This is a continuing conversation I’ve been having with an author pal of mine – Jayne Lockwood (who also writes under the pseudonym of Savannah Smythe) and is based in the UK. We started this as a means of exchanging ideas, listening to each others gripes and fears, sorting out what we do and why we do it, and how we can possibly market the damned things we produce. They are captured via a chat session on Yahoo so they are a stream of consciousness at the moment they happen. We realize that since we aren’t really editing for perfection, that we may “step in it” from time to time. We embrace that. We know we may mis-speak, may say something out of turn without much thought going into it. It is ALL part of the dialog. We want to look back at some point and see where this journey has taken us as we write what we write.
Jayne Lockwood: Okay, so you’ve had a few trials and tribulations recently with your work and the definition of the word “literature.” How would you describe your writing? I’m talking about in general, not just Angels of Mercy (AoM) … and why?
SA Collins: I think actually that my recent release of the “fluff” piece I did was the most instructive on what kind of writer I am. I mean, it was supposed to be a “fluff” piece about werewolves. How much more fucking non-lit can you get, right? Yeah, well, it seems I can. I didn’t know my wolves would go all “lit” on me. It was quite the revelation. I think it is because I am wrapped up in their headspace (I tend to write first person), regardless of the work I do, with the human condition in it. I find the inner-monologue to be of vast interest. It is where the most grey in all of us reside (50 Shades of Crap aside…).
Jayne Lockwood: LOL, let’s not mention that…
SA Collins: Oh, can we? *shudders*
SA Collins: And in a real way the monsters in my werewolves really distilled that for me. I mean, it has always been the ultimate metaphor in literature (esp. in the gothic tropes) to use the monster as a representative of the monsters in all of us, whether we choose to let them out or not.
Jayne Lockwood: The examination of the human condition is a great one, but I don’t think it is just the premise of literature. What I’m trying to say is that examining the human condition can be done in lesser books …
SA Collins: Sure, but the transcendency of the work is what I think is the dividing line. It was what I was getting at in the summation of my last blog post. A lot of works examine the human condition but very few of them invite that deep dive into why they affect us so. Tom Sawyer gave us many more questions than Twain ever attempted to answer. That is what I think Literature does. And to be clear it isn’t the easy questions we come away with that I am speaking to – I mean it is the hard questions we often don’t want to look at.
Jayne Lockwood: True. And so did John Steinbeck. To write great literature, you have to produce something of lasting artistic merit. And it doesn’t have to be a very long book to do that.
SA Collins: I don’t think the artistry is necessarily the key factor here though it is the art of prose that does ultimately sway an audience. I think that literature itself sort of brings the artist out more in the use of words. And to your point, that was also what I said in my summation – length doesn’t have anything to do with it. The Old Man and the Sea, for example.
Jayne Lockwood: I’m thinking of Of Mice and Men as a case in point. A very slight book, but packs a powerful punch. So you’ve got your piece of literature. It’s beautiful, perfectly edited, superbly crafted. How do you market it in this modern age?
SA Collins: I used Look Homeward, Angel (LHA) on purpose as a point of comparison. Why? Because by many critics and literature scholars it is considered one of the greatest American literary works of all time – and it was one of the reasons why my husband drew the conclusion about my work in Angels. Because there was a segment of the literary circles that agreed LHA was a literary work but it rambled. It meandered. It didn’t do what it did concisely. It also took nearly a quarter of the book before you even got to the main character. So there was some give and take on how it was perceived. BUT what it did do was that it presented a complete picture of a complex family that showed all of the foibles and follies of humanity in it and it did it beautifully.
Jayne Lockwood: I’m thinking of a comparable work in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
SA Collins: Absolutely. To answer how I would approach AoM – or do you mean any modern work of literature today? Hmm, I’m not so sure what you’re probing at here …
Jayne Lockwood: I’m saying any form of literature.
SA Collins: Oh I get you … hmmm, that is a hard one. And here’s what I’ve learned from my own journey: when I wrote Angels I thought I was writing a bit of fluff, a simple M/M romance genre thing. The problem is while I was writing it – it was all I had in my head. I just heard Elliot’s voice (probably because he is so near to my own – even if he makes choices I never would). I didn’t say, “Oh, I am gonna write the gay Gone With The Wind now.” It’s just not how an author approaches something that becomes literature. That wasn’t my perspective. I just thought I had a cracking good story and I wanted to get it down before it left my little ol’ pea brain. That was the impetus to write what I did. I think most authors approach it that way. It is only when the work is completed can you look at it and go – well, fuck me, what did I just do there?
Jayne Lockwood: I totally agree.
SA Collins: I think that Wilde, Wolfe and the rest did what they did. It was for others to put that label on the work. I can totally see that now. I get that my work is “like” literature more than general genre fiction. Why? Because I do ramble. I let my characters ramble a bit – because we all do to varying degrees. That’s what makes it a character study body of work. I want it honest; I want it true. But I think most authors do – it is the depth of that character dive that I think that separates me from most general fiction writers. Think about it: if I wrote DaVinci Code (which I happen to have the movie on the TV right now), that book would be vastly different than the one that Brown released.
Jayne Lockwood: It might have been better… Although a lot of people dissed that book, I actually enjoyed it. People seemed to get sniffy because it was quite “light,” but that’s okay. I had to laugh when you said on your blog that you had given yourself a month to write AoM. I gave myself a year to write The Cloud Seeker (TCS)…
SA Collins: Aw, (regarding DaVinci) thanks for that! Well, that’s the funny part. When I dreamt it up I thought – oh, this is a simple little m/m romance thing with a bit of a thriller take on it. Simple enough.
Jayne Lockwood: Simple enough? HAH!
