Welcome to the blog, Shae. I’m happy to get a chance to peek into your brain a little bit! I’m looking forward to talking about your writing, but if you don’t mind I’d like to start by getting to know you, Shae Connor the author, a little better.
Q: Your bio says you live in Atlanta? Is that a lifelong home? The excerpts posted below from Sand and Water How does Atlanta, or the South in general, influence the tone and flavor of your writing—is there a Southern Style for M/M romance, and if so does that change how you write?
A: I was born and raised in south Georgia and first moved to Atlanta about 15 years ago. Spent a few years in New Jersey (for a job) and then moved back 5 years ago. I love Atlanta and Georgia and probably will live here forever. At least, it’ll take an extremely good offer to get me to go elsewhere!
Atlanta and the South figure into my writing mainly because I’m just so familiar with them. I know the locations, the people, the customs, and the language, and so I love setting stories in the South and populating them with Southerners. My people! 🙂
I don’t think there’s a specific “Southern Style” for M/M romance, but gay issues can be extremely dichotomous, depending on where you are. Atlanta has a big gay community and is much more liberal and accepting than a lot of the smaller towns and rural areas. But even in the more conservative areas, people tend to be polite to nearly everyone in public, no matter how much they might disapprove. They do their talking in private!
Q: You said you were making up stories for a while before you started actually writing them down. What encouraged you to do that? Can you tell us about your early efforts? How long before you had something published?
A: The first stories I made up were what I’d now call fanfiction: acting out favorite scenes from television shows, and then extending them into my own stories. I’m talking about when I was 7 or 8 years old, although my best friend and I wrote a full episode of “Remington Steele” when we were in high school. The first fanfic I published online came in the late 1990s, and I had a few original flash fiction stories published online a few years ago, but I didn’t write anything for serious publication until last year. Model Student was my first professional fiction publication.
Q: I love the ‘family’ feel of Sand and Water. Is this a theme you regularly pursue? What brought these characters to you? Did the story begin with them, or with their situation? Can you share a bit about how the story developed?
A: The original idea and title for the story came from the Beth Nielsen Chapman song, which I’ve always loved. For John and his story, I borrowed the idea of one parent dying and leaving the other to raise their child alone, along with the general melancholy feel of the song. Bryan’s backstory is based on something that happened to a family friend, whose husband was severely injured shortly after they were married. She went through a similar process of having to let go but still caring for him, and when she started a new relationship, he also joined her in visiting him. In both cases, there was always that sadness there, but they learned to move on.
I do like the aspect of including the characters’ whole worlds in the story, in particular the larger family dynamics. There are a lot of M/M stories where one or more of the characters’ families aren’t in the picture. In most cases, that fits the story, but sometimes it can feel like the author just didn’t want to deal with integrating the family and its influences into the characters’ stories. I like reading about anything that figures into the characters’ choices, and for good or bad, family is part of that. I also like for secondary characters to be fully developed and integrated into the story, not just used to drive the plot forward.
I’ve had a few comments from people who thought there was too much detail about the kids in the story, but I’ve been glad to see others who understand. John is raising Beth almost on his own (with some help from Meghan), which makes her a huge part of his life, but she’s also a tangible tie to and daily reminder of Liz, so that makes her figure even more closely into his characterization. Bryan’s closeness to his nephew is also critically important to who he is as a person, and in what John likes about him. Ignoring or minimizing the importance of the kids would’ve left huge holes in the story, I think.
Q: John is a bisexual character, apparently. Do you often write characters that have succeeded at both male and female relationships? What are the advantages or disadvantages of writing a bisexual character, if there are any? Does it change your approach to the character in anyway?
A: I’ve written several characters who could be described as other than strictly gay or straight, even if “bisexual” doesn’t quite do it either. It does fit for John, who’s been with both men and women and doesn’t really have a preference. He falls in love with the person, not the physical parts.
I don’t think there are any specific advantages or disadvantages to writing bisexual characters. It’s just another aspect of the characterization, same as if he were gay or straight. My personal feeling is that few people are strictly one thing or another and that sexuality is fairly fluid for most people, and that does come through in my stories sometimes.
Q: I never cease to be amazed by the quality of cover art being made in this M/M Romance genre. Reese Dante has definitely done it again with the cover of Sand and Water. Having grown up in beach towns—albeit a different ocean than the one your characters are near—I can say this cover captures exactly the right feel. Paul Richmond, who’s impressive art graces many covers, has done Model Student. I won’t ask you to compare or choose a favorite—how could anyone do that? But maybe you can tell us a bit about what you like most about each cover. Did you get a chance to give input as to the elements?
A: I provided input and suggestions for both cover designs. Paul’s art for Model Student was my first professional cover art, and I was completely astounded by it. I love his work overall, but he perfectly captured the characters and the scene that I described. The finished image shows both the affection and the passion between Aaron and Matt. It feels like a standalone painting rather than a specific book cover.
Reese’s cover for Sand and Water makes me smile whenever I look at it. She managed to create exactly the type design I’d pictured even though I’d forgotten to include much about that when I sent in my suggestions. I did provide the background images of the beach and the pier, which are ones that I took on my last trip to Tybee Island, where most of the book is set. Reese and I worked together to pick the images for Bryan and John, and I think the finished product is just amazing.
Q: Rather than me picking your brain bit by bit about Model Student, let’s just post the blurb right here, and then, if you would, you can tell us something about how these characters and their story came to be.
Making his living as a model allows Aaron Stevens to pay his way through film school at NYU. While on a photo shoot, he meets Matt Carson, a journalism student who wants to interview Aaron for his senior project, and they feel an instant connection that catches them both off guard. As their relationship develops over the next week, they open up to each other about their pasts, but attraction won’t be enough to keep them together unless they can share their secrets too.
A:Model Student actually started life as a fanfiction story. I’d seen some modeling shots of one of the actors in a pairing I’ve written for, and I wondered what would have happened if the couple had met in a vastly different way than in canon. It grew from there and morphed into an original story. I usually tell people Model Student is one of those stories where I feel like I transcribed it more than just writing it. Most of it just flowed out as if it had been hanging in the ether, waiting for someone to write it down.
Q: Okay, here’s one of my favorite questions. Whose sexiest, John or Bryan? Aaron or Matt? And you don’t get to just say “both,” although you might fudge a bit if necessary. And, no one word answers, please, I’m hoping to hear the what and the why!
A: Hrm. Well, I’ll go with Aaron over Matt, partly because he’s physically more my type, and partly because he has that model pout to work. I love tall, lanky guys with dark hair and intense eyes, which is totally Aaron. Between John and Bryan it’s harder, but I’d probably lean toward Bryan because he smiles and laughs so much, even with all he’s been through. I laugh and smile a lot, so that that’s another thing I like in other people!
Q: Before we move on to excerpts, is there any news about what your readers can look for next? Any long range writing plans?
A: I have two holiday-themed short stories and a novella out for submission now, and I have several other projects in various stages of completion. (There are vague plans for a sequel to Sand and Water, for one thing.) I wrote most of the Sand and Water during National Novel Writing Month last year, and I plan to tackle another novel for this year’s NaNo. Please send chocolate! 🙂
Thanks for being here, Shae. I enjoyed the chance to ask my questions, and I certainly appreciate your sharing.
Thanks, Lou! Always glad to visit!