Romance author Kate Sherwood is best known for her novels Dark Horse and Shying Away. Her ability to write intense scenes keeps readers hooked. Her stories keep the pages flying and the readers excited for more.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
Like so many others, I came to m/m fiction through fanfic. And I actually stumbled over fanfic by accident.
I was roaming around the internet one day, stumbled across a really beautifully written, really poetic, really imaginative piece of reading, and I tracked down some more of the author’s work and became a fan, and only then started to wonder just who these guys were she was writing about.
I can sadly no longer remember who the author was, but the guys were Sam and Dean Winchester (Supernatural). I think the first piece I read was one about what Dean was doing while Sam was away at school, and it was bleak and beautiful and toward the end Dean cleaned out a basement full of rapacious vampires with the help of… someone he’d met along the way, and the father was there being remote and angsty and not useful, and… I can’t remember much more, but I loved it. I tuned into the show and found that it lacked the depth and beauty of the best of the fics I read – so I was never really a fan of the show, but I was a fan of some of the fandom, if that makes sense.
Started writing a bit in fandom, and then switched to ‘pro’ writing more or less as an experiment.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
I started my career by sending Dark Horse to Dreamspinner. And I picked them because they were the only house I could find that would accept something so long! I’ve loved working with them, so it was felicitous, but I can’t pretend I put a lot of research into the decision.
I wouldn’t say my fan base is humongous, but whatever readers I have come from reading and liking the books. I’ve never done much promo, never done swag or gone to conferences or any of that… I just try to write the best books I can, and hope they will inspire people to read more of my stuff.
You write under a pseudonym. Why?
I live in a small town and work in fairly conservative field. I don’t think I could get fired or anything if people knew what I was writing, but I prefer to keep the two worlds separate. Things are tidier that way!
Have your ties to Canada influenced your writing?
I expect they have – well, they’ve certainly influenced the content of my writing: I think more than half of my stories, if you ignore all the Dark Horse shorts, are set in Canada, and I think I can write about places with more authenticity when I’ve lived in them.
I think being Canadian may have influenced my style a little, too. I mean, obviously civil rights (including rights for gay people) are something Canada’s doing pretty well (with a few glaring and horrible exceptions), so I think I have a comfort level that others might not. But I also think Canada’s place next to the US has an influence on my writing – I’m close enough that I can write Americans fairly convincingly, but I have enough distance to get a slightly different perspective, sometimes. And I think feeling like you’re on the outside looking in can be a really good thing for a writer, helping to develop observational and analytic skills that can really help build characters.
Possibly that’s all nonsense, but I think it’s at least possible!
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
I don’t really have fears about this. No conservative grandparents or homophobic bosses to worry about. My pseudonym is more about simplicity than about fear. I like keeping things tidy, but if there’s a spillover, it wouldn’t be tragic.
What was it like creating the emotional relationship between Dan Wheeler and his lovers?
And here’s where my bad memory becomes a problem… I don’t really remember writing Dark Horse, at least not in general. I was dealing with some personal sorrow at the time, so I remember crying a lot when I was writing the first part of the book, but after that I was really just focused on trying to figure out what Dan needed, and seeing whether Jeff and Evan could give that to him.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I don’t really know! And I’ve read too many explanations from others that didn’t ring true to me to feel qualified to offer my own speculation.
For myself, I read m/m and m/f about equally, and have recently been trying to read more f/f. And of course I read non-romance as well. I think the big appeal of m/m for me, really, is the lower frequency of alphaholes. I get SO angry reading het romance where the man is dominant to the point of being abusive and it’s somehow a sign of how much he loves the woman! No! That’s not love, that’s obsession. Two different things. And I lose respect for heroines who can’t see that.
In terms of why I WRITE mostly m/m, it’s because that’s what sells, for me! I’ve got a het romance with my agent right now and she’s trying to sell it, but it’s a hell of a lot harder than just sending an e-mail off to DSP or Samhain and being reasonably confident they’ll reply with an acceptance.
Do you find that horseback riding is a great way to clear your mind to think about your writing?
For me, no. Mostly when I’m riding I’m thinking pretty hard (if I’m on my own and trying to train the horse) or I’m being social (if there are other riders around). I clear my mind best with more mindless activities – I have a rowing ergometer that’s good, or else a nice long shower usually works. But riding makes me think about riding, so that’s no good for writing!
