A Rousing Interlude In Which Damon Suede and Ellis Carrington Poke Each Other With Sticks
Ellis Carrington and Damon Suede met by chance over a hot, crusty beta read because of a shared sense of humor and a random email query. A few thousand midnight phone calls and dirty jokes later they’ve become good friends, ruthless critique partners, and fearless collaborators on a wacky weekly homoerotic soap that features many of the biggest names in the M/M community.
Hearts on Fire Reviews thought it’d be entertaining to let us grill each other on writing, reading, and other topics near and queer to our hearts.
Ellis: You and I became friends by way of an RWA workshop. Why do you see the kind of ka-ching cost of membership in RWA as important for writers in our genre (when it’s perfectly possible to get published without it), and moreover why does someone with as much writing experience as you have still take writing classes?
Damon: As far as taking classes, I’m always trying to kick my own ass, and am often drawn to people and situations that will help kick it for me. Taking classes is just part of that. Every day I try to do at least one thing that makes me uncomfortable. It’s all too easy to sit back and fap yourself; I get annoyed with lazy writing so I’m sure as hell not gonna let myself get away with regurgitation. So yeah… classes are just a way to demolish my comfort zones. Great classes open up worlds of possibility.
Ellis: Agreed. Sometimes, even still, you don’t know what you don’t know, yeah?
Damon: Exactly! I’ve been a professional writer and a romance reader most of my life, but as I was dipping my toes into the genre with my own book, I feel like I have a duty to learn as much as I can from people who do this for a living.
Initially I joined RWA and the Rainbow Romance Writers because collective bargaining is a no-brainer for working artists. Joining the relevant guild is what professionals writers do. LOL I come from film, TV, and theatre and the DG and the WGA are literally the writers greatest allies in disputes and advocacy; folks scramble to join them because of the power and wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years. Factor in that romance fiction is almost the only profitable career path in publishing and the RWA’s history stretching back to 1981, and that’s some crazy clout wielded on my behalf as a professional writer of LGBT romance. Writing is either a career or a hobby and you get to pick. When I signed my contract on Hot Head the FIRST thing I did was join the RWA and the RRW…as in THAT day! Who doesn’t want to reach a wider audience, cultivate professionalism, and improve as a writer by evolving and networking mindfully?
I think it’s essential for career-focused writers in our market to claim their place at the table and emerge from the ghetto LGBT romance has occupied. We’ve got a long way to go before we are on bookshelves in the bible belt, but every step inches us closer. Nothing worth having comes easy so we’ve got WORK to do, yo! Huddling in insular clusters and badmouthing the mass-market meanies just makes us look like amateurish nitwits. And we are not amateurish nitwits. However conservative the RWA has been in the past, they continue to prove themselves powerful and persuasive allies on our behalf, but we have to do our part by participating and taking responsibility for the ways LGBT romance is perceived in the genre. This deserves to be so much more than a hobby. And to anyone who disagrees, I’ll point out that all boats rise together. We have fans; we make money; we deserve respect and visibility. The world wants LGBT romance in a big way, more than most people realize. The only way Heidi talked me into running for VP at GayRomLit last year was by discussing all the ways LGBT romance could expand into new territory. So much possibility stretched out before us. Rainbow Romance Writers has accomplished some crazy stuff in a very short time, and this is only the start. We’re partnering with organizations, getting our members out there, hosting at events all over the country, even launching a big RRW Academy for workshops of our own…which brings us full circle, dunnit? LOL
Ellis: Absolutely. I keep looking at what J.R. Ward is doing, and the fact that she sells hundreds of thousands of books a year or some craziness like that. And in March she’s going to publish one of the first hardcover M/M novels (Suzanne Brockmann did it first, but the expectation is that Ward’s will be more explicit). It’s gonna sell like hotcakes, and change the landscape of romance in a big way. That’s something we can all aspire to, but she didn’t get there overnight; she got there with a lot of hard work, and you know what some of her big pieces of advice to writers are? Join RWA. Write every day. Treat it like a job.
Damon: I love that! Didn’t your agent know her back before she started Vampiring? And Brockman too?
Ellis: Yep, back when she (Ward) wrote for Harlequin. He’s cool like that. He’s also a passionate strategist, and a lot more agents are looking at LGBT romance these days.
