Cornelia Grey interview: the joy of short stories and more–also an excerpt from *Bounty Hunter*

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Bounty Hunter by Cornelia Grey It wasn’t so very long ago that James Campbell and William Hunt were lovers. They met at the horse ranch where they both worked, training and transporting stallions and mares all across the state and sometimes farther. But then, James discovered his employer’s secrets and the truth behind the job he loved so much. The knowledge was too much, and James had to do something about it.

Now, James Campbell is a wanted man. Every bounty hunter in the area is hot on his trail, eager to be the one who finally brings him in. William, though, is determined to get there first. But when he finally catches up to James, he’s torn between finding revenge for James’ betrayal and helping him escape. Because his feelings for James are as strong as ever, and because he’s not convinced that James was entirely wrong…

Cornelia Grey is a creative writing student fresh out of university, with a penchant for fine arts and the blues. Born and raised in the hills of Northern Italy, where she collected her share of poetry and narrative prizes, she is now based in London. After graduating with top grades, she is now busy with internships – literary agencies, publishing houses, and creative departments handling book series, among others. She also works as a freelance translator.

Her interests vary from painting to photography, from sewing to acting; when writing, she favors curious, surreal poems and short stories involving handsome young men seducing each other. She loves collecting people’s stories and re-discovering lost tales that deserve to be told.

The Interview

Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: I guess that depends on the story! Sometimes, the title is all I have; I’m still working on the plot and I don’t even know how everything’s going to end, but the title is summing up the theme of the book, the main focus I have to bear in mind as I go along. Take, for example, three titles in an ongoing series of mine (of which only one has been published so far!): The Mercenary; The Stray; The Traitor. They describe the different ‘roles’ my protagonist finds himself stuck in, which are often imposed onto him from the outside.

Sometimes, instead, the title is the very last thing I know – in fact, I end up reading and re-reading the finished story looking for something that sticks out, maybe some peculiar expression that might sum up the ‘feel’ of the story.

I have a simlar approach when picking names. When the character’s appearance and personality are quite well-rounded in my head, I go through my name lists until I find something that fits. There’s usually just one name that jumps out and makes me go, ‘ah, so that’s who you are, my friend!’. Sometimes it feels more like digging out something that was hidden rather than making up something new.

Q: In what locale is your most recent book set? How compelling was it to set a story there? Do you choose location the same way every time? How?
A: The one thing that most of my settings have in common is – they aren’t real. But they usually aren’t 100% fantasy either. Let’s just say I like – tweaking reality, adding stuff to it, bending its rules. It’s probably got something to do with my love for magical realism. I always find it especially intriguing: there’s a base of reality, so you come into it with all sorts of logical expectations, and yet at every turn there might just be something unusual, absurd, magical popping up and turning all your certainties upside down. I find it exciting, that added layer of possibilities to a world that already offers so many; I love the added degree of freedom it allows, and the fun that comes with playing with the expected and unexpected, the unreal juxtaposed on the real.

In fact, most of my stories are set in a world that’s never grounded – no dates, no exact locations, no names, no definite reality. I like that, and I think it works for me because I mostly write short stories, and they have different rules than full-length novels. I love the idea of tuning in to whatever’s happening, wherever’s happening, and simpy watching it unfold for a while before departing again. Not every question is answered; this isn’t a full meal, it’s a bite, a savoury morsel. The story I’m currently editing follows this rule, too. It’s set in a circus – an old-fashioned circus, in a setting that has some historical features, but remains open to other possibilities. The atmosphere is steampunk-ish, even though there are no actual steampunk elements. I’d been wanting to play with a circus setting for a long time, and while I hope to use it in a longer piece soon, this was a very enjoyable start!

I guess I could sum up this ramble by saying that I really enjoy speculative fiction, and I similarly enjoy speculative settings – the ones that always leave you guessing!

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line?
A: It is limited, I have to say, since most of the time I come up with the entire plot before they actually have the chance to have their say – namely, before I start actually writing. It is mostly a bunch of adverse circumstances that I throw at the unsuspecting characters: they find themselves neck-deep in it before they can even realize what’s going on and they are swept along for a ride they didn’t expect, much less choose or want. So they don’t really have much of a say on that part, or on all the things that will inevitably go wrong along the way. But when I put them in an impossible situation, when it looks like there is no possible way out, that’s when they kick in and surprise me, finding unexpected, unpredictable, sometimes absurd solutions. Their outlandish flights of fancy allow them to overcome the squared, grey, rigid reality around them, and I always rely on them.

