Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today, Blaine. Why don’t we start by having you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Thanks for having me. I’m Blaine. I’m a purple haired, forty-something, writer of gay romance with a love of men, music, mystery, magic, fairies (the pointy eared ones), platform shoes and the colours black, purple and red, who sings her way through life.
I was born and raised in Zutphen, the Netherlands, where I started life as a shy little girl who spent most of her time daydreaming and telling stories to herself. Not that anyone believes I was ever shy, seeing how talkative and tactile I am these days. I was naïve as well, and had no idea what to do with my life, aside from dreaming of being a famous singer. So, instead of playing to my strengths, which were languages, math, science and physics, I became a secretary.
Until I met my husband and my first son was born, and I became a stay at home mother. We’ve been married for over twenty-one years, have two sons, a foster son and a dog, all equally mischievous. Officially, there are four adults living in this household, unofficially, I doubt you’d find even one.
When did you discover your passion for writing? Was there someone in particular who encouraged and inspired your love of storytelling?
In my early teens. I’d been telling stories for years, mostly to myself to help me fall asleep, but I didn’t start writing until my early teens. I still have a box filled with all the crap I wrote then. Writing wasn’t particularly encouraged at home, and though I read about five to seven books a week (I never understood why libraries let you keep a book for three weeks? Who needs three weeks?), I have no memory of a specific thing prompting me to start writing, but I’ve always been a dreamer, and I needed to keep track of my ideas somehow.
You have a couple of titles coming out, one later this year and one in the spring of 2012, with Storm Moon Press. Would you tell us a bit about them?
The Forester was released on the 22nd of this month. It’s a fantasy Solstice short about Kelnaht, a cloud elf and Truth Seeker , who is caught between love and faith. He tries to solve a murder committed ten days before Solstice that reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit: Kelnaht’s former lover Ianys, who once betrayed him, and the shunned forester named Taruif, who is not allowed to talk to anyone but The Guide, their spiritual pathfinder. When Taruif turns out to be the only witness for the crime, Kelnaht has to keep Ianys from sacrificing himself and losing his daughter, while at the same time realizing he’d gladly sacrifice himself to end Taruif’s loneliness.
The Fifth Son is a fantasy novella that will be released on 9 March 2012. It is about Llyskel, the fifth son of a King. Unlike his brothers, Llyskel doesn’t have a career in politics or the military to look forward to. In a world where everyone possesses magic to some degree or other, Llyskel is powerless, unable to perform even the smallest magic-based tasks. All his life, he’s been under constant guard for his own protection from the magical world around him, much to his annoyance. The only time Llyskel feels free is when he paints, where the only spells he needs are the ones he weaves with brush and paint, capturing moments of beauty and giving them immortality on canvas.
Llyskel harbors a secret wish, though, a dark desire that haunts his nights. Only Ariv, a captain in the King’s army, seems to sense the truth of Llyskel’s needs. The pull he feels to Llyskel is unavoidable, and the passion between them undeniable. But Ariv isn’t the only one interested in Llyskel. The Queen of a neighboring country expresses her interest in the boy’s talents, but her true intent goes far beyond a love of art. And what she asks may be too high a price for any of them.
Do you have any other works currently in progress you’d like to share with us?
I wrote a trans* story for NaNoWriMo, that I’m letting rest a bit before editing/rewriting and polishing. It’s about an investigator who finds out that his boyfriend was the female suspect in a murder case he’s working on.
Right now I’m writing a story about a mute, magical baker with a penchant for scarification, set in the same universe as the Forester, though different village/tribe and location. I feel so comfortable writing that world that I couldn’t resist writing another story. No reappearance of old character’s though, at least, not yet. Maybe in a different story I’ll revisit Kelnaht’s village.
When did you begin writing in the Male/Male genre? What about it interests you the most?
When I was seventeen I saw the film ‘An Early Frost’ with Aidan Quinn, and I wanted to change people’s perception about men loving men. I wanted to take it out of the negativity that surrounded homosexuality then. (It was in the mid-80s, and all you heard about was AIDS and discrimination.)
Of course, what started out as idealism slowly turned into love for the genre, love for the men I wrote about, read about. I feel so much more connected to the male main characters than I ever did the female characters in the harlequins I read in my early teens.
So, I think what interests me the most are the dynamics between the men who meet, often at difficult stages in their lives, and fall in love. It’s about the bridges they have to cross to be together, to make their relationship work. Yet at the same time their love is often what gives them strength to cross those bridges.
