Bowerbirds Blog Tour Compiled Interview Questions Plus WIP Preview
Give us ten tips for becoming a better writer.
You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. I’d like to say something like write every day but I can’t manage that, so write whenever you can and when you’re not writing think about writing.
If you’re having trouble finding time to write you might have a hard time finding time to read but squeeze it in when you can. Put a book app on your phone for when you’re waiting for the doctor or at the DMV.
3. Read outside your genre.
We all have our favorites and when you have limited time to read you might want to stick to your favorites but I think that only reading the kind of books you write, or want to write, is a bit like talking to yourself. It can be productive to a certain extent but sooner or later you need outside input.
4. Write outside your genre.
Swimmers run, runners lift weights, rugby players will do pilates if they think no one is looking. To truly excel you need to work all muscles, not just the ones you use the most. Same goes with writing. If your thing is regency romance try knocking out a thousand words of science fiction. You might discover something new.
5. Listen to your editor.
Especially if they are experienced. It is their job to give you good advice. You may disagree with it but they are there to help you so don’t dismiss it off hand.
6. Make a list of words you use too much.
Everyone has words and phrases that pop up ten times a page. Mostly they are filler words and words that end with ly. Actually, really, apparently, obviously, probably. If you can filter these as you write that is good, but if it’s slowing you down just write as you always write then do a search for each word when you’re done. You might be surprised just how many hundreds of times it can show up in a manuscript.
7. Get a cheerleader.
Find a friend, another writer for preference, who will cheer you on no matter how absurd your goals might be. If you want to write six novels in a year there are lots of people who will tell you to set a more rational goal and you know you the odds of actually doing that are slim but you want a person who will say ‘YES YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THAT!’.
8. Get a word accountabilibuddy.
It’s handy if they are the same person as your cheerleader. They are the person who you report back to with how much you’ve written in a day/week/month, and when you don’t get back to them they have permission to poke you with a stick.
9. Write what you want to write not what people tell you you should write.
YA is hot right now. If you don’t want to write YA then don’t. Books that are forced are unpleasant to write and I think that the readers can tell. When I hear an author got a contract to write 10 books in a series I always feel a bit nervous for them. What if they get bored with the characters after book five? If your book is true to you then people will find it.
10. Ignore all the ‘what you need to know/do to be a writer’ lists out there.
Half of them contradict the other half. Find what works for you and just write.
What comes first, the plot or characters?
Mostly the characters. When I was much younger I had this weird idea that I would become an actor. After several years of acting training, much of it Method acting, someone rather bluntly told me I wasn’t an actor. Despite that a lot of that Method acting training managed to bleed into my writing. Combined with a script writing teacher who pounded into us that all action must be motivated by and inform character it means I have to know the characters inside out and backwards before I can tell the story. I’ll often have a very sketchy plot outline, and I’ll discover things about the characters as I go but the characters have to come before the story or the story dies very quickly.
What are you reading now?
Right now I have about 20 different books on the go. I have a bad habit of starting books then getting distracted and picking up a different one. Earlier in the year I realized just how many I had going (plus a few novel length bits of fanfic I had intended to read) and I decided to stop starting any more books until I finished what I had begun. And I told myself I’d do it one book at a time. It’s ended up being three books at a time. One in paper on my bedside table, one on my kindle app, and one on my google books app. So as of this moment I’m working on The Quiet American, the last section of Parade’s End, and Pulp Literature Volume 3.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
My writing work schedule is pretty set. I only have two days a week to write and this is how it goes.
6:30 a.m. Wake up
7:30 a.m. Drop the kid at daycare
8:00 a.m. Make coffee
8:10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. WRITE
5:15 p.m. Pick the kid up from daycare
Repeat above the next day and that’s my work week finished.
This is why there is going to be a bit of time between now and my next novel.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I very seldom hear from my readers and wish I heard more. I came out of fandom where every chapter you post gets some kind of feedback from a reader. Even if I was posting a fully finished work it still became like a conversation. Their comments, my responses, then the next chapter. In professional writing you get reviews but reviews are really readers talking to each other and you’re not supposed to respond to them, even the good ones. I find it a bit alienating.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
The first thing I remember wanting to be was an astronaut. Then in the middle of morning cartoons there was a special report on the Challenger disaster. That was the end of that idea.