SA Collins: But you see, that’s where I was when it all began. Isn’t that fascinating to ponder a bit on? I had no idea (when I started) that Elliot was going to mentally and emotively vomit all over me. What happened very quickly was that all of those pent up things in my past started to pour out in the course of distilling them and reliving them. Elliot seemed to begin to lead me through his story. I’ve read the sample you sent me of TCS and I was really loving the prose you put there. Truly.
Jayne Lockwood: Thank you! That means a lot. I’ve been accused of being too “wordy” and “not literary.” But I think a true writer (controversy alert) cares deeply for their characters.
SA Collins: Sure they do. They are their creation. I would never assume that they don’t. But I think where I diverge from others is because of my theatrical training – as an actor I have to come up with why I would pick up that tea cup in a certain way and at a certain point in time (not just because the director said so – not good enough) … more of, was it because of an abusive grandmother who would slap my hands if I did it wrong? That sort of thing.
Jayne Lockwood: Got it. You self-analyse, so why wouldn’t your characters do the same?
SA Collins: Absolutely. Though I don’t think that your character question is controversial. I think it is germane to being a real writer. You have to care for the work and the characters in it. Just as in live performance, the audience will know the difference if you don’t (or as they say if you “phone it in”).
Jayne Lockwood: Absolutely. If you don’t care about your characters, why should anyone else?
SA Collins: Yes, it isn’t enough when the director tells you as an actor to cross to the left side of the stage on that particular line – you have to examine (or you should) why that moment in time evokes that response in your character. So it is those machinations and inner workings that I want to examine. I want to flesh that out for a reader in my works. I think this is the fertile ground for literature. The deep dive into the very essence of who and what we are as human beings.
Jayne Lockwood: I agree. If you want fluff, there is plenty of it around.
SA Collins: It is why Elliot revisits certain aspects in his life over and over in Angels of Mercy – to pulse check that he truly has the hottest guy on campus to call his own. To him it is beyond any hope he would ever have in life; therefore, it can’t be real. He has to keep mentally slapping it up on his emotive wall to see if the “experiment” he thinks it is will still hold true. He learns over time that Marco will never willingly stray from him. Marco is a fighter in their relationship. Elliot has never had that from anyone. Support, yes. Someone who will fight for his love? Not a chance (at least up until Marco enters his world).
Jayne Lockwood: It’s human nature to ask “why me” ?
SA Collins: I think it is, but I often ponder why more authors don’t really ask that question of their characters. Perhaps it is just me, but the “showing” gets rather banal after awhile. And let’s be honest, not many can actually do a good job of showing (which is why it is such an over wrought line used on newbie authors). As for my work, I couldn’t just leave it at that for the reader. I had to show by telling (through his inner-monologue) why Elliot felt that way. I had to lay it out for the reader why gayboys often deny themselves happiness outright.
Jayne Lockwood: Has the purpose of the book (AoM) morphed into an attempt to get people on the “outside” to understand the psychology of gay men?
SA Collins: To a very real degree, yes. I don’t think many authors tackle this (well, certainly not in the M/M Romance genre – it can be way too superficial for my tastes). There is so much speeding it along – and then, and then, and then. Jesus, why not explore why the “and then” exists in the first place and come away with a little more depth? For gay men, and I’ve spoken at length with my gay brothers on this topic many times over my half-century existence on this planet, it (happiness) is unusual for us. We don’t expect it. We can’t believe it when it is. We distrust it out of turn. Society has taught us this. We grow up like other children only to experience that when we feel differently then we are the broken ones. Elliot has to do this (poll whether he’s okay with everything when it happens or not) to protect himself. It is Marco who must obliterate that by example. Marco realizes very quickly that he has to man up and show (and tell) and demonstrate that he is unwavering. Every time Elliot doubts, Marco shows him how deep his feelings run for Elliot. And teens do this to a great degree – EVERYTHING is heightened, over-dramatic. Now add gay teenboy angst on top of it and there ya are = ELLIOT.
Jayne Lockwood: Because at its heart is a cracking good read.
SA Collins: I hope it is. The work took on a life of its own. I mean, my work will always be about giving a non-gay reader insight into facets of gay men as I create them. No superficial walks in my world. That is a very good question you pose there because I’ve only just recently come to the conclusion that Marco is not really gay at all. He is really pansexual. For him it is truly the person inside he falls in love with. But (and this is critical here to properly understand his character) he says “gay” for Elliot because he knows, in his heart of hearts, that anything other than that would hurt Elliot. Elliot wouldn’t be able to accept it and allow them to move forward. It would be too tenuous to him. That is a big part of the self-deprecation and denial that is often inherent in gay men. We’ve been taught that by society. It’s getting better and more men are accepting of who they are and that they DO deserve happiness. But there is a VERY long way to go. My work still has relevance in that regard. At least I think so.
Jayne Lockwood: I think you’re right. There is still a lot of homophobia out there as well. Define “pansexual.”
SA Collins: Pansexuals differentiate from bisexuals in that their attraction is inclusive of transsexuals – it is very pure in that it is the person inside that ignites and inflames – the sex/gender is almost irrespective of it all. I should add that there’s a lot of homophobia (self-hating) within the community believe it or not.
Jayne Lockwood: It isn’t a term I’ve heard before. Is it homophobia within the community, or snobbery?
SA Collins: No, there is an inherent homophobia (for lack of a better term) because they despise things within our own community, as if we’re all unclean. You only have to look at gays actively involved in the gay conversion therapy to see it. There is a gay friend of mine who is on FB (I am sure you know him or have seen him) but he holds himself up as a gay activist but he constantly berates others within the community that he thinks are unclean or not to the standard he holds for himself. I would say that it is snobbery but it transcends that because of the vehemence that he exhibits when he rants. There is a self-loathing if it doesn’t meet a certain degree of being perceived as normal or mainstream. And I find that troubling as a member of that community. As we strive for acceptance and equality, must we be so quick to cut others out or shame them into being like our heteronormative counterparts? I don’t think that is the way to go. We need to embrace all of it. The leather community, the people in the sex industry, whatever walk of life because let’s face it deary – those things exist in the straight community as well. In fact, the BDSM came from us and was adopted by the straight community (as we’ve seen – sometimes in the wrong way as with 50 Shades of Utter-Bullshit). But I digress. Getting back to your pansexual question, I think this is why Marco can have really deep seated feelings for Holly because it is who she is that he responds to – but when compared to Elliot, even she comes up short.
