habu, a bisexual former supersonic spy jet pilot, intelligence agent, academic, mainstream book editor, and diplomat, is a published mainstream novelist, short story writer, and essayist under other names and in another dimension of his life. He has lived extensively in East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as an embassy-based intelligence agent, which influences the settings and plots of many of his stories. He now lives in a picturesque and historical Midatlantic/Upper South state university town, with an accommodating spouse, where he writes, edits, teaches, and indulges himself.
Under the habu name he writes a full spectrum—and heat level—of M/M and bisexual works for the publishing houses of Excessica and BarbarianSpy. He also writes M/M historicals under the pen name Dirk Hessian, and M/M romance with coauthor Sabb under the pen name Shabbu.
For a loosely constructed travel through habu's professional life, read his “Flying High, Diving Deep”
I sent him a whole stack of questions and was overjoyed when he answered.
AB: First off, is there a need to be careful what you say or disclose because of your agency background?
H: There is a need to be “sort of” careful about my past. I was an overt employee of the Agency—had an overt job with them (with covert elements in it that just weren’t publicly acknowledged), but when I write, I use the essence of operations and relationships and settings—but not specific operations. Most are taken from open-source media coverage of events, though, and thus are free game. I have a whole series of spy novels in the mainstream that I passed through Agency clearance, so I know where the allowable edges are in publishing. Beyond that, there is the “NSA” syndrome working. Citizens are aghast at the revelation of the extent of NSA surveillance on them. It’s gone on for, like, forever, though, and folks who have been on the inside, as I have been, know that the collection effort and take are so huge that there’s nearly a zero possibility that the dots would be connected on me—or that anyone would see me as someone worth pursuing—I know I’m not doing anything actionable. And leading from that, what I write from in my spy writings isn’t activity the Agency wants publicly discussed anyway, so that’s insurance in itself. I can write a lot of truth that the general populace insists is fantasy.
AB: I gather members of the SAS never admit to being part of the regiment and always talk down what they do, even to family and friends. Is it the same in the agency, everyone is a data analyst never a field operative?
H: Most Agency—and other intelligence organizations—employees are actually overt employees. The covert ones won’t own up to covert work, no. But there’s a layer of overt employees who also do this and that on the covert side—not to the extent that Tom Clancy drew them in his novels, though. These employees use the overt work to cover anything else. In my case, when I worked overseas, there was veneer of “cultural affairs officer” that was spread over everything I did—and much of what I did (and used as an opening to do other things) was legitimately cultural affairs. (It just gave more meaning to the “affairs” word that most would assume.)
AB: Has agency work made you more cynical?
H: Yes, my work in intelligence did make me quite cynical—and jaded.
H: Fetish Galore is a compendium of stories addressing the breadth of what I would put into GM fetish. Many of the stories existed before I put the anthology together. Others were written subsequently for this collection to add new fetishes.
AB: What aspect about BDSM appeals to you as a writer and/or as a participant? Physically and/or psychologically.
H: Dealing with the forbidden, in general, appeals to me as a writer. But while personally, I have no problem with things like multiple partners in succession. I am not into full on BDSM.
Some mild bondage (where I could break free if/when I really wanted to) appealed to me as a participant, but I’m not really much into fear, delayed satisfaction, violence, or physical pain
I don’t mind role playing of being incapacitated and taken, in a sense, against my will. But that isn’t a rape sensation for me—it’s one combining having no share of the guilt that it’s happening and the awe of having some hunk so out of control in wanting me that he’d do this. When it spills over into physical torture, it moves more into a hate category, and I don’t go there except in my writing to serve a particular audience.
Mind you, I can be aroused in doing so.
AB: You mention trying the sounds so you would know what they were like but not liking that loss of control, yet, your characters are often depicted as having to submit to a stronger person, isn't that a form of losing control?
