Butterfly Hunter was the first of her books that I read. By page 53 I was hooked, not only because of her great writing but because there were an incredible number of links between incidents described and places I’d been to. I wrote to Julie and mentioned these. She was nice enough to respond and since then I’ve added a few more questions.
First up was my response to Butterfly Hunter.
AB: Imagine the thrill I got when Dave and Nicholas walked through the Botanic Gardens and visited a few other haunts I used to frequent. Plus my father and sister were both entomologists and went on collecting trips like your characters did. Are any of your other books set in Australia?
AB: Do you read reviews of your books?
JB: I read some, and I do think about what they have to say, whether positive or negative. Though only to an extent - I hardly read a review of Butterfly Hunter (except for yours) once I started writing the sequel, as I wanted to be as free as possible to write it 'my' way. Also, it's challenging enough to follow up a successful title, without adding anything to the pressure, or risking a complete collapse of confidence. :-)
It was very interesting to me that someone remarked how wrong I'd got the forensic or police procedures in The Definitive Albert Sterne. Obviously someone who has real experience in the field! All I can say to defend myself is that you won't find anything in there that you wouldn't see on any of the CSI or police procedural type of shows, so at least I'm amongst good company. But no, I can't compete with the thriller-writers who have direct experience. I did an awful lot of reading as research, but no 'field work' as it were. LOL! I certainly read enough to be able to spot where Silence of the Lambs got it wrong - which was both a surprise and a relief to me as a writer...
Anyway, yes. I guess I'm convinced that experts in any field will almost always be able to pick apart the fiction set in their area. Unfortunately that's mostly how it works.
JB: As I've already hinted, if I feel there's something of substance in the criticism that I can learn from, then I take heed. However, over the years, I have also learned to have faith in my own instincts. I am not hard-nosed about 'doing it my way or not at all', but at a purely practical level the times where I've gone with my own instincts - whether or not my instincts are affected by external input - are the times when I've written best. Readers respond in deeper ways to writing which I have felt deeply myself. And sometimes that means trusting myself despite other people telling me to do something different. It's as you say yourself re the ending of 'Red and Blue': you see now that you should have listened to your own gut instinct. All I can add at this point is 'Amen to that!' So I don't suppose I have any answers to this that you haven't figured out for yourself.
AB: Do you read much M/M romance?
JB: A fair bit – though I'm afraid I don't read as much as I probably should within our genre - just so little time, and often reading for research rather than pleasure or interest. So I don't really have a feel for overall themes or styles. From the outside looking in, it seems quite a diverse range, though, especially given the 'rules' of the romance genre.
AB: Do you agree with my assessment that charm is of one of the main themes of The Definitive Albert Sterne? If so, was this in your mind when you developed the book or wrote it?
JB: Yes, I agree with all you say in your review about charm and how it works as a theme in the novel. But no, it wasn’t something I consciously had in mind. Which really interests me! As I was first reading your review, I was nodding along and thinking ‘Yes, absolutely!’ and yet I was also thinking ‘Gosh! I didn’t even know!’
It really interests me how the writing process – perhaps any creative process – draws on both the intellectual and the instinctual. I suppose the trick is to find a way of using both, to use the conscious mind but not let it get in the way of the subconscious. Some of the bits I’m proudest of in my novels and stories are things I wasn’t aware of at the time, but discovered later. Such things can really work well – and oddly I hardly feel I can take much credit for them!
One thing I definitely had in mind for Albert himself was the trope of ‘The Truth Teller’, the person who always says what he or she has on their mind, without filtering it in ways that society expects. I find such honesty charming and amusing – in fiction at least! Perhaps it’s about daring to shake off the shackles of politeness and tact. From there, it would have made instinctive sense to have Fletcher both charming and afraid of charm. And so on…
I love how you incisively pull this particular theme out of the novel and describe it so clearly. I hope you’re not too disappointed to find that I didn’t fully intend it!
AB: What are your own personal thoughts on charm?
JB: I agree with you that charm can be dangerous. It can certainly help you go a long way, and a lack of charm can really hold you back. I certainly don’t think that ‘nice guys finish last’, as most people enjoy having men and women around them who are cheerful, personable and friendly. But it has to be sincere, or come from a good heart. That’s the danger with charm, I suppose: it can be all flashy style with no real substance.
JB: The very first ideas that eventually grew into the novel actually occurred to me way back in the early nineties, so as I started planning it out, I was setting it in the recent past. I am always uneasy about setting books in the future – even in the near future – and as you’re aware it would have been particularly foolish in this case, with the science evolving so rapidly.
I wanted Albert’s parents to have been fleeing the Second World War in Europe when they came to America, so that helped tie the story to a particular period in the past. I recall there was some slight rejigging of the timelines so that Fletcher could be an impressionable mid–teen when Robert Kennedy was killed. Otherwise, it panned out as I’d initially planned.
Despite the fact that I didn’t seriously start writing the novel for some while, I never really considered bringing it forward in time. I enjoyed the fact that Fletch had to do a lot of (literal) legwork, and Mac’s data searches were so much clunkier in those pre–Google days. I also liked to frustrate poor Albert with the fact that DNA profiling had been invented but wasn’t yet widely available. I enjoy watching the hi–tech shows, even when they strain credibility, but there was something cool about setting the story in a world where Fletch couldn’t just call Albert on his cell, and Albert could gather a whole lot of trace evidence but not be able to work miracles with it.
AB: Would you consider Albert had a form of Asperger's? It wasn't widely diagnosed until the mid nineties, but that's what his behaviour reminded me of on many occasions.