Jayne Lockwood: Which means, his love for Elliot is pure and true.
SA Collins: Yeah to your last about Marco and Els (Elliot). He comes to realize that it is truly who Elliot is that he can’t be without. I also think this is why Marco “lies” to Elliot about his being with a guy/girl at the same time in the first book. It isn’t true. He also isn’t wholly honest that the girl had no interest for him. We know in Marco’s book that isn’t true. He fucking loved being with Holly (literally, because he loved fucking her). It just wasn’t going to hold a candle to what he felt about Elliot. He knew he’d never be fully there for her in that way so he had to let her go. Elliot was more important to him. But his fear of rejection by Elliot (because he’s a jock) is what led Marco down a rocky road of questioning what his sexuality is all about. He gets his answer, and ultimately it doesn’t change his deep attraction and desire to bring Elliot to him.
Jayne Lockwood: To your last point, I have another author friend who says he isn’t popular with the gay community either because of what he used to do for a living. He’s such a lovely bloke. It’s a real shame.
SA Collins: What did he do for a living? Work with politicos who voted against us?
Jayne Lockwood: He did something that many would perceive as unseemly, just to make ends meet.
SA Collins: ‘Cause I gotta say that that is about the one thing that I have issue with – those who work against us. Other than that, not much else gets under my skin. If he isn’t working against us as a community then it won’t be an issue for me – tell him to look me up … not that I am looking to step out on the hubby – let’s be clear! *laughs*
Jayne Lockwood: I didn’t think for one moment!
SA Collins: I mean that I am very sex positive here. I have numerous friends who are IN the porn and sex industry (see Boomer Banks and Rocco Steele below – two prime examples of brilliant and dynamic men who have so much more going on for them – well beyond their porn star status), after all. I play fairly and respect (nearly – cause haters who are only about the hate don’t rate much in my book) everyone.
Jayne Lockwood: He’s happy with his partner. Everything has turned out ok so far. He’s an FB friend.
SA Collins: I treat them all as humans first and hope they love the crap outta me for it.
Jayne Lockwood: I don’t have a problem with anyone’s profession or sexuality either, as long as they’re not promoting hatred. Can’t be doing with that.
SA Collins: Totally on board with that. But yeah, to your point on literature, because it is our topic today, I think that when my werewolves started expounding or waxing on deeper psychological elements of what it meant to be a monster, then I knew I was using my Weres as something else altogether. I was actually calling back to what gothic horror really was – a proper examination of we humans.
Jayne Lockwood: Finally! At least someone is …
SA Collins: Actually it’s like the cable show Penny Dreadful (here in the States). I want my Weres to evolve to that sort of story. I think I’ve begun to lift it out of the fluff stuff and go after real gothic pathos here. Like right now, book two is actually from Hank’s father’s perspective. He has quite a bit on his mind, it seems about everything having to do with his son now in the pack. It’s taken on a different mantle. It’s become a deep dive into fatherhood, monsterhood, and husbandhood – his plate is pretty fucking full coming back home.
Jayne Lockwood: There’s definitely a market for more intelligent lycanthropic books (did I spell that right?)
SA Collins: Yeah you got it.
Jayne Lockwood: Which one are you thinking of carrying on from? Henry or Shrill? (Point of clarification – Amazon banned the original work HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega due to a dark thread in the plot so SA re-released a watered down version of the same story as The Shrill of Sparrows)
SA Collins: What I love about (John) Logan’s work in Penny Dreadful is that it is the monsters who can cope with the harsh realities of Victorian England. The humans are the ones who struggle and make epic mistakes. I sort of like that.
Jayne Lockwood: Because they are human.
SA Collins: Shrill will always be a standalone copy – the “werewolf-lite” version of it. So yeah, it is the human frailties that I think are really interesting to hold up to the monsters. I want my Sparrows series to examine that. I mean Cal is a father, a werewolf AND a husband whose wife has gone terribly long without her man giving her “what for …” in the bedroom.
Jayne Lockwood: So, in order not to descend into chaos or make bad choices, we need to be more like werewolves? I haven’t seen Penny Dreadful yet, so I might be talking out of my arse.
SA Collins: Cal’s a busy boy in Quarrel of Sparrows (the follow-up to HO’M,O/Shrill). And no, you’re not talking out your ass (sorry, it’s the Yank in me) re: Penny. It is very well done. Full-on balls to the wall honest-to-God pathos going on in that show. What is interesting in it is that Logan takes side trips that you start in with – what the bloody fuck is this about now? Only to find out that the way ’round trip you just took for an episode informs you on the entire arc you’re on with the whole thing.
Jayne Lockwood: Getting back to your Weres, it sounds like he has his work cut out (in Sparrows Hollow, West Virginia – where the story is set), but does he think like a human or a werewolf?
SA Collins: Cal is most definitely human throughout. But he is constantly at war with his inner wolf. The whole cast of boys are, actually. What I am doing that is drastically different – which book two will explain – is that I am introducing a new type of wolf into the genre.
Jayne Lockwood: Does he have any Were traits at all?
