Clare has taken a lot of time out of her busy work/writing schedule to answer my questions in thorough detail. I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did.
How did you get into writing m/m novels?
I came the fanfiction route, as many authors did – and still do. I’d been writing for years – note the HUGE bodice ripper work I still have on my hard drive! – and my work had included several m/m relationships. I don’t remember doing it deliberately or recognising there was anything bold about it, just that I loved writing the very tense, doomed 18th century passion between one of my heroes and the young man who loved him so fiercely and possessively. Well, actually, I loved it rather more than writing the scenes between my other hero and the heroine! Then I discovered there was specific m/m fanfiction out there so I avidly read it… then I started writing it. I had some great years building a fanbase and sharing fiction with readers and other writers. Incidentally, that was the basis for my first and subsequent visits to Yaoi Con in San Francisco each year. It was a whole new and fabulous world for me! Then eventually I wanted to create my OWN characters and take them exciting new places…
The rest as they say, is how I got started!
Your muse is a little statue on your desk. How helpful is it to personify your muse?
It’s quite common, isn’t it, our desire to personify objects that are dear to us? I can’t say I do it a lot – even my car is still ‘that ****** machine’ – but I saw this little statue last year in an antique store in Lewes, Sussex. The pale, smooth material is comfortingly tactile and his whole pose caught my eye – the thoughtfulness, the musing, the (I’m afraid to say) complete despair at my procrastination and lack of production sometimes. Oh and before you think I’m completely off the planet, he says to tell you he’s open to interviews on his own whenever anyone likes, apparently I just cramp his style…
How difficult do you find being a British author in a US dominated market?
Well, I suppose I was used to writing in a US market, that was where my fanfiction found most of its readership. But when I started publishing original fiction, I had to make a decision to go one way or the other, at least with my spelling! I’m still a bit in limbo. I don’t think it detracts from the fiction, or at least I hope not. Most of my stories sit in a ‘somewhere’ place that could be either continent – or a fantasy world of its own. I’m very happy to be a Brit, despite all the coo-ing over my accent when people meet me LOL – but I’d like my characters to be memorable wherever they’re set. On the plus side, it’s been great to mix in with other authors from all around the world. There are plenty of good ones here in the UK, but I personally love the cross-pollination of language, ideas and attitudes.
However, I have to say it’s been a real treat to have MLR Press accept ‘Freeman’ from me, which is set in London and is written in UK-English. It’s encouraged me to write more, too.
Which do you prefer to write: short or long fiction? Why?
I prefer long fiction. I can write short, sharp pieces – and sometimes that’s all you want to get, or can get from an idea or a scene in your mind – but my stories major so heavily on the characters that I need some time to explore them. I like to follow the pattern of real life, to build the layers of a relationship, to introduce secondary characters who are part of my characters’ lives. I read a lot of criticism of characters who go from ‘hello’ to ‘HEA’ in 40 pages or so, so I know that’s a challenge.
How much time do you spend writing each day (or each week, if you prefer)?
I’d PREFER to have some regular time at all LOL! I write almost every day – much to the family’s bemusement, because when I’m at home I’m always found at the laptop – but because I have to stop and start, it isn’t always very productive. I suppose I have the minimum of an hour, maximum a whole day, if everyone’s out. Then you have to factor out the procrastination, the aimless surfing, the catching up with email, the ‘chatting’ to my Muse, the making coffee and toast…
My treat last year was a period of three free, full days over the Christmas break when I was trying to finish True Colors for submission to Dreamspinner Press. I went and hid in my sister’s house while she was on holiday. I couldn’t work her heating and couldn’t get internet access and my God, I got more written than I had in the last three months LOL!
Not so long ago you described your writing as ‘domestic’. Why would you describe it in that way?
BLUSH I never thought you’d hold me to that! I think what I was trying to say was that I don’t feel my fiction has to be set against gritty, bustling cities or out in the sprawling countryside or against any particular historical backdrop. A friend once complimented me by saying I can write two men sitting in a room, doing nothing more than stirring a cup of coffee with a spoon, and rack up the UST beautifully. I treasure that description! I like to write the people first – the setting follows *them*. I like what goes on in someone’s head and heart – the conflict they create for themselves – the emotional needs and desires they pursue. Often this can all happen in a few rooms (and notably the bedroom *cough*). Maybe it’s a bit stage-y, but then my father writes theatrical plays, so it could be something in my genes.
