Amy Lane is best known for her novels Keeping Promise Rock and Talker. Her novels pull readers through page turning stories that pull at emotions. No matter what she comes out with next, her readers are eagerly awaiting the next novel.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
In 2001 I was taking a master’s class in creative writing, and I wrote a short story that was, in essence, a vampire romance, and yes– that’s a little bit before the craze really took off! It was after Laurell K. but before Charlaine Harris and definitely before Stephanie Meyer. I dropped out of the master’s program because it didn’t feel fair to my kids, but I kept writing. In 2002, Proposition 25 (which was the pro marriage equality proposition that passed, and that Prop 8 overturned) was on the books, and I started getting really angry. There were “No on Prop 25” signs all around my neighborhood, and seriously– who wanted to get in the way of someone else’s happy ending? It had never been my cause before, but I was suddenly taken with the idea that a happy ending wasn’t conveniently wrapped in a pink or blue box. So as I was writing on my “vampire romance”, what had once been a nice little het couple suddenly expanded, and Adrian, the vampire, had once had a long-standing romance with a very male, pansexual elf named Green. And I realized that the dynamic between the men was very different than the dynamic between the man and the woman. Now I still loved the dynamic between Cory and Adrian– and I can’t wait to write more in the Little Goddess world with Cory. But I also really loved the dynamic between Green and Adrian. It occurred to me that the M/M dynamic was much more like the dynamic between two different heroes in a piece of literature–there was a friction there that has a different tone in a M/F pairing. I wanted to explore that.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
Well, that story I was just talking about was called Vulnerable, and I self-published it in 2005. The editing was heinous– again, this was way before the other self-pubbed successes. The resources that are readily available today just weren’t there– and there was no vast vault of public knowledge to reach into either. I put it out for my own satisfaction, because I’d actually finished the master’s thesis for creative writing, even if I’d dropped out of the program, and I expected to give copies to my friends and for that to be it. Suddenly people started reviewing it on amazon.com, and I started getting more interested in promotion. Now at first (and I blush to admit this, nearly ten years later) I committed all of the worst sins– I pimped my shit unmercifully, I wrote a sock-puppet review (because I assumed it would be the ONLY review, and I have since taken it down!) and I haunted the forums like the ghost of desperation.
And all of that felt like a really shitty way to live my life, so I figured out that what worked for me was, in the end, infinitely classier. I recommended other people’s work because I loved it, I played games on the forums instead of promoted my own stuff, because the people were fun and we enjoyed each other’s company, and, in the end, came to realize that being a part of the community as a positive force was the best advertisement I could have for myself. I’ve carried those lessons with me, and when I started submitting to Dreamspinner Press (a story in its own!) I sort of tried to keep being a force of good and not a force of infinite annoyance. I think people respond to that–to the idea of being a positive part of the community, and making that your standard. I know I feel much better about my fan base knowing that people read my work and follow me online because I’m being the best writer and human being I can be, as opposed to being a pushy irritant that wouldn’t let go.
What is it like writing both Fantasy and Romance novels? What is the main difference between Urban Fantasy and Fantasy?
Fantasy and urban fantasy are my first loves. I adore them, I’ve written blog posts about them… happy sigh Ah. Alternative Universe fiction is an amazing act of creation–it’s like playing chess with yourself when the pieces keep getting moved around by God. If you want to watch my hackles raise, say something to the effect of “It’s easier to write because you make it up!” or “It’s not as important as real fiction because it’s fake!” (Yes, I’ve heard both of them. Drives me bugshit, I swear it does!) Anyway, AU writing is an infinite act of creation. You are building a world, keeping the rules of the world building consistent or it loses all credibility, and, most importantly, making sure this world is populated by very human, veryhumane characters, regardless of actual species. There are so many simultaneous thought processes going on– it’s an amazing challenge and I thrive on it.
And as for the main difference between Urban Fantasy and Fantasy?
Well, I’m going to go with two things: setting and sex.
The first one is easy– urban fantasy is very often in a contemporary setting. If you look at what’s out there that doesn’t necessarily mean a real setting–it can be vastly altered from today’s world, but it needs to have some of the same concepts–internal combustion engines, government bureaucracy, that sort of thing. Urban fantasy speculates fairies on city streets, and sidhe in dark alleys. Or, you know, a complete fairy hill out in the middle of the Sierra Foothills.
Regular fantasy is (most often) in a pre-industrial age, and, lucky for us, steampunk has emerged which sort of straddles the time line between the internal combustion engine and the horse and carriage.
But more than the actual timeline to mark the difference between urban and high fantasy, I think there’s a difference in archetype within the fantasies as well. I’ve always had this theory about archetypes– that as our literature evolved, our attempts to render characters who are more human and less representational also evolved. So we start with our epic hero, our Beowulf, who is pretty much perfect and well suited to go, fight, win, protect the people, and die, and then we move on to the Romantic ideal of Arthur and his knights, all of whom are flawed, and who, as a whole, are at conflict with the perfect ideal of Camelot by their very humanity. From there we move to the tragic hero– the MacBeths, the Hamlets, the Othellos, who take all of the elements of the epic hero and the romantic hero and seed the hero’s own destruction with the same qualities that make him great. And from there we move to the Gothic heroes, the Victor Frankensteins, who take the great heroic qualities of the the other three types, and use them to rise so far above humanity that when they fall, they punch a hole in the concrete and come to rest below our feet. So, what does that have to do with fantasy and urban fantasy?