I did the brief ‘I want to be a doctor’ thing that I think most kids do. Then I saw an eyeball surgery on PBS. I still find eyeballs really grose.
Through most of elementary and middle school I wanted to be a scientist like my aunt. Not entirely sure why. I’d probubly have to go to my shrink to fish that one out. Somewhere around 8th grade I realized that I didn’t want to make a career out of sciend. When my mother asked me what I did want to do I said I wanted to be an actor. It was the first thing that popped out of my mouth.
When it comes to acting I’m great at learning lines but I have no stage presence.
I did my undergrad in theater directing but I spent most of those four years stage managing. I considered becoming a professional stage manager since but the hoops needed to get into the union were a little too daunting.
I did my master’s degree in film and television producing. The script writing teacher begged by to change my major. I probubly should have. I’d still like to be a TV or movie writer when I grow up. Maybe one day I’ll write a novel that gets optioned.
Was there a basis for you story? A previous experience or something else?
There wasn’t an exact basis for my story though some bits and pieces of my dad came out in James. He wasn’t a single father but he was a stay at home dad in the early 80’s. He got a lot of grief from other guys and didn’t have a lot of experience with small children. I like to think he muddled through pretty well.
What skills do you think a writer needs?
The ability to tell a story is the most important thing a writer needs. There are useful things like an ability to spell and knowing where to put a comma but if the story is truly good you can find an editor to help out with that.
What for you is the perfect book hero?
I prefer the flawed hero. I never liked Prince Charming or what’s his name from Cinderella. There was nothing interesting about them. I love Sam Vimes from the Discworld books. He starts out as an alcoholic watchman in a corrupt watch, with no respect, living in poverty because he gives his pay to the widows and orphans of other watchmen, and even in that state he tries to arrest a dragon on murder charges. I think Nietzsche was a bit of a dick who spewed a lot of rubbish but the truest thing he ever said was ‘when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.’. Heroes who have looked into the abyss and walked away with a piece of it still in them are far better to read than the ones who have never even glanced at darkness.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Before Empty Nests came out I would have said no. It’s a sweet little low drama romance. Now… Shortly after I got my print copy of Empty Nests I took it to my local romance writers meeting to show off. It’s a very supportive group and we’re always glad to hear when other people get contracts or have their books come out. I handed it over to a couple of other writers who wanted to look at it and of course they flipped it over to read the blurb and were quite surprised that it was about two men. They weren’t negative about it had just never occurred to them. I answered a few questions they had and even managed to do it without total sarcasm. One said she didn’t think it would be to her tastes but not everything is to everyone’s tastes. I think it might have been a bit of a generational gap since these were slightly older women but it was an odd/interesting experience to have.
Tell us about your favorite childhood book.
Book? As in one? That’s not going to happen. Favorite Star Trek novels, since I read a lot of those, How Much Just For The Planet, Ishmael, The Three Minute Universe, The Tears of the Singers. Favorite fantasy novels were the Belgariad and Mallorean series. Classic Science Fiction was The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. As far as more ‘proper’ literature went I loved The Secret Garden. It was probably the only ‘girl’ book I ever managed to get through as a kid.
What’s the easiest thing about writing?
I find making up characters to quite easy. I honestly have a whole army of little half formed people living in my head. The tricky part is working out if I can make a story around them or if they fit into someone else’s story.
Name one author (living or dead) you’d like to write with?
I would have liked to have met Terry Pratchett but I could never have begun to write at his level. I’d like to maybe do something with Steven Fry. I’d love to be in the writers’ room for Hannibal even though I know it’s not getting another series.
Tell us about your cover and how it came about.
