Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Lyn. We are very excited and can’t wait to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I started writing very young, but everyone told me that I couldn’t make a living doing it. I think part of that came from the fact that I am dyslexic, so my grammar and spelling suffer from that. I can create worlds and characters that live in my imagination (perhaps disturbingly so), but I will always lean more on my editors and proofreaders because of my disability. As a young woman I listened to others too much, though. I believed them when they said I couldn’t be a writer. After that, I wandered into a number of other fields. I did the obligatory restaurant work, crawled around in ceilings installing wiring and finally got through college and became a teacher. I think I became an English teacher just to thumb my nose at those early nay-sayers.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
Urban Shaman was my first book. I’d written several fanfic novels, and a friend of mine, Jan Irving, insisted that I should try writing something for Dreamspinner. She had her second novel there, and she was a huge inspiration/push. I’m actually a pretty fast writer when the story catches me, so once I had the idea of a shaman living in the worst slums of New York, I wrote it pretty fast and sent it off. Honestly, I wasn’t sure they’d take it at all. Several people have rightfully said that the story is more gay fiction than gay romance, and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with the publisher or readers, but about a month later, Dreamspinner sent me an acceptance letter. Honestly, the incredible reviews and support Urban Shaman received inspired me to keep writing, so then I started working on Gathering Storm.
How many books have you written thus far?
Gathering Storm is my second novel, although I have two more novels written. One is a werewolf story with a foursome in the middle, and the other is a science fiction story with a female/male pairing. I also have a two more stories “in production” right now, although I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to send those out.
When did you start writing gay romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
In my biography over on the LGBT library, I talk about finding story in conflict and struggle, and I think gay romance attracts me because gays do have so much to overcome in our society. As a lesbian, I can relate to some of that, but I think society is much more critical of gay or even men who are perceived to be gay or androgynous. That makes interesting characters and plots. But I’m actually interested in any group with that same struggle. Many of my characters are minorities or involved in activities that carry a strong stigma, like BDSM. I find that the stronger the obstacles I can throw at characters, the more interesting they become. In Gathering Storm, Vinnie is so sure that he’s proud of his sexuality, but he actually uses a fake name to hide it from his father. He’s this big cocky kid who wants to be mentally well put-together, but really he’s on the verge of falling apart. One of the “in progress” novels I’m writing now has a main character who is gay—and who was forced out of the closet in prison where the rules were different. Now he’s back in the real world trying to deal with that. I adore putting my characters through the mental wringer.
Do you write full time?
Don’t I wish! Unfortunately, those early nay-sayers were right about fiction being a difficult “career” in terms of making enough money to live on, but I love writing it anyway. I figure other people spend money on hobbies that make them happy, and I make some on my hobby, so that makes me happy.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
I think I had given up on writing when a friend (waves at Xay) told me about how much she loved Jack/Daniel slash. I’d never heard of slash and was shocked to find so many stories written. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, going from fandom to fandom. Much of it was great, but some of it made me want to get in there and rewrite it, because I knew I could do better. I adore fandom and always will, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to be free to write my own characters and my own worlds. In Gathering Storm, I adore Vinnie. He’s brash and aggressive about his sexuality, and he sees himself as being totally open, but in so many ways, he’s hiding. I love that dichotomy, and I couldn’t write that in fanfic. In Urban Shaman, Miguel is this incredibly strong man and good cop despite the psychological damage he took fighting in Iraq and despite an upbringing that left scars. But he doesn’t look like any of the characters on television, so fanfic started feeling like a sandbox when I wanted to go play on the beach. The sandbox is still a lot of fun, but the beach is more exciting.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
