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!

Author Interview: Ruth Sims

Sadly Myrlin Hermes was too busy to be interviewed in May, but this month we have the lovely Ruth Sims–author of novels “The Phoenix” and “Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story”

Speak Its Name: Welcome Ruth and thank you for taking the time to be interviewed.

Ruth Sims: You are welcome and thank you for letting me waffle on!

SIN:How long have you been writing? What inspired you to pick the pen up one day and create characters that capture the imagination?

Ruth Sims: Actually it was a stubby yellow #2 school pencil with a chewed on eraser, not a pen. Hey, I come from the days before ballpoints! I don’t remember a day when I didn’t have made-up characters in my head. For a long time all my characters had four legs. Nor do I remember when it dawned on me that I could actually take a piece of tablet paper and write down what my fictional dogs and horses were doing (and thinking and saying, of course. Black Beauty was the first novel I remember reading.). I was in third grade when I wrote my first novel. It was ten pages long, as I recall, and it began: “It was spring. The sun shined. There was a horse…” Alas, the rest of that amazing tome is lost. I was in high school before I decided that people were more interesting to write about than horses, about which I knew nothing.

SIN: What is the most memorable and most forgettable moment you’ve encountered on the writing path? Continue reading

Author Interview: JoAnne Soper-Cook

Aleksandr Voinov interviews JoAnne Soper-Cook, author of Because You Despise Me, Heartache Café and sixother novels.

Speak Its Name: Hi JoAnne, thanks for agreeing to the interview, I’m glad to have you here. Can you give short introduction about yourself?

JoAnne Soper-Cook: I was born at a very early age (*groan*) in a small fishing village in Newfoundland, in the middle of the worst blizzard (I’m told) that they’d had in decades. I think that probably was an indication of things to come. I published my first short story in 1975, when I was 8 years old. It was called “The Magic Elf” and was, if I remember correctly, a work of surpassing literary brilliance…actually, it made me famous on the playground for exactly 2.5 days, and then the other kids went back to beating the snot out of me as usual.

I edited my high school paper, and wrote syndicated op-ed pieces for the now-defunct Robinson-Blackmore newspaper chain, which published all the local papers for the whole island. My first novel, WAKING THE MESSIAH, was published by Breakwater Books in 1999, and was followed by an entirely forgettable fictional biography of Napoleon. I’ve had various ups and downs since then, but I’ve been lucky in that I seem to be able to find an audience for my work these days, which hasn’t always been the case.

SIN: You’re one of those writers who are active both in the m/m & gay genre as well as the literary genre, having published 4 literary novels before you joined the m/m fray. How did that happen?

JSC: I had recently gone through a very long, dry spell when I hadn’t been able to get anything published. I suffer from major depression and so I was convinced this was the death knell. I’d always written slash fanfiction – usually in the Due South and CSI fandoms – and so, when my friend Jennifer LeClaire suggested I try a novel, I decided to take her up on it. She was wonderfully supportive, reading what I wrote as I went along, offering suggestions and improvements. I’d have never written an m/m romance if it hadn’t been for her.

Then I met a wonderful, generous and incredibly talented author who writes under the name Erastes. When she found out I’d just completely my very first m/m romance – the unlikely love story of two Prohibition era gangsters, entitled BUT NOT FOR ME – she encouraged me to submit it for publication. She stood by me throughout the entire process – hand-holding me, encouraging me, propping me up, and giving me pep talks. I owe my m/m publications to her, as well as to some of the wonderful people I met on LiveJournal – such as Alex Beecroft, Chris Smith. I’m always encouraged and inspired by the level of support and good fellowship I’ve found among the m/m writing community.

SIN: Is the writing, that is, the process/preparation between literary and m/m any different?

JSC: Not for me. I mean, everybody’s process is different. I won’t go into it, because nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about their writing process, but for me, it’s still writing. I still do the same research, and where I write mostly historicals, there’s usually a lot of research to be done. But I don’t mind that. I used to be an academic, so research is par for the course and I’ve always enjoyed it.

SIN: When it comes to historicals, which periods interest you the most? Why?

JSC: I have always been fascinated by the Napoleonic period – Napoleon I – and mostly that’s because of the man himself. I think he had to have been an incredibly dynamic personality, the sort of person you either hate on sight or fall madly and passionately in love with, forever.

World War Two is another time period I enjoy. My grandfather served in the artillery in the British army, and so there was that military tradition in my family. I was exposed to a lot of what they call “men’s adventure” novels when I was still a teenager, written by people like Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean – these gritty, come-hell-or-high-water sort of novels where you have a group of heroes who are pitted against incredible odds and anything that can go wrong, will. In fact, that was the first type of novel I ever attempted. I wrote it on an Underwood typewriter that my parents had given me for Christmas when I was 13. It was about 40 pages long – a real epic piece, you know – and had to do with Major Kesselring and the Brenner Pass. I had all these maps spread out – I absolutely have a map fetish, love maps and atlases and of course Google Earth – and I plotted out where they were going, the terrain and such. That one got passed around my classroom during maths lectures, I can tell you. 🙂

The late Victorian period is another favourite, and this goes back to my love of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by A.C. Doyle. The period around the Whitechapel murders up to the early Edwardian era interests me quite a lot. I think the Victorians – the fin-de-siecle Victorians, I mean – were quite advanced in terms of the technology they had and the sorts of goods and services they had access to. I write crime novels set in this period – the Inspector Philemon Raft series is set to debut this June, with WILLING FLESH – and so the forensics of it interests me. I mean, they certainly didn’t have what you see on CSI. Fingerprinting was in its infancy – they were still measuring people’s limbs to determine their potential for criminal behaviour. Phrenology was considered a science, for God’s sake!

I’ve recently developed an interest in the Great Depression era in the United States – before and after Prohibition – and the mythos of the ‘beer baron’, these bootleggers who were really just murderous hoodlums with a lot of money behind them. John Dillinger is a figure of great fascination to me: he was something of a folk hero to many people. He was seen as a Robin Hood type. Right now I am working on something which has a Dillinger-esque character, a man who sees himself as a hero because he takes what he wants – really, he’s a very damaged person who desperately needs the kind of unconditional love we all dream about. He’s being chased by someone who is just as clever as he is. I have an idea where that one is going and I know the ending already, and it’s unconventional and happy. It’s a happy ending.

SIN: You get to host a dinner party with 3 historical people of your choice. Who’s at the table, and why?

JSC: Napoleon Bonaparte, John Dillinger, Vlad Dracul, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes. They all fascinate me in different ways. I think it’s the power. I do appreciate and I think at some level understand the allure of power – the power to enact enormous changes. I don’t know if I’d want that sort of power myself, but I am always interested in what makes such people tick. I mean, there is such a mythology that’s grown up around Napoleon, but I think personally he was rather different than people have come to expect. Most of the biographies you read concentrate on his considerable skill as a military leader and, later, an administrator; one wonders what he was like as an individual. I wonder what sorts of things he laughed at, what he might have found funny. He did apparently have quite a puckish sense of humour that extended to practical jokes on many occasions, and he wasn’t above laughing at himself. I think power changed him, but I also think that, once he had lost that power forever, he regained something of the person he truly was. You can see this in his interactions with young Betsy Balcombe during his final exile on St. Helena. He became a playmate for her and she really, truly adored him.

Dillinger, as I’ve said, because of this Robin Hood perception of him. He is someone, like Napoleon, who excites enormous debate. He endured horrible abuse as a child and I wonder how far that might have contributed to who he eventually became.

Vlad Dracul – I’m writing a fictionalised ‘treatment’ (I don’t know any other word for it, really) of Dracula that’s set in a steampunk universe – for many of the same reasons. Who was he, really? Much of the “vampire” mythos ascribed to him can be attributed to Bram Stoker, but I’m interested in whether such ideas existed about Vlad before Stoker got hold of them, and to what extent. The novel I’m writing has him cast as a sin eater – you know, the person who was the community scapegoat, who came and performed a certain ritual over the corpse that was believed to take the dead person’s sins away. There was an enormous amount of superstition and fear around such a person – who would have been a pariah in the community. Doubtless a critical theorist would argue that Vlad Dracul’s Othering at the hands of scholars is a fait accompli, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I suppose in all these cases I am looking for a reason why the person became who they were.

SIN: You can ask a historical person of your choice three questions that they have to answer truthfully. Who would that be, and what are the questions?

JSC: Napoleon, probably. Would you have done anything differently, and if so, what? What is your biggest regret? Did you have sex with Tsar Alexander I? (LOL)

SIN: (I bet they did!) What are you currently working on?

JSC: Right now I am trying to get the sequel to HEARTACHE CAFE finished, a novel called VALLEY OF THE DEAD. We – my publishers and I – hope to continue the story of Jack Stoyles and his cafe. HEARTACHE CAFE introduced him, and now we’re asking readers if they’d like to accompany him on some new adventures. In this book he takes an unexpected journey to Egypt, but I won’t give it away. Jack is a hard-boiled kind of guy. He’s sort of a cross between Casablanca’s Rick Blaine and Sam Spade. He’s always getting beaten up! But he keeps coming back for more – and there are always sexy men waiting in the wings.

In addition to VALLEY OF THE DEAD, I’m writing a thing called FAMOUS LAST WORDS which is a cops-and-robbers caper set in the 1930s. I like to call it “one fucking thing after another.” 🙂 I’m also at work on THE LOVELY BEAST, a steampunk reimagining of the Dracula legend, with some original twists. Victor Frankenstein is one of the Brides.

SIN: Writers very often struggle getting the work/life balance right – how do you manage?

