Tag Archives: writing craft

Interview with J. Scott Coatsworth—author of the M/M sci-fi series, the Oberon Cycle

Welcome Scott, and congratulations on the release of Lander. Having you on the blog has given me a reason to take a closer look at your work—something I confess I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I have to say I got drawn in—so much so that I read Skythane instead of doing a number of other things I had on my to do list. I’ve got a few questions that arose from my reading, but let’s start with a few more general facts.

Q: Please tell us three of your favorite things about being a writer. We all get discouraged from time to time—when that happens, what keeps you writing? ame three books, novels, that you could read over and over again—the books that make you want to be a writer, too.

A: So first off—Larque on the Wing—a fabulous magical realism tale about a housewife who wanders into the gay part of town and finds out she quite literally has a gay man inside of her. In this world, there’s a man who can bring to the outside who you really are on the inside. This book showed me what could be done with magical realism and a rainbow palette.

My second—Daughter of the Empire, by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts. OMG this book is good. It tells the story of a daughter of a powerful family who returns home after the rest of her kin are slaughtered, and is forced to take control of the family business. The world is a feudal society that mirrors Japanese culture, and the twists and turns are fantastic, as is the ending. Plus there are two more after this one. A master class in plot-driven sci fi/fantasy.

Finally, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. I am a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey generally and the Pern series in particular, and this one pulled all my heart strings – an epic tragedy that seamlessly combines sci fi and fantasy in a beautifully realized world.

Q: If you couldn’t be a writer, what profession would be your first choice, and why?

A: Hmmm… I always wanted to be an astronomer, until I found out how much math it required.

I’ve always loved space and sci fi, so astronaut would be my second choice. 🙂

Q: Among your characters, who is your favorite, and why?

A: My favorite character? But I love them all! But if I had to choose… probably Mael from “The Great North.” He’s so strong and sure of himself – he comes from a society where there’s no issue with folks who are gay or lesbian or any other part of the queer rainbow. Plus there’s the whole death and reincarnation thing (spoiler)…

Q: In a throwback to a question I used to ask authors for every feature—what are the fifty hottest, sexiest words you ever wrote? Okay, you have some leeway here. It can be less than fifty, but not many more, and “hot” and “sexy” can be defined any way you want.

A:From “A New Year”:

Finn pulled him down into a bed of moss, hungrily, and they kissed with a passion that unleashed Heath’s lust like an uncoiled spring. He pulled off his shirt and unbuttoned his jeans, and Finn shirked off his own clothing. Heath nuzzled Finn’s neck, and was soon lost to an animal passion that surpassed anything he had ever experienced in his bedroom with his own hand and a box of tissues in the dead of night.

I may have cheated and gone over. Just a bit.
(That’s perfectly all right, Scott.)

Q: You do have stories in other genres, but is sci-fi your favorite? If so, what in particular makes that true? Who are your sci-fi author heroes—the writers who made you fall in love with the genre? What new sci-fi favorite authors are on your current reading list?

A: I have three loves – sci fi, fantasy, and magical realism. Most of my stories fall under at least one of those categories, and sometimes several. Sci fi/fantasy has been a favorite of mine since I used to raid my mother’s sci fi bookshelf – McCaffrey, Asimov, Clarke, Anderson, Bova, Tolkien, and many more.

I love being a part of bold, amazing, fully realized worlds that are so different from this one, and others that seem like they might just be a heartbeat away. Give me starships, elf magic and planet-wide terraforming, and I’m in bliss. Put them all together successfully, and I’m in awe.

I have very little reading time these days, but I love me some Angel Martinez. And though he’s new, OMG, Peter Hamilton. If you are a hard-core sci fi butt and you haven’t read Hamilton… * shakes head *

Q: You are one of the administrators of the Queer Sci-fi website, an associated Facebook group, and a critique group. Can you give us a little history? Was this your brainchild? What do you most want people to know about QSF?

A: LOL… yeah it was. I started writing when I was in elementary school, and sent off my first book in my mid-twenties, but I didn’t write queer characters then. When I came back to writing in my mid-forties, I knew it had to be different this time. My new stories exploded with rainbows, and I wanted people to share my newfound freedom with. I found some good groups in Facebook, but none was quote what I wanted – a group that was truly inclusive of all kinds of speculative fiction and all kinds of people across the queer spectrum.

So Queer Sci Fi was born.

Not long after, I managed to convince Angel to come run it with me, and then we added Ben Brock, who has become our reviews guru.

The site’s watchwords are diversity, safety and fun – we work hard to foster an atmosphere where everyone can hang out together and rub elbows with others who are different, without feeling sidelined, disparaged, or made to feel invisible.

Q: The names and creatures in Skythane and Lander draw on Irish or Celtic mythology. What drew you in that direction? How extensively did the ancient figures of Oberon and the fey influence the worlds you created, or the stories you set within them?

A: LOL… it was an accident, actually.

I wrote the first three scenes of what eventually became Skythane in the mid-nineties, and then put it back on a shelf. It had no direction, no outline, no particular place it was going, and it joined a bunch of started stories that I’d never finished.

Around 2014, I pulled out the scenes to take a look at them. The image of the half world against the stark backdrop of space stuck with me. And the name – Oberon.

I did some research, and ran across Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’ Dream” – where King Oberon and Queen Titania are two of the many characters in a play that includes faeries, a magical forest and a love potion that makes people do crazy things. And Skythane was born.

I had gotten about halfway through, but then in November, 2015, I made it my NaNo project, and wrote the whole thing in one month. Of course, it took a few additional months to rework it and clean it up, and then Dreamspinner bought it and the rest was history.

Just for kicks, here’s the first scene I ever wrote of the story in all its misspelled glory. It still appears in the current book, with a few alterations:

Raindrops rolled off the plas screen in crazy patterns, the drops skidding across the slick surface in a wind-whipped frenzy. Xander lay on his back, head thrown back, watching them with a laziness that belied his inner turmoil. His chest heaved slowly up and down, his breath easing out of his lungs with silent ease, his whole posture and demeanor speaking of ease.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Below the surface, under the deception of skin and sinew, seemingly relaxed muscles and redolent pose, his heart beat at a thunerous pace, and his mind raced for answers that seemed to just as quickly slip beyond his grasp.

