Leta Blake spends her days writing, sometimes to the point of forgetting to do chores. She is best known for her novels The River Leith and Training Season. No matter what she writes next, her readers will eagerly await the novels to come.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
Well, I’d say my interest in m/m goes way back to my childhood. My earliest fantasies that I spent long periods of time indulging and expanding on were around Batman and Robin. In this pretend play, I was Robin and I’d been kidnapped by bad men, and Batman would come rescue me, and then hold me and kiss me and basically be in love with me. I was five. And my m/m thoughts and preferences just grew from there. But as far as writing m/m fiction goes, I’m a graduate of the fandom school of slash writing, like many other m/m authors.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
Is my fan base humongous? LOL! Wow! I’m not sure it is, because, like Rhys Ford said during one of her talks at Rainbow Con, I’m always sure I’ve only got about six readers–the five I know well, and the floating, rotating reader who is everyone else who ever comes up to me and says they liked one of my books. (Rhys Ford is a very funny lady and says very astute things!)
I began my career by co-writing some books with Keira Andrews. They were m/m fairy tales retold and that gave me the experience I needed to be brave and try self-publishing, which, in turn, I’ve learned so much from.
You write under a pseudonym. Why?
Well, there are multiple reasons for that, but they can be summed up by saying: fandom background/age/privacy reasons. When I started out online, there was no Facebook. People didn’t use their real names in online forums and it was considered a bit nutters for someone to ever do that at all. People were encouraged to have handles and pseudonyms–and, in fandom, for the most part, people still are. You don’t go to Tumblr and find that people are known as Mary Jo Parker, or whatever. They’re known as babyphatpants or baconbreath or heartsarestars or whatever.
Having started my writing path in a fandom world, I found that I enjoyed having that separate space where I could interact with people who shared my interests (like discussing at length all the probable ways Lex and Clark on Smallville were banging each other) without having it cross over into my day-to-day life as an assistant to a financial advisor, or someone’s mom, or whatever else. I suppose, whether it’s something intrinsic in me, or something about being a Southerner, I really enjoy being able to choose what I disclose to whom.
By the way, let me clarify this immediately, it isn’t the gay aspect of what I write that I want to keep separate from my legal identity, because Lord knows I’m out and proud about my gay rights activism and support. I tell people that I write LGBT romance. It’s the heat levels of what I write that really isn’t the business of my kid’s teachers, or the Baptist neighbor with little girls my daughter likes to play with, or my great-aunt, or even my cousins. I’m not ashamed of writing sexy books, but I don’t feel like I need to go into most daily interactions with people who think they know something about me because of what I write. It doesn’t matter when it comes to buying groceries or volunteering on a class field trip.
In addition to that side of privacy, there’s the other side of it, too. For example, in fandom, sometimes things would get a little creepy between a fanfiction writer and her/his fans. Sometimes they’d cross the boundaries between being supportive and enthusiastic to being borderline frightening and stalkery. I saw it with other fanfiction writers and I had it happen to low degrees myself back in the day. I have not had anything like it happen as a pro-writer, but when I was making a choice between pen name and no pen name, my memories of the difficulties I’d faced with my fandom handle came to mind. Maybe it is because of my age, but my opinion is that any time you’re in the public light in some way, it is somewhat safer for everyone involved if there is a light veil between that public persona and the real person, even if the public persona is, actually, a more fleshed out representation of who I really am. Those who have access to my legal identity Facebook page can attest that aside from seeing actual pics of my husband and kids on that page, the information there is less robust and vibrant than what is given on my author page.
And, lastly, there’s the whole branding aspect. If Leta Blake writes m/m erotic romance, then my legal identity can pursue children’s chapter books and talk about those big and loud in areas that are my kid’s teachers’ business. Even if they are gay-themed children’s chapter books, the heat level wouldn’t be there for that particular “brand”, and so it would be appropriate to discuss it at children’s parties, with my aunts and uncles, etc.
The question I haven’t settled yet is whether or not I’d use Leta Blake for the m/f books I haven’t finished yet or whether I’d need another pen name for that. Part of me feels like erotic romance is erotic romance and so I should use the same pen name, but someone else told me that, for branding purposes, I should be clear about which name writes het and which writes gay. Which I guess makes some sense, but I also find it a little offensive since love is love, and erotica is erotica, or it should be, in my opinion.
