Review: The Glass Minstrel by Hayden Thorne

Two fathers, Abelard Bauer and Andreas Schifffer, are brought together through the tragic deaths of their eldest sons. Bauer, a brilliant toymaker, fashions glass Christmas ornaments and his latest creation is a minstrel with a secret molded into its features. When Schiffer sees Bauer’s minstrel ornament in the toy shop, he realizes that Bauer is struggling to keep his son’s memory alive through his craft. At first he tries to fault him for this, but then recognizes that he, too, is seeking solace and healing by reading his son’s diary, a journal that reveals, in both painful as well as beautiful detail, the true nature of his relationship with the artisan’s son.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

To make it short, I didn’t like it, but I understand how people can like it, hence the 3 star rating. It took me a good week to work out what my issues with this book are. Because, to be honest, after my first read from Cheyenne/Bristlecone Pine Press, “Hidden Conflict” , I had high hopes. While the other book was a mixed bag (as anthologies are wont to be), I was prepared to really enjoy “The Glass Minstrel” as a short gay novel.

But the excitement turned to exasperation, then disbelief, and finally ennui mixed with a certain helping of resentment.

Let’s start with the things I liked. I think the cover is lovely. The editing is very good (apart from one thing I’ll talk about further down). It is, by all intents and purposes, a well-made book.

Plot-wise, not a lot happens on those slightly less than 200 pages. A toymaker, Abelard Bauer, sells toys. He is confronted by Andreas Schiffer, who resents him because Bauer’s son Stefan has eloped with Schiffer’s son Heinrich after both were expelled from school due to their indecent relationship. They went to Frankfurt and died in a house fire.

Now the widowed father, Bauer, is dealing with his loss and being the talk of the town, and Schiffer has to deal with the loss of his eldest son and the destruction of all the ambitions he’s had for him. He finds solace in the arms of an immoral woman (an artist), with whom he has an illicit affair (while his poor wife Henrietta is left with the numerous kids). During the book, Bauer has to find his way back into society, Schiffer has to find his way back to his family.

And there’s the third main character in the story, Jakob Diederich, who is another gay teenager. He has a crush on an Englishman who stays at the inn where Jakob works. When the crush turns to nothing, Jakob finds a father in the son-less Bauer, and Bauer finds a son in the father-less Jakob. Everybody’s happy.

I did like the premise and set-up. To categorize, this is a Young Adult historical novel. If anybody turns to this book for steamy sex, that will be a mistaken purchase. There’s one – kind of pointless and awkward – masturbation scene, and that’s it in terms of sex.

Instead, it’s a very Christmas-y tale of family ties, redemption and how humans need other humans to cope with life and themselves. Every one of the three main characters is isolated – through shame, grief, or sexual orientation. All find forgiveness and community at the end. It’s a feel-good ending and should make a good Christmas tale if you are so inclined. The only glimpses we get into the love story between Stefan and Heinrich is in the little snippets of Heinrich’s diary right at the beginning of each chapter.

And here is where things begin to fall apart for me. I do not believe that anybody – least of all a middle-class boy like Heinrich – talks that frankly about erections

“And my daydreams during Mass are embarrassing me. I’m just glad that no one’s bothered to look down at my trousers when we stand up.”

and anal sex

“He didn’t complain about being sore as we walked home, but he made me promise to take him in next time.”–

even as euphemistically as he puts it, not even in a diary. And I kind of disbelieve that sheltered teenage boys would come up with the idea to “put that thing there” on their own, to be somewhat delicate about it. We’re in around 1850 – there is mentioning of the revolution (of 1848) going on or having gone on.
With regards to the setting. It’s Germany, and the German bits and pieces make sense. The research has been clearly done – it rings true or is at least in the realm of possibility. I make a minor allowance for the fact that the book is set in around 1848-50, but Zirndorf, the village/town where this is set, only became the home of a sizeable toy industry in 1877 (informs me Wikipedia and the town’s website). But I’m happy to simply assume there were toymakers around before that date.

I definitely suspended my disbelief a bit at the family life of the Schiffers, where attitudes towards one’s own offspring seem really quite modern. Especially in a well-off family like the Schiffers, there is very little respect and the generations are very close and affectionate with each other, which isn’t quite what I remember from novels set and written during those times, but even that’s ok, all families are different, after all.

So, let’s get to the point why I barely managed to finish the book. I loathed the narrator voice. To recap Fiction 101, the narrator is the “voice” that tells us a story. The narrator is NOT the author. A nice, kind author can write a cynical, hard-bitten narrator. The narrator is the invisible main character of any book – who tells us the story. S/he’s the voice of the text. The vehicle through which the author tells their story. In this case, I hated the narrator.