Most of your books or stories are straight m/m romance (a bit of a paradox there!). Have you considered writing in other genres? If so, which and why?
Well, there’s still that bodice ripper on my hard drive…! There are three books’ worth there, if I could find the energy and time to edit it *sigh*.
I also wrote some women’s inspirational fiction last year, a short story ‘My Own Wings’ was published by Eternal Press under my other pen name Ava Merrick. And in 2006 I had a short story accepted for a local book sponsored by Borders. I’ve entered that contest each year and have been successful in 2007 and 2008’s book as well. We’ll wait and see for 2009! For me, nowadays, I find the short story more amenable for writing het or inspirational or scifi or whatever. If I have an idea that’ll fit a longer work, it speaks m/m to me first, other genre second.
Like other authors, I do resist too much labelling, though I’m very happy to be classified in m/m romance. But The Gold Warrior and its sequel Twisted Brand have m/f relationships in it too. If I’m writing a novel with plenty of characters and plenty of real life inspiration, I think I should be able to mix genres and pairings to reflect it. The Gold Warrior also has a fantasy setting – Sparks Fly has mystery in with its romance etc. I’m also writing at the moment a novel that has a mix of romance and paranormal themes – but without a set of vampire teeth or furry cat ear in sight! So I don’t know where that’ll find a home.
You are published by many different publishers. Why have you chosen to do that?
In the beginning, I just tried out at a lot of publishers. I was always a bit of a contest whore which converted to a submissions-call whore LOL. But seriously, I did spend weeks poring over publisher websites, learning about them and their authors, deciding where I’d like to pluck up courage and submit to on my own behalf. I started with Dreamspinner and Eternal Press, who both offered me a contract at about the same time in 2007. Since then, I’ve submitted to other publishers, and this seems to be quite acceptable in the community. Personally speaking, I feel I’m building ME as a brand, not just my fiction, so Iike to match my fiction to the publisher’s particular strengths. For example, I love Dreamspinner, and Eternal have published work from me that’s not erotic. I have humorous sexy shorts at Red Rose , an erotic horror short ‘His Gift’ at Aspen and a selection of edgier shorts at Torquere. And I’m so excited that Freeman was accepted by MLR , with their great reputation for mystery and thrillers. I like to build a relationship with a publisher, so I’m naturally drawn to some more than others. I haven’t had success with any others yet but there are other places I would *love* to be represented. I just keep trying!
(can I call them fantasy romances rather than historical?! I don’t want the historical fiction police on my case, expecting a ‘real’ historical setting!)
Jenre: Oops, guess which of Clare’s books I haven’t got around to reading yet?
The world of Aza City evolved as soon as I started to think about Maen, the central character, a soldier facing the conflict between ingrained duty and instinctive – but forbidden – love. I wanted a setting where his life and position as a Warrior is everything to him, a man who’s respected and admired and measures himself by his loyalty and integrity. Until that’s undermined by love, the one thing he never expected. It’s based in a pseudo-Roman setting, yes, but only on the surface (and maybe on the cover). Aza City is a world of its own with a very different social and political and sexual structure.
How much research did that involve?
Don’t laugh now – Hubby and I were fascinated one day, discussing the social structure of a beehive (as you do…), with the Queen in charge and surrounded by drones who live only to serve her. Very simplistic, but that was the seed of the idea. I researched some of the costumes and weaponry of Roman times for inspiration, but it was an entirely fantasy world so I didn’t have the restrictions of a real period setting. My imagination could take flight!
Your novel “Sparks Fly” is set in a dating agency, what inspired you to use that setting?
It was a friend of mine who was trying out agencies at the time – and still does (Oh, she’ll kill me for mentioning her online! LOL). We were bemoaning the lack of inspiration in the questions they asked for her profile, and I wondered what would happen if someone invented profiling that was far less rigid, far more personal and definitely more fun! And – even more exciting! – wasn’t necessarily gender-restrictive. The rest, as they say…is here – just click on the book cover!
