Posts Tagged 'Jeffrey Ricker'

A Chat with Jeffrey Ricker and ‘Nathan Burgoine

BY JESS FARADAY

I’m always saying that I’ve never met a BSB person I didn’t like. From everyone I’ve dealt with on the business end, to my various editors, and the authors that I’ve met at conferences and online, y’all are pretty darn terrific. And there are some really excellent writers among us as well—go figure!

 

Recently I had the pleasure of reading two fabulous new books—Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine and The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker. On the surface, they don’t sound very much alike —

 

 

LightLight  300 DPI

Kieran Quinn is a bit telepathic, a little psychokinetic, and very gay—three things that have gotten him through life perfectly well so far—but when self-styled prophet Wyatt Jackson arrives during Pride Week, things take a violent turn. It’s not long before Kieran is struggling to maintain his own anonymity while battling wits with a handsome cop, getting some flirting in with a hunky leather man, saving some drag queens, and escaping the worst blind date in history. One thing’s for sure: saving the day has never been so fabulous.

 

The UnwantedThe Unwanted 300 DPI

Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive—and she’s an Amazon! Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back, and needs Jamie’s help. Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.

 

 

But after reading them, I couldn’t help noticing a few similarities—and not just the fact that they were really, really enjoyable.

 

So I thought I’d ask the authors about it =)

 

 

 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, Rainbow Man (sorry… Prism =) is a fabulous superhero—and at the same time, charmingly flawed and human. Tell us about your inspiration in creating this character.

 

NB: Somewhere between my geek childhood love of the X-Men and my own wish that there were more gay superheroes out there, Kieran sprang to mind almost fully formed. When I was younger, there were none. It’s gotten better, but I wanted a story rooted in the LGBT culture. I didn’t know what sort of power I wanted to give him at first, but I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law in her kitchen and there was a suncatcher in her window and I bumped it and rainbows scattered and something clicked. Making it a side-effect of telekinesis came later, but I always wanted him to be “somewhat underwhelming” in the power department. If Jeffrey will forgive me, I always preferred Marvel to DC because the Marvel characters weren’t invulnerable powerhouses – the mutants often had one good power (or two) but took their lumps a lot more often. They came across as more human to me.

 

JF: Jeffrey, your book gives an interesting take on a common YA theme–the discovery that one has royal/magical/otherworldly origins and/or powers. Your main character is the rejected offspring of an all-female group that now need his help. Tell me about that particular plot twist. Why Amazons?

 

JR: Jamie doesn’t think he’s special. I didn’t want to make him too “chosen-one” gee-whiz spectacular. He’s just a kid trying to get through school without getting pulverized. What makes him remarkable, I think, isn’t his Amazon bloodline or any powers that derive from that. It’s that he keeps going even when he’s deathly afraid. 

 

Why Amazons? I guess it all goes back to Wonder Woman. I’ve been captivated by the Amazons ever since I first read one of the comic books and then saw Lynda Carter on the TV screen. She was like magic to my little gay mind. I was always drawn to Diana in a way that Superman and Batman couldn’t equal. I think, being a gay kid, I identified in particular with the idea of a secret identity, that who you were on the outside hid something remarkable within. Yes, all of the big three had secret identities, but hers resonated. I can’t explain why, but I know it was more than just the bracelets and the lasso and the power. 

 

Of course, that has little to do with the real Amazons of antiquity. And I was surprised at how little I could find when I started researching for this book. I found one or two volumes, mostly thin on information, and then just passages here and there in the epics. Why was there so little?

 

The more I though about it, the more it made sense. All those old stories were written by men, and they focused on the men. No wonder the Amazons got short shrift. I wouldn’t be immune from that criticism either: I may be gay, but I’m also a white guy in the western world, which translates to a lot of privilege. Even here, who do I end up focusing on? Jamie, one of their sons. But I hope I do that in the context of the powerful women around him, not all of whom are Amazons—his friend Sarah in particular; she’s such a hero and she has no magical origin to base that on—and not all of whom are human. But I don’t want to give too much away there, either.

 

JF: ‘Nathan, Light addresses some pretty serious themes, puts the main character in nail-biting peril, and sees him take his lumps. Yet the story is suffused with wonderful humor and a lovely romance. The combination of excitement and lightheartedness is irresistible. How do you do that?

