A BSB AUTHOR INTERVIEW with DAVID SWATLING

by Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

 

Do you make a decision to write fiction any more than you decide to be gay? As a child I wrote and performed puppet shows and plays, an outlet for my vivid imagination. In school I turned spelling exercises into poems, took creative-writing classes, and wrote short stories. For a sociology course in college I created a lengthy fictional profile of an inner-city family because I was too shy to interview a real one. Years later, my radio documentary work employed storytelling techniques and structures I learned from doing theater.

 

As for this particular novel, upon retirement I traveled for a year and ended up at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Listening to inspiring writers talk about their work, I realized it was time for me to sit down and put on paper the story that had been in my head for years.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

 

First and foremost, I write character-driven stories, usually dark, edgy, and filled with black humor. I like multiple points of view, messing with chronology, and stories within stories. If I can toss in some historical context, so much the better. I write what I like to read, and I like to read complex stories because that’s the way my mind works. Overcomplicated, some might say. They’d probably be right.

 

As for the darkness, that’s a place I know well, a place it’s difficult to pull myself out of—into the light. I’ve managed to do it more than once, each time in completely different ways. I’ve been thinking about those times lately, with all the discussion after the suicide of Robin Williams, all the theories about depression being thrown around, some based on experience, some pulled out of thin air, some gently charitable and some viciously destructive. I’m certainly no expert, but it seems to me that each individual situation is unique. What works for one may not work for another. It’s the same with stories, with storytelling. What triggers an emotion for one reader may do nothing for the next. I’m sorry. I got sidetracked. What was the question?

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

This might be jumping the gun a bit, with the first novel just out, but everyone has been very supportive, happy I’ve found my creative mojo again. I’d lost it for a number of years—living in that darkness I was talking about. And as for Calvin’s Head, not many have read it, yet those who did have been extremely positive, which is a great relief.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

 

I get my ideas from something I see, something I hear, something I read. Anywhere. I have no shortage of ideas. What’s more interesting is, why does one idea lead to a story and not another? I haven’t a clue. I simply know that at a particular moment a story catches hold and needs to be told. Now that I think about it, in writing workshops I’m hopeless at being given an idea—they call them “prompts”—and being told to write something based on that. It seems so forced, so false. I’m lucky if I can get one sentence written, while others write paragraphs, or pages. But once an idea catches hold inside my head, I can’t let go until it’s all on the page—even if it takes thirteen years to get there.

 

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

 

I’m not an outliner. I pretty much just write. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about the story—a lot. I don’t keep many notes, though. I have this strong sense that the good ideas will reveal themselves when I need them. I do have to have a title. The main characters have to have names. I need to know them pretty well yet be open for them to surprise me. It’s all very intuitive, organic. For me, following a detailed outline would be like painting by numbers. I’d rather see the full picture emerge gradually from a blank canvas. And if it doesn’t…I rip it up and start again.

 

What makes Calvin’s Head special to you?

Calvin's Head 300 DPI

 

Aside from the fact that I managed to sit in a chair and finish it? That it has gone from being a story in my head to an actual printed, published book? That it will always be my one and only first novel? Aside from all those obvious but no less special attributes? Calvin. He guided me from the darkness into the light, and somehow I was able to transform that experience into both a tribute to him and (I hope) an entertaining tale of psychological suspense.

 

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

 

There’s a lot of myself in all my characters, the best and the worst. How can it be otherwise? They all come from my imagination, even if they begin to act on their own. As for cannibalizing people I know? That’s a delicate issue. A dear friend’s dying request was to put him in one of my stories. I told him he was in all my stories. But when I tried to write specifically about him, it was incredibly difficult—especially to fictionalize, then rewrite, edit, and revise. I don’t recommend using people you know in fiction. Now, dogs, on the other hand…

 

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

 

During my radio days, I was fortunate to interview some brilliant LGBT authors like Edmund White, Dorothy Allison, and Michael Cunningham, all whose work I’d read and admired. Talking with them was like getting private master classes. But books by three others particularly inspired me while the story of Calvin’s Head was developing: the Edgar Award-winning Benjamin Justice mystery series by John Morgan Wilson; Dale Peck’s groundbreaking early novels; and (my all-time favorite) Was by Geoff Ryman, a stunning reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. All are edgy, character-driven tales with major doses of darkness.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

 

Read. Read. Read. Then write. Know that there is no one sure-fire path and no rule that can’t be broken. Also, know that even the best writers think their new work is crap and no one will ever want to read it. And as someone else once said: if you don’t tell your story, it will never be told.