JSC: I was laid off from my regular day job in June of last year, so that helps enormously. Ultimately I will have to get another job, unless I win the lottery or something. I’m a great believer in ‘write while you can’ and so I’ve become expert at grabbing little bits of time throughout the day. I am always on the lookout for those little windows of time. I have no children, and my husband is enormously supportive, a better cook than I am, and he enjoys doing housework. You could say I’ve got it made. 🙂

SIN: Which are authors you admire? What’s the book you would have wanted to write which was written by somebody else?

JSC: Margaret Atwood was the reason I started writing. Her work just leaves me speechless with admiration. I would have loved to have written “Oryx and Crake” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There’s a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stuff that just moves me to tears. The last line of “The Great Gatsby” is, I think, one of the most perfect lines ever written. Erastes’ “Tributary” just blew me away, utterly. Her work manages to be solid and yet incredibly beautiful at the same time, which is so very, very difficult to accomplish. Kazuo Ishiguro’s” Never Let Me Go” is definitely a book I would have loved to have written.

SIN: Unfair question, I know, but which is the favourite book of yours and why?

JSC: This changes from time to time but right now it’s a currently unpublished book called Em. It was inspired by Peter Lorre’s character Hans Beckert in the 1931 Fritz Lang film M. My character is a chemically castrated child rapist/murderer and it’s told from his point of view, but this is no Dexter. I’m not asking readers to identify with him. The novel is about the ways in which we treat our children, and how this affects human society. A recurring line, spoken by Hans (a survivor of the most heinous childhood abuse you can possibly imagine) is “This is how we make monsters.” It’s set in my home town and the city of St. John’s is a huge presence in the book – always looming above people, always very forbidding, very urban and gritty, full of dark spaces, which is something you get in German Expressionist film a lot. I’m very proud of this book.

SIN: How do you get characters to “talk” to you?

JSC: My problem isn’t in getting them to talk; it’s in getting them to shut up! At any given time I’ve got several dialogues going on in my head, not to mention the new characters who come along tapping on my subconscious going “Hullo? I have a wonderful story you need to tell.” It’s rather like that opening scene in Karin Fossum’s novel “Broken”, where all the characters are stood up in her driveway, waiting for her to tell their stories. I write the way Method actors act, by becoming the character – so if I’m writing an Inspector Raft novel, then I am Philemon Raft. I mean, I go about as if I were him; I see the world through his eyes. This morning I went for a walk as Jack Stoyles from the HEARTACHE CAFE series. He notices things I don’t. So it’s very Method for me. It’s Method writing. 🙂

SIN: How long does the planning take compared to the overall writing?

JSC: I don’t traditionally plan novels, with the exception of the crime novels, sometimes – if it’s a particularly thorny murder or series of murders with overlapping elements, then I make enormous charts that get posted on the walls of my study. I use sheets of white bristol board (poster board) for this, but recently I found out you can get wallboard that’s actually that whiteboard stuff? What is it? Greaseboard? You know, you write on it with erasable markers and you can wipe it off and start over – so I haven’t stopped pestering my husband to redo my study with that on the walls. I usually write up the names of the main protagonists, the murder victim(s), the most likely suspects, along with forensic evidence found at the scene, etc. I ‘process’ the murder scene mentally and then write out what was there, and I do my own forensic experiments. For my literary novels I don’t plan them. I prefer to let them unfold organically. I’m a great believer in what Alice Munro said, that when we begin to write “things rise up and attach themselves.”

SIN: Do you research as you go along?

JSC: I research as I go, yes. The only reason for this is my absent mindedness. If I don’t research as I go I will forget about it. My editor usually goes over my research very carefully and will give me notes on any extra research that needs to be done. I have a really, really amazing editor, Judi David, who catches everything I miss.

SIN: Best and worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

JSC: Best piece of advice I ever got: perseverance rewards talent. This was said to me by a literary agent who ultimately declined to represent me, but that piece of advice has stood me in such good stead. I really appreciated that he said that.

The worst probably came from a professor when I was in my second year at uni. She told me that I couldn’t write worth a damn and would never be able to write. She refused to give me an “A” in her course no matter how hard I worked. She said that unless I wrote the way she herself wrote, it wouldn’t be any good.

SIN: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your current projects!

JoAnne’s website

Aleksandr Voinov interviews J S Cook, author of Heartache Café, reviewed at Speak Its Name (LINK)

Hi Joanne, thanks for agreeing to the interview, I’m glad to have you here. Can you give short introduction about yourself?

I was born at a very early age (*groan*) in a small fishing village in Newfoundland, in the middle of the worst blizzard (I’m told) that they’d had in decades. I think that probably was an indication of things to come. I published my first short story in 1975, when I was 8 years old. It was called “The Magic Elf” and was, if I remember correctly, a work of surpassing literary brilliance…actually, it made me famous on the playground for exactly 2.5 days, and then the other kids went back to beating the snot out of me as usual.

I edited my high school paper, and wrote syndicated op-ed pieces for the now-defunct Robinson-Blackmore newspaper chain, which published all the local papers for the whole island. My first novel, WAKING THE MESSIAH, was published by Breakwater Books in 1999, and was followed by an entirely forgettable fictional biography of Napoleon. I’ve had various ups and downs since then, but I’ve been lucky in that I seem to be able to find an audience for my work these days, which hasn’t always been the case.

You’re one of those writers who are active both in the m/m & gay genre as well as the literary genre, having published 4 literary novels before you joined the m/m fray. How did that happen?

I had recently gone through a very long, dry spell when I hadn’t been able to get anything published.  I suffer from major depression and so I was convinced this was the death knell. I’d always written slash fanfiction – usually in the Due South and CSI fandoms – and so, when my friend Jennifer LeClaire suggested I try a novel, I decided to take her up on it.  She was wonderfully supportive, reading what I wrote as I went along, offering suggestions and improvements.  I’d have never written an m/m romance if it hadn’t been for her.

Then I met a wonderful, generous and incredibly talented author who writes under the name Erastes.  When she found out I’d just completely my very first m/m romance – the unlikely love story of two Prohibition era gangsters, entitled BUT NOT FOR ME – she encouraged me to submit it for publication.  She stood by me throughout the entire process – hand-holding me, encouraging me, propping me up, and giving me pep talks.  I owe my m/m publications to her, as well as to some of the wonderful people I met on LiveJournal – such as Alex Beecroft, Chris Smith.  I’m always encouraged and inspired by the level of support and good fellowship I’ve found among the m/m writing community.

Is the writing, that is,  the process/preparation between literary and m/m any different?

Not for me. I mean, everybody’s process is different.  I won’t go into it, because nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about their writing process, but for me, it’s still writing. I still do the same research, and where I write mostly historicals, there’s usually a lot of research to be done.  But I don’t mind that. I used to be an academic, so research is par for the course and I’ve always enjoyed it.

When it comes to historicals, which periods interest you the most? Why?

I have always been fascinated by the Napoleonic period – Napoleon I – and mostly that’s because of the man himself.  I think he had to have been an incredibly dynamic personality, the sort of person you either hate on sight or fall madly and passionately in love with, forever.

World War Two is another time period I enjoy.  My grandfather served in the artillery in the British army, and so there was that military tradition in my family. I was exposed to a lot of what they call “men’s adventure” novels when I was still a teenager, written by people like Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean – these gritty, come-hell-or-high-water sort of novels where you have a group of heroes who are pitted against incredible odds and anything that can go wrong, will.  In fact, that was the first type of novel I ever attempted.  I wrote it on an Underwood typewriter that my parents had given me for Christmas when I was 13.  It was about 40 pages long – a real epic piece, you know – and had to do with Major Kesselring and the Brenner Pass.  I had all these maps spread out – I absolutely have a map fetish, love maps and atlases and of course Google Earth – and I plotted out where they were going, the terrain and such.  That one got passed around my classroom during maths lectures, I can tell you. 🙂

The late Victorian period is another favourite, and this goes back to my love of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by A.C. Doyle.  The period around the Whitechapel murders up to the early Edwardian era interests me quite a lot.  I think the Victorians – the fin-de-siecle Victorians, I mean – were quite advanced in terms of the technology they had and the sorts of goods and services they had access to. I write crime novels set in this period – the Inspector Philemon Raft series is set to debut this June, with WILLING FLESH – and so the forensics of it interests me. I mean, they certainly didn’t have what you see on CSI. Fingerprinting was in its infancy – they were still measuring people’s limbs to determine their potential for criminal behaviour.  Phrenology was considered a science, for God’s sake!

I’ve recently developed an interest in the Great Depression era in the United States – before and after Prohibition – and the mythos of the ‘beer baron’, these bootleggers who were really just murderous hoodlums with a lot of money behind them.  John Dillinger is a figure of great fascination to me: he was something of a folk hero to many people. He was seen as a Robin Hood type.  Right now I am working on something which has a Dillinger-esque character, a man who sees himself as a hero because he takes what he wants – really, he’s a very damaged person who desperately needs the kind of unconditional love we all dream about.  He’s being chased by someone who is just as clever as he is. I have an idea where that one is going and I know the ending already, and it’s unconventional and happy. It’s a happy ending.

You get to host a dinner party with 3 historical people of your choice. Who’s at the table, and why?

Napoleon Bonaparte, John Dillinger, Vlad Dracul, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes. They all fascinate me in different ways. I think it’s the power. I do appreciate and I think at some level understand the allure of power – the power to enact enormous changes.  I don’t know if I’d want that sort of power myself, but I am always interested in what makes such people tick.  I mean, there is such a mythology that’s grown up around Napoleon, but I think personally he was rather different than people have come to expect. Most of the biographies you read concentrate on his considerable skill as a military leader and, later, an administrator; one wonders what he was like as an individual.  I wonder what sorts of things he laughed at, what he might have found funny.  He did apparently have quite a puckish sense of humour that extended to practical jokes on many occasions, and he wasn’t above laughing at himself. I think power changed him, but I also think that, once he had lost that power forever, he regained something of the person he truly was.  You can see this in his interactions with young Betsy Balcombe during his final exile on St. Helena.  He became a playmate for her and she really, truly adored him.