I spend 60% of the time writing, 10% of it deleting what I wrote, 10% playing with manips, and 20% of the time researching. Early in the morning, I’ll get up and just start cranking out words. Some are good, some aren’t, but if I let myself get distracted by something else, I’ll never finish my stories. I keep Google up on one side of the screen so I can research whatever facts I think my character might know. I assume I’m on some CIA watch list because I’ve researched military bases, explosives, terrorist targets, New York City, and current technology on stun guns. I didn’t know the Israeli army had them already, but apparently they’re testing prototypes. Honestly, though, if that doesn’t get CIA attention, I want a refund on my taxes, because they aren’t doing their jobs. Once I’ve written a chunk, I’ll go back and look over my work from previous days, deleting the extra material where I wandered off track. By this time, I’m ready for a break. As I watch television, I’ll often make a manipulation to help me visualize the characters or the setting or their house. Unfortunately, I don’t get these days often. However, most days I do some writing. I carry my laptop around with me everywhere, so I’ll type up some story bits in the doctor’s waiting room or at lunch. Those lazy Saturdays when I have nothing to do but write are a joy.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I start stories with an ending in mind… something that a character has to realize or a dramatic conflict that I can visualize or an obstacle he has to overcome. Now, how they get there is a complete and total mystery to me. I like to let my characters stumble around on their own. Sometimes I read a book, and I can tell that an *author* had a character do something, because if that character was real, he just wouldn’t do that. So I try hard to let the character do whatever is natural for his personality, and I just try to manipulate the environment and conflicts to lead him where I need him to go. It means that sometimes my stories shock me. I get a lot of joy out of that—letting my characters surprise me.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Google is my friend. There’s a lot of information out there if you’re careful about finding trustworthy sites. I like to use Google maps to get a street view of the places I’m using. When I was writing Urban Shaman, I read online community bulletin boards for the various neighborhoods in New York, I read the New York newspaper, and I asked on my LJ friends from New York to read the story and nail me whenever I wasn’t being true to New York. I got the biggest smile on my face when I read this one review by Matthew over at Rainbow Reviews. He said, “Too many stories set in New York are poor rehashes of old ’70′s films that completely miss the mark of this amazing place. So, Ms. Gala is certainly to be commended for her obvious research into the various cultures, environments and languages that make up this tale. Her take on the Tremont neighborhood in the Bronx is spot on.” I might have squealed. I definitely called my mom over to point at the screen. I want so much to make my stories real that when I was writing Gathering Storm, I spend days reading psychology papers on serial killers and technical specs on different grades of explosives. If I keep writing books, my brain is going to explode with all the bizarre facts I’m picking up.
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
Are my characters based on real people? Honestly, not really. I am a huge people watcher. From an early age, I would watch crowds and try to image their lives from how they talked and walked and dressed. A lot of my characters are born from this habit. I’ll see a teenager with bright green hair walking through the mall, and I’ll imagine what he must be like. As a painfully shy person, I wouldn’t dye my hair that color if you paid me anything less than 100K. But I like to make up stories about people I see, and that will merge with some story idea I’ve been playing with. I had a plot bunny for a werewolf story, and now I’m looking at this kid with the punked out hair, and I start imagining what kind of werewolf he’d be. That was the birth of one of my characters. Sometimes I’ll start with a television character in mind. In The Sentinel, one of the leads was Jewish—a pork eating, Christmas celebrating, new-age Jew. I kept wishing the writers had made him a little more ethnic, so I imagined a character with the same energy and vitality, but someone who had been raised Orthodox Jew before moving to a more new-age belief. As I wrote, his character developed darker, harder edges than the television version. To get him to away from Judism and toward shamanic beliefs, I had to give him some real traumas in his life until my Nikolai didn’t look anything like the television character. In Gathering Storm, I have a character named RJ who is a lesbian, but about as different from me as night from day. She was born out of a conversation I had with a very good friend about how people who are transgendered are largely ignored by society. Being lesbian is far more accepted than being a lesbian who really identifies with and wants to be male. So I started writing RJ, a woman who is so male-identified that Vinnie sometimes looks at her and wonders if he could live with her and a good strap-on because he really needs someone in his life. I think I only started to really understand RJ about halfway through the book because I found myself reading more and more transgendered chat rooms and bulletin boards. Anyway, long story short… I start with a seed and try to just let the characters find their own voices. I find that as I write, characters will develop and change, and then I have to rewrite the beginning to make the characterization consistent.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
Honestly, I’m a little obsessive when I really get going. If I really have time off, I can slam out about 5000-10000 words a day. This summer, I wrote my het romance (126K words) in one month and four days. Usually I can do a novel in about two months. I know that I should agonize over rough drafts, but I do the first draft, I do one major revision where I get the characterization consistent and make sure my foreshadowing and my clues line up, and then I just let it go. If I start agonizing over the words, I reach a point where I start thinking everything I wrote is crap. So I slam it out in a month or two and send it on. I’m even worse with my fanfic. I’ll write a chapter in an hour and just post it, warts and all.
