Help Lee decide what to write next and you just may win!! Read below to see how.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Lee.
I was delighted to be invited!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a professor of social sciences at an urban community college, which is the best job for pay in the world. I’m a bisexual (pansexual is more like it) single parent of two, which is the best non-paying job in the world. I used to do fieldwork in exciting places and now I write queer fiction, so I’m still traveling and exploring, just not on literal planes.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published? How many books have you written thus far?
My first story was “The Hustler Prince” which I began writing right after I finished my doctoral thesis in 2005. I was finding my voice, writing some other stuff too, so I didn’t finish it for ages. I submitted it to Torquere Press’ Highball novella line but Shawn Clements thought it would work better as a Single Shot novelette. It was picked up and published in March of 2007. Jane Davitt was my editor. I realize that I was very, very lucky all around.
[Michele; here is a buy link for Hustler Prince: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=78_92&products_id=2183]
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
I’ve always been drawn to gay and lesbian fiction, though I didn’t have a name for it until I was an adult. My mom gave me a copy of Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy for my fifteenth birthday and that sort of crystallized who I was becoming (bisexual) and what I loved to read. After a spell of not reading for pleasure at all (grad school) I discovered some really fabulous queer fiction online and I was so very, very excited! I made myself wait to begin writing until my dissertation was finished, but after that point I dove in heart and soul.
Do you write full time?
I don’t do anything full time [grin].
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’m deeply introverted. Books were my best friends growing up (I mean that literally) and even now I feel like I’m my truest and best self when I’m reading. When I became a parent, I began to understand that I could be that true, best self with my children by being their parent and doing that work well. But of course we can’t be our whole selves with our kids. So writing for me became a way to be my whole self.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
My best practice is to get up around 5 o’clock every morning (7 on weekends) and write about 1000 words. Then it’s get the boys up and off to school, animals fed, and myself ready for classes. I do promo and social media stuff in the evenings if there’s time.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
I try to bottle up my internal editor while I’m writing, but like an evil genie it emerges from time to time. Since I have so little time to write, I try to make most of it actually “new words” time.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I have killed more stories by trying to plot ahead of time! For me, there’s much less sense of discovery when I know what’s going to happen or how things are going to develop. I’m enough of a little kid that I was to be surprised and delighted, or shocked, or freaked out right along with my characters. I follow a map in the sand more than a GPS, if that makes sense. (Makes a lot of sense to me!)
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Research is another way to guarantee I’ll never finish a story. Don’t get me wrong — I believe wholeheartedly in good solid research (they’d deactivate my Sociology secret decoder ring if I didn’t). The problem is that it’s so easy to fall into the archive abyss and never stop reading for background. If I do too much research up front, I may never start the story — I have a 17th century historical that will probably never get written because there’s always one more article to read. I agree with whoever said about research to “Do a lot, use a little.”
When I’m writing a story that includes something I don’t know about I try to do first-hand research — that’s the fieldworker in me. For Moonspun I needed to see spinners and weavers at work (as well as keep a stack of weaving handbooks at my elbow and a moonrise/moonset chart on my browser). I spent time at farmer’s markets and also reading about historical farming techniques for Servant of the Seasons. Also for that one I had great fun searching translation sites for the names of familiar animals and plants in other languages as part of the world building.
[Michele; here is a buy link for Moonspun: http://www.loose-id.com/Moonspun.aspx
And one for Servant: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=3224]
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?
That’s a tough question, and not just because it makes me want to invoke my Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination! I think it’s almost impossible to say how the people we encounter make their way into our writing. I’m an observer by nature and also by training, so I try to notice these things but other people affect us so subtly it’s hard to determine, you know? I once noticed a twinkish barista who had the most affecting way of moving — he hesitated ever so slightly before each motion he made — that it almost broke my heart. I knew I needed that to be part of a character.
I do perpetrate more overt thefts. For example, the mystical encounter in Askari: Smoke is straight out of my own experience. And my mom’s house (complete with photo!) makes an appearance in a piece of free fiction I did for the Speak Its Name blog.
[Michele, here is a buy link to Askari: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=78_112&products_id=2632
And here is that free story, “Folly”: http://speakitsname.com/2010/12/13/folly/]
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
My critique partner reads everything as it unspools from my brain (sometimes I clean up the grammar and punctuation a bit, but I really do share the unedited mess). When one of us is on fire, we might be reading new stuff daily. So I guess I don’t even complete a book before someone’s read it!
