When Werewolves Go Lit(erary) –
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.
When Gay Men Have Straight Sex …
-or- why my guys are more like real guys than the stuff you read in m/m romance.
I’ve done it now. Angels of Mercy won’t be an easy read for the chicks who dig their man-on-man (-on-man?) love action. There’s a cardinal rule there that gay men don’t play on the other side of the fence.
Only, after being around the block as much as I have – and I’ve really been around the block so much I can give muthafuckin’ tours and sell shirts and shit – I know that gay doesn’t always equate to GAY with a big ol’ pink triangle and a rainbow flag. Men are far more fluid when it comes to sex. They won’t talk about it honestly with others if they know they can be identified – but in the course of my Human Sexuality class I took last semester we ran a world-wide sex study and the results were rather enlightening (well, more so for the class than myself). Mostly because the survey was completely anonymous. No tracking, no cookies, no way to link it back to you as the participant. So I think we got really refreshing responses. It turns out that across the over 600 respondents from around the globe, the spectrum of gay vs. straight ain’t so lopsided as one might think. In fact when we added up the queer populace it came damned near EQUAL to the total self-identified straight population within the sampling.
Read that again so it’s clear to you all – THE QUEERS (LGBTQAI, etc) WERE DAMNED NEAR EQUAL IN NUMBERS TO THEIR STRAIGHT COUNTERPARTS.
In my past I’ve bedded enough “married straight men” to know that straight doesn’t always mean what it says. DL much, guys?
Honestly put (and this is NOT news, ladies and gents): GUYS LOVE TO GET THEIR ROCKS OFF.
And don’t let all that straight boy bravado fool you – a gay boy will do just fine if there’s no pussy to be had. Just callin’ it as I sees it. And believe me, I’ve seen plenty. Sex positive here and all that rot.
So my literature work is not genre romance. It just isn’t. I never really saw that it was. I mean, I think it could be embraced by that audience, but they are so deeply entrenched in their own genre dogma that they often rail against stories that don’t fit into their nice and tidy rainbow box.
Well, as a fully fledged GAY man, I know that the world is a whole lot grayer than the black and white everyone likes to classify things into. We all like tidy little boxes. Well, human sexuality is not so fucking tidy.
And neither are my boys.
I’ve known gay men who have sex with women on an on-going basis. The difference is they can’t emotively connect with women beyond friendship. Men, on the other hand, turn their little heart crank in 0.065 seconds flat. They become a puddle of emotional goo if a guy begins to woo them. Therein is the difference, sweet cheeks. That emotive quotient that is added to the sexual mix between gay men and their male lovers.
It’s no different than the ‘gay for pay’ adult actors who want to earn more money by doing gay porn than they ever could doing straight porn work. They may get all the pussy they want doing straight porn, but the real money for the men is on our side of the fence and they’ve figured that shit out. And the guys in gay porn who are gay are stretching the boundaries of what gay men look and “act” like (though I grouse at the word “act” when it comes to anything gay – I am only using it here because of the commonality of how many use it in the sex work industry).
Colby Keller is one such man that I admire not only for putting himself sexually out there (which, let’s face it, takes REAL BALLS to do that – and believe me, Colby’s got ’em – and then some!), but also has a brilliant mind and a real sense of aesthetics in art and literature. A man I can really admire with all of his sex-positive stuff going on that makes it oh so sexy to watch in a man. He’s hella sexy and that ginger status only adds fuel to the fire in my book (just sayin’).
But I digress, that’s not what this blog post is about really.
What I did that many readers of M/M Romance genre might take offense, was organically developed in the way that my story needed to evolve. Angels is about choices gay men have to make to try and eke out some happiness in their lives. Some of those choices go epically wrong. Horrifyingly so. Especially within the context of organized/team sports. They (the jocks) have a script that they have to go by to be a fully fledged member of the “club.” Even if there is no literal script to run with.
My protag, Marco Sforza, in the second volume (Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco) is just such a young man. He knows he is in love with the out, but shy, gay boy on campus. But he is also painfully aware that the big bright shiny spotlight that follows him everywhere on campus is not what will bring the love of his life into his arms. He knows that there are other factors at play here. He knows he has to “play the game” so he can play the game (of football, in this case). Marco’s good at what he does. His stats are some of the top in the nation for high school athletes – especially those who are eyeing a college career, if not a professional one. Marco knows he is going to be scouted as he gets to college level playing. But that only serves to put an added layer of pressure to be one of the guys.
This doesn’t do anything for his heart. It only denies him what he wants most in life – to have that boy of his dreams (Elliot) in his arms and in his bed day in and lights out.
