I’m thrilled to welcome Lloyd Meeker to the Red Carpet today to talk about his new release – another Russ Morgan thriller *hurrah*! all the details below – and he also shares generous answers to my probing questions in a revealing interview :).
What would be the title of your life story, if it were a book? That’s a really powerful question. I’d have to pick Stumbling into Beauty, because like everyone else’s, my story is full of drama—orphaned at age five, childhood sexual abuse, minister in a church that had no room for my true sexuality, taking my private pilot’s license, conducting a community orchestra, trying to live as straight, breakdown, divorce and bankruptcy, starting over, getting sober, surviving dances with cancer. The list goes on. Everyone’s list does.
I’ve been lucky, though. Over and over along my particular journey I’ve inadvertently found beauty as a gift inside seeming hardship, some glimmer that has always led me to claim an as-yet undiscovered fragment of myself I hadn’t known I was missing. The result is I’m happier than I’ve ever been before. I have more sense of wonder at life and the world in general now than I did as a boy, more trust in where I’m intuitively headed even if I don’t always see where I’m going.
What is it about this book you’re most proud of? A couple of things. I really like Russ Morgan as a person. [Clare sez: me too!] We have a lot in common, from psychic sensitivity to sobriety, and I’m proud of how he grows in this story. Although I envisioned an arc for him from the start, he evolved in ways I didn’t expect when I began writing it. I believe this is one of the first mystery novels to be set in the burgeoning marijuana industry, and I’m proud of that. And I have to confess I think it’s a pretty good story overall.
What’s the best bit for you of the creative process? And the worst bit? The very best bit is when the basic idea hits, and I start making notes. Out of that chaos an actual story begins to appear. It’s magic! Worst bit is the self-doubt that hits me around the time a book is released. Some inside voices say it’s a stupid, shallow, flawed and irrelevant book, and I should be ashamed for trying to foist it on readers.
How important is a Happy Ever After to you in your books? HEA is not essential for me. What is essential is that my protagonist earns the end of his story, that it reflects the qualities of his journey, and that the conclusion represents some personally satisfying element of justice or balance. I prefer if that ending comes in a “happy” package, but it doesn’t have to. When the reader finishes the story, he just has to feel Yeah, that’s right. That’s my litmus test.
What do you enjoy – or find difficult! – about the role of secondary characters? I love how you can hike out into a secondary character without having to be so damn responsible for their actions. Lorena, the past life lady in The Companion, is so into the spirit world that she’s barely able to function in the material world, and would make a very difficult protagonist. But she was marvelous fun to write as Shepherd’s guide.
In Blood and Dirt, I fell in love with Billy Ellis, the content farm-boy I might have been in some other life. When I was a farm-boy I raised hogs for 4-H, and belonged to Future Farmers of America, as if the skinny little kid with thick glasses that was me could have ever made being a farmer work. It was wonderful to share Billy’s happiness in the ranch work, and his soul-deep relationship to the land.
Long vs short? In writing, that is! What’s your preference? I love long! Short can also work well, if it’s meaty enough. (I really am talking about short stories, you know!) My primary concern is for the story to be complete. I’m happier if the story is long-ish. I started on Blood and Dirt expecting it would be around 80k words. By the time I finished, it was only 50k. I’m praying it’s complete.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received, on your writing or otherwise? When Traveling Light, my first serious novel, came out in 2011 I was terrified I’d put out a pretentious joke. One of my first reviews on Amazon was from Victor J. Banis, one of the great pioneers of gay fiction. He said, “This is a beautifully written novel, an almost perfect marriage of style and one that defies easy classification. In fact, it’s not really much like anything I’ve read before […] What it is, for certain, is a wonderfully compelling read.”
I soared. And I began to believe in myself as a writer in a way I hadn’t before then. What he said changed me. It didn’t fix my neuroses, but it gave me hope. I’ve clung to that hope ever since.
If you weren’t sitting there right this very moment answering my book of questions, what else would you be doing? I have to go to the gym this morning. And then I need to get serious about getting on with the draft of my next book. And then…
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence? Before the first sentence. The title is the story idea for me, or at least the story idea comes with a title. I have a bunch of primo titles, some six or seven years old, just waiting for me to write what belongs under them. I may never get to them all, but I love having them there, waiting for me.
What makes you laugh, in or out of fiction? I wish I knew, and I wish I could make other people laugh more often than I do. My sense of humor is not my strong suit. I love wit and whimsy, but I think I laugh hardest when I encounter a surprise that I can lose myself in. George Carlin made me laugh so hard.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work? Jim Frey taught me so much through his workshops and books. One day in a workshop he said, “If you find yourself bogged down in too much cleverness, stop. Just tell the story.” So when I find myself struggling with a plot idea or a passage that is too contrived, or a distraction, I try to refocus on the story, and just tell it.