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: Personally, I am very fascinated by alpha males. And I am even more fascinated when two alpha males collide. You know when two alpha lions meet, and their very instinct brings them to clash, to fight for dominance? That kind of electric, primal conflict is spellbinding. In my stories, I love to throw two alpha males together in difficult situations, and I love to watch them butt heads and get all growly and angry. They don’t dislike each other; but it is a challenge to learn to work together, to make their rough, sharp corners fit together in some sort of stabile combination. I love conflict, and as much as I like putting my characters in impossible situations – I’ll never be a writer of strictly domestic, quiet, relaxing stories; it’s life-or-death, razor’s edge, last-minute situations all the way – it’s even more fun if that’s complicated by an explosive inter-personal conflict. The poor guys just can’t catch a break. So they argue and fight, they are stubborn and hostile and yet at the same time they’re fiercely loyal and protective of each other almost to a fault. It’s this kind of incendiary interaction that keeps me hooked :)!

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A: A little, yes! Mostly, I get many requests for sequels to my short stories. Often I’m tempted too; as I was mentioning, my short stories are often but a bite of something much bigger and more complex. I get to describe glimpses of fantastic worlds, introduce strange characters, hint at legends and mysterious pasts… and I’m left wanting more too; I want to keep exploring that world, to know more about those characters, to learn everything there is to know. But unfortunately, I am also very easily distracted: when I get a new shiny toy (= a brand new sparkling idea) all I want to do is dive into that next world that I still know nothing about and explore that. Since I have more ideas than I can write – I currently have 12 full plots competing for my attention, and clamoring when they get bumped back yet again in favour of the latest idea! – I end up never having the time to go dust off a world and characters I’ve already played with to see what else they might have to say. I’m terrible, I know! But I keep them neatly lined up on their shelf anyway, and dust them every now and then. They are always ready for action. So, dear readers, please don’t give up hope – hopefully I’ll get around to writing one of those sequels someday 🙂

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: I never really stopped to think about this! I guess an ideal relationship would be one where I behave and write all the requested sequels instead of chasing after the latest sparkly toy that strikes my fancy. Then obviously the readers would unconditionally love every word I ever penned, including grocery lists, drunken texts and the like, monarchs and presidents would offer conspicuous sums of money and private kingdoms for me to write their biographies, and my notebook from first grade with my early short stories would be framed and exhibited at the National Library with the Magna Charta. Well… you did say ideal ;)!

Q: What do you find useful about reviews?
A: You know how, after you’ve been working on a story for a while, you sort of get… blind spots? There are things you won’t see, you won’t notice, simply because you’ve had the text before your eyes for too long. I love how readers can spot details, connections or mistakes that I was completely blind to. Once a reader pointed out a clever symbolism in one of my stories that I had absolutely never noticed, let alone put there on purpose! Another pointed out a logical flaw in the actions of a characters, wondering why he’d done a certain thing when he had much more pressing priorities; well, I had no idea. Once she pointed it out, it was glaring and I was left wondering the exact same thing: but I had honestly been completely blind to it before. Reading reader comments and considerations about my stories, I’m often able to see them from a completely different perspective, seeing sides of them I had never noticed or considered before, finding new interpretations. It’s amazing how much readers can teach me about my own stories.

Q: I’m well known for demanding to know an author’s opinion about which of their characters is the sexiest, and I’m making no exception for this group. Who, how, and why?
A: Oooh, that is a tough question! I find all my boys super-hot. But I guess Captain Jonathan Tea, from my steampunk short story ‘The Tea Demon’, has an edge! He has green eyes, and luscious long brown hair tied in a braid – which, I’ll admit, is a recurring feature among my characters. He’s sarcastic and smart and annoying and intriguing; he can set things on fire with his eyes, and he loves a cup of fine tea. But what gives him the edge is that he’s a rogue, a pirate, the captain of a gorgeous flying ship, sailing across the beautiful Sea of Clouds… who wouldn’t want to be whisked away on such a ship?

