Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, K.Z. We are very excited and can’t wait to learn more about you.
Thank you both for having me here! And don’t get too excited.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
In a nutshell, it was exuberantly blue-collar. My parents were tavernkeepers in the heyday of neighborhood taverns, before laws, laws, and still more laws sucked the grit and the joy right out of such places. After I left childhood behind, I wasted far too much time doing the wrong things and being with the wrong people. Now I’m trying to make up for that.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
Whoa, we’re going waaaay back now. I cut my writer teeth on sweetly sensual romances of the Harlequin Temptation type. But since my attempts didn’t fit the HQN mold, I pretty much had to shelve them all. Then I wrote some heavier novels and went through a couple of agents before shelving those tomes, as well. The advent of e-books finally gave me an opportunity to get published. A tiny and now-defunct e-pub issued my first romance in 2003 or ‘04, and Samhain published one of my “serious” novels, Acts of the Saints, in 2006. It’s still available. (Mind you, this was before they became a romance-only publisher.)
How many books have you written thus far?
I’ve published close to 30, but I’ve written more than that.
When did you start writing m/m erotic romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
In 2007, I think. That’s one of those “loopy author” stories. I never made a conscious decision to start writing m/m romance. Two male characters, Jackson Spey and Adin Swift, appeared together in one of my Ellora’s Cave novels (they’d been friends for years) and ended up getting intimate. I realized after their encounter just how deep their connection ran, how much they meant to each other, and how complex their dynamic was. Once I gave them their own book, there was no turning back. I immediately found m/m romance infinitely more fulfilling and a better “fit” for me than m/f romance. But that’s a topic in and of itself.
Do you write full time?
More or less.
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 was sick of working at jobs I loathed. A housemaid named Lois, one of my coworkers at the time, knew I had degrees in English (yeah, see where an English degree gets you?) and suggested I try my hand at writing romances. So I did just that.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Drinking coffee and staring at my monitor.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Six of one and half-dozen of the other. I’ll start with a general story arc in mind, but from there it’s a pretty scattershot process. Maybe that’s because my books are very character-driven, and characters tend to take on a life of their own. Passages pop into my head totally out of order – not necessarily a bad thing, because it forces me to put more thought into connecting the dots than I would if I were working from an outline.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Depends on the book, but it can get pretty extensive – and absorbing.
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?
Probably more of myself than I realize, but very little of specific people I know or have known. Well, I should modify that part. I confess I delighted in turning my SO’s ex into a pluperfect skank in a couple of books (believe me, it wasn’t much of a stretch), and my gay, lesbian, and trans friends over the years have certainly made enough of an impression of me to influence my writing. As I said earlier, though, characters tend to take on a life of their own, for the most part.
The situation they’re in determines their development. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn any lines. Characters need to be fallible if they’re going to be sympathetic. If I do set limits, they’re limits relating to the soap-operatic elements that romances can fall prey to. In contemporaries, at least, I try to exercise restraint. If that means not tying up all loose ends, as in The Prayer Waltz, so be it. I like hopeful endings, but I hate forcing tidy, Lifetime Movie Network resolutions.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
What length are we talking? Maybe two months for a novella, if all goes well.
If you weren’t sitting there right this very moment answering our book of questions, what else would you be doing?
The same thing I am doing – eating the cheddar cheese soup (with onions, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower) I just made, and reminding the dogs I don’t beg for their chow.
Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
I stutter. I’m an inveterate reviser. Can’t seem to help myself.
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’m actually feeling a bit “constipated” right now. But the older I get, the more I allow myself these periods. Maybe reading will loosen me up. Or letting my mind drift. Or watching a particular movie. Or having a few beers. I’m not going to worry about it. The words will come. They always do.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel, or experience?
Wow, interesting question. Escape, essentially. I mean, we’re not talking Pulitzer Prize fiction here. But offering escape doesn’t preclude stimulating thought and feeling. I think I’m simultaneously a very cerebral and very emotional writer. Occasionally, when something really gets to me, I’ll center a story on a particular issue. There’s no bible that says fiction writers should quail from topical or sensitive subjects.
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?
Both. Titles and I have an interesting relationship; I’m a big fan of evocative titles. In fact, I often work from a title. One will simply crop up in my mind, the kernel of a story embedded within it.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
Droll bordering on wry. It often gets me into trouble. Lewis Black makes me laugh. The old TV shows “Cheers” and “Frasier” make me laugh. My dogs make me laugh. Absurdity makes me laugh. I don’t laugh at sexist or sophomoric humor, though—you know, the kind you see in most sitcoms and a lot of popular movies. When my SO watches “Married, with Children” or “Jackass” reruns, I want to put his head through the TV set!
What are you working on now?