The trick he’d brought home worked enthusiatically, his warm hands lain upon Xander’s thighs, his warm mouth evident elsewhere. Xander smelled the deep musk of him, slipped a hand absently through the man’s dark, tousseled hair, watching the rain increase to a thunder on the plas. The drops glistened, each an individual universe of shimering light, combining and recombining and running quickly out of sight.

Despite himself, he felt himself rising quickly to climax; despite his detachment, his mind was drawn up like the tide in the swell that seemed to radiate from his cock and balls down through his toes, up along his spinal cord.

Lightning flared suddenly in the wet-black sky, followed by thunder so close it shook the bed, and Xander came at the same time, his body crying out in joyous release. He shuddered, shivered and shuddered again, feeling for just a moment on the crest of the wave, in a pleasure so intense it burned through him like phosphorous, white hot fire.

In the short moments afterward, he drifted in an oblivion that was blessed in its emptiness, missing the pain that had taken up residence inside him these last few weeks.

When he opened his eyes, the nameless trick was staring down at him, expectant. Xander pushed himself up, off the bed, and took a fifty out opf his wallet, handing it to the trick with a dismissive gesture.

“I can do more…” the man said, but Xander shook his head.

“You’ve done enough. Now get out.”

The trick shot him a dirty look, but hurried out of the flat, slamming the door behind him. Xander looked after him in disgust. This was what he’d sunk to, bringing home tricks for a quick blow?

He stood against the long window, his lithe form silouhetted in the darkness of the plas, touching the cool surface with his hand, and tried to remember where things had gone so horribly wrong. The city spread out below him, thousands of amber lights in strings along the main causeways. In the distance, he could make out the Molokais, their peaks just a sharp-toothed wall of darkness at the edge of the world. Above them, the stars swam in the deepest night, thickest overhead, neither of Oberon’s two moons yet up to challenge their dominance of the night sky.

Turning his back on the night, he stared around the flat, glaring at the unmade bed as if it were to blame for his indiscretions. “Light,” he said, and the dim glow increased to something approaching daylight. “Candler, Deca Seven, Play.”

He eased himself down onto the center of the bed, and Candler Dalias’son was floating there before him, his beautiful gossamer wings extended on either side of him. Camber looked down at him, his amber eyes filled with concern. Xander drank in his beautiful face, the glow of his skin. “Xander, what’s wrong?” Candler reached out a hand toward him, and Xander reached out to touch his fingers, but his own hand closed in thin air.

“Candler, I miss you so…” he started, but his voice cracked. It was still so hard, even after all these weeks…

“Javier’s going out country next week,” Candler said, oblivious to him. “I’d like to go with him…”

“End play,” Xander said, and the thing that wasn’t Candler disappeared. Out country… he’d forgotten… “Oh Candler, why did you have to go?”

He sank down into the bed, exhausted with grief, and fell into a dark and dreamless sleep.

Q: The story descriptions tell us a little about the main characters in Lander. What secondary character do you think is most important to the story? What do they bring to the tale?

A: Hmmm. Depends on how you define secondary. Alix – the Lander the title refers to, starts as a secondary character in Skythane, but comes into his own in “Lander.” But I’d have to say Morgan. This little guy revealed himself to me in Skythane and I didn’t really know what or who he was, but he’s become central to the story. You learn a lot more about him in Lander, and he will be pivotal to “Ithani,” the last book in the trilogy.

Q: Let’s talk about themes. What would you say is the primary theme of the Oberon series? The theme of Skythane? Of Lander? I assume book three is at least well underway. What will be the theme of Ithani?

A: Change. On a macro scale, the change of the world and the species and breeds of people and aliens. And on a micro level, the way the characters themselves, especially our everyman Jameson change.

Q: To wrap up, Scott, what’s in store? Do you have a date (tentative or otherwise) for Ithani’s release? What other works do you have in progress? Any events you’d like your readers to know about? Anything else you’d like to say?

A: So many questions!

Yes – Ithani should be out in February 2019. 🙂 I am about 16k into it at the moment.

And yes, I has plans!

The sequel to “The Stark Divide” – “The Rising Tide” – is in edits, and will release in October, and the final book in that trilogy, as yet unnamed (but it might be “The Shoreless Sea”) will be out in October 2019.

This year, I also plan to get into self publishing with a vengeance, with my blog serial “The River City Chronicles” hitting the shelves in English and Italian in the spring, an anthology of some of my shorter works in the fall, and the fourth Queer Sci Fi flash fiction anthology, “Impact.”

Also, sometime this year, Mischief Corner Books should be coming out with the three volumes of the serial that appeared on their blog titled “Marionettes in the Mist” – I wrote it along with Angel Martinez, Toni Griffin and Freddy MacKay.

After that, who knows?

Thanks so much for having me!

You are very welcome, J. Scott Coatsworth, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing sylvre.com to host you on your tour for Lander. The exclusive excerpt was an unexpected gift, and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer my nosy questions. I wish you all the best with Lander and with everything you’ve got sizzling. I hope you’ll visit again someday.

Readers, thanks for being here. Comments are welcome, and we’ll try to answer any questions.

Find out more about Lander in this post: Featured Author, J. Scott Coatsworth—New Release Lander, book 2 of the Oberon Cycle
And wet your appetite for Scott’s writing here: Exclusive excerpt from J. Scott Coatsworth’s *Lander*

And here’s where you can find a number of of J. Scott Coatsworth’s books.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book tour, featured authors, Interviews, just a category, M/M romance, Sci-fi

This is a Follow the Rainbow Blog Hop Stop!

Hi! Welcome to the Follow the Rainbow Blog Hop! Before I answer the essay question posed by the hop organizers, just in case you don’t already know I’m going to tell you about the other important stuff—prizes! The hop is the brainchild of Rainbow Book Reviews, and they’re set to give away four $25 book gift certificates, good at Amazon or All Romance. Nice, huh? To be eligible for one of those prizes, follow this link and comment: Rainbow Book Reviews Follow the Rainbow Blog Hop. But that’s not all! Your comment there also puts you in the running for prizes from a whole long list of participating publishers—Dreamspinner, Bold Strokes, Silver, Torquere, Untreed Reads, Riptide, Amber Allure, Less than Three. (I think I got them all).

On top of all that, if you comment here, I’ll put your name in the hat for my own drawing, prize is an ebook of Yes: A Vasquez and James Novella (the latest release in the series). (If you already have Yes, we may be able to work a deal for one of the other Vasquez and James books.

