Everyone was so nice, and approachable. I spent nearly five days there, and I still didn’t get to meet everyone. It was an experience unlike any other. Not only did I get to meet authors, publishers, reviewers, and readers, but once I was there, it finally hit me: I am a published author.

What brought it home for me? Being face to face with readers for the very first time, and having them tell me how much they loved my stories. I swear my first day there when a lovely group of readers came over–having recognized my name, I must have looked like a loon just grinning from ear to ear. It took me a moment to realize the characters and stories they were excited about were my creations, my babies, and those amazing folks came over just to tell me how much they enjoyed them. I was over the moon, and couldn’t stop smiling. (For those folks who came up to me, I promise next year my vocabulary will consist of more than just “Oh my god, thank you!”)

It was an incredible experience. I got to talk shop, but I also got to have fun. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed or blushed so much. Whether you go for the autographs, the networking, or the go-go boys, it’s most definitely worth attending, and I have every intention of heading for Atlanta next year!

Elin: How are the WIPs going? Care to tease us a little with some hot off the presses info?

Charlie: Well, I have a sweet little Christmas novella out from Dreamspinner Press the 1st of December called Mending Noel, which is about a small elf with a big heart named Tim, who dreams of leaving his boring position in the AAD–the Abominable Administrative Department, for snowier pastures, especially with Noel–his supervisor, making life difficult for Tim. A coal delivery gone awry changes everything when Tim stumbles across a plot by some traitorous toy soldiers against Jack Frost. To make matters worse, Noel shows up and gets them discovered. Thanks to a run-in with Rudy, the Captain of the Rein Dear Squadron and the most famous pilot in the North Pole, Tim and Noel find themselves safe for the time being. But when Jack Frost shows up, all manner of truths start to come out, including the real reason Noel is always so mean to Tim. It’s now up to Tim to prove that being small doesn’t mean being insignificant, and to show Noel that being different doesn’t mean being broken.

A Rose by Any Other Name is Book 2 in my Fallen Rose series, and it’s currently in its beta-reading stage. It’s also my first full length novel. Book 1 Roses in the Devil’s Garden is a novella, and part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Love Is Always Write event. It’s available as a free download from All Romance eBooks. Book 2 takes place two years later in 1927 during the start of what was known as the ‘pansy craze’ in Manhattan. It was a time when the gay community wasn’t as hidden as most folks think. The story centers on Julius, who was in Book 1 for a short amount of time, though he played a significant part. He’s the hottest pansy act in town, and the lead act at the Pantheon, an Ancient Greek themed cabaret for gentlemen of a certain inclination. In other words, it’s a gay club, and yes, they did exist back then, though usually they were located in Greenwich Village or Harlem. The Pantheon is secretly tucked away inside the Parisian, a huge club in the middle of Time Square, and it’s where Edward Joseph Clarence Junior, the heir to the Clarence & Co. fortune is swept away for his birthday thanks to his wayward cousin Maxfield, and best friend Albert. Julius isn’t just a cabaret dancer, he also provides certain services to his wealthy clients as Eros—the God of Love, and one of his clients is a very dangerous man known only as Ares. When Eros and Edward meet, it’s going to be a night neither of them will soon forget.

Elin: Finally could we please have an excerpt of something? Published, WIP, just an idea, anything?

Charlie: Of course! Here’s an excerpt from A Rose by Any Other Name.

Perhaps it was time for Edward to get down to the heart of the matter, and the reason why Eros was doing his best to avoid him, even to the point of being brazen with him when every other chorus boy, cupid, and Ancient Greek deity seemed to be in a constant state of frenzy each night in the hopes of roping themselves a wealthy patron. “Have I done something to offend you?” He took hold of Eros’s hand again, refusing to let it go. After the second tug, Eros let out a sigh and left his hand in Edward’s grip. The young man was absolutely enchanting, even when he was irritated.

“No, nothing. I apologize.”