But he chooses to “play the game” rather than give up the game he loves to play. So he finds a girl that he’s comfortable with. She’s a good fit for him. She doesn’t pressure him, she enjoys his company, she is everything he could want in a relationship. This is something that takes him by surprise. Something that he doesn’t expect to happen to him. And Holly, the girl in question, is easy for him. Not in a slutty girl way, but rather because he doesn’t feel put upon when he’s with her. This only serves to cloud the issue of whether he really is gay or not.
But each time he goes out with Holly, he finds himself back at that boy’s house, out back in the woods that surrounds his home, just waiting for any sign of the boy who still has his heart. Marco has some big choices to make in this case. He knows he needs to let what’s easy go, in favor of that much harder choice of what will feed his heart and his soul.
But then, there’s the added complication that he’s an hormonally charged teenager too. And despite what mothers and the girls in their lives, that’s never an easy thing to wrestle with. Hormones in a teen boy are massively and epically confusing to deal with. Part of me thinks this is why so many boys choose team sports – it is a way to direct that pent up sexual energy.
Holly has decided that Marco is the guy who will be her first. And for Marco, who hasn’t been with anyone in that way, decides that she will be his. So they have sex. Nailed to the fucking wall, kind of sex. Sex on steroids kind of sex because, as it turns out, Marco and Holly are very sexually compatible. Each one driving the other to new heights of pleasure. And to Marco’s surprise he actually finds he enjoys himself in doing it. It’s just easy, that way. And that is what makes everything so much harder for him.
But inwardly, he knows it’ll never be what he wants most in life so he let’s that slip away from him in favor of what he’s always wanted. But his time with Holly answers so many questions he has about himself. It gives him clarity so when he makes the conscious choice to set all fear aside and move in to tell Elliot (the boy he’s secretly loved) how he feels, he does it with real conviction, no longer unclear about who he is and what he really wants. No one can ask him: “Well, how do you know you’re not straight if you’ve never tried it?”
‘Cause he bloody well has, that’s why! And his boy Elliot, STILL came out on top!
Book one covers their relationship from Elliot’s perspective. It’s heady and very over-the-top romantic. Book two is Marco’s perspective on it all. But I wanted these books to be real character studies. I wanted the reader to know these boys intimately. Seventy percent of the books are inner-monologue. They are fashioned that way so the reader goes through this emotive questioning that all gay men go through. The struggle to answer that question of who am I and what does it all mean?
Gay men do have straight sex. It happens more than people realize. And the reverse is quite true too. Straight men will have gay sex (even beyond the “acceptable” practice of it being prison sex). Sexual fluidity is a far more potent place to write stories. Why? Because all cards are on the table, all bets are off.
The real stories can be told when nothing is guaranteed.
Let the gloves come off and start swinging… that’s my motto.
It may not win me any points with M/M genre fiction readers. But I think they are, by and large (though not everyone, I’ll grant you), limited in scope of what are acceptable storylines. There should be no guarantees in the writing of these stories. Only then do we let our true creative sparks ignite and become the storytelling firestorm that they can be. Otherwise, we’re just swapping characters and occupations around and rehashing old ground.
So Angels is not a player of that M/M genre game. My boys won’t fit in tidy fucking boxes. I hope those readers give it a chance. But since one of my main characters (the jock in the relationship) has straight sex in it, I may have just lost that appeal for them. Too bad really, because I think it makes him infinitely more real and accessible. The experience defines him, gives him greater clarity. It also allows him to push for what he really wants without the need to put these characters on unattainable pedestals. Elliot does that for most of book one – Marco is a god to him. Only to have that smashed when it looks like Marco has strayed on the very same night Elliot does with another boy – but now I am getting ahead of myself. Best to leave that for when the books come out.
So yeah, broke a rule here for that audience. Maybe they’ll take a chance on it any how. I know that the readers who have groused about some of the positions I’ve taken and then previewed the first book found that I really did have something here that is a bit of a game changer. It is different than what’s out there. I am striving for real literature. Beyond genre. Beyond that sort of (IMHO) myopic rule set.
No ‘they must not…’
Because they do. And they will, and I wouldn’t have them any other way.
Until next time …
Guest Blog on LadyJ’s Site – Hooray!
Guest blog on author pal, Lady J (Jayne Lockwood)’s blog site and her erotica website SavannahSmythe.com regarding the release of my new work – HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure.
I encourage you to check it out and also to take note of a cracking hot story coming your way from the Lady writer herself – Lexington Black. Looks to be one helluva read and I can’t wait to sink in.
Thanks for the shout out, Lady J. Big hugs to ya for highlighting my recent release.