Dillinger, as I’ve said, because of this Robin Hood perception of him.  He is someone, like Napoleon, who excites enormous debate.  He endured horrible abuse as a child and I wonder how far that might have contributed to who he eventually became.

Vlad Dracul – I’m writing a fictionalised ‘treatment’ (I don’t know any other word for it, really) of Dracula that’s set in a steampunk universe – for many of the same reasons.  Who was he, really? Much of the “vampire” mythos ascribed to him can be attributed to Bram Stoker, but I’m interested in whether such ideas existed about Vlad before Stoker got hold of them, and to what extent.  The novel I’m writing has him cast as a sin eater – you know, the person who was the community scapegoat, who came and performed a certain ritual over the corpse that was believed to take the dead person’s sins away. There was an enormous amount of superstition and fear around such a person – who would have been a pariah in the community. Doubtless a critical theorist would argue that Vlad Dracul’s Othering at the hands of scholars is a fait accompli, but that’s not what I’m trying to do.  I suppose in all these cases I am looking for a reason why the person became who they were.

You can ask a historical person of your choice three questions that they have to answer truthfully. Who would that be, and what are the questions?

Napoleon, probably. Would you have done anything differently, and if so, what? What is your biggest regret? Did you have sex with Tsar Alexander I? (LOL)

(I bet they did!) What are you currently working on?

Right now I am trying to get the sequel to HEARTACHE CAFE finished, a novel called VALLEY OF THE DEAD.  We – my publishers and I – hope to continue the story of Jack Stoyles and his cafe.  HEARTACHE CAFE introduced him, and now we’re asking readers if they’d like to accompany him on some new adventures.  In this book he takes an unexpected journey to Egypt, but I won’t give it away.  Jack is a hard-boiled kind of guy.  He’s sort of a cross between Casablanca‘s Rick Blaine and Sam Spade.  He’s always getting beaten up! But he keeps coming back for more – and there are always sexy men waiting in the wings.

In addition to VALLEY OF THE DEAD, I’m writing a thing called FAMOUS LAST WORDS which is a cops-and-robbers caper set in the 1930s.  I like to call it “one fucking thing after another.” 🙂 I’m also at work on THE LOVELY BEAST, a steampunk reimagining of the Dracula legend, with some original twists. Victor Frankenstein is one of the Brides.

Writers very often struggle getting the work/life balance right – how do you manage?

I was laid off from my regular day job in June of last year, so that helps enormously. Ultimately I will have to get another job, unless I win the lottery or something.  I’m a great believer in ‘write while you can’ and so I’ve become expert at grabbing little bits of time throughout the day.  I am always on the lookout for those little windows of time.  I have no children, and my husband is enormously supportive, a better cook than I am, and he enjoys doing housework.  You could say I’ve got it made. 🙂

Which are authors you admire? What’s the book you would have wanted to write which was written by somebody else?

Margaret Atwood was the reason I started writing. Her work just leaves me speechless with admiration. I would have loved to have written Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid’s Tale.  There’s a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stuff that just moves me to tears.  The last line of The Great Gatsby is, I think, one of the most perfect lines ever written.  Erastes’ Tributary just blew me away, utterly. Her work manages to be solid and yet incredibly beautiful at the same time, which is so very, very difficult to accomplish.  Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is definitely a book I would have loved to have written.

Unfair question, I know, but which is the favourite book of yours and why?

This changes from time to time but right now it’s a currently unpublished book called Em.  It was inspired by Peter Lorre’s character Hans Beckert in the 1931 Fritz Lang film M.  My character is a chemically castrated child rapist/murderer and it’s told from his point of view, but this is no Dexter.  I’m not asking readers to identify with him.  The novel is about the ways in which we treat our children, and how this affects human society.  A recurring line, spoken by Hans (a survivor of the most heinous childhood abuse you can possibly imagine) is “This is how we make monsters.”  It’s set in my home town and the city of St. John’s is a huge presence in the book – always looming above people, always very forbidding, very urban and gritty, full of dark spaces, which is something you get in German Expressionist film a lot.  I’m very proud of this book.

How do you get characters to “talk” to you?

My problem isn’t in getting them to talk; it’s in getting them to shut up! At any given time I’ve got several dialogues going on in my head, not to mention the new characters who come along tapping on my subconscious going “Hullo? I have a wonderful story you need to tell.”  It’s rather like that opening scene in Karin Fossum’s novel Broken, where all the characters are stood up in her driveway, waiting for her to tell their stories. I write the way Method actors act, by becoming the character – so if I’m writing an Inspector Raft novel, then I am Philemon Raft.  I mean, I go about as if I were him; I see the world through his eyes.  This morning I went for a walk as Jack Stoyles from the HEARTACHE CAFE series.  He notices things I don’t. So it’s very Method for me. It’s Method writing. 🙂

How long does the planning take compared to the overall writing?

I don’t traditionally plan novels, with the exception of the crime novels, sometimes – if it’s a particularly thorny murder or series of murders with overlapping elements, then I make enormous charts that get posted on the walls of my study.  I use sheets of white bristol board (poster board) for this, but recently I found out you can get wallboard that’s actually that whiteboard stuff? What is it? Greaseboard? You know, you write on it with erasable markers and you can wipe it off and start over – so I haven’t stopped pestering my husband to redo my study with that on the walls. I usually write up the names of the main protagonists, the murder victim(s), the most likely suspects, along with forensic evidence found at the scene, etc.  I ‘process’ the murder scene mentally and then write out what was there, and I do my own forensic experiments. For my literary novels I don’t plan them.  I prefer to let them unfold organically.  I’m a great believer in what Alice Munro said, that when we begin to write “things rise up and attach themselves.”

Do you research as you go along?

I research as I go, yes. The only reason for this is my absent mindedness. If I don’t research as I go I will forget about it. My editor usually goes over my research very carefully and will give me notes on any extra research that needs to be done. I have a really, really amazing editor, Judi David, who catches everything I miss.

Best and worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Best piece of advice I ever got: perseverance rewards talent. This was said to me by a literary agent who ultimately declined to represent me, but that piece of advice has stood me in such good stead. I really appreciated that he said that.

The worst probably came from a professor when I was in my second year at uni.  She told me that I couldn’t write worth a damn and would never be able to write.  She refused to give me an “A” in her course no matter how hard I worked. She said that unless I wrote the way she herself wrote, it wouldn’t be any good.

Thank you for the interview and good luck with your current projects!

Author Interview: Dorien Grey

A few day’s late, here is March’s author interview – Dorien Grey, interviewed by the truly inimitable Chris Smith.  I hope you enjoy what Dorien has to say.

Chris Smith: Welcome all, to my interview with the inestimable Dorien Grey, author of Calico, the Dick Hardesty Series, and the Elliot Smith Series.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Charlie Cochrane

February’s Interview is Charlie Cochrane, interviewed by Chris Smith. Enjoy!

Chris Smith: So, today I’m interviewing the inestimable (take that as you will) Charlie Cochrane. Charlie, back in the mists of time, when you were once a young Cochrane, did you ever expect to be writing gay romance, let alone one of the most loved series out there?

Charlie Cochrane: No.  Or perhaps maybe. Like many teenagers I wrote bad slash (mine was vaguely Lord of the Rings influenced)  that got put away until I was grown up enough to be able to make a reasonable attempt at it.

Chris Smith: I’m feeling rather a late developer — only got into slash in my 20s. So, when did you decide you were “grown up enough” to attack writing again?

Charlie Cochrane: When I’d read all the Archie/Horatio (Hornblower) fanfic that was available that was good enough to read, and decided to try my hand at producing my own. So I started with fanfic (still dabble sometimes) and then began to play around with my own characters

Chris Smith: And from thence Jonty and Orlando sprang fully formed like whatsit and thingammy from the head of Zeus?

Charlie Cochrane: Absolutely.  Artemis.  No. Athene.  Her. They did. Like they’d always lived in my head and wanted to emerge.

Chris Smith: Was it messy? Who cleaned up afterwards?

Charlie Cochrane:  Not as messy as childbirth,  and I have cleaners who come in fortnightly so I left it for them.

Chris Smith: I’ll keep that in mind (crosses childbirth off of list of things to do). So, suddenly you have two blokes living in your head, and pretty disparate blokes at that. What on earth made you think that not only should they get it on like Viagra based bunnies (note to people who have not read Charlie’s work — Viagra is anachronistic and bunnies hardly feature) but solve mysteries on the side?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah well.  Wish fulfilment of what I wanted to read, maybe?  I’m a great fan of classic mysteries — Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh —  and I’d have loved to see a duo like Wimsey and Vane or Alleyn and Troy but gay, so I had to invent them myself. And I love Cambridge so that seemed to be the right location.

Chris Smith: Oh I’m glad you explained that — I’ve always loved how Jonty and Orlando are not a horrible pastiche of Holmes and Watson. They are so very much their own characters. So, where did your love of Cambridge spring from?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah,  well.  Back in 1976 New Hall college decided they’d be mad enough to allow me to come and take my degree there. New Hall is modern but I spent a lot of time in the older parts of the University and the older colleges.  These became the models for St Bride’s.