And that’s my very long and probably boring answer!
What is it like to be commanded by your characters to write? How badly does it effect daily life?
It’s fun and amusing a lot of the times, annoying and frustrating other times. It sometimes makes daily life less comfortable than it could be because the drive to write and the tendency to beat myself up for not writing enough taints most experiences. If I’m at a pool party, I can be having a good time, but in the back of my mind there is a small, nagging thought, “You could be writing.” It’s really a problem of trying to juggle so much stuff. I’d say that if I didn’t have a full time job, it wouldn’t be a problem. And maybe it wouldn’t be as big of a problem, but I know from my friends who are full time writers that they still have these nagging thoughts that taint perfectly good moments even after writing all day long.
Who is the LAST person you‘d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
Hmm. There’s no one really. I mean, I can think of worst case scenarios, like if my kid’s teacher found my books, was offended by the heat levels, and then treated her like crap for the rest of the year or something. But I honestly don’t think that would happen. Most of me thinks that if someone discovered it and had a problem with it, then…that’s their problem. If they tried to hurt my kid with that information, it would be, hopefully, a life lesson in why we need to fight for gay rights and the way that bigotry hurts people. So, there’s no one I’m trying to hide my writing from. It’s more a matter of somethings just not being some people’s business…but if they find it or whatever…who cares?
Do you think that Tumblr is a great way to get the word out about your novels?
Hmm. Not really. I mean, I use Tumblr to get the word out but I don’t think it actually does much for my books. Probably because I’m not an active user there in other ways. I find Facebook and Goodreads to be the most helpful.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
There are tons and tons of reasons to love m/m. Romance is romance, love is love, and why wouldn’t a non-bigoted person who likes to read romance books enjoy reading about men in love with each other?
What was it like to write Matty Marcus and keep his dream alive and a focus in the novel?
Oh, it’s always fun to write Matty. Fun and frustrating. Kind of like him. I think if his dream hadn’t stayed a focus in the novel, then he would’ve stopped being Matty…and that would’ve been sad to see.
What are you currently working?
Too many things. I’m working on a four book Coming of Age series, a sequel to Training Season, a book set in Appalachia about a failed country music singer and a jeweler–uh, it’s more exciting than that makes it sound! I promise!–and I’m working on a book about an angel, and a book about a god who takes a human for a plaything, and a book with a trans* character. Lots and lots of books. 🙂
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
Outlines only go so far. My characters don’t enjoy following them. Every book is different in terms of what scenes come to me and when. Sometimes I start at the beginning, and sometimes I start in the middle and work my way back. I’d say the one thing that is very consistent about my writing is that I do it layers. The first draft of a scene is usually sparse. I lay it in and then go back over it and add detail, then push on to the next scene. I go forward until I can’t. Then I go back to the beginning, and lay in more details and I find that I’ve missed something in a prior scene that was needed in order for me to go forward on the book as a whole, so then I can push on again into new scenes. Then I get stuck and have to go back to the beginning and do yet another layer of details and tweaks, and find, oh, I’ve missed a scene. I need to add that in so that something else makes more sense, and boom, I can move forward on the whole novel again. Frankly, this is something I struggle to make peace with since I feel like other people do a lot less of this kind of layering to their work and produce books a lot faster. Comparison is the devil.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
It’s hard to say because I tend to switch out books in a kind of rotation and so I lose track. I’d six months to a year? Sadly, I’m not a fast writer and having a full time job, a kid, a spouse, and lot of responsibilities there make my writing time sparse. It’s hard to say how long it would take if I could write full time. It’s something I hope to find out one day.
How much research went into writing Leith Wenz’s amnesia? Was it difficult to keep it believable?
Oh, I did a lot of research and a most of it went out the window. 🙂 I decided it was much more important to stay emotionally true to the story I was trying to tell than to stick to the realities of amnesia and its day-to-day treatment. I think it worked. Many people seem to like the book.
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’d say just write the most true characters that you can. That will make a good book and a good book will bring in an audience (hopefully). And I’d say to wash-rinse-repeat, because even if one book doesn’t do well, another might. Just keep on keeping on, writers. Finish your work. Edit your work. Pay for good editing and covers. Publish your work. Don’t let anything hold you back.