Damon: That’s what I mean. And they’re like the treefrogs of the publishing jungle: an indicator of the ecosystem’s health and resources. I’m so thrilled/relieved to see agents and publishers getting serious about the long-range possibilities of LGBT romance. All careers have a trajectory. “You have to work for years to be an overnight success.” On that topic, you’ve been a busy bee yourself and I hear tell you’ve been thinking about teaching some classes in the genre fiction community yourself. What topics really get your juices flowing and what distinguishes your take on them?
Ellis: You know, there are so many ideas that (as you would probably put it) tent my mental trousers, it’s hard to choose. I’m really passionate about effective point of view and pulling a reader into a story as best as I can, particularly when it comes to things like violence in writing and also loves scenes, and as a woman who writes in the genre I’m sensitive to the fact that those are areas where we get “dinged” for doing things wrong, a lot. So I’d consider covering that, only lacking the onboard equipment I’m maybe not the best person for the job, LOL. I’ve been told though that sex scenes are one of my “superpowers” and I think my unique take on it is from my fascination with point of view and how your story is really all about how your character sees the world. I put more effort than probably anything into my love scenes, because I see sex as an important time to show how characters connect with each other, especially male characters. I believe that when people have sex, they exchange energy. It’s rarely just fucking, even when you want it to be.
Damon: Word. 8/
Ellis: Cultivating a writer’s individual voice, would be another one. I feel like you have to have a style that makes you stand out. Amy Lane and her humor, her angst, and her ability to thread knitting references into anything. You, Damon, and your smutty, gritty intelligence. It’s not just about writing the smexy, but what, as a writer, makes you, YOU? Not all authors can answer that, and it took me a lot of searching to be able to do so. You know I think the bigger thing though, is when I started out as a writer, the only stuff I knew is what I’d absorbed subconsciously from all the bazillions of romance novels I’d read.
Had I not taken all the writing workshops I took (and had the help of a really fantabulous critique buddy!!), I’d probably still be making a lot of the same mistakes I made in my writing instead of getting to make the brand new ones I’m making now! I know a lot of us come from fanfiction, and it doesn’t mean we can’t be good or successful authors, but it also doesn’t excuse us from learning the basics of story structure. I beta read a manuscript for a dear friend recently and when she was told “You need to work on deeper point of view, you need to work on activating your story opening, your motivations aren’t realistic for your love scenes…” she didn’t really understand what that some of that stuff meant. And I was reading a story that had already been accepted for publication. *looks around* You know what? I know that Tere Michaels teaches a class on making the transition from fanfic to published author, and I keep telling her that would make for a great online workshop…I should totally rope her into doing that with me…
Okay soo, Damon, you like to listen to movie scores while you write, yes? What have you been listening to while you finish up Hard Head?
Damon: Well… I build a kind of soundtrack for everything I write, so Hard Head’s music is a compilation of some odd influences: somber movie scores, 1970s soul, and thumpa-thumpa trip-hop dance mixes. The book is darker than Hot Head and also more kinetic so it needed more motion in the mix and a kind of syncopated sluttiness. Unlike Griff, Tommy wants to escape his Brooklyn roots, so there’s an “over the Bridge” quality to the songs.
Ellis: Okay I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m trying to imagine more motion than Hot Head. And big ups on your use of the phrase “Syncopated Sluttiness,” which if you ask me would be an excellent name for a rock band…
Damon: LOLOL Duly noted! Well, Hard Head’s POV is divided between the two lovers and they’re both, uhh, stubborn and aggressive. to say the least. More obsessive and driven than Griff and Dante were in the first book. Anyways, the movie score material features selections from The Wrestler, and some of Reznor’s glorious work for Social Network and (the otherwise mediocre US adaptation of) Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The “soul” portions draws on the Temptations, Bill Withers, and Lou Rawls yowling and growling about adultery and shitty behavior in general. And then the dance mixes are by the Chemical Brothers and Underworld, all of which sounds to me like music you hear at a urinal while someone does a lowball drug deal in the stall behind you. Then I also stirred in a bunch of Gerry Mulligan jazz sets from the 1960s. Oh yeah… and the capper is Bobby Darin’s More. It’s hard to explain why it all fits together, but it does. Now that I look at it, I guess all of the songs are about old-school yearning that turns on itself… an idea which beats at the heart of the book. No question.
Now Ms. Carrington, a little burp told me that you started writing after the birth of your youngest son, yes? What is the the most surprising thing you’ve learned about being a romance author since your first book came out?