Chris Smith: Somehow a young Cochrane stalking the talent in the other colleges is not entirely beyond imagining. But how does someone go from studying (mathematics?) at New Hall to being both one of the busiest real life people and most prolific M/M authors out there? It seems like you’ve a new ebook coming out every month or so!

Charlie Cochrane: Not beyond imagining and entirely accurate –  you weren’t stalking me were you? You weren’t born I guess. I studied science, not maths. Not clever enough for maths. LOL About the business,  yes, I sort of had this mad idea that life might get slower at 50 but it just expanded in all directions. Don’t forget I did a lot of writing before I was ever published. A lot of these stories were half finished in my files, waiting to be taken out and used at the right time.

Chris Smith: I was born in 1981 — so you figure! And I’m pretty sure you’re damn clever enough. Am pleased you did not turn out to be a mathematician. They scare Chris Smith. And I’ve seen a photo of you. YOU LIE about the expansion in all directions. Widthways I am most definitely envious! You mean there is a TROVE OF COCHRANE LURKING ON YOUR HARD DRIVE?

Charlie Cochrane: It’s the expansion of activities that keeps me so thin.  And the hummingbird metabolism. You should see the middle Cochrane; eats like an elephant, built like a racing snake. There’s a fair amount in my hard drive – half written things and little ideas mainly. Less than there was – a lot of it has already escaped. Nothing too worrying though.

Chris Smith: I’m now imagining these files fleeing into the air, screaming FREE! FREE! I’m not going to ask if you’ve the denouement to the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries on there, because I’d be damn sad knowing THAT it was going end, let alone how you’d got there, so let’s wander along to your other short stories. How do you make these so brilliant? It’s most unfair.

Charlie Cochrane: I think that’s starting off in fanfic, you have to make a short piece interesting. Like me. I’m a short piece. LOL. Vertically challenged. I love writing short stories, so easy to make them flow. More than 25000 words is hard work.

Chris Smith: The grounding of fanfic is great isn’t it? But what would you say is the biggest difference between professional fiction (by which I mean you’re contracted to a publisher with external editors) and fan-fiction?

Charlie Cochrane: For a lot of people it’s quality of finished product.  Not for everyone – some people write fanfic that’s as well presented and checked, etc as pro fic.

Chris Smith: As in, because of publishers there is a built in filter in pro-fic that prevents one from having to go through fanfiction.net in search of gems. There are gems there, but they’re not always easily visible.

Charlie Cochrane: The main difference for an author is that you can’t use ‘shorthand’. By which I mean you could start a story saying ‘Hi Ianto. Where’s the rest of them?’ Jack looked around the hub. ‘Gwen’s gone off with Owen somewhere and I’ve no idea where Tosh has got to’. Everyone reading the fanfic would know who you meant.  No need to set up character etc. If you started a story ‘Hi John. Where’s the rest of them?’ Freddie looked around the Strom. ‘Clare’s gone off with Terry somewhere and I’ve no idea where Lola has got to’ everyone would have lost interest by then.

Chris Smith: Well said! So, what’s next on Cochrane’s calendar?

Charlie Cochrane: Depends when you post this interview. LOL.  Feb 14th I Do Two is due out. 16th Feb Lessons in Seduction comes out.  Cambridge books out in print this summer. I’ve  got a couple of WWI things I’m working on which don’t have a home yet.

Chris Smith: And I’m sure you can teach us a bit or two about seduction! And I’m so pleased to hear about print — I’ve got a few books in e-books and print, and I have to say I much prefer the real feel of a book in my hands!

Charlie Cochrane: I prefer real books too.  I’m a great ‘bath-time reader’.

Chris Smith: Me too. There is something quite horrible about the thought of a kindle in the water. Horrible, slightly tingly, and very expensive.

Charlie Cochrane: And very predictable given my innate clumsiness.

Chris Smith: So, oh great Cochrane, I have one last, horrible, and completely unpredictable question to ask. Who is your favourite referee?

Charlie Cochrane: Is this a trick question? The one and only Nigel Owens, whose boots I am not fit to lick.

Chris Smith: Would you, if given the opportunity?

Charlie Cochrane: Lick his boots? Maybe. Clean them — definitely.

Chris Smith: Anything else you want to proclaim to the world before I leave you in peace to watch 30 men in short shorts grope each other in the name of sport?

Charlie Cochrane: I don’t think so. Except to say thank you for being such a good interviewer

Chris Smith: No, thank you for being such a good interviewee. The cookie is in the post!

———————

Charlie’s website http://charliecochrane.co.uk/

Author Interview: Donald L Hardy

Today’s interviewee is author, actor and general Good Egg, Donald L Hardy, who has recently had his first novel – LOVER’S KNOT – published by Running Press, set around the turn of the century Cornwall.

Speak Its Name: Tell us a little bit about Donald L Hardy and your writing career to date.

Donald L Hardy: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and when I turned forty had a midlife crisis of Biblical proportions.  I got rid of everything, moved to California, moved onto a sailboat and lived on it for 11 years. Continue reading

Author Interview: Hayden Thorne

Today’s victim in the hot seat is Hayden Thorne, writer of young adult fiction, specializing in historical, folk, and gothic themes though modern fantasy themes finds their way into some of her stories, too. Her debut with Prizm Books includes three novels, all aimed at gay teens (and everyone else, for that matter) who enjoy historical fiction as well as contemporary fantasy.

Welcome to our interview spot, Hayden. How long have you been writing? What made you begin?

I was in a writing club for a couple of years in grade school, and we did mostly stuff for the school newsletter. I didn’t write fiction till I was a graduate student at Cal State Hayward. I wish I could give you a clearer account of what, exactly, made me go for fiction. It’s one of those weird, dreamlike sequences that just happen. Something just clicks, an epiphany takes place, and you simply go with the flow.

In short, I was watching the animated movie, The Nutcracker Prince, and decided that the ending was a bit…meh. So I decided to write an “alternate” ending that was – wait for it – all tears and heartbreak and swoony romance till the deus ex machina moment when Hans and Clara were finally reunited.

icarusinflightI’d go over my first attempts at writing fanfiction for Sailor Moon involving a terrible, terrible Mary Sue character, but I think it’s best to quit while I’m ahead. My first attempt at writing GLBT fiction was after I saw the BBC presentation of Clarissa, and heaven help me, I got inspired to attempt my own sentimental epistolary novel, this time involving a young man who moves in with his richer relations, and, Clarissa-like, is seduced by the Byronic friend of his cousin. I never finished it, thank God. Then I was introduced to fandoms and fanfiction, and it all snowballed from there.

Describe something great and something not so great that has happened to you in the writing career to date.

The great thing was seeing my novels published to help launch a new GLBT YA imprint of an e-publisher. I’d had a few (read: about four) short stories published under their adult fiction imprint as well as half a dozen others picked up elsewhere. However, I found that I wasn’t very comfortable writing adult romances or sensual romances, so my submissions stopped, and I couldn’t sell another short story to other publishers if my life depended on it. Receiving an email from Prizm, though, asking me if I were interested in submitting a YA novel to help launch their new imprint, was a godsend. It came at a time when I was really down about my writing and was wondering if I should just quit altogether. As it turned out, I was writing in the wrong genre all that time.

The not-so-great moments? Oh, dear. Let me say that my expectations regarding networking were sadly newbie-ish. People don’t cross over easily, depending on the genre, or at least it seems to be easier for YA readers to cross over to adult fiction than it is for adult fiction readers to cross over to YA. To what extent common misconceptions about YA have anything to do with some people’s dismissal, I can’t say. Even within the YA community as well as the GLBT YA community, genre GLBT YA fiction is still a tiny, ghettoized niche. If I want to see this market expand, I need to work doubly hard to get attention for my books. M/M fiction, at least, enjoys the benefit of slash fans moving on to published works for reading material. There’s a ready audience, and there’s a wealth of published stories in different formats to attract more readers with. I’ve only got three mainstream books that I can claim for my corner of the fiction market: Perry Moore’s Hero (superhero fantasy), Steve Berman’s Vintage (ghost fiction), and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (romantic fantasy). Prizm Books, bless ’em, encourages genre submissions, but being a small indie outfit, they get lost in the big, bad world of book sales, with larger publishers enjoying greater marketing clout.

Do you have any particular writing routine? What about superstitions?

My writing days are usually Mondays and Fridays. In between them, I kick back and read. As far as my routine goes, I’ve become a devotee of Write or Die, which I use to freewrite each new chapter. I do this the night before my main writing day. I save the gibberish I manage to spew out in an hour, then open the file the next day, and sift through the drunken jumble of words, which I transfer to my WIP and then spend the rest of the time expanding and polishing everything into a brand spankin’ new chapter. I find that approach very, very helpful in forcing me to ignore my inner editor, which I blame largely for my recent string of false starts and blocks. Freewriting also raises all sorts of new plot directions that I’ve never considered before, and so far it’s done my story a world of good, turning a pretty straightforward narrative into something more complicated.

I go crazy if I don’t write an average of two chapters a week, but that’s not superstition. It’s fact. Just ask my husband.

You’ve often blogged about being unsure about which particular genre you’d like to write – are you still undecided? Do you think it’s necessary to stick to one genre? If so, why?

I’ve wibbled over that for a while, yeah. I read articles and blog posts regarding authors’ brands, i.e., that authors need to settle into one genre in order to make it easier for the publisher to market the books as well as to help define audience expectations.

To be honest with you, I chafe at being limited to one genre (or, rather, subgenre). Creatively, alternating between contemporary fantasy and historical fiction really helps keep me on my toes. I don’t feel burned out, and I’m always fresh with new ideas whenever I switch back and forth. However, I also understand the need for an author’s brand. If I want to find a larger publisher through whom I can release my future books, I do need to play by their rules. Right now, being published by a small indie press allows me more freedom, but down the road, I certainly would like to see my books picked up by a mainstream press.

