A.J. Thomas is best known for her novels A Casual Weekend Thing and Holding Out for a Fairy Tale. She has the ability to write believable characters that create worlds within her novels that are unique.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
Online slash. I was supposed to be using my laptop to take notes in class one day. The university had just installed wi-fi in all the buildings, and I was bored to death listening to the professor ramble on about the legal/contractual definition of chicken. I went looking for an m/f story to read, and stumbled upon an m/m instead. It was an epic, endless, hot string of erotica, involving lots of sex toys and kinks but very little story. And relationship dynamics that felt more real than anything I’d ever read in an m/f romance. I was hooked.
I started writing for fun. I was always looking for new stories–ones with characters who felt real, hot sex, and a plot where the stakes were high. Published m/m novels could usually deliver, but ideas for stories I intended to write for myself someday kept growing. Thanks to some health problems reminding me to make the most of each day, I stopped thinking about writing and got started. My first few attempts were posted online, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, and almost as addictive as reading m/m fiction.
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
When I was about to post A Casual Weekend Thing online, I began to wonder if it was good enough to find a home among the published authors I adored. It took a beer and a shot of vodka for me to work up the courage to actually submit it. I actually didn’t expect it to be accepted, but Dreamspinner Press liked it.
I’m still really new at this (definitely not in the humongous fan base range) but I think the success of my books stems from posting those first stories for free. Learning to write is an ongoing process, and online fiction communities can provide all of the feedback, guidance, and support of a writing workshop–if you’re willing to put constructive criticism to use. That feedback and support is one hell of an incentive to produce the strong stories I can. Plus, I think readers are more willing to take a chance on a new writer if they can get a feel for whether or not they like an author’s work before they buy a book.
What is it like to express yourself creatively through cooking and baking?
Messy. Seriously, my attempt at making an omelette out of tofu and chickpea flour this morning is still soaking in the sink. I had zucchini bread explode on me a few days ago, too. But when a dozen ingredients come together to make a complex, amazing flavor that far surpasses any of the ingredients on their own, well, that’s fun. It’s a lot like writing, in fact. You can take a few things that are just mildly interesting, subject them to all kinds of heat and pressure, and suddenly you have something that leaves you speechless. Granted, sometimes I have to run out to get fast food and new batteries for the smoke detector, but those times when something turns out good are totally worth it.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
My mother-in-law. Her family is almost all frighteningly conservative. There are plenty of m/m books out there about young men who have been kicked out and forgotten by their families because they’re homosexual, and it’s easy to pretend these things happen only in the realm of fiction. But my in-laws could easily have inspired some of those stories.
What was it like writing A Casual Weekend Thing, and what inspired it?
The mystery plot arc was inspired by theories and case studies on cyclic violence. It’s rare to find a case of child sexual abuse in which the abuser themselves was not victimized as a child. Obviously (and thankfully), not all abused children grow up to repeat the cycle. The majority grow up and seek help, or recover on their own. Some even go into social work and law enforcement with the goal of helping kids escape the abuse they suffered themselves. So, both my main character and my villain came to represent both sides of that cycle. One who stayed trapped in that abusive cycle and grew up to be a monster, and one who escaped and got the help he needed to move on with his life.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I think there are two reasons.
The simple one is that men are hot, and two sexy heroes are better than one.
The more complicated one is because men get to be assholes without any negative connotations attached to the label. Being an asshole is essentially displaying the same attitude and reactions that get a woman labeled as a bitch. The difference isn’t in the behaviors that earn the label, but in the meaning we apply to them as a society. Men with the confidence to act like assholes are cool, they’re anti-heroes, they’re respectable. Women with the confidence to act bitchy are, at best, trivialized as being drama queens. At worst, they’re hated.
Male characters get to exercise the whole range of human emotion, including rage, anger, and violence, without any judgement from readers based on the expected behavior associated with gender roles. And so readers get the chance to vicariously experience that freedom too. I think it’s basically embracing a male sense of identity just to break through those barriers between a female identity and a human one.
So people ask why not just read and write/read female protagonists who exhibit all of those masculine traits? Why not use our capacity as writers and consumers to reshape the misogyny inherent in the romance market by writing female characters who defy those expectations and gender roles? And the answer is, I’m just not that talented. I wish I could pull that off, but I just don’t see it happening. I keep reading m/f romance hoping to find a writer who’s capable of it, though, and I keep going back to m/m after I end up disappointed yet again.
What inspired you to use hiking as the basis of the relationship between Anders Blankenship and Kevin Winters?
I think hiking is therapeutic. It’s a chance to unplug, let your mind slow down, and just let your body work. I tried to write Anders as an unreliable narrator, and he had a lot of growing to do over the course of the story. In the beginning, he was so caught up in his own flawed perception of his parents and boyfriend that he needed to be able to disconnect, from the world and from those relationships, long enough to get to know himself. Backpacking seemed like the ultimate way to force him to grow independent. Plus, there really are wild ponies in Virginia, and they are too cute not to write about somehow.
What are you currently working?
My current work in progress is called (at the moment) The Intersection of Purgatory and Paradise. It’s book three in the Least Likely Partnership Series, and it follows Doug as he attempts to come to terms with his past before he ends up losing his shot at a future with Christopher forever.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I outline in Scrivener. Then I promptly deviate from the outline and take a trial and error approach to writing. I don’t rewrite to death, but I’ll typically write about 200k words for what will ultimately be a 90k word novel and cut out the bits that don’t work. I need to learn to stick to the outline.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
3-6 months, but sometimes a lot longer. A novel I just contracted took me 9 months, in which I essentially wrote 2 different stories, a contemporary romance and a suspense, before deciding which way the story really wanted to go.
What or who inspired Elliot Belkamp in Holding Out for a Fairy Tale?
My inspiration for Elliot came from a gentleman I met in the heart of a military housing community. He was a teacher, a civilian, who took on a fairly miserable job to stay in the same neighborhood as the Marine he was crazy about. This was long before the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in sight, and while we were still in active combat in Afghanistan. Watching him go through all of the emotional bullshit ever military spouse faces during deployments was inspiring. Watching him do it all without any of the official support and acknowledgement sucked. Every married service member leaves behind a spouse who constantly thinks about the possibility that they’ll never see their lover again. We all know the benefits, ceremonies, and support structure of the United States military will be there to help us pick up the pieces if the worst should happen. But he didn’t have any of those reassurances. If his lover didn’t come back, he’d be left to cope on his own.
And, of course, my imagination couldn’t help but take off and wonder how he’d deal if he was also in the service. The reality was that he’d have to go on with his job as if nothing had happened, he’d have to pretend he was okay, because to be anything else would mean being let go without an honorable discharge. Someone who was strong enough to do that, well, I figured he’d be strong enough to do just about anything.
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?
Write. Write the best stories you can, and keep doing it. I’m kind of incompetent when it comes to social media stuff, but keeping your name out there with regular releases will help people begin to recognize you and take a chance on your book.
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