Check out the book that was too much for Amazon –
For every reader who buys the “watered down” abridged version (The Shrill of Sparrows) on Amazon they’ll find a email address to reach out to me and I’ll send them the controversial version of the work free of charge!
Banned By Association
Okay, maybe it was my fault.
So I hit a BIG learning curve here. Epically so. Why, you might ask? Because my first work, a novel that was released to the world from several selling platforms, Amazon being just one of them, got BANNED! But since it all took place this past week I didn’t want to do a knee-jerk blog post about it. I wanted some distance from it to sort it out. I’m like that. I can be wordy and preachy when my ire is provoked, but at times, like this time, I was able to quell that rash desire to lash out and opted instead to think things through.
I’m glad I did. And while I might not like Amazon’s decision, I recognize it was theirs to make.
I mean, they’re the big guns in the literary world, like it or not. Even the big publishing houses have to play ball with them. So a little guy like me doesn’t have much pull. I haven’t brought enough money to the table. And I know that it is all about the money.
I mean, I think it is interesting that my book, with a rough sex scene (the hero in the story is raped physically by the bad guy in the series) near the end of the book, could be blocked/banned because of that scene when say EL James 50 Shades (of crap, if you ask me) gets a pass. Though to be fair, I guess rape wasn’t in the cards for that drivel. But what about the Bible? It has rape, pillaging and all sorts of violence spread throughout the work.
TO BE CLEAR: I don’t consider the Bible (or any other religious text, for that matter) to be holy or sacred. They are books like any other – written BY MAN. So yeah, I so won’t get into that debate ’cause to my way of thinking that’s just messing with 9 bags of cray-cray (as my granddaughter says).
But as a newbie author, doing the self-pub thing on my own, I know I have a learning curve ahead of me. I know that my works will stumble and I might make some epically bad moves. I get that it’s part of the process. I don’t expect to be “the next BIG thing” when it comes to literary works. Though to be honest, I do write literature. I write character studies. I find them infinitely fascinating to write from. I want to immerse the reader into the psyche of the character who is telling you the story. All of the inner monologue that we all have in our day to day lives that never gets said to the outside world.
Those monologues are deeply fascinating to me. At times I listen to my own mental ramblings as I interact with others. Not that there are voices in my head – well, okay there are, but they are my characters working out their upcoming scenarios that I need to get sorted before I write them down – I SWEAR!
Anyway, so my first work was out there on all platforms –
- It was meant to be a fluff, fun and slightly scary read as part of my NaNoWriMo 2014 writer’s challenge project that I won last November -writing the bulk in what made it into the published work within 26 days out of the 30 for the challenge. The werewolves have this ease with themselves where sex comes into it because that is how pack life is for them. The sex keeps them rooted to their human existence.
- It was meant to be a story for my very first fan, Michael, who has a penchant for sexy guys and werewolves. I wanted to do some thing for him. I even made him one of my wolves IN the story. He loves it and I couldn’t be happier. The hot and heavy man action was a nod to him.
- Sex within my packs of werewolves (which are ONLY male, btw) is a way of exchanging power. It is a metaphor I am using in that submissiveness doesn’t equate weakness. Sometimes, it actually takes far more courage to be there for another in that way. I wanted to play with that dynamic. My wolves keep telling Hank (Henry) that, as the pack’s new Omega, he doesn’t belong to them – they belong to him!
We’re contacting you regarding the following book:HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale. If we identify additional submissions with similar content that violates our guidelines, we may terminate your account or you may lose access to optional KDP services.
To learn more about our content guidelines, please visit our Kindle Direct Publishing Help page at:
Kindle Direct Publishing
Since the work was classified as Erotica, I assumed that the first two sections of this lack of direction was the Pornography and the Offensive Content areas of this little policy write up. But how was I supposed to work with that?
It could’ve meant that ANY of my sex scenes were objectionable, right? I had to question it all. So I went out and offered a “hey, I’m new – what do I do to address this so I can learn from it and not repeat it?” I just wanted something or someone to direct me to what was in violation of the policy.
All I got was this (the bolding and underlining of the email content are mine as I am just drawing attention to what stood out for me when I read it):
We’re contacting you regarding the following title:
HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)
We’ve confirmed that your book(s) contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines and we will not be offering this title for sale in the Kindle Store. As stated in our guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what we consider to be appropriate, which includes cover images and content within the book.
If you wish to re-publish your book(s) with content that meets our guidelines, it will need to be submitted as an entirely new ASIN and go through our standard review process. Previous customer reviews, tags, and sales rank information are not transferable because the title will essentially be a different product.
Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.
To learn more, please see: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U
We appreciate your understanding.
Quick! The Stork Done Took My Baby!
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!