Empty Nests and Bowerbirds was originally one very long and difficult book. I always had a very clear idea of what I wanted for the cover art for Empty Nests, with the two cars, but when the book split I had zero ideas for Bowerbirds. Oddly enough cell phones and types of cell phones are rather important in Bowerbirds so I had some half assed idea involving those adding a note that I’d be willing to go with anything they thought would be better. The Dreamspinner Press art department passed it on to the massively talented Paul Richmond who came back with the beautiful cover I have now.
Is this book part of a series? Do you have ideas that could make it into a series? If it is a series, tell us a little about it.
Bowerbirds is the second in a series with Empty Nests as the first book. I’ve gotten pokes from friends who have read both about writing a third but I have ZERO ideas for a third book that don’t involve breaking the characters up and burning the Lemon Drop Wonder down to its wheels. I’ve lived with these guys in my head for five years now, I need a bit of distance from them.
Word association. Tell us the first thing that comes to mind when you read these words.
Ketchup – Fries
Flakes – Dandruff
Elastic – Hair ties
Timer – Cookies
Google – The thing tracking my very weird search history. I’m a writer, it’s perfectly normal to look up X-Files episodes and Victorian sex toys in the same day.
If you could bring back one TV show, what would it be and why?
I suppose the first kneejerk reaction to bring back a canceled show would be to say Firefly. It had so much potential, you could see it was building into something that would have been truly great but it was ripped away before it had a chance to find its feet. That said there is a sitcom called Mr. Sunshine that was on a few years back. It starred Matthew Perry and Allison Janney. It filmed 13 episodes, only aired nine, and it was hysterical. There is an episode where Allison Janney beats up a Smurf on Ice! How can they have taken that off air!?
I studied film and television and watch probably far more television than a writer should. The list of shows that I enjoyed that went before their time is long. FOX is responsible for many of those deaths, ABC for many of the rest. The Lone Gunman suffered from bad timing. Torchwood should have been given a proper third season. I would have like to have seen Forever renewed. Almost Human was another that had so much potential. My Name is Earl deserved a better sendoff. Community did get its six seasons but it got jerked around so much I think it was hard for them to keep up the quality level they could have had if they’d just been left alone. Does anyone else remember Brimstone? That was a cool show. Life on Mars (UK) I think could have managed a third season. There are many more I’m sure but those are the ones just off the top of my head. Like I said, too much television.
Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
It is cluttered and probably a bit too much like my childhood bedroom. I’ve got random posters and pictures all over the wall in front of me. I inherited my partners old 24 inch monitor. Half the household books and DVD’s are crammed into my office because the toddler is a climber and likes pulling things off shelves. Hopefully when she’s four or so we can move it all out and give me a bit more space. It’s also full of my knitting stuff which is more than I really need but any knitter will tell you there’s no such thing as too much yarn.
Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
I can relate to James to a certain extent just because he’s a parent but I started writing him before I had a kid and when I was still swearing I’d never have a kid so it’s a bit weird to say that.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
Does writing for TV count as not being an author? I’d probably like to be a theater director which is what I originally studied in college.
Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
Just how long the editing and release process takes. Somewhere in my head I thought it would all go way faster but I’ve been told that a six month turnaround is actually pretty quick. Now that I know this I can work out my grand five year plan a little more accurately, I hope.
Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
I’m not sure if I ever managed to really properly articulate James’s fear in the last third of the book. He’s truly scared shitless but I’m not sure if I managed to get that across despite all the rewrites I did.
How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
I take long showers. Bang my head against the wall. Stare blankly at my computer screen. Complain to my partner that I have no ideas. Rewatch old TV shows and just hope my subconscious coughs up something useful.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I’m working on a contemporary MM BDSM piece. I don’t know if it’s going to be a novel, multiple novels, three novellas. I don’t seem to have a lot of control over where the story is going or how long it’s going to be. It’s 60k and I don’t think I’m half done.
Where do you live? Do you think this influences how or what you write?
I live in Auckland, New Zealand. I don’t think it influences my writing as much as I would like it to. I think this is a tricky time to be an expat writer. The days of Hemmingway and Graham Greene are long dead and gone. Everyone is now much more aware of the outsider gaze and the baggage that comes with it. I think it’s hard to write about a place or culture you didn’t grow up in without worrying about getting something wrong and offending the very people you are trying to assimilate into. I could write a few thousand words on the topic but this isn’t the time or place for it. And honestly Auckland is just one more sprawling city and I live in the suburbs.