Then it struck him. How could he not have seen it? He had been looking at this all wrong. Just the thought had Edward smiling from ear to ear. “It’s not me you’re upset with, is it? You’re upset with yourself.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eros scoffed. “I happen to be quite fond of myself.”

“You were hoping I’d be here.”

Eros tugged at his hand again. “Well, aren’t we sure of ourselves. For Pete’s sake, would you let go of my hand?”

“You’ve been curious about me since we met. Only now that you know the extent of my wealth, you feel threatened. You believe I’ll be no better than the others. That I want nothing more from you than what I pay for, and that’s disappointed you.”

Eros narrowed his eyes at him, at which point, Edward promptly let go of his hand. For a love God, Eros certainly had one hell of a murderous glare. He knew he was pushing his luck, but Edward went with his gut feeling.

“Edward, if I felt threatened by a man’s wealth, I would hardly be in this line of work. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. I feel empowered.” Eros closed the distance between them, and ran his hands slowly up Edward’s chest, over his shoulders, and down his back, smiling triumphantly when Edward gave a start at the feel of Eros’s fingers digging into his backside. “You see, you may have wealth, but I have the power to take it away.” Julius gave a low, sultry moan before running his tongue over his bottom lip. He pressed himself against Edward, one hand discreetly moved around the front, and he gripped Edward through his trousers. Edward shut his eyes, willing himself to breath.

“I can feel how hard you’re getting, Edward. Don’t play games with me or I will make you wish you never set foot in here. Do you think I haven’t come across men like you before?” His hand slowly started to stroke Edward through his trousers.

“Jesus.” He had to put a stop to this madness. It was clear Eros was willing to take this as far as he needed to in order to get his point across, and Edward knew he was foolish enough to stand there and let him.

“Honey-sweet words mean little to me, Edward. Do you know how many men have offered to whisk me away from my filthy, devious life? Put me up in some Fifth Avenue penthouse, pay me an allowance, and give me anything I wish for? Is that what you want, Edward? To make me your personal whore?”

Edward quickly, but gently pushed Eros away, drawing a look of surprise from him. “That’s enough of that. I neither believe so little of you, nor of myself. I won’t have my character insulted. If you have the power to take my wealth as you say you do, then why didn’t you take it? You saw how eager I was, yet you continually push me away.”

“You turned him away?” Pothos asked, gaping at Eros.

“Of course not.” Eros lifted his chin defiantly, taking a step back as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. “He stated he would make an arrangement with Aphrodite and I didn’t object.”

“Only after I refused to leave,” Edward reminded him. “You had ample opportunity to take what you wanted from me, yet all you wanted was for me to leave. Why? What are you afraid of?”

“Being bored to death. Honestly, why aren’t you doing Vaudeville with that act? I choose my clients, Edward, and I didn’t choose you. Your bruised ego will simply have to get over it. Now if you will excuse me.”

“Why haven’t you told anyone else who I am? Is it that you don’t want to share me or you’re protecting me?” Edward held back a smile when Eros spun around, and marched back over to poke him in the chest.

“You seem to have developed this ridiculous notion that I care about what you do, Edward. I haven’t said anything because it’s not my place to do so. I pride myself on my discretion, and integrity. However, if you wish to announce your wealth to the whole damned club, be my guest! And you’re right; you aren’t like the others, because no one is as infuriating as you are!” Eros threw his arms up in frustration, and stormed off.

“I enjoyed our chat,” Edward called out after him.