What are you currently working on?
I have about five projects at various stages of first-draft writing. There are two m/m projects: one is a contemporary story set in rural Montana, with a VERY slow-burn romance between a deputy sheriff and a local criminal (they were childhood friends/teen lovers); the other is a sort of alternate universe thing, kind of like a fantasy story but without dragons or magic or anything – just the low tech society and hot men fighting with swords. I could have made it a historical, but I wanted to play with the social structures, so I went alternate universe instead.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
My process is evolving. At first I was pretty much a sit-down-and-open-up-a-vein kind of writer. I had NO idea where I was going or how to get there, I just charged through and saw what I had. Then a quick re-read to catch typos and it would be off to the publishers.
Now, I’m a bit less immersive.As I said above, I’ll have several WIPs going at the same time and hop back and forth from one to another as the mood strikes me. Still no outline, but a better internalized understanding of structure, so I don’t tend to write myself into so many corners (I love Dark Horse, and it’s probably my best job ever of getting emotions onto the page, raw and pure, but I wish I’d known a bit more about structure and technique when I was working on it. I think it could have been just as effective with a bit less wandering around).
Anyway the first draft is still pretty much just typing as I go. I’ve tried to outline but it rarely works for me. If I do get stuck on something I may get a pencil and paper and scratch out some ideas of where things are going, but that’s about it.
Then I send the MS off to beta readers and tell them to take their time; I’m going to write a whole new book before I go back and look at the one they read. So I give myself a few months to get ‘fresh eyes’, read the betas’ comments, make a few changes, read it all over again, and then send it off. Still not a lot of self-editing, but more than I used to do!
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
It really depends on how busy I am with the rest of my life. If I’m not working and if I have an idea I really have a good feel for, a novel takes a few weeks. But often I’m busy with real life or editing or whatever else, so things get dragged out. I write 520K words a year (10K words a week), so that’s about 5 or 6 novels a year. About two months a book, I guess!
What, or who, was the inspiration for Lucas Cain?
Lucas is actually song-based, which is pretty rare for me. But I was, for some reason I can’t recall, listening to a lot of Dropkick Murphies for a while, and I was intrigued by all this raw male aggression and hooliganism combined with some real sweetness towards friends and family. So… Lucas and his old friends were definitely inspired by that.
And this may be another way being Canadian has influenced my writing, because the other song that really caught me was “38 Years Old” by the Tragically Hip (an iconic Canadian band). It’s a song I’ve been hearing all my life, but I was in a grocery store a year or so again and it started playing on the radio that broadcasts through the store and I guess I was in weird mood but I listened to the lyrics for the first time in a long while and I almost started crying! I’m a bit of a suck, I admit, but it’s also a REALLY sad song, and it’s so real and it’s all so pointless and cruel and… Lucas! (the video’s on Youtube and the lyrics are easy to google – if you don’t know the song, give it a try).
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?
I don’t think I have any great wisdom to share…. For prospective writers, I’d recommend that they READ, READ, READ. Not just the genre, but every damn thing. Read classics, read modern literature, read poetry, read song lyrics, read magazines and non-fiction… read! It’s a good way to internalize the way language works, but it’s also great inspiration for finding things to write about.
In terms of building an audience? I wish I knew! My best sales came from my very first book – all downhill from there! Well, not downhill, exactly – I think I have a cozy little spot in the midlist, as long as I don’t try to break out of writing m/m contemporary. But I’ve never had the Amazon rankings OR the long-term sales I saw with Dark Horse. My current release, Mark of Cain, is getting really good reviews, but I think it was in the Amazon genre top ten for about a day… Dark Horse was number one for a week or more. (I know, the market was smaller back then, it was easier to be number one… but, still I’ve never gotten the same level of hype for any later books).
So… I don’t know what that means. Keep writing debut novels? Or, more likely, try to focus less on the sales and more on the writing. If you’re trying to make a living from writing, that’s a different thing, but if you’re just looking for a hobby and some extra cash? Write the best you can, enjoy the writing as much as you can, and treat the rest of it as essentially out of your control. It may not be the best way to conquer the market, but I think it’s a good way to stay sane and build a long-term career. For me, at least!