Ellis: It’s harder, and much more time consuming than I thought. It started as “oh yeah, I can do this while the kids are napping.” I think maybe I thought Ellis was going to be a part-time hobby writer but that changed really fricking fast. I’m not as prolific as a lot of the authors in our genre because my kids are still so young. I wish I had more time. But I’m every bit as obsessive, and I do just as much “research,” LOL. I think the bigger surprise though is how much and how fast I came to love it.
Ellis Carrington was born, I dunno, almost as an experiment. I wrote an M/M/M short story for an anthology (at first I thought I was going to write erotica), thinking “what the hell?” and people liked it…and *I* liked creating it. I started probably half a dozen others before I finished anything else, but eventually I realized that Ellis was a very demanding, pushy bitch, she *really* wanted to write romance (more power to the erotica writers out there but it was not her bag exactly), and if I didn’t let her have airtime, my/our life was going to be a living hell. LOL. I love how I sound like I have a split personality. 😛
Damon: Yay for literary psychosis! :)~ My own craziness comes out in other ways: obsessive over-research and things I bury for re-readers because I love that kinda stuff. LOLOL
Ellis: Don’t I know it. And truthfully, I envy you. I wanna ride on a fire truck too! Now. D. You like to hide easter eggs, inside jokes, etc in your writing. Do you have a favorite?
Damon: Yeah. Busted.
Hmmm. I have a feeling this may sound pretty wanky-pants, so I apologize in advance. I think my favorite easter egg to date is the Dean Martin cover of “You’re nobody…” in Hot Head, which bookends the story. Each occurrence gives a slightly different slice of the song… and each slice is a direct comment on some part of all the characters listening at that moment. Finding ways to weave that in made me so happy because the reference evokes the part of Brooklyn and the era which distinguishes Hot Head while being a White Noise meta-moment and maps a mini character arc for Dante AND most everyone can sing it the moment they see it on the page. So the song became a kind of narrative dart that gathered a bunch of story pleats together in a clean way.
Ellis: Love that.
Damon: But that may just be me jerking myself off. The quintuple pun in Hot Head’s title gets the most comments, probably. Grown Men has satirical injokes scattered throughout about industry and politics and media, also a bunch of call-backs between that novella and Seedy Business, its prequel; fans do write to ask if they’re intentional which makes me so happy in ways I can’t articulate. I feel so honored when folks read things closely. In the new steampunk book, I’ve gotten so insane that I designed and drafted a full map of the city, there are demented classical allusions all the way through the thing, and the character names are each elaborate etymological jokes. Ridiculous, but it entertains me (and hopefully keen-eyed readers) to no end. Even readers who don’t find the easter eggs “sense” that there is movement under the waters, and that always makes the world feel alive in a book.
Ellis, as a proud member of the the B’s in the LGBT alphabet salad, I know you have an appreciation of the lads and the ladies… and yet you wound up getting down on the rug with with the All-Male Adventure playset. How did you make your way into gay romance?
Ellis: First, I want you to know I had to read that question twice because it made me giggle so hard. I can actually trace my love and fascination of gay men all the way back to high school, when my girlfriend at the time and I found a copy of the “The New Joy of Gay Sex” at the local library, and we were both so fascinated by it that we read it cover to cover for HOURS. GREAT pictures in that book. I still have a copy. I like to say we stole it because it sounds naughtier that way, but really what happened was we checked it out and claimed we lost it so we could just pay a fine and not have to return it again. 😉 Fast-forward about fifteen years, I received my first Kindle as a Christmas gift and downloaded my first couple of gay romance novels, and I was irrevocably in love. It was like being reunited with an old friend.
Damon: A humpy gay friend who liked making hot buttlove in front of you at any hour of the day or night! :)~
Ellis: HAHAHA! LOL! The very best kind. 😉 The thing is, I love all romance of all varieties, but traditional romance is just that. If you want to break out of the mold a little, where do you go? I entertained the notion of writing lesbian romance for about thirty seconds, but that fell by the wayside very quickly. For one thing, writing about men instead of women allows me a little professional distance from some of the more painful relationships that I’ve had. For another, men are sexy and exotic and fascinating and *mysterious* because they are something I can never BE. I’ve dated men as a woman, and I’ve dated women as a woman. I’ve never been with a man, as a man. How do they fight and make love? What are the relationship dynamics? Why do men seem to shy away from getting emotional? How DO you handle your emotions? Are there more bottoms than tops? Why do guys keep looking at me funny when I ask them that? Tell me more about that prostate thingie would you please, because I haven’t got one, and it sounds wicked-cool. Two men together are uniquely beautiful to me. Male-male romance, it remains my happy place, hands down.