Eros grabbed a champagne glass off the tray of a passing waiter, and hurled it at Edward. “Go fly a kite!”

~~~

Many thanks Charlie for being such a good sport and for letting us have such a teasing excerpt.

If you would like to keep up with all Charlie’s latest news, her social media links are below.

 

Website: www.charliecochet.com

Blog: http://charliecochet.blogspot.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/charliecochet

Facebook: www.facebook.com/charliecochet

Twitter (@charliecochet): www.twitter.com/charliecochet

Comfy Chair Interview with Elliott Mackle


My guest in the Comfy Chair today is Elliott Mackle, author of “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War” [Speak Its Name’s 2011 Best Book of the Year and voted Best Romance in TLA’s Gaybies competition], the sequel “Captain Harding and His Men,” “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.” Thank you so much, Elliott, for agreeing to answer my questions.

~

Elin: All your available stories are set in the past. What is the big draw that has led you to write historical rather than contemporary novels?

Elliott: For people like me, descendants of the American Southern gentry class, the past is always with us. My maternal great grandmother was born in slavery times. Her father served in the Army of Tennessee and she remembered and wrote about our Civil War. When she died in Nashville in 1950, I was in the house, the ten-year-old doorkeeper. I was told later that in her dying hours she mourned not two dead husbands (one by his own hand), not friends and family but the five Confederate generals killed in the Battle of Franklin in 1864. Her mother’s oil portrait hangs over the fireplace in my living room; I inherited and use some of their furniture and china; they’re with me a dozen times a day.

I was given fairly classy children’s lit––A. A. Milne, Doctor Doolittle, the Oz books, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series plus non-fiction like V. M. Hillyer’s “A Child’s History of the World” and a very sexy illustrated classics coverall from National Geographic entitled “Everyday Life in Ancient Times.” My mother and grandmother also fed me innocently racist, song-of-the-South children’s books set during the “Reconstruction” years that followed the Civil War. I soon moved up to bigger game, “Gone with the Wind” in particular. By the time I was thirteen I’d read “GWTW,” “The Egyptian” and “Desirée” – all sprawling historical novels – twice each. Since then I’ve read “Moby-Dick” five or six times, “Brideshead Revisited” at least three times. Same for Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” (which were historical by the time I found them) and Ensan Case’s World War II m/m classic “Wingmen,” published in 1979 and reissued this year (see my appreciation-review here on SIN). I’ve just finished “Bring Up the Bodies,” Hilary Mantel’s follow-on to the Man Booker prize winner, “Wolf Hall.” Both are stunning historical novels set at the court of Henry VIII. Mantel takes enormous risks in these books and is teaching me quite a bit about narrative voice and POV.
I’ve also read and lined my bookshelves with wartime histories, biographies and serious studies of naval intelligence, starting with the romantic propaganda memoir “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by Ted W. Lawson when I was still in short pants and continuing to the present. William Manchester’s “Goodbye, Darkness,” an account of fighting and almost dying as an enlisted Marine in the Pacific, was enormously helpful in envisioning the backstories of several characters in the Dan-and-Bud books, “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.”
That said, it was my good luck to have become a heavy reader before television came to Miami, in 1949 or 1950. I watched it, of course, but was seldom as moved by any of it as I was by books or film. The huge exceptions would be the much later Australian and British series productions of “A Town Like Alice” and “The Jewel in the Crown.” Continue reading

Comfy Chair Interview with Marilyn Jaye Lewis

My guest today in the Comfy Chair is Marilyn Jaye Lewis, whose list of achievements and awards is so extensive that I’m not really sure where to start first with them.

Author of erotic fiction, screen plays and lyrics, editor of anthologies, groundbreaking multimedia artist, award winning web mistress – details of Marilyn’s career may be found here on her website . I can only say a heartfelt thank you to her for taking the time to answer my questions about her recent release, “Twilight of the Immortal”, set in the early days of Hollywood when no star shone brighter than Valentino.

