Yes. I think given time to recover I’ll be better than ever. I had a complete hysterectomy in December, 2011. I think the “removal of the hysteria” has been a good thing so far. I’m just shy of forty-eight, so it’s not like it’s a total shock. Peri-menopause affects every woman a little differently; my experience with it has been a slow-motion train wreck for several years. I’ve developed a cluster of inter-related illnesses as a result of the hormone instability. I decided it was best to just get to the end of the inevitable process as fast as possible and see how things stabilize.
I was really tired of feeling like I couldn’t commit to a new series. Being ill, I haven’t been inclined to write; and, being emotionally unstable, I haven’t felt I could be consistent in what I wrote. My new project, Apes' Enigma, has suffered from that. I wrote a great deal of what I thought was the first volume last summer and early fall. Then I started writing again last month. I discovered my thematic emphasis—and pacing--had shifted between the two sections, and now I’m revising them into a coherent whole based on the newer material since that’s indicative of what I want to write now.
Aren’t you worried you’ll shift again or something?
No. I think a lot of the changes are the result of not having my brain steeped in hormones. And yes, I do understand the brain is always awash in hormones. I mean no longer steeped in the specifically female ones that had spiraled out of control in recent years. It’s really hard to write men when everything is a pregnant pause or a potential weepy moment. It was hard to keep Will (RBW’s main character) from being completely over-wrought in Wolves. Thankfully, I always wrote him as pretty emotional for a guy.
So you think this has permanently altered the way you write?
Yes and no and the jury is still out. (laughs) My style hasn’t changed. My skills and talent aren’t going to change. Well, I hope my skills will improve throughout my career, but you know what I mean. And the stories I want to tell haven’t changed. But the emphasis I place on thematic aspects of those stories and on what the plot revolves around seems to have changed. I really didn’t want to write another romance, and now I don’t feel I am.
What’s wrong with romance?
Nothing! I love love. Venus is my patron Goddess. I believe love—whether platonic, erotic, romantic, or universal--conquers all, and that love is redemption, and purpose, and that it brings out the best in people. It’s the high road. I want to write about that. I will always write about that in one fashion or another. I just don’t want to write romance novels.
The romance genre is defined as stories about –what I consider--the mundane and initial aspects of love. How do they meet? Do they fall in love? Do they stay in love? Romance plots revolve around two people getting together. Everything else in a romance novel is just window dressing—setting—and trivial obstacles--plot devices. I’m only marginally interested in the initial bloom of love. What I’m really interested in is “Ok, we love one another, now how the fuck do we make this work?” I want to write about what happens after they ride into the sunset together. How do you make the happily ever after? Because it must be made: it doesn’t just happen. And I think that needs to be part of the artistic dialogue about love. I think people need the opportunity to read about romantic relationships; not just an endless succession of people falling in love and the story ending once the couple decides they’re in a relationship.
I had a lot of people get confused about the Raised By Wolves series. From the beginning, I looked at that story as one complete whole that was going to take many volumes to accomplish. Most of the M/M romance readers were accustomed to the typical one-shot romance genre novel, though; so, in the first volume, Brethren, they saw a couple meeting, being attracted to one another, and deciding if they want to commit to one another. They seemed to think that was pretty normal for a romance novel-- though they were kind of confused because the whole thing wasn’t wrapped up in the first book. Then, in Matelots, I have a couple overcoming their initial difficulties; and the romance readership was okay with that, too—mainly because the story had finally gotten to the sex. But then we get to the Treasure phase and I lost a lot of readers. Treasure is the beginning of the “how do we make this work” phase. It deals with areas not related to falling in love or having sex, and the romance genre readers deserted the series at that point. Wolves, of course, is the end to the entire story and shows how the guys make it work. Thankfully, the people that stuck around for that were the ones committed to the story and my writing and seemed to understand what I was doing.
I don’t want to go through that again—that losing of readers—being told I’m doing something “wrong”. I don’t want the angry reviews from confused people because I’m not conforming to their genre. I’m not writing for their genre. I’m writing the stories I want to tell. So I want to write books that can’t be mistaken--plot-wise--for a romance novel. So I am very happy that my internal emphasis on the story for Apess Enigma shifted to the larger issues in Rowan’s (the main character’s) life—the issues that Faun (the person he gets involved with) can help him solve. Apes' Enigma is about a man dealing with being called upon to be a shaman—to serve the Gods—and how that affects him and everyone around him. The series is not about whether or not Rowan and Faun get together and stay together. Faun is the crux of the issue of what Rowan can take and keep as his own while performing this larger purpose.
(laughs) Their relationship is romantic and does involve hot sex, though. Just in case anyone was worried…
You keep mentioning a shift in emphasis: were you writing Apes' Enigma as a romance before?