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: Oh, that’s a tough choice! I’m not sure I can pick a favorite. But since I was mentioning that my favourite character is Captain Jonathan Tea, and that said captain also has the tendency to set stuff on fire with his eyes when he’s angry, I thought it would be appropriate if he was the one to carry the ‘hotness olympics’ torch… 😉

Jonathan was spread under his gaze, the most inviting offer: pale skin glistening with sweat, his chest heaving, every muscle tense as he panted and writhed under Eric’s slow torturous thrusts. He slit his eyes open, looking at Eric from under his messed up bangs. His face was flushed, an enticing blush spread on his cheekbones, his lips bitten red. He looked utterly undone as he gasped, his thick cock leaking a streak of precome on his well-defined abdomen.
– The Tea Demon, Dreamspinner Press

Q: What are you doing now, what do plan to write next?
A: At the moment, I’m in the editing stage of a short story for Storm Moon Press’ second gun kink anthology. I already contribuited a story to the first, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write another gun-centric story; turns out this kink definitely does it for me!

As I was mentioning, it’s set in a strange, old-fashioned circus. Benjamin Pepperwhistle has wanted to join one all his life and, when the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders arrives in town, it’s just the chance he was waiting for. See, Benjamin has… a thing for guns, and it just so happens that Cole Beauchamp, the greatest pistoleer of all times, is a performer there. Benjamin is hellbent on becoming his assistant – except that Cole’s temper is explosive like his gunpowder, and Benjamin’s interest toward the pistoleer (and his gun!) soon turns out to be less than platonic…

The next project I have lined up is, surprisingly – a sequel! It’s a sequel for my short story ‘Bounty Hunter’, which was, incidentally, the first gun-kink story I wrote. We left our protagonists, James Campbell and William Hunt, in quite the pickle – and several readers have been asking to know what will become of their relationship. I was about halfway through when I abandoned it to work on the new shiny circus story… but I will get back to it as soon as this is done. Pinky swear!

An excerpt from Bounty Hunter

The man walked in the saloon, the wooden doors swinging heavily behind him. Gravel crackled under his boots as he was welcomed by the reek of cheap alcohol and gin sweat. The handful of drunken men barely spared him a glance. Someone was singing a crooked, out of tune, love song. Worn out cards slapped on wooden tabletops, the tired clinking of glass against glass as someone poured a drink.

William Hunt didn’t pay attention to any of it.

He had the best part of a whiskey flask in him, a gun heavy at his side, the stubble of four days on his face, and a sure lead. A lead he might have dragged out of a whimpering man, pressing the barrel of his gun hard into his cheek and wondering out loud whether at this particular angle the man’s eye would explode as the bullet tore through it before it blew up his brain. The man couldn’t speak fast enough to tell William what he wanted to know.

William hadn’t shot the man, of course. He hadn’t even intended to. He was just good at knowing what it would take to make a man talk; it came with the job after all. This one you could scare into spilling, that one you had to beat up, that one would crack after you broke a couple of fingers.

Whatever it took to get information.

William knew where James Campbell was holed up, and that was all he needed.

Worn steps creaked under his boots as he climbed the stairs. He bumped shoulders with a pudgy man coming down, wobbling, drunk off his ass, still trying to shove his shirt back into his trousers. He was escorted by a giggling woman whose hand was discreetly rummaging in the man’s pockets, relieving him of various possessions. William just walked on. He had business. Plus, truth be told, his sympathies went to the woman.
The lights were off, but there was still enough dusty sunlight coming in through the dirty window to see. The corridor was narrow, all the doors closed, scratched wood too thin to stifle the noises coming from inside the rooms: grunts and creaks and the choreographed high pitched moans of the whores. The third door to the left, the whimpering man had said, so William walked to it, stopped, and listened.

It seemed Campbell was having fun. It was no different from the sounds coming from the other rooms. It looked like William had gotten there at the best moment, too. He lifted his hand, placed it on the scraped wooden door, and heard the slamming of the headboard against the wall increase in speed and the woman’s wails rise in volume. They sounded oddly authentic and, despite himself, William found himself listening closely, trying to catch a hint of James’ voice. He remembered James’ low, guttural sounds, the harsh quality of his voice as he moaned in William’s ear, the broken words that started slipping from his lips in an uncontrolled litany when he was about to come. And more than his voice, his body—the span of tanned skin and taut vibrating muscle under William’s hands, his muscular chest heaving as he gasped, coated in a sheen of sweat. His blond hair ruffled and wild around his face as he looked up at William with glazed blue eyes, his strong legs tight around William’s hips as he pulled him in, strong and demanding and wild.

William could hear deep moans coming from inside the room, in a rich voice that made his skin prickle. He pressed his fingertips to the door, feeling splinters graze his skin, and swallowed.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Cornelia Grey interview: the joy of short stories and more–also an excerpt from *Bounty Hunter*

  1. Thank you so much for having me, Lou :)))!

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