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

There’s a lot less time for “fun” the past couple of years. I read as much as I can, go to the theater or an exhibition once in a while, travel whenever possible. I love wandering the streets of a new city, taking photographs, and curating my vagabond life on social media.

Big Things Happening!

By Anne Laughlin

 

There are two big things going with me these days. The first is the publication last week of The Acquittal, my third novel with Bold Strokes Books. A new release brings with it a lot of joy and a lot of work. Self-promotion is not something I’ve ever been terribly comfortable with. I do love giving readings, however, and as I was going through the scenes I’ll be reading over the next couple of weeks I was reminded of the other big thing going on in my life.

Let me explain. At my reading in Milwaukee on Oct. 25, I read from The AcquittalBSB-Acquittal and a short teaser from Sometimes Quickly, which is coming out in January. As I was reading through these I realized that the scene I want to read from SQ and one from The Acquittal are concerned with drinking – alcoholic drinking. It’s a theme that has popped up in all of my books. In Sometimes Quickly it’s a major part of the plot. You’ll see how this intersects with the other big thing in my life right now – on Nov. 8 I’ll be celebrating twenty-five years of sobriety, a milestone that means the world to me.

Here’s the challenge in writing about alcoholism. If your main character’s an alcoholic, you’re asking a lot of your readers to hang in with her, waiting for her to get her act together. An alcoholic is seldom an attractive character and you want your protagonist to be sympathetic. In Sometimes QuicklyBSB-SometimesQuickly my main character is a stone alcoholic, but when the book begins we see Peg is sober and has been for some time. I show her drinking years in flashback, so the reader knows she’s not always going to be a jerk. And Peg’s drinking made her do bad things. She was not a stand up person. She was a falling on her face drunk most of the time. I wanted to show the reality of how ugly that can be without alienating the reader. Hopefully, I succeeded (you’ll be able to read Sometimes Quickly in January, when it’ll be published by BSB). In The Acquittal, one scene I’ll be reading shows the alcoholism of my main character’s mother.

My own drinking history plays into this intimately. I don’t need to go into the details; suffice it to say I was a stage 4 alcoholic at the age of thirty-five. If I hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t be alive today. I’m positive about that. I wouldn’t want to be alive, at any rate. So the disease that almost killed me plays a big role in my life. I have a happy sobriety, but I’m never complacent about it. One slip and I could easily find myself worse off than the day I had my last drink. In other words, I work at my sobriety. It would be almost impossible for me to not write about alcoholism in some way.

Which brings me to the second difficulty in writing about alcoholism. It’s essential that it not be preachy. I’m not preachy, but tones of recovery do not land well with many readers. It’s easy to misunderstand and to make fun of. And let’s face it, the drinking is more interesting that the recovery, at least in terms of fiction. So I tend to stay away from talking about recovery and instead write with verisimilitude about what being an alcoholic is like, what it means, how it affects others. And, just as importantly, I try to write it with a sense of humor. It’s dark enough on its own. My own sense of humor didn’t return until I’d been sober for awhile, and then, as with others like me, I found it hilarious to tell and listen to stories of the idiotic things we did as drunks. Without a sense of humor, everything feels lifeless. I don’t want my fiction to feel that way.

I feel I’ve been successful in not imbuing too much of my writing with alcoholism. Just a bit here and a tad there. But it’s an important connection for me, one that I can’t not write about. As they say, write what you know.

A BSB Author Interview with Brian McNamara

By Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I’ve kept a journal since I was fourteen years old and have always enjoyed writing in it. A couple years ago, I had the idea to write a story loosely based on of my senior year of high school. The first chapter that I wrote came surprisingly easily, and then it took off from there. As the story unfolded, it became much more fictional, yet the way in which I’ve written is reminiscent of my journaling. Fiction is especially exciting because it allows me to have a creative outlet, which is a welcomed break from my corporate job!