Okay, now down to the Blog Hop Question. The instructions tell me to write about what writing GLBTQ means to me. Um. Well. As a bi woman who has lived much of her life as a lesbian, you would think I would say it gives me a chance to create lesbian role models and beautiful lesbian relationships. However, I have in recent times only written M/M romance. So I’m going to cheat a bit and write about “why” I write M/M romance. Of course the short answer is because I love to write and this is what I’m loving to write right now—probably will be for a good long while, if the multiplying ideas and plot bunnies are any indication. So, other than sheer love of the act, why do I write M/M romance?

Why is always a trick question, I think. So often, as soon as I say, “this is why I did it,” I realize there’s a thousand other answers equally true. Nevertheless, here’s the answer:

I find it unavoidable.

No bull, this is true—for me, for right now I cannot not write this stuff.

This situation of inevitable M/M romance production started when I was writing a YA fantasy, a book meant for the young end of that readership spectrum. The book had no romance (I don’t believe the average 12 y/o boy wants to read romance of any kind) although I did have an idea that romances might flourish in later installments in the series. One night, while I slept and the characters talked quietly amongst themselves in their word document, a couple of really, really fine adult male characters (both of whom I was secretly in love with) fell in love with each other. They were so hot for each other strange things happened, and they became tongue-tied when they met up. One of these guys was a tall Native American (like Sonny James) firefighter from northern California (not like Sonny James) who also happened to be a shape shifter—his alter ego being a California Condor. The other guy was a very self-possessed ultimate warrior with a limited talent for reading minds—sometimes for some reasons. (Oh yeah, also he’s 200 years old, from another world, and works for the Premier Wizard.)

When those two fell in love I was virtually paralyzed as far as writing the book I’d meant to write. I had to stop working on the book, scratch out a quick, hot love story for the guys, promise I’d see them later, and then finally get back to my YA Fantasy. But I had never heard of M/M romance as a genre, and I’d never heard of publishers that not only accepted but solicited such stories.

At the time, I wrote short stories with some regularity, and published them in small markets. I wrote two blatantly M/M stories, one a humorous romance, and one an angsty romance. I wrote another humorous story in which the protag is gay, but that wasn’t the central theme of the story, and there was no romance. Finally I wrote a dark paranormal pseudo-historical fantasy (I know, too many adjectives) that I can best describe as murder/romance, very creepy but one of my faves. All that time, I still didn’t know I wanted to write M/M romance.

But then I did know.

Loving Luki Vasquez is a direct descendant of that original pair of demanding lovers that were born (in full, rampant, sexual heat) in the manuscript of that YA fantasy—maybe a couple of generations removed. It almost wrote itself—at least in the sex scenes—and I started looking for a place to submit. When I ran across Dreamspinner, I almost thought, “No, that’s too good to be true!” Once I had that novel submitted and accepted, I realized that Luki and Sonny had more stories. I also realized that, while they don’t think of me as their slave, I am an indentured servant. I hope I can buy my way out soon.

Ah, but if I do… I have other gay men standing around making romantic and or sexual overtures toward each other, keeping each other occupied by making up stories together that I will then be forced to write. Forced to write because the stories are compelling, because the love and pain the characters endure are not so much gay as human, because passion and heartbreak and sickness and health and friends and children and parents and pets and—deep breath—are no different for gay men and their loved ones than they are for anyone else.

So that’s why I write M/M Romance. That’s what it means to me. Good thing I enjoy it!

(See my free fiction page for some of the stories I mentioned above, if you are interested.)


Filed under Contests, Lou Sylvre, M/M romance, Vasquez & James

What I learned Since I Became a Published Writer—by Tj Klune

Featured this week on sylvre.com, a guest post by Tj Klune, author of Bear, Otter, and the Kid, and two upcoming novels. Burn is due out 2/6/12, and Who We Are (the sequel to BOATK) is due out in April—all Dreamspinner Press publications.

As always on this blog, if you think you might like to buy the book, click on the cover to go straight to the publisher’s store. Now, Here’s Tj Klune’s words to the wise. Enjoy!

A little over three months ago, my first book was published. It was surreal, the lead up to that moment: a sort of breathless anticipation that was really, for all intents and purposes, anti-climactic when it actually occurred. And when I say anti-climactic, I strictly speak only of the day of. It wasn’t like the heavens opened up on August 12th and angels streamed down from the sky, singing out the title of my book for the masses to hear. It just came out.

And I couldn’t have been happier. Or more terrified.

There’s no manual given to first time writers, no outline of what the expectations should and shouldn’t be. It’s scary, flying blindly like that. Oh sure, there’s people that have come before me that told me what it was like for them, but it’s different really, for everyone.

Did I learn anything from it?

You bet your sweet ass I did.

Gather round, and I’ll show you that it’s possible for a twenty-something gay man to actually learn a lesson or two.

The First: People think I’m a woman. Or rather, they did initially. And why not? The m/m writing world is heavily populated by female authors, definitely out-numbering the amount of men who write about man-love. Does the sex of a writer really matter in the long run? I’d like to think it doesn’t. As long as the story is good and the characters are people you can grow to like/love, whether the author is a man or a woman should really be the last thing to look for. However, as a caveat, as we recently learned from a successful M/M author who portrayed herself as a man (even going so far as to have a male stand-in for her at a book signing even), honesty is always the best policy, no matter what. For the record, my author name is a pseudonym, the T and J being initials for my first and middle name. My name is Travis. It’s nice to meet you. I swear I’m a dude. Please don’t ask me to prove it to you. I don’t want my penis ending up on the Internet. Again.

The Second: My editor is smarter than I am. Seriously. Way smarter. Like, to the point where it’s scary. But did I realize that at first? Hell to the no. Me: What do you mean that’s hyphenated? Are you sure there’s an apostrophe? Well, that sentence that doesn’t make sense to you makes sense to me. To be honest, I’m surprised that she didn’t run screaming every time she saw an email from me. Seriously, though? 99.9% of the time, she’s right, I’m wrong (but there is that .01% that totally validates the 99.9%–I take what I can get).

