This is a post I've wanted to write for a long time, but wasn't sure how to go about doing it. So, thankfully, Portia e-mailed me about writing this, as if she'd read my mind, and I decided that her questions were so perfect, I'd just follow them and go from there as if this were an actual interview.
And keep in mind that this is how I handle hopping genres. I know others feel differently. But what works for one person might not work for another. And, seriously, there really is no set rule when it comes to these things. I've learned more by trial and error than by planning things out. And after twenty years, I'm still learning.
I've noticed that you write different levels of erotica. Some of your work is almost inspirationally sweet, while others are porn on paper. How do you decide how nasty a story needs to be to tell the story?
This is a great question. I have been hopping around various sub-genres for almost twenty years now. At first, I didn't know what I was doing. I thought I could just write whatever I wanted to write and no one would care. But that's not always the case, especially with erotica and erotic romance.
There's no way I'm going to get into the definition of an erotic romance. There are already too many definitions out there and no one needs me to add another. But I do want to address the porn aspect. For me, and I'm only speaking for myself, as long as there's a storyline it's not porn. There's a difference between porn and explicit sex scenes when there's a storyline. I know some people will disagree with me. I've heard some say they want more emotion in erotic romance. And I agree with them. But that depends on who is defining emotion. And it's all subjective.
I also think being an openly gay man has something to do with the way I see things. I heard a scene in a movie a few weeks ago that explains it perfectly. So I'll show rather than tell. Two characters are talking about a hot looking guy who just moved into the neighborhood. This is somewhat how it went, not verbatim:
Gay Man gaping at hot guy: "There's the new neighbor who sweats a lot and smells so wonderful all the time."
Straight woman sneering at hot guy: "I think he stinks."
I didn't come up with this. Someone else did. But I think it's great example of how different people view things, especially when it comes to sex. And there's nothing wrong with this. It's as natural as breathing oxygen.
I also write love stories without much sex at all in them. I consider these modern m/m romances. Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza is a great example. This is one of my own favorites. I enjoying writing it. I felt the emotion the characters felt, and a good deal of the story is based on my own personal experience. But it's been difficult to get this e-book out there. To make matters worse, another e-book with a similar title to my Strawberries and Cream was published at the same time mine was released, completely by accident, and my Strawberries and Cream took a bit hit. It's ironic, too, because my Strawberries and Cream was originally published by Alyson Books many years ago in an anothology about first dates. And this is one of the pitfalls of hopping genres. The other author with a similar title is known for sweet, tender romances and her Strawberries and Cream did very well. But once you get branded for writing explicit erotic romance, the people who want nice tender romances won't read you. And If you do write a tender romance the people who want highly explicit erotic romance get mad at you.
Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza has had many excellent reviews. But I haven't seen the sales I've seen with other books I've written that have more sex scenes in them. If I'd known this, I would have published this under a pen name and let it stand on its own. It's a sweet story and I plan to do more like it in the future. I'm finishing up a historical novella right now with very little sex and I'm trying to figure out whether or not to publish it with my own name or a pen name.
But I never decide how nasty a story needs to be while I'm in the middle of telling the story. I let the characters do that for me. And there's no other way I can explain that. I'm not one of those writers who controls his characters. They control me. But I do like to balance reality and fantasy. And if the characters might be thinking about doing something nasty, I let them.
Does it make a difference who is publishing?
I think it does...to a certain extent. Almost all of my erotic short stories are published with loveyoudivine.com. I've been writing for LYD for almost six years. They were the first e-publisher I started writing with. And I try to keep my stories with them different from what I write for other publishers. There's usually more sex, but not always. I published Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza with LYD and there's no sex at all there. And with LYD, I don't get any rules or guidelines to follow. They leave it up to me.
My novels with ravenous romance are more romantic and they tend to follow a formula. I try to do this on purpose. They aren't classic romances by any means and I make that clear all the time. But they are romances, from a gay man's point of view, and I try to put this out there when I'm marketing and promoting the books. I want readers to know what they are getting.
Do you come up with the story first and then shop it out?
Another great question. Unfortunately, it all depends. With Loveyoudivine.com, I have total freedom to do what I want. All the authors have this freedom there. And it's why I'd do anything for these wonderful people. I'm usually asking them what they think..."Should we do this?" or "Maybe this won't work."
When it comes to my books with Ravenous Romance, it's more like a brainstorming session. I get suggestions from the publishers, we go back and forth about them, and we all agree on a final concept in the end. I love these brainstorming sessions, too. I love the collaboration because I think it adds to the final product. I'm not one of those authors who feels the need to self-publish, not even now when it's becoming so popular. I need feedback from my publishers and editors, and almost always agree with their experience. I'm too close to my work to be objective.
With other publishers, I do what everyone else does. I query them and hope for the best. Over the years I've built a lot of relationships with editors at Cleis Press and Alyson Books, and sometimes they buy my work, sometimes they don't think it's right for the book. So I just shop it somewhere else. I've had plenty of stories rejected by plenty of editors, but I've never had a story that wasn't eventually published.
And, just for the record, I've never had an agent. I've always shopped and sold my own work, from US publishers to European publishers. And while it hasn't always been easy, I've learned a great deal and made some wonderful lasting friendships over the years.
Hopping genres isn't easy to do without getting someone mad at you. And if you use your own name all the time, it makes it even more difficult. I've written a few pg rated hetero romances under different pen names, and I find pen names to be very frustrating at best. But there are no set rules for anyone when it comes to this. And I think it's important to keep it real and give readers as much product information as possible so they know what they are buying and there are no disappointments. And it's important to remember that no writer, anywhere, is ever going to please everyone.