It has been a while since I have had a guest here on my blog, so please prove to me that there are still people here by giving a warm welcome to Gillian St. Kevern who is here with a brand new interview. Thanks for visiting Gillian.
What made you decide to start writing?
There wasn’t a conscious decision on my part! When I was around twelve or thirteen, I noticed that the books I was reading never quite worked out how I wanted them to. I started making up alternative endings in my head, or writing continuations of the story for fun — what would now be considered fanfiction, although I didn’t know it then. I’ve been writing in some form ever since — whether fanfic or in text-based RPGs, or, most recently, my own original stories.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love seeing what happens next. I tend to get really attached to my characters as I write, and although I know generally what happens, the way the characters deal (or don’t deal) with the events thrown at them is endlessly fascinating to me.
It is also incredibly rewarding to hear from people who have enjoyed something I wrote! It is such an incredible feeling.
Do you write your stories in order from start to finish or do you write out of order?
Generally, I start and the start and proceed chronologically until I hit a sticking point. If the sticking point doesn’t resolve itself after some time, I skip ahead to the next event I’m sure of, and keep going. When the story is finished, I return to the sticking point(s). By the end of the story, I have a much better idea of what happens when, so it is much easier to fill in the blanks.
Do you plot out the stories before you start writing, or do you let the characters take over? Or is it a bit of both?
Both! I start with the characters — usually with a problem a character has and needs to solve or a conflict that leads to an interesting character dynamic. That leads me to an idea of what sort of a cast I’m looking at and where the story will start, end, and what is necessary to happen along the way.
Then I get deeper into the plot. I outline the story, which depending on how well I know the characters could be a detailed plot summary typed up in google drive for a new story, or a couple of notes on a scrap piece of paper for characters in a series. And then I wait. At this point, I’ve got a fairly good idea of what happens, where it happens, but the characters need a little more time to develop in my mind. When I’ve got the narrator’s voice, I’m ready to begin.
I plot out scenes only when I reach them. This keeps things fresh and means that the characters dictate what happens, while sticking vaguely to the outline I’ve made. I find myself needing to revise the outline as I go a lot, but the overall direction and end goal remains the same.
How do you keep disciplined in your writing?
When I’m working on a story, I set my alarm for five A.M. I’m a morning person, sure, but being awake at five A.M. is miserable, and I write because the thought of getting up at five A.M. for no reason is a strong incentive. If I get that chunk of writing done in the morning, it puts me in a creative mood for the rest of the day and I’m generally able to add another couple of hours without feeling like I’m suffering.
Yikes. I don’t even know what 5 AM looks like!
How did you get into male/male romances? What do you like about writing them?
During my anime phase at university, about the time I discovered fanfiction.net, I discovered yaoi and slash fiction. The freedom from conventional depictions of gender and romance really appealed to me, and I jumped in. A big part of the appeal was probably the fact that it felt like I’d found people just like me — unconventional, uninterested in typical romance.
A couple of years later, I realised that all was not right. At that time, the fan circles I was active in, were starting to develop a really hateful attitude to female characters that just boggled my mind. Surely the people who wrote these fanfic realised women weren’t all heartless manipulators out to ruin lives of any man who didn’t love them? Most of the fanfiction authors I knew were women, so this made no sense! There was also the way that gay characters were portrayed, particularly in yaoi manga/fanfiction based on yaoi dynamics. The extreme stereotyping of seme and uke seemed to have no basis in reality for me — I didn’t know anyone who acted like the characters in yaoi creations acted. I was learning more about the lgbtq community, and the disconnect in the way people in my fan circles reacted with enthusiasm towards fictional pairings, but didn’t support equality bothered me a lot. My unhappiness with this situation meant that I dropped out of those circles and gave up anime fandoms for a long time.
I didn’t intend to write M/M romance — when I started Thorns and Fangs, I had no idea that M/M romance existed or how popular it was. I wrote Thorns and Fangs because I was still bothered by the tropes I’d seen in fandom and wanted to write an atypical romance with characters that weren’t stereotypical — and that is what I like about writing M/M romance, that I can do this!
Despite the growing market for same sex romances, it is still a long way from being mainstream. Do you see a time when they make it to the bestseller lists?