The Third: My books will never be used as masturbatory aids. And don’t give me that look. Let me explain. I’m speaking about sex scenes, of course: where penises meet for the first time in an orgy or riotous passion. There are some really gifted writers out there who look forward to writing those hot and steamy scenes that make the heart race and your mouth dry. And some can go on for pages. And pages. And pages. Others are simply PWP (and some are just porn). My point? You’re probably not going to open up a book by me and say “Holy Jesus, TJ Klune writes fantastic smut. I should probably take off my pants while I read this.” It’s not my thing. I can’t really tell you why; I am more focused on a story when writing, not wondering what needs to be done to get to the next sex scene. And the scenes I do write are going to be minimal, not because I don’t know what to write in them, but because I don’t know how much they’ll add overall. Look. I’m a gay man. I’ve probably done half the things I could write about (and, if you’re reading this, Mom, it all happened well after the age of 18 and I had moved out. If she’s not reading this, then that was a lie). I’m no prude (except when it comes to felching—that is so gross. If you don’t know what that is, only Google it when there’s no innocent eyes around). But if there was a choice between writing a minimal sex scene and pages and pages of plot/dialogue/action versus pages and pages of boning to get to the HEA, then I’d go with the plot every time. Not everyone agrees with that. Not everyone likes to read that. To each their own.

The Fourth: Word of mouth is everything, especially for a new writer. That was something I did not understand, nor something I could even fully appreciate before the release of my first book. M/M readers are a voracious bunch, willing to go to bat for the authors they like. There’s talk about how the M/M market is over-saturated, how it seems like everyone in the free world is writing a book about two dudes (or three or four—I saw one recently with SEVEN guys. My God, can you imagine the clean-up that has to go on after a seven-way? *shudders*) Maybe there’s a lot of m/m books out there. Maybe some better than others. But regardless of that, the readers are what are important and again, if they find something to latch onto, they do, both good and bad. Hell, I can even admit to a bit of snobbery about passing on a book I thought may have been interesting simply because the masses seemed to dislike it. Seriously though, as a new writer? I would have not gotten anywhere without word of mouth. What the hell did I know before it came out? Zilch. Nada. Facebook? Oh sure, I had an account I never used. Goodreads? WTF is that? You want me to keep up with a blog? Are you out of your damned mind? I hate computers. But for some damn reason, people talked about my book, both good and bad, and it caused people to read it. Which, to be honest, humbled me and shamed me. Humbled me, because I never expected that. Shamed me because I was one of those readers who read books and then never wrote reviews about them. I didn’t feel the need to share my thoughts with others on what I felt about a story. Now I am caught playing catch-up, simply because I know how important reader reviews are to an author. I won’t make that mistake again.

The Fifth: There’s never been an experience quite like this one. I’ve been told, “Oh, there’s nothing like having your first book published!” I’ve also been told, “You get that feeling with every book.” Can I tell you what it’s like to be published? A lot of you may know. Some of you may disagree with what I say. But for me? For me it was horrifying. It was exhausting. It was sheer blinding joy, a definite decrease in sanity, frustrating as all hell. My first good review. My first bad review. The email I got from a soldier in Iraq who told me my book gave him courage, that at the tail end of DADT, he was ready to tell his squadron about his sexuality. The email I got from the irate housewife who asked me personally that I provide her with a refund because of how awful my book was. The time I was at Starbucks with a friend and saw a woman reading a paperback copy of my book. I nervously went up to her, told her I was the author. She laughed so brightly and asked me to sign it for her. Her name was Megan. Somehow, I misspelled her name. And then I bought her a scone. She gave me a hug and I never saw her again.

Everything that has happened since I became a published author has been like the scariest rollercoaster in the world, one that I sometimes wish would stop so I could get off and just breathe for a moment. But it doesn’t. It won’t. But that’s okay. I can’t stop now, not now that I’ve had a taste.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a damn thing.

And that, ladies and gents, is what I’ve learned.

Thanks to Lou for letting me blah, blah, blah on her blog!

(Oh, and P.S.—While spell checking this blog post, “felching” came up and MS Word asked if I meant “belching.” If you know what felching is, you would know why I found that to be grossly hysterical. DON’T LOOK IT UP.)

When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.

He lives with a neurotic cat in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s hot there, but he doesn’t mind. He dreams about one day standing at Stonehenge, just so he can say he did.

TJ can be found:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance

Lou Sylvre Interview Live on Book Wenches—10/31… Spooky?

Not Spooky at all, really. Just an interview, but you can read it (in costume or not) at Book Wenches. Bobby D. Whitney asked me some great, challenging questions about humor, and landscape, and the meaning of hero. And more. I really enjoyed the interview.

book wenches logo

Leave a Comment

Filed under Dreamspinner Press, just a category, Lou Sylvre, Loving Luki Vasquez, M/M romance

“Shapely asses in the saddle” (an interview with Zahra Owens)

Welcome to the blog Zahra! I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of things a fellow Aquarian might have up her sleeve, and also to having the chance just to chat about you and your work. Let’s start, if you don’t mind, with a few questions about who you are and what makes you write.

Thank you for having me!

Q: Your bio mentions that you were born in Europe, to non-English speaking parents. Of course that little bit of info raises a number of new questions. I’ll stick to just the basics. Where were you born? What was your parent’s native tongue? What part of the world is now your home? How do these factors of location and language affect how you write or what you write?
A: I was born and raised in the North of Belgium where we speak Flemish (a ‘softer’ form of Dutch). The best way to compare Flemish and Dutch is to compare British and American English. There are some different words or the same words with slightly different meanings and our pronunciation is quite different, but we understand each other without too much difficulty, despite the differences in culture.

I still live around the corner from where I was raised and I still use Flemish in my every day work life and in my family life or with most of my friends. I was raised bilingually though, through my mother who worked in the International School circuit, and I have parents who are anglophiles. My real life first names are English, which raised a few eyebrows when I was born.

It’s hard for me to imagine exactly how this effects my writing, since I don’t know what it’s like to actually be raised in say, the U.S., but I do know my vocabulary is a mix of all sorts of English and my beta’s most used remark is probably “We don’t say it like that” when I use a word or sentence I borrowed from England, or Australia even. Also, I’ve travelled extensively all over the world and this does give me a larger perspective on all sorts of things, from politics to culture in general.

Q: Your works are prolific. Do you write full time? If not how do you juggle?
A: Oh no, I work fulltime and write when I can. I wish I could write full time, but I can’t afford that and it will take a long time before I can start dreaming about it too, since I work in a country where taxes are sky-high. But I’m single and I have no children, so I just have myself to look after. That certainly helps.