SA Collins: Oh yeah he will “wolf out” – no doubts there – mostly because he has to train his boy in what they are. They are the only two of their kind. In this, I introduce a new classification to the Were’s genre – a Gamma (as opposed to Alpha, Beta or Omega). It goes back to that spell that Ruth cast when she was pregnant with Hank that didn’t succeed in separating the wolf from Cal/Hank but redoubled and instead bound the magic to them.
Jayne Lockwood: THAT sounds like an interesting read. When do you think it will be finished?
SA Collins: I want it out by the time the blog tour starts in mid-March, so I can promote the release of book two while I am talking up book one.
Jayne Lockwood: So they (Father and son – Cal and Hank) are unique?
SA Collins: Yes, the Gammas are not beholden to any pack law. They can be destructive as all hell and can go completely off the rails (Ruth, Cal’s wife and Hank’s mother (who is a witch), is the one who comes up with the term because of her cosmology studies when she was in college). So Cal and Hank are Gammas – they have a way to use their wolf talents and strengths and can even imbue that magic for a time into their pack to strengthen them. But it comes at a cost, as they shall soon see. BUT there is a wrinkle in this because Cade, Cal’s former lover in his old pack, has been doing his magical homework and has sort of created something like it himself during the intervening years since Cal disappeared and Hank was growing up.
Jayne Lockwood: Got it. Where did this idea come from?
SA Collins: The idea came because I wanted to do something about the heteronormative perception that the “bottom” was the weak guy in the gay relationship – believe it or not.
Jayne Lockwood: You have to have a wrinkle …
SA Collins: That was the impetus for my Gamma
Jayne Lockwood: Aah, now I’m getting it
SA Collins: Omegas in the gay Weres trope are the soothers of the pack life. They often are physical (to some degree) with most of the members of the pack – they ensure pack cohesiveness and common interests. The Alpha and Betas rely on the abilities of an Omega as they augment their strength in a pack. But Ruthie’s little mishap gave birth to something else in Cal altogether. And since she was pregnant with Hank at the time he also has the same trait now.
Jayne Lockwood: So is he the ultimate power bottom? Although I hate labels.
SA Collins: Yeah, kinda sorta. But the bottoms aren’t the weak ones. Think about it. It takes a helluva lot of courage to be there for your man in that way. A real top (that isn’t just trying to be a prick but actually gets that it is a mutual thing/pairing they’re after) understands that he wouldn’t get what he wants if he didn’t have a man who was willing to go there for him. Just sayin’… The thing is, I want to use the sex as a way for these boys to remain rooted in their humanity through all the gross bloodshed that is going to come their way.
Jayne Lockwood: I think people expect sex as part of the deal with werewolves.
SA Collins: Perhaps, but in my world it is also how I will bind Hank to the boys emotively. He will assume the responsibility for each of them. Right now he doesn’t know how much that is part of the deal. He’s still reeling from the fact that he has eight boyfriends. Yeah, it’s very specific in my Weres world. And with Cal/Hank – it takes on a whole new meaning – remember Cade’s comment at the end of HO’M,O where he said that movin’ in that boy was like dippin’ his wick in a very powerful force? Or something like that, well magic is involved in their sex.
Jayne Lockwood: I just wanted to touch on book covers, whilst you’re here as well.
SA Collins: Sure. Fire away
Jayne Lockwood: How do you decide on what to put on a book cover? We had another discussion about the cover for Angels, in which I said it wasn’t about American football, but actually, it is, or the game dynamics that can be applied to real life. What makes a great book cover, one that “pops” on thumbnail and makes people want to click on it?
SA Collins: It was interesting for Angels because the whole series actually came from an image I think I’ve told you before, where I imagined a couple of boys on the Bixby Bridge (which is on my site) and cop cars on either side with lights flashing and the entire scene bathed in a heavy fog. There is another boy falling from the bridge with his arms outstretched and the fall has created a draft of “wings” behind him. That was the image I had in my head when it first came to me. I always thought that was the final book image. But now I am not so sure. I mean, it is a very indelible image in my mind about the books, but I don’t know if it would make a great cover. What was core for me was what will POP? What will stand out? And then I started to play with metaphors. The only one that mattered to me was football in and of itself – because all of the trauma these boys go through stem from that singular point. Just look at what’s happened with Michael Sam in the sport. So unfair on how he was not assessed because of his true talent, despite what the commentators say. But let’s say what if Marco was a painter, or a runner or some other damned thing, I don’t know it would be just as pointed.
Jayne Lockwood: Okay, but book one is from Elliot’s perspective, and he hates football …
SA Collins: Yeah so it was even more important to me that football be on that cover – weird, huh? But if you noticed I looked for a very specific image – that of a football player pointing to the reader, as if saying ”YOU.“ I’ll admit it isn’t everything I want in it, but it does the job. The color scheme is strong enough that it does standout against the other half-torsoed men on all the other covers. In a way – exactly – if someone thought I was being high browed from the get-go then I think they’d pass on it. Sad but true, that.
Jayne Lockwood: I get what you’re saying, and I LOVE the cover. It’s been around a while now and it’s what I associate with the book. If you changed it, I’d think WTF, but it got me thinking as to what the book is actually about. And someone else said on the blog that the book didn’t immediately say “literature” but is that a bad thing?
SA Collins: And can I stop and just say – do we HAVE to have half-naked men on EVERY cover – oh for fuck sake! But in this way I sort of straddle all of those tropes and cover ideas.
Jayne Lockwood: Ha ha! I do my eye-rolling thing when I see pecs and nips. Like, here we go again … So readers know from the get go they are getting something different?
SA Collins: It has an athletic male on it, it is colorful (even though it is rather monotoned), and more importantly (at least to my way of thinking), it isn’t what everyone else is doing. Well that is the hope – first get them to click on the damned thing because it does look different, then the write up is my gig – that’s where I better do my damned work to “elevator pitch” them to hell and gone to pick up the damned thing and BUY it.