If you weren’t sitting there right this very moment answering our book of questions, what else would you be doing?
Book of questions… lol. I’m not sure it would be a book if I would just answer without rambling on and on. You may need to edit me! Right now I should be working on my science fiction story which is stalled at 50K or I should be doing that fanfic story I haven’t finished or I should be doing my new story with the man just out of prison. Then again, my dog needs a bath and I have work email backing up, and I should make a big batch of French toast for reheating in the morning and I’d love a swim… yeah, my brain pretty much goes in a million directions at once.
Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
The “big” editing problems—logic holes, characterization, and continuity—I edit them as I go AND I go back and do one major revision after I write the ending and know for sure where I’m going. Because I don’t use an outline, sometimes events do twist in unexpected directions, and I have to make sure the first half matches the second. I want to make sure that the overall story holds together. The “small” editing problems—phrasing, grammar, and spelling wait for after I’m done. If I’m going to be honest, I usually wait for a beta reader or editor to point those out because I really, honestly don’t see them. I’ll catch odd phrasing or I’ll add an interesting metaphor or bit of description, but the grammar is hard even though I know the grammar rules. The little things like commas are physically difficult for me to track on the screen.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Okay, I’m going to duck the flying objects from my fellow authors, but my main problem is trying to get the stories down fast enough. The only time I have trouble writing is when I know I have someone waiting for the story. I start stressing out about whether the book is going to live up to the expectation or be as good as the proposal. There was a charity event where I offered to write a story, and the bidding went so high that I gave myself writer’s block worrying about living up to that bid. However, if I’m working in private, my only problem is having enough time to get it all down. I have a book next to my bed with ideas for a dozen different novels or novellas, and I may delete entire chapters because I’m getting off-track, but I really don’t have trouble writing.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel, or experience?
I hope they understand some human reality other than their own—the pain of carrying a secret or the insecurity of not knowing how to be yourself or the confusion of having your foot in two worlds. I hope that they can look at the people and see just how rich and varied human experience can be. I am definitely more interested in characters than any other part of the writing experience. And I definitely want to put characters out there who bring in voices that haven’t always been heard. Sometimes it saddens me that television and mainstream publishing houses insist on focusing on the same characters over and over: the tough-as-nails woman, the kind-hearted and savage minority, the wise-cracking hero. Yes, these are great characters, but where’s the transsexual? The submissive? The minority who has an identify other than noble savage? The religious minority? I want a reader to walk away from my book having heard a voice they haven’t heard before—that is the biggest compliment for me as a writer.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
