HC: Hi, Alison. I’m glad you enjoyed Double Blind!
AB: What prompted you to bring in Kylie, Missy Higgins and Olivia? As an Aussie, you can imagine how stoked I was to have them in the story. But I didn’t think they were very well known in the States. Did you get any feedback in that regard?
HC: Ah, the Kylie. People keep asking me about that lately. I think it’s because she’s referenced in Special Delivery AND Double Blind. Well, I know about Kylie because my husband has always listened to her, though I’ve now outstripped him (nearly) as a fan. While she’s not generally well-known in the US, she is VERY well-known in the gay community here. When she announced her US tour here last year, the Entertainment Weekly article read, “Kylie Minogue to Start US Tour: Or, Why Your Gay Co-worker Just Screamed.” Of course, Dan and I did as well, but it didn’t work out that we could go. I think that’s why I put Kylie at the end. If I can’t go see her, at least Sam can.
Then Kylie starred in Special Delivery because it’s such a good themeing for Sam: light, fun, innocent-feeling, but very, very sexy. And I brought the Oz Triplets in because I needed something big at the end, couldn’t think of anything, and decided it was fantasy, so why not. The Missy Higgins reference is obscure, but a good friend of mine LOVES her, so it was a subtle nod to her. Also, I enjoy her as well and got to see her in a fun little local concert last year (with that same friend). As long as I was going Aussie, I figured I better stick with it, and she was one I knew would actually be possible. The ONJ (Olivia Newton John) is because my husband fell in love with her at age twelve and never fell out. He did get to see her in concert, though.
AB: Funnily enough, one of my stories, “Caught”, mentions Kylie. It involves a Chinese guy called Daniel who gets dressed in drag and refers to himself as Dannii, mentioning she is Kylie’s sister.
HC: I will say less US people know Dannii than Kylie. (An online friend waged a campaign to convert me from one sister to the other, so I know more than most.) For US audiences, tacking on Minogue after Kylie would be a good crutch. Some won’t know no matter what, but they’ll suss it out.
AB: What about Crabtree though. Will he ever find someone??????
HC: As for Crabtree--well, a friend of mine is feeding me plot bunnies
AB: Obviously Las Vegas is one of the stars of “Double Blind” it’s funny but I’ve never wanted to go there. I don’t mind card games, but the slots don’t interest me, neither does shopping. I really got a good picture of the city from the story, maybe I’ll get there one day!
HC: I actually have not been to Vegas except for a few minutes, to be honest. We blew through on a vacation last year (if you read Special Delivery, we took the same trip as Sam and Mitch except we went all the way to LA and didn’t have sex because our eight year old was along), but we got in at ten at night and were gone by noon the next day. I got up the Stratosphere tower (where I had Sam’s reaction, not Randy’s) and took a cab ride down the Strip. I did a lot of research for it, from movies to YouTube videos. Now, however, I really want to go. Except I’m like Sam and hate gambling. I can play a little poker, but I probably wouldn’t, as I hate to lose money. (Even though in theory that’s where you make it.)
At this point, I read SD for the first time and sent another email to Heidi commenting on the research that went into both books, click on "read more" to read the rest of this great, long interview.
HC: My husband is a pharmacist, though he won’t touch retail with a ten foot pole. He works in a hospital. Norm and Delia are modeled on people he knew in his hometown. Well, Delia as a character is also from a lot of nasty bitches I’ve known, but Norm lives on in Carroll, Iowa.
AB: I loved the bit where Sam realizes how huge the mountains are. In 1976, I drove from Montreal to Calgary. My first glimpse of the Canadian Rockies was exactly the same. It took me a day from the time I saw them to even reach Calgary. Talk about awesome. So I know just how Sam (and probably you) felt.
HC: I first saw the mountains when I was in college, so yeah. Borrowed a bit from that.
AB: That truck trip must have been an unforgettable experience. A case of where research is half the fun.
HC: Well, we went in a car. But I freaked out all the way over Wolf Ridge Pass. I’d have to be sedated in a rig.
AB: And what about the sex shop!? All in the name of research, or were you a past master (as it were) before writing the book?
HC: Oh god, no. Just research and a perverted mind.
AB: From interest (and you don’t have to answer) did anyone close to you have MS and cancer? That sure is a double whammy.
HC: A friend of mine’s mother lives with MS, and I included it for various reasons which I forget now. Something about vulnerability and strength. But once I figured out Sam had to leave town, I had to kill her off because he’d never have left her there. I gave her cancer because it took my daughter’s godfather’s mother (godfather is dating the friend’s mom with MS, as it happens).
AB: I went into hysterics when Sam wiped Mitch’s ass with the sheet before rimming him. Love practicalities like that.
HC: I always forget that part until I reread it. That and that the poor guy had to go get his proposal in his boxers.