Absolutely. Kindle Alexander’s recent Amazon success shows that time is getting closer. There are other indications, too. I think the fact that we’ve seen more men unfamiliar with M/M romance expressing surprise at the fact that a lot of M/M Romance is written by women is another sign that M/M Romance is moving beyond its current boundaries and attracting wider attention. Another sign is the fact that the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads had to revise its community guidelines last year. I think that’s an indicator that we’re attracting a more mainstream audience and broader appeal.
What is the best and/or worst reaction you have had after telling someone you write same sex romances?
The worst was when I told my mother about being flamed for writing a slash fic and my mother saying, ‘you do realise that two men loving each other is a sin, right?’ Somehow, despite growing up Christian I’d happened to miss that fact.
I’m happy to say that both my mother and I have grown in the years following this. She doesn’t read what I write, but she supports me in writing it, and after I explained that I want my writing to encourage and support people who feel different, alone and ostracized, she got it. She has started giving me writing tips (‘Why don’t your vampires have a puppy? Everyone loves puppies’).
The best reaction — this is difficult, because there have been so many! I’m really lucky in that the majority of my friends and family are incredibly supportive. I think I have to go with my sister just for the fact that she is willing to keep my author pseudonym secret from the rest of my family!
There seems to be some controversy about heterosexual women writing male/male romances and whether they should or not. Have you encountered this and what is your opinion on the matter?
My only experience with this is collateral. Years after I’d given up anime fandom for its unrealistic depictions of gay couples, a gay friend of mine, also a teacher in Japan, ranted to me about how harmful he thought yaoi was. Although out in his home country, as long as he lived in Japan (four years), he had to be in the closet. There is very little support for or understanding of anything lgbtq in Japan, and to see such stereotypes perpetuated, while being prevented from countering those stereotypes by being open about himself, was incredibly tough for him.
M/M Romance is very different from yaoi, but I think that there is still a danger that we authors can perpetuate harmful stereotypes in our writing, whether we’re male or female, by preferring tropes to truth, by insisting that there is only one way to be gay and by prioritizing our experiences over the experiences and truths of others. This is an ongoing discussion, as the M/M genre is continually being discovered by new readers and writers, and I’m saddened by the defensive trend this discussion has taken recently. I firmly believe that female writers of M/M romance can do the genre a lot of good, but that we still need to be respectful and mindful of the impact our works have and educate ourselves accordingly. There are many excellent guides online about how to be a good ally, for example!
What is your favourite genre to write/read?
As my bad habit of keeping readers in the dark and twisty plots attest, my favourite genre is vintage mysteries. I am especially fond of the Queens of Crime — Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and currently, Gladys Mitchell. Raymond Chandler is another firm favourite. I love the twists that somehow resolve into a satisfying end. I also love the glimpses into a not-so-distant past.
If you could travel through time to the past, do you think you’d survive in your favourite time period?
My favourite time period, or at least the one that I’m most fascinated by, is the Victorian era. Could I survive it? Probably, but it would not be fun! I have endometriosis, a chronic illness that is not well known today and unheard of them. If I was lucky, I’d be someone’s spinster Aunt, confined to her sickbed for 5-10 days a month. Luckily writing was one of the few occupations suitable for a middle-class woman so I could probably eke out an existence that way, paying board so that I would not be completely dependent on my relatives’ charity. If I was less fortunate, well, I have experience teaching and washing dishes so I could probably earn a living as a school mistress or kitchen servant, although my ill-health would be a constant concern. On the whole, I think I’d prefer to read and write about the Victorian period than live in it.
What do you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing?
My current non-writing obsession is playing minecraft! It is a sandbox video game which means that there is no storyline — you decide what you want to do in the game and then you do it. You gather resources — trees, stone, coal, iron — and transform them into buildings, weapons, food. You have ten minutes of daytime but when the sun goes down, all sorts of monsters emerge, so you have to be strategic about how you use your time and resources to protect yourself. My current minecraft project is building a house in the shape of a creeper, one of the monsters in the game.
Who are your favourite authors when reading for inspiration?