Jayne Lockwood: I don’t do pecs and nips either … Just handsome men in suits. If they want pecs and nips, they have to READ THE FUCKING BOOK …
SA Collins: Yeah. And I appreciate that perspective of yours, believe it or not. In a very real way it gives balance to your erotic works inside. It’s very much the “less is more” or “let your imagination wander” sort of thing.
Jayne Lockwood: That’s it. The write up is crucial. I hate the write up ...
SA Collins: It’s funny because I’ve decided that self-pub is my plan B to get Angels out there. But if I really want it to succeed or have a real shot at it, I think I’ll have to really try traditional pub by going for a real literary agent. I think that it is the only real way I have a shot to get it out there. Given with the resistance I’ve experienced with HO’M,O and Shrill, I don’t think the promo- blog tour groups would be able to handle the violent homophobia that is at the core in Angels very well.
Jayne Lockwood: Yes, I’m with you on the self-pub/trad thing. You need backing. Some people make lots of money by self-pubbing, but they are in the minority.
SA Collins: I need deeper pockets and a bigger marketing team for this type of work. Perhaps that is one of the greatest deterrents to writing literature – because you really can’t self-pub or market it very well. Not on your own.
Jayne Lockwood: And from what I’ve seen (not that I’ve delved extensively) the blog tour thing seems to be the premise of romance. The deep pockets thing veers dangerously into “vanity” publishing – which I won’t do. People will either like my book or they won’t. The product is good, but spending ££££££ is not an option. Most people are scared rigid of Closer Than Blood when I’ve tried to pitch it … The trouble is, my books are too darned long (about 100,000 words) and it’s as if they are saying, “Oh, that’s so much time to spend on a book. Life is too short. Let’s buy a fluffy romance instead that I can read in a day …” Or as someone said, maybe my books just aren’t very good! Fuck that. They are!
SA Collins: No I think it is that there is so much shit out there (which was the nature of my emotive rant on my blog) that the good stuff is being lost in the mix.
Jayne Lockwood: So much shit. I agree. It’s hard to wade through it all …
SA Collins: I think this steady diet of fluff, and badly written fluff at that, that I think that the well-crafted work is just being missed.
Jayne Lockwood: The trouble is, no-one really sets out to write a crap book, but some don’t understand the time and effort needed to make it good. That might make me sound like an arrogant cow, but it’s true.
SA Collins: I don’t think it’s arrogant at all. But the thing is while self-pub has been a boon to new stories making their way out there, the problem is we have people who have no business pubbing doing so and really making it difficult for those of us who really can do what we do.
Jayne Lockwood: Yup
SA Collins: And I am not being snobby about that. I’ve a shit load of books I got through the first page and it went right into the “fuck it” pile on my e-reader.
Jayne Lockwood: Yeah, I have a few of those as well. I don’t review them because, well, it would be a bloodbath and it’s not up to me to squash anyone’s dreams. Some people think the same about my writing! Glass houses, anyone?
SA Collins: So many people don’t know how to craft a story or flesh a proper character out. Now I don’t toss something because it isn’t how I write. I mean, I’ve loved your stuff and Brad’s stuff and been totally fine with the characters and the plots in those just fine. So it doesn’t have to be anything like my work. But I do tend to write what I want to read. Don’t know if that’s how all authors write, but I know it’s what I do. There is one topic I did want to touch on briefly, if we can. Or we can hold off for a later time.
Jayne Lockwood: No, it’s cool. Shoot.
SA Collins: So when you decide on a story, what is the singular thing you fixate on? As a content creator I am always fascinated by what sparks another author to write about. Is it the character, an image, a situation you want to explore? All of the above?
Jayne Lockwood: It can be. With Lexington Black, it started out from another story I have in the pipeline, called Madison Blue. That hit the rails a bit, but I thought, why not do a series with those kind of titles? So I had the title, then I had to write the book! With The Cloud Seeker, I always wanted to write a novel around 9/11, but I wasn’t sure if I had the writing chops to do it justice. It took years for that to happen. In the end, it seemed obvious to base the novel around my village and weave the story through it. Sometimes it can be a picture, a single line of dialogue. Anything that creates a spark.
SA Collins: For me it is our human fears that I want to explore. It’s really interesting because let’s step away from my Angels or Weres for a moment and let’s look at Fae Wars – Fear the Feigr (which I’ve set aside while I wrote Angels). It is REALLY about male sexual insecurity. And I am using a trope to examine that with by using the Norse Feigr (which aren’t all that well-known in mainstream society (save for the eye candy Thor movie series of late)) and decided to really explore what makes human (straight) males afraid of their own sex and sexuality. My Feigr are massively scary to heterosexual human males because they challenge what it means to be a man on many levels.
Jayne Lockwood: This is where writers are very different. I don’t work like that, mainly because I’ve never had the schooling to think in that way. That came out all wrong. What I meant was I need physical triggers to create a story. Rather than emotional ones.
SA Collins: I see. That’s really interesting … For me it’s headspace.
SA Collins: I know you just went “duh” about what I said
Jayne Lockwood: Nope, I’m just thinking that maybe that is what literature is all about … no, that wasn’t what I mean! I was just thinking that literature is all about emotions, and my stuff isn’t.
SA Collins: It’s a fascinating thing when authors compare what they do and how they do it. It’s almost a cracking story in and of itself.
Okay, not really freaking out too much here. I mean, there was no stork, even if there was a baby (of sorts).
What happened was, I bit the bullet. I grinned and bear(ed) it. I took a leap of faith…
I published my first work.
I’m happy with it. Even if it isn’t the type of work I normally do. Part of me was concerned with that — perceptions and all. You see this work is a silly piece of fluff. Well, not silly, more sentimental and erotically charged. And while I am not about censorship when it comes to gay men and our sexuality, it is rather strange that I have a very sexual book out there that my mother can read!