Yes and no. I didn’t want to write another romance series for the reasons I just gave, but I found all I was interested in concentrating on last summer were the romance parts—the romance emphasis. When I started writing in January, I found I had the bigger picture—or tapestry—of the story in mind. The big picture had always been there, I had just been mired in this emotional morass that left me wanting to seek “emotional” escapism in my own work.
Aren’t you concerned that your fans are more interested in the “emotional escapism”, as you put it, than just another science fiction story? There are lots of science fiction stories. Many of your fans feel you have a gift for writing romance.
I’m very concerned about that. It is entirely possible I will lose most of the readers I had with RBW. I saw that with Blood is Thicker than Water, my vampire novel. The thousands of people who read Blood didn’t seem terribly interested in reading RBW—and vice versa. But, I’m here for the long haul and I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a genre-specific writer—no matter what genre. I want to be able to write whatever my muse and I decide to write. That is artistic freedom. That’s why I’m not interested in getting a publishing contract or having an agent. Of course, independent publishing is solely reliant on being a recognizable brand name as a writer and having a loyal fan base. But I want fans of me as a writer: not fans of the genre this or that series happens to fall in. I want to be branded as a good author: not a good M/M romance writer, or paranormal adventure writer, or even a science fiction writer. And honestly, I don’t know if it will be possible to make a living doing it that way when all marketing online is based on keywords and sub-genre. I’m willing to roll the dice to find out, though. If I write specifically to please an ever-fickle market, I might as well be a hack—or have an office job. There’s no point in it for me as an artist.
So where does all this leave other stories you’ve mentioned writing? For instance, Serving Venus, the Roman historical novel? Or stories about the children from Raised By Wolves?
I can’t think of anything I’ve wanted to write in the past five years that will be removed from the list due to this change in psyche—or my not wanting to be genre pigeon-holed. I have deep and varied list of stories I want to tell. As for those specific examples and other things I’ve mentioned.
I really want to share what I’ve learned about the Roman psyche and homosexuality with people—the way I wanted to share what I learned about the buccaneers in RBW. I’m fascinated with the Roman mindset on that subject and how it relates to our interpretations of such things now. Unfortunately, the vehicle I was going to use for doing that, Serving Venus, was about a eunuch named Logos who is very, very angry; and I just couldn’t live with him with all the other crap going on in my life. Readers get to live with my characters directly for however many hours it takes to read the books—and then have them drift around in their heads like nostalgic ghosts or fondly remembered friends. I have to wallow in whatever the character is thinking and feeling for years in order to bring a story to the page. I love Logos, but he was going to make an already stressed and toxic psychological environment worse. So, I have a lot I want to say about the setting, but until I find another main character or I’m in a better place mentally, it’s just going to sit on the back burner for a while longer.
As for stories dealing with Will and Gaston’s children… I planned to release a short story collection called Gametes last year that I told people would include stories about the kids. I tried to write those stories. Unfortunately, the things I wanted to discuss about the kids—their sex lives and relations with one another around puberty—fell into iffy territory involving child pornography censorship. Then I wanted to write something with the kids around age six and discovered many things I wanted to say were too dark for what I wanted to accomplish—or they wouldn’t fit in a short story. And if I was going to write more than that—a novella say—then I might as well write a novel. And then I would be writing about those characters and their world for the rest of my life. I needed a break—a change of pace. And… I didn’t want people only clamoring for that stuff over and over again and expecting me to produce it over and over again. So I shelved that for now. I still want to release Gametes, it just won’t have the hook of the Raised By Centaurs stories.
As for other stuff… There’s Jackalopes: the story of a middle-aged gay man coming out in northern Montana by embracing his inner werewolf. There’s the Elf With No Name fantasy stories. There’s the esoteric science fiction tales of Kit the white fox and his partner the Azure sea. There are the Ice Cream stories that deal with middle-aged women and BDSM and Wicca and all sorts of stuff. I even had a weird story surface about a modern-day dryad who grows pot in an abandoned missile silo and has a relationship with a gargoyle. And there’s the steampunk story my husband wants me to write about an immortal “catgirl” who’s an emotionally distant alien with strange technological abilities.
Many of those stories would be off the table if I just wrote in one genre.
Well it sounds like we have a lot to look forward to. Any idea on the timetable for Ape’s Enigma?
Ugh, I hate putting things in print about deadlines. I’ve learned the hard way that things often happen and I can’t meet them. But… I’m really confident I’ll have the first few section of the story done this spring and I will have something released this year. We’re really hoping to get several books—smaller than RBW volumes: much smaller—out this year.
So you’re not going to do big books anymore?
I’m going to do big stories—and release them in smaller more manageable chunks. RBW was written with only trade paperback sales in mind. The e-book boom happened while I was writing the series. The market has changed: I’m changing with it; but I will always be about big stories. I will probably even release big paper books—they’ll just be compilations of several e-book volumes. I keep thinking of it in terms of how cable shows are aired and marketed. Episodes are shown, but at the end of a season you can buy a collection on disc. So something like that.