Q: How did you come to write in the romance genre, and M/M specifically? You said you were non-conformist, did that play a part, or were you inspired by people you knew, or …? Have you written in other genres, and if not, do you think you will?
A: Like a lot of writers in our genre, I started in fanfiction. It’s a great place to start. You get instant feedback, you learn to write on your feet and you easily find out what people like and what they don’t. It’s also great practice to write within the constraints of a world you didn’t build yourself, but that you love, and to work with characters that are well known to your readers. After a while, though, you want to break free of the constraints and make your own characters and worlds.

I like my boys/men so M/M romance is my weapon of choice. When the story calls for it, I will write a het scene or a menage scene involving a woman, but I don’t see myself writing a het novel. There are a few M/M/F bunnies tugging at my fingers, but even then the main couple will always be M/M.

Venturing outside the contemporary romance genre is something I’m doing right now. I’ve found myself a writing partner who works in the sci-fi/paranormal realm and he’s dragging me along. If the novella we’ve submitted is accepted, you’re sure to hear more about this!

Why M/M is probably the question I get asked most, especially by people not familiar with the genre. I guess my best answer is that I write what I like to read. A lot of friends I made through fanfiction have made it into publishing and I’ve always read their writing and still support them now their writing is no longer free. I’ve also encountered a lot of other great writers through my publishing press and my love of the genre has only grown.

In my personal life I’ve always had gay friends and I admit I’m drawn to them. I do try to keep them out of my books, though!

Q: Going through your list of titles at Dreamspinner Press (which readers can find at Zahra Owens’ author page), your M/M titles come in a number of subgenres. These latest two are in the Western tradition. Do you see your future titles continuing in this vein? The Western seems to be particularly popular among M/M romance readers (and writers). Can you speculate as to why that might be, and whether that will continue?
A: The contemporary western is certainly popular and I think this is because of the mixture of rugged, manly men and the traditionally homophobic environment they live in. Also, it’s such an American tradition. Cowboys made America, at least for a while.

I’m stuck in the western for the time being. My next novel, Floods and Drought, is also part of the Clouds and Rain series and I think I have one more story up my sleeve after that. I’ve already told a few people I’ll try to make that my NaNoWriMo effort for this year, so I better hold myself to that.

After that, who knows? Probably no more cowboys, although I do love those shapely asses in a saddle 😉 Maybe I should tackle that other M/M staple and write a Navy Seal novel? Or maybe I’ll return to the traditional contemporary romance. We’ll see where the (numerous) bunnies take me.

Q: About Earth and Sky—your latest release—a couple of general questions. It seems from your excerpt that this novel has a large and complex cast of characters—after the manner of a saga. Do you feel that’s true? If so, perhaps you can tell us a bit about how such a large cohort came into being and how you manage them.
A: My two characters in Earth and Sky do come with families attached and I honestly don’t know how that happened. I tend to write very self-contained couples and have been called on that by reviewers. Clouds and Rain has very little going on outside of the two men the story is about, and I did want to expand a bit on that with this new couple. Hunter lives on a family-run ranch, so it was necessary to show that. Without giving away too much plot, Grant’s family is also a major part of the whole story, so it became quite a busy group to write about. I also like the idea of a big, rowdy family, made up from a few sets of parents and their children, all sharing the same roof. I think the western genre lends itself to that quite easily. Maybe I idealize this a bit too, since I come from a very small family with no siblings or uncles and aunts.

Q: From reading the excerpts, at the heart of Earth and Sky story are two mysteries—what’s happening to the horses, and (more of a tease, to my mind as a reader) what happened the night Gable was injured? In Clouds and Rain it seems the same question is being asked—what happened to Gable? But CAR came first; does EAS actually reach beyond CAS for backstory? If so, is that the way it was planned?

The stories are romance, but within that, do you see them as mysteries? In your mind, how much of a role do those mysteries play in the novels?
A: Yes, it was definitely planned that the mystery of what happened when Gable was injured was set in CAR and only resolved in EAS. There was no way to resolve it in CAR because the whole story of what happened to Gable is seen through Gable’s eyes and he only knows part of the story. He doesn’t know why Grant left that day and doesn’t find out until much later. As I was writing CAR, I realized I’d need the whole of EAS to explain it.

I’d also set myself to write a baddy (in Gable’s eyes) and then show the readers what I believe to be true: that no-one is all bad (or all good), it’s just a matter of perspective. A lot of readers ‘got’ that. Some didn’t and were stuck in the opinion they’d formed of Grant from CAR, which isn’t really fair, because Grant never got a say in CAR.

I don’t see the stories as mysteries. The mysteries are plot devices. To me these stories are still about the romance between two men and how the way to love is riddled with a lot of potholes.

Q: I just have to ask… One character is named Gable, as in the actor Clark, and another character is named Grant, as in the actor of similar era, Cary. Coincidence? Several of your characters have similar names. Confusing? How do you go about naming your characters?
A: You know, you’re the first person who’s dared to ask. LOL! You’re right. There’s also (Errol) Flynn and (Tab) Hunter, who was a popular actor from the fifties who came out as gay in later life. Even Bill Haines (the vet and one of my straight characters) is named after William Haines, an actor from the twenties who was gay.

With my main characters, I’ve only slipped once so far: Tim, who gets his own story told in my third CAR novel is just Tim, but he was named before I realized he had more to say and I couldn’t go back and change it. His better half is Rory McCown, though, and that name is the real name of one of cinema’s best known cowboys, Rory Calhoun (who’s real first name was Francis Timothy – are you still following me?). In the fourth novel, I’m back on track with two names from classic cinema, but you’ll have to wait for those (tease that I am).

I don’t see the names as being confusing, but that’s just inside my head. My editors are sure to call me on that (they have on other occasions).

Q: You introduce your second excerpt to Earth and Sky with an explanation ending: “This kind of runs out of hand.” This brings up in my mind a problem that seems to plague many writers. How often do you feel your characters sort of hijack your intended story line? If that does happen for you, do you fight it? Go with it? How do you strike a balance?
A: My characters hijack their stories all the time and the harder I fight them, the harder the writing becomes. I try to reason with them sometimes, but if they want things a certain way (and most of my characters do want things to go their own way), there’s no fighting them. They’re usually right, too, but it does mean that I need to chuck bits of plot sometimes. I write a lot more than ends up in the finished novel.