In the end, I’ve decided to pursue historical fantasy. It’s a good compromise for me, melding two genres I enjoy writing, and it also allows me wider berth when it comes to addressing issues pertinent to young readers, while also offering some crossover appeal to adult readers. I’m not done with superheroes, though, and I will write sequels to my trilogy when I get inspired. Those books will be submitted to Prizm since my superhero series is contracted with them.

What’s your publishing history?

I wrote short stories, mostly romance (some erotic), under another pseudonym, and they were published by Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and Atria, among others. That lasted less than two years. Unfortunately, burnout came hard and fast. I was contacted by Prizm in the late spring, I think, of 2007. They contracted three books with me, (Masks:Rise of Heroes, Banshee and Icarus in Flight) in addition to the secoAdd an Imagend and third books of my superhero trilogy. Masks: Evolution, the second book, was released on Christmas Eve, and Masks: Ordinary Champions, the third book, is set to be released in the spring of 2009.

Which of your story characters do you like best and why?

I enjoyed writing those characters that challenge me or catch me by surprise in some way or other without driving me crazy. Most of them ended up more complex than what I first planned, and it was because their stories demanded that I let loose and allow the characters to “guide” the writing. I ended up taking so many different directions with them, which all turned out well in the end.

My ultimate favorite is Eric Plath, the 16-year-old hero of my Masks trilogy. Since the entire series is told from his POV, thinking like a teenager proved to be a pretty fun experience (not to mention cathartic). Frederick Wakeman, Nathaniel’s father in Banshee is another character I enjoyed writing. His story resonated with me, and while I first wrote him out to be a bully of a father, his character resisted the mold, and he ended up being a somewhat tragic figure. I’d go on and on about other characters, but there isn’t enough time. You’re certainly free to wander off to my blog and check out my ongoing “alphabiography” on my books, in which I discuss, in quite a bit of detail, my current published works, including my favorite and least favorite characters.

Who inspires you?

Fringe artists (writers, musicians, etc.) inspire me the most. Anyone who believes in his vision so strongly and who’s passionate enough to go against the grain and continue to hold his ground despite small sales, little exposure, or outright condescension and dismissal from the mainstream or status quo. I admire their guts and their grit, and I always wish I had the balls when it comes to my own challenges in publishing and marketing. There’s quite a bit of negativity toward small publishers as well as YA fiction coming from many writers, agents, and reviewers. It’s pretty frustrating functioning in that environment for anyone who hopes to see his or her writing career move forward and up. Maybe I’m biased because I live in the Bay Area and work in Berkeley, which is a haven for fringe culture. At any rate, I tend to look to them when my confidence wavers, which tends to be fairly often.

masks2You are writing a series of books, your Masks trilogy – Are you nervous over reader reaction for the sequel to Masks Evolution?

It hasn’t come to that yet, but I’m sure it will soon, especially when the books get posted at larger online bookstores. I certainly hope that they enjoy reading the series as much as I enjoyed writing it.

How much does reader response mean to you over your books? What do you hope readers get from your books after they read them?

My books are my babies, so reader response is pretty important to me. On the whole, I find that I can weather criticism pretty well (then again, I braced for it even before my books were released, so I guess I was mentally prepared). I try to take into account any objections alongside praise, so I can work on my weaknesses next time around. I’m sort of in the unique position of having three different books published simultaneously, so it’s been a pretty interesting (not to mention surprising) experience seeing which book sells well, which receives more good reviews, which appears to be better received among a certain group of readers, etc.

On the whole, I write to escape, and I hope that readers find themselves completely transported for a while when they read any of my books. I like writing in shades of gray, in a manner of speaking. I want readers – especially young readers – to see that nothing’s ever black and white. Good intentions fail, and innocents suffer for it. Even villains turn out that way because of parents’ misguided ambitions, or they suffer from plain bad luck, like Katherine Ellsworth in Icarus in Flight.

How long does it take to write a book for you?

It really depends. Romance is a genre that I tend to have a very difficult time writing, so it took me about a year, maybe a little more, to finish Icarus in Flight. The end result was around 120,000 words that I ended up cutting down to 75,000 to meet the publisher’s length requirements. I was high on inspiration when I began Masks, so the first book in that trilogy took me about a month and a half of non-stop writing, though the editing bit tripled the time. Banshee was more of the slow-and-steady project for me, and that took at least a couple of months to write. I’m trying to remind myself not to rush through any given project now, so I’m taking my time with my WIP, though from the looks of things, I can see it done by the end of January. This one is taking me roughly four months to write, which is a good pace for me.

Do you outline, or just make it up as you go?

I always start off with a very general outline of a new story. I’ve learned early on not to depend too much on it, though, and my ongoing use of Write or Die has taught me to just let go and trust what comes out when the inner editor is temporarily shut off. On the whole, I try to stick to the outline, no matter what happens throughout the story. As long as the characters reach Point B from Point A, everything else in between is fair game.

How do you research? As you go, or doing it all before you start?

I tend to research as I go, but I got into historical fiction with a basic knowledge of 19th century English culture, etc. The day-to-day details kill me all the time, and I always end up spending way more time researching on, say, a certain rug pattern common in Victorian households, when all I need is a quick reference to it in one sentence. It’s insane. Historical fiction writers are born masochists with our own personal floggers hot glued to our clammy hands.

Are you in control of your characters or do they control you?

It’s half and half, by and large. Those characters I pretty much “know” right off the bat tend to keep within the lines I draw for them. Those who start off pretty vaguely shaped in my head usually “rebel” or evolve till I’m forced to go back and revise earlier scenes to accommodate the changes they need. I certainly know better than to ignore them or fight back, though.

Can you tell us anything surprising you’ve found in your researches?

When I first found out about it a long time ago, I got pretty depressed. It was about how clothes among Victorians were passed down and recycled from rich to poor till the clothes literally fell apart on someone’s body after so many alterations and uses. By the time the poor got their hands on them, they were in tatters. It depressed me in the sense that it said so much about people’s circumstances back then, from the desperate wish for respectability to plain, brain-numbing poverty.

What particular challenges do you find writing GLBT YA Historicals?

Finding more information about Victorian teenagers other than school and hard work, depending on social class. Even then, whatever information I can find regarding teens in schools is pretty limited to curricula and what comes after, i.e., university. Nothing about behavior or expectations or anything that can give me a good idea of how teens lived back then. Even the non-fiction books I have barely have anything to say about Victorian children and absolutely nothing about Victorian teens. Maybe this is part of the reason why most teen historical romance fiction tends to focus on the upper-class. The idle rich are easier to keep track of, and they feed us all sorts of romantic fantasies about their lifestyles. These YA books pretty much mirror their adult historical romance counterparts, especially if you’re looking at non-GLBT Regency romances. Not that I blame them. If that were one of the reasons for the skewed preferences toward the rich, I can see why. I’ve been tearing my hair out looking for simple, basic information for teenage middle-class characters and keep coming up short.

What I know about anything relating to day-to-day life of Victorian teens comes from schoolboy fiction published during that century. Even then, I’m quite aware that much of what I read has been embellished by the authors, so I can’t even rely on them for purely factual stuff.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about YA fiction?

That it is, by and large, dumbed-down, teenybopper EMOlit. Just like all other genres, YA is represented by a wide range of books, many bad, many good. Some fit the EMOlit description I gave, but many don’t. There are a number of crossover titles (think Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Peter Cameron, Cory Doctorow, among others) that appeal to both adult and young readers. Recent articles posted at different online publications illustrate those misconceptions pretty clearly: I’m YA, and I’m OK, What Girls Want, and Book Bench Reads. I read an article written by a sci-fi fan months ago in which she talks about how she despises YA and that it should never be a part of the Sci-Fi market. I’d try to go and look it up, but I’ve already taken too many heart pills.

Tell us why you are passionate about GLBT YA fiction.

I can only lead you to a great article that Cory Doctorow wrote some months ago regarding YA and science fiction. That article accurately sums up why I love writing YA fiction: Nature’s Daredevils: Writing for Young Audiences. The gay angle comes from my very unpleasant (and much-needed) kick up the pants with regard to GLBT issues: Matthew Shepherd’s murder. The more I read up on hate crimes against members of the GLBT community, the more I also learned about teenagers and their experiences in school or with their families. I recently enjoyed a very nice chat with an editor of an online gay publication, and he’s very passionate about homeless/runaway queer teens. He showed me links to one local place he supports and even organizes charity shows to raise money for shelter. It was eye-opening and plain gut-wrenching.

Because I’m straight, I honestly don’t consider myself the best person to write coming-out stories for queer teens. Considering how vulnerable these young folks are, coming to terms with their identities during a pretty crazy period of their lives, I can’t write about something I’ve never experienced before. The issues are too delicate and too important for me to try to handle. I leave it to better-qualified writers, i.e., queer writers who’ve been there before and can share their stories with the next generation, to offer these kids the kind of wisdom that I don’t have.

I’m the outsider looking in. The best thing I can offer them is an escape, writing stories with characters who’re their age and who are also gay, fighting costumed bad guys or falling in love in victorian England or being haunted by a ghost in the Isle of Wight. They might not offer kids struggling with the fear of rejection or homophobia the comfort they need or the answers to their questions, but my stories, hopefully, give them a chance to forget about their problems for a little while.

What are you working on now? What plans do you have after that?