Asking this question might be a bit like asking you to choose one child over another, but of all the characters you’ve created, do you have one who stands out among the others as a favorite? If so, who and why?
I love all my characters. Well, maybe not all; as much as my villains intrigue me, I don’t exactly love them. The character that stands out for me is not even a main character, but there is something so compelling about him, that I can’t help love him. It’s the Guide from The Forester.
I set out to create a spiritual guide who, in a religious world, didn’t lecture, didn’t try to convert burdened souls, but just guided his people. He knows his people and knows all their faults, but he doesn’t judge. He doesn’t give them all the answers either. With a few choice words, he helps them on their way to find their own solutions.
All this packed into a man who is a eunuch by choice, gave up his name by choice, and though he is a pillar of the community, his chosen path sets him aside, outside that same community. I’m in awe of his strength. How could I not love him?
Do you write full time? If not, how do you measure a successful writing day, in word count or in time dedicated to it?
I write full time in the sense that at the beginning of this year I chose my writing above everything else. I was a stay at home mum studying to be an English teacher, but the study wasn’t working out for me, and writing only made me feel guilty that I was not spending time on my studies.
After a conversation with my husband and good friend on New Year’s Eve, I decided to go with what I loved most, and that is writing.
A successful writing day for me is when I don’t have any chores or appointments messing up my set schedule. Of course, being a mum, even of (almost) adult children, I don’t have many eight hour work days. Still, working weekends seems only natural, since writing isn’t just work, but my favourite hobby as well.
Do you typically outline your plots before you begin the writing process, or do you write in a more freestyle fashion?
I’m mostly a freestyle sort of writer, a pantser. I start with an idea, a scene or snippet, and build from there. While I write, I often get ideas for what is still to come and I write those down and think about where and how that needs to be handled. So, I plot while I write, basically. Writing is an organic process.
Most of my plotting also happens when I’m not at home. I always take a notebook with me, so while waiting for some appointment, you’ll find me scribbling bits of information on the story: background of the characters, ideas for scenes, lists of things I shouldn’t forget to write about, that sort of thing.
I often have a pretty good idea of where I’m going and how it’ll end, but I don’t always write that down. It’ll stay in the back of my mind throughout the story.
How much do your characters resemble you and/or the people you know?
Little. I think. My friends and family can answer that question much better than I can. I never consciously include traits or characteristics of people I know.
I’ll always be the last one to know. I named a character once whose name is an anagram of mine, and people had to point it out to me, because I never even realized.
How much do you draw upon your own life experiences in your writing?
I’m bound to use some of my experiences, but, again, I never do that consciously. I crawl into my characters’ skins, let their emotions was over me as I tell their story.
Are you surprised by the ever growing female fan-base of Male/Male fiction?
Seeing as I started out writing original fiction from my teens, with no knowledge of others with the same love for gay fiction, compared with how naïve and shy I was, I was bowled over to find a whole slash community online that was probably older than I was. That said, my first fandom consisted of more men than women, but that probably had something to do with the film (Beautiful Thing) we were fan of. Am I surprised? Not anymore. I couldn’t give a reason for it. Maybe it’s because we are suckers for romance but are tired of the way female main characters are portrayed. Maybe it’s because, deep down, we’re the adventurous sorts. Or maybe it’s because we accept diversity as is.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to the art of writing? How did it change the way you approach your craft?
‘Make a note and fix it later’ Michael A. Stackpole said it in his podcast on writing. It seemed such an off hand comment, but it works. If I suddenly find myself realising I did something wrong in chapter one, I don’t go back and rewrite from that point. No, I make a note to remind me to change it in that chapter when I get to the editing phase, and then keep writing pretending the correction is already done. It stops me from rewriting the same chapters over and over and lets me just get on with it and finish the story, before turning it into a polished and well-rounded work.
What are a few of the most valuable things you’ve learned as you’ve gone through the process of writing and becoming a published author?
Finish what you start. You can talk about wanting to write and yearning to be published all you want, but you need to have a finished work to do that. Also, time management. Not that I’m good at it, I’m really not. But working with deadlines has made me become more aware of time. I still can’t believe how I managed to make some of them.
Having a group of people to discuss or check your work, having them point out where your weak and strong points are, is invaluable. It forces me to look at my work in a completely different manner — my editor’s cap on, instead of my writer’s cap — and helps me develop a stronger story.
