Welcome, Arethusa, and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
When did you first start writing LGBT books?
What inspired you to write LGBT fiction?
“Children of Peridor” grew from my childhood and teenaged daydreams. It seemed perfectly natural for one of my main characters to be gay. As a teenager of the 1980s, I was surrounded by the influence of androgynous males in music. I wrote my male characters based upon my ideas of what appealed to me, and one of them simply preferred males.
At that time, however, there were no gay main characters in books, or in movies, or on TV, except for the “comic relief” minor characters. I was determined to publish a novel with a gay character who wasn’t the “silly” one, but a man with dignity and purpose, a character who actually contributed to the plot.
When fantasy author, Mercedes Lackey, published “The Last Herald Mage” trilogy featuring Vanyel, I had hope that if SHE could successfully sell a gay main character to a mainstream publisher, SO COULD I.
Where do your ideas come from?
Usually, my ideas are spawned somewhere inside my twisted brain. I’m motivated by angst, so much of my plot can be very dark and disturbing, which is not tremendously popular, so I strategically put rescuers in the plot to save characters from all the angst. “Peridor” is an epic fantasy/sci-fi story of good versus evil. “Erg” is a curiously weird journey of fantasy inspired by classic fairytales.
The basic plot for “The Calling” actually popped into my head after a discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness, but I made a conscious decision to write a first person m/m romance rather than a third person fantasy. Another story I’ve begun, “Crimson View,” came to my mind while I was looking at very expensive dolls, although the story is not about dolls.
And, of course, there are main characters in all my stories who are not strictly heterosexual. 🙂
How much research do you do for your stories?
It depends on the demands of the story, though I believe it’s best to have more information than you actually need, even if you only use one piece. Research is absolutely necessary to create depth and realism, and most times it adds more interesting details to the action or even the background.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and personally know people who possess knowledge of what I need to learn in order to create accurate details.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
Both. Basically, I begin with characters. I’ll see a picture, or a person, or have a dream with interesting creatures, attributing characteristics to their personalities. I imagine the characters in scenes and then I form a plot around the scenes. Once I have a plot, I write down the basic elements of where I want the story to go, and what my characters need to do to get there. Then, depending on how many characters I have, I write down who they are, what they look like, what are their strengths and weaknesses, etc.
The rest of the time, I think about the logic of the story. Since character development is my strength, my stories are very character-driven, which interests me more than spending pages on all the precise details of the setting, but I realized early on that I must have a logical plot, within which my characters need to be active, and a setting for them to be in rather than just floating around in a void of nothingness. For this, outlining is generally necessary.
Do you have a special time of day to write or how do you structure your day?
I am a notorious Night Owl. I work best late at night when the world is asleep. Usually the writing itself can take up an entire day or two, or three, so I spend the week reading and plotting. Then, I spend my weekends writing. I carry a little notebook and a couple of pens with me to jot down ideas, or dialogue, or information from research, or even things I need to fix or where I need the plot to go. I’m usually running scenes inside my head, and it’s not uncommon for me to be walking along talking to myself. (I’ve been publicly embarrassed on more than one occasion, but now I just pretend I have Bluetooth in my ear.) It’s fair to say that I’m constantly working on a story, unless my attention is required elsewhere.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Unfortunately, sometimes real life interferes. 🙁 The majority of “Peridor” is twenty years worth of handwritten rough draft, about six books long, and I’m almost finished with the final draft of the first book. I began typing it from my notebooks in 2008, rewriting and editing my teenaged version.
One day in 2010, an idea popped into my head, of writing a wacky fairytale incorporating the aspects of other fairytales. So, a story other than “Peridor” took hold inside me for the first time and I wrote the first chapter of “Erg: A Twisted Fairytale.”
“The Calling” was a vague idea that sat for a bit while I mulled over the plot. The first two chapters of that story were done rather quickly, at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013.
What I need to learn to do is JUST WRITE and FIX LATER. Chapters cook inside my head for a while, and then come out practically final draft, which sounds really good but the process takes forever.
Do you proofread/edit all your own work or do you get someone to assist?
I am a Grammar Nazi, a walking human dictionary whom my friends call at work to ask, “How do you spell this word?” (The weird thing is, I must WRITE the word in order to spell it.) When I was in first grade, I would finish my spelling tests before everyone else, and then turn over the paper to draw stick-figure characters in a story. My teachers adored me; I was not disruptive and I loved to read.
I was lucky enough to have a very wise mother who sent me to a very good school with excellent teachers who taught me how to read, write, spell, and comprehend English very well. (Consequently, I suck at math.) And so, I usually proofread and edit as I write, and I fix things when I find them during however many readings I do until I’m satisfied that the writing is “as good as it’s gonna get.” When I’m not sure about something, I consult a dictionary, or a thesaurus, or check the grammar. Punctuation is an automatic thing with me, so I rarely have issues with that, though I did have to learn how to properly punctuate dialogue when I was first learning to creatively write.
Do you think the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Oh, absolutely. The first thing a reader sees is the cover, long before he or she turns over the book to read what the story is about. The more unusual the picture is from every other book out there, the better.
I think most agree that the cover should catch the eye, but it should also have something to do with the story. But, the back cover matters too; the “blurb” is essential. What compels ME to choose a book is the front cover. What convinces me to KEEP a book is the blurb info. If the plot is boring, it matters not how pretty the picture, the book returns to the shelf, abandoned and forgotten.
How do you choose the right cover for your book?
If I see a picture that inspires me, I morph it into something that fits my story, even if it’s abstract, and so far three of my stories feature eyes. (Apparently, I have a thing for eyeballs.) A friend of mine who is an artist (yes, I’ve asked for a sample of her work to consider her as an illustrator, but she has yet to deliver) informed me that anyone can take an existing picture and make at least THREE substantial changes to it, and then the picture becomes the legal property of the new artist. (The original untouched picture is still the property of the original artist, and cannot be used without permission.) I also consider the font of the text used to print out the title and author name.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
The majority of bad reviews I see in FictionPress are complaints that the chapters are too long; the plot was confusing; the POV was confusing; there’s too many words … One of the worst reviews I’ve ever read (for one of the BEST stories on FictionPress) was a reader complaining that the author’s plot was too confusing … after admitting to skipping chapters.
The purpose of the author is to share a story, not to impress readers with superior writing skills, or to confuse readers with plots so complex that only Einstein would understand. But, readers see a big chunk of words and they either bail or zone out. That makes me sad.
Those who read my stories will hopefully live inside the mind of each character I create, as I try to think as they do, to feel what they feel, to speak as they speak. Too many readers, I have noticed, merely “skim” over books and stories, losing vital pieces along the way. That’s like licking the individual parts of a hamburger rather than taking a bite of the whole thing; you have an idea of what it tastes like, but you can’t really enjoy the flavour.
If someone has taken the time to actually READ my story and offers an honest review based on the content of the story, for better or for worse, I cherish those. And most people who read my stories tend to enjoy the plots, the characters, AND the writing.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
So far, my only experiences with reviewers have been on FictionPress. It is certainly beneficial to read and review authors who know how to write, because chances are you will receive an honest and qualified review in return. Quality trumps quantity. An author can sweat bullets with every page, so from where the review comes and the unique knowledge each qualified reviewer contributes matters.
Do you use social media and how has this worked best for you?
I’m on Facebook, which is good for networking, but I haven’t actually advertised my stories there. Basically, I’m a dork. I feel more comfortable promoting others, feeling extremely self-conscious and awkward promoting myself. I must learn to overcome that if I’m going to successfully market anything.
Also, I’m not yet in a position to pitch a story to anyone. I need a finished product, so I’m currently focusing my efforts toward production rather than distribution.
What would you say are the main advantages / disadvantages of self-publishing?
The advantages of self-publishing are that you don’t need an agent, an editor, or a publishing company. And, obviously, whatever you earn is all yours. If you are very successful with one story, or perhaps have an entire army of stories, you can actually earn a nice income. Marketing is extremely important.
The major disadvantage of self-publishing is that you must provide the cost of everything before you are in a position to earn anything. You also must know how to sell a product, which is difficult for those of us who are not born salespeople.
Another disadvantage of self-publishing, for those of us with our eyes on mainstream, is that the literary world still “looks down” on authors who self-publish, regardless of how well-written the story may be, or how successful the author becomes. This is another thing I must learn to overcome, escaping the stigma that “a self-published book is not as good” as a book published through an established company. Because, let’s face it … we want to be published, and publishing companies are biased most of the time. For every author out there who successfully sells a story, there are THOUSANDS of authors whose stories never see the light of day. And I’ve read some badly written mainstream books. (A certain popular author, who shall remain nameless, certainly won’t win any literary contests with her characters’ eyes landing on doors.)
What advice would you offer to other writers who would consider self-publishing?
Network and advertise. It wouldn’t hurt to learn marketing strategies either. And, have courage.
Do you have a favorite author / book?
I would fill page after page if I named them all, so I will only mention one author and two of his books. “Empire Falls” and “Straight Man” by Richard Russo are both excellent examples of storytelling and masterful writing. (Incidentally, this man put a duck on the front cover of the hilarious “Straight Man,” which is PERFECT.)
What is your next project and what should we expect?
I am currently working on a short story for FictionPress called “Dragon Slayer,” and I’ve begun another longer story called “Crimson View,” that I’ve mentioned, which is on the back burner with “One Wing.” I know I have a lot on my writing plate, so I’m focused toward finishing the first three stories.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully, I’ll have the first three books of “Children of Peridor” (“Conflict,” “Freedom,” and “Judgment”) ready to pitch the story to an agent, while I finish the last three books (“Alliance,” “Legacy,” and “Peace.”) If I have much writing luck and work diligently, I might even have “Erg: A Twisted Fairytale” and “The Calling” ready as well. I think “Erg” could successfully make it into mainstream, but I’m not sure about “Calling,” simply because it’s clearly LGBT literature. However, times are changing yet again! 🙂
With the short stories I’m posting in FictionPress, I’m learning how to produce a story on demand, or a story someone else has requested. Definitely a skill worth having, especially when publishers specify what they want and anthologies follow themes.
FictionPress reviewers seem to enjoy my “Saccharin, Strychnine, It’s All The Same” even though it’s not an entire story and it’s mostly dialogue. Perhaps it might end up in a collection or anthology somewhere? Maybe I’ll find the courage to self-publish. We’ll see what happens!
How can readers discover more about you?
Thank you Arethusa for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you all the best with your future projects and look forward to reading more from you.