I’m currently working on a new novel (currently titled The Twilight Gods but may change to Penelope’s Web), which is a historical fantasy. It’s a reinterpretation of a Native American folktale called “The Girl Who Married a Ghost”, which I set in Victorian England during the Great Exhibition. It started out as a novelette, with my focus being nothing more than the main character falling in love with a shadow-person type, which was a different angle to take with regard to his coming to terms with his homosexuality. The novel version is more complicated than that, and I decided to make use of the current debate about gay marriage to help shape the plot.

Another book that I’m working on – or, rather, it’s been set aside for the time being – is called Minstrel, which is set in 19th century Germany during Christmas. It’s currently the proverbial albatross around my neck as I’ve had so many problems with it since the get-go, but I just need to go back and rethink things and then see where that takes me.

I’ve got a rough outline for a novel that’s set in the Spanish-colonized Philippines, and it takes place during the last days of Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero. I’m not sure when I’ll be working on it, but it’s at least crudely laid out in my journal.

I’m no longer writing short stories, and I’m definitely hoping to submit my WIP, once it’s nice and ready, to agents for represenation.

Can you please give us a sneak peek at any of your upcoming books?

My most recent release, Masks: Evolution, is currently listed only at the publisher’s site, and it should be available elsewhere in a few weeks (hopefully!). More information can be found here. The third book of my trilogy, Masks: Ordinary Champions, is set for a spring release.

What five books would you have to have with you on a desert island?

Oscar Wilde: Complete Short Fiction, Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James, Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, Shamela by Henry Fielding, and The Carnivorous Lamb by Augustin Gomez-Arcos.

If there was one thing you could tell the publishing industry and have them take notice, what would it be?

Am I cheating if I lift something straight from one of my posts?

If big, mainstream publishers of GLBT young adult fiction would recognize this – the fact that a queer kid’s experiences or identity-shaping can go well beyond modern high school borders – then we’ll see this minority group better represented in genres outside contemporary realistic fiction. Homophobia, bullying, rejection, first love, first sexual experiences, peer acceptance, etc. – these can be just as easily and effectively explored in a fantasy world or a space colony or a pirate ship or Bath in Georgian England.

Adjust the rules and the parameters accordingly as dictated by each specific genre, of course. A gay teen in Victorian England will have less freedom than, say, a gay teen in the Kingdom of Ballantyria (unless the fantasy writer decides to make Ballantyria a police state of some kind, but by and large, he’s still got much more elbow room to dictate rules compared to us historical fiction writers, who have to adhere to facts). But in the end, the reading experience can be just as amazing and rewarding as finding oneself in a lonely teenager’s high school ordeals.

Where can the readers find out more about you?

I’ll be gorging on chocolate over here: http://www.haydenthorne.net/

Thanks, Hayden. Your blog is unmissable, as far as I’m concerned.

Author Interview: Mark R Probst, author of “The Filly”

Alex Beecroft interviews Mark R Probst.


Mark R. Probst lives in Washington, works in the computer industry, and writes in his spare time. He is an avid movie buff, and has a special admiration for the western films of the classic era. He’s had a life-long interest in writing, though The Filly is his first published novel. He is currently at work on a second novel.

SiN: Who has been the biggest influence upon your work?

MRP: This is going to sound rather odd, but I’d have to say John Ford, because I was trying to emulate a John Ford Western in The Filly. But I’m sure you actually meant what writers influenced my work, so I’d just have to list a few of my favorites, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Dodie Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, and E. M. Forster. But of course not to imply that The Filly could come anywhere near touching the brilliance of some of their works. You probably would have expected my influences to come from Western writers such as Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, or Max Brand. But to be honest, I had never read any of their works before starting on my novel. All my knowledge of the Old West came from the movies and that is the sort of golden, glamorous world I wanted to recreate. I started reading some of Zane Grey’s early works during the writing process because I wanted to get a feel for how a literary Western was structured. I was actually rather surprised to learn that Grey’s books weren’t quite so much the shoot-em-ups I was expecting, but rather romantic in nature. Unlike the movies, Grey’s cowboy heroes were somewhat tender and gooey in love with the damsels.

SiN: Who is your own favorite character?

MRP: It’s hard to pick between the two. So much of who I am, or was at a younger age, is Ethan, but Travis is the shining knight, the salvation I always longed for. In fact in the first draft of the story, he was too perfect. I realized he needed a few dents and scratches to bring him down to earth, so in subsequent drafts I allowed him more flaws. Both of them are very real to me and I imagine that in some ways I am both of them. I should also mention that Josh holds a special place in my heart as well. He started out as nothing but a minor side character, a sort of fun-loving, prankster cowboy, but grew and grew until he was real to me as well.

SiN: You say there’s a lot of you in Ethan. Just how much? Do you care to elaborate on that?

MRP: First of all, Ethan is a lot more mature than I was at seventeen. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 25 – or even date, for that matter. I was just so socially awkward and introverted that even though I knew I was gay at 17, there’s no way I was ready to take it on. Me at 25 is probably the equivalent of Ethan at 17. I chose to make Ethan younger because I felt that in the Old West when boys grew up a lot faster, if I presented Ethan as a 25 year old virgin, it just wouldn’t be believable.

SiN: Who is your favorite fictional character created by someone other than yourself?

MRP: It’s really hard to pick favorites for me, but I’ll mention a few that stand out in my mind because there is a little something extra that gives them real depth. Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Cassandra in I Capture the Castle,and Jo March in Little Women.

SiN: What was your first book and what was it about?

MRP: Oh God, must I answer that? Can’t The Filly just be my first as it is the first published? Okay, when I was a little kid I wrote picture books with all my favorite cartoon characters: The Flintstones, Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts and so forth. I guess you could call it a kid’s version of fan fiction. Then I started creating my own characters in stories. Looking back at it now, they were really pretty awful and one would certainly not detect a shred of literary talent in any of it. When I was an older teenager, I attempted a short novel about a mortal girl who gets romantically involved with a warlock, sort of the reverse of Bewitched. It’s crap too and I would never allow anybody to read it. So I basically gave up writing at 19 and didn’t take it up again for another 20 years.

SiN: Do you do anything to summon up inspiration – write to music, have a special writing hat etc?

MRP: Generally, I have to pound everything out in my head before I ever set anything down on paper. I do this by pacing around the house and sometimes talking aloud to myself. Obviously I have to be alone when I do this, otherwise my partner would be calling to have them cart me off to a mental institution. When I’ve finally brainstormed enough to have some semblance of a story, I’ll set to work typing it out on the computer.

SiN: What works in progress have you got on the go at the moment?

MRP: I’ve written the first three chapters of a pre-quel to The Filly. InThe Filly Travis briefly tells Ethan about a girl from his past, a childhood sweetheart with whom he lost his virginity and who was deeply in love with him and wanted to marry him. I was thinking about writing some short stories about some of the events in my characters’ pasts to help flesh out the present, and when I thought about this girl, I realized she had an entire story to tell and, damn it if she wasn’t going to be the star of my next book. So I rolled back four years to 1874 to begin the story of Violet Foster, the 19 year-old daughter of a wealthy, widowed San Antonio businessman. She has all her hopes and dreams wrapped up in one soul, none other than Travis Cain. It’s less of a Western, and more of a post Civil War story, and deals with issues such as ex-slaves who are free in name only, but continue to live in complete servitude to their white employers. Now since Travis is yet again not the main character, but secondary, and he has yet to deal with the truth of his sexual desires, I don’t think it will qualify as “gay fiction,” so I may be letting down readers of The Filly who want more gay western lore. But it’s a story I need to tell, and I intend to visit Travis again in a sequel where he will finally get to be the star. It will be set circa 1905 when he will be about 50. Sorry, I’ve got no details figured out yet on that one.

I’d also like to write a fictional biography of a real-life historical character of my own choosing. But of course that takes a tremendous amount of research because you don’t want your fictional counterparts to contradict any known facts about your historical character. There are plenty of gay historical characters to choose from: Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great, Edward II, Kynaston, Michaelangelo, to name a few.

SiN: If your book became a big Hollywood film, who would you cast to play your characters?

MRP: Oh good, a question that caters to my little fantasy. “Hello? Mr. Spielberg? You loved The Filly and want to make a movie of it?!!!” But seriously, it’s a hard question to answer because I didn’t visualize any famous actors when writing it. I think I’d prefer unknowns to play the parts.

SiN: How did you feel the day you first held a copy of The Filly in your hands?

MRP: There were three goals I set up in my mind that I thought would be a thrilling experience. The first was to see the Amazon listing of my book, the second to hold a finished printed and bound copy in my hands, and the third hasn’t happened yet – to walk into a bookstore and see it sitting on a shelf. I think I built it up so much in my mind that when the first two actually happened, it was sort of anti-climatic and I wasn’t as thrilled as I expected I would be. I know that’s not a very good answer, but I’m being truthful about it. I have gotten praise from different people, some of whom I was a fan, and others who were just readers that stumbled upon my book and I can honestly say, I was tickled from my head to my toes over that.

And by the way, my book did make it into three real-life brick and mortar LGBT bookstores. So if you live in Philadelphia, Northampton MA, or Milwaukee, go in, take a picture of my book on the shelf and email it to me. It really will give me a thrill!

SiN: Who is your favorite current author and what is your favorite genre to read?

MRP: I’ll limit my answer to mainstream authors since I don’t want to hurt the feelings of some of the other small-press authors with whom I’ve networked by not picking them. I’ll probably take some flack for this, but I’d have to say J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter series has really been a delight and it’s done a lot to get kids back to reading again. Before Harry Potter, when have you ever seen kids willingly reading 800-page books and begging for more?

