Fluffy Tales and Alien Cat Toys and Ann Somerville, Oh My!

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy writing schedule to be with us today, Ann. Would you care to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Not sure it’s worth reading about :) I’m a middle-aged, over-educated Australian who lived for seventeen years in Britain, where I became hopelessly confused about the correct uses of commas, ‘z’s and the word ‘got’. It was also where I married my permanent tribute to redheads and discovered the joys of manly loving men.

What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?

My first book is actually one I made available on the web for free, and didn’t attempt to publish – Kei’s Gift. I had put up over a million words for free – quite a number of long novels – on the web before I realized that unless I tried pro publishing, no one was going to take me seriously. So, after a couple of false starts, I managed to have Interstitial accepted by Samhain Publishing, I have since published four more novels and novellas with them, but I am now going back to self-publishing, since Smashwords make the process painless and I do as much promotion myself which ever way I go.

Looking back, to whom would you give credit for inspiring you to become an author?

The many incredibly talented and generous fanfiction writers who made me realize that (a) writing could be fun (b) gay romance could be hot and interesting and (c) I had a bit of talent and so could keep an audience entertained. I learned a lot from them and their encouragement, especially about how to structure a story, writing habits to avoid and how to make language work for maximum impact. I still had (and still have) a lot to learn when I started to write original fiction, but without fanfiction showing me it could be fun, I’d never have got started.

Learning to Dharn is your latest release: would you care to share a bit about the story with us?

I love stories about people coming together across divides – cultural, religious or whatever. In Learning to Dharn, Kelten is a privileged middle class city dweller, thrown into a desperate situation by an attack by murderous criminals. He’s supposed to be on his way to his first grown up post as a doctor, but after he’s rescued by Dharn, a hunter, all his plans are derailed and he has to work just to survive in a harsh wilderness.

Dharn’s deaf, and uses sign language. Kelten takes a while to realize his assumptions and hearing privilege are the things stopping him learning how to communicate with his rescuer. Even after that, he has to disentangle himself from the mess the original attack placed him in, as well as legal difficulties caused by Dharn’s innocent attempt to help.

So Kelten’s all topsy turvy for a good part of the story, and Dharn doesn’t have a lot of patience with people who ignore good advice. There’s a lot of misunderstandings and dangers before they sort it all out.

I’ve set it in an ‘alternative universe’ to Earth because there aren’t many real societies which are deaf friendly and I specifically didn’t want to examine any real groups or people in this story. There are too many landmines of privilege when one is a hearing person.

What prompted you to begin writing in the Male/Male genre? What about the genre interests you most?

When I first discovered fanfiction, the best writers and the most emotionally intense writing were in ‘slash’ – which is m/m fanfiction. Around the same time as I started writing fanfiction, a long-time friend of mine came out and so slash became a way to explore my unexpectedly hostile feelings towards my friend suddenly ‘turning gay’ as I saw it.

Slash, and then m/m, has remained a way for me to write about, explore, analyse and challenge my ideas about gender, men, male/female interactions and a host of other issues personal and political which are important to me. Each book teaches me something new about my attitudes, and hopefully leaves me and the reader enlightened. At least – I hope it leaves them entertained :)

What interests you most about writing speculative fiction?

Just the whole ‘what if’ aspect without the constraint of what’s actually possible. I’m not the most imaginative writer but there are things I like to play around with which you can’t do in a ‘real’ setting.

Do you write full time? If not, how many hours per day do you try to dedicate to writing?

No, I don’t write full time. I wrote several hours a day for several years but I’ve slowed down a lot. I can’t write to order or churn books out to suit deadlines. I write when I have energy and inspiration. At the moment, I’m a bit lacking on energy.

Looking back, is there any one person or one thing that influenced you to begin writing creatively? How long have you been writing?

No one person. I can definitely think of one person who turned me off writing for over twenty years because of her mockery. I’ve been writing since 1999 when I discovered fanfiction. I turned to original writing in 2003 and haven’t written fanfic since.

Do you outline your stories beforehand, or do you write in a more freestyle fashion?

Outline, though I often deviate. I try to map out scenes, especially when the energy to actually write defeats me. I lay out characters and characteristics beforehand or I’d become hopelessly confused!