H: I was a spy. *smile* I see it as a form of controlling the “needy/almost out of control” taker in his actions. When one of my sub characters submits, it’s happening in my mind as a “Ha, now I’ve got you, you big, beautiful hunk.” This is bread and butter tradecraft. Give them what they want under the conditions where they think they are in control, and they’ll let their guard down and spill their guts, thinking they control and are safe. I pretty much establish in my stories that what the sub wants to come away with is a good fucking, so if he does, it wasn’t really a very good BDSM sub situation.
I write my sounding stories because I read more than once that there is a scarcity in the market for such works. I’m a writer; I go toward the underserved markets when I can do so and still enjoy the story weaving.
AB: Flying High is described as a semi-factual memoir. Do you or, did you, find writing these books cathartic?
H: Yes, the stories in Flying High (which is out in two editions from two different publishers and two similar but different titles) were cathartic. I had all of these memories bottled up inside me. In discussions with my cyber “other” (who is Sabb, also one of my publishers and a coauthor of GM erotica) experiences long dormant inside me were being pulled out and written up in story form, using the essence of real life in real life settings. These surfaced at various times and were assembled into Flying High. Since writing that, Sabb has “pulled” more from me which now appear as other stories that filled chronological holes. If I added these, the work would be twice as long.
When these get pulled out of me, I look back and think both that, god, I was having a good time in my sexually active life (which didn’t start until I was almost 30) and, god was I ever a slut. Both of those thoughts make me smile, though.
AB: Which do you think is your best book/anthology?
H: This is really hard to answer, as I don’t feel I’ve written too many duds (As any narcissistic writer would think.)—and I have well over 100 works of erotica in pen names in the market. I like my use of history and unnamed famous people, mostly ones I’ve had the privilege of meeting, in my novellas and novellas—such as Homeward Bound (paralleling Thomas Wolfe), The Handyman (a construct of gay male (GM) activity in a New England town over centuries), Brambleton (a takeoff on the relationships and emotions in Brideshead Revisited), Cairo Surrender (bringing up Cairo of the 20s and depicting bondage, seduction, and domination) and Home to Fire Island, are ones by habu that I consider to be literary and favorites of mine.
Concerning anthologies, I write two different kinds (and I also write ongoing series, like my Clint Folsom detective series). One kind of anthology is truly standalone stories—and I write two varieties of that. The themed anthologies have an overarching concept to them: first time, fetishes, rough stories, romances, geographical regions, time periods, I even have one where each story features dogs, and so forth.
I think Bitten Peach, all-oriental stories, many from ancient times, is a standout in this grouping—as is Man’s Man, the stories of an unabashed high-market male hooker. But I have to slap my hand not to pull out six or seven others I think are notable. Then there is my Grab Bag, eclectic collection anthologies, which are composed of loose stories dropping from my muse over a period of time. The fifth edition of this comes out soon, and the sixth one is already building.
AB: You've already mentioned that you've done a few versions of Tuscan Twilight. I can see how you could twist the end with various motives and changing the sexes of the participants. What does this spring from? Is it a fascination with motives? Is it a lag over from your days as an analyst?
Might add, on my writing technique, that I don’t agonize on a draft. A write, a review, and off to the editor. When it comes back, unlike most people who are faced with trimming, I add detail. But, again, I don’t do a lot of rewrites. I lose my voice and the spontaneity of the storytelling when I do that.
AB: Another one along this line is the Egyptian Initiation/Indian Doctor/Witness for the Prosecution where the same scenario is used, but in the latter, the question of guilt and non-con vs dub-con comes in. First off, on a slightly different slant, if this happened in real life, have your feelings/attitude toward it changed and has this led to these variations?
H: The “Egyptian Initiation” version of this storyline—which, yes, comes out of my initial, surprised, and total deflowering in male-male sex uses an Egyptian because I wasn’t quite ready in the initial story to acknowledge that he was an Indian. At the time, I wasn’t comfortable with my contact with Indians (Asian Indians) hence it was all the more mysterious that it was an Indian who seduced me—and not just in a fumbling one-time event, but in a progression of takings in nearly every way possible—that I kept coming back for.