Q: Lou’s favorite question time: In the mind of Zahra Owens, who is sexier, Hunter or Grant? Gable or Flynn? Smudging the lines a bit is fair, but cheating isn’t—you can’t just say “both.” Explanations required—no one-word answers, please!
A: To me Gable is sexier than Flynn. Gable is a bit older, more rugged and more damaged and I do love my men with a chip in their armor. The disability is also a selling point (my non-conformist side, I suppose, or my background as a nurse, who knows?). He’s also moody and bad-tempered a lot, while Flynn is a lot more soothing and easy-going. One can’t live without the other, but I’ll take Gable any time.

In contrast, I think Hunter is more sexy than Grant and the reason sort of contradicts the reason I gave for choosing Gable over Flynn. Hunter is innocent in some ways and I find that very endearing. He’s never been with a man before Grant and is genuinely awestruck when he finds out he likes Grant more than any woman he’s ever had in his bed.

Q: About those covers! My, but they are beautiful. Anne Cain does some fabulous work, and these are no exception. How involved were you in terms of giving input on elements to be included, overall style, and perhaps the look of the men? When you first saw the cover for Clouds and Rain, what was your reaction? What about Earth and Sky?
A: The covers just blow me away. I love Anne Cain’s work and I’m already looking forward to cover three (although the novel isn’t even finished yet). I write quite extensive cover specs and Clouds and Rain came back exactly as I’d described, right down to the horses, the sunset, the rain and the way the characters looked.

Earth and Sky was a bit different. Most of the story takes place in the snow (the stories are set in Idaho, so winter means mounds of snow) and I’d asked for muted greys, blues and whites, and then it came back all orange and red… Also, both my characters are in their late thirties, early forties, so the character photos felt too young for me. The front character would do (you have to admit he’s gorgeous and since that was Hunter, I felt he could pass for young-looking mid-thirties), but I asked to change the back character to a more rugged man, which Anne did. They wouldn’t compromise on the color, though, since they wanted it to stand out. It certainly does that! (and wouldn’t have it it had been more muted)

Q: I mentioned briefly above that you have quite a number of publications with Dreamspinner Press. Do you have any other published work? Other than CAR and EAS, can you pick out one or two published pieces that are among your personal favorites, perhaps tell us a little about the pieces and how they came into being?
A: I’m exclusively published by Dreamspinner Press, but earlier this year I became a part of a British Anthology when I joined a UK meet of authors. British Flash is a free anthology of flash fiction (about a thousand words per story) available at Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65264). Tea And Crumpets (http://ukmeet.weebly.com/tea–crumpet.html) was published by JMS Books and proceeds of that will go to future UK meets. I contributed to both anthologies.
At Dreamspinner Press I have some other favorites as well.

My first novel Diplomacy will always be my baby. It is set mostly in my country and is a romance between a U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and a liaison from the British Embassy. When the story sets out both are involved with women, but for one of them it is definitely a relationship out of convenience.

Among my shorter work I have a soft spot for “You Can’t Choose Your Family” to such an extent that I wrote a prequel for it. The already published story is about an established couple of twenty years and the acceptance they feel from one side of the family in contrast to the absolute denial they get from the other side. The prequel “You Can Choose Your Friends” tells the story of how they got together in the first place. Both stories where inspired by Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better video and I decided to donate the proceeds of the sale of the prequel to their organisation. The prequel will be out in January 2012 at Dreampinner Press.

Note to the reader: Zahra is slated to come back for a visit to sylvre.com in January to celebrate that release, maybe talk a bit about the It Gets Better Project, and who knows? I hope you’ll watch for it and stop in.

Q: What’s coming up for your readers, Zahra? Will there be more of these ranches and, more importantly, ranchers? Something else in the mix?
A: As I said before: yes, more ranchers/ranch hands for the next novel for sure and if NaNoWriMo goes as planned there will be one more cowboy novel after that. I’m a slow writer, though. The novel tentatively slated for the spring of 2012 was my 2010 NaNoWriMo project!

January sees the prequel to “You Can’t Choose Your Family” called “You Can Choose Your Friends” and hopefully my collaboration with my writing partner will be accepted, so with a little luck, I’ll have something a little out of the ordinary to offer as well.

If I meet my deadline (and the story is accepted) the third CAR novel will be out somewhere in the spring.
After that I’m not sure yet. My writing partner and I have another story plotted, but we’ll need to find time to write it. We don’t live close to each other, but more or less in the same time zone, so hooray for the internet!

Zahra, I’m very glad you allowed me to feature you on sylvre.com. I’ve enjoyed getting to ask the questions and I love the answers! I’m looking forward to your next visit. Thank you!

Thank you for having me. It was a real pleasure!

1 Comment

Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance

Ariel Tachna: well-traveled author (the interview)

Welcome, Ariel, and thank you for being here. I’m eager to dig in and talk to you about the work you’ve co-authored with Nicki Bennett—including your recent release, Under the Skin. Before we get started with that, I’d like to talk a bit more about you as a writer and some thoughts on writing.

Q: Your bio tells us you’ve traveled quite a bit. I’ve read before about your love of all things French, and your fluency in that language, but I hadn’t heard about your travels to India. Perhaps you’d be willing to share a bit about your relationship with those two countries, and in particular a sense of how that and your other travels influence you as a writer.

A: Hi, Lou. First of all, thank you very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to visit the blogs of fellow authors. My relationship with France, as I’ve said before, is very much at the center of my life, and it’s something that started very early: when I was in seventh grade. My fascination with India and all things Indian (which, while I don’t speak the language, rivals my love of France in all other respects) came as a result of meeting my husband, a native of Kerala, and choosing to build a life with him. My love of France and my experiences living there gave me a cultural sensitivity that carried over to this new relationship, because anyone who tells you that you can have a relationship with a man and not have one with his family has never been in a relationship with an Indian, that’s for sure! It was important for me to fit in with his family: to eat Indian food with my fingers like a native, to be able to wear a sari and put it on by myself (which still continues to amaze a number of Indian women I meet whose American-raised daughters can’t do it), to follow their traditions of removing my shoes when I’m in their houses, etc. I’ve only traveled to India once, in 2003, but we had an amazing experience and I left with a profound respect for a country where I could find beauty even among the squalor and where I was welcomed as warmly (sometimes even more warmly) as my husband everywhere we went because I was willing to fit in as much as my very fair skin and red hair will ever allow.