Oh geez. I hate titles. Absolutely hate them! My first book, I sent out with the name “City Shaman.” I was talking to my mother and had said the title multiple times when she looked at me and said, “Why are you calling Nikolai a shitty shaman?” *headdesk* I tried calling it “Of Shamans and Warriors.” Even ignoring the fact there’s only one shaman and one warrior, the title still stinks. Luckily, the editors over at Dreamspinner renamed it “Urban Shaman.” I fail on titles to such an extent that I truly should not be allowed near them. I just sent a novel off to Ellora’s Cave, and I have it titled Hunter in Blue. It’s a sci-fi mystery with three different alien cultures intertwined in a complicated plot of political backstabbing and a crew of five people caught in the middle. The focus is on a female alien and the ship’s gunman. Honestly, the title gives you NONE of that. The title is utterly flat and uninspiring and I’ll be damned if I can come up with anything better. If Ellora’s Cave happens to accept the submission, I really hope someone has a better idea than I do.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I’m not a big fan of slapstick or of humor that targets groups, but other than that, I have a very wide definition of humor. I really enjoy dramatic irony, where we as the audience know something and the characters are clueless. In Gathering Storms, I laugh at Vinnie who is so very convinced that he’s proud of himself, and then lives under an assumed name to hide from everyone he used to know. Vinnie, Vinnie, Vinnie… you really don’t get it yet. That’s okay, because he’s young, and I think by the end he grows up. I love the sort of verbal jabbing you get in shows like Stargate SG1. Honestly, watching Daniel and Jack poke each other was the main reason I watched the show. In Urban Shaman, there’s quite a bit of poking that makes me smile. I like the humor in everything from Zoolander to Caveman. As a young woman, I actually worked in a mortuary for a time, and I also developed an appreciation for darker humor. I think sometimes the pain gets so much that you do just have to make a joke out of it or you’ll go crazy.
What is the most frequently asked Lyn question?
I’m not sure if this is from my professional writing or my fanfic, but I have had a number of people ask me if I’ve had some big trauma in my life…. I think it’s because I traumatize my characters. I have a fanfic novel that inspired such incredibly odd fan mail that I was sometimes afraid to open it. They asked me if I’d been sexually abused and one woman told me how she was taking the book to her therapy sessions one chapter at a time and talking to her therapist about how it made her feel. I definitely felt successful as an author, but the idea of touching a nerve that deep scared me so much that I’ve honestly avoided talking about the issue of sexual abuse again. Really, that’s sad because it is something that needs to be addressed. I started my desert story because I wanted to write two characters who both survived different sorts of abuse. Temar was abused later in life and hated it. Naite was abused from a very young age, and like a lot of victims, he came to see the abuse as normal and found power in manipulating that sexual relationship. Of course, that’s the one novel that I have writer’s block on, so we’ll see if I can really go there again.
What are you working on now?
I’ve actually talked a lot about my project so far, haven’t I? I do ramble. I’ve sent two novels off to two different houses. Hunter in Blue is a femdom piece set in a science fiction universe. Tom had trouble trusting anyone, and before joining the Kratos, he’d been pushed from ship to ship because of his poor attitude. He’s done well on the Kratos, but when he has a falling out with Captain Ramsay, he finds himself withdrawing from everyone until an alien named Da’shay pulls him into her world.
Long, Lonely Howl focuses on Casey. He’s a success as a counsellor at the Y, but his love live is in ruins. He goes up to the mountains to see an old friend—an ex-lover who cut him off after one night. However, when he’s up there, he finds himself caught in the middle of werewolf politics when he stumbles upon a very small pack trying hard to just live their lives in a secret world that has rules all its own.