Well, most traditional fantasy tends to deal with the first three kinds of heroes–the epic, the Romantic, and sometimes the tragic–when we move our fantasy setting to a more contemporary venue, two things happen. One of those things is extremely human–sex. Sex becomes an issue, because there’s a recognition that sex is a human power, and as such, it adds to the many other kinds of power– political, magical, personal– that’s being wielded in the new setting. And once sex becomes an issue, the epic/Romantic/Tragic hero who works so hard to use all of this prodigious powers to help humanity, the hero opens himself up to be human, and hence comes the fall.
Now, when you add the idea of gender to this it gets really interesting.
Traditionally, the male archetypes rely on the idea of “social heft”–and female archetypes rely on other forms of value. In fantasy, the magical elements often act as sort of a social leveler, giving women the same archetypal opportunities as the male characters. In urban fantasy, she has the same opportunities to fall. In fact (and I know this is a later question) but I always thought that there was sort of a progression for female readers. They enjoy the fantasy and the urban fantasy for the world building, yes, definitely, but in terms of character interaction, they get that same equality, that same delicious friction, between men in an M/M romance as they do between a man and a woman in an urban fantasy. Except, well, more men!
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
When I’d just put Vulnerable out, I would hem and haw about it. “Well, you know, there’s, uhm, sex, and it’s not, uhm, regular sex, it’s, uhm, men, and, uhm…” And my husband lost it. He said, “Dammit, own your sex!” And I did. I tell anybody. I think that’s the clearest way to make it without shame. If people choose not to like me for it, that’s their problem. I mean, I lost my job to this genre– I taught high school– and in the end, my lawyer said it came down to the fact that the school board wanted the students to not know that I wrote at all. I mean, an English teacher who was writing. I had object lessons from grammar to editing to writing for an audience– all of which I’d experienced in illuminating detail, and that kids listened to, and they wanted me to not talk about it because of the genre? That’s horrible— and its hypocrisy, and I won’t do that.
What was it like writing Carrick Francis and his relationship with Deacon Winters?
Painful and nostalgic. That first crush– the one you think is going to last forever… if it does last forever, the growing pains are tremendous, and that’s what their story is all about.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I think I answered that one in the long-assed essay I accidentally wrote a couple of questions ago 😉
What was it like creating Xander Karcek? Was he interesting to write?
Xander was a painful salute to my students– although I wrote him after I’d been pulled out of the classroom. I knew kids who had been out on their own, or who had to forge their parents’ signatures to get medical care. I knew kids paying rent or crashing on friends’ couches or barely scraping through their classes. I used to keep granola bars and pop tarts in my drawers so the kids who didn’t get breakfast at home had somewhere safe to get food. By the time I left, over 90% of our school was on a free or reduced lunch. The last graduation I worked, somebody counterfeited graduation tickets and the stadium was overcrowded. As students were walking across the stage, I got stuck on the wrong side of the fence with nearly 100 would-be attendees who got to the graduation too late, most of whom were in the throes of some sort of substance abuse. It was terrifying for me, but how much would it have sucked for the kid crossing the stage? Those are the experiences Xander came from–I wanted so badly for those kids to win.
What are you currently working?
I’m currently writing a Christmas novella that’s not nearly as fluffy as I’d planned!
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
Before I sit down, I have a setting, a major conflict, a beginning, a destination in mind, and at least one if not two fully fleshed out leads. And then I write straight through. Sometimes I do edit and backfill, and very rarely I’ll go in and add another scene, but most of my work is done between the beginning and the end–even the stuff that has back flashes or some other narrative device. Mary Calmes, my beta, has been known to sit up at night on chat with me as I spell out everything that’s going to happen in a story. Very rarely, a story grows, or expands or changes tone, but even then, the beginning, end, conflict, and characters remain fairly consistent.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
Anywhere from six weeks to three and a half months. (Beneath the Stain is coming out soon– it’s nearly 200K and it took me almost four months.)
What inspired you to write Talker?
Again, back to my students. One of them drew a picture for another teacher– it was supposed to be a mirror image–and one side of the mirror was a very average, attractive looking girl, and the other side had a green mohawk, multiple piercings and facial tattoos. I stared at that picture for years, and suddenly, I had a backstory for that dichotomy, and I wanted to write Talker.
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?
Don’t try to write “gay men” and don’t try to write “gay romance”– try to write individual characters whom you would like to know, or whom you would like to try to understand. Write people you would like–and if you write people you don’t like, make sure you find something redemptive in them. (This is especially true in the face of criticism– it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t like your character if you are in love with the character. You’re the one who has to edit this work a zillion times, and live with the criticism and the praise.) Make your conflicts real– something that would be real to you would, in all likelihood, appeal to other readers.
And as for building an audience? Be a fan and a reader first. Be a part of the community, be a cheerleader for other writers, and they will want to read your work and help to cheer you on.