Oh I’m so glad you’re interested in more of them! I started a follow-up at Christmas but it looked like it was developing into at least a novella so I had to put it on hold as I didn’t have the time to write it then. Actually, I’m not sure when I’ll *ever* have the time to write it, or anything else for that matter, but I can tell you I looked up the notes again recently. I think it’s time for more of Aidan’s POV in this one, shaken and stirred as he has been by his affair with Nic – and Nic has new challenges, too, forging ahead as the entrepreneur he is, developing a new direction for ‘Sparks’. And despite their very deep and passionate attraction to each other, there are plenty of things that still cause them conflict and confusion on the path to true and peaceful love!
You’re a Brit, why do you choose to set the majority of your contemporaries in the US?
Hmmm… see above as well. I suppose I think that’s what the majority readership expect and want. I won’t name names, but when I started submitting, some publishers carved through my UK-English prose and Americanized it in the most cavalier way. Not just the spelling, but the grammar and the way of speech. If I’d had purely British settings or situations, I would have protested more strongly, of course, but at the time I was willing to compromise. There’s excitement in writing outside your own world, anyway. A year later, though, I think that publishers’ attitudes are far more tolerant and inclusive, plus I’m a tad more assertive *cough*, so I’m enjoying writing my English-set stories. I draw the line at only two things – ‘gotten’ and ‘bangs’. My British-ness won’t let me go there LOL.
Your book “Masquerade” is a collection of m/m paranormal stories. Did you enjoy writing stories with a paranormal theme and what attracted you to the genre?
Wow yes! I gave my imagination free rein to examine the themes of passion, love and obsession, with *plenty* of angst and tension – and sex! I find the fantasy/paranormal genre very melodramatic and exciting in a different way from contemporary relationships. I blended in some historical settings, some horror, some humour – it was very liberating, and a great opportunity to develop ideas I’d had about magic and vampires and other, more mysterious powers…
The four stories were written at different times but they’re dear to me because they were some of my first exciting steps into publishing original fiction. Suddenly I had a totally blank canvas and somewhere to display it! ‘Bonded’ was featured in a contest on Uniquely Pleasurable, and ‘Possession’ and ‘Threadbare’ were in successive years’ Yaoi Con Fiction books. A couple of the ideas and characters I’d like to take further one day, if I could only decide what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up – fantasy or contemporary? Angst or amusement? Erotic or everyday? There’s not enough hours in the day for me LOL.
A lot of your stories are in anthologies such as “Make Me a Match” Vol. 1 and “Christmas Dreams”. I’ve heard that authors don’t make very much money from them, why keep doing it?
See my previous comment re ‘submissions whore’ LOL. Seriously, though, I like anthologies for offering examples of my fiction to people who might not have heard of me or read me before. I like the sense of sharing the experience with other authors – I’ve made some good friends through anthologies. It’s also a way of getting short stories published, when many publishers prefer longer work. And of course – very important to me – sometimes I get to hang on the coattails of far more famous and experienced authors that way! It’s a very heady thing. In fact, I’m lusting after another anthology as we speak, just to be in there with some of the other authors going for it – people I’ve fangirled over in the past! – even if I’m considered the wildcard or the poor cousin LOL.
And the money side isn’t bad at all. The only thing is, it’s usually a one-off payment, so it can take the edge off your subsequent marketing efforts. But I’ve made as much from some anthologies as single stories, so it probably evens out.
You have contributed a story to an anthology which gave all their profits to LAMBDA legal aid. Why was this so important to you?
I’m very proud of this! LOL It’s the I Do! anthology in support of marriage equality. It was initiated by Alex Beecroft, inspired by the fact that many of us in the UK wanted to show solidarity with the action against Proposition 8 in the USA. We couldn’t sign anything, being UK residents, so she suggested we create the anthology to raise funds. With some fabulous publishing and editorial staff support from MLR Press, it came out in January. It’s selling well and has some great reviews.
And it was such fun! I was thrilled to get my short story ‘Outed’ accepted and I’ve got to know many other authors in the genre, both as people and by their fiction.