 

NB: I wholeheartedly believe that if we stop laughing, we lose. In the face of what can seem like relentless pressures from all sides for the queer community to cave in, give up, or go away, the times we spend laughing and celebrating how far we’ve made it are the things that keep me going. I wanted to show that balance, and could think of nothing better than setting the story during Pride Week for exactly that purpose. You don’t have to look far to see how much further we have to go – Kansas, Russia, Uganda – it’s not hard to find the bad news and the fights still ahead to be won. Those fights are still there, and just as serious and important no matter what you do. I just know I fight better when I’ve recharged myself with the company of good people and that kind of dark humour that serves us well.

 

I also listened to my editors. I feel like I should repeat that again: I listened to my editors. If parts felt too dark or too action-focused, they helped me find a way to break it up a bit and use the romance or the humour to diffuse the tension for the reader. Did I mention you should seriously listen to your editors?

 

JF: Jeffrey, in The Unwanted, you turn the theme of bullying on its head by binding Jamie to his bully early on in the story, and forcing both characters to grow and change. It’s a fresh take and an interesting choice. Can you tell us how you came to make that choice?

 

JR: Thanks. I was really worried about that, to be honest. Billy has treated Jamie like crap before and at the beginning of the events in the book. I didn’t want to give Billy a free pass or let him off easy, but I also wanted to show that even the people you expect it of the least can change for the better. Without giving too much away, I wanted to illustrate that real connection and understanding can overcome fear. 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, your short fiction is prolific and well known, but this is your first novel. How different was it working in this longer format?

 

NB: This should come as no surprise to anyone with a brain, but it turned out that having some sort of outline or plan was way more important for a novel than I’ve found it to be in a short story. What that says about my brain I’ll leave up to you. Also, with a short story, the turnaround time for some sort of feedback is so quick. With a novel, I worked on it for over a year before I had enough to hand to someone and get criticism. I’ve had rare moments where a short story has gelled in the space of hours, and had feedback on the first draft within a day of finishing that draft. Writing a novel felt a lot more isolated and required a lot more patience and self-confidence, and I’m sure not overstocked in either.

 

JF: Jeffrey, you’re currently studying for your MFA in creative writing. What, from your education, have you applied to your writing?

 

JR: This is a really good question. You hear a lot of criticism of MFA programs as encouraging a sameness in students’ voices and subject matter. (At least, I have.) That may be the case in some places, but I haven’t experienced that here. At the moment, I’m knee deep in revising my thesis, which is a speculative fiction novel, so this is probably not the best perspective from which to figure out how my own writing has been changed by it. I feel like I’m taking more chances in my writing, trying things that I might not have done in the past, and diving deeper when possible. All that being said, spending two years in an environment where I’m surrounded almost daily by other writers who are this generous with their time and feedback and encouragement is probably the nicest thing about it. That, and Vancouver is really a beautiful place to live.

 

JF: I loved both of your books and would love to see Jamie and Prism again. Any plans for future adventures for these guys?

 

NB: I have a short story idea for Kieran wherein Detective Stone drops by for some help on a case he thinks might be similar to the events of Pride Week, but the timing is bad: Sebastien is away at a leather competition, which means Kieran is left wrangling Pilot. Which, as you can imagine, wouldn’t go smoothly. I also have the barest of bare ideas in outline for a sequel, but I don’t think I want to write a novel back-to-back with the same characters. I will say that – for the first time ever – I have a title from step one: Flame.

 

JR: I kind of love them too. When I wrote the ending, I didn’t see how I could possibly continue the story after what I do to them. But, I do have an idea that I’ve been working on sporadically. We’ll see.

 

JF: OK, fellas, last question. If there’s one thing you’d like readers to take away from your book, what would it be?

 

NB: You’re not alone, and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – wrong with asking for help.

 

JR: I didn’t really have an idea or a message in mind as a takeaway for readers when I wrote this. I think there’s this sort of magic that happens between the reader and the book that is sort of outside the writer’s influence—and that’s how it should be, I think. I just wanted to write something I thought the teenage version of me would have wanted to read, since there weren’t any books that I found at that age that featured gay characters that were suitable for teen reading. I later found wonderful books like Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, and E.M. Forster’s Maurice. By then I was eighteen and my reaction was like, “We do exist.” 

 

I just hope readers enjoy The Unwanted and consider it time well spent.