When I’m writing well, a novel-length book might take me three months to draft (though I’m often working on more than one project so that three months will be spread over a year or more). The longest a story ever took me was Moonspun which I drafted in 2006 but didn’t dust off and heavily revise for submission until 2010.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
I don’t know that I ever had writer’s block. Seriously! I’m never short of ideas or the will to write, and when I put my ass in a chair and start typing, when I’m disciplined, there are always words there (even if I don’t love them on sight). But life block…, now there’s an issue I wish more of us talked about! This semester, for example, had me teaching seven classes, chairing two busy committees, running a faculty search, and other day-job stuff that sometimes piles on without any regard to the part of my life that keeps me sane, happy, or balanced. Being a parent doesn’t shrink to fit, so the writing takes a hit when the day job gets crazy. That’s why I call it life block.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
I used to think I was sending messages about the themes that really matter to me, like being a stranger in a strange land, or finding balance in a complex world. But as I’ve developed relationships with readers I have come to realize every person brings their own Big Picture to what they read. Readers see so many things in my stories that I didn’t anticipate or wasn’t super-conscious of. It’s humbling.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Trust your editor.
Be flexible (about everything).
Tailor your promotional efforts to your personal strengths and time.
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?
Titles come to me in flashes, sometimes before I even know there’s a story coming! I’ve got a WIP right now called “Charlatan and Pot Boy” and that crazy title just appeared one day trailing two characters and a strange little tale.
I had the title for the next Paulo and Preston story before I was ready to believe what would happen next in that series.
Sometimes titles are so perfect to me that having to change them makes my head spin. Moonspun’s working title was “Spider’s Web” (Spider is one of the MCs). But LooseId already had a book by that title so I had to find something else. I think I had more beta readers for the title change than I did for the novel!
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I have teenage sons who make me laugh every day, and I can still make them laugh. I don’t know if that answers the question. Flashes of irony, silliness, absurdity or heart make me laugh, especially when they take me by surprise. I’m a geek for puns and word play too. And there’s just something about fart jokes…
What is the most frequently asked Lee question?
Lately readers are asking for a Paulo and Preston omnibus. That makes me feel so good! But I think I should finish the series first — there are at least two more stories to come.
What are you working on now?
Fans of Tasim, Preston’s boyhood friend, will be pleased to know that his story is my summer project. It’s kind of like Prospero and Caliban on a BDSM stage. (YAY!!)
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?
Syd McGinley once described research, background, and worldbuilding as a bouquet garni, like a packet of flavour that brings a dish together but that you don’t actually eat. I just loved that, and I remember it every time I’m about to take a big ol’ info dump on my trusting readers.
[Michele, here is a link to Syd’s web site: http://sydmcginley.com]
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
I recently brought my Lee Benoit persona out of the academic closet and joined a romance author and publisher panel at the Pop Culture Association / American Culture Association annual meeting in Boston. It was the first time I “was” Lee among other academics. It was scary and weird and fun and empowering.
I also run book tables at one or two Pride events every year, which is an amazing way to meet readers and also to bring the GLBT community and ePublishing together.
[Michele, here is a link to a blog post I did about the PCA experience: http://glbtromance.blogspot.com/2012/04/new-kind-of-out.html]
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 read a lot, which is a boring answer. I keep my eyes and ears open wherever I go because you never know when something out there in the world will spark a story idea (for example, a “Kilt Changing Tent” at a local Scottish Festival). I also try to engage in creativity without words, as a way of recharging or coming at a story in a new way. I don’t draw or paint well, but I find that both processes open me up to new ways of seeing a story and even new ways of using words to get a story right.
What kind of books do you like to read?
My first loves are fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. But I’m increasingly in love with thrillers and mysteries and romances of all kinds. I used to spend a lot of time trying to find good queer stories; nowadays I spend time narrowing down what to read among so many great queer stories!
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
What does it say about me that I’m thrilled just to have covers? I mean, we wouldn’t want naked books, would we? Seriously, I think I’ve been very lucky, both to have great cover artists to work with, like Anne Cain who did the cover for Moonspun and Alessia Brio who did Someplace in this World and Servant of the Seasons. I love that I get to offer some insight into the story for the artists to work with, and I love seeing how they interpret my stories visually. I try not to sweat the process too much — publishers and cover artists know more than I do about how to package a book for their market, so I trust that and haven’t been disappointed yet!
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love traveling with my sons, even just day-tripping, because the world is way cooler through kid-eyes. I love spending hours on poorly-executed watercolors because they wake up my brain and my mom still hangs them in her house. I love baking wild-yeast sourdough breads because they’re like meditation that you get to eat.
I also love sex — kind of a requirement for someone who writes erotic content. There’s this great quote from the feminist John Stoltenberg describing sex in a world without sex categories: “Rolling and rollicking and robust sex, and sweaty and slippery and sticky sex, and trembling and quaking and tumultuous sex, and tender and tingling and transcendent sex.” That’s the kind of sex I want to have in my life and in my stories.
