Barbara Elsborg is best known for her novels With or Without Him and Strangers. She has a skill in creating worlds that suck readers in, keeping the pages turning. Whatever she will write next, her readers will not hesitate in reading the next novel.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
The second book I ever had published was an MMF – so I’d written about gay guys before, just not in a book of their own. One thing I like to do when I’m writing is swing the changes – so along with swapping between MM, MF and MMF, I also shift between contemporary, paranormal and sci fi. I think that probably indicates that I like variety! And that’s all it is. No sudden ray of light suggesting I write an MM, or a deep desire to explore those relationships – though I do of course – it was just something that interested me and once I’d written one and saw how much I enjoyed writing about two guys – I was hooked.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
I began writing as a teenager – fan fiction for TV series. Morphed from that to suspense novels and then to romance but I couldn’t find anyone interested in publishing what I wrote. In those days, it was snail mail and three chapters printed out and woe betide you if you subbed to more than one person at the same time. I was also writing in a vacuum. I had no idea whether I was writing crap or not (some might say I still do! LOL) so I joined Critique Circle – honed my craft, saw others get accepted by ebook publishers and decided to try. I sent my book to the biggest – Ellora’s Cave – and it was accepted.
Oh if only my fan base was humungous! It isn’t. I think writing such a variety actually deters followers. Many who read MF – won’t touch MM and vice versa. But the main thing to do is keep writing books, talk to people on social media (not just about how you’ve written some marvellous tale), and make friends. I’ve never had so many friends and I know they’re virtual but I’m just as worried for them, excited for them, sad for them as if they lived next door. I love them all.
What is it like to paint happy endings in your romances, no matter the obstacles? Is it hard to portray a believable perfect ending?
Happy endings are compulsory for me. I can get stroppy when I find out at the end of the book that it’s the start of a series. Sometimes I even have the final scene in my head before I start writing. It might change as I write but it’s still there as inspiration. I do give my characters fairly awful past histories. That’s been true right from the first stories I wrote in my teens. About teenagers whose families hated them, beat them, misused them. My mum and dad were lovely so I don’t know quite where all that came from – well, apart from the fact that I hated my teens, hated school, hated my life. Oh damn – confession time!
Believable perfect endings? As long as the reader and writer believe them, that’s all that matters. I know real life is not like the books I write but I believe in giving readers the hope that life CAN be like that, that love can be found, that their happy ending is just around the corner.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
I’m cheating a bit here because my mother is dead – but she would have been very upset. She was not in the slightest bit open minded and used to write to the BBC if there was even a naked chest on the TV or a hint of cheating in a TV soap. I’m not saying she’d have disowned me, but she’d have made her displeasure very clear. She was of a generation that didn’t really understand how – why people could be different sexually. I’m sure she’d never met a gay guy or woman but she didn’t WANT to understand anything about the way they felt. The word bigot comes to mind.
What was it like creating Tyler in With or Without Him?
Ah Tyler. How I love him. When I received the cover art, my first thought was – that doesn’t look like him, but it grew to look like him in my mind. Though the Tyler on the cover looks a little older than my Tyler. I had this idea of a rebel but a talented one, also a guy who’s gone down the wrong path in life and needs to be dragged back onto the right one. His back story – which I won’t reveal here – was based on true cases in the UK and in France. Sometimes when people say things aren’t realistic, I smile, because sadly, they’re all too realistic. Admittedly, I pile it on thick, but that makes it more interesting, I hope.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
Gives them TWO guys to love, to be interested in. In many ways, the stories are no different to MF ones. Relationships are driven by angst, lust or emotional need. The main players have some trauma in their pasts. But in MM books, men can be touchy feely in way a reader might not want in MF books. I think there is also a touch of voyeurism for female readers. Something unknown to explore in a private way. With an ereader, no one knows what you’re reading. I also think that there a raw energy about MM books that MF ones lack. The MM guys can be very physical and do things that are more easily forgiven than those in MF books.
What is it like to also write psychological stories, like Chosen? Do the readers of your romance series find this type of novel interesting as well?
Again with the variety! The first full length novel I ever wrote was romantic suspense – heavy on the suspense. But there was not a cat in hell’s chance of any publisher taking it. Too dark – was what I was told until Decadent gave me chance with Chosen but it’s way outside their normal fare. I love reading this sort of book which is why I wrote four of them. ( still languishing on my laptop) I’m self-publishing one in a month or so – Crossing the Line – about a Russian violinist who comes to Miami looking to avenge the murders of her family. It’s dark and violent. very violent. More so in places than Chosen. Those who read my amusing erotic romance have varying attitudes towards these books. Some hate them because they weren’t expecting rape and violence. That’s fair enough though I did warn what the book was like. Others have loved Chosen. I’ve had a lot read it who wouldn’t read an erotic romance. I do think I might have been better to publish under another name but it’s too late now. So Crossing the Line will come with a warning. There is a romance in it – so I hope those who don’t mind dark elements will give it a try.
What are you currently working?
I’ve almost finished an MM for Samhain that follows up on one character from a book they’ve already accepted. The first book is Falling – and the book I’m working on is called Running. The linking character is Conrad, a barrister. Nearly finished it.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I don’t outline. I wish I could because it would stop me writing myself into corners. I try to get the title right first because it’s a theme of the story. Then I pick the names. They have to perfect. I rarely change them once I get going. Then I sit and write and yes, I rewrite to death. At the beginning of a story, I reread from the first chapter for day after day until I feel it’s working. I constantly go back and layer in plot points or characterisations. I sometimes have to go back and change something major but that’s rare. By the time I get to the end, I’ve been over the damn thing a very large number of times. A chapter and half from the end of the one I’m working on, I decided I needed to go back to the start. So three days later, I’m almost at the point of writing on. Phew.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
I should be able to write 3 a year.
What was it like to create the dark story in Chosen? Following Kate Evans on her kidnapping journey must have been exciting to write.
It was, because I don’t plot, so I had no idea what was going to happen to her next. The thing that happened in McDonalds – had not been in my mind until that point of the story and yet it all seems essential now! I had no idea about Jack’s motive either until I was part way through and had a light bulb moment. I do think that writing this sort of tale requires more planning than I put into it! But once I get going, it’s a rollercoaster of excitement for me.
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?
Read, read and read some more. NOT just gay romances either. You have to build up your craft, learn what works and what doesn’t. The old adage you can’t please everyone – is one that every writer needs tattooed on their arm. You really can’t. So please yourself. Write what you like to read and your love for the story will shine – or it should. I often see my publishers putting out requests for submissions for certain types of story and I think – oh yes, I’ll have go – but I end up not doing it because it has to be my idea come into my head for me to want to devote my time to. No point struggling to write a men in uniform story if my head’s into cowboys. So write what you want to write. If you like gay for you – write that. If you hate BDSM – don’t write it.
As for building an audience – you just have to do that one reader at a time. Word of mouth is your greatest friend. Don’t boast, don’t fill newsfeeds with nothing but details of your book that might still have months before it comes out. Be humble, be grateful and say thank you.