Why?

Well, the narrator sounded wooden and inauthentic in my inner ear, like s/he was trying very very hard to be literary and clenched up so much in the process of trying to achieve that that the flow of the text stalled and froze.

Now, I’m a sucker for good narrators, and personally, I love authors that can write a real, gritty, authentic narrator (that skill is rarer than I’d like). This narrator is somebody who could just as easily tell you a fairy tale about the big bad wolf with many sharp teeth and the poor young boy with the dirty hands and torn clothes.

The characters and descriptions were often so clichéd and forced that I found myself groaning (my boss at work actually asked me if I was alright). Those who are evil are very evil. Those who are good are so pure and so utterly good that our hearts have to go out for them. Characters fall into one of two camps. They are either conceited and intolerant, or “gay allies”. And morality runs along those demarkation lines, too: Those that are tolerant are the “good” people, the others are ignorant and nasty and evil. I wish life were that easy. The only exception is Andreas Schiffer, who also changes the most. The problem with that character is, while he has the furthest to go and the biggest development as a person, he’s also a whining, terrible hypocrite and the least sympathetic.

Only, of course, that any narrator who tells me what to think of the characters I’m reading about creates an inner resistance to the not-so-subtle “suggestion” what to think and feel about the characters. It’s OK to be pushed and controlled like that when you’re reading fairy tales (of course the princess is the most beautiful girl that has ever lived! Of course the wolf is the scariest thing alive! We’d be disappointed if they weren’t), but in a prose novel, targeted towards readers that are adults or young adults, that seems awfully simplistic. I’d have liked more shades of grey, more well-rounded characters, rather than the narrator re-iterating the same few characteristics in every scene. (That’s when this reader wants to shout: “I get it! He’s poor! He’s the poorest, most down-trodden, hardest-working teenager that ever lived! He’d make Cinderella look like a spoiled brat!”)

I’d also have wanted a more nuanced and more interesting style, because if there’s very little else going on, I read more slowly and want to savour the words… only that I found very little in the style that I could have loved. Many dialogues have a stilted, contrived quality about it that had me constantly questioning if the characters would really talk about that here and this way.

As an example of the style, here’s a paragraph in the last third:

Jakob nodded. He’d heard of the Christkindlmarkt, mostly from visitors to the inn, from whom he’d learned bits and pieces about Dresden’s and Nuremburg’s Christmas markets, with the brilliant stalls and the wonderful crafts and food they offered eager shoppers. Their little town, with its snow and its nearly depressed economy dependent on the manufacture of toys, couldn’t afford such extravagant displays, and who in their right minds would even consider such a place for a visit? Travelers stayed for less than a week, and even those were very rare. No, all they had were their tiny shops and local skilled labor, from whom everyone within the town’s borders relied on for their daily maintenance. Very little came in, and hardly anything went out.

Expressions like “depressed economy” and “local skilled labor” kick me out of a historical novel extremely fast. The novel is largely told in a somewhat labored style that attempts to serve as a vehicle back into the time. Instead, I found it clunky and inauthentic and remote.

Finally, there’s one thing that drives me insane in all books, but it’s getting worse and worse. I know that creative writing books (and many editors) have huge hang-ups over the use of past perfect and present perfect. To reiterate, the present perfect of the verb “to go” is “has/have gone” and the past perfect is “had gone”. Both tenses are used when something has happened in the past. More importantly, they are legitimate, grammatically-correct tenses and serve a purpose. Now, some editors, laboring under the rule that “has” and “had” are “weak” words, require their authors to kill every instance of “has” and “had”. Well, last time I checked my style guides, they were legitimate. What’s more, using them is necessary and grammatically correct.

I don’t care, cry some editors, take’em out. Kill’em with fire.

And we end up with sentences where I have no idea what happened in what order or that sound incredibly weird. Let’s look at a couple instances in “The Glass Minstrel”. Spot the grammar mistake here:

He watched them for another moment, baffled and partly jealous of the careless joy that was so evident in them. How could they be so indifferent? How could they not see that things weren’t the same as they were, and that things would never be the same again? How could they laugh and play and ignore the empty space left by their oldest brother—the one who’d looked after them, helped raise them? How could they be so selfish? So thoughtless?

You found it. The sentence is “things weren’t the same as they were” – errr, no. the second “were” (past tense) should have been a “had been” (past perfect). THEN it makes sense. Clearly, the second part of the sentence has to refer back to a past further back than the past the narrator is currently in.