Do you revise and edit as you go along, or do you write start to finish and revise after?

Bit of both. I always advise writers not to get hung up on le mot juste – just bung a word, a placeholder, a scene marker in, and move onto the next. I write linearly though. I can’t write isolated scenes out of order.

What sorts of research do you do before and during the writing of a new book?

Masses. Internet, picking people’s brains, asking on communities set up to help people find answers to obscure questions, everything. I have three degrees in three completely unrelated disciplines, I’ve done research in history of science, and I’m married to a zoologist. There’s a lot of very useless information knocking around in my brain at any given time, and I’m a total magpie. I store up trivia and that gives me a starting point for research when I sit down to work on a story.

How much of yourself, your life experiences, and the people you know manifest themselves into your characters?

All of it. There is nothing I won’t mine, and no one I won’t use :) Often, multiple times.

But I transmute the material. I don’t want to reread my stuff and go, oh that’s such and such, and I’m sure no one else wants to either. It’s all a mosaic.

How long does it usually take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?

Impossible to answer. I wrote my first book which is 320,000 words long in three months, but Learning to Dharn has been stewing for a year.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, do you have any exercises you use to get beyond it?

Yes, and no. I figure if I’m not writing, it’s because I have nothing compelling enough to say that is more interesting than whatever I’m doing at the moment. Fortunately, I’m never under any time pressure as I don’t have those kinds of contracts or an agent.

Will you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Ugh. Okay.

Writing isn’t the business – publishing is the business. If you don’t want the business, don’t get into publishing.

No one is ever too good to be edited.

If you write without passion, it shows. If you write because you are being forced to, it shows. But a love of writing isn’t going to be enough to carry you through the hard times.

Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or do you have a title in mind before you even begin the first sentence?

The title is usually the very last thing I think up! And often I have to rely on other people’s suggestions. I’m rubbish at titles :)

What is the question you’re most frequently asked by your fans?

Is there going to be a sequel to “I was an alien cat toy”?

The second most popular is ‘Can I buy Remastering Jerna as an ebook?’ (No, you can’t, and I can’t do anything about that unfortunately.) I actually created a form response for that one!

Of all the many characters you’ve created, do you have one who stands out as a favorite? If so, why?

Probably Kei from The Darshian Tales because he’s my ultimate hero – human, humane, funny, clever, brave, and sexy.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to the art of writing?

Stop putting distance between my words and the reader. Cut padding, waffle and repetition. My writing is much more spare than it was when I started.

E-readers are changing the way people access and read books. Do you see any pros and/or cons with respect to e-publishing?

Piracy is probably the only real downside, unless you count the ineradicable snobbery of the traditional publishers and the traditionally published towards epublishing. I love ebooks, and I love reading them on my iPad. I own far too many paper books which I never reread because I never have them where and when I need them.

Once you accept that file sharing is a necessary evil (you win readers and sales more than you lose real sales) then piracy is just background noise. It’s certainly no reason to deny readers ebooks, whatever some publishers think.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

An uncreative web programmer? :)

When it comes to the covers of your books, how much creative input do you have in their design?

On my pro books? It’s a collaborative process between artist, editor and me based on my character descriptions and suggestions. with the editor and publisher having final say.

On my self-pubbed books – total input. I make the covers myself, with the exception of the lovely one my friend Fia M Ryan made for Learning to Dharn.

Now that you’re a published author, what advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the business?

Don’t make my mistakes, and don’t be an arrogant pimple about your writing. There’s always someone better. Learn from them.

What future projects do you have in the works?

The much requested sequel to “I was an alien cat toy” and another WIP. Nothing pressing.

When you have a minute to sit down with a good book, what genres do you enjoy reading from? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I read very little fiction these days, strange as it might seem. Not only have I become very picky about writing and have had some formerly beloved authors sink in my estimation, I’m always paranoid about having my own ‘voice’ contaminated – or that I might start unconsciously imitating other people. The magpie again, you see.