Q: How did you come to write M/M Romance?
A: I discovered M/M Romance about eight years ago in the frenzy of fandom and fan fiction that surrounded the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve always been a writer, but when I started reading fan fiction, I found far more stories centered around Aragorn and Legolas or Aragorn and Boromir than around Aragorn and Arwen. I’ve always been an adventurous reader so I took a gamble and opened one to see what it was like. I haven’t looked back. One of the joys of fan fiction is that there are amazing stories mixed in with not so amazing ones. There’s a place in fan fiction for beginning writers and for experienced ones. That community allowed me to begin to explore the dynamics of M/M relationships in a non-judgmental arena. It didn’t take me long to outgrow the limits of what I could do with my chosen characters and I quickly branched out into “AU” (alternate universe) stories that were essentially original stories with familiar faces.

Q: Can you give us an idea of how many book-length titles you’ve authored or co-authored in that Genre?
A: I have nineteen novel-length titles published or in the process of being published, with another four in the process of being written (and who knows how many sitting in the wings) as well as one more-than-novel-length piece of fan fiction that will never be published because it is too wrapped up in the canon of Lord of the Rings to be transformed away from those familiar faces to original fiction.

Q: Over time, do you think the genre has changed in a general sense? If so, in what way? How do you see the future of M/M Romance? Is it becoming more mainstream? Popular among more types of readers?
A: This is a really interesting series of questions. Until Dreamspinner started four years ago, I was only peripherally aware of M/M Romance as an actual, professional publishing category. I had a couple of acquaintances from fandom who were published, and one who was seriously taken advantage of, and so while I’d always dreamed of being published, I was leery of taking that step. At the urging of that same friend, I took a gamble on Dreamspinner, submitting Healing in His Wings to the Size Matters: Short Stories Long Enough to Satisfy anthology, which is now out of print, although my novella has been released as a stand-alone. What I discovered as I started marketing myself, and eventually started doing marketing for Dreamspinner, is that there was a huge, untapped market out there. The growth in production at Dreamspinner over four years is a result of demand, both from our readers and from our authors. Even with all the manuscripts we turn down (new authors to us have about a 10% acceptance rate), we are already filling our calendar into second quarter of next year. The other thing I’ve discovered is that there are two distinct classes of readers: straight women who get a visceral thrill from M/M relationships and gay men who are finally getting the love stories they were denied for so long by a publishing industry that chose only to tell tales of AIDS and woe and death and misery. I do think M/M Romance is becoming more mainstream, although I think there’s a long way to go still. A friend of mine who helped me extensively with Overdrive keeps checking for it on the shelves of bookstores he visits without any luck, an indicator of how far we still have to go before we’re represented on the shelves of the average bookstore, but we used to have a hard time getting review sites to accept our books. Now I send out an average of ten review copies a day of Dreamspinner’s titles, and often far more than that.

Q: Your recent release, Under the Skin was co-authored with Nicki Bennett. If there is anything you’d like to (or can) share on Nicki’s behalf—in terms of bio or writing background while respecting her privacy, please do.
A: Nicki is a bit of a hermit, so she doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but here’s her official bio.
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.

And a bit more information about our friendship. We met through fandom when she commented on a story I was writing, a very detailed explanation of how I’d blown the ending of the most recent section I’d shared. I went back and read what I’d written and realized she was right. So I rewrote it (one of the joys of fan fiction instead of professional fiction), sent it to her to see if I’d fixed the problem, and reposted it. In the intervening seven years, she’s seen everything I’ve written before anyone else unless I was writing for her. A few months after we met, I convinced her to try her hand at writing, and the rest is history.

Q: I’d like to know about your own experience co-writing. Different authors approach it in different ways—in Under the Skin specifically, how did you and Nicki organize or divide the process, and how did co-writing affect the end product?
A: Nicki and I write together in real-time. We brainstorm a story and decide on the general plot, some of the details, and the basics of the characters. Then we each pick a character. From that point forward, everything our chosen characters say, do, think, and feel, comes from each of us. I may make a suggestion for her character or she might make one for mine, but ultimately the decisions for my character are mine and the same for hers. Once we’ve completed a scene, we’ll go back through it together, looking for editing issues: typos, repeated words, jarring transitions, etc, and in that stage, we’re far more likely to “write over” each other’s things, but after seven years of writing together, we’ve developed a combined style that works very well for us and flows very naturally so there’s generally very little smoothing to be done in terms of making it feel like a cohesive piece of work. I am of the opinion, and have been since we first collaborated, that we bring out the best in each other, and while Checkmate will always hold a special place in my heart, I’m pretty sure Under the Skin is the best thing we’ve written yet.

Q: Let’s talk more about Under the Skin. Both of your main characters are strong, bold men. They have very different agendas, at least in the beginning. Assuming (since this is romance) that there’s a ‘happy ever after’, how difficult was it to bring them together for more than simply sex?
A: Incredibly difficult. Nicki and I actually started this four years ago, just before my son was born, and set it aside because we couldn’t write the ending. We sort of knew what had to happen, but we weren’t willing to write it. About a year ago, we finally decided to stop messing around and simply do it. We had two issues with Patrick and Alexei. The first was the demands placed on them by their respective jobs. Let’s face it. If anyone found out about them, Patrick would lose his job, even if he didn’t go to jail, and Alexei would probably be killed, both because Patrick is a cop and because he’s male. The reality, though, is they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves or their dicks in their pants, so they ended up in this, to use Patrick’s words, “fucked-up whatever this is.” The second challenge was getting them to admit they wanted more than sex. Part of that was the whole job thing, but the rest of it was their inability to envision their own happily ever after and so to open themselves up to the risk of having that fail.

Q: How did you get the idea to use Eastern European Mafiya as the crime element in Under the Skin? Do you, or does Nicki, have a background in law enforcement or criminal justice, or was “research, research, research” that enabled you to make a realistic environment and plot? Have you written much crime drama, in general? Do you find it more or less difficult to incorporate romance into that framework, as opposed to other less violent or dangerous scenarios?
A: Neither of us has a law enforcement or criminal justice background, but we do have a good, mutual friend who is in law enforcement and was willing to tell us when Patrick veered away from believability. We have another good friend who is Russian and was willing to help us make sure Alexei was believable, not so much as a vor but as a Russian man. Several times, she e-mailed back after we’d sent her a scene and said, “yes, but no Russian man would ever say that or do that.” So we’d go back to the drawing board and fix it. In terms of the hierarchy and traditions of the vory v zakone, it’s amazing what you can find on the Internet if you look hard enough.