I pretty quickly saw this as a release of the floodgates on what I wanted—and was too taken with myself to even realize that. I see it now as a welcome release too, so I guess my attitude hasn’t changed, no. But I was 28, married to a much more openly experienced woman, and had been so narcissistic that I hadn’t realized before then when I was being hit on by both women and men. So the change in attitude came at that point, I guess—being, essentially, seduced by my to-be wife.
AB: Do you enjoy stretching yourself as a writer, for example “New Man at the Village Café” from RoughRiders. How do you describe that? Second person POV? The narrator addresses the reader as if they are the other character?]
H: I approach every write from the aspect of “what new element/style/ technique/scenario/theme/ emotion/ atmosphere” can I bring to this. I think the “New Man” is probably my most hated work by most readers. But I think the emotions are as real as they are raw and that they expose an aspect of the actively cruising gay lifestyle.
Second person only works for me in highly charged, very short bursts of a story. I write in third person sometimes, but I find first person the most intimate and often find myself drifting into that even when I’m writing third person. I don’t sit down and think about what person to write in when I begin a story, though. I don’t think about any technical issue when I sit down and write a story. I just sit down and start writing and let it go its natural way.
AB: Do you get much direct feedback for your books. Another writer, Ryan Field, says he gets very little via Amazon and Goodreads, but he gets quite a few emails.
H: I get some feedback, the most interesting in e-mails. I don’t get nearly what I would like to get because so many of my stories have what I think are interesting tidbits of philosophy or fact behind them that I didn’t put in the story—I’m not an “everything and the kitchen sink” writer.
I am writing so much of the time that I don’t take time to go out and promote what I’ve already written, so sometimes it seems like I’m just dropping these into a void—until the royalties come in and I can see that they, in fact, are selling
AB: You mention in "Renewal of Passion" that you were floating on royalties from earlier novels. When was your first book (under any name) published?
H: My first book, in the mainstream, was published in 1996. The first erotica e-book was in 2002 (so I was on that bandwagon early, but I got off of it for a while because that was too early—e-readers were being obsoleted as quickly as they were introduced—and I was doing fine in the print market. I got back into the e-book erotica market in 2006, I think).
I don’t remember the “floating on royalties” mention and don’t want to suggest that I get rich on writing erotica alone. I write erotica primarily for artistic release (and personal arousal). Probably by “float” I meant that the income there is over and above what I need to live comfortably. I’m well fixed in annuities and personal resources, so the income from all of my writing, mainstream and erotica alike, is a free-use float on top of that. For a writer, this is a good thing. I don’t have to write to put food on the table. I write to keep cruise boats in the water.
AB: You also mention writing a novel about a famous naive artist. Did that actually happen?
AB: What is coming next? What sorts of areas have you still to explore?
H: Who knows what my muse will dump on me next. I am completely under her control.
I have several works published four years ago that I have pulled and am reworking and will be republished over the year. I also have a reader-requested expansion of the story “9:30 Bus from Abilene” in the works. Then, yes, there are entirely new works on the schedule beyond that. I publish more than 30 works to the erotica marketplace each year.
Even my historical novellas pen name Dirk Hessian is planning a short story compendium, Before All That, which will provide prequel stories to most of his eleven published novellas.
AB: Obviously this change of name is because they are aimed at different audiences, but are you "out" as a writer of gay erotica? How much does your family/colleagues know? Do they read your books?
H: My friends and family have no idea I write erotica. I write mainstream too and am prolific in both, so they only see the mainstream. The erotica is, like Graham Greene’s and Ian Fleming’s novels were for them, an entertainment and tension reliever for me. Only my wife knows I’m bi—she was before me. She doesn’t know I’m writing erotica now, though.
I like not being a notable author in public.
AB: In my review, I made a comment about you having the knack to sum up people and situations pretty succinctly. Was that a product of your agency days? Are you a people watcher even now?