Those two are finished, but I have a number that are started and not finished. Desert Amends focuses on a world cut off from the rest of the universe when the core planets got embroiled in a civil war. Civilization struggles to survive the harsh desert, and two men have very different lives. Shan is a priest who can’t seem to find his faith or forgive himself for being the brother who wasn’t sexually abused as a child. Temar is a young man convicted of water theft who is subjected to a harsher punishment than anyone intended. The abuse he suffers changes him, and when he tries to clear his name, he has to deal with those feelings. My trucker story doesn’t have a title yet, but Ted is just out of prison and struggling to find who he is. Before prison he’d never admitted to himself he was gay, but he had sex in prison, and now he doesn’t know who he is. However, his ex-cellmate, a member of the Aryan Nation intends to keep him in the fold. Ghosts of the Living is an alternate history story. Howard Hughes perfected suspended animation so the dead and dying can be put on ice. What no one suspected was that a certain number had wandering spirits that would keep on living even with their bodies in the freezer. Some of these “ghosts” have perfectly normal lives; Stephen Hawking had himself frozen, but his spirit still zips around in his ghostly wheelchair. Other ghosts just seem to fade away. Detective Ernest “Con” Conte is stuck with a new partner who is a “ghost” of some rich playboy who wants to play detective after dying, but of course things aren’t what they seem. I also have a historical set in Antioch during the Crusades that just has a few paragraphs drafted. Whoa… looking at all that, I definitely need to finish something and get it off my plate.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
Just start writing. There are a million excuses to not write, and there always will be. Whether you take an hour out of your day or not, the laundry will back up, dirty dishes will be in the sink, and you’ll feel like you have too much to do in your day. Honestly. Whether you write or not, the world keeps turning, so just take some time to write. I made a commitment to write something every day. I succeed most of the time, but on days when I can’t, I feel frustrated. It’s like my brain uses writing in place of meditation and if I’m cut off too long, I feel antsy.
What is a typical day like for you?
I work full time, so until four or five every day, I’m at my day job. However, when I come home, I’ll watch an hour of television while writing something easy… something that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. After dinner and evening chores, I often turn on music that matches the mood of what I want to write, and I’ll spend an hour or so just writing. If I had children, writing would be so much more difficult, and so I have incredible respect for people who can be parents and still find time to write. After an hour or so, I’ll either decide I’m on a roll and go for another hour or two, or I’ll decide that tonight is just not the right time and I’ll go watch some television or read a book or catch up on the dishes or laundry. Saturdays are my day to really just bury myself in my stories.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
And this is another area where I suck, and not in a sexually satisfying way, either. I have so much trouble finding the line between happily celebrating that I have a book coming out and sounding like some arrogant jerk trying to get people to read my books. In my case, I’m lucky that I have a large reader group on Livejournal for my fanfic, so many people see me through that. I started a Facebook, but honestly… I keep forgetting to update it. I find the format of that journal a little more difficult to navigate. I did put up a page at the GLBT library, but I don’t know how many people see it. Mostly, I think I’ve just been very fortunate to have reviewers find me and write about Urban Shaman because I’m not comfortable getting out there and pushing my work. We’re back to me being painfully shy here.
Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?
I have a notebook next to my bed, and I will jot down ideas before I go to bed… or sometimes in the morning if I haven’t hit snooze four times and made myself late for work already. A lot of times, I get ideas watching the news or reading books. I was reading a great little book, The Crusades through Arab Eyes, when I got an idea for my book set in Antioch. The Ted Williams case—where the baseball player’s family argued about whether to cryogentically freeze his head—inspired Ghosts of the Living. I’m just always thinking, “what if…” and those turn into story ideas. I must have a half-dozen ideas a day.
What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envision the future of e-publishing?
I’ve published short stories in the mainstream industry under another name, and I have to tell you, the wait is terrible. I’ve had to waits of four to six months to get a rejection for a magazine, and then the editor tells me I should be grateful that I got that far in the selection process. I am grateful, but I felt like I was getting nowhere. So, I really see e-publishing as being much more responsive. They can take the stories that are a little off-beat because they don’t have the huge investment into producing paperbacks or hardbacks that might not sell. I see more and more houses moving toward e-publishing. However, I do not see that as replacing actual books. One of the reasons I chose Dreamspinner as my publisher (other than the incredible editors) was that they produce a paperback version, and I like to hold a book in my hand and physically turn the pages. I think there are a lot of people like me who just want to hold a book and smell the pages.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I read just about anything. I love history books, so a non-fiction about the crusades or the Aztecs is going to make my happy. I adore science fiction, so if you put a CJ Cherryh book in my hand, I’m pretty much taken care of for the day. I enjoy YA books, and I think that field is really opening up with some incredibly well-done work. I can enjoy the Hunger Games just as much as I enjoy Brave New World. When I was younger, I was addicted to westerns, so Louis L’Amour and JT Edson were personal favorites. I don’t read as many westerns now, but that sort of transformed into a passion for Tony Hillerman’s work. I also love mythology, and I’m such a big nerd that I tracked down a book of the Elder Eddas (original poetry form for the Norse stories of Odin and Thor). I think I’m trying to say that I’m addicted to books of all forms.
