Quite frankly, bestselling gay romance author Sara York is my hero. The author of Colorado Fire, Pray the Gay Away, and many other books, she has an ability to tug at the heart strings and keep the pages turning like nobody’s business. When she agreed to this interview with little ol’ me, I was both surprised and elated.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
The path to writing two men in love was long and filled with questions that made me reevaluate everything in my life. I’ve spoken before about my parents and how homophobic they were. When you live in an environment that fully accepts and supports homophobia, you don’t know it’s wrong until you do. My favorite cousin is gay. There were “discussions” about how worried my parents and his parents were. The talks escalated to the point that my father threatened to kill my cousin if he showed his face on our property. Crazy, I know. Though I had friends in high school who were gay but they weren’t out. I don’t think any guys or girls were out as gay even through college. At my first job there were no gays out. In the south, being out meant risking your life. There were pockets of freedom where gay districts were established, but they were few and far between. So when I finally found a book with two men who loved each other and weren’t freaks, or didn’t end up being killed in the end, or killing each other, I fell in love. I’d always had an easier time writing men than women, so the fit was natural. Having the freedom to express the beauty of gay relationships was amazing. I didn’t make the decision overnight. I knew being gay wasn’t wrong, but in the south the resounding sentiment was that gay was not okay. I did it anyway and chose to write what I wanted to write. I knew what I was doing. I knew that writing gay romance would not be a popular choice with many people I was acquainted with. When I first started writing I had no idea that what I wrote would change other people’s minds on the issues of gay marriage and equality. All I wanted to do was write.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
I started writing after my mother passed away. My first book took me over a year and it sucked. I kept writing and finally finished a book that was decent. Murder Stalks was my first published book and it took me years to get that published. Back then, KDP wasn’t available, nor was Smashwords or any of the other publishing sites. The only way to self-publish was to spend thousands and be taken advantage of. After a couple of years and few sales because the only way to buy was in B&N really and they didn’t welcome small press authors, KDP came on the scene and changed the book buying landscape. Few readers realize how manipulated they were into only buying certain types of books by the big box retailers. Now, with Kindle, the Nook, iBooks, and other reading devices the customer can actually choose what types of books they want to read. When I first started writing, there were very few gay romance books so all of my beginning books were straight romances. I love writing stories of overcoming odds, building lives, and shaping futures from pain that should devastate the character but somehow they overcome the adversity and move on. My passion for telling stories that breakthrough understanding, showing that love is love, and giving people hope is my favorite part of writing. I don’t think I have a humongous fan base. To me, each person who actually spends the money to buy my books is special. I appreciate each reader tremendously. Without my readers, I’d be nothing.
What does your hubbie think about you writing gay romance? Does he ever read some of it?
My husband does read my work. Not everything but he is a fan of the Colorado Heart Series. And yes, he’s pressuring me to finish my next book. It kind of sucks because I can’t talk to him about the plot or problems I’m having with it. It’s a little frustrating, but okay. As for how he feels about it, for him it’s just like any other book. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who is supportive, but that’s really how it should be when you have a life partner.
Tell us about A Southern Thing. What was your inspiration for writing it? And is it possible to “pray the gay away”?
I’ve spoken a bit about my history. Growing up with a gay cousin in a very homophobic family allowed me to see the truth behind how terrible gays are treated and the ridiculousness of homophobia. Being afraid of two men or two women loving each other is the height of ignorance. Shortly before our oldest was set to enter school we realized that he was too hyper to attend public school and be successful. Home schooling in the south means that you are going to be involved with a bunch of very conservative Christians. I’ve heard the arguments these people have against gays and witnessed their hatred. I knew what these people were about. I’ve also seen the abuses they think are normal when it comes to having children, it’s really terrible. When I read Double Full by Kindle Alexander I wondered what would have happened had Colt Michaels grown up in a different family. What if his father had been a preacher? I took my history, what I’d grown up with, what I’d seen from Christian parents, the abuse I’d seen them put their children through and created the series. When I first started writing Pray The Gay Away, I expected to get maybe sixty thousand words total. In the end, I got so much more. Too many kids are put through abuses by their parents, their churches, and their teachers because they don’t conform to a narrow-minded view of what they should be like. The abuse is terrible, and these kids have no choice but to do what their parents say. I wanted to present the truth, that it’s not possible to pray the gay away. The children of these people may find a way to hide the truth, live out a lie as they convince their parents that they are straight, but they will always be gay.
Do you think today with so many pro sports players coming out of the closet, someone like Jack would have such a difficult time doing so?