I don’t specifically connect my writing life to causes, but I feel very strongly about marriage being available for all. In the UK it’s already accepted and I went to my colleague’s civil ceremony a couple of years ago – it was fun, full of love and life-affirming. Personally, I consider the resistance to this a contradiction to all basic Christian and humanitarian principles. I’m also a big supporter of fundamental tolerance and compassion, both of which seem to have been shoved to the back of the room in some of the debates on this topic. This is entirely my own personal opinion, of course, but it was one of the reasons I was so excited to be part of this project.
You are very active over the internet with your own blog, various chat groups and commenting on other blogs. How important is it for authors such as yourself to keep up an internet presence?
That’s one of the most encouraging things anyone’s said to me recently – I try my hardest to keep in touch with it all, both in offering entertainment and in responding to other people. I won’t deny it’s exhausting and I seriously doubt I do enough, every day. But I try! For me, the interaction is one of the best things about being published and joining the communities, though it’s not always easy or comfortable. It’s a mixture: I learn a lot, I have fun, I praise and am praised, I’m thrilled by friends success, I get acceptances, then I get discouraged, I get stressed, my blood boils, I despair of people, I disagree, I’m rejected and dejected, then I’m overwhelmed again by people’s kindness and wit and talent and enthusiasm, and I’m up again… I’m in constant turmoil! (dammit, it sounds like the plot of a novel).
It’s not essential, I suppose, to help me write better or more successfully, but I genuinely think it helps. So much of the publishing world for this genre is internet-based and built on networking. And you have to be In It to Win It! It helps me to know what’s going on, to improve my writing, to find new resources, to be aware of new opportunities (see ‘submissions whore’ above) and to leech, sorry learn off better authors than I. And it also helps me to find my existing and potential readers, to sell my books, to share my experience, to ‘measure’ in some way how I’m doing.
You have a new book coming out…tell us about it.
It’s called ‘Freeman’ and it’s due out from MLR Press mid-March. This is written entirely in London and is both a m/m romance and a mystery novel. Not exactly a murder-and-cops thing, but Freeman is a man who ‘gets things’ for people – who investigates when he sees the need – who stands up for what’s right when he’s provoked. Here’s the official blurb:
“Freeman’s return to the city is quiet, without fuss — the way he likes things. But, he’s missed by more people than he thought: his ex-wife, his ex-lover, and his ex-business partner. One wants friendship, another one intimacy. The third just wants him the hell gone again.
Freeman — private, controlled — hasn’t time or appetite for trouble. But, when he strikes up an unusual, ill-advised friendship with young, lively, amoral Kit, it seems trouble’s come looking for both men, ready to expose secrets that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve built. Freeman’s more ready for the challenge than anyone realizes when the choice comes down to peace or Kit’s life.”
I can’t wait to find out what people think of it – though I hope they like it!
What’s next for you?
Well, I’ve signed another contract with Dreamspinner Press for my novel ‘True Colors’, due out in June, so I’ll be working on edits for that later in the year.
“Zeke Roswell has failed as an artist and businessman – and cool entrepreneur Miles Winter is planning to make commercial success out of that. Two very different men, but one very strong passion ambushes them both. Zeke’s lust for life and undoubted talent are intoxicating to Miles, and Zeke finds Miles’s confidence and determination equally fascinating. When Miles purchases Zeke’s art gallery, intending to make it his own, he also gains a troublesome tenant, an unsolved mystery involving violent death and stolen paintings, and a lover he’d never thought to find.”
I’ve also started a new novel set in a travelling gypsy camp, I have 2 erotic/paranormal novella ideas I’m hoping to develop for anthology calls, and more than a few short stories, all of them lurking somewhere in the spectrum between late-night idea and 80% written! I also have a follow-up story to Gold Warrior/Twisted Brand started, featuring the characters Zander and Kiel, I’m not sure yet whether that has a market. Plus the Nic and Aidan story, of course!
Now I just need those 72-hour days and a quiet house to get any of it done…
Thanks so much for inviting me, Jen! I love visiting your blog and to be a featured author has been a real thrill.
Thanks to you too Clare, it’s been a priviledge to read your answers and to exchange emails with you on many occasions!
For all of you interested in Clare’s books, click on the book covers to be taken to the publishers or have a look at Clare’s fabulous new website.