Bold Strokes Books Interview with Author Jeffrey Ricker

by Connie Ward

JefferyRickerLg

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

Bull-headedness, I suppose. I know that sounds flip, but I think stubbornness and persistence have a lot to do with it. When I was deciding what to study in college and I said I wanted to be a writer, my parents told me, “Well, if you want to do that, do something practical like journalism.” Go ahead, laugh. I know how ridiculous that sounds now, but it was 1987 and nobody really had a clue how much the media landscape would shift.

I kept writing fiction off and on during that time though, and after about twenty years (practically overnight!) I started getting stories published in anthologies. One thing led to another, which led to Detours, my first novel.

What type of stories do you write? And, why?

Fun stories, I hope. I tend not to stick to one particular genre—which probably makes me tough to market! I’ve written science fiction, romance, erotica, nonfiction, and probably a few genres I’m forgetting. I also write straight-on literary fiction, but I do tend to enjoy a bit of the weird and more than a touch of the gay. I like mashing up genres because it makes me look at the usual in a different way. At the most basic level I hope that someone reads what I write and is entertained. If they’re moved on a deeper level, then I’ve really done my job.

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

Everyone’s been really supportive. My friends and family are some of my biggest boosters, cheerleaders, and all-around pep squad. Probably the most meaningful review I’ve gotten of my writing was from my dad when he read Detours BSB_Detours_3dsand told my mother, “Wow, the kid can write.”

Where do you get your ideas?

The produce section. I try to buy in bulk.

But seriously, they come from all over the place—random bits of conversation, things I read in passing, eavesdropping. I just tend to jot them down to have them on hand for future reference. I’ve also written stories based on parameters in calls for submission—I think the question on what types of stories I write has some bearing on this. I try not to limit myself; as long as it’s a topic or a genre I’m interested in, I’ll give it a go. And if I say to myself, “Oh, I can’t write that; I’ve never tried” I try to follow it up with, “Well then, how do you know?”

Also, it’s a well-known fact that ideas will come to you at the least opportune moments: in the shower, right before bed, or when you’re in the middle of a run and have nothing to write on. The notes app on a phone can be handy on a run, but electronics and showers don’t mix well, and writing in the dark is simply impossible.

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

A little of both. If it’s a book, I usually start by the seat of my pants until I know it’s got legs, and then I pause and start working out a plan. This usually happens after about fifty pages. I’m not sure why it seems to happen in that range, but it does. If it’s a short story, I may just seat-of-the-pants it all the way through.

When I revise, I like to work on a hard copy. One sort of idea I got from writer Alexander Chee, when I’m revising, I lay out as many pages as I can on a big table so I can see the story, this big thing that it’s become. It makes it easier to see where things are too long or too short, and to start shuffling things around and making connections that aren’t as evident when it’s viewed linearly, one page at a time.

Sadly, it means I use up a lot of dead trees. This is why I try to always buy recycled printer paper.

I don’t always write on a computer either. Back home, I have a Remington Quiet-Riter (yes, that’s how the model name’s spelled) typewriter. My partner bought it for me years ago, and I start writing on it when I need to slow down. If I need to really slow down, I grab a pen and paper. I’ve also been known to peck out a story draft on my phone. Writing on buses is a thing, I tell you.

What makes The Unwanted special to you?

It’s odd, I don’t remember when or how I set out to write a YA novel, but now it feels like the most natural thing. I had it in mind when I started writing “The Trouble with Billy,” which was in the anthology Speaking Out. I wanted to get to know the characters a little better, and that story was the result. I think they’ve changed a bit in the transition from that story to the novel, but they’re no less special to me.

When I was a teenager back in the ’80s, there weren’t a lot of options when I looked hesitantly for books with queer characters that I could relate to. I found writers like Alan Hollinghurst and Armistead Maupin, but they were writing about (wonderful) characters at a significant remove from my own age and experience. There just wasn’t a lot of queer YA; Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story was probably the closest, but that felt more like an adult book to me too.

Plus, I loved reading fantasy and science fiction as a kid, and finding a book in those genres with queer characters just wasn’t happening. The UnwantedThe Unwanted 300 DPI is the sort of thing I wanted to read when I was a teenager.

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

That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? When I was doing readings for Detours, someone asked how my mother felt about being in my book. “Well, she’s not in it” was my answer, and it’s true. Rachel, the mother in Detours, is nothing like my mother, who is far more formidable and very much alive (and has never, to my knowledge, worn a peach silk robe).