Every gay, bi, trans, or questioning person has to live according to their own reality. I’ve had letters from people who were unhappy with characters having issues with coming out. They don’t believe that anyone has issues being gay because they were accepted fully and their friends were accepted, but that’s not the way it is everywhere. In many areas, even in states where there is acceptance, gay kids are shunned. Each family has truths that dictate how each member can act. For many, especially now, being gay isn’t a big deal. However, there are still many gay youth who have no choice but to pretend to be straight. If they show any signs of being gay, they will be sent away. Lance Bass recently put together a film about kids sent to the Dominican Republic and held in schools because their parents believed them to be gay. How scary is that? Being shipped away from home, forced to live in a foreign country, trapped in an environment that is less that hospitable, no family, no loved ones and you have to prove you’re not gay. Jack would have just as much difficulty. There are plenty of Jack’s out there. They may be gay, bi, or lesbians, but they are out there, forced to live a lie because no one in their family will support them. They have nothing other than their lies about their lives to rule them. If they are truthful, then they lose their family, their support systems, and their peace. It’s the reason why gay youth commit suicide. It’s why people hide and lie, deciding that denying who they are is more important than living the truth. The statistics about gay youth being homeless is staggering. We might have some progress on the issues, but there are still way too many ignorant people out there who would rather kill their kids than accept that they are gay.
How many years do you think it’ll take for 95% of America to truly not care if you are gay or not?
I honestly believe it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The overly religious bigots are not going to stop. Yes, they are beat in the courts, but they are telling their followers lies that have them afraid. They know they are beat, but that means they will lash out, trying hard to delay the advancements made. The Republican incumbents in Virginia and Oklahoma were defeated by men who are ten times worse than the Republicans were. Australia was moving forward on gay rights until their new Prime Minister came into power. Gay rights are only available as long as we continue to support them. The rabid anti-gay rights contingency will continue to try to take offices, spreading their lies to anyone who will listen. It’s important to show the world that love is love. Eventually, there will be enough people who won’t care if someone is gay or straight, and then we can have real progress unimpeded by bigots, but I think it will be a while before that happens. I’m not talking about years, but decades. The far right are amassing an army of liars hell-bent on getting their politicians in office no matter what measure they have to take. It’s going to get worse, and people who care about gays have to get out and vote for candidates who care about gay rights. Gay advocates must write their congressmen and congresswomen, their governors, their representatives, and our President and tell them what you care about. If we don’t continue to support LGBT charities who lobby politicians, the other side will win, because they are writing letters, speaking out, and trying to squash freedoms.
There are 3 books in that series, right? Did you outline the entire series or did you do it one at a time?
I write weirdly. After I realized the A Southern Thing series was going to be big, I had to write some of it down. I had most of the series in my head, but not on paper. I knew where I want to go, but the details weren’t ironed out.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I think women just love a good story. Because gay relationships are not accepted as readily as straight, authors of gay stories are held to a higher standard. Yes, there are many new authors in the m/m genre and they need time to learn, but authors of straight stories can get away with so much more. Stories that are gay are picked to death, trashed, and the author maligned even if there are no problems with the story. I’ve seen it happen so many times it’s ridiculous. Gay stories are gaining popularity because the authors are damn good. I’ve heard scuttle inside the genre about how certain authors don’t write well, or certain authors should be barred from the genre, usually that’s just plain and simple jealousy. Authors of gay literature put together good stories with well thought out plots and engaging characters. That’s the type of story women like to read.
What are you currently working?
I’m in the middle of the next Colorado Heart book. I hope to finish it soon. I’m also working on a super special series that will be out with Wilde City Press next year. It’s going to be beautiful and amazing, but it will not come out for a while so no revealing what it will be about.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I don’t outline for the most part. I’m working on a book with Ethan Stone and he outlines. But for some reason we can work together. For me, I start working out a story in my head about a year before I start writing. There are a few exceptions, like the A Southern Thing series. That came in a flash, taking me by surprise. Once I figure out what I’m going to do with the series I may write a few lines describing where I want to go, but it’s not a real outline. Many times the characters surprise me. I like the surprises my characters throw at me. It’s the fun and fascination of learning a character and how they behave that is exciting. I have done detailed outlines before and I can follow them, but I do break away from the outline and go a different path once I get into the book. The main exception is I will outline thrillers. There are a lot of intricate details that need to happen if you’re writing a thriller. When foreshadowing and character building is very intricate it helps to have a step-by-step guide. My longest outline was 15 pages long. I wrote most of that book over a long weekend. It went so fast because I’d spent weeks working out every scene before I even typed the first paragraph.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
If I have nothing else to do, it takes me about 2 weeks. However, I never have time like that now. I will be doing a few writing retreats over the next few years where I spend time only writing and I plan on getting more serious about how my time is spent this summer, but that means no social media and few other activities.
What advice do you have for those thinking about writing gay romance and what advice do you have for those who are trying to build an audience from scratch?
Write. Really, the best form of advertising is writing another book. Being new is hard. I do write under a couple of different names for multiple reasons and only one other name is tied to Sara York. It’s humbling to not sell. And it’s refreshing to go back to the beginning and start from scratch. I value every reader, every person who promotes my books, and every person who talks to me about my books. Being hung up on yourself is a death knell for an author. Just because your last book sold doesn’t mean your next will. Care more about the quality of your story, the quality of your characters, and the quality of your writing than you do about how many books sell. One book I recently finished I’m very proud of. I love that book, but it’s not under a name associated with me. I took a lot of time to make that story work, and that’s what I want to do with all of my books. That’s what I’d tell a new author. Slow down, take time, and work hard because eventually you’ll sell.