And another one:

Schiffer took a deep breath and sat down at the pianoforte to play a few notes. The sounds he coaxed from the instrument’s depths were familiar and lovely, but like everything else that surrounded him, they didn’t reach inside him as deeply as they used to. His spirit wasn’t touched the way it was before, and he didn’t know whether or not he should mourn that loss.

Found it?

Yes, it’s “wasn’t touched the way it was before” – the second was needs to be “had been” (past perfect).

Third one:

His other hand seemed to burn from the roughness of Jakob’s old coat, his palm pressing against the contrasting smoothness of a patch that had been sewn to cover a tear in the cloth—or perhaps a hole. He would, if he could, protect this boy from the world, the way he wanted to protect Stefan so long ago.

Yes, the mistake is right there at the end: “the way he wanted to protect Stefan so long ago”. There’s a “had” missing that would put the “wanted” (currently in past tense) into the correct past perfect and hence into a past further back than the past in which the story is set.

Yes, it’s a pet peeve. No, a dozen instances of wrong grammar don’t ruin a book. Personally, I get kicked out of a text by wrong tenses just as badly as if there’s been a starship landing in 1850’s Bavaria and Boney M emerges in silver suits, dancing to “Daddy Cool”.

Authors, editors, publishers, please leave the past and present perfect tenses alive. English is such a beautifully precise language, don’t treat it that way. Please keep the past tenses in the right order.

To sum up: The Glass Minstrel is a Christmas-themed young adult novel set in 1850’s Bavaria dealing with themes of isolation, community and redemption that will appeal to gay historical readers whose main considerations in choosing a book are not style and voice and can ignore a certain sentimental quality in the prose. This is not a romance, and the seasonal spirit of forgiveness covers whatever rifts the gay characters and their allies experience all too easily. It’s a bit heavy-going for a feel-good book, but the ending finally delivers.

Author’s website

Buy from Cheyenne Publishing (Print)

Buy from Bristlecone Press (Ebook)

A Father’s Love

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Ode to Euterpe

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Review: The Desire for Dearborne by V.B. Kildaire

The Desire for DearborneLeander Mayfield is the only surviving son of a poor farmer… or so he believes until the day he learns he is in fact the new Earl of Dearborne. Still recovering from a lingering illness, the sensitive young man travels to Great Britain to claim his estate and embarks upon a bewildering new life.

Julien Sutcliffe, the Earl of Blackstone, is suffering from ennui. He’s tired and bored with all the finery and wealth and wonders about him. Then he meets this refreshingly naive American Earl, newly arrived in England, and suddenly the world comes alive around him again.

Irresistibly drawn to one another, Julien finds himself besotted, and Leander is equally smitten. But just when they think they may have finally found happiness together, Julien and Leander discover that something–or someone–is determined to separate them permanently.

Review by Hayden Thorne

For those who enjoy their historicals with a very generous dollop of classic aristocratic intrigue and idleness, V.B. Kildaire’s debut novel delivers. There are balls a-plenty, dinner-parties, invitations to country estates, gossip, gambling, artful subterfuge, drinking, whores of both sexes, and smartly-dressed gentlemen. There’s romance, there’s a mystery, with one unfolding at a nice, leisurely pace, and the other, quickly and clumsily handled.

The story’s set in 1831, I’m guessing, because the only reference to a time period is a quick description of William IV’s modest coronation ceremony. Considering political and social events during that year, however, I’m surprised that the author doesn’t allude to the growing unrest over the dissolution of Parliament and the Second Reform Bill – or that the party-obsessed bon ton (seeing as how at least some of the long list of titled side characters would be sitting in the House of Lords) wouldn’t even comment on the wild goings-on in the government.

Instead, the novel’s happily cocooned in the glittering world of the rich and famous, where the most pressing concerns are gossip and marriage, and the real world never intrudes unless it’s to add a clue to the mystery of Dearborne’s determined enemy. As to this mystery, there are a handful of clues scattered through the book, but the bulk of the novel centers on the growing romance between Blackstone and Dearborne. The romance, as noted earlier, unfolds at a nice pace – no rushing into bed, no immediate lust-filled attraction the moment one man claps eyes on the other. There’s a lot of confusion (mostly in Dearborne) and a gradual chipping away at walls that I enjoyed seeing. It’s just too bad that the characters are more stock than unique, with Dearborne teetering on cliché.

He’s young, beautiful, sickly, fragile, shy, innocent, the quintessential ingenue to Blackstone’s world-weary cynic. The damsel in distress through and through, who, in the end, leaves me somewhat unsatisfied with his character, Dearborne’s passivity seems carefully designed to ensure that he takes on the classic role of the endangered virgin in nineteenth-century gothic novels. I must admit that several pages of descriptions of, or ruminations on, his innocence can be rather wearing.