At the same time, I would be lying if I said my characters were completely devoid of traits from people I’ve known in real life. It’s never a conscious thing, but you assemble characters from the raw materials of your memory, and there’s no telling where those things came from. There is no one in my stories or novels who is cut whole cloth from someone I know. Besides, where’s the fun in that?

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

My friends and peers who write inspire me: Rob Byrnes, Greg Herren, Carsen Taite, Tom Mendicino. ’Nathan Burgoine in particular, because we both published out first short stories in the same anthology (Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction). My favorite author is actually straight (and dead): F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Don’t listen too much to the advice given by other writers. 🙂 Just write, don’t stop writing, and you’ll figure out what works for you.

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

Sleep. I also work out regularly: running, weightlifting, yoga. I just took up climbing, which I’m still terrible at, but it’s a lot of fun. And painful. You’d think I’d be in better shape doing all this stuff, but unfortunately I have an inordinate love of cheese. My partner and I watch movies a lot. At the moment I’m in grad school getting my MFA in creative writing, and when I’m not writing I’m exploring Vancouver, which is an amazing, beautiful place.

And I read. I read a lot.

Which is the favorite of the books/stories you’ve written and why?

That’s like asking a parent which is your favorite kid. For my writing, it’s always the most recent thing I’ve finished. Seriously, if someone asked me a question about a story I wrote even a couple years ago, I’d probably have a hard time remembering the characters’ names, much less the details. I have a terrible memory, which is why I write everything down. The project I’m working on at the moment is the one that commands my attention and my interest.

I guess that makes me sound pretty fickle, doesn’t it?

Jump Around!

Meet Bold Strokes Books author Jeffrey Ricker. He seems to have a story in every genre that exists. Go Jeffrey!

And for those of you who are dying to know what bildungsroman means, here you go: a novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character.

Squelching the Sophomore Slump

Jerry L. Wheeler

This year has been quite heady for me, but it all really started in September 2010 when my first anthology of erotica, Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from under the Big Top, was published by Lethe Press. It got some great reviews, but gay circus erotica is—to say the least—a niche market, and I was ecstatic to simply get my firstborn out into the world.

And then it became a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

I had put it into nomination with faint hope and $35.00, and I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I was when I checked the website the morning the finalists were announced to find that Tented was among them. Coincidentally, I had been contacted by the judging coordinator of the Lammys to judge another category, so the Lammys loomed large for me. I made reservations and plans to go to NYC.

I lost. Or as my friends say, I didn’t win.

And I was okay with that. As the losers (or not winners) on all awards telecasts say when the cameras are on, “It’s just an honor to be nominated.” And it was—especially for my first book out. My powers of rationalization then took over, and I considered how difficult it would have been for my next project to measure up had I actually tripped my way to the stage and took home an award. Losing (or not winning) never looked better. But Tented had achieved some measure of success, and I had to make sure the next book was up to snuff.

As my introduction to Riding the Rails suggests, a personal experience with sex on trains led me to want to do a whole anthology with that theme. There’s such a wonderful connection to the past with trains, not to mention so many opportunities for sex, that I  knew authors would be intrigued by the concept. And if my authors are intrigued, so are my readers.

With all my anthologies, I strive for themes not normally explored in erotica. Whenever I encounter a list of Calls for Submissions, I’m chagrined by the lack of variety in those calls—it’s all daddies and college boys and twinks. I like something new and different—like circus sex (and yes, there were clowns in that book). And train sex. And restaurant sex (that’s the book after Riding the Rails, called The Dirty Diner, due out July 2012 from the wonderful people at Bold Strokes Books).

And, apparently, authors enjoy writing for those calls. I received some amazing stories for Riding the Rails—historical stories, time travel stories, interplanetary stories, psychological stories, even a story about a sex angel. Of course, it helps if you have a core group of authors to work with. I usually put a closed call for submissions out simply because I like knowing the people I work with. It seriously cuts down on the drama. But again, you have to keep things fresh, so I’m always adding and subtracting names from that list.

And Riding the Rails has some of the best and brightest names working in erotica today, featuring established favorites (Jeff Mann, Dale Chase, William Holden, Gavin Atlas, ‘Nathan Burgoine, Rob Rosen, Hank Edwards, Rick R. Reed, Erastes), up and comers (Joseph Baneth Allen, Jeffrey Ricker, Daniel M. Jaffe, Jay Neal, Dusty Taylor) and first publications (J.D. Barton) with an incredible array of stories—some hilarious, some bittersweet, some romantic, some creepy and some flat-out weird. But all of them have the hottest sex you’ll ever see on trains.