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I feel very connected to my teenage years, and many of my favorite memories reside during that time of my life. It’s so important for teenagers to have visual representations of LGBT individuals who are out and comfortable with who they are. I write Young Adult novels so I can not only reflect back on a wonderful time of my life, but so I can show readers the journeys that LGBT individuals take on their way to self-discovery and how rewarding it is when they come out on the other side. For those readers struggling with self-acceptance, I hope my book will help them live an authentic, out life.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My friends and most of my family are very excited for me, especially because it’s my debut novel. They remind me how proud I should be of my accomplishment. Up until now, I have not shared much of my writing with them, as it has mostly been very personal journaling. I’m eager to have my friends and family read Bottled Up Secret, BSB_Bottled Up Secret_covas they will finally be able to see a cohesive, full-length story that I have written. Some of my family members don’t even know about my novel, but someday maybe they will read it and find that its themes of love and friendship are the same as the ones they experience in their own lives.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

I use events from my life as inspiration but then let them play out in a somewhat alternate world where I can inject fiction. I didn’t want to write a memoir, so as I write, I frequently ask myself, “What if?” This then leads me down a fictional path. The Young Adult genre lends itself to so many great situations as characters transition from adolescence to adulthood. I use these to show how the characters are growing and learning about themselves and about life.

 

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

I plan out a high-level storyline with major events and character arcs, but the most exciting thing about writing for me is discovering how the story unfolds as I write. In some instances, I expected the plot of Bottled Up Secret to go one way, but as I was writing, it became clear to me that a character would choose a different path instead. Because the characters in my novel are clearly defined in my head, they become independent entities, somewhat out of my control. Instead of asking myself, “What do I want this character to do?” I ask, “What would this character do? How would he or she react to this situation?”

 

What makes Bottled Up Secret special to you?

My high-school years were an amazing time for me, so as I was writing this novel, which is about a group of high-school seniors, I was able to reflect on my own experiences during that time. It also became therapeutic as I wrote about the characters’ struggles, which were similar to some of mine. It’s special to me because I think it’s a great story that combines humor, sadness, excitement, and confusion, just like real life does.

 

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Based on my bio, readers will quickly realize that the main character of Brendan is very much like me. He is the narrator of the book, so it was fun to snap back into my mindset as a seventeen-year-old as I was writing. I had a very close, diverse group of friends in high school, and they were perfect inspirations to use for the other characters in this novel. As for the main love interest in the book, my high-school crush was a big inspiration for him, but after a few chapters, the character quickly took on a life of his own.

 

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

As a gay man, I often think about my community in the context of our larger society. Alan Downs’s The Velvet Rage is a novel that I found fascinating. It offers good commentary on what it’s like to grow up as gay, especially when a society deems you unequal. Fortunately, I can read that book and be hopeful for the future, as the tide of acceptance is moving very quickly.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write about something in which you have a strong interest. That way, the writing process will be fun and exciting. It won’t feel like work. Also, don’t get discouraged if you have a not-so-productive day of writing. There are days when I sit at my computer, waiting for inspiration to come, but end up throwing in the towel after an hour. Then a few days later, I have a flood of ideas and immediately dash for the nearest pen. That’s what makes the writing process challenging but also incredibly rewarding.

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I’m very much into low-key nights with my friends. We go out to dinner, play board games, and go see movies and Broadway shows. As long as there is good conversation and laughter, I don’t care what we’re doing. I grew up doing performing arts, so I also love singing and acting, and have been able to have some experiences with these while living in New York. I also spend a good amount of time at the gym to keep up an active lifestyle, although I wouldn’t call it fun!

Around the World

Join me as I catch up with Bold Strokes Book author Yolanda Wallace at Atlanta Pride. Despite the rain and crowd noise, you’ll hear about her recent and most excellent release, The War Within, her upcoming novel 24/7, and there might be an outing of sorts.

Let Them Eat Cake!