When someone reads your books, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Enjoyment, mostly. I just want them to enjoy the ride. But I’d also like readers to gain a sense of hope that one day everyone will realize that diversity is a fact of life and love doesn’t discriminate.
When you have the chance to sit down and enjoy some quiet reading time, what sorts of books are you most likely to pick up? Who are your favorite authors?
I read a lot in my own genre. What can I say? I’m a sucker for romance. But outside gay romance, I read a variety of books, but I prefer mysteries and fantasy. There is a slew of names running through my head right now, but I’d have to go with CJ Sansom, Jane Austen, Doroty Gilman, EM Forster, JK Rowling, Joseph Hansen and Josh Lanyon.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A Singer. Although these professions aren’t mutually exclusive
I love to sing, I love evoking emotions in people, though I can’t help feel embarrassed when someone comes up to me to tell me I caused them goose bumps.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?
Singing, obviously, but also Qigong, which clears my head, and, though I have little time for it these days, I love to design houses. And reading, but that probably goes without saying.
If time travel were possible, what time period(s) would you most like to visit? Why?
Would it be very corny if I said I’d love to travel back in time to visit my mother? I’d love to visit her before she became a married woman, just to get to know her better the way she was then. It’d be damn hard not to tell her who I was, though.
I’m not really a history kind of person, so wouldn’t mind having a look at the future to see what becomes of all these wonderful things us humans dream up.
If you had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with one famous person, either past or present, who would you choose and why?
You’d have to define famous for me, first. Since ‘Maurice’ is one of my favourite books of all time, I’d have to go with EM Forster. No idea what we’d talk about, or whether he actually wants to know how this secret book of his did,
If he isn’t available, I’d have to go with one of my first teen crushes, Rick Springfield.
If we were to look around the desk where you sit to write, what would we find there?
Right now? A mess. My husband’s making me a new desk, but he doesn’t have a lot of time to work on it, so I’m working out of boxes and crates, and a half finished desk. On that desk you’ll find, next to my computer, some writing totems, like a WNF turtle filled with NaNoWriMo buttons and a small troll figurine. Pens, of course, notebooks, mp3 player, usb-sticks, e-reader, diary, a HUMIDIFYER and loose bits of paper. Handbag, laptop bag, shoes and an assorted mess can be found on the floor.
How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
All over the place, probably. I can laugh at the silliest jokes, well placed word plays, British and/or dark humor. I don’t do well with predictability, however. (which is probably why I can’t watch Laurel and Hardy anymore, while I loved them as a kid)
Do you have an all time favorite fictional character?
Three come to mind immediately, McGyver, Ianto Jones and Mrs. Pollifax. I’d have to go with Mrs. Pollifax. I started reading Dorothy Gilman’s series in my teens and nothing quite beats an unassuming old biddy turned CIA agent, does it?
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I don’t have any patience for people blocking pathways with their shopping carts. Whether you’re searching for the right product or you find yourself chatting with a friend — I can’t seem to go shopping without chatting to at least one acquaintance — there is no excuse for leaving your cart smack in the middle of the path. Strangely enough, those people are often the ones complaining the most about others doing it.
Do you have a favorite personal mantra, quote, or saying that describes your outlook on life and the way you approach each day?
Our Difference is Our Strength. The world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?
Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?
Oh, Dutch, of course, English, German, a bit of French and a little Italian (I can at least count to twenty in Italian).
Of all the modern conveniences, which one would you most likely say you couldn’t live without?
My laptop. Once I started using a computer to write my stories, I realized how much easier it was to keep track. My notebooks always looked so messy with my ever changing handwriting and all the crossed out and restarted parts. Also, I type faster than I write longhand, and my brain is even faster. I can’t count the number of times I found half written sentences in my stories.
Thanks again for spending some time with us, Blaine. It’s been great having you with us. Will you tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
Thank again for having me. It was fun
You can find my website at: http://blainedarden.com
And we’d love if you’d consider sharing a favorite excerpt from one of your books with us.
Excerpt from The Forester:
Tired as I was after spending all day scouring the clearing for evidence and examining Cyine’s body, I wasn’t granted any rest yet. Someone knocked on my door just as I finished washing up and changing my clothes. I regretted opening the door as soon as I saw Ianys standing on the other side, but I resisted slamming it closed.
“What do you want?” I asked, not caring how hostile I sounded.
After all this time, Ianys couldn’t even look at me as he stood there, fidgeting with his tunic, eyes lowered to the ground.