Okay, I should stop worrying about that. I am gonna write what I’m gonna write. It is what it is. Right?
Yeah, well, I ain’t so sure now. Only because the next work I am putting out there is the important one. It’s the series that I feel the strongest about.
Hank and my boys of West Virginia are great. I love them and they’ve given me a spark of interest in writing about werewolves that I didn’t know I had. I sort of love my furry beastie guys. And Hank’s a rather pretty boy in their midst. I mean, the picture I have of him as an inspiration says nothing but pretty (if decidedly, beefy) boy.
Oh, that ain’t the only picture of him, neither (as he’d no doubt say):
So yeah, pretty and beefy. Just look at them arms and them pecs, will ya? And I am not so much for blond guys – but, uh, yeah. He’d do — no kicking to the curb with that purdy boy! #jussayin
And Hank’s a lovely boy to write about. He’s caring, un-obsessed with his own good looks, genial and easy to get along with. Completely unassuming. And who’da thunk he’d be in the middle of a werewolf war that was about to break loose? Or that his mama and closest thing to a grandma he’s got are a pair of powerful witches? I know he sure didn’t.
Hank and his boys are near and dear to my heart. Which was sort of a revelation. I mean, as an author, you are deeply involved with your characters and your worlds that you create. That’s fairly a given — unless your completely dispassionate about the work then, why bother? But even if you are deeply in bed with them, it doesn’t always mean you have to like them much.
But with Hank, Riley, Tanner, Mike, Toby, Darby, Dylan, Maynard, and Spike – I am really already rooting for these boys to triumph over the likes of Cade Bowen/Talbot.
Don’t know who he is?
Yeah, well, go pick up the book, dammit!
So here I am again- more discussion on the arc of creating a look/feel for a book I’ve been putting together. It started out simple enough (almost bland in it’s simplicity):
Actually this is a later iteration as I can’t find my original which was just the slash cut with out any bloody references and minus the lycanthropic tagline.
It was slightly emotive of what I wanted but almost too simplistic in approach. Originally I was thinking of going horror novel ala Ikea – ya know, very Scandinavian in design – sparse and minimalistic, yet evocative.
Because the gash/slash was in a swooping motion I used a very swishy font. I tend to favor them. Mostly because I admire calligraphers. And as I said before – I am a BIG FONT WHORE.
So yeah, it was serviceable. Passable. Minimally getting me there.
I mean, I didn’t kid myself and say – wow, that’ll get them to buy it!
Cause, I knew it ultimately wouldn’t. I wasn’t foolin’ myself none, ya know?
So I posted it anyway and then my author pal, Jayne Lockwood commented that she thought the HOMO title should be bolder cause it was sort of lost in the vast sparseness of the work. I thought about it. I did. I swear I did.
Then did nothing about it. Told her that was what I was after.
But it festered. Made me rethink what I was doing.
I didn’t want to do the whole muscle dude thing on so many of the M/M romance stuff. Cause that’s just so… meh. So 1990 in my book. It’ll be cheesy in a few years and NOT retro-chic cheesy either. Just plain cheese – but not the good kind you can put on sandwiches and stuff.
So I needed to retool it. I knew that.
Then I hit a major creative speed bump. It happened last night. I took a breather from writing the ending to the story (it was a NaNoWriMo winner story so I knew I wanted to get it done). And I took a small (fitful) nap. I woke up and had a pseudo-meltdown. I don’t know if it was the wrong side of the bed, or in general I was letting my shit get to me but I wrote a rather long rant to my betas, friends and family (do they have a cell phone program for that?) and babbled endlessly on whether I needed to write at all. Whether I was good enough.
It was a fucktard moment. I ain’t proud of it. I mean, I even bcc’d my mom on it. How embarrassing is that? Your own mother knows you’re a fucktard. Brilliant – NOT!
So when I finally crawled out of my pity-party and began to sort out my shit and got back in the writing saddle I decided I’d take an artistic turn for a few and re-examine the HOMO book cover.
The hubby was busy with the initial edits and comments, so I was left to my own devices in retooling the cover for it once it was done.
I hit up istockphoto (my usual goto) and found a few werewolf-y looking things. But the costs are getting up there to use this service. I like the quality of work but the credit fees to just buy some shit is getting up there now. There had to be others out there that were cheaper. So I found CanStockPhoto.com.
I combed through their stuff on wolves and forests and such and found a couple of things I sort of liked. I always wanted ominous eyes if I was going to do a picture. I also knew the cover had to be dark. So I started to try and combine those two terms to source something for the new reworked cover.
I found these two pieces to start with:
And even though I railed against using a half naked man on the cover but I sorta liked this guy when I happened upon him – he had that whole Tanner Tallman (from my book) thing going on. And he had wolfy fangs so yeah, he was worth a saw buck to buy him. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? BOTH images cost me less than $9!) It was a no-brainer.
So here he is – (even if I didn’t use him this time around) – it’s a novella series so yeah, I could still put him to use down the road. Especially if I focus on Tanner somewhere down the line.
Anyway, so I went about taking the wolfy eyes and the darkened road and began to repurpose my original cover art.
First to go was the swishy font for the logo – rebranded it entirely into a sans-serif font rather than a display font (if you’re into typography like me you know what that means, if not, eh, don’t fret too much about it). This was invariably a big factor on my changing the background from a faux leather texture to solid black. It would allow the red blood and title to punch a bit more on the cover. Great, but it still seemed sparse without something else.
Then it was time to sort out which of the two picts I was gonna use. Since Tanner wasn’t the focus in this first book I decided it was better to go with an establishing and moody thought. So wolf eyes and road it is:
I think it is far superior to my original IKEA take on it. What do you all think?