Damon: Well, I don’t know about brilliant, but I love the idea of mindgasms! Maybe I’ve been having nocturnal emissions from my frontal lobe all these years. No wonder I’m so wet all the damn time. 🙂 No, Boxer Falls sprang out of a whiskey-soaked discussion at GRL 2011 with Lori and Jen, the mods of the Goodreads M/M group, about the mindboggling chore of organizing those big free anthologies they do and then further conversations that same night with authors who loved writing short fiction but hated wasting wordcount worldbuilding for short fiction.
On the walk back to the Bourbon Orleans that night, I remembered a conversation from a producer I’d worked with who pointed out that once a show bible was in play a TV program took on a life of its own, freeing writers and creators to come and go as work dictated. I realized that if we created a “gaytime drama” with a cast of characters and a detailed world in place, authors could weave fun short interlocking stories that built on the core narrative and on each other’s inventions. The soap format would afford lots of leeway for melodrama and camp without tying anyone down. And because it could feature established genre stars and new voices as the staff writers, all kinds of collaboration and networking would result which strengthened the community.
Ellis: I think that’s been my favorite part of it, getting to know some of the guest authors better, being exposed to work of those I’m not familiar with for the first time, and even flexing my editing muscles. Seeing how authors get attached to the characters and the world of Boxer Falls. Watching plotlines evolve from episode to episode thanks to our guest writers. The collaborative part has been such a cool experience.
Damon: I know, right? The LGBT romance community can be so isolated and isolating. But soaps are by definition, looser and nuttier. Everyone has been able to throw meat and spice into the stew. Building on that core idea of teamwork, I realized that if we anthologized the stories and published a collection at the end of the year, we could donate the proceeds to GLAAD, which does phenomenal LGBT advocacy work in the media. A win-win-win-win: sassy free fiction for fans… a chance for authors to experiment with subgenres and characters they wouldn’t otherwise dare… a rich vein of content and discussion for the Goodreads community… and then at the end of the Season, a donation to a charity that is literally fighting for LGBT stories to be heard clearly which in turn will bring our authors to new audiences and vice versa.
Ellis, your books all inhabit wildly different worlds and they share your passion for unexpected heroes and that distinctive witty tartness of yours (Tart!). LOL What homo shenanigans have you got in the hopper for the second half of 2012?
Ellis: LOL! I am working on my first full-length contemporary novel, or at least I am TRYING to! I am ashamed to admit I’ve never written anything longer than a short story where all of the characters were *human*. The book itself, it’s just so, so different from anything I’ve done before, and altogether it’s been fighting me tooth and nail. But I love the the characters, and I find that sometimes the best stories are the ones I wrestle with the hardest. So I have my fingers crossed for these guys. It’s a small-town romance kind of a thing, and I’ve got a rough idea of turning it into a trilogy, so with hope I can find it a good home and make it into a really awesome series. I dunno, still waiting for you to get done hacking and slashing, and then I guess I’ll go from there. 😉
Damon: Just in time for you to grill Hard Head and then the steampunk. LOL So much to do! Agh! At least it’s summer… 8| Longer days.
Ellis: And kids underfoot. I’ll trade ya, she mutters.
Damon: You’re a braver critter than I, m’dear.
Ellis: Brave…crazy…it’s a fine line.
Catherine: Homo shenanigans Love it!!! You two seem to have more than just a friendship, it’s more like a collaborative partnership. As a huge fan, I want to thank you for taking the time out of both of your busy schedules to chat with us. I know that I can’t wait to see what both of you have coming out in the future.
Ellis Carrington was born after the Christmas of 2010 when she was gifted a Kindle and discovered the gay romance category on Amazon that same day. Sometimes her heroes are human and sometimes they aren’t, because angels and vampires deserve happy endings too. Her favorite things are great friends, great music, and books that make her sob like there’s no tomorrow. Find out more at EllisCarrington.com
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. He has lived all over: Houston, New York, London, Prague, with a few long stretches in New Orleans and Vienna. Along the way, he’s earned his crust as a model, a messenger, a promoter, a programmer, a sculptor, a singer, a stripper, a bookkeeper, a bartender, a techie, a teacher, a director… but writing has ever been his bread and butter. He has been happily partnered for over a decade with the most loving, handsome, shrewd, hilarious, noble man to walk this planet. Find out more at DamonSuede.com