Cover art – what do you like best/least? You know, like most gay men (and many straight women!) I love a shot of a muscular, tanned, male torso. The stuff of fantasies. But really, in most cases that probably says very little about the story. If I already know the book is gay fiction, a male body is no surprise. The cover art I like best actually says something about the story underneath the cover, and gets me excited about it, rather than playing to my lust. Which is too easy to do.
What’s the most adventurous thing you ever did? Come out. I was married and in my forties, and on the brink of a breakdown. For me coming out was like committing suicide and being reborn—terrifying and liberating at the same time. I felt I’d been dropped into a different world where I didn’t know the rules, didn’t know much of anything, not even what I really wanted. I had no clue. I had to build new relationships with my family and with people who thought they knew me. It’s been a profound adventure so far, and I’m aware there’s so much more, just waiting for me to grow into it.
You can be anywhere on earth – where would it be? To live? Probably somewhere on the Oregon coast. Or a condo in Madrid. Or an island in the Caribbean. Guess I have to stay put here in Florida until I can figure that out!
What did you want to be as a child? A mighty sorcerer. I still do. That’s never changed.
Reviews – read them or not? Absolutely, I read them. I’m still looking to understand who “my readers” are, so I’m vitally interested in what people say about my work. Sometimes I have to remind myself that a review is a description of one person’s experience with one of my stories and not a judgment from Olympus, but once that’s clear to me I usually do okay reading reviews. I don’t go to GoodReads often, though. Maybe once a month. To me there’s a distinction between criticism and attack that doesn’t seem to be a part of the GR culture.
How do you keep sexual tension alive and kicking in a book? By being open about it. I am so not a fan of silent, pining angst! If you want something enough, speak the f**k up! Having sexual energy out in the open, even if nothing happens with it, is far more interesting to me than secret longing. Being open speaks to the courage of the character to take risks, and to take initiative. Let the characters work it out between them, instead of forcing them to fight against the unspoken and all the accompanying misunderstandings. That’s really tedious to me.
What’s your favourite trope/set-up/cliché in fiction? Although it’s far more than a trope, my favorite structure in fiction is The Hero’s Journey. It’s so flexible, so powerful, and most good storytellers have given up trying to get away from it.
What’s your view on ensuring fiction includes diverse characters? Don’t tell the same story over and over. That’s like selling a truckload of paint-by-numbers canvasses of the same scene. Diversity of story leads to diversity of characters, and vice versa, so start with a different story and see where it leads. Simply painting the hero with blue eyes instead of green, or making him a policeman instead of a cowboy or alpha wolf does not advance real diversity, imho.
Or plot devices – for example, what might happen to our stories if we couldn’t use homophobia as a plot device? We should start finding out, even if homophobia is still a terrible and dangerous fact in real life. I believe we as authors of gay fiction have often (not always) relied on homophobia as a convenient emotional rallying point, a kind of shorthand to identify good guys and bad guys.
If you could time travel, where and when would you go? If I could be a rich aristocrat, probably Vienna in the late 18th century. To hear Mozart play his own work would be amazing. And I’d gladly stay around for Beethoven, too. I’d avoid Paris, though, lol!
What’s the one thing you’d change in the world tomorrow if you could? Serious or frivolous! I would make it so every person had to experience the emotional and physical impact of their conscious behavior toward others. Enlightened self-interest would make compassion and kindness paramount, and it couldn’t be faked.
You’ve won the lottery – what’s the first thing you’d buy? Comfortable homes for my two sisters.
~~Thanks so much for visiting the blog today, Lloyd! ~~
BLOOD AND DIRT is available at Wilde City Press in all formats.
Discover all Lloyd’s books and news at his website.
BLURB: Family squabbles can be murder. Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation. Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point. Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…
“Russ Morgan Investigations is nearly invisible,” Evan Landry said as he settled elegantly in front of my desk. It was an accusation, but I assumed he meant well and it was intended for my own good. “You don’t even have a website. You really should embrace the twenty-first century.”
By all accounts, Mr. Landry was a successful restaurateur, so I was sure he knew all about promotion through websites and social media. I’d also heard he was ruthless and domineering. I got the domineering part right away.
I nodded, unashamed. “It’s true, I probably should, although personal referrals seem to work best for my business. Isn’t that how you found me?”
“Yes.” He seemed oblivious to the implication. “I want you to find out who trashed my sister’s marijuana grow,” he said, as nonchalant as if he’d asked for more coffee. His aura, however, was a mess, swirling bright red with fury. He was very good at hiding what he felt.
“You’ll find out it was my non-biological sister,” he said, making disdainful air quotes around the word, “Marianne Ellis. But I want proof.”
Interesting. Here in Colorado a case involving marijuana was inevitable, I supposed, but this was my first.
He brushed something offensive and invisible off his slacks. “I’d like you to start today on-site at the ranch, which is just south of Grand Junction. I’ll pay whatever your rate, travel, and per diem are. I want the bitch nailed. Quickly.”
I smiled, hoping I didn’t look too amused by his unexamined sense of entitlement. “Assuming we come to an agreement, I’ll be glad to drive up Monday.”
