K.A. Mitchell is best known for her Florida Books and Bad in Baltimore series. Her novels take readers through the emotions of the characters through to the last page.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
I don’t know that I was ever not interested in it. I started writing romance stories in my teens. I always included gay/lesbian characters, whether their orientation was clear on the page or something only I knew. As a reader, gay romance drew me even before I realized I was a lesbian. And I can’t explain why I’ve always preferred gay male stories over lesbian stories any more than I can explain why I’m queer. It’s just what works for me.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
I think I was lucky to get in on “the ground floor,” so to speak. Most writers will tell you that there are only so many things you can control about your career, the number one thing being write the best books you can and don’t try to capitalize on any specific market trend (unless that’s the book you’re dying to write.) Whether you happen to hit a genre or subgenre or niche at the right time isn’t something that’s always in your control, but when you write with passion, it shows and people respond to that. Another thing that I think I had going for me was that I was able to write faster then, so I stayed fresh in readers’ minds.
I’ve always wanted to be an author, to earn a living with my writing. In the beginning, I was trying to sell heterosexual romance (always with my gay characters having lives in my head, if not on the page) and, sometimes, I would have to stop and write out their stories, even though I didn’t know it was a way to earn a living with my writing. Then one of my critique partners told me that digital publishers were buying gay romance, and I was off to the races.
You write under a pseudonym. Why?
My yearning to be an author was never tied to a desire to see my name on the cover of a book. As soon as I learned about pen names (the Brontes), I knew I wanted one. Secret identity for the win! When I knew I’d be a genre author, I focused my attention on names that would put me at eye-level on the shelves of my bookstore, a name in the K-M range. I had a few in mind before I sold my first book to Samhain. I went with initials so that a reader could choose to not know my gender, but made it clear in my bio I was female. I’m good with a secret identity as far as a name goes, but not so much as far as who I am.
What was it like to discover your enjoyment for m/m while playing Barbie with friends at a young age?
It’s funny. There was no illicit thrill to it, beyond the fact that we knew the two dolls in bed together was a “grown-up” thing. I was never squicked by the idea of two boys or two girls kissing. It seemed far more “natural” to me as a child than a boy-girl kiss. It never occurred to me that people found it inappropriate, whereas Ken and Barbie was okay for play. As I got older I realized people had a problem with same-sex love, I knew coming out was going to be really hard, but I never understood why it was such a threat to them. Still don’t.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
Honestly, I have no problem telling any person in my life or a complete stranger what I write. I have certain boundaries in place for younger family members and acquaintances, telling them the content is “adult.” Both of my grandmothers were alive when my first books were published and claimed to have read a book of mine. One carried Regularly Scheduled Life around the nursing home with her. She had memory issues and could reread it all the time without remembering she’d read it. She said she skimmed the sex stuff. Of course I’m freaked by my mom reading any sex scenes I write, and I’m trying not to think about her reading the very serious D/s relationship in Bad Behavior, but that would be true no matter the gender of the characters. I tried to tell her she didn’t have to read my stuff when it first came out, as she’d never read the genre before, but she does and she takes recommendations for other gay romance books I think she’d like.
My father proudly calls me “The Queen of Porn.” No insult implied. It’s not his cup of tea, but he thinks it’s awesome that I’m good enough at it to pay my bills with it and that I’m happy.
I had an uncle come up with some salacious questions at my grandmother’s funeral which boiled down to wondering how on earth a lesbian could know anything about what two guys do (Know what I mean? wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I told him research and imagination. One of my friends said I should have said, “From reading your diary, Uncle Roy.” That’s the problem with being a writer. I never have the good stuff on the spot.
What was it like when Collision Course won a Rainbow Award in 2009 for Best LGBT Contemporary? It must have been exciting to see your novel win an award.
It was! It’s very exciting when something I’ve written gets recognition. I love the idea that an award might bring more readers to the genre and to a book. But the most exciting moments for me are still when I meet a reader face-to face or get an email and the reader tells me how a book affected them or what they liked. Those moments are magic. They keep me going when I think I’ve forgotten how to do this right. Earning a living is very validating. But the personal interactions with readers are food for my soul. They will never stop being absolutely awesome. Even when they tell me something that didn’t work. Because otherwise, I’m just talking to myself.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
Since I can’t explain it for myself, I wouldn’t presume to know what other women think. I’ve read lots of essays and sociological perspectives on the topic. I think it’s as complicated as anything involving individuals is. But here’s a crack at it. I see all romance readers as potential readers for my books, because I write romance. Based on personal observation (plus, I think there are studies with real numbers and percentages and stuff), most of the people who read romance are women. Therefore, no matter what combination of gender expression, identity or orientation is in the romance, a large portion of those readers will be women. That’s not to say that people with a gender identity other than female aren’t also skilled, talented and passionate romance readers and writers. And I am not saying that it isn’t extremely important that people have so much to choose from when they want to read a love story. But, if you go to a romance conference—no matter what the genre is—there’s going to be a longer-than-average line for the ladies’ room.
Was it difficult to research what being a paramedic entailed for writing Aaron Chase?
Aaron. I love him. The asshole. Let me tell you how Aaron came into my head. I had no intention of writing a book for Joey. But from the minute I thought that Noah (in Diving in Deep) needed a friend to talk to, Joey was a gigantic ball of words and energy in my head. He started yammering about how he was not happy where I’d left him. I was in the middle of sobbing my way through the end of Regularly Scheduled Life and in no mood for Joey’s distractions. I told him if he persisted. I’d give him hero who was as big an asshole as I could imagine. Joey said, “Bring it.” Now, I knew Joey was a social worker. So I wanted someone who hated social workers. I knew a lot of prickly paramedics. It seemed to go with the job description, arrogance and a don’t-screw-with-me attitude. So Joey’s hero became a paramedic.