Ianys was as gorgeous as he ever was. Brown, short cropped, messy hair, as if he had just risen from sleep, his muscles visible through the tight tunic. He was a tree elf, broad and more muscular than when we had been together, but as a smith that was to be expected; working the bellows was a pretty hefty workout in itself. I pushed down the memory of watching him work when we were together.
In all the turns since he’d left me, betrayed me, he had barely spoken two words to me. Instead, I had to watch from afar how he vowed himself to another, only to lose her to illness after their daughter, Atèn, was born. I’d watched how hard he worked at being a good father, how he, finally, became a full-fledged smith. He’d never once approached me, but the hope lingering inside me could never be buried deep enough. How could I still want him? After eight turns, I should know better.
“I don’t have time for this, Ianys. I am tired and I—”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Can’t it wait till morning?”
I had to bite my lip to keep from reacting when he finally looked up. His green eyes, filled with turmoil, drew me in the way they had always done. I loved him once. I shook my head. Who was I kidding? I never stopped.
Holding the door open, I stepped aside to let him in, staying in the small hallway until I managed to compose myself.
“He didn’t do it, Kel.”
Whatever whoever had or hadn’t done was the furthest thing from my mind when Ianys called me by that name. I clenched my fists and turned my back to him, hoping he couldn’t see how it affected me. “You have no right to call me that.”
A long silence followed. I tried to school my features, but I was too drained. Instead, I kept my back to him and waited for him to break the silence. I heard him sigh.
“I heard they accuse him of killing Cyine, but he didn’t do it,” Ianys finally said.
“Who?” What could Ianys know about the murder?
I froze. My first instinct was to tell Ianys he shouldn’t be saying the name, shouldn’t even think it, but there was something in Ianys’ voice that made me stop. Something of a memory from long ago, when I didn’t know how Ianys betrayed me, and we lay together in the dark, and he would whisper my name in that same way.
It could not be true. But when I finally turned around and looked at him, it was all too clear in Ianys’ face. The one I loved—had loved—and the one I desired, joined in illicit relations.
I should arrest Ianys, should send him to face the elders and have him punished, shunned, shut out for his digression. But then I pictured Atèn looking at me with those same green eyes, and I knew I could not rob her of a father as well.
“He didn’t do it, Kelnaht. He couldn’t have done it, for I—”
I shook my head and held my hand up to stop him. “Don’t tell me, Ianys. I beg of you, do not confess to this… this abomination.”
It hurt me to say it, having the same feelings myself, but if he told me, I could not help him. Being caught talking to the Forester was bad enough, though I had the right to pardon him for that, a first offence. But confessing to laying with a shunned, that would have to be reported to the elders; it was my duty. I would not be able to save him then.
“He saw someone outside, Kelnaht. He didn’t see Cyine, but he noticed someone out in the dark in that clearing.” His eyes begged me to understand, begged me to help him, but I was rooted to the floor.
I knew the Forester—I could not allow myself to think of him by name—knew he hadn’t killed Cyine, even if the evidence was still inconclusive. I had no doubt in my mind, no matter how loud Olden proclaimed him guilty. And here Ianys was, confirming my belief in his innocence and giving me the best and worst witness I could ever have. No matter whether I believed Ianys or not, I could never use this information. The Forester was out of bounds.
“Kel, please, help us. Help him. I could have been out walking when I stumbled across the clearing. You know I don’t always sleep well.”
I bit my lip and clenched my fists. I didn’t want him to bring our history up. I didn’t want him to tell me about the Forester. I wanted him gone, wanted him to go back to his daughter and go back to not being part of my life. But I found myself unable to turn him out.
“You would perjure yourself, would risk losing your daughter?”
“No! No one but you knows the truth.”
I laughed at that, flinching at the harsh sound. “I am the Truth Seeker, Ianys. I seek the truth; I do not bury lies.”
“But I was in the forest.”
“But you didn’t see what he saw. One mistake and you will be shunned, just like him.”
Ianys flinched then. He shook his head. “There has to be a way.”
“Get him to talk to the Guide.”
“Anything the Guide hears during those conversations is confidential. He can’t reveal anything Taruif tells him.”
“Please.” The word left my mouth before I could stop it. I couldn’t handle him speaking that name with such devotion. Not when I ached to be able to myself. “Remember who you are talking to, Ianys. Do not incriminate yourself any further.” I leaned back against the wall, trying to keep upright and closed my eyes. “Go home, Ianys. I need to… I need to think.”
I swatted away the hand touching my cheek and waited until I heard the door close before letting myself slide to the floor.