Jessica, thank you so much for agreeing to appear here on the blog and answer a few questions. I’m itching to dig right in to some questions about Possession and your writing in general so without further preamble…
Q: I have a very strong impression that, other than some sweet, and perhaps even juicy, sex (note for the reader, we’ll get to taste that later), Possession has the feel of a “cozy” mystery—the kind Agatha Christie might write (or perhaps Rita Mae Brown as another example). Is that sub-genre an influence for this novella? For your writing in general? Yes or no, how did you come to write this story with that hometown feel?
A: A supernatural Agatha Christie is actually a pretty good description for Possession. At the time of writing it, I didn’t intentionally emulate any particular author or style, I just had the idea for a spooky story and went with it. I guess if anything might have influenced some of the “feel” I tried to put into the story it would be more like a toned-down Stephen King, or grown up “Goosebumps”/”Are You Afraid of the Dark?” kind of thing (I remember being totally creeped out by the Nickelodeon series). Perhaps a bloodless/zombie-less George Romero, being from Night of the Living Dead territory and having spent more hours (and dollars!) than I’d like to count in the mall from Dawn of the Dead. It’s kind of odd that I decided to put this one up for my first fiction publication because the majority of what I write isn’t in the supernatural/paranormal vein at all. I write much more sappy/angsty romance most of the time.
The “hometown” feel of Possession is a story in itself. The setting, the “gayborhood” Westcroft, is essentially based on a neighborhood of Pittsburgh that I frequent, mostly known for upscale shopping, vintage clothes stores, antique shops, cafes and gay bars. The demented doorstop, in fact, actually exists in one of those antique shops. I saw it one Sunday afternoon while poking around and thought it was weird and creepy and couldn’t imagine anyone ever having it in their home. But then for the next couple days I couldn’t stop thinking about the thing, wanting to know more about whether there were other ones like it, its provenance, etc. I’d thought it might be amusing if someone displayed it in their dining room and gave a dinner party, just to watch their guest’s discomfort level with having that thing watching them eat. Finally I ended up going back to the shop, taking a couple pictures, and deciding that the only thing I could do to exorcise the thing from my brain was to foist it onto some unsuspecting characters. Little did I know it would end up becoming my first publication!
Q: Your two main characters in Possession have perhaps an exceptionally loving relationship, though of course it may hit a few bumps. Did you model them after ‘real world’ people you know, or is it an ideal? Something in between?
A: Actually, I go to lengths to make sure my characters don’t too closely reflect people I know. People always seem to worry about ending up in writer’s work, for some strange reason! I think when it comes to my characters their personalities more likely to come either from within me or out of the blue, sometimes they seem to present themselves almost “fully formed” as individuals ready to inhabit the story. When it comes to Kevin and Tyler’s relationship, I think that their strength is pretty much rooted in their reasonableness about themselves and one another. They accept one another as human and know that a relationship requires discussion and compromise, and that it’s ok to acknowledge that sometimes you might feel like throwing your partner “down the stairs,” as one friend once said, but you don’t because you know you can work on it together. They’re kind of like George and Jim in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (which I loved to bits and just saw again the other day), except that Kevin isn’t even remotely as closeted as George. They’re romantic, but also very practical. Rather like myself. So, short answer: somewhere in between.
Q: Raunchy question… Does Tyler always bottom? Feel free to be as brief or explicit as you wish. Seriously. And, does sex play an important role in the story other than keeping your characters and readers happy?
A: Only when he wants to. Which is most of the time, actually. Tyler’s a pretty pushy bottom, very nearly “bottoms from the top.” But Kevin and Tyler are really a very equal couple, Kevin’s more than happy giving in to Tyler’s whims. Sex certainly goes a long way for character and reader contentment, something I generally try to keep in mind when writing, but my writing doesn’t usually focus heavily on the sex. Kevin and Tyler’s relationship really isn’t sex-centric either. They certainly enjoy it and are very comfortable with physical affection, but it is far from the only thing that’s kept them together for five years. Sex does play a role in Possession, but it’s a very subtle one.
Q: Magic. Not exactly fantasy, but magic—does all your writing have the magical element? If so is it always explicit?
A: Just the magic of love! Although, it’s not terribly rare for me to include some mention of mystical/spiritual things like reading auras and “crystal” metaphysics. If anything, I’d say there’s often an element of destiny to my stories, but that may be just because it works so well for circularity of narrative.
Q: Your cover is yet one more example of Paul Richmond’s characteristic fine work. The elements surrounding Tyler and Kevin—the golden horoscope medallion, the truly sinister punch—express the theme and ‘flavor’ of the story quite well. Did you have input into what elements and what type of art Possession would have on it’s cover? What was your reaction to the cover when you first saw it?
A: My reaction to Paul’s cover art – love at first sight! For me, putting out my first publication was such a surreal experience from the beginning, it all went so smoothly. The further along in the process I got, I began to realize that the moment it was all going to “hit” me would be when I saw the cover art, that that would make it really real in a way, for someone else to be giving a representation of my work, literally seeing an interpretation of my characters and elements of the story through another’s eyes. I basically stated in my cover art specs that I wanted the artist to have fairly broad license on the cover and just gave several snippets from the story of Tyler and Kevin’s description and general attitude. I was mostly interested in relating the tone of the story as being about a regular, loving couple that faces a creeping, and creepy, influence over their lives.
Q: From your bio, it looks like you’ve been very busy with your education, and have plans for a career apart from writing—in social work. I’d love to hear a bit more about that, but I’d especially like to know whether you expect social work to affect the type of writing you will do. Perhaps also you can just give readers an idea of what to expect in the future (near and far).
A: Almost a decade after high school, I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. Having decided to go back to school after a number of years working as an administrative assistant was a pretty big move for me, but it was one of those things that I knew I had to do then and there at the time. I started just going back for my general studies associate of arts, but finally came to terms with the decision to go for a bachelor’s in social work last year. I’ve always wanted to do something more than just “being” an ally to the gay community and that’s what I’ll be focusing my education on over the next couple years. As much as I love writing, I’m the sort who, unless we’re talking on a J.K. Rowling scale, could never rely on writing to be my primary income. Being a Taurus does not allow for that sort of uncertainty! Being able to use my office-life experience as well as my capacity for compassion, and possibly my writing skills, to really make a difference in the community was the perfect answer for me.
Whether my future in social work will have a huge impact on what I write, I honestly rather doubt unless it just gives me some different perspectives to write from in general. Though I do think most writers would agree that our life experiences often make a difference in our writing.
Upcoming projects: I’m currently doing some heavy polishing and detail work on a story that’s been finished but just sitting around for quite a while. It’s much longer than Possession, novel length rather than a short novella, and not at all a creep-show. It’s the story of a 30-year-old shy virgin who’s only just gotten to the point of being ok with being out to his friends. He gets dragged to a male strippers club for his best friend’s bachelorette party and after the show, when he ducks outside for a cigarette, he meets that night’s star performer who asks him out for dinner and drinks. It’s a heavily romantic story about what impact love and acceptance from others can have on our self-acceptance.
Thanks, Jessica, for graciously indulging my questions, and for allowing me to feature you on Sylvre.com. It has been a pleasure.
You’re very welcome!