Thank you, Marilyn and on with the interview

 ~

Elin:  Demure maiden to Hollywood demi-mondaine, Rose goes through many changes in your book “Twilight of the Immortal”, changes reflected, to an extent, in those undergone by society at large. Was this the attraction for you when you chose to tackle the novel or was there some other major draw?

Rudolph Valentino going through his fan mail

Marilyn: Yes that was the main attraction for me! I created the character of Rose in order to portray what the culture was going through – to have her embody the times, as it were. And then use her as a backdrop against which to tell the story of Rudolph Valentino’s incredibly short life, his sudden rise to fame and then, poof — gone. I used Rose to embody the grief that the world felt when he died. I totally love Rudolph Valentino and that whole era.

 Elin:  One of the things I enjoyed most about Rose as the narrator of the story was her  flawed but likeable character. She’s a real survivor. How flawed is too flawed? At what point would you begin to fear putting readers off a narrator?

 Marilyn: You know what? I can’t really answer that! I create my characters almost as if they’re dictating themselves to me and then I simply write it down; I tell their stories for them. I have often been told by reviewers, though, that my characters are on that edge of being hard to like because they do have so many flaws. It’s what keeps me out of the romance genre. (In addition to Rose, the character of Gianni in “Gianni’s Girl” and the character of Eddie Ramirez in “Freak Parade” both spring to mind as popular characters of mine with a lot of flaws!) I would never set out to offend my readers. But I do care primarily that I am true to my characters and then I simply have to allow the story to tell itself. My main goal is to get the stories out of me so that I don’t go completely insane — then I worry about getting them published.

Elin:  The wealth of detail about the lives and loves of Hollywood, and New York, denizens is fascinating. Can you give us an example of a piece of research that you  would have liked to add to the book but just couldn’t fit it in.

Continue reading

In the Comfy Chair – Alex Beecroft

Alex Beecroft is my guest today – for the second time, so the first can’t have been too scary.

Our subject today is her latest release, His Heart’s Obsession, about the difficulties experienced by young gay men when part of an organisation that punishes the expression of their desires by death, and the inventiveness required to establish a satisfying relationship.

Hi, Alex, thanks so much for agreeing to sit in my Comfy Chair again.

Elin: I understand from entries in your blog that His Heart’s Obsession has had a rather long gestation. Would you care to tell us a bit about that?

Alex: It’s a saga in its own right, certainly. It was originally a longish short story – about 12K words long – and was accepted by one publisher (I won’t give names) to go into an anthology in 2008. Then the editor in charge of that project became ill and all the writers were offered their stories back.

I took it back and sent it out to a different publisher, who also accepted it. Then nothing happened for two years, until eventually the contract ran out. So I took it back again. This time I decided that the story would make more sense if I expanded it to help get across a better picture of who the characters were. And particularly to help explain why Hal doesn’t trust Robert.

After I’d expanded it into a short novella, I sent it to Carina. This time was ‘third time lucky’ and it finally broke its jinx and has been released. I’m so relieved!

Elin: His Heart’s Obsession is the most overtly romantic of your stories – almost totally focussed on the play of emotions, the development of relationships. Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one with masses of action?

Sea Battle by Andries Van Eertvelt. From Wikimedia

Alex: There is a difference in that if you have a story with masses of action, the action in itself is a strand of plot which has to be developed sensibly and tied up or resolved at the end. The more strands of plot you have, the longer your story has to be to do justice to them all. So a story which is only a love story can be shorter than a story which is love story plus action (plus mystery etc.) In either case, the progression of the love story must make its own internal sense, so the difference is one of number of plots rather than structure of plots.

Some villains have such a rough time you have to sympathise.
Loki by Mårten Eskil Winge. Wikimedia.

Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?

