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Interview with Jessica Skye Davies (maybe a few surprises…)

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!

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Another Possession excerpt—a sweet one (rated X minus, but still if you’re under 18 walk away)

Tyler stirred a bit, yawning, and felt Kevin’s arm tighten around him. “Morning, old man,” he murmured.
“Are you okay?” Kevin asked immediately, his voice still gravelly from sleep.

“Yeah, it’s fine this morning. Guess I just needed to sleep it off, y’know?” Tyler said, turning to face his lover so he could meet his eyes.

“Glad to hear that,” Kevin said, relieved. “I hate seeing you hurting.” He brushed a stray curl back from Tyler’s forehead before kissing the soft skin his fingers had traced.

“Nothing hurts too much when you’re near me, Kev,” Tyler said honestly.

“I’ll always be near you,” Kevin vowed, softly kissing Tyler’s jawline.

Tyler’s fingertips under Kevin’s strong chin brought their lips together. It wasn’t long before it was more tongues than lips, and not long after that before Tyler was rolling onto his back and all but dragging Kevin on top of him, his hands greedily roaming his lover’s chest.

“Want you even nearer,” Tyler murmured.

Kevin responded by wrapping Tyler tighter in his arms and going in for a long, deep, passionate kiss.

“Nearer,” Tyler breathed when he finally had use of his tongue again, canting his hips upward so that their rigid cocks pressed together served to reinforce his point.

“You sure, angel? I was a little worried that maybe Saturday night was why you were hurting yesterday, I don’t want to cause you pain,” Kevin said, managing to keep his voice more steady than he felt. He was more than ready to sink into Tyler’s beautiful body then and there, but with Tyler only just coming off an attack, Kevin was also more than prepared to exercise unlimited self-control.

Tyler just shook his head, though. “It’s fine, really. I want you in me, Kev. You know I’d tell you if I thought it was still dodgy. C’mon, please? You’ve got me all hot and bothered. Don’t be a cock tease now!”

Kevin couldn’t help grinning at Tyler’s precious pout. “Well, if you promise me you’re all right, I suppose I could see my way to doing something about this for you,” he said, cupping Tyler’s groin.

“I’ll swear on a stack of Playgirls,” Tyler said vehemently, snagging the lube from the nightstand and pushing it into Kevin’s other hand. “Get on with it, then!”

Kevin laughed out loud at that, but complied, circling a lubed fingertip around Tyler’s opening a few times before seeking entrance. “Demanding little bitch. And I thought you got rid of all your Playgirls when you met me.”

“Kept a small stack for swearing on at need.” Tyler smirked, then gasped as Kevin pressed another finger into him. His gasp melted into a long groan when Kevin ducked his head and Tyler felt a hot tongue lapping at his shaft.

Once he was sure he had him properly lubed, Kevin gathered Tyler into his arms, murmuring, “C’mere, beautiful.”

Tyler wrapped his arms around Kevin’s shoulders and his legs around Kevin’s waist, taking Kevin’s kiss for all it was worth as he felt his partner slowly, gently filling him. “Two halves whole,” Tyler said softly, smiling as Kevin hit bottom and stayed there for a few moments.

“Love you so much, Ty,” Kevin mumbled, his face buried against Tyler’s neck. “Love you always.”

“Love me, Kev,” Tyler whispered.
Kevin kept the pace slow and gentle, not only because of Tyler’s back, but because, more than anything, he wanted to express physically how much Tyler really meant to him, on a level beyond the teasing and dirty talking, grasping and thrusting. There was hardly a moment when his lips weren’t in contact with his lover’s body, kissing, suckling, and generally worshiping every bit of skin he could reach.

Even with the lazy morning pace, it still didn’t take long for the intensity of their feelings to take them both to the edge of physical completion. Then it was just a few deep thrusts and several gentle tugs, and they were both in the profound rapture of a shared orgasm.

Despite his boneless, blissed-out state, Tyler didn’t let go of Kevin afterward as they gradually drifted back down from the peak. After a while, Tyler moved to comb his fingers through Kevin’s shaggy locks and kissed his lover’s temple before Kevin lifted his head from Tyler’s shoulder and kissed him back fully.

“I never really knew what sex was till I met you,” Tyler said softly.

Kevin grinned languidly, watching the love glow in Tyler’s expressive eyes. “Scared the fuck outta me that first time. I thought for sure I’d done something wrong and I’d never see you again.” The first time he had made love to Tyler had been one of the best experiences of his life, until he had glanced down and saw a tear slipping down his lover’s cheek.

Tyler smiled back and shrugged. “I’d just realized there really was such a thing as a soul mate, and that I’d found mine. Of course I was teary-eyed.”

Kevin just wrapped Tyler in his arms and held him tightly. There was a question practically on the tip of his tongue, one he’d wanted to ask for years, but he never seemed to have the courage to just say it. One day, Kevin promised himself, like every other time, and instead just whispered, “I love you.”

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Out of Film: Leaving the Camera Behind

I began my illustrious writing career by writing screenplays, largely because I felt more comfortable writing dialog than prose.  I also had access to film equipment and local community actors, so I was able to turn some of these screenplays into microbudget films, and, in that sense, publish them.  However, some of the ideas I had were a bit out of my reach as a filmmaker.  It’s difficult to do a historical film on a shoestring budget, for example.  So I began to write out my ideas as short stories and novels.

One screenplay that I was never able to make into a film, due to technical constraints, was a werewolf short.  After about three years of trying to find a way to realize it on film, I finally decided it would be better to turn it into a story, rather than let it languish forever as an unfilmed screenplay.