Visible Friend (alternate title, Keeping Tinker Bell Alive), a contemporary about a recovering gay drug addict who’s not having an easy time of it.
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?
I don’t think I’ve ever received any advice. None that I’ve solicited, anyway. I do believe the “write what you know” mantra is crap. So maybe that’s the best piece of advice, because it prompted me to stretch my imagination and do just the opposite.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
Oh, shit. This is embarrassing. When my Samhain novel came out in print and I got my author copies, I spent days putting together “press kits” (oy, I groan-chuckle now just thinking about it!) I sent those stupid things to any and every critic/reviewer I thought would be interested in a dystopian thriller. And – surprise, surprise — nobody was interested! (Oh, wait. I do think I got a mention from the Midwest Book Review.) Gah, I was so naïve and idealistic!
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?
Nothing. Seriously, nothing. It’s just there, my own little “eternal flame.” (Maybe I should park my ass on Kennedy’s grave and save the taxpayers some money.)
What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envision the future of e-publishing?
E-publishing will soon be the book industry, for the most part. Pros? For publishers, ease and low cost of production. For writers, shorter waits between acceptance and publication, and bigger royalty percentages. For readers? Accessibility and variety.
Its biggest drawbacks are the piracy problem (something has to be done, and soon), a dearth of knowledgeable, dedicated editors, and company owners who don’t seem to know what they’re doing and/or get bat-wacky when they’re challenged or criticized.
Another problem is the proliferation of books that simply aren’t worthy of being published. Because e-pubs are fairly easy to start up, there seems to be a new one on the horizon every other week. They need fodder. Sad to say, too many accept dreck – either for the sake of putting out product or because their acquisitions editors lack discernment.
What kind of books do you like to read?
History, m/m fiction, some borderline literary fiction, creepy as opposed to gory horror (like H. P. Lovecraft’s stories).
What is your favorite TV show?
This is embarrassing, too. I have a mad crush on Keith Olbermann. I’m also addicted to “Deadliest Catch,” “Top Chef” (and now, “Just Desserts”), “Project Runway” (I adore Tim Gunn), and “CBS Sunday Morning.” Oh, and I love the campiness of “Ghost Adventures” – that swaggering dork with the big guns and goofy hair who’s always defying demons to grab his crotch. Actually, he’s never gone that far, but I sure wish he would!
What is your favorite fast food restaurant? Just thought we’d throw that in for fun…
Taco freakin’ Bell. *blush* I inhale their food.
Without getting up, can you tell us what’s under your bed? (yep, another sneaky question.)
Easily. Shoes, dust, slippers, dust, dog hair, dust, crumbs, dust, storage containers for linens…and more dust. With maybe a pencil thrown in, since I often write longhand in bed.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Actress, antiquarian bookseller, dancer, professional declutterer (just a way of cadging cool stuff from hoarders — heh), and guidance counselor.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I’m sick to death of naked torsos. Other than that, I’ve been pretty lucky with covers. There are some fabulous artists out there who’ve become very adept at using graphics technology. For example, the cover for Fugly was actually a digital “painting” done by a woman trained in traditional media. What talent and imagination that took! I have enormous respect for good cover artists.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Gardening and reading. And nosing around thrift shops. My life is very uneventful, finally, and I like it that way.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
Mongrel, a steampunk novel, and precious_boy, a contemporary, are coming in December and January from Dreamspinner Press.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Same advice I try to apply to life in general: don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed. I mean it. Keep your ego in check and don’t anticipate blowing people away. There’s too much competition in the world of fiction, even in the fairly small niche of m/m romance. Learn to savor small doses of satisfaction. If you can do that, one letter or review from an appreciative reader will prove just as rewarding as an appearance on “Oprah.” (Like I would know!)
Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
The best place is my regularly updated and fairly active blog – http://kzsnow.blogspot.com/. I kinda-sorta have a website, and I have a domain name, but . . . (this is pathetic) I don’t know how to hook them together. I’m dreadfully tech-challenged.
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?
Since I’ve yammered about Jackson Spey (and he’s the catalyst for the action in Fugly), here’s a glimpse into his sordid past. It’s from InDescent, an urban fantasy-romance and the most important of the books in which this character appears.
When a breach in the Prism of Nezrabi frees creatures from another plane, a troubled wizard learns there are things more terrifying than the bogeymen of our nightmares. Like inner demons . . . and love.
* * *
Jackson opened the door to the backroom, chips of cracked paint snowing onto his knuckles. The door had to be shoved to overcome the resistance of its rusty hinges.
Seeing Cutter made him pause as he pushed the door closed behind him.
Facing away from the entry, Cutter knelt on his haunches, handcuffed to two obsolete radiators that sat on either side of him. A