Mel Keegan is best known for novels with a wide range of subjects. In every Mel Keegan book, you can expect strong gay or bisexual heroes. To find out more about Mel and the stories behind some of Mel’s books, check my interview below.
What was it that made you interested in writing m/m fiction?
In fact, “m/m” is a quite recent label. When I began, circa 1990 and in paperback with ground-breaking British publisher Gay Men’s Press (GMP), the term was “gay fiction,” and this is what I was writing then, and still do. There’s often rather a difference between “gay fiction” and “m/m”, as well-read aficionados of either genre know; though it’s equally true that the “m/m” label is being applied these days to Oscar Wilde and (!) Moby Dick. What made me interested in writing such fiction? I was producing all kinds of stuff at the time (again, still do), but it would be fair to say that if a GLBT writer is a guy, the instinct and inclination to write about gay characters is very strong. There’s been a small marketplace for gay books since the 1960s (interested readers can grab a great potted history of gay publishing, by Ian Young, right here: http://bookworld.editme.com/ArticleThePaperbackExplosion); and by 1989 the next logical step, for me, was to sub a stack of paper to an appropriate publisher. I did; the rest is history.
How did you begin your career writing? How did you grow your fan base to be as large as it is?
Looong before the internet – back around the dawn of mimeograph machines, in fact – there was a tradition called the amateur press association, or APA. Magazines were produced, with content ranging from social comment to SF and fantasy. This is where I started. If (and it’s a big “if”) any copies of APA magazines still exist 40 years later, you’ll see my early work there under a variety of pen names, in slim Xeroxed volumes which were often more attractive than the pulp issuing from fully professional publishers. It was a great school; one learned not merely to write well, but also to write to an audience, which is even more important, if one has aspirations regarding doing this for money! As mentioned above, by ’89 I subbed a stack of paper to a gay publisher and my first gay novel appeared in paperback shortly thereafter.
How did the reader base grow? A sizeable percentage of it followed me from the GMP paperback days, which fell between 1990 and 2000; many more readers have gravitated to “serious” works such as Hellgate and NARC, which are rather far from the m/m typical of the genre. True, most m/m readers are surely in it for the romance (and/or the sex); but some have a taste for fiction that’s actually mainstream “big” SF or fantasy, but where the love interest turns out to be gay. Little of this stuff is being written at this time, but I know – fact – there’s a market for it. A large part of my readership comes from word of mouth “advertising,” meaning that when someone appreciates what you do, they recommend you to friends. As you’ll have noticed, I don’t do social networking at all, and you won’t find me at literary conventions. Being in Australia makes it virtually impossible to get to cons; and as to social networking … the time zone difference renders it ineffective. Anything I post shows up on pages in the small hours of the morning in the US/Can and UK/Eur, and is gone by the time most readers are even awake, must less looking at facebook, twitter and so on. I did try tweeting several years ago and soon discovered it a waste of time – and like many (most?) writers, I’ve very little time to invest in self-promotion. I must confess, somewhat shamefacedly, I haven’t actually promoted my books in years. They either go out there and sell, or they don’t. Thank gods, they do – because my following is large as a result of having spent 25 years in this field, starting out in mass-market paperbacks, and producing books that are recommended. It’s all about the years spent in this field and the quality of books produced over the decades. (Social media should work brilliantly for writers in the northern hemisphere, but the flipside is, if a book should be perceived to not deliver, dire comments “go viral” faster than wildfire. It’s always a double-edged sword.)
What was it like writing Mindspace? What inspired it?
The story itself is a logical development from the themes being explored at the very end of Hellgate — AI-interface technology and the transspace drive. Mindspace takes place in the same universe, 100 years after the Hellgate novels and about 200 years after the NARC novels, which are also set in this ‘verse; so it was a lot of fun building on a backstory that has grown immensely since the first novel in this universe (Death’s Head – NARC #1) was published. GMP did the abridged version in 1991; the unabridged version came out around twelve years later. So, crafting Mindspace was huge fun for me, personally; a chance to develop worlds, tech and situations that have always been close to my heart
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
You’re waiting for me to say “my mother,” right, LOL? Too bad, guys. My mother is Keegan’s greatest fan. Since I don’t write your usual m/m – ie., sizzling-hot pure romance – as such, it’s not the issue for me that many writers surely face. The fact is, m/m can be, and often is, as explicit as anything that was judged to be (sorry guys) porn a very few years ago; and I can well imagine how someone might not want to be caught writing – for want of a better term! – gay porn, by the headmistress of the school where s/he works as a third grade teacher, or the church-going boss who wrangles the hiring and firing in a high-paying workplace. My work is a long way from the kind that would cause any problems. My last title on the Keegan byline was Event Horizon, and I’d stand by it in any company as mainstream fiction – “big” SF – gay love interests and all. My sexiest book was probably Ice, Wind and Fire – and in 1990 I was severely criticized for having the temerity to write sex scenes that were, by today’s standards, very mild indeed. IWF was an attention-getter, at the time. And it worked. But no, I don’t have a problem standing by my work as legitimate fiction; because that’s exactly what it is.
What was it like creating the relationship between Kevin Jarrat and Jerry Stone in Death’s Head?