What is your favorite TV show?
Honestly, I love a show that has just enough flaws that I want to rewrite the whole thing! Yeah, I’m always going to be a fanficcer at heart. Stargate SG1 was a favorite as long as Daniel and Jack were on the team. I enjoyed the Magnificent Seven series and The Sentinel, but I saw all of these on DVD. I have a bad habit of not watching television, so I don’t find out about these great shows until I see people talking about them. I only recently found Criminal Minds, and I am in love with that show. I found NCIS about two or three years ago, and I really enjoy that one. I only watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer after reading fanfic (and I wrote my first Buffy fanfic novel before seeing a single episode). Actually, I think the common denominator here is that in every single case, I read a fanfic story that made me want to watch the original show, and I ended up falling in love.
What is your favorite fast food restaurant? Just thought we’d throw that in for fun…
lol. Okay, that’s random. I’m diabetic, so I love Chick fil’A and KFC—two restaurants where I can order a normal meal without having to pull it apart to get rid of the sugar and carbs. I’ve mentioned being shy… right? Well, there’s nothing quite as awkward as finding yourself at some place that only offers sandwiches and then you have to pull the bun off and eat it open faced with a knife and fork while explaining that you can’t afford to eat that many carbs in one sitting. Yep, awkward.
Without getting up, can you tell us what’s under your bed? (yep, another sneaky question.)
A little trampoline that seemed like such a good idea in the store. It’s not nearly as much fun as they made it look.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
A teacher, which is why it’s good that I am one. I feel very fortunately to have two jobs that I usually love.
Lemons or Limes?
Lemons. Lemon tarts, lemonade, lemon chicken, lemon cookies, lemon bars, lemon pudding, lemon and pepper salmon, lemon shrimp, lemon bread. Mmmmmm. Since the diabetes, I can’t eat all of those, but trust me, I am a lemon girl all the way.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I’ve been so blessed so far. Paul Richmond did my first cover, and I just adore looking at Nikolai. Paul caught the otherworldliness of him, his sharp edges and his contrasts. I might one day write a sequel of that just to get Paul to draw a close up of Nikolai. The second book has a cover I can’t stop looking at. I swear, that is Vinnie: the dark, brooding expression and those brilliant eyes staring out, challenging whoever is looking at him. The chain is a nice touch because my Vinnie is so into chains, ropes, and cuffs.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love reading and chasing the dog and playing with my Wii, which I had to wait for in line for far too long. I used to be into yoga, and I’m trying to get back into it now, but I swear, this shit was easier when I was younger. A forty year old body does not want to do some of these poses.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
I have those two books submitted, but we’re all in the wait-and-see phase of writing, which I find harder than any other part of the writing process. I wonder if it would hurt or help my chances if I poked the editors with a pin to make them hurry up?
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Just write. Honestly, you can’t edit or revise or perfect anything that’s not on the paper, so just turn off all those voices that tell you that you aren’t doing it “right” and put pen to paper or fingers to keys or whatever feels “right” to you. There’s no magic formula—there’s no one way to be a writer, so stop trying to be perfect and just get it done.
Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
Right now all my work is at Dreamspinner (
). I have short stories in two anthologies: Games in the Dark and Making Contact. Urban Shaman is available in paperback and e-book, and Gathering Storm will be available on August 20th.