Alex: To tell the truth, I don’t generally have them at all. (Which makes ‘how to write a novel’ books terribly frustrating. They assume you’ve got a single hero facing off against a single villain, or at least an antagonist. I have two heroes and no villain.)

Very few of the struggles in my life have been against individuals. Most of them have been against society. So in my books, more or less, my heroes struggle to reconcile who they are with a society that cannot accept them for who they are. I don’t generally need a villain on top of that.

However – if I actually answer that question instead of avoiding it – I admit to quite liking a moustache twirling villain. If you’re going to lay the smackdown on someone, I don’t want to be feeling sorry for him. And I will feel sorry for him if he’s even slightly believable. If there’s a hint of a real human being in there, I’ll want him to be redeemed rather than punished. OTOH, if there isn’t a hint of real human being in there, I’ll find him unbelievable. This is probably one of the reasons why I don’t normally have a villain myself. The whole concept is hugely problematical.

Elin: What are you reading? Something to be clutched to the bosom or tossed aside with force? Fiction or non-fiction?

Alex: I’m between books at the moment. I’ve just finished Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, which was a wonderfully high-concept cyber-punk SF novel with bonus Sumerian linguistic programming. I don’t know what to read next, though I’ve been told his “Cryptonomicon” is also very good.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve just downloaded “In the Shadow of Empires: The historic Vlad Dracula, the events he shaped and the events that shaped him,” in an attempt to bring some historic grounding to my vampire novel. There are very few available books out there on the history of Wallachia. It’s frustrating.

Elin: I sympathise. When I was flirting with writing about Scythia I thought I might have to learn Ukrainian.

I understand that you are on the planning committee for UK Meet and that we only have – ooh about 5 weeks to go. Any interesting developments lately?

Alex: Ooh, well, Silver Publishing have very kindly sent us three [three!] Kindle Touches to give away on the day. One will go into the raffle we’re running to support the Albert Kennedy Trust, and the other two will be prizes in various events. I want one!

Also Clare London has given us a sneak peek of the goody bags we’ll be giving away on the day, and they are seriously cool. We were able to get stylish messenger bags rather than cheap cotton ones because Dreamspinner Press are sponsoring them. I was quite cynical about the idea of goody bags at first, but now I’m all “where’s mine!”

Elin: I know that you are working hard – congratulations on getting an agent, by the way 😀 – so, have you any WIPs you could tell us about?

Alex: Thank you! Well, I’ve just sent “Pilgrims’ Tale” off to my agent. I don’t know if that counts as being ‘in progress’ but it’s certainly not out yet. I’ve got as far as writing back-cover copy for that one, which goes:

The helmet of Raedwald – possibly. Sutton Hoo.
Picture from Wikimedia

In Dark Ages’ England, warriors were the highest form of human life. They fucked whoever they pleased, women or men, but they were no man’s bitch. If a man allowed himself to be fucked, then he must be some craven little lickspittle coward – a boy, a slave or a whore – not a real man at all.

Reluctant berserker, Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome warrior, has spent most of his life trying to hide the fact that he would love to be cherished and taken care of by someone stronger than himself. Slight and beautiful harper, Leofgar, has the opposite problem – how can he keep the trained killers off him long enough to get them to acknowledge he’s as much of a man as any of them?

When Wulfstan kills his friend to cover up his secret, and Leofgar flees rather than submit to his lord’s lust, they meet on the road to the pilgrims’ shrine at Ely. Pursued by a mother’s curse and Leofgar’s vengeful lord, they must battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld with the aid of music, a single sword and a female saint. And if they fall in love on the way, there’s still that murderous shame to overcome too.

I’ve also got a completed first draft of a light-hearted fairy-tale called “Elf Princes’ Quest.” I’ll be editing and polishing that for a couple of months (and hopefully giving it a better name. Titling is not my forte!)