[Michele, here is a link to the book this quote comes from; p. 20 in this version: http://www.feministes-radicales.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Stoltenberg-Refusing-to-be-a-Man.pdf]
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
All of the Paulo and Preston stories have now been released as stand-alones, the most recent in April. It’s been an absolute bear of a school year, so there’s nothing new coming out until I get some writing done!
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
On art: Write from the heart. Your heart.
On craft: Know what you don’t know. Be willing to learn.
On process: Get your ass in a chair and just write. Get words from your brain to some storage medium by any means necessary and with as much joy as you can muster.
What future projects do you have in the works?
Maybe Top2Bottom’s readers can help with this. I have one summer novel project that’s on my front burner (Tasim’s story from the Paulo and Preston universe, which I mentioned above). But I always need a couple of other projects on the heat as well, just so I have something to write every day when my front-burner project needs to cool a bit.
Here’s a list of novel-length projects in various stages of completion — let me know in comments what you’d like to see moved to the summer finish line (every commenter on this or anything else to this post earns a chance to win a randomly-drawn $5 Torquere Gift Certificate to be announced in 24 hours’ time).
Gyroscope, a m/m contemporary about a novice sub and his even-more-novice Top.
Unsettled, a m/m and trans fantasy about when worlds collide. Includes blue-haired gender-bent hero.
All Hope Abandon, an m/m historical (or perhaps alt-hist) about a battlefield sketch artist and a prisoner of war.
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
My website is in sore need of updating — now that the regular semester is over I will turn my attention there. You can find that here: http://leebenoittales.com
I have a blog at http://leebenoittales.com/blog that crossposts to LiveJournal, GoodReads, and Amazon.
I love to hear from readers by any of these methods, or by email at email@example.com.
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one or more of your stories with us?
If I haven’t carried on too long, I’d love to share something from Haven, my novella in the Bedside Manner anthology. It’s a picaresque bit of madness set in the 1970s. Haven is a former Vietnam Army medic, now working as an ER nurse in Boston when he meets and falls for Tadeo, an Argentine dancer on the wrong side of the Dirty War, who’s stranded Stateside with a brand-new baby. Evil forces mass on either side of the pair as they try, with a colorful supporting cast of Leathermen, Black Panthers, rednecks and medical types, to figure out how to be together and stay safe.
In this excerpt, Haven realizes he feels more than lust for Tadeo, which sends him into a panic…and the baths…
[Michele, here is a buy link for the Bedside Manner antho: http://www.amazon.com/Bedside-Manner-Jane-Davitt/dp/1603706283/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_p?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314291815&sr=1-1]
Something about Tadeo makes me want to help him. It’s not just that he’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, or that he revs my motor like no one since, well, ever. It isn’t just that he’s an embattled underdog and I have skills and contacts that could help him. It’s the way he looks at me, like I’m his last, best hope. It’s the way he spoke to Alberta like she’s a queen, the royal kind, I mean. It’s the way he has this fatal outlook on everything that’s going down and he just squares his shoulders to take the next hit. It’s the way he looks at his son.
But he isn’t with me now, and I’d be risking us both if he were. I want him, so badly I can taste it in my mouth and smell it on my body, but I can’t have him. Not right now, maybe not ever. His vibe gives me hope, but I don’t even know if he swings my way or not. Yes, I’m a romantic idiot.
As I hit the T station, I’m forced to admit I’m a horny idiot, too. I turn away from my usual route, jog down to the Green Line, and head for the Ramrod. I’ve got no intention of going to the bar; I haven’t been in a leather bar since leaving Daddy. But there’s a bathhouse nearby, and that’s where I need to be, if I can’t be with Tadeo.
The cat who takes my money and gave me a towel makes some crack about taking my costume over to Playland. I give him the finger and head downstairs. As near as I can figure, bathhouses vary only in scuzziness, and this one’s about middle of the road.
The smell of the place is disinfectant with a dash of sweaty feet. I couldn’t say if the smell covered the poppers or vice versa, but ampoules are everywhere, including in the meaty fist of the first dude who cruises me. I shake my head, but give him a smile anyway. Maybe later. Right now, I need the steam room.
It’s early yet, so the guys in the steam room are that weird mix of guys who don’t have anywhere else to be at suppertime. I wish for a sec I’d been here a couple hours earlier, when the construction workers and utility guys tend to be around. I saunter over to a free bench – I’m in the mood to fish a little, not make a move on anyone – and sit on my towel. I got a tattoo on my right tit from Bangkok and another on my biceps from New York, and I know they harden my image. Doesn’t stop a gangly kid from approaching. His vibe screams ‘hustler,’ and I shake my head. No smile this time.
