C. Zampa: M/M Romance with a Texas accent (an author interview)

Carol, I’ve very much been looking forward to featuring you and your work on sylvre.com. Thank you for coming! I’m looking forward to learning more about your writing and your stories, but first I’d like to know more about you.

Q: I didn’t see anything about your hometown, or state, or even region on your bio, so I went snooping and found that you hail from Texas, near Houston. You’ve set Candy G, and your upcoming work Honor C, in San Antonio, and the books are brimming with local flavor. But are there other, perhaps subtler, ways that environment influences how you write, or the flavor of your stories?

A: I’ve never been asked that before. I love that question. Although the books take place in San Antonio and carry much of the local land marking and scenery, I really find myself always throwing in my local childhood memories for flavor—all derived from my upbringing in Pasadena, Texas—where pleasure was taken from the basics that seemed so ordinary to others. The busy beauty of the hard laboring class of folk in old neighborhoods. All my stories seem to reek of it, it’s just in my blood and I love it.

Q: Do you write full time? If not, what type of work do you do elsewhere? Does it feed into what you write—give you ideas, or show you aspects of human interaction that you then use in your writing?
A: I work full-time away from home, in Houston. And, yes, my working environment figures heavy in my writing. A good portion of my Hispanic co-workers have ended up in my stories—their names (mixed for anonymity), their personalities, their lingo. They know this and love sharing phrases with me.

Q: You’ve been writing, in one form or another, since you very young. When did you first set your sights on publication, and why? Is Candy G your first published work?
A: Candy G is my first published work, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when I decided I should set my sights on publication. So many friends and mentors encouraged me, said I should submit work to publishers. I decided, since Candy was my first finished work, to take a chance on submitting him. I submitted to Dreamspinner Press and the story was accepted. I never expected to be awarded a contract on my first attempt, and it was a surreal experience.

Q: Carol, you review books at Miz Love Loves Books—a wonderful review site with a maxim of ‘no snark.’ What prompted you to become a reviewer? You write detailed reviews that seem to convey a sense of wonder, or at the least exuberance. Is that a fair characterization? If so, maybe you can tell us a bit about that, as well as what you find rewarding about writing reviews, and what about it is most difficult.
A: Oh, reviews. How I love them. I began sharing books I’d read on my own blog. I referred to them as ‘C. Zampa’s Not-a-Review’. This way, if I didn’t actually call them a review, I could only share books I loved and I could just gush and not have to ever be critical—and, most importantly, I could ONLY talk about the characters that I loved. Then Miz Love invited me to be a guest reviewer and I jumped at it, as I loved their site. And, yes, your characterization is fair. I find it rewarding because it’s a way to support my fellow authors, to gush over their wonderful characters, to get the joy of a good read out of my system and into the hands of potential readers. The only difficult thing is trying to contain the ‘gushing’ to a reasonable word allowance. I’m quite mouthy when it comes to my big love, characters.

Q: Although you’re writing M/M romance now, a visit to your blog (which, by the way, is wonderful, like an internet travel destination) reveals that you also write M/F romance. Are you working toward publication in that genre as well? You discuss briefly in a blog post that you feel there’s no reason a writer can’t write in both genre’s, and to me that seems very sensible. With that in mind, do you see yourself continuing to write in the M/M genre in any case? Why, or why not?
A: Boy, you did your research. LOL. I do hope to publish my m/f work as well, although I feel it’s going to be more difficult. Why? Because the particular stories I’ve created for my hetero romances are not traditional romance stories. One in particular is actually a story of two men who bond to become partners in business with a straight romance for each man as a second level of the story. This, I think, is more mainstream and will be hard to place as a conventional romance. And then there’s the question of placement as far as publishing requirements. There are words and romance standards in many of the publishing houses—particularly erotica—that I’m not inclined to use in my writing. That will make it hard for me to submit.

And, oh, yes, I will continue my m/m. It’s a passion for me. The beauty of two men in a relationship, their emotions, their physical intimacy, is exquisite to me. I plan to continue it as long as I’m able to write.

Q: You’ve created wonderful characters, Carol, but also realistic, three dimensional settings, and compelling stories. Which comes first for you, the characters, or the plots? Please explain.
A: Thank you, Lou. My writing, like my reading, is character driven, or so I hope. And which comes first? Always the characters. I hate to admit my biggest weakness is plotting. The characters barge into my mind, won’t leave until I put them on paper, and then I toil over what their story should be. It is perhaps the single most difficult factor of my writing—the plots.