Then I’ve just started to write the first draft of a vampire novel set in 18th Century Wallachia. I quite like the title of that – “The Glass Floor,” but I’m no longer certain that there will turn out to be a glass floor in it. I’m only about a chapter and a half into that one, but I’m enjoying it a lot, and appreciating the fact that I’m learning all sorts of things about Romania in the process of research.

Elin: Finally – could we please have an excerpt of something?

Alex: Well, as we’re talking about His Heart’s Obsession, here’s Chapter One of that 🙂

~*~*~*~

“Mmm… Oh…yes.”

Robert Hughes stirred on his cot. They were at anchor and the night was still and quiet, or he would not have been able to hear the low murmuring of Hal’s voice from the next cabin. Tropical heat suffused the wooden womb in which he lay, made him kick off his one sheet and sit up.

He had never claimed to be a good man. Quite the opposite, he was as deep-dyed a rogue as a man could hope to meet in the British Royal Navy. So he did not hesitate to swing himself out of the narrow coffin of his bunk, land light-footed on the warm planks, and gently move aside the sea chest that lay against the canvas partition wall.

“Ah…” It was a little insinuating murmur, hot as the night, Hal’s woodwind deep voice broken from its daylight authority and gasping, breathless and needy. “Please…”

I’m doing this for his own good. Behind the chest, the canvas wall had been ripped, and a hole half the size of Robert’s fist stood out from the shaping battens. He had found it there six months ago and not reported it, because sometimes—like tonight—the wanting grew too much. Then he would draw the chest back and kneel here, with his face to the gap, watching Hal Morgan sleep.

It was a stolen intimacy, but those were the only kind he had, so he cherished them.

Hal had a child’s fear of darkness—he slept with a lantern freshly trimmed above him. Always had, in all the five years they had served together. Indeed, it was his shadow on the white canvas, his silhouette—dark against the pale background that moved as he moved, bending down to unbuckle shoes, drawing its shirt over its head—showing itself, slender and well shaped and unselfconscious, that had moved Robert to encourage the fraying hole.

Even now he would touch the silhouette and feign to be touching Hal’s spirit or his naked skin. He dreamed about it at times—of Hal asleep in the other room, and his shadow reaching out from the wall, coming to enfold Robert and fill with tenderness all the places inside that ached when he watched it.

But it seemed Hal had his own dreams.

Scrunched up in the tight corner of his tiny room, Robert kissed the fabric, then put his eye to the hole.

Dim rushlight seemed bright to him after the darkness of his own sleep. He made out Hal’s sheet, crumpled on the floor where he had kicked it off, allowed himself to look up by careful degrees, rationing the torment and anticipation.

Hal’s hand first—held at an awkward angle where his elbow must be jammed into the raised edges of the cot. Such beautiful hands he had—expressive, mobile, clever hands, tanned and capable. Awake, they punctuated his speech with movement and emotion—exclaiming, illustrating, never still. Here, drawn in sepia by the brown light, his fingers clenched and released as though they held tight to a lover’s flesh.

Quietly, Robert reached up and touched the place on his own shoulder where Hal clung demandingly to his dream-lover. A wave of arousal, oily as despair, curled up from his balls to his throat, drying his mouth. I should stop looking. He would knock me down if he knew.

But his gaze travelled on upwards to where he could see the curve of Hal’s throat, his head tilted back, his neck offered in submission to his lover’s mouth. Only the top of his chest was visible above the side of the bunk, the neckline of his nightshirt askew enough to show flesh as pale as his linen, and sweat like a dew of gold in the lantern light.

He lay on his back, his legs pulled up, one resting against the hull, the other against the board of the cot. His shirt had fallen down to pool in his lap, leaving the braced lines and undefended skin of those long legs bare to Robert’s gaze. Never had a thief more cherished a stolen intimacy than Robert cherished this. He personally slept half-clothed, breeches on, to be prepared for any emergency in the night, but now he stroked a hand up his inner thigh, pretending it was Hal’s bare leg. Fumbled at the buttons of his fly, pressing now uncomfortably hard against his aching yard.

“Nnh! Oh please. Please!”

Hal’s mouth was soft, half parted. His tongue touched his lower lip as if licking off the savour of a kiss, but his eyes were pinched closed, his brow creased as if in pain. His low whisper had grown louder, taken on a growl of frustration. Even—to the sensitive ears of a man obsessed by his moods—an edge of tears.