I close my eyes and picture Tadeo, which is a stupid thing to do ’cause it means I’m not paying attention. This is not what you’d call a safe place, and I am, after all, naked. It takes effort not to jump when I feel a foot press mine and a hand lands on my bare thigh.
I look over, going for lazy half-interest, and blink at the dude next to me. He’s about twice as wide as me. It’s not all muscle, but the hard bearish belly looks good on him. If Daddy was about fifteen years older and black, he’d be this cat. I ignore the particular sickness of that thought, and summon up a smile.
“Whatcha wantin’, blood?” I say, letting my hill country notes out in a way I never do at St. Sebs. It’ll either piss him off or make him laugh.
He laughs, a low rumble without a smile to go with it. “Your white-boy mouth, for starters.” His voice is sexy as hell. He may look like a drill sergeant out of central casting, but he talks like a teacher.
“Got a room?” I say, just to let him know my white-boy mouth is his, but I’m not putting on a show no matter how few dudes are in here.
He makes an affirmative sort of grunt and stands slowly, taking my hand as he does. It’s a weirdly sweet gesture, and I’m suddenly more interested. He’s hung, but not enough to make you think of stereotypes or anything, and his back is a solid landscape of muscle, from his shoulders to his calves. Plenty to hold on to.
I let myself be towed into one of the dingy little cubicles and wait to see if he’ll sit or stand. He stays standing and I cock my eyebrows at him, challenging a little.
He grins, halfway between feral and amused, and lays both hands on my shoulders to push me down. The force of it gets me going, and I make sure he can see my woody before I settle in. I take it slow, ‘cause that’s what I’m in the mood for, loving that slow is an option. Sucking off the love doctor is always a quick affair, partly ‘cause he’s a quick shot and partly ‘cause he made it clear he wants it efficient. That’s the word he used, I swear.
My black bear doesn’t seem to be in any hurry, though he leaves one big hand on the side of my head, like a promise for a nice hard face fuck in a few minutes. He smells good, like cocoa butter and musk. Goes straight to my prick, which I reach for only to have Sarge bat it away with his foot.
Toppy, I think to myself, glad I know the score.
I turn on my best technique, lots of tongue and fingers and nice hard suction. When I’ve got him pumping for all he’s worth, holding me by the hair and keeping up a low rumble that’s halfway between a chuckle and a growl, I use my neatest trick, gift of a painted boy in a Saigon brothel.
Sarge’s balls draw up and his cock is twitching. I dive forward and take him into my throat, which makes him grunt with surprise. But the real surprise is what comes next. I set three fingers against what little Lien called the jen-mo point. All I’m doing is pressing on Sarge’s prostate from the outside, which if you do it right can stop ejaculation. I make sure to do it almost right, which slows things down like you wouldn’t believe. Sarge hollers like he’s shooting through the top of his head, and it goes on forever. I grin at him when he’s done, looking up into astonished eyes.
“Fuck, boy,” he rumbles.
“If you insist,” I shoot back, bright as you please.
He toddles over to sit on the cot. It creaks, but holds his bulk.
“What was that?”
“Secret of the Golden Flower,” I say, remembering Lien’s adorable accent when he said it in English.
“Nam?” Sarge asks, and I confirm with a nod.
“You were serious about the fuck?” he asks. He gives his still-hard prick a puzzled look.
“I guess,” I say. But really, now our moment’s passed, Tadeo’s back in my head and I don’t feel as keen.
Sarge looks into my face. I’m still kneeling, and I’m still hard, but somehow he knows it’s not for him.
“I don’t think so.” He pulls me forward by my shoulder and holds me against that hard, round belly. I nuzzle. “I think I gotta ride this high for a bit. Maybe have my second round with someone new.”
I nod against his skin and palm his tits.
He laughs out loud and gives me a squeeze. “I ain’t a saint, boy. My mind could change real easy.”
I shrug and grin and let go.
“You want to save that for someone,” he asks, nodding at my prick, “or you want me to jerk you?”
“Save it,” I say, wondering what Tadeo would think of that. Sarge wraps his towel around his hips, open over his hard on, and gives me a kiss before leaving. It’s about the sweetest visit to a bathhouse I ever had, and I tell him so.
Whatever I told Sarge about saving it, I can’t show up to Alberta’s sporting wood, and besides, we all have other things we need to be concentrating on.
It’s not romantic at all, but I plan our trip to New York while I jerk off in a toilet stall in the locker room.
I skip the showers and head out. It’s dark now, but no one will mess with me, not even by the Back Bay Fens. I grab the Red Line out to Somerville, Alberta’s duplex, and Tadeo.
© Lee Benoit