JB: I can see why you wondered about that – and if he’d been born later he may well have been assessed for such a disorder. But in my opinion, he doesn’t have Asperger syndrome. I think he’s a result of his early circumstances acting on a very private person who is very intelligent but not so emotionally intelligent. For better or worse, I think it’s just his personality.
JB: We are told that men aren't so great at expressing themselves and aren't as emotional as women, but how then do we explain all the centuries of novels, poetry, letters and so on that men have given us, right on through to the text messages my husband sends me when he's away? Not to mention the passionate 'real life' love affairs that have taken place in the public eye. I still don't go as far as I feel I legitimately could, in what I have my heroes say and do - but I feel there's far more room for manoeuvre than what is dictated by 'common wisdom'!
AB: As an aside, the one point that the two male authors at the OZmmMeet made in our panel about specifics relating to the genre was that men don’t think about their emotions. They don’t try to analyse them or express them. They admitted they have them though. Perhaps it is a case of not generalizing.
JB: The authors you mention have a point that I will have to ponder over for a while, absolutely. And yet… how could Pete Murray have written ‘Please’ or ‘Ten Ft. Tall’ without thinking about, analysing and expressing his own emotions and those of his friends…? And he is in all other ways such a bloke, bless him. I don’t know. Maybe I won’t ever know! But I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for a long while to come.
AB: Once again that story is set in the past, but comments have been made about getting facts wrong.
JB: I dubbed this novel a ‘fantasy’ in the subtitle partly because I wanted to set it outside the existing world of pro wrestling, and explore various aspects of the situation without having to pay strict attention to actual timelines, and so on. (Also, I didn't want to risk incurring Vince McMahon's wrath over copyright issues!) However, I was very much drawing on things that were happening in the late 80s and 90s, a time of great transition for the pro wrestling world.
I know that someone asserted in response to your review that ALL pro wrestling fans are in on the whole thing and know that it's staged. I'm sure it's a much different proportion today than it was then, but surveys taken at the time indicated that around 75% of fans thought pro wrestling was real - in all senses. A real, competitive sport. And the surveys were constructed in such a way as to really explore that question. So that's a whole heap of people who either experienced it as real - or (like Fox Mulder) they very much wanted to believe.
The story I included in the novel about a man only realising it was staged when he happened to see an identical show staged in another town when he was away from home - that was real. My media studies teacher told me of this exact experience, and how disillusioned he'd felt!
The only other quibble I've come across is that it's unlikely David, as an American, would have ordered a 'doppio'. But that was pretty much my point, as he's a coffee snob as well as an intellectual snob.
So I very much appreciate you asking, but I'm still pretty happy with the novel and what it covers.
JB: Nothing very significant. It was an opportunity to polish it up and have a fresh pair of eyes look at it, but the substance of it is much the same.
AB: With your earlier publications, do you ever get the urge to revisit an rework them (one day) knowing what you know about writing now?
JB: As with Valley, the publishing or republishing of an older title is a chance to have another look at the manuscript. However, I rarely make significant changes to them. For better or worse, I feel the book is what it is, and there's an 'integrity' to it that might get lost if a rewrite isn't done thoroughly and well. In any case, I am the kind of person who tends to look forwards rather than back, so I'm far more interested in the current or next project...
JB: Thank you, I’d love to! LOL! The sequel is called Of Dreams and Ceremonies, and is indeed set mostly in England. Dave and Nicholas both want to settle in Australia, but that can’t happen immediately, so this time Dave is the ‘fish out of water’. He’s coping with a very different lifestyle to what he’s used to – and of course the relationship is still fairly new so they are not only learning more about each other, but they’re also having to make some mutual decisions about things they’re coming to with very different assumptions. I enjoyed writing that feeling of them both being very sure this relationship is what they want, but still trying to figure out how that will actually work.
AB: Do you know when this will be available through Allromance ebooks?
JB: The Press's general practice is to make titles available on AllRomance and via other distributors two months after initial publication, though that can vary depending on how things pan out.
AB: You mentioned at one point that there would be a third book in the Butterfly Hunter series. Are there other themes you want to explore in that?
JB: The third one will be set back in Australia, probably about seven years into their relationship. I want to explore who they are by then, of course, and how they work together. But I also want to explore some more about Dave’s relationship to the Dreamtime site at the waterhole they (re)discovered. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of Charlie, and Denise and her family. I think I’ll have Nicholas’s nephew Robin pay them an extended visit as well, so we can find out a little more about who he’s growing into.
AB: What else is on the horizon?
JB: At the moment I’m about halfway into writing a novel about three young men who, much to their own surprise, start up a long-term threesome relationship. It’s set in contemporary London, and takes place over about a year. They’re all actors, so part of the fun is making up or borrowing the stories they’re working with over the year. It’s an interesting challenge, as while the characters have different backgrounds, they are each coming to this with fairly conventional ideas about love involving two people in a monogamous relationship and so on. But they decide, bit by bit over time, that the unconventional threesome is well worth making some adjustments for.
Can I finish by thanking you, AB, for some very interesting questions and conversations? It’s been really great to engage with you at such a thoughtful level.
Buy link: http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2013/10/of-dreams-and-ceremonies/
Blurb: It seemed like a great idea at the time… Aussie Dave Taylor has followed Nicholas Goring to England, and the lovers have become engaged. But now Dave has to cope with living in a mansion full of family and servants, making wedding plans, getting his head around visa applications, and wondering why on earth he’d ever want to wear a ‘mourning suit’. He’s not sure if it will prove any easier, but right now Dave would love to just skip ahead to the honeymoon…
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