Not even in his dreams, Robert thought, soothing the ache between his own legs with a practiced hand, does his imaginary lover make him happy. I would. I would if he would let me. I would take that invitingly open mouth and fill it with bliss. I’d worship him from that vainly offered arse to… God, how I’d fill that until he screamed.

“Please. Oh W…”

Bloody hell, he was going to say it! Robert’s fantasy burst like a sail in a storm. Hal was dreaming, he didn’t know his voice had risen, and he was going to say it out loud. Oh, please, William. And God alone knew who else was listening in, idly in the dead of night when there was no other source of entertainment. Boult was as close on the other side as Robert was on this, and Boult would have quite a different reaction to learning of Hal’s fantasies than Robert did.

Buttoning himself back up fast, Robert got stiffly up from his knees, lurched out of his cabin’s sliding door. There was a light under Boult’s door—he was awake. Must be listening by now. Bloody hell. Robert crashed into the wall by Hal’s cabin, loud as he could. Then, to be sure, he made a noisy performance of rolling back the door and fell against the sword-belt hung up inside with a great jangle.

When he looked up, it was to find Hal sitting, shirt pulled down over his knees, dark eyes startled and haunted with something worse than sleep. Awake, thank God, and unincriminated. Now all that remained was for Robert to get himself out of here without casting suspicion upon himself, and at that he was infinitely practiced, having been something of a prankster since before he was breeched. That time at university, for example, when he had put down turf in young Smalting’s room and filled it with sheep. That had been most amusing.

So as Hal exclaimed, “Hughes? What on earth?” Robert feigned drunkenness, grabbed for the doorjamb as if to hold himself up, and slurred, “What’re you doing in my cabin?”

The brief glimpse of Hal’s misery, flayed and tender, was whisked away, to be replaced with a more familiar irritation. He had, Robert thought, the kind of face on which anger looked as enthralling as a smile.

“You woke me up, you sot! Your cabin is next door. Idiot!”

It was something just to have that fierce regard concentrated entirely on him. Robert clung on harder and smiled. Hal’s hair had been mussed by the pillow, crushed gold. He never got a chance to see it in the daytime because of the wigs. He could stand here and look forever, and as he now had a perfectly good excuse, that was what he did.

Hal shook his head and gave a small, long-suffering smile. “You’re drunk as David’s sow, aren’t you? Did you hear any of that? Next door. Your cabin is next door.” He reached for the housecoat that lay across the foot of the bed. “Do you need me to take you?”

Oh yes. Come back to my bed with me. Let me show you what I’m really thinking. I’ll banish that phantom from you. I’ll burn it away.

But no. If the others hadn’t been listening before, they certainly were now, and this was not the place, or time. It never was. “Sorry. No. I can… Don’t need any help. Perfectly capable of bedding to my walk on my own.”

The thought weighed him down as he returned to his own humid, empty bed, spoiled his satisfaction in a rescue so neatly pulled off. It never was the time to tell Hal how he felt. When would it ever be?

~*~*~*~

His Heart’s Obsession is available from Carina Press, here.

Alex’s website is here

Elin’s list of Comfy Chair interviewees is here

Interview Feature Back with Elin in Charge!

Please let me take a moment of your time to introduce Elin Gregory, who is going to revitalise the sadly lapsed INTERVIEW feature that I’ve tried to get working over time.

On her own blog she already runs a successful series of author interviews called THE COMFY CHAIR (note the Python reference so you’ll get a handle on where she’s coming from) and over time she’s not only going to be mirroring any new posts with authors of the genre, she’s also going to be sharing some of her backlist with us, the gay historical authors, anyway.

Her first interview will be featuring the popular Alex Beecroft, so watch out for that.

She’s just had her first book published by Etopia Books – a Grecian love story of stonemasons and horses called Alike as Two Bees (which we reviewed here) and her second book, On A Lee Shore which is a great adventure set in the Age of Sail with pirates and tigers and bears oh my (except no tigers and bears) will be out next.

Welcome on board, Elin!

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