Not sure I’m getting the question correctly. What was it like? They’re “just” characters, not too unlike many others from the complex novels and series (compare Harry Trevellion and Nick Grey, in Dangerous Moonlight). The actual process was the same as that of creating any of my major, pivotal characters and their relationships – mind you, some characters and relationships are always going to be more special than others, and Jarrat and Stone were, and are, icons. Do writers fall in love with very special characters? Indeed, they do. Did I fall in love with Jarrat and Stone? Yes, I did. They “talk to me” in very unique voices and, odd as it may seem, they still retain secrets. It wasn’t until Stopover that I can say I really understood Jarrat 100%, and not till Aphelion that I understood Stone fully.
What do you think draws so many women to love to read m/m?
Surely, there’s no mystery. Straight men have always enjoyed f/f fiction and cinema – and oceans have been produced across the decades, albeit most falling into the red-hot area, since male readers are usually (not always) looking for a thrill. I’m sure many women gravitate to m/m the way guys have always fancied f/f. In fact, much m/m could be written just as effectively as hetero romance; it only needs a gender swap of one character. The plots that work exclusively as m/m are those dealing with specifically gay issues – and right there, m/m merges into gay fiction. I do think that fiction tackling specifically gay issues is actually better labelled as gay fiction, no matter the gender of the writer (reference Patricia Nell Warren and Mary Renault, for example). Meanwhile, “core” m/m can, by definition, only be pure romance, in which the heart and soul of the story is the relationship and all else is set dressing. SF, fantasy, historical, crime, paranormal, whatever – one may switch out props, costumes and ideologies, but the core theme remains the same: male-to-male romance, where boy meets boy, boy loses boy, or almost, and fights tooth and nail to reach a happy, or HFN, ending. Gay fiction might not even involve a romance at all, and a pure m/m reader might say, “Why would I bother reading that?” Many women read gay fiction as well as, or instead of, m/m; but women who read pure m/m are certainly aficionados of the ideal of gender-defying love, to which I have to say, bravo. A number of LGBT writers are somewhat annoyed by m/m on the basis of cultural misappropriation, and to a quite large extent the grievance is justifiable: when m/m is done badly, merely as red-hot “stroke-fiction” to titillate a female readership, gay men might feel – again justifiably – offended. However, it’s unfortunately a case of “sauce for the goose” here. Women have been comprehensively sexploited for centuries, and even at the rate m/m is pouring out, it’ll take decades for it to catch up the ocean of material that disadvantaged women since the invention of movable type. (I’m not suggesting two wrongs make a right, just that the world tends to work this way; in this context, m/m can also be seen as another expression of sexual equality between the genders.) And way on the other end of this same scale, when m/m is done well, it can have as much merit as any gay fiction, the gender of the writer notwithstanding.
What was it like writing Fortunes of War and the relationship between Dermot and Robin?
I actually already answered this, apropos of Jarrat and Stone, above! Same story here.
Are you currently working on anything?
Several projects are in process, but I must be candid: at the moment I don’t have time to actually write so much as a line. Real Life is being an SOB in 2014. Hopefully, 2015 might be better,
Tell me about your writing process. Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline? Do you set a writing schedule?
In fact, I don’t rewrite at all – ever; because I don’t need to … because of my method. I plot the whole story, right to the end, with two or three possible conclusions, and even some pivotal dialog, in notes, before I type the words “Chapter One.” A professional writer learns to do this very early in his or her career, because one can’t afford to waste weeks of work by getting 85% of the way through a novel and discovering one doesn’t know how it ends! What you saw in Jewel of the Nile, with Joan Wilder at a loss for what happens next in her Romance of the Month, made for good comedy but is a long way indeed from the way a pro writer, especially one at the lower-paid, pulpy end of the industry, works of necessity. When I think of an idea that ought to make a good novel or even series, I write the whole thing in exhaustive notes. I can have ten thousand words of notes in the PC for a novel tipped to run under 100k … that’s like having 10% of the book done ahead of time. Then, I just “add the words,” allowing for better ideas to come along as I go, which sometimes happens. No, I don’t set a writing schedule. Real Life doesn’t work that way.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
Depends on the novel. Event Horizon was over 300,000 words and took about six months. More Than Human was around 100,000 and took two months.
What is it like to write action/adventure thrillers staring gay characters? Do you think it sets your novels apart from others?
It’s fun, which is the only real reason anyone does anything; and then, I write what I like to read. Yes, I think my work is rather different from the work of most other writers; I’m not alone by any means, in producing gay action/adventure thrillers, but this genre is certainly not over-supplied! I seldom tackle specifically gay issues, for a very simple reason: I write for escapism. I write to escape from problems and the realities of this century. Sure, this means I seldom write anything “meaningful” enough to win literary awards … but my books are amusing, fun, re-re-readable. And in fact, I have written about gay issues in the historical sense – for example, The Deceivers and Home From the Sea.
What advice, if any, do you have for those thinking about writing gay romance? Do you have any advice for those who are trying to build an audience from scratch?
A whole book could be written in response to those questions! The second one, I’ve actually answered in great length, right here:http://bookworld.editme.com/Finding-Customers-Making-Sales-where-ebooks-turn-into-income … and regarding the first question, the only advice I can offer is this: whatever you’re going to do, write from the heart. Don’t try to write gay romance because you think there’s money in it; there’s probably a lot less cash than you think, since short-term sales of individual titles tend to be fairly modest and, unless you’re self-publishing, you’ll be sharing funds returned with your publisher. Small paychecks don’t even begin to reimburse you fairly for the time it takes to write a novel, so if you’re going to write romance, do it because you love to do it and let the dollars take care of themselves. This philosophy will take you a lot further than trying to write romance for money in an incredibly competitive industry where some of the best writers are making some of the best books available for free, and readers no longer have to pay a dime to read. Hope this helps!