As for my favorite genre, I like anything that takes me out of the present day. So historical fiction is a biggie, even if it is just 20 or 30 years past. I also occasionally like the diversion of other-worldly stuff, like fantasy, sci-fi, or futuristic. Even though contemporary fiction is my least favorite, a good book is a good book and I’m not about to exclude an excellent read just because it may not be written in my favorite genre.

SiN: You started your own publishing company, didn’t you? What prompted you to make that decision? Would you recommend it?

MRP: Yes, I started Cheyenne Publishing for the sole purpose of publishing my own books. I tried the traditional route first, querying agents and receiving rejection letters. Unless you have a contact in the publishing business, it’s pretty much a dead end. And as I researched more and more about the publishing business, I realized that even if by some miracle I managed to get traditionally published by a big name, it was unlikely that the publisher would really get behind me and promote my book. Unless you are a name-brand author or your book is one of the very few that they really have faith in, they leave it to you to promote anyway. And if they don’t see really big numbers really soon, BAM you’re out of print. So publishing myself under my own imprint was all about me having control. Yes it means a lot of hard work to get even a small niche of readers to find you or know who you are, but you don’t have to worry about the axe dropping and you also have the final say in a lot of things such as cover design, and editorial content. Yes you need to get a lot of advice and weigh it, but ultimately, you decide. I also recommend that you hire a really good editor. That’s the one area where you don’t want to cheap out. Would I recommend it? That depends. If you have to max out your credit cards and have no means of paying off the bills should your book not sell well, then of course I would say no. But if you have the means and go in with the expectation that you may not get a return on your investment, but you’ll have the satisfaction that people will be reading and enjoying your book, then yes!

SiN: Why cowboys – and why historical?

MRP: That’s easy. Because I love the genre. With gay stories popping up all over the place in so many different genres, it seemed to me at the time that the Western was one place where homosexuality was still devoid. Of course I started writing my book before Brokeback Mountain came out as a movie. I thought it was unique when I first dreamed it up, but then once I started digging I found there were actually quite a few gay Westerns already out there, so even though I had to concede that it wasn’t a unique idea, I still tried to make it the best I could.

SiN: Some reviewers are touting your book as YA. Was that what you had in mind when you wrote it?

MRP: Absolutely. I wanted to write a book that I would have enjoyed and that would have helped me to come to terms with my homosexuality when I was a teenager. There weren’t any books like that 25-30 years ago and the gay books that did exist back then, if I’d had access to them, would have embarrassed me and would have filled me with guilt, due to their very adult nature. If even one gay teen reads The Filly and feels better about himself because of it, I will feel that I have been a great success.

Thanks a lot Mark, great interview.

The Filly can be purchased HERE. A review of the book can be found HERE.

World’s longest pub crawl: An Interview with Alex Beecroft

Back in midwinter, I asked Alex Beecroft for an interview. We agreed to meet over virtual pints and spent the rest of the winter happily trading rounds along with questions and answers. Now that the lilacs and azaleas are blooming (in my corner of the world, anyway) it’s time to share our adventure with all of you. So belly up to the bar, the next round’s on us!

Lee Benoit: What inspired you to undertake Captain’s Surrender?

Alex Beecroft:The honest answer would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl’. While everyone in the world was swooning over Jack Sparrow, I was transfixed right from the beginning with the lads of the Navy. That fabulous great ship (which I now know was a twin of HMS Victory) emerging out of the fog. Those gorgeous young men in wigs and stockings, looking well scrubbed and well pleased with themselves in their fancy coats and their gold braid. I forgot about pirates in an instant and went away and bought ‘Master and Commander’ on DVD. After which I had to read the book.

Except that it turned out there were twenty books in Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring series about Captain Jack Aubrey. I went through them at a rate of two a week, feeling utterly transported. When I’d finished I found I had to move on to even harder stuff – text books about the 18th Century Navy, biographies of Admiral Lord Rodney, Lord Cochrane, Anson, Nelson and Collingwood, non-fiction about 18th Century society, etc. I had ended up with an 18th Century fixation. After that it was inevitable to want to tell a story in that setting, and as my mind naturally comes up with m/m love stories, it ended up as a m/m love story in the Age of Sail.

I’d also stumbled across Rictor Norton’s website about homosexuality in 18th Century England and was pondering what it would be like to be a fairly sensitive young man, living amid so much hatred. That’s why my character Josh turned out so angsty and so conflicted!

LB:Can you tell us a bit about how Captain’s Surrender came to be published by Linden Bay Romance?

AB: Oh, that’s one of those amazing flukes where you feel that someone up there is looking after you. I had known for a long time that what I really wanted to write was m/m fiction, but I thought there was no market for it at all. So I’d been writing a series of short stories for my friends just for our own enjoyment, when one day one of them discovered Ransom by Lee Rowan.

She reviewed it, saying how much she’d enjoyed it and how delighted she was to find that there were actual published books of the kind of fiction we enjoyed. And then Lee dropped by to say thank you for the review. I mentioned to her how exciting it was to find this new genre, and how I hoped one day to get involved myself. Then she said, “Well, my publisher is running their annual competition to select a new writer. If you can get something together in the next month, why not try entering it?”

At that point I didn’t have a book at all, I had a linked series of short stories. But I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and spent the next month sitting up to all hours writing the bridging material needed to turn the stories into a novel. I entered it into the competition one day before the deadline. And it won! Unbelievable! I was sure that such things didn’t happen to me. But this time they did.

LB: That’s not unbelievable at all to those of us who’ve read and relished Captain’s Surrender. It sounds like your involvement — coming to the genre first as a reader, then as a writer — reflects the experience of many, including writers, who crave rich plots and fully-realized characters with their smex. Could you tell me more of your thoughts on this?

AB: Thank you! And yes, I know that there’s an initial rush when you discover m/m fiction or slash fic or whatever, and you read whatever you can get your hands on, the smuttier the better. It doesn’t really matter at that point about good writing, because it’s all so new and you’ve been starving for so long — and for the first time in your life there is enough of the stuff. But once that initial rush wears off, I think you start to want the same things you want in mainstream fiction too — namely good storytelling. There’s no reason why we can’t have m/m fiction *and smut* and quality writing too.

LB: You clearly know your era well. You mentioned Rictor Norton’s web site as a reliable source for information; can you tell us more about how you conducted your research? What advice would you offer someone who’s considering writing historical fiction? Any special advice for those writing gay historicals?

AB: My advice would be to set your book in a time that you love. When I fell in love with the 18th Century Navy I knew nothing about it other than that the uniforms were gorgeous and the cannons sounded cool (if the films could be believed). But it was sheer enthusiasm that drove me to read every book I could lay my hands on about the time. Because I was powered by an infatuation with the historical period, I emptied libraries and read textbooks for fun, going ‘oh wow, that’s so cool!’ all the time. As a result, I learned an awful lot, while enjoying myself at the same time. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to dispassionately decide on a period and to research out of obligation. I think that would make the research feel too much like work, and you would be tempted to skip it in order to get on with the story.

Because I loved the world first, it became fun for me to drop in little details like Emily’s fashionable ‘sack’ dress, or the ostentatious meal Captain Walker gives to Reverend Jenson. But if it had been miserable labour to look up the menus of the time, the proper set of a toga or whatever, I think the detail would be sparser.

As for advice on writing gay historicals — I think it’s important to check the specific shape of the prejudice at the time. For example, the later 18th Century was fairly modern in that there was already a dawning understanding that it might be an innate trait, whereas earlier it was seen as entirely a matter of choice. In Biblical times it was disliked because it was seen as a waste of seed (which was regarded as killing a potential child), whereas in Roman times it was all about status. No one cared if a Roman citizen buggered a boy or a foreigner, but it was an enormous shame for a Roman to allow himself to be buggered. So check which form the prejudice takes!

Also, try to keep away from the two extremes of ‘oh, everyone knows and they’re ok with it, despite the fact that it’s a crime that warrants the death penalty’ and ‘oh, it’s so dreadful, their lives are not worth living.’ Gay people seem to have managed to live full and defiantly happy lives under the worst conditions. As an author it’s a fine balancing act to keep both the dread and the happiness of gay love in a time when it could get you killed.

LB: Tell us about your writing process. Where and when do you work? Do you outline? Write each scene in order? Work on projects one at a time or concurrently? Have any special rituals or idiosyncrasies?

AB: I have a computer desk tucked in the corner of the dining room. (At least, the estate agent called the room a dining room. We have two computers, three bookshelves and no table in there). It’s not organized enough to be an office, though. It’s true that an office doesn’t need to be organized, but this isn’t even organized enough to contain useful books. I have to wander all over the house to find my research.

I try and write between 10am and 2.30pm (when I have to get the children from school) each day, though I’ll admit that I procrastinate a lot.

My process is to fly by the seat of my pants for the first 5 chapters or so, by which time things will have sorted themselves out in my mind enough for me to outline the whole thing. After that I do write each scene in order until I get to the end — and only start revising and editing when the first draft is finished. I prefer to work on one thing until it’s finished, not to do multiple things at once.

Heh, and I will admit that I have a special writing hat. I email and netsurf and so forth on the same computer I write on, so putting on the writing hat is a way to signal to myself that it’s time to stop all that and concentrate on the writing now.

LB: A special writing hat? What’s yours like and where do I get one?

AB: I bought myself a special beanie with scratchy glittery bits, so that I would be able to tell by feel that it was not a normal hat (I wear hats quite a lot, and didn’t want my subconscious to get confused).

LB: What’s surprised you the most about your own writing?

AB: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say so, but it still surprises me that anyone thinks it’s anything special. I look at Patrick O’Brian or Ursula Le Guin, and I still have a very long way to go!

