Ann Lister has been writing great novels for years. She is best known for her Rock Gods series and Sheet Music. Her novels create an emotional vacuum that readers cannot escape.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
I have always had a love for m/m stories and used to write short erotic m/m stories back in the early to mid 1990’s.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
By nature, I am a story teller and I have always loved entertaining people by verbally sharing my stories. I am an artist with a very creative and active mind. Even in sleep my dreams are MGM productions, going on forever, and playing out in vivid color; which is where I get a lot of my plot ideas for the books. Combining my love to tell a story and having ideas come to me nightly through dreams gave me a perfect storm of sorts to put my stories into book form.
At first I wrote short, erotic gay stories and sold them to various magazines. Eventually I moved on to writing full length novels in the M/F contemporary romance genre. Right around the time I finished my first novel, Sheet Music: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Story, I started hearing the first rumblings of something called print-on-demand and self-publishing. I loved the concept of having total control over every aspect of the project and the royalties were all mine to keep, too. The problem was, this unconventional method of publishing was so new and cutting edge, it was up to me and my editor to research it ourselves because we had no one to talk to about it. No one we knew had tried it. Being new to the book market, I figured I had nothing to lose. My first novel released in 2009 and since then I have written 1-2 books a year and now have eight titles in print – all self-published. Early on, I noticed my books with the rock star / musician themes outsold all my other titles, so I kept writing them.
In late 2011, I was finishing up the edits for Covered In Lace: The Lacey Sheridan Story, and a story idea burst into my head. It hit as sudden as lightening with plot elements more complete than any other story I had written. It was another rock star romance story; which was the norm for me by this point, but in this one the main characters chattering about in my head were both male. Could I dare to write a full length M/M rock star romance? I ran this idea by a few people and they thought I might be committing career suicide by switching from the M/F genre to M/M and I’d probably lose a good deal of my fan base. At the very least, they were strongly suggesting I write this story using a pen name. I thought about it but decided to go with my gut. In the end, I wrote this M/M story, Fall For Me, and it turned out to be the launch point of my Rock Gods series. Take What You Want (Book Two) released in the Fall of 2013 and Make You Mine (Book Three) released in May 2014 and it reached #1 Amazon bestselling status in Gay Romance, Gay Fiction, and Gay Erotica. I guess you could say I am glad I went with my gut and wrote that story! To me, this wasn’t ‘switching’ genres. I started out writing M/M and now I am back writing it again. It feels full circle for me and its familiar and comfortable.
You write under a pseudonym. Why?
I do not use a pen name. I haven’t felt the need to do so – yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out at some point in the future.
What was it like to establish your own video production company? Winning a Telly award for your work must have been exciting.
I owned and operated my video production company for nearly 18 years and retired when the digital revolution took over. My main source of income was shooting weddings and other events, but I also did music video’s for bands, and I even videotaped one funeral. I loved the format of video and the various ways I could creatively tell a story with the visuals I was able to capture on tape.
It was the work I did within the music industry that I enjoyed the most. I was fortunate to be part of the press crew shooting footage at Farm Aid down in Manassas Virginia one year and did the camera work for an interview with Bill Bruford (best known for his drumming and percussion work with the bands Yes and King Crimson). It was the interview with Bill that earned me the Telly Award.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
Well, I can’t think of anyone right now that I’d care what their negative opinion might be of my work. I’ve worked really hard to move beyond that. It hasn’t always been easy to shrug off the stigmas that are sometimes attached to writing anything that is erotic in nature. But when you add two men as your main characters in a love story you are bound to raise a few eyebrows. It has always been, and will continue to be, about the ‘love’ in the story for me. I am a huge advocate for ‘love is love’. It shouldn’t matter if that love is expressed between two men, two women or opposite genders. Love is a gift and it should be celebrated. Not condemned or shamed.
What is it like to express creativity through creating stained glass? What do you make from it?