While at Atlanta Pride last weekend, I had a chance to catch up with veteran Bold Strokes Books author, Erin Dutton. Tune in to hear what she has to say about her upcoming lesbian romance:

A BSB AUTHOR INTERVIEW with CF FRIZZELL

By Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

There was no decision-making involved. Rather it was something I found myself doing, something inside I could not ignore. That sounds so clichéd, but it’s true and carries through to today: that odd nagging in the back of your mind…or maybe heart…that insists there’s something you need to be doing. I started by writing for my closest high-school pals, romantic “scenarios” embellishing (a lot) on their straight crushes. What evolved into my first attempt at a novel started in tenth-grade French class, when I was bored and daydreaming about a girl becoming a rock star. I’ll never part with it (and maybe someday I’ll tackle it with serious intent) because it really chronicles the changes in my attitudes and lifestyle, not to mention my writing ability through the years.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

That’s a tough one because I’ll jump into practically anything. I do have a love of history and enjoy “using it” to tell a tale. In a broader sense, I suppose I lean toward strong, bold, female success stories because there just aren’t enough of them. My stories tend to be very visual with lots of dialogue, because I want readers to see and hear exactly what I’m seeing and hearing as I write. I’ve considered writing scripts but know I’d miss digging into all the small details.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

Family members are very happy for me, knowing that I’ve written all my life, but unfortunately, they have never wholeheartedly accepted my lifestyle. Friends, however, provide the finest, most genuine support system I could ever imagine. My partner Kathy is my ultimate blessing. In the past few years, I’ve found it interesting that my work tends toward family themes, the support and “connection” experienced by my lead characters. I’ve never set out to write such things; they’ve emerged on their own. And I’m a bit proud of that.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Anywhere and everywhere. As an only child, I guess my imagination has always been “out there,” making toys, games, adventures out of simple things or nothing at all. (At family parties, I’d be the one with the kids, making tents with them, pretending to camp out in a toy-filled bedroom.) As a newspaper reporter and editor, I believed in “looking deeper” into stories. There’s a root of a good story in everything around us, as long as we allow ourselves to “see.” That includes the woman pushing the double stroller, the solitary oak on forty acres of meadow, or your grandmother’s engagement ring. The literary version of the “photographer’s eye.”

 

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

Easy question. I’m a pantster to the core. I bounce lots of ideas off my better half, and Kathy has learned to “play catch” with me very well. I might jot down a few thoughts, but I often joke about what my fingers have typed, as if they’re on their own and leave magical things on the screen for me.

 

What makes Stick McLaughlin The Prohibition Years  special to you?

As my first novel, it’s beyond special to me; it’s surreal. Stick was a fun adventure to write because I was able to step back—not only into an exciting historical period—but into the city, sights, and neighborhood I remember growing up. And I’m very happy for the characters and their story, to have them so well received at this early stage.Stick McLaughlin 300 DPI

 

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Doesn’t every writer, possibly every type of artist, leave fingerprints behind? There are bits of me scattered throughout most of Stick’s characters—the good ones, that is. J

 

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

It’s impossible to point to one or two. I can say, however, that three particular novels stand out as having had an impact on me: Curious Wine, by Katherine Forrest, for its gloriously romantic storyline; Lee Lynch’s Swashbuckler, for the timeless character Frenchie; and Radclyffe’s Safe Harbor, for seamlessly blending romance, characters, and a setting I loved into the perfect package. I’ve attended Women’s Week in Provincetown for years and been fortunate to meet/hear Radclyffe, Lee Lynch, and many Bold Strokes Books authors enough times to know these women are special. I’m grateful for the time each of them has spent with me, signing, reading, at Q&As, and simply chatting. Individually and collectively, they’ve been my inspiration.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write. You truly never know when opportunity will strike. It’s okay to start out writing what you know, because you’ll see how much you don’t. Soon enough, you’ll be researching, compiling data that you’ll discover you need “techniques” to use. Next thing you know, you’re studying the craft more, learning how to weave that data into your work, and looking at your piece from a more well-rounded perspective. All good.

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I’m a fan of Boston pro sports and have played guitar/sung for years, mostly just for fun. My workday is fairly long, so there isn’t much “free” time until the weekend, and I’m usually very content when my partner, Kathy, and I can just hang out at home. (Yes, I usually end up writing…bless her.)


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