I am hoping to release it to the masses in early January. It’ll be my first publicly released work for sale but my third novel that I’ve completed. The other two are still in edit mode before distribution. This one was for fun. While I love the work and am happy to dedicate it to my first fan (who loves all things werewolves) it is nowhere near the serious work I am doing in Angels. This is meant to be a spooky romp of a read. Something to get the imagination as well as the loins inflamed, ya know?
So yeah, that’s it for this time around. Who knows I may end up with a separate series of how I design book covers and why? Who knew? I should probably youtube this shit to expand my market share?
Eh, who has the time? I want to write dammit!
So my NaNoWriMo goal is within sight – I’ll have my 50K tucked away by this evening and I’ll post it for validation. Whoo-hoo! I did it and I finished it well before the November 30 deadline! I am proud of myself for pantsing it along.
Now, to the real task – of getting the damned thing in order cause it sorta feels like I’m trying to hug fog at the moment. This shit is nebulous as all hell and I need to straighten it up. Not that it can’t be done but fuck me if I know how to do it.
I guess I am gonna have to poll my beta’s and see where I am missing shit…I know what I want to do, just in the thrust of gettin’ to my goal I think I have some massive holes in plot and narrative.
So yay, me! Well done! (That sound you’re hearing is the patting of my own back – cause sometimes you just gotta to keep ya goin’).
Above is my adjusted cover art. It’s rather subdued but at least it’s got some umph, no?
Thoughts on it?
As a rule of thumb I am opposed to those manly half naked men on the covers – I just think that most of that will look so damned dated down the road.
Also, while I have your attention – what do you think about the word “adventure” in the tag line? It’s not really an adventure – more of an experience, tale, event (now that’s just plain lousy)?
The story does have some angst that I am gettin’ to now. Just not much in the way of adventure – I mean it’s not a wolfy Indiana Jones. Even though I can sorta see Harrison as a wolf man.
Anyway, the goal for NaNoWriMo will be reached by tonight. The story – eh, not so much.
And it’s been nice to have Steve Grand in the rotation to get my boys where they are. Only now it’s gonna get darker – a whole mess darker. I may have to switch up the playlist for a bit to get into the groove. Riley, Hank and the boys are in for some bad assed times. Then my HFN for the moment.
Free reads of where I am up to the 50K mark will be posted later on tonight.
Then I need to pen some more of Marco’s Angel’s volume – I’ve left him sorta hanging and he’s got shit to say now about his burgeoning love for all things Elliot. The boys in my worlds are gonna drive me bat-shit crazy!
Til next time…
Who knew? I know I sure as hell didn’t.
Now, you might be thinking, and rightly so, what the hell is he going on about now?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Sometime last year I began to get quite interested in being a writer. It’s not something new. I’ve had these stories burning in my head – albeit on very far away and distant back burners, mind you – that needed me to get on with the telling.
So last year I began to start writing in earnest. I was writing mostly for me. I still am to a great degree. It doesn’t matter if no one else really likes what I am doing. I like it and that’s the bar I need to hit – as a matter of reference I am never quite satisfied with any creative work I do so that bar is probably a helluva lot higher than any of the critics out there could begin to tear down.
In any event, I began writing.
First it was a story that had been passed back and forth between my husband and myself – an alternate history dealing with Natives from the America’s and the ‘what if’ of a little known and oft missed point in our American past where the British reneged on an agreement that would’ve backed the establishment of a Native nation on the burgeoning American continent. In actuality, there was a small book that my husband introduced me to that dealt with this in an indirect manner – an alternate history of a world where this had come to pass. It detailed, quite well, how Natives would have evolved in western society and applied their precepts and outlook on modern life in an alternate universe that pseudo paralleled our world.
The book was: The Journey of Silas P. Bigelow by Keenan Heise.
It’s a lovely little book that actually grapples with some fairly complex societal mores. I loved the book and I was inspired to write my own “what if” on how I would see Native’s in the bold new modern frontier if they’d been allowed to prosper and evolve unimpeded by the western Europeans.
So I started on that piece and it became quite a behemoth in scope as well as in tone. I decided to table it because so much of it was interesting but it just wasn’t jelling. I was undeterred though – I knew that writing was my thing – I just needed to find the right vehicle to get me started. So that story is on the back burner where it my likely remain for all time. I have the manuscript files, I have the notes and research (which was extensive in both history and in quantum mechanics and native theory on physics in general). Just those pondering alone can point to an over-indulgent exploration that would rival Tolkien’s. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t up to the task (just not then, at any rate).
So that got shunted for another take on Native life – since I am of native descent (my own father coming straight from the rez) I took to writing a different sort of story that was still scientifically based (mostly because I married a real rocket scientist) I wanted to play with the whole – let’s present it as magic (ala Harry Potter but with Indians) only to show by the end that it was all science – just not understood by those who were wielding it what it was. That work is still in progress and has quite a bit amassed already.
But then I got an itch, brought about by Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Thor. I wanted to do something with Viking lore – so I became enamored with the Norse Fae called the Feigr. That iron was put into the fire and I began writing that in earnest too.
I am sure you can see where this is going – a whole shit load of irons in the fire but nothing coming from it.
Enter my Angels: Marco, Elliot and Pietro.
Angels of Mercy had none of the above. When it hit it came like a hurricane and completely sidelined EVERYTHING I was doing. I wrote the first volume of Angels of Mercy in a matter of months. At 205K words it is one helluva tome – and it is only the first of three books in the series. With book one completed (yes, I FINALLY completed something) I began to write volume two (I figured I was on a roll now).
Then NaNoWriMo reared its attractive head – ‘write a novel in a month’ was the challenge. I’d just put the wraps on a 205K novel so the 50K challenge didn’t seem like anything of the sort. So I set aside Marco’s part of the tale in Angels to create another new universe: Werewolves in a fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow in 1956 West Virginia. It’s proving to be a bit of fun writing fluff of a horror nature (albeit with a whole lot of gay boy on boy lovin’ thrown in for good measure – I am all about the man on man love fest here in case you hadn’t noticed).