What is your favorite genre outside of the one you write in? Why?
Science Fiction. I was raised with it. My mother was/is a trekie. Family TV viewing was Star Trek. My dad was into more classic science fiction and got me into it as well. Ray Bradbury is still one of my all-time favorite writers, closely followed by Douglas Adams. A step sideways from that is Terry Pratchett who is another favorite.
Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc?
I like TV. I really do. I like TV probably far more than any novelist should admit to. That doesn’t mean I’ll watch anything. Reality TV can suck it. But I also have a lot of Just for Fun shows like Doctor Who or Agents of SHIELD. I get really into the quality shows as well. I loved Hannibal while it lasted. BoJack Horseman is exceeding good if you are willing to appreciate the meta of it. I could go on for a long time. I also like coffee quite a lot.
List five of your favorite TV shows (past or present) and tell us what you loved about them.
M*A*S*H – I was an insomniac as a child. My father swears that as a baby I’d never fall asleep before the Jonny Carson Monologue. As I got older my parents gave up trying to get me to sleep. The rule just became that I couldn’t wake them up and I wasn’t allowed to be grumpy in the morning. I mostly read but if I didn’t want to do that I’d sneak out and watch MASH reruns, 11:30pm, Monday to Friday on FOX channel 2. I think it had a lot of effect on my sense of humor and my overall world view. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode at least once. Some are better than others. Some are forgettable and some stick forever but I don’t think they ever once phoned it in.
Life on Mars – I’m talking about the original UK version. Did you see this? Did you see the glory that is this show? The ultimate ‘from two different worlds’ buddy cop show, the different worlds being 2006 and 1973. Just weird enough to grab attention, not so weird as to tune viewers out, and every single piece of casting was brilliant. Every second of film was beautiful.
Numb3rs – I was a sucker for the procedural cop show until recently. I know they are supposed to be reasonably formulaic, that’s sort of the point, but the characters have lately become formulaic in a not good way. It seems there always has to be one male character on the team who’s an asshole. A tough female character with a horrible tragic past. If there is a really smart character there has to be something “wrong” with them that keeps them separated from the rest of the team and they are ignored until all other options have been tried. And the boss character never cracks a smile. Numb3rs didn’t do this. The women were all tough without being broken. The guys were friendly and respectful. The ‘nerds’ were listened to, respected, and not played as characterchures. And out of 118 episodes they only once didn’t have a search warrant before going into a situation and the writers made a point of stating that and stating that there would probably be fallout from it.
Red Dwarf – I’ve written a lengthy post on my own blog about my relationship with this show. The humor is crude, the effects were bad, and it only made US television because the schedulers at KTEH PBS were giant nerds in the 90’s. Something about it just made me happy though. If it had been a drama about the last human alive it would have been a bleak, existential mess. Instead you get moments like this.
Lister: You said yourself. I can’t stop it. Let’s get this over with. [grabs a pipe]
Rimmer: Lister, what’s that for?
Lister: I’m going out as I came in, screaming and kicking.
Rimmer: You can’t just whack Death on the head!
Lister: If he comes near me, I’m gonna rip his nipples off!
Babylon 5 – I grew up on Star Trek and I loved it and I always will but for as nice and shiny a future as Star Trek presented, especially in The Next Generation, it was always a bit hard to recognize the humans as human. For as glorious a vision as it was for a grumpy teenager it was hard to believe it would ever come about. Babylon 5 was different, humans were still human on every level. There was still war, religion, pizza, alcoholics, the post office, paperwork, bisexual Jewish Russians, and porn. It wasn’t a clean or pretty future but an exceedingly well written and believable one.
Favorite thing about building your own world?
That I get to build my own world. I get to set up a few rules and some internal logic then wind it up and watch it go.
What inspired you to write your first book?