Since I write books that are heavy on internal rather than external conflict, I try to make their jobs—or what part of their jobs I show—work for me to build that conflict and to show who the character is. I had some experience with emergencies as a lifeguard and took the opportunity to talk with first responders about their jobs. I’ve found in researching various professions for my characters, most people love the chance to explain what they do. They’re even more excited to talk to an author about it. I’m fortunate to have in my critique group someone very familiar with the court system and someone very familiar with medical care. They don’t let much slide, and I’m grateful for it.
What are you currently working?
I’m working on a trilogy of books about a group of middle-aged friends who get swept up in the enthusiasm over the opportunity for legal marriage. They’re falling like dominos into happily-ever-afters. I’m also working on two short outtakes from the Bad In Baltimore series. I always have more ideas than time to write them. And there’s never any guarantee an idea in my head works on the page. One of the things that’s a challenge as a published author is that you don’t want to have too much time between releases so you need to sell on proposal—or if self-publishing, line up an editor—so you need to know what you’re doing before you do it. That can be a problem when you realize three chapters into the story, it doesn’t work like it did in your head. I’m really excited about these stories, though. So far, so good!
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I have no idea what I’m doing. I think that’s called writing organically. I start with characters. I get to know them. I figure out what they want and what they’re scared of. Then I put them in a situation that exposes them to things that make those wants and fears come out.
I like to let the characters lead as much as possible. If I’ve done my ground work with them, they’ll tell the story the way it needs to be told. I’m lucky in that my brain will put in stuff at the beginning of a book that I’ll need at the end without me being aware of it. Whenever I try to exert too much control over the story, I find myself stuck. I have to remind myself to let the characters drive while I hold the map. Sometimes I really go off into the “Here Be Dragons” parts of the map, and if that’s where the characters need to go, it’s a better book if I let them wander and fix it later.
I balance drafting and rewriting. I usually can feel if I’ve taken a wrong turn before I go too far, so I will retrace my steps before going forward and hitting a dead end. That is when having beta readers or a critique group or partner is so valuable. They can usually tell if you made a wrong turn or are just afraid of driving into the dark.
If I controlled the world, I could just write that story and hand it off to a fabulous editor as soon as I thought it was ready and in two months it would be in readers’ hands. Unfortunately, the world is not at my beck and call and other people have schedules and jobs and lives, so I have to plan things. What now works for me is to start a story and see if it’s working, then write as much of a synopsis as I can, proving that there is a conflict and I know sort of how to fix it and then turn in a proposal so that I am on a schedule. Again, I am really lucky in having someone in my critique group who is great at looking at my ideas and ballparking a word count. Since she’s always right, one of these days I’m going to believe her when she says “You can’t do that in 50,000 words. You can’t.”
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
Every day my goal is to write 2000 words on whatever project is due next. When things are good, that’s what happens. When things are awesome, 5000 words is a piece of cake. Other days, 200 words is a miracle. I recommend writing a quick sketch of what you’re working on, either on the screen or on paper so that you don’t spend as much time in, as one of my writer friends calls it, camel face. That’s when you lean your chin on your hand and make a smushed-faced frown as you squint at the screen.
When things are magic, I can write a 60,000 word book in three months. Lately, it’s been more like six months. And althoughBad Behavior was magic, it ended up being the longest book I’ve ever written (112,000 words) and it took eight months.
What made you decide to base your series’ in different states/cities, or did it just happen?
That just happens. I try to think of the best setting for the situation. With the exception of the trilogy I’m working on now andLife, Over Easy (currently a one-book series), I never plan to write series. It just happens. So I end up with more books in that setting because of the characters. They won’t leave me alone. I do stay mostly on the East Coast because I’m more familiar with life here, how the buildings look, how people talk. Even in a city I’ve only driven through (Jacksonville), it feels more familiar than say San Diego (which I have also driven through. Lovely city.)
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?
If you want to write it, you should read some of it. It helps to understand what works and doesn’t work. Grab your favorite books and pick them apart to see how an author did what you liked. Learn from other writers, but remember, we are all special snowflakes and what works for that writer may be a disaster for you. Find out the rules (happy ending, conflict, motivation) and if you decide to break them know why you’re doing that and be prepared for how that might be received. If you self-publish, hire a really good editor. None of us write as cleanly as we think we do. Connect with other writers. We’re the ones who don’t think you’re crazy for doing this. We’re also the ones who know how to talk you down, when you’re on the ledge, thinking there’s no way you can do this. You can.
As far as building an audience, remember that there are only a few things you can control. The number one thing is the quality of your work. Don’t sacrifice that by chasing a trend or by putting out something you don’t feel right about having your name on. Always write the best book you can at that time, and don’t save anything for the next one.
You are not in competition with other authors. People might only buy one coffin in a lifetime, but they buy way more books than they can read. The more good books there are, the more happy readers keep coming back and bringing friends. Always act online and at professional gatherings with the idea that “anything you say can and will be used against you.” Seriously, do you want to buy books from that person who never has anything positive to say?
Remember how important it is to connect with readers. Find the way that works for you—appearances, Facebook, newsletters, blogs, email—and do that. Nothing is a better marketing tool than a personal recommendation. Remember how good everything feels when it’s going well because you’ll need it when things are hard.
Most importantly, remember why you want to write. If it’s because you have a story to tell, that’s great. That will always get you places. If it’s because you think you’ll be buying a yacht and sipping margaritas on your earnings, you’re better off playing the lottery.