The mystery gets swept aside for the most part till the last quarter of the book, where a casually-paced narrative picks up speed, and we’re suddenly crammed in several characters’ heads. The unexpected head-hopping is rather jarring, especially if one were to consider the fact that the first three-quarters of the novel are firmly fixed on two alternating POVs: Dearborne and Blackstone. Had the mystery been given equal treatment as the romance, the story would’ve made for a more intriguing read from start to finish; as it stands, it almost feels as though one were reading two separate stories, with the mystery feeling more like an afterthought.

On the whole, the novel’s historical elements are well-researched, though I think it would make for a much smoother reading if the author didn’t resort to laundry lists (Arthurian essays and stories, street names, and character names and titles come to mind) to establish facts and firmly ground the story in place and time. Kildaire’s novel is promising in concept but clumsy in delivery, but as this is a debut, the author still shows quite a bit of promise.

Important Note: This book is the first of a series of historical romances from Dreamspinner Press called Timeless Dreams: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma. You can visit the rough and tumble Old West, travel the ancient kingdoms of desert sheikhs, see the black and red lacquer of the Far East, or dance in dramatic Regency England. No matter where or when, in the romantic worlds of Timeless Dreams, our heroes always live happily ever after.

In reference to this, there’s an almost obligatory discussion between Dearborne and Blackstone about their “unnatural” proclivities, and while Kildaire attempts to provide us with a balanced treatment of attitudes toward homosexuality back then, Blackstone’s glib and rather dismissive response strains credibility somewhat.

Buy from the publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Review: The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

The City and the PillarA literary cause célèbre when first published more than fifty years ago, Gore Vidal’s now-classic The City and the Pillar stands as a landmark novel of the gay experience.

Jim, a handsome, all-American athlete, has always been shy around girls. But when he and his best friend, Bob, partake in “awful kid stuff,” the experience forms Jim’s ideal of spiritual completion. Defying his parents’ expectations, Jim strikes out on his own, hoping to find Bob and rekindle their amorous friendship. Along the way he struggles with what he feels is his unique bond with Bob and with his persistent attraction to other men. Upon finally encountering Bob years later, the force of his hopes for a life together leads to a devastating climax. The first novel of its kind to appear on the American literary landscape, The City and the Pillar remains a forthright and uncompromising portrayal of sexual relationships between men.

Review by Hayden Thorne

The process of Jim’s journey of self-discovery was what drew me to this novel, the time period offering a very promising backdrop to an interesting exploration of homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Because Jim, after graduating from high school, takes on odd jobs and wanders almost aimlessly, there was also the anticipation stirred by the image of a colorful parade of different characters who’d shape Jim’s immediate world for better or for worse.

Whether in peace time or during war, in the luxurious glamour of Hollywood or the seedier corners of New York, among the superficial, the bitter, the poseurs, or even among family – Jim’s meandering education is an adventure of the tragi-comic kind. We see much of the multi-layered nature of the homosexual underground, the divisions among gay men, and, tragically, the ambivalence toward their own nature as shaped by their world and the heterosexual status quo. In terms of concept, The City and the Pillar succeeds in carrying out its purpose, and we’re given a complex tapestry of human relationships, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

Unfortunately for this reader, that’s all that I can say about the novel’s high points. Vidal’s narrative style is detached and dry. Too dry, in my opinion, so that from start to finish, I wasn’t able to feel any kind of sympathy for Jim or all the other characters, regardless. Whatever tragic or comic elements are there can only be picked up on a more superficial level. We know that Jim’s sad because we’re told that he is. He’s pleased because we’re told that he is. Vidal’s spare prose is too abrupt for it to evoke any kind of significant emotion, and every scene, regardless of its nature, reads like the one before it. It’s almost like listening to a monotonous drone in a lecture hall.

Maybe in the end it’s for the good that the narrative is overly detached and lacking; otherwise, we’d be drowning in an endless parade of lamenting and drama from some of the most miserable characters we’ve ever read. In addition to not feeling any sympathy for Vidal’s cast, I also found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the utter wretchedness of their existence, with each – Sullivan being the worst – not only incapable of feeling joy but also doing everything in his power to ensure a lifetime of disasters and heartbreak. What can we learn from all this? Except for Jim’s final resolution (and, really, the scene offers little comfort), I found nothing to cheer for, and whatever happens to each character at the conclusion of his or her appearance in the novel did little to rouse anything in me. This novel doesn’t only touch on homosexual relationships, but also on heterosexual ones, and across the board, no one’s happy. Those who appear to be, i.e., Carrie and Sally, seem to be that way only because they can’t see beyond the tiny little cubicle that they’ve been forced into, being young rural women.