My cure for the sophomore slump? Come up with a creative concept, surround yourself with as much talent as possible, edit with scissors instead of pruning shears, find a supportive publisher and …

… maybe this year I’ll get to use that acceptance speech.

Defining moments

By Jeffrey Ricker

What’s the biggest and most defining moment of your life?

A friend asked me this question recently, and my initial response was, Only one? I’m not sure I could point to one particular moment. The question reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother a number of years ago. I can’t remember how we got on the topic—perhaps we were talking about my grandmother, who was an irascible, often unhappy woman for most of the time I knew her. However it started, we got on the subject of my high school and college years, and I asked her a) if she thought people really changed, and b) if she’d thought I’d changed, because I felt like I had. She said, rather, that she didn’t think I’d changed in a fundamental way. I was still the same person I was when I was a kid. Rather, she said, we tend to grow into ourselves as we progress through our life.

I tend to think that’s true. A life is an accumulation of decision points, choices and signposts along the way, and altering any one of them might possibly change the outcome of our life profoundly. So I could point to any number of moments along the way: choosing to go to New Hampshire for college, then choosing a year later to transfer to Missouri. Spending a summer in D.C. instead of going with my parents to London. Turning down a job offer for a copy editor post at an English language daily in Prague (I’m still kicking myself over that). Saying yes to another date with Mike. Buying a house. Selling a house. Forging the friendships that led to my first publication and, eventually, my first novel.

There’s usually a defining moment for a character in a novel, but if you imagined their lives beyond the pages of the book, certainly you could conjure up any number of turning points for them. (And really, it’s good if you get more than one such moment in a book.)

But if we spend our lives becoming more fully who we are, as opposed to truly changing, does that mean our sense of choice is an illusion? When we get to those defining moments, it would mean that really, there’s only one outcome we would choose, one decision we would make.

Is it one or the other? What defines your life?

In search of discipline

By Jeffrey Ricker

In just about every aspect of life these days, I’ve been pretty much the equivalent of a juvenile delinquent.

My eating habits have devolved to something slightly above those of a college student. A glass of wine becomes “well the bottle’s open we might as well finish it off.” A recent little accident led to a pulled muscle, which meant I didn’t get to the gym for almost three weeks. Now, if I’d been disciplined, I’d have reined in my eating habits to compensate. But, no.

On top of all that, my writing output has slowed to a trickle because I’m working on revising a story that’s become complicated and a bit murky, and I’m perpetually procrastinating on starting the second draft of book number two. A day’s worth of good intentions go out the browser window when I sit down to look something up online and—ooh, shiny!

Note that by loss of discipline I don’t mean lack of inspiration. Personally, I don’t believe in waiting until inspiration strikes in order to write, and I don’t know any serious writers who do either. To me, that’s like saying, “I don’t think I’ll go to the office and work until I really feel inspired.” That’s a surefire way to get fired.

In other words, if I had to punch a clock on my writing lately, I’d have been out on my ass some time ago.

On the suggestion of my friend Scott, I’ve decided to carve out a tiny island of discipline in this month, at least. I’ve signed up for 100 Words, which basically only has one rule: write 100 words a day, every day, for a month. It can be about anything. The entries don’t have to be individual stories; they don’t have to add up to be a complete story by the end of the month (though I suppose they could, which is an interesting idea, now that I think of it). It’s a little less (OK, a lot less) daunting than NaNoWriMo, and in my case, I hope it helps springboard me into further writing for the rest of the day.

I’m on day five now, and it hasn’t really done that, but at least I’ve got five vignettes that I didn’t have at the beginning of the month.

I’d love to hear how others tackle this situation, so tell me: what do you do when you’ve lost your discipline?

(Excerpt from “Lifeblood,” published in Blood Sacraments from Bold Strokes Books)

Let’s get one thing straight: I never bit Darren. I never drank from him. I never tried to turn him into one of us. I didn’t even think about it until the end. If I’d offered, though, he would have said no, of course. I could have begged, but I think I’ve forgotten how to do that. I would have done anything Darren wanted. I would have walked right out into broad daylight if he’d asked me to.


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