I wrote one mystery before now, A Summer Place, which was my first novel published by Dreamspinner, but I wouldn’t say either of us is an expert in the genre. I have some favorite mystery romances or romantic suspense novels, but the majority of my and our ideas don’t seem to run along those lines. This one did, and the danger and violence added aspects to the relationship we couldn’t have gotten any other way. That crucible formed their relationship as surely as the experiences leading up to their first meeting formed Patrick and Alexei.

Q: The other excerpt we’re featuring today is from Hot Cargo, also co-authored with Nicki Bennett. On the surface, this is a book that couldn’t be more different than Under the Skin. So that readers can get familiar with the scenario—and perhaps see what I’m referring to as far as the difference, I’m going to post the blurb here. I’m interested in knowing, whether sci-fi—space opera, in this case—is a genre you’ve been writing in previously, and in whatever you can share about how you came to write this, what you found especially challenging or especially enjoyable.


Captured and accused of piracy, privateer Blaise Risner, captain of the Golden Stallion, finds himself in a clinch—literally—with Confederation Admiral Peter Keller, who promises to see justice done by way of hard labor. But when the chemistry between them rivals the heat of the twin Talixin suns, the dominant admiral decides he wants to handle the rehabilitation of the provocative pirate himself. After their first close encounter, Blaise figures that serving Keller in such a personal capacity won’t be such a terrible sentence.

Keller dispenses his own forms of painful justice and sensual discipline, which usually involve a not-so-resistant Blaise on his knees bound and determined to give as good as he gets. The privateer can’t deny that suffering the handsome admiral’s punishments makes him burn like the fires of the Horsehead Nebula. Serving in the roles of prisoner and captor defines their ‘relationship’, but no power can stop a shooting star… the star of startling passion that flares every time they touch.

Just when Blaise thinks he can navigate the treacherous asteroid field of emotion to find common ground with Keller, an interstellar war tears them apart. Through it all, Blaise’s desire for his captor stands as tall and strong as the monoliths of Maraven, and he’ll go to the very edge of the galaxy and back if that's what it takes to crack the ice around the admiral’s heart.

A: This story started as a birthday present for Madeleine Urban who loves sci-fi and space opera. We’ve both always been multi-genre readers, and science fiction has always been a huge part of that. Star Wars, Star Trek, Anne McCaffrey, to name a few, were staples on my bookshelves as a teenager, while Nicki read different authors but similar tales, so rising to the challenge of creating something sci-fi for Madeleine wasn’t beyond our reach. Then we wrote another snippet of the story for a get-well present when Madeleine was under the weather. And then it was her birthday again. And suddenly Nicki and I looked at each other and said, “If we keep going, we’re going to have to develop a plot for this thing.” So we took a step back from the combative relationship between Blaise and Peter and started trying to shape the rest of the universe. Once that was done, then we kept going, and I will say that I didn’t know until the last chapter if Blaise and Peter would kill each other or end up together. Even more than in Under the Skin, where I never doubted Alexei’s and Patrick’s feelings, just the situation they were in, with Hot Cargo, I truly didn’t know if the men could make a relationship work.

Q: Time for my favorite question! In your own mind, who’s the sexiest? Patrick or Alexei? Blaise or Peter? This is not multiple choice, you don’t get to just put an X in the box. Essay question: why and how? Also, no fair saying they’re all sexy in their own way. Might be true, maybe you can fudge a little, but we’d like a clear choice!
A: For Patrick and Alexei, that’s an easy answer for me. Alexei. Nicki might disagree with me, but I always fall in love alongside my characters, and since I wrote Patrick, I fell in love with Alexei. He is the ultimate in strong, silent type, the diamond in the rough with so many hidden layers I’m still not convinced we’ve discovered them all. He’s also the one who ultimately has to change the most in order for their relationship to have a chance, and that conflict in him, that moment when he finally makes the choices he’s spent the whole book trying to avoid, resonates so deeply with me. I was already pretty much in love with him, but there’s a scene toward the end when Alexei lays it all on the line and asks Patrick to trust him, where every vulnerability is laid out for Patrick to see and a negative response would destroy him… that’s the ultimate in sexy to me.

For Blaise and Peter, the answer is a little bit harder. Peter is an Admiral. He’s all about the rules. Blaise is a pirate—excuse me, a privateer—and he’s all about breaking the rules. He’s in a difficult situation, given the choice of hard labor or serving time on Peter’s ship with the tacit understanding that at least part of his duties will be as Peter’s fuck toy (and Peter isn’t kind or gentle about it at first.) Once again, we’re left with two men who have no reason to trust each other and so pretend all they’re doing is having sex, and once again, it’s the subtlety of the way they interact on that level that shows the reader how their relationship is changing, but they refuse to acknowledge that until circumstances beyond their control force them apart. Then they have to decide what they’re willing to give to fight their way back together again. You’re about to tell me I haven’t answered the question, and I haven’t. I think this is probably the one case in all the things Nicki and I have written together where I would identify my own character, Blaise, as the sexier of the two, and I think part of that is his bad-boy persona, and part of it is his ability to adapt to the situation he’s in and ultimately he’s the one who fights for them, who refuses to let silence or distance or anything else keep them apart.

Q: Ariel, what can your readers look for in the future? Will either of the stories we’ve talked about today have sequels or spinoffs? Anything else in the making with co-author Nicki Bennett—or on your own?
A: Hot Cargo already has two spin-offs: Healing in His Wings, which I wrote by myself, and Something About Harry, which Nicki and I published in January. At the moment, we don’t have a sequel or spin-off planned for Under the Skin, but who’s to say what the future will hold? We didn’t plan on writing Something About Harry either. In terms of what Nicki and I are working on now, we’re about halfway through All for Love, the third installment in our historical series that began with Checkmate and continued in All for One. All for Love will be the story of Raúl and Gerrard, who were secondary characters in the first two books. On my own, I have Reluctant Partnerships, the sixth volume in the Partnership in Blood universe, coming out in October, and I recently got acceptance of Stolen Moments, a contemporary romantic drama set in small-town Alabama, with a tentative date of late December for publication. I’m working on three other projects, but no deadlines on those yet.

Thanks, Ariel, for agreeing to be featured on the blog. It’s been a delight having you and I hope you’ll visit in the future.

Thank you, Lou, for having me and for asking interesting, challenging questions. I’d love to come back and chat with you and your readers again!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance