CK: Chris is fine. I reserve Christopher for book covers, legal documents, and overly familiar salespeople.
It was interesting reading “Rocking the Boat” as so many of the aspects felt familiar and reminded me of “Red+Blue”: being on the water, the getting fit and being forced back into the closet to keep a job.
I’ve only rowed a couple of times (apart from hours spent mucking around in a tinny as a kid) but I do see the boats out on the water when I’m in my kayak. I loved your analogy of the baby-sitting coach in his boat, keeping an eye on them and screaming out instructions through his megaphone. I see that a lot because the Como Boatshed for the St George Rowing Club is directly opposite one of the launching spots.
I think that “going backwards” thing is something that turned me off rowing, even though I apparently have the build and reach for it, and my Dad was in a Varsity crew.
There were so many facets of RTB I could relate to, the blisters, the importance of technique, having to train in less than ideal conditions. I think that’s why I enjoyed reading it so much. Thank you for writing the series.
I’m interested in reading more and understand that you have a new one coming out soon and are in the middle of writing the fourth. So, to kick things off, why don’t you tell me a bit about the new one out.
Newly promoted Owen has always been the hook-up and never the boyfriend, and he’s ready for that to change, even before he’s almost snuffed by an on the job accident. As part of his rehab, he ends up in an adaptive rowing program run by the former coach at California Pacific, Nick Bedford. There Owen meets Adam Lennox, who has some hidden secrets. To find out more, of course, you’ll have to read it yourself.
I made some notes when reading “Rocking the Boat” and would like to quiz you on them if I may.
CK: I can’t wait to see where this lands!
First off, though, I need to mention that one thing that concerns me when I read reviews from readers of male written m/m books, there is sometimes a dismissal of something that happens in the book along the lines of “gay men wouldn’t say or do that” or even worse they use the word “shouldn’t.” I won’t go into the quagmire of expectations of monogamy after the first kiss. However, one aspect did intrigue me. (Spoilers here if you haven’t read “Rocking the Boat”) On the first night Nick and Morgan are together, they kiss but basically just cuddle in bed when Morgan stays the night.
Why did you do this?Was that for the female m/m reader? Did/do you consciously censor or adapt your books to suit their sensibilities?
CK: That was strictly plot driven. As I recall (I haven't read RTB since it was published) Morgan needed some reassurance so that's what they did. Also, as a gay man, my own experience has been to defer sex until there’s an emotional bond so that's what I write.
As for censoring or adapting, I'll say that I don't consciously do it, but also that based on what I've seen and experienced in this little community of ours, I'm probably more prudish than some of my readers.
AB: When I read, I mark paragraphs or sentiments that offer me something fresh (eg terminal sperm poisoning). In this case, I loved the description of the party Morgan went to… the cruising. I’d never seen it depicted so well before. The signals. Wow. Is that common knowledge? How do guys learn the language?
CK: Beats me. :-) I’m horrible at it, absolutely horrible. I don’t recognize anything until it reaches the point of vulgarity, at which point I recoil in utter aesthetic horror. When I was an undergraduate at university, I dragged female friends to parties with me because they recognized it almost immediately and usually put a stop to it.
I do remember at one bar some nelly thing exclaiming as my cousin and I walked by, “How Americana.”
So what Morgan experienced? I basically pulled it out of my ass as an idealized version of what cruising was like when I was his age. I’m 42; he’s half my age. But I’ve also spoken to a number of younger men, and their worlds are much different that the one I experienced back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when I came out. It occurs to me that people Morgan’s age might not bother with cruising. For all I know, they just approach each other, saying, “Wanna fuck?”
AB: But another paragraph that really stood out for me was the one describing the final race as they pull ahead in the closing stages. Beautifully written. I could feel it, hear it, identify with it.
CK:Racing’s like that, or at least good racing is when you’ve got a lot invested in it, and yes, I’ve seen people puking over the gunwales of their shells. I’ve never done it myself, which I guess means I wasn’t pulling hard enough.
AB: I loved the way you described that empty feeling post sex, when there was no emotional connection. I gather from your remarks above and the fact that you’ve been married for nearly twenty years that this is important to you. Were you always this way or did you go through the slutty horn dog stage? What made you change?
CK: I married my first steady boyfriend, so for me sex and emotions have always been linked. Also, I used my first boyfriend ever for sex and it was really bad sex—did you know you can fall asleep when someone’s blowing you? twice?—so I certainly learned my lesson. That said, in a relationship as long as the one as I’m in, there’s plenty of room for bad sex, or hurtful sex, or sex that leaves you feel alone afterward, really the whole gamut of nasty feelings.
I kind of wish I’d gone through a slutty stage, if only so I had a better idea of what I like before I settled down, but then, I’m not sure I’m capable of that kind of thing, either.
Anyway, I suppose this is where I have to plead guilty to writing to please my market. In some ways, this genre isn’t about physical eroticism at all. It’s actually about the emotional kind, and part of my outlining process is making sure I’ve accounted for genuine emotional responses to various situations, including physical intimacy.
What have you learnt about readers since you started writing?
CK: I’ve only been contacted by a relative handful of readers, and all they’ve really said is they like what I write. Not all that illuminating, I suppose. I’ve noticed more of the differences you describe among the publishers. I write primarily for Dreamspinner, and the relationship is definitely a part of it, along with the all-important Happily Ever After. DSP’s readers like the sex, but I’ve seen varying level of physicality in stories and no one bats an eye. On the other hand, I wrote a short story for MLR and thought it was a fine, perfectly lovely and sentimental story, only to have my editor demand dick. As this was a Christmas story, I was a bit nonplussed, but she bought it, and if she wanted a sex scene, then that’s what she’d get.
AB: When did you start writing? What made you venture into m/m romance rather than, say, gay fiction?
CK: I started writing before I was literate, filling notebooks with the swoopy spiral children think cursive writing looks like. I really got into after watching “Clash of the Titans” in the early 80s, one of many occasions I’ve thought, “Damn. Is that all the higher the bar is?”
After grad school, I spent a decade or so unlearning my academic writing style while working on both fantasy and manners comedies. They all lacked something, and that something was emotion. When I stumbled upon m/m romances, one of my first thoughts was, “Aha!” This genre helped me correct what was at the time the major flaw in my writing.
I read a few m/m romances that were wonderful, moving books, and I read a few that made me think, “Is that all the higher the bar is? I can do that.” So that’s what I set out to do, and the result was Rocking the Boat. In some ways, it makes me cringe now. I would write it differently now, but it was the best book I had in me at the time.
Hmmm, m/m vs gay fiction. It’s not a distinction I’ve considered much. Maybe it’s because gay fiction doesn’t seem to speak to my life (sorry, but most of us aren’t NYC sophisticates), but I can usually find something to identify with in most m/m romances.
CK: FI is a funny book, I think. I started the original manuscript over a decade ago when I was a member of Sacramento Frontrunners/Frontwalkers (see the dedication). I realized one day on the way to a run that my life was very much like that of an Austen character: I was part of a very small community; we all knew each others business, and we furthermore knew each other’s mating habits; life was a series of dances and parties with one goal in mind, specifically finding a husband; and finally, our little society was a shark tank in that we all waited for someone to make a single wrong move before the feeding frenzy of gossip and social ruination began. Since I was in a stable relationship, I suppose my husband and I were the Gardiners, a bit above all the backstabbing and gossip, but not too far. I certainly did my share of social disciplining.
When I rewrote it, I rewrote it as a m/m romance, but is it gay fiction? To be honest, I don’t have that firm a grasp on what “gay fiction” is. FI has two gay male protagonists who end up in love. It’s written by a gay man. Into which pigeonhole should it go?
AB: What do you think about the m/m romance genre as a whole? Are there aspects you’d like to see change?
CK: I think the m/m romance genre is for the most part a friendly and welcoming one, with a space for anyone who wants for wants or needs it. I’ve met a lot of interesting people, and made some lifelong friends.
What would I like to see changed? I am sick to fucking death about the debate about women writing m/m romance. Sick. Of. It. I refuse to read anything more about it. All it does is get me riled up, which is rather rude, really.
From a purely practical standpoint, this genre wouldn’t exist without our many fine women authors. From an artistic standpoint, women have written better novels than I ever will. Who cares about the gender of the mind that produced it, so long as the story is good?
CK: Fortunately my parents aren’t quite to the elderly stage. I’ll give them another decade at most, however, and yes, I have a nine year old with ADHD and oppositional-defiant disorder. On top of all that, I have major depressive disorder (sometimes, two types of depression at the same time! Wheee!). Quite frankly, sometimes I can’t clear my mind to write.
When I do sit down to write—and I try to write for at least a few hours every day, including weekends—there’s at least a good 45 minutes or so of social media and music through headphones to isolate me from my life. Now that I think about it, my mother’s getting bad about calling me on my cell phone for the most trivial of reasons when I’m writing. I’ll have to put a stop to that.
I write because I have to, because I must escape a life I find at times quite intolerable.As for showing the real side of m/m relationships, oh God no.Who’d want to read that?
People read fiction because it interests them, because it takes them to places they’ve never been or would never go to, but most of life is quite boring. Someone (Hemingway?) once said something along the lines that fiction is just like real life, only with all the boring parts cut out. Most of life is far from romantic, and I think our readers are only too aware of that. We’d all like life to be a bit gentler, a bit kinder, a bit more gracious, than it is. Also, a lot hotter. We all know it’s not. We’re not stupid or delusional. I’m surprised by the number of damaged people I’ve met in this business, including myself, and if m/m or any kind of romance or science fiction or fantasy provides us a bit of shelter, then so much the better and I’m glad to help.