He frowned. “I want you there today. It’s Saturday. Even with weekend traffic you can be there by four at the latest.”
It might have occurred to him that I had obligations preventing me from jumping into my car at that moment, but apparently he’d dismissed that possibility as unimportant.
He fixed me with a glare that was undoubtedly successful on sous-chefs. “You said on the phone that you were available to take a new assignment.”
“And I am. I’ll be glad to get there Monday. I have a commitment here in Denver tomorrow I need to honor.”
“You came highly recommended,” he said, changing tack. “I hope I haven’t been misled. You don’t strike me as being very responsive to a client’s interests.”
“Just the opposite,” I said, only mildly offended. “I take my commitments very seriously, including one to you, should I make it. That means you don’t have to worry about me jumping ship if someone comes by with a more attractive offer. I won’t do that for you, but I won’t do it to you, either.”
He pursed his lips. “Okay.” He sounded miffed. “Monday, then.”
“So can you give me a little background before I say yes?”
“Of course,” Landry said without missing a beat, all practicality. “My sister Sarah started growing marijuana when it became legal a few years ago. She found a couple of good strains and learned how to grow the stuff. She’s very good at it.
“The laws around cultivation are complex, and bank loans aren’t possible. I loaned her money to get started and helped her navigate becoming part owner of a dispensary that’s now a retail outlet as well. Last year she began to make real money at it and invested her profit in the systems that would take her operation to a much larger scale.”
He waved his hand in a vague, dismissive gesture. “Large, very expensive lights, a drip irrigation system, some kind of chemical regulation equipment for the hydroponics. From rooting a cutting to its harvest, marijuana runs on a four month cycle. She staggers those cycles to sustain a monthly yield from her new system. Last week, when she was nearly ready to harvest her current crop, someone broke into the barn, doused all the plants with gasoline, smashed half the lights with a baseball bat, and tore up the irrigation system.”
I shifted my vision to check on Landry’s aura. It was seething. “And you suspect your stepsister Marianne Ellis? Statistics show vandalism is usually the work of an angry male.”
“I’m certain of it.” Landry’s smile was grim. “And I wouldn’t put it past her to have hired a thug to do it for her. I’ll brief you on our toxic family constellation if you’re wondering about the different last names, but I’ll wait until you agree to investigate before I show you all our family’s filthy laundry. For the moment, I’ll just say that Marianne is a ruthless bitch with embarrassingly bloated social pretensions. Having a sibling growing marijuana in a conservative ranching community does not advance them.”
“What do the police have to say about it?”
Landry’s face darkened. “I haven’t filed a complaint and won’t. There’s no point. It’s complicated. For one thing, it’s essentially a family matter because it happened on family land.”
An ambulance pulled up at the corner of Pearl and Colfax a block away, its siren howl dying as it stopped. Landry glanced out the front bay window at the sound before turning his attention back to me.
“The Sheriff ’s Department is not thrilled with the arrival of marijuana cultivation in the county. All over the state, one hears of stories about ambivalence of law enforcement in protecting the interests of grow operators, so I’m not sure how much help they would actually be, even if I did report it. But the real reason is that the Ellis name still carries some prestige in regional society, and the Ellises want to keep this as quiet as possible.”
He looked up from examining his fingernails, and a genuinely soft, sad expression crossed his face. “It’s pathetic, really, that belief in the clout of a family name persists long after any actual significance is gone.” His face hardened. “This is the twenty-first century. Ranching fell on hard times a long time ago, and the once great Ellis Ranch is on the verge of bankruptcy. More of that story later, too.”
“But isn’t this pointless, then?” I asked. “If you don’t want to go to the police, or the sheriff, I guess, if you’re in unincorporated territory, what are you going to do when you find out for sure who did this? And if Marianne did it, what difference would that make? It strikes me that you’re merely set on getting even. Why would you need proof that it was Marianne? If you’re certain, why not just take your retribution now?”
“I may be an aggressive businessman,” he said with a sharp, cold light in his eye, “and make no mistake that is exactly what I am, but I like to have facts before I take—” He paused and gave me one of the most chilling smiles I’d ever seen, a predator licking his chops in anticipation of an easy kill, “—appropriate measures.”
“I imagine it takes a lot of guts and determination to succeed as a restaurateur,” I said, appalled at the venom in his aura but trying to be tactful. “From what I’ve heard, it’s a perilous profession.”
Landry chuckled, cold and humorless. “The world will carve you up and eat you raw if you aren’t ready to fight back, Russ.” He lifted one elegant, long-fingered hand. “And a chef is only as good as his knife skills. I have no intention of letting that happen to me. Ever.”
Landry uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and put his forearms on the desk. The motion pushed up his sleeves, exposing a fancy square Tag Heuer watch on his wrist. “So. Do we have an agreement?”
I’d never been able to figure out why, but without trying I had become a specialist in dysfunctional families. Landry was obviously no saint, but then who is? Besides, a private investigator who worked only for saints would starve.