Q: Candy G is an unusual character for the hero of M/M Romance. How did you come to create him—or allow him to jump onto your pages? What can you share about Candy G’s origins (as the character in the book)? And possibly more of a mystery: Carlos Alvarez, Candelario’s love interest. Please do talk about him a bit, if you would.
A: Oh, I love you for asking this. Candy. Oh. Well, his persona is driven directly from a real Hispanic man who was a co-worker, recently retired. I was spellbound by this man’s old-world beauty somehow intertwined in a modern, everyday persona. He had these marvelous old world Hispanic traditions—honor, personal pride in his heritage, his ethics. And he was a hot-blooded romantic. Very charming, very classic and chivalrous. The character’s name was stolen from the lawn maintenance man for our company whose name is Candelario.

Carlos? He’s a mystery, even to me. But he was stolen from a real young man in my everyday life as well. I ‘spotted’ Carlos at the very place Candy used to watch him—a car wash in the ‘barrio’ district in my hometown. My daughter and I had stopped during a Christmas shopping spree to have my car washed and I couldn’t take my eyes off a young boy who worked in the detailing section. Small, lithe, scruffy hair, beautiful Asian features. Carlos, when the story was begun, had dark hair and was very demure. Then, later, I wrote a secondary character in the story who flirted with Candy—spiky platinum hair, body piercings; and their chemistry was so intense, I changed the characters around to incorporate Carlos into a beautiful street-wise young man with the body piercings.

Q: Okay, Carol, it’s time for my infamous question. I always ask an author to choose, and you are no exception. The rules here: This is an essay question—no ‘yes; or ‘no’ answer, you must explain or elucidate. Also, you can fudge and hedge your bets a bit, but you don’t get to cheat outright. In other words “both” is not a fair answer. So who’s the sexiest, Candy or Carlos? Honor or Raimundo? That’s the usual question but for you, let’s take this a step farther. Who’s the hottest, Candy or Honor? (I never told you this interview would be easy, C.)
A: Well, damn! You DO realize these are very powerful men we’re talking about? If they were real (and they are in my head…lol) they could hurt me or each other? Hmmm…let me think, let me think. What a question!
The hottest, Candy or Honor. Ay-ay-ay. Okay, well….you know, I’ve got to say. Cringing as my boys stare me down, daring me to answer this. From a real-life, what-would-I-like-if-it-was-me standpoint? Honor is hottest, hands down. There, I said it. Sorry, Candy, my love.

My personal preference, although I love hot Candy—long hair, ripped, smoldering—my heart in real life would be a goner for a man like Honor Castillo. Both men are powerful. Both are Hispanic, which is my weakness. But Honor is a big man (described as the size of an entire football team, who clearly does not visit the gym). He is not perfect physically. And he is quite aware of it, and—when it comes down to intimacy with his lover—will even be inhibited a bit by this. I love big men, bears. And Honor is this man. There. I did it.

Q: Since we don’t have a blurb to introduce Honor C., perhaps you’ll share a bit about the story and the characters’ backgrounds? Is this book related to Candy G.?
A: As a matter of fact, Honor C is a second in the series to Candy G. The series is the Mas Chingon series—a group of three stories about a community of gay San Antonio businessmen who unite to form a society of sorts. Candy was the founder of the group, and Honor is a San Antonio resident who owns chains of nightclubs.

My beloved Candy even makes an appearance in Honor C.

As the story is only a WIP at the present, I’m hesitant to share much about it, except to say that Honor’s newest club coincides with his ‘coming out’ to his community and this infuriates some of those close to him, especially when he compounds the ‘insult’ by beginning an intimate relationship with Raimundo Munoz, one of his employees.

Q: What about the future, Carol? What have you got cooking in general that could potentially see publication in the next couple of years? What’s coming up specifically for your M/M Romance readers? Anything else you’d like readers to know—something I should have asked but didn’t?
A: My crit partner teases me because I have SO many projects. So many unfinished projects. But what IS in the works is what I think will be my most beloved story, Michael Rose, which will be a m/m historical set in 1951. It will be a part of a series of sagas taking place in Hollywood between 1948 and the mid-50’s. I am excited about these stories, as that is an era I’m extremely fond of.

It’s been a delight getting to know you a bit, Carol, and getting a chance to showcase a bit of your work. I hope we’ll have a chance to do it again, sometime. Thanks for visiting.

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