It’s hard to say. It was a slow descent into madness. I know the first short story I had published came out of a writer I used to know saying something I found really snotty and the story was a form of petty passive aggressiveness. This is also how I chose my college when I was in high school. The second short and first novella came from Cooper West poking me with a virtual pointy stick. The novels just snowballed out of that.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t know. You’d probably have to ask my readers that. I know I write a lot of dialog and am often lite on description and internal monolog. That comes out of my years trying to be a script writer. That’s also why the first outlines of my books usually have a three act structure.
Who are some of the authors that influenced you to write?
Ray Bradbury is a big one. Dashiell Hammett. David Mamet. Tony Kushner. Tom Stoppard. D. C. Fontana. J. M. Straczynski. Joss Whedon. Mercedes Lackey. Anne Rice (before she got too weird). David Eddings. And if you ask me tomorrow I’ll probably give you a completely different list.
What are some jobs you’ve held? Have any of them impacted your writing, and if so, how?
My last major job allowed me to write because it was a night job and there were usually four or five hours a night where I had nothing to do. I got a lot of writing and knitting done during those years. I have an entire major plot point in one of my WiPs that comes directly from my time substitute teaching. I was working for a software company is the 90’s in the SF Bay Area so I was there for the entire tech bubble. That’s probably why the Nested Hearts books take place in the computer business. One of these days I’m going to write about the theater but only after I’m 100% positive I will never see certain people again. You can change the names to protect the guilty but some things just bleed through. I’ve sold makeup, books, and fabric. Worked Christmas retail, cleaned rooms, done volunteer security, moved harpsicords, then there were all those years working historical reenactment events. We are the result of our experiences. I guess our books are too.
What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your writing?
I got an email about five years ago now about a piece of fanfic I’d written. The lady asked if she could print out and bind one of my stories as a gift for a friend because the story meant so much and was so important to him. I said yes, of course, and that has always stuck with me.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that impact your writing?
I’m a part time writer and full time mom. I have two days a week when my kid is in day care but I also have to use that time to do things like go to appointments or unclog the sink. I try to write 4000 words a week, so 2000 each free day, but at that rate it takes almost 5 months to hit the 60,000 word minimum for most publishers and my stories usually run much longer than that. Throw in shorts for anthologies and contests plus all the usual life stuff and it takes me a long time to get even a first draft done. This is my way of saying it might be a while before I get another novel out.
What interested you about the theme of this book?
It has a theme? I thought it was about two really stressed out guys falling in love. Is that a theme? Let’s call it a theme. My sister and I joke that we’re trapped between protestant work ethic and catholic guilt. If you’re not working your ass off then you’re doing something wrong with your life. That’s a hard idea to shake off. It’s also hard to find room for other things in your life with that in your head.
What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
Getting past my own self-doubt. That little voice in my head that screams ‘you suck what the fuck to you think you’re doing’ can be very distracting.
Name your four most important food groups.
(No, really, I am a fully functioning adult, I swear)
What book do you wish you could have written?
I wish I could have written a Star Trek novel. One of the Pocket Book ones. Maybe not a particular one but I would have liked to have been involved in that.
How important are names to you (in your books)? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds or meaning? How do you choose your names?
Names are very important. Sometimes they have meanings. Sometimes I choose a name to show a character is from a particular time or cultural background. When I’m doing a romance I want names that sound good together or say something about the dynamic of the two characters. Sometimes I pick a random place holder name and it sticks.
Were you already a great writer? Have you always enjoyed writing? How long have you been writing?
Was anyone a great writer from the beginning? I know there are people who have been good writers from the start but I think great takes a lot of work. I have always enjoyed writing even when I was convincing myself that I should be doing something else with my life.
Which character, from any of your books, do you consider your greatest work?
I have a character that might not see the light of day for a few more years, but his name is Martin and I love him, partly because I can’t seem to control him. He is quiet but firm. When I try to point his story in a particular direction half the time he says ‘no’. When I work with him I have to use a good deal of finesse and I have to justify everything I do with him. It’s frustrating but fun.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to knit when I have the chance but between writing and having a small child I’ll take sleep over other free time activities.