Well, that is about to wrap up (within this week), and I have taken time off to get it accomplished so by the time November 30th rolls around I’ll have my second (if smaller) novel completed.
So, aside from the possible tie-in with werewolves, where does the whole beta thing come in?
Simple. As a writer I found out from my other author pals that betas are invaluable to any author and are worth their weight in gold if they aren’t the sort that will just (as one author put it so eloquently) “cast so much sunshine up your backside that you get a sunburn from it.” So I found out I needed me some beta readers to give me feedback as I began to write and develop my worlds.
Now to be honest, this was something that initially I was toying with. I was always going to write either way. It’s just in me to do so. Yet, here’s the thing: I was curious to a small degree on what someone else thought of my work.
So I began to find others who might read it. I found my first beta in a LGBTQAI support forum board and began to chat him up (no, not in that way – head out of the gutter now), to see how receptive he was about my writing. He admitted that he wasn’t much of a reader to that point because most of what was out there didn’t interest him. But I asked him to read Angels of Mercy and to tell me what he honestly thought. Surprisingly, he did.
While he had praise for the work, which I found so gratifying, he also demonstrated a complete attachment to my boys in the story. As if they meant something to him. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have a plan for that. But there it was – plain and simple – he loved my world. He loved my boys. And he had thoughts on what was working and what didn’t. I had me my first beta.
He’s golden. He’s one of a kind. He’s thoughtful about my worlds, he’s asked questions and pointed out inconsistencies when they’ve cropped up. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I just didn’t think that anyone would find what I did remotely interesting let alone be just as hooked with them as I was.
I’ve since taken the works to a few others and the response has been rather universal. The work has a certain something. It has some sort of quality that people respond to. My other betas have all said the same sorts of things (with variations on a theme depending on where their own life has taken them). That has been a wonderful thing to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t believe it. It’s just easier from a writing standpoint if there isn’t someone else’s bar in the mix. If it’s my own I can write to that and attempt to impress myself.
My betas? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Not because they’ve kicked me really hard (though they have certainly held my feet to the literary fire when needs be), but because they’ve all consistently gave me the consistent encouragement to press forward. That what I was doing wasn’t in vain or some little silly thing that only I was going to ever read.
In the course of my writing, I discovered that while I write stories with strong gay male figures that contain (amongst other things) a strong romantic element thread, they are not the M/M romance fluff that is out there. I am not disparaging those works – those that find them of interest have a large selection to choose from. As for myself I require more. I require an element of truth that only comes from within. From having lived this life as a gay man. I am not a writer like those of the M/M romance genre. More power to them but I am not of their kind. We may have elements in common but that is where we also diverge from one another.
My betas all seem to be in agreement with me in this. They like that I am not guaranteeing anything when you open one of my books. There is no automatic HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. Because life doesn’t work that way. My worlds, fantastical though they may sometimes be (the Feigr, the “magical” natives, etc) are all rooted in my own or a loved one’s experiences.
This is reflected in the lives of my betas themselves.
Recently one of my beta readers, my very first, a man who I’ve come to count on for a great many reasons ran up against a health concern that had the potential to be life threatening. When that hit I literally almost fell apart. I didn’t write. I stopped cold. The passion drained from me – and this in the middle of the NaNoWriMo contest – not a good thing. But my beta’s life was in the balance. Nothing seemed as important as that. I stewed, I pondered the what if’s – which were many because my husband also had been a practicing physician so I had the 411 on what the potential outcome was even before my new found friend got the official news.
I was gutted.
And let’s be clear – this wasn’t about me. I was overwrought with concern for him. I am not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. There were no prayers involved. I’m just not built that way to give into the whole ludicrous “no atheist in the foxhole” mentality. Yeah, husband has had his life threatened numerous times so if I was gonna cave on the whole God vs. No-God thing it woulda been back then. But it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to stop and think about how my bestest friend, my first “fan” (if you will) was faring through a very difficult time.
He dropped off for a while. Little to no communication from him. Wasn’t easy to endure on my end because I wanted to know how he was doing. But I gave him space. I wrote him once to tell him I was here no matter what – it felt so empty to offer that. I wanted to give him back so much more.
That caused a fire to be lit in my belly. I began to focus all of that into my writing. I had taken up the subject of werewolves because of this very person who was struggling with this life threatening illness. I wanted to write something for him since he has a particular fondness for werewolves (along with men). So it was sort of a fun thing I was doing for him. Only now, it had morphed into being for him in ways I never originally envisioned. I recast one of the characters in the book with his name. I dedicated the book to him. It felt so hollow in many respects – so railing against the big thick glass pane that separated us (he in Michigan with me in CA). But I wanted him to know in some small way how much I’ve come to count on his advice. How much his words meant to me.
I never bargained for this when I started out. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever have this to deal with (and Michael, this is NOT a gripe on my part – please believe me). But these people, these generous people who have given me their time and energy in reading my works and giving me “what for” when I went astray, have become so important as I progress and grow as a writer.
I always said I would trade five million five star ratings for one person who deeply felt what I was doing. Michael is that guy. I am writing for him and men/boys like him. Men who need to hear about our worlds from our own. Men who understand what it is like to deal with the world around us that keeps reminding us at every turn we are NOT like them. We are NOT the norm. I welcome anyone who wants to read what I write. I thank them with all the humility and graciousness I can muster. But I am clear about one thing – I write for men like Michael.
A dear friend I met through my writing.
A man who has so much to offer in life.
A thoughtful individual who cares about my boys almost as much as I do – sometimes, more so.
Yeah, turns out, this Alpha writer does need his betas. They might matter most of all.