AB: I’m an online writing course junky. How have you developed your craft?
CK: I just keep writing. There’s no rest, no vacation. I never stop.
AB: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever got and what is the most useful thing you could pass on to would-be writers?
CK: I’m going to steal from Hemmingway again, which is odd because I hate reading his books. Throw out your first million words.
Also, read as much as you can. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Lots of authors have said this and there’s a reason for it.
AB: As a writer, what comes easier to you? The plot or the characters?
CK: The plot. The characters tell me who they are only gradually.
AB: “First Impressions” had some brilliant witty and catty dialogue. Does that come easy to you?
CK: Oh my, yes.
AB: Tell me a bit more about what made you write “First Impressions”.
CK: I guess I’ve covered that a bit above. But I tried not to hew too closely to the plot of P&P because I wasn’t trying to write a gay Pride and Prejudice. I was trying to tell a story somewhere between what I’d realized about my life at a certain point in time and Austen’s keen insights into human behaviour. Likewise, while there are some obvious parallels in characters, none of them in FI is too obviously one to one, and there are certainly far fewer in FI than in P&P.
AB: Are any other remakes planned?
CK: No, but that said, I’ve got a wonderful book of Restoration comedies that no one’s read in a century or so. If I run out of ideas…
AB: The books had some great secondary characters: Thad, Van, Desmond. Is there any hope of a spin-off for these three?
CK: No. They drove me crazy at times. Darren Jessup, on the other hand? Maybe…
AB: What would you see as your strengths as a writer and what do you need to work on?
CK:One strength is my rather meticulous outlining. By the time my first draft is done, it’s almost ready to be submitted. Because I work so much out ahead of time, I rarely have to delete large chunks of text.
What might I need to work on? I tend to be sparse on description. In part, this is deliberate. I want the reader to fill the blanks with her imagination, what she thinks a given scene should look like. With a few exceptions, I even try to be vague about race. Ideally, I’d like a reader to be able to fill in her own race with her imagination. I’m not sure how often I’m successful at that, but as I writer I’m rather a coward at writing cultures or races other than my own. I don’t want to offend anyone with an inaccurate or oafish portrayal.
AB: Okay, let’s get back to your next release, and your current WIP which I gather is about the eight’s cox, Stuart. How real do you try to make your books? Do your draw on real life for your characters and their trials and tribulations?
CK: I try to make the books as real as I can, so I do draw on real life, yes. So for example, Stuart’s starting medical school at the UC Davis Medical School. I’ve bookmarked the curriculum page for the school, I’ve read it carefully, and what Stuart will be taking his first quarter is what medical students at UC Davis take. As for the scene depicting one of his first days of school, my husband (a physician specializing in internal medicine) kindly told me all about his first days of med school at the Medical College of Georgia. It keeps changing its name, so I’m not sure it’s called that anymore, but whatever.
I’m also a vulture when it comes to scavenging people’s experiences. I don’t say a lot in social situations, and that’s because I’m listening intently to what people say, even in other conversations.
But I also remember that I write fiction, and sometimes it’s enjoyable to make things better than they are. I’m indulging in a bit of that with my WIP, Settling The Score.
AB: I’m happy to post an excerpt, and it doesn’t have to be a sex scene. Give me a taste of what ‘Burning it Down” is all about. (Edited slightly for context)
From the moment they started rowing, the two of them had been involved in an extended flirtation. No, he corrected, something stronger than that. More of a slow-burning seduction, like they’d both known what the outcome would be, but they had plenty of time to get to there and they didn’t feel like bothering Brad or anyone else with the details.
Then they touched for the first time thanks to Owen’s bum leg, and stars had exploded in his head. Something about the way Adam had said, “You’re safe.” He’d known instinctively that he truly was. He’d relaxed as soon as he’d heard Adam say that, deeply, almost totally. Sure, he could’ve been seriously hurt by a fall, but then there was Adam before he’d barely done more than wobble. He hadn’t even had time to get pumped up on adrenaline before Adam had swooped in to save him.
Then Adam had helped him down the ramp to their boat. It felt so nice under Adam’s arm, so protected. So intimate. He never wanted that to end, and okay, sure, he’d hadn’t really needed any more help after getting down the ramp on the dock, but he hadn’t wanted to leave that shelter where his broken body didn’t matter. He never wanted to leave that shelter.
That wasn’t to say he hadn’t been perving on his pair-partner, although to be fair, Adam had been macking right back. Holeeee shit, Adam helping him into the boat? He’d had lovers who’d caressed him less intimately than Adam had. He hoped his hard-on hadn’t been too obvious, because it had been nearly instantaneous. Sure, it had been an accident, but the one time Adam had grazed his nipple? OMG. He hadn’t groaned, had he?
AB: Thanks, Chris, for agreeing to be grilled by me. If your next book is anywhere near as good as others in the series or “First Impressions”, we’re in for a great read.
CK: My pleasure.