LB:What has surprised you the most about being published?

AB:I never imagined it would be so much work! If I’m lucky I spend four hours a day writing, but now the rest of my life has gone under in trying to promote, keep up with chats, write reviews, deal with Facebook, MySpace, etc., write to Amazon, sort out tax etc., etc. If I do four hours writing a day, I then do another 10 hours trying to keep up with my various groups. It’s insane – but kind of fun.

I save up reviews or interviews or excerpts for a Monday (which is promo day on most of my lists) and then send the same thing simultaneously to five or six lists. I can’t keep up with commenting on everyone else’s promo, though I try to say something nice once in a while, whenever I have five minutes to spare. That’s about as much as I can manage. But then I don’t expect anyone to comment on mine – and very few people do, so that’s OK!

LB: If you had the opportunity to travel back in time, where would you go and why? If you could bring one item or idea from the present to the past with assurances that your action wouldn’t disrupt space-time, what would it be? And, if you could nick something from your historical destination, what would that be?

AB: It’s quite boring, I’m afraid. I probably would go to mid 18th Century London, just to see how it really was. If I had to go as a woman, I’d take sanitary towels with me (oh and pants — is that underpants in America? Because they didn’t wear underwear in those days, and I think I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with that.)

I think the best thing to bring back would just be the experiences; no matter how you try to imagine things, really living them brings it home like nothing else. However, I wouldn’t mind bringing one of these fantastic coffee-percolators home with me.

LB: Not boring at all. Underthings are an inspired choice!

I’ve just picked up The Witch’s Boy, though I haven’t read it yet. It looks to be very different in theme and structure (as well as plot and genre) from Captain’s Surrender. I’d love to know how working on the new fantasy novel was different from working on your first, historical piece. Did you have any trepidation about shifting genres?

AB: Ah, well, curiously enough, The Witch’s Boy is the earlier written of the two books. I wrote it when I was first at home with my newborn daughter. She would sleep for an hour and a half a day, and I seized that chance to write. It took me two years to finish the book, but because it was slow and steady work I had plenty of time to think about the plot when I wasn’t actually writing it. It allowed me to make the plot quite complex — I was able to work out where all those loose ends could be sewn back in to achieve an effect that seemed inevitable.

I’ve always been a big fan of Fantasy; I grew up on Tolkien, and it seemed natural for my first book to be a fantasy. I have to admit that I love what I think of as ‘the appeal of the strange’. I like to open a book and be caught up in a different world, where everything makes sense, but it’s not the same sense as our ordinary, commonplace life. I like to take a holiday in a book, so that when I come back my own life is more welcome and homely — as it would be when you’ve just returned from somewhere exotic.

And that’s the link, I think, between Fantasy and Historical. Both are books about other worlds; strange, exotic places where people think and act differently. It’s just that in the historical that world was once a real part of our past. The only real difficulty with Captain’s Surrender was that it had a strict word-limit of 60,000 words, which I found a little too short. I wanted to pay more attention to Josh’s time with the Anishinabe, but I couldn’t manage to cram more than the bare minimum into the word count.

And thematically, they’re both about the triumph of love, whether that’s Sulien’s attempt to save Tancred from the consequences of his own evil actions, or Peter’s refusal to bow to the expectations of society and condemn Josh. So I didn’t really perceive much of a difference in any basic technique in writing them. I tend to feel that a story’s a story, no matter the genre. Though having said that I am a bit intimidated by the demands of the strict murder mystery. I haven’t tried one of them, but I’m keen to try at some point just to see if I can do it.

LB:Now I really can’t wait to read it! What’s next for you (besides a cab home)? I meant, what’s next on your writing agenda?

AB: I’m just entering the home stretch on the second draft/rewrite of another m/m Age of Sail novel, currently under the working title of ‘False Colors’. It’s 80k words at the moment, but needs a couple of extra scenes and a bit of expanding at the end, so it may end up 85-90,000. And I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel with it! It’s exciting, but of course external forces are now conspiring to stop me doing that final twenty pages. Still, I should have a new novel to hawk around by August, touch wood!

LB: That certainly is exciting! What can you tell us about False Colors? Is it a sequel to Captain’s Surrender?

AB: It isn’t a sequel to Captain’s Surrender, as it has different characters, but it will be similar in tone — lots more nautical action, heroism and forbidden love.

LB: Something for us all to look forward to, then. What else is on your horizon?

AB: I have a short story called ‘90% Proof’ (when I say ‘short’ I mean 10,000 words) which is due out fairly soon from Freya’s Bower in a m/m anthology called ‘Inherently Sexual’. I’m looking forward to that one coming out because, from the summaries I’ve seen of the other stories included, it should be a really good read.

I’m also busily writing another m/m short of about the same length, tentatively called ‘Away With The Faeries’, and when that’s finished I’m going to settle down and write a short, lighthearted contemporary novel, just for a bit of a break.

LB: I’m sure I have lots of company is wishing you best of luck with your new projects. It’s been a real pleasure, Alex. Thank you.

Alex Beecroft is the author of the novels Captain’s Surrender and The Witch’s Boy, along with several stories. She is currently at work on False Colours, a new Age of Sail novel. She’s also the founder of The Macaronis, a blog dedicated to writing gay historical fiction.

Lee Benoit reviews fiction at Uniquely Pleasurable and Rainbow Reviews, and Speak Its Name, and is the author of several stories published through Torquere Press.

Author Interview with Max Pierce

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This time we are joined by Max Pierce, journalist and author of Gothic gay romance “Master of Seacliff ”

SiN: Welcome to Speak Its Name, Max, it’s good to have you here, can you tell the readers who might not have visited your website a little bit about you?

Max Pierce: Thank you, Erastes and a big Texas ‘hi y’all’ to the gang at Speak Its Name. Frankly, I lost my Texas accent years ago, but my soul remains there…much like Scarlett and her need to get back to Tara on occasion.

To set the scene, it’s a late Saturday evening here at the base of the Hollywood Hills, where I’ve lived for the past decade. The famous ‘Hollywood’ sign and the Griffith Park Observatory are visible from my balcony which runs the length of my apartment; about 55 feet. As for me, I’m seated at my writing desk, a 1950’s office acquisition about 6 feet long and crammed with paper, with candles burning and classical music on the radio. I’m enjoying a double Dewar’s and water. However, I am not chomping on one of my cigars…I reserve that for the balcony…and in California terms, it’s freezing; about 54 degrees so I’m nice and cozy inside. I’ve grown my beard for the winter, sorry no picture of that, but its as bushy as my moustache…alas much greyer.

SiN: You’ve obviously got writing in your soul, what with the journalism and everything – what made you make the jump to short stories and novels?

MP: I’ve always considered myself a writer….I come from a long line of storytellers. For me, short stories and novels were just a natural progression of development but journalism remains dear to me. I always felt a calling to give a voice to those who could not. More on that later. However, I still pick up a copy of SEACLIFF and wonder how in the hell I did it…and how am I going to do it again?

To start way back…I began reading at age 2, somewhat of a child prodigy my family maintains. Being a spoiled only child, for my 4th birthday I was given a color console television set…keep in mind only a few shows broadcast in color at the point, and there were only about 6 channels to watch, and it was an excellent babysitter for a lonely boy who knew he was different, and surrounded by adults.

Around age 7, I ‘began’ my first book, a shameless rip-off of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ series, updated to 1970 and relocated to California. The need for California has been in my blood from an early age. My mother was an avid movie buff and loved to tell me all the old legends of Hollywood. We both used it as an escape from our by turn dramatic or dreary lives in and around Dallas. Mama made Hollywood sound so magical I made up my mind that I’d live there. Of the many obstacles I’ve overcome, getting to Los Angeles remains one of my proudest achievements and I remind myself to say a prayer of thanks everyday for being here.

SiN: What’s your publishing story? Continue reading

Author Interview: Rochelle Hollander Schwab

I’m delighted to kick off our author interviews with the author of the recently reviewed “A Different Sin”, Rochelle Hollander Schwab.
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Rochelle Hollander Schwab lives in Washington DC and has been active for nearly 15 years in Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Her work in PFLAG, and her relationship with her two daughters, spurred her most recent work “A Departure from the Script” – a fictional exploration of family issues and lesbian themes, which won a recent Lambda Literary Award. Her other novels are “A Different Sin”, “As Far as Blood Goes”, and “In the Family Way.” I reviewed “A Different Sin” recently and named it one of my favourite books of the genre.

SiN: Welcome to Speak Its Name, Rochelle, thank you for agreeing to be grilled. That’s a very unusual name, by the way, what are its origins?

RHS: I’m named after my grandmother, Rachel, a Russian Jewish immigrant. My mother thought Rachel was old-fashioned, so called me Rochelle. (Immigrants wanting to sound more “American” often used only the first initial of a name when naming a baby after an ancestor. And among New York Jews at that time, a baby was never named after a living person.)

But if your question was referring to my title, A Different Sin, that was taken from a line toward the end of the book when the protagonist, David, contemplates whether loving another man is really the great sin he’s imagined it to be.

Continue reading

Author Interviews

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I’m pleased to announce that very soon we will be starting a series of Author Interviews which will continue for as long as I can rope Authors in to do them.

So far I’ve managed to convince Rochelle Hollander Schwab (Author of “A Different Sin”) and Max Pierce (Author of “Master of Seacliff” – review on this book to be done over the weekend) and in the last minute, Marion Husband (Author of “The Boy I Love.”)  I’m asking others, some possibly I’m a bit cheeky even to ask, but hey, if you don’t ask you don’t get, that’s my motto.

Actually my real motto is Moderation is for Monks, but that makes no sense in this context.

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