My first attempt to turn one of my screenplays (about a boy battling an evil coven) into a novel, years before, had failed, because I’d approached the project as if all I had to do was “fill in” the screenplay — as if the dialog in the screenplay was most of the story, and I simply needed to add some description.  This turned out to be absolutely the wrong approach.

Now, coming at the werewolf project, I have a few novels under my belt and that’s given me some new insights into the process.

Let’s take a look as the opening scene from my werewolf screenplay:


A rustic log cabin with a broad front porch sits at the end of a dirt road.  Behind the cabin is a deep forest.  Although nobody can be seen, at the moment, there is a beat-up truck parked near the cabin with “Jack of All Trades” stenciled on the side.

A car comes up the road, stops, and the driver climbs out.

SEAN is in his late twenties, blonde with a boyishly- handsome face.  He is wearing jeans and a t-shirt with his favorite rock band on it, which makes him look all the more like a teenager.

Hey!  Jack!  You home?

There’s no response, so he moves around to the back of the car and opens the trunk.  As he’s retrieving his bags, a dark-haired man appears from behind the cabin, dressed in dirty jeans and a flannel shirt.

This is JACK, and although he’s the same age as Sean, he comes across as more serious and somehow a bit older.

You moving in?

This works (I hope) as the opening to a film, but the information is far too sparse for a prose story.  We have a brief description of the cabin, but only mentioning details that will be important later in the film, and brief descriptions of our two main characters.  The description of Sean might do, in a story, but the description of Jack is useless.  Frankly, it wouldn’t pass muster in a professional screenplay, either, but since I wrote the screenplay for myself to film, I didn’t worry that much about description.  Generally, the director doesn’t want too much description in a screenplay, anyway, because, unless it’s essential that a character be blond, or have blue eyes, there’s no point in restricting the choice of actors based upon those traits.

But character descriptions are much more important in a novel adaptation.  Here is the description I came up with for Jack:

     After a minute, the man came around from the back of the house, wiping dirty hands on a red checked flannel shirt he was holding.  He looked good, Sean couldn’t help but notice.  The last several years, working as a handyman around town, had kept him lean, and added some definition to his stomach and chest.  Sweat was running in tiny rivulets from his dark brown hair, streaking down his face and neck to pool in the hollows of his collar bones, before spilling down his naked torso.
     Jack looked at Sean for a long moment, before tossing the shirt over one shoulder and saying, “Hey.”

Since Sean is the viewpoint character, I worried less about describing him physically and more about what was going on inside his head.  And if we’re going to be listening in on Sean’s thoughts, we might want to start the scene just a bit earlier, because his anxiety about the reception he’ll get from his old friend certainly begins long before he pulls into the driveway.  We don’t want to go back too far, but a bit of him driving along the road, fretting can help set the story up:

     The old Mazda shimmied so much on the dirt road that Sean could almost forget that his hands were trembling.  But not quite.  It had been so long.  Would Jack be happy to see him?  Sean felt as if they’d had a fight.  But they hadn’t, had they?  Not really. Things had just gotten…weird.

The description of the cabin can more or less remain the same, but we’ll flesh it out a little, and add some atmospheric detail:

     Sean thought about turning back, as the road narrowed and the brush seemed to be closing in on him.  But just as he had decided he couldn’t risk going any further, he rounded a bend, and there it was: a log cabin with a broad front porch, just as Larry had described it.  The clincher was the beat-up, hunter green pickup in the yard with the words “Jack of All Trades” stenciled on the side in yellow letters.
     Relieved, Sean pulled his car up alongside the truck and stepped out.  The late summer air was hot and muggy, and his t-shirt was already clinging to his torso.  Now that he was standing still, mosquitoes began to savage his skin.

But by far, the most important thing to remember is that, in order for the adaptation to be more than a dull transcription of the screenplay, you have to breathe life into it, as a novel.  This means doing what you would do for a novel that you were writing from scratch — allowing the characters to live and breathe on the page, and act according to what motivates them.  In some cases, this can mean deviating from the dialog in the original screenplay.

In this scene, we have things spelled out fairly explicitly in the dialog, because, frankly, that’s the best way for the audience to learn about the characters’ history:

You’re making me sleep on the floor?

Jack moves past him, towards the bedroom, pausing in the doorway to look back.

Or the couch.

He sees Sean’s disappointed look and smiles wryly.

There’s only one bed, and I’m not sharing it with you.

We used to share beds all the time, before I went off to college.

There’s more beer in the fridge.  Help yourself to anything you want to snack on.
But stay inside.

But it isn’t necessary for characters to say everything out loud in a novel.  Some of this dialog can be made internal:

     The pleasant buzz Sean had gotten from the beer began to fade, as he realized things weren’t going to be that easy, after all.  Jack opened the door to his own room, clearly not inviting Sean to follow.
     “You’re making me sleep on the floor?”
     “Or the couch.”
     Jack hesitated in the doorway, and gave him a wry smile.  “There’s only one bed, and I’m not sharing it with you.”
     They’d shared beds all the time, before college separated them.  But clearly things were different now.  Sean tried to think of something to say that would restore the casual relationship they’d once had, but his mind was blank.
     “There’s more beer in the fridge,” Jack continued.  “Help yourself to anything you want to snack on.”  Then, just before he closed the door, he added, “But stay inside.”

I’m still in the process of adapting this screenplay, so no doubt some of these passages will be modified in later drafts.  But you get the idea.  The point is not just to adapt, but also to create something new.  Films have an advantage over novels, in that they can present events in a more active, visually exciting format, enhanced by sound effects and dramatic music, but the advantage novels have over film is the ability to delve more deeply into the characters and their emotions.

For more of my ramblings on the writing process, come visit me at my blog:  http://jamiefessenden.com

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