The novel does attempt to convey the same idea put forth by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, which is the fruitless desire for an ideal. Every character, male or female, gay or straight, plays out that desire and its depressing consequences. It’s just too bad that the emotional gap kept me from fully appreciating all of that.

Buy the book: Amazon.com, Amazon UK

Review: Banshee by Hayden Thorne

Nathaniel, or Natty as his family calls him, is a young man at a crossroads. His mother wants him to spend time with her family, far better off than his father, who is a poor vicar. His father would rather he do just about anything else, and his cousins have no interest in getting to know him. So what’s a young man with very few prospects to do? When Natty meets Miles Lovell, a sophisticated friend of his cousin, he thinks he’s found something worth his while. During their long visit together, Natty discovers things about himself that he never expected, and manages to acquire a ghostly companion, as well. Haunted by a faceless woman, who seems to appear when he’s at his weakest, Natty struggles with his own nature, and with his family’s increasing difficulties. His mother is distant, hiding things from him as she never has, and his father is growing old and tired before his eyes. While Natty tries to find his place in the world, his childhood is crumbling around him, and he becomes more and more convinced that his persistent spirit is a harbinger of doom. Caught in a web of deceit and desperation, Natty must decide whether he will let his life be ruled by others, or if he can make his way on his own, or if the family banshee will bring about his ruin.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I started reading this book under a misapprehension which rather coloured my enjoyment of it. You see, I thought it was m/m romance, and I kept waiting for the romance to kick in. Come on, I thought, at this rate we’ll reach the end and they’ll never get together!

And then I did reach the end, and I had to reconsider everything.

After a bit of thought, I realized that the book was never meant to be a romance. It’s a coming of age story – a story about a young man’s journey from childhood to adulthood, via a confused and tragic adolescence. The fact that the young man is attracted to other young men is almost incidental beside his struggle to find out who he is, and to get the people around him to accept him as an adult.

Once I’d got this sorted out in my mind, I was able to read it again and appreciate what it was doing, rather than what it wasn’t.

Hayden Thorne has a real gift with language and if this had been put before me as a memoire written in the 19th Century, I would have happily believed in its veracity – her language is that authentic. The pace and atmosphere of the novel is also very similar to 19th century classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I felt it had a real kinship to both books.

We begin with an account of the hero’s childhood, where he is condescended to by his socially superior cousins. His mother foolishly eloped with his father, and although they have been happily married for years, still his father is just a lowly vicar. After having been all but disowned, his mother is intent on winning back her place in her family, and his father allows this, despite being too proud to go with her and risk looking like a supplicant.

All this, which seems incidental trivia at first, is going to be wound skilfully back into the story later, in what is a beautifully plotted book. Nothing can be assumed to be irrelevant here, and there are clues as subtly placed as in any mystery.

As Natty grows, he forms a special attachment to his cousin’s friend, Miles Lovell; an attachment which is returned. Through this friendship, Natty comes to realize that he is attracted to men, and that he is deeply in love with Miles. Miles, however, is due to be married to a young lady, and even if he were not, he is socially so much Natty’s superior that they have no real chance of a life together. This causes Natty surprisingly little general anxiety. For a vicar’s son, he seems remarkably unconcerned about God’s attitude to his inclinations, and if the story had been focussed entirely on his sexual awakening, I might have found his lack of faith disturbing 😉 His lack of conflict with his faith, at least.

However, Natty’s realization that he is attracted to men is the least disturbing thing in his life at this point. His mother and father are quarrelling and their marriage is under threat. His own future is the subject of pressure and rebuke from his family. His mother’s connexions want higher things for him than he wants for himself, his father is reluctant to take handouts and the situation between his parents is deteriorating. And worse than all of this, he finds himself being haunted by the silent and awful figure of a white lady who comes upon him whenever he is out of doors and makes his every journey an ordeal of terror.

For my money, the ghostly parts of the book really stood out. They genuinely made my hair stand on end. Really well done and frightening!

Nathaniel must find it in himself to fact this terror, to face the disillusion of his family, and to grow up, and he does. I’m not going to say what happens with the ghost, because when I realized what was happening there, I was full of admiration for the author’s plotting, and I don’t want to spoil that satisfying moment for others. But suffice it to say, everything is resolved admirably, and sometimes surprisingly. Just don’t set your heart on a happy ending for Natty and Miles together, the way I did. It isn’t a romance, and if you read it as one, you will be disappointed.

If you read it as a coming of age story, however, it’s wonderful. So I recommend you do just that.

Buy: Powell’s Books, Prizm Books,

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.

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