AB: One question I’m curious about is that in the intro at the beginning of the book, you make it sound as if Special Delivery was a long time in the writing. Why was that?
HC: It started as a short story that wouldn’t go short, and when I got to the phone sex scene I freaked out and put it down. But my husband really liked it (after I named the iPod from 9 to 5 and referenced Kylie, he wouldn’t let me quit) and kept pushing me to finish. The first third has about fifty versions. Then last summer after I finished Hero and got back from a vacation, I decided I was going to finish it and kept at it until I did.
AB: What did your husband say when you started writing m/m fiction?
HC: I’ve been wandering into it for years, though I didn’t know there was a market for it until I tried to sell Hero. I thought I was the only one. I was relieved to discover otherwise. As for his reaction, he’s always been very supportive. We have a lot of gay friends and we both volunteer for One Iowa, our largest statewide LGBT rights group, so the content was never an issue again. In fact, when a statement came in August, he said, “Thank you, manlove, for funding my child’s back to school wardrobe!”
AB: You mention in the acknowledgement November and 25 days. Did you write both these books as part of Nanowrimo?
HC: Special Delivery was about two years or so. Double Blind was written last November during NaNoWriMo.
AB: Did/does it all flow out of you in one go or do you add more and more bits to each scene? I’m asking because when I read your book, then look at mine, I see how much more you give the reader and I feel envious and more than a little disheartened. How did you learn to write? Do you ever have anyone pull you up and say you’ve short-changed your reader in this bit, rewrite it?
HC: Well, first of all, don’t judge yourself against anybody else. I look at Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and Lois McMaster Bujold and think, “Fuck, they’re better,” I admit, but they don’t write m/m romance, and they’re not me. Everybody’s voice and everybody’s path is his own and is valid and worth doing. I’ll admit I’ve written a long, long time, and I think that’s most of it right there. I’ve literally been writing almost constantly since I was twelve. I’ve done some study of craft, and I do think that’s beneficial. I also have a degree in literature, which is a toss up how much that helps and hurts, so it might negate itself. Mostly I’ve read. A lot. And I think about story all the time. I deconstruct movies and TV shows and books. I also think Special Delivery is so popular with people because it nearly killed me. It wanted a lot, and to get out I had to give it a lot.
I guess that’s the thing about the reader: I do write to a reader as much as I can, but mostly I just try to give it all up. I also acknowledge not everything is going to be for everyone, and now that some people love SD I know I will only go downhill after that. Or not. Hard to say. To me, writing takes a huge ego and a lot of chutzpah--and then you have to let it all go and become incredibly humble and selfless, almost self-sacrificing. Which is to say, writing is fucking hard. A mentor of mine said you need to figure out who you’re writing for. She said she writes for the woman at the back of the bus who’s had a long day and wants to escape. I haven’t nailed mine down that specifically, and actually I think it shifts a bit per book. But I do like to put little treasures and oddities in. I like detail not of description but of character, and I usually mine it from myself or people I know. I always try to think about the ride, because that’s what I love most in a story is the ride, so I try to give a good one. I’m not sure any of this helps. So much of it is a product of instinct and a lot of years.
As for telling me I’ve short-changed something, yes. Sue made me go back and describe the cocks more and told me she needed the very last (visible) sex scene at the rest stop. And my husband tells me that stuff too.
AB: Next question. I write a lot of first person POV usually because I don’t want to get into one of the protagonist’s head as they have mysteries inside I don’t want revealed too soon. I sometimes wonder though if I should do them in deep third instead. You did “Double Blind” in double viewpoint deep third, but “Special Delivery” in only one POV. I can see why as you didn’t want to reveal the existence and importance of Randy too soon. Did you ever consider doing it first person POV? If not, why not? What do you see as the main reasons when to use single deep third over first person.
HC: Well, I’m kind of a whore and have a big bias against first person. I like third so much, both to read and to write. I wrote a short story in first, and I sold it (out in an anthology Monday, as it happens) but to be honest I never connected with it. Honestly, I don’t ever connect to first person. I know that seems odd, but it’s true. And Nowhere Ranch is in first, so I’m shortly going to be eating my hat.
There are a lot of people who love first. Personally I think it’s hard because it’s so easy to cheat, to info-dump and to stop pacing and just tell stuff instead of show. But it’s a very valid POV, and a lot of people love to read it.
I did a single POV in SD because I thought it was going to be thirty thousand words. (ha!) And then it just worked to stay with Sam. In the end, I like it as a discipline, and it makes it more his story. I’ve written another in single POV since then, and I think I may do it again soon. I choose POV carefully: I’ll only use the POV of someone who has a growth arc in the story. And to me, Mitch didn’t change a whole lot. He did, but just a bit.
(AB interrupts here to say: This is one of the best reasons I’ve ever seen for whether or not to do multiple POV!)
HC: As for not wanting to give away Randy--he didn’t show up until the third act in the first draft, so he was a surprise to me too! I had to go back and layer in the foreshadowing of him.