I have always loved what a light source looks like coming through colored glass. Several years ago I took a workshop on creating pieces of stained glass and my love grew from that. Having an art background, I design all my pieces, and then create them in my own studio. I have made everything from small window pieces to large transoms that are installed above doorways. The work is very labor intensive, but when the piece is completed it takes my breath away. I have very little free time now away from writing to work in my glass studio, but I do hope one day to get back to it.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I think women in general embrace things much easier then men. They can also see beauty easier, too. The male form is gorgeous and bringing two men together in a sensual embrace takes it to a whole other level. To me, there is something powerfully raw and beautiful about two men finding romantic love. Some straight men find two women being intimate is erotic, so why wouldn’t some women find two men being intimate erotic? The M/M genre certainly isn’t for everyone, but the audience for it is growing by huge increments every day. It seems every month the list of new authors writing in this genre is growing, too. I think the more society in general embraces the LGBT community, the genre will continue to grow.
Would you say that writing novels that center around music is your niche in the romance genre?
I didn’t start out writing the rock star romances thinking it would be my ‘niche’ in the writing world, but that sure is the way it turned out to be. I have a deep love and appreciation for music and the people that can create these amazing sounds by manipulating their fingers, mouths, etc. to give us their songs. Even the lyrics are beautiful poetry. Add that to music and that is my personal nirvana. I’ve always gravitated toward creative people in general, but especially musicians. There is nothing sexier than a man with a guitar slung low around his hips as he gyrates to the music he is creating. If you watch them closely, it is almost like they are making love to their instruments. I like to take that appeal and put it into written words on a page and make the characters come to life for the reader. It’s sort of like giving the reader a front row seat to a musician’s life – on and off the stage.
What are you currently working?
I am about 30,000 words into writing Book Four in the Rock Gods series. This story is titled Looking At Forever and I expect to have this ready for a Fall release. For those familiar with the Rock Gods series, this is Wheland’s story. He has a darker edge to him, versus the other three, and I am having a blast writing him. Plus, in this story the bands Ivory Tower and Black Ice will be back on the road touring. There will also be lots of updates on previous characters in the series and the chaos while on tour will be great! It is going to a fun read.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I start working on the story in my head first, and that part of the process can take months. I formulate almost all of the plot elements before I even sit down to type. I used to write in depth chapter-by-chapter outlines and character descriptions, but now I just write notes on the major plot points or the story arc in general. Once I sit down to type, it typically takes me around four months to complete the first draft. After that, I do a read-through and fix what I quickly see. That gives me a second draft and that is what I will send out to a handful of reliable beta readers. They have a strong understanding of the M/M genre and are also familiar with my work. I trust them to find the holes in the story and to give me honest feedback, so I can make the story as strong as possible. Using their suggestions, I get to work on a third draft. At this point I get an editor involved and together we create as many more drafts as it takes to get the story to the best it can be.
Has living in the location of Martha’s Vineyard made it easier to write an accurate description of the area for your novels?
I think with the options we now have available using the internet to research our stories, I don’t believe you must live in the area your story is set to give the story an authentic feel. I was always told in the beginning: write what you know. On some levels I would agree with that. I like to write about locations that are ‘familiar’ to me and I love to use local landmarks in my stories. Its like offering the reader a postcard glimpse at locations they may never have the opportunity to visit. Martha’s Vineyard has been in several of my stories. It is familiar to me and it is gorgeous in any season of the year. Who wouldn’t want to use that as a backdrop to a story?
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 have told many aspiring authors that writing the story is the easy part. It is the marketing of the book that becomes the ‘real job’ part of the process. I advise authors to write the story in their hearts, but also have a strong knowledge of their target market. Fully embrace social media and learn how to utilize every aspect of it for marketing your books, and also to stay connected to your readers. Establishing relationships with bloggers who specialize in your genre is also very important. If your book isn’t marketed properly you will not get the sales you want. You can’t have the book without the marketing, so it really pays to do it right.
But the bottom line is, write what you love and write every day.