H: Yes, the succinct style in both characterization and overall storytelling is from my analytical days. What I wrote went to top policy makers. The mantra was “give me your best and most comprehensive 300 words and put the very best on the top, because they are extremely busy and will stop reading into even 300 words at some point.” I don’t structure the stories as I would intel analysis, but I try not to include anything superfluous and I try to evoke a good enough image in the reader’s mind with as little description as possible. It’s a good thing if different readers latch onto different images of a character. This isn’t only from my analytical background, though. I paint Chinese-style abstract watercolors, where we are taught to render the essence of the subject in as few brush strokes as possible.
This is where my adding to rather than trimming from stories in the review rounds comes in, though.
I do observe people on occasion for use in stories. (For instance, the coming Caribbean Cruise Top to Bottom is built entirely from seeing a young man at a table during a recent cruise attending to an older man. What was assumed was a father-son relationship opened up in possibility when the young man took his foot out of his shoe and rubbed the ankle of the older man with it.) I can’t say that I write from observation as much as from experience, though. I’m now a recluse—holed up most of the time in my home office and pecking away at the computer. (When I’m not spending my royalties on foreign vacations, of course.)
AB: I gather with the diplomatic service there is a lot of kudos in getting certain postings. Did you have much choice about where they sent you?
H: I was trained for East, Southeast, and South Asia and the Middle East. That’s where I went, which was a miracle, because the joke in the service was that you studied one region in the university, got your government job on the basis of how well you studied that region, and then were sent to some other region.
Early in my career I was given some choice on postings. The system changed later in my career to where one had to bid on the post one wanted. Some folks were offered something other than they bid on if they couldn’t get their declared choices. With me it was somewhat different. The early tours built relationships and liaisons that were the basis of my assignments. Later in my career I was sent back to where I had earlier served to reopen those relationships.
AB: Tell me more about your Middle East days. Where were you based? When was that? Was your family with you?
H: I lived in Cyprus, which is the safehaven of the Middle East. (I’d say “some Mediterranean island, but, since so many of my stories are set in Cyprus, that dog don’t bark anymore). My work took me throughout the region, though. My family was stationed there too.
AB: I'm going to list a few stories, do any of these have an underlying kernel of truth or did something prompt them (another writer's story perhaps)
H: No factual basis—only the theme of some of this work being noxious—and the one having to do the work not always carrying out the noxious part.
H: No personal truth. A study in tradecraft—but pushing it to extremes. I’ve seen “I’ll grab intel and deny you intel to get ahead,” but not on this lethal level. But that’s the theme that prompted this.
Malta Intervention (this was probably the "gayest" of your stories I've read so far)
H: This was prompted by an artist friend of a friend being suborned by a little snit who then wanted to isolate him from his friends and control him to the point of damaging his art. No personal connections beyond that. Just capturing that it happens in the gay lifestyle. I like Malta, though, and I liked the scene setup. This was me standing off and looking at a RL situation—and then writing it up from just that nub in a fictional way.
Home to Fire Island
H: Memories of a “want to be carefree for this time” weekend on Fire Island. Beyond that, what the protagonist was struggling with was what was going through my mind when my muse decided to marry those concerns with that location.
AB: Talk about hardass bosses "fucking you over" I loved that last paragraph of Ethiopian Cabin Boy: "He probably will even tell me it's my reward for an assignment well done." Is Sam Winterberry based on the older version of you?
H: Oh, no. I had Sam Winterberrys as bosses—we called them controllers or handlers (even to the extent of vetting me himself for assignments), and my treatment of his character is my one-finger salute to some bosses in the past, but I was never a boss in this particular area of assignment. I wanted to capture the nastiness and domination of some if the men in these positions, though. This character pops up from time to time in my “Candy Store” works. I’m having fun with him.
AB: Thank you so much, for agreeing to be “grilled” Your insights into how you write and the backgrounds to your stories adds an even richer dimension to them.
Habu has kindly offered to donate a copy of any ebook
from his backlist.
On April 30, I will choose the winner from people who have left a comment either on Facebook, Goodreads or my Blog page.
All you have to do is say you’re interested in participating,
which book you'd like to win and why.
The winner will be announced on May 1 along with instructions on how to claim your prize.
How about checking out his latest release
Caribbean Cruise Top to Bottom