Margaret Mahy and Susan Cooper were the writers who inspired me growing up. They wrote the sort of story I loved reading then and want to write now. My current author inspiration, however, is Ben Aaronovitch. I love his reimagining of London in the Rivers of London series, his wit, his observations, characterizations, how he tells an amazing story and makes it look effortless … He is the author I wish I was, basically.
What are you working on at the moment and what are we likely to see from you in the current months?
Having just released the first book in my paranormal romance series, Thorns and Fangs, I am currently working on the sequel, Uprooted. I’m not sure when exactly it will be coming out!
I am also looking forward to the next DRitC event, hosted by the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. I’ve participated for the last two years and had a great time. The event is currently being reviewed so I’m not sure what format it will take this year and if I’ll be able to participate, but I hope to be writing a story for it.
Please tell us about your latest book.
Thorns and Fangs is a paranormal romance set in New Camden, a city famous for the largest supernatural population in the world. Nate, on the other hand, is an escort who prides himself on being one hundred percent normal — until he finds himself caught up between a vampire family and the necromancer targeting them for revenge.
Quickly over his head in a world of magical threats he barely comprehends, Nate should walk away — but doing so would mean leaving new vampire Ben to a lonely fate. After a year of keeping emotion at a distance, Ben has discovered how to feel again — but his attraction to Nate could lead to both of their destruction.
Thorns and Fangs has been a really interesting writing journey! It started because I was frustrated with advice about writing romance that included advice like ‘and your characters can’t sleep together until the end because otherwise there’s no tension.’ Most of the relationships around me do not involve people waiting for marriage. It might be good advice from a plotting sense, but it doesn’t reflect the reality I see around me. I decided I wanted to write a story where the characters had sex and then fell in love.
Because Ben is not the sort of guy to go for casual hook-ups, I needed a reason for him not to simply dismiss Nate — hence Nate’s job, and Hunter’s machinations. Nate is extremely comfortable with sex and his sexuality, but he is initially unwilling to see that sex — even great sex — isn’t a substitute for love, affection and trust, things that come from an intimate relationship. Thorns and Fangs actually goes against the traditional romance arc — it starts out with a lot of sex, and ends — well, you have to see for yourself.
Nate is caught between two dangerously hot vampires who can compel people to do whatever they want and a ruthless necromancer who wants Nate for all the wrong reasons—and that’s only the start of his problems.
Escort Nate prides himself on two things: his ability to please his clients and his normality – living in the monster capital of the world, ordinary is rare. Hunter, a darkly charming vampire with more charisma than is good for him, decides Nate is just what he needs. Nate’s sympathetic nature and skill in the bedroom are put to the ultimate test. But Hunter wants Nate for someone else – his brother, Ben. Nate is immediately attracted by the control with which Ben holds his sensitive nature in force. Too afraid of becoming a monster to allow himself to feel, Ben struggles to resist Nate’s generosity of emotion. As a vindictive necromancer makes Ben his target of revenge, Nate discovers that making people feel good doesn’t compare to making Ben feel. As Nate’s normal world crumbles around him, and he desperately searches for a way to save Ben, Nate is unable to escape becoming the necromancer’s latest victim.
But Nate’s death is only the beginning. Coming back to life in the bathroom of Gunn, a Department Seven officer who hates the vampire family that Ben and Hunter belong to, Nate doesn’t know who to trust or even what he is. As the necromancer’s trap pulls tighter around himself and Ben, Nate is forced to let go of normal and embrace powers he doesn’t fully understand. In defiance of Ben’s vampire sire and hunted by Department Seven, Nate and Ben finally learn to trust and rely on each other. But when the necromancer succeeds in capturing Ben, Nate alone can come to his rescue.
Thorns and Fangs links:
Ninestar Press: http://ninestarpress.com/product/thorns-and-fangs/
iBooks: Thorns and Fangs
Gillian St. Kevern is the author of Deep Magic, The Biggest Scoop, The Ugliest Sweater and Thorns and Fangs. Originally from New Zealand, Gillian currently lives in Japan and has visited over twenty different countries. Her writing is a celebration of the weird and wonderful people she encounters on her journeys.
As a chronic traveller, Gillian is more interested in journeys than endings, with characters that grow and change to achieve their happy ending. Her stories cross genres, time-periods and continents, taking readers along for an unforgettable ride.