From the recipe file of Gabe Juarez
French toast is the best Morning After the Night Before breakfast because it looks so fancy but it is so easy.
I always try to do it with sourdough bread but any frech bread is good. I mix an egg into a cup of milk then add some cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of nutmeg if I have it then mix it well.
I cut four slices of the bread, thick but not too thick. A bit thicker than what you’d use for toast.
I soak each piece in the milk and egg so it’s soaked through, but not so much that the bread falls apart.
Then I drop each piece into a hot well-oiled pan. I turn the pan down to medium since I want the bread to cook through without burning on the outside.
Once it’s brown on one side I flip it then put a banana that’s been cut in half lengthwise into the pan.
When the bread is cooked through I serve it up with the grilled banana and either syrup or powdered sugar with a squeeze of lemon.
Dead easy but looks and tastes great.
Work in Progress
I’m currently working on a book/books/novellas/something which has the working title of A Friendly Favor. It’s a slow build friends to lovers story.
The two main characters are Julian and Matt.
Julian is 45, six feet tall, African American, a serial monogamist, and recently single but with no real desire to ‘get back out there’. He is a graphic designer for an advertising company but he is a skilled painter and general visual artists. He went to Harvard, just like his brother, sisters, father, and grandfather. He studied classics while the rest of his family studied business, law, and medicine. He lives in Columbus Ohio while the rest of his family is in Boston. He’s the guy who’s always willing to do a favor for a friend.
Matt is 33, five foot ten, three quarters native Hawaiian but grew up in San Bernardino. He graduated from UCLA law school but decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer so never took the Bar exam. He’s based out of Portland and is an international lobbyist for a group of green energy companies. He describes himself as the guy trying to talk OPEC out of drilling for oil. He was recently kicked out by his boyfriend of six years and is at loose ends emotionally and residentially.
The muffins at the Rainbow Palace Café and Books were not the best, Julian had to admit. The sweet ones were always a bit dry and the savory ones strangely oily, but it was the closest thing the area had to a non-alcoholic gay club.
A waiter with more tattoos than clothes put a slightly oily spinach muffin in front of Julian and a huge slice of triple chocolate cake in front of Matt. He walk away without a hint of acknowledgment and Julian felt like a cranky old man as he resisted the urge to call the kid back and deliver a lecture on customer service. Instead he watched Matt tear into his cake as if it had personal offended him, devouring it in great fork fulls,
“Careful, you’ll make yourself sick.” Matt flicked his dark eyes up and Julian felt like a grumpy old man again. He’d been having that feeling a lot lately
Matt did start to chew a little more slowly. He had yet to say what was wrong or why he’d called. He had made it about two thirds through the cake, and had picked off the frosting, when he finally had enough and pushed it away.
“So, Jerry and I broke up.” Matt’s voice was flat. He didn’t look at Julian, just squished cake crumbs with the back of his fork.
“I’m sorry.” Julian had known Matt over five years and the whole time he had been with Jerry. Not that Julian had ever met Jerry. Matt used Portland as his home base and was only in town a couple times a month for work if that, but Matt had always seemed a happy guy and talked about his relationship often. “How are you holding up?” Matt shrugged and squished some more crumbs. “Was there a particular reason or did it just stop working?”
Matt sighed and dropped his fork onto the plate. “He said he wanted me around more, which is sweet and all but he made it into an ultimatum, ‘me or your job’.”
Julian decided that Jerry was an asshole. “And you love your job.”
“I love my job. I’m great at my job.” Matt briefly spread his arms wide. “I’m awesome at my job, or at least as awesome as someone can get at my job. Yes, it involves me working in several different states and a fair amount of international travel. I mean I could have probably asked to get assigned to one office, and I’d actually been planning on it, but I wasn’t digging the whole ultimatum thing. Plus he dropped this on me at like five in the morning twenty minutes before I had to leave for the airport. There was screaming involved, some unpleasant things said, and by the time I got to the other side of security I had a text telling me my stuff would be in storage when I got back to Portland.”
‘Yep,’ Julian thought. ‘Definitely an asshole.’