AB: BTW It’s the best ménage I’ve ever read. Probably because the emotions and the motivations are right.
Then Heidi turned the tables and asked me a question which I’m posing here for readers:
HC: Okay, this is just a wild hair tossed out, but it’s starting to happen so much it feels like someone tapping me on the top of the head. Do you think there’s a yen for “how to write” sort of craft/discussion classes in the m/m world? I guess I still feel new here, and I’m used to coming from RWA and romance where all that sort of stuff is handled by the big guns who make half a million for three book contracts. There and in other study is where I learned the terms and things, and I’ve taken the workshops, etc. Do you think people would sign up for classes? I feel weird offering them because I’ve only been published a bit over a year, and God knows I don’t have tons of time, but sometimes I feel like it’s just another way this genre has been ghettoized. It bothers me.
Do you think there’s a call for that sort of thing? Do you think people would pay twenty bucks or so to take it so I could justify the time? Or would it be better to leave things alone?
My response at the time was as follows:
AB: Yes, it does help. I find I need advice like this at intervals to help keep me on track with my writing. It can be a terribly isolating experience and so often I go through periods where I question my ability and I need reminders all writers have these problems.
I actually think that the good beta-reader/editor is not easy to find. Someone who can analyse and pass on that feedback in a constructive way.
HC: Yeah, I’ll admit it’s taken me years to get my most solid betas. You learn a lot in the searching, though.
You might consider these two books: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon and Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger. The first will help deal with showing vs. telling, and the second is good for plot and pacing. They’re two of the best how-to books I know.
Plot and character are my beloveds, and to me they’re connected, though there’s a difference between them as well. I could do POV in general though.
AB: How would you structure your online courses?
HC: I’m open. It would depend on the time frame and number of people. I like the workshop approach where people all see what’s going on and try exercises, though single page critiques or first scene crits would be good too. I’ve actually done this a lot informally through the years and have been on both sides of writing workshops. So I’d do about anything.
I could do it through plain old yahoo too. Might be good to start small. I dunno. Will chew on it, but if anything sparks for you, let me know.
AB: Josh Lanyon did a “live” online course on masculinity during the 2009 RWA Clayton’s conference which delved into the subject of men crying. That was interesting. Reality and fiction are sometimes not the same. (ie men cry in real life but if your characters do it, the reader sees them as wimps).
HC: Yeah, it’s hard to pull off. I like to try and include it though just to be obstinate. :)
When sending this to Heidi for approval, I asked a couple of questions to see where she’s up to with her writing now.
AB: In one of your responses you said: “now that some people love SD I know I will only go downhill after that.” Does in some ways the success of “Special Delivery” act as a ‘What if they don’t like it as much?’ brake on your creativity?
HC: Well, this is me being pessimistic. I have more than a little Randy in me. I always worry about a work. So I just do my best and hope for the best. I also try to have smart people help me. It’s important to me to have a good editor I can work with.
AB: Back in June, you mentioned you’d completed the first draft of “Two to Tango”. There is still no mention of a publisher or a release date. What’s happening with that?
HC: That one doesn’t have a firm date yet, but it will be out in May or June. It’s sold to Loose Id and renamed “Dance With Me”. I’m going to update my website in January here to reflect all this.
AB: As 2010 draws to a close and you arrange all your awards on the mantelpiece, what can your fans look forward to in 2011? Have any of those plot bunnies you mentioned grown to full size?
HC: Yes! I have a whole bunch of things up. Let’s see.
February 15: Nowhere Ranch
April 12: The Seventh Veil
Later: Dance With Me, Temple Boy, and The Pirate’s Game.
Those are all for sure. In the works are A Private Gentleman, which is an early Victorian story, and Better Than Love, which is another Special Delivery series story. And then there is always Small Town Boy, which I really need to work on. And a steampunk one that I just ‘can’t seem to get time for. Oh, and One Night, a novella I need to edit.
Nowhere Ranch, The Seventh Veil, and Dance With Me (Two To Tango) are all on my website, as are One Night and Small Town Boy. Temple Boy and The Pirate’s Game are part of the Etsey series with The Seventh Veil: those are fantasy. A Private Gentleman is about a gentleman so shy he can’t really participate in society (but he loves botany) and an expensive male consort who was first sold to the shy gentleman’s father when he was an adolescent. Better Than Love has the boys heading down to McAllen, Texas, Mitch’s hometown, because it appears his father needs to be put in a nursing home. Mitch turns out to have a surprise stepmother and a stepbrother.
I think I’ll probably kill myself trying to get all that done, but oh well.
AB: Thank you so much for your patience with all my questions and the care you took with the answers. Best of luck with your writing and I look forward to reading your upcoming releases. Readers who subscribe to Heidi's 2010 Christmas newsletter will receive a free read featuring Randy and the boys.