Nowadays when I do read, I almost always read m/m or good gay romance. Favorite authors:

Tamara Allen
Steve Kluger
A M Riley
Frank Tuttle (he writes gen fantasy)
Anah Crow
Timothy James Beck

Now some questions just for fun:

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?

Dry and snarky. Monty Python and Tom Lehrer

What’s your favorite food?

Aussie porterhouse steak, medium rare

Without getting up to look, what’s under your bed?

Boxes of winter clothes :)

Who are you favorite male and female actors?

Denzel Washington and Juliet Stephenson

What’s your favorite movie(s)?

Strictly Ballroom

If you could sit down to dinner with any one person, past or present, who would it be and why?

Barack Obama, because he’s clever, cute and humane. Failing that, Michelle :)

If you could travel through time, what time period(s) would you most like to visit and why?

The future. Because I’m hoping it’s better than I feared.

What’s the last book you read?

Tamara Allen’s “The Only Gold” – which is superb, by the way.

What are you reading right now?

Nothing, actually.

If we were to take a peek at the desktop where you sit to write, what sorts of things would we find?

My laptop, cables and a bunch of used tissues

Ann, again, thanks so much for being here with us today. Will you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

My website is http://logophilos.net

And might we possibly convince you to share one of your favorite excerpts from one of your books with us?

This is from “A Fluffy Tale”, where Julian first encounters Zachary

It was Gillian from Probate’s sixtieth birthday so they had cake for morning tea, and a little gift presentation. Julian always liked birthdays in the office because the local cake shop did smashing fruit and chocolate cakes, and the office broke out the good coffee as well. It seemed like everyone was there this morning—no one off sick or on leave—but the cake was big and Julian got a nice big slice with lots of lovely icing. He was starving as usual—it always seemed an age until lunch time.

Gillian blushed and got very emotional about the present. She’d be retiring soon and this was her last birthday in the office, so people had pushed the boat out for her. She made a little speech, people applauded heartily, and as the clapping died down, Julian looked across the crowd of co-workers. He blinked at what he saw.

“Who’s that?” he whispered to Liz, pointing discreetly to the handsome stranger standing next to a gaggle of paralegals and looking distinctly bored by the proceedings. The guy was tall—taller than any of the other men in the room—with sleek, black hair and strong, aristocratic features. He looked like a high-priced male model, and the last Julian had heard, Clarke, Saxony and Markham weren’t hiring any of those.

“Oooh, he’s the new solicitor. Zachary Ledbetter. Disputes—they say he’s really sharp. Picky too.” She nudged him. “Good thing you’re not in his section.”

“Piss off,” he muttered, looking his fill at the astonishingly good-looking Mr Ledbetter before the man caught him at it.

Suddenly Pyon, who for once had been behaving pretty well and spending the party playing with a ball of paper someone had tossed down for him to keep him out of trouble, chirped and bolted across the room—straight towards at Zachary Ledbetter.

“Pyon, no!” Julian yelled as quietly as he could, but Pyon paid no attention. Julian grinned painfully and sidled over, hoping that Pyon was just distracted by someone’s kem or a new possible toy.

But luck wasn’t with him because Pyon bounced off Ledbetter’s feet, squeaked with delight and then scrambled up the man’s leg with his usual hyperactive speed. Startled, Ledbetter spilled coffee all over himself, just as Julian reached him.

“Pyon! I’m sorry, let me wipe that up for you. Pyon, naughty!”

Pyon meeped and disappeared. Typical.

As Julian dabbed ineffectually with a serviette at the soiled and expensive trousers, he looked up and found he was being stared at by two pairs of eyes—one cold, green and human, and the other, the golden gaze of the biggest kem he’d ever seen. He was gorgeous—and so was his host.

“Um…I’m really sorry. I have no idea why he’s so badly behaved.”

The man stepped back, shook his foot and his hand, and then extracted an immaculate handkerchief to wipe his fingers, disdaining Julian’s efforts while keeping up his unfriendly gaze.

“Don’t you? I do.”

And with that snide remark, he turned and walked away, his tawny kem still seated firmly and regally across his shoulders like a luxurious scarf.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Lisa Ann » Blog Archive » Fluffy Tales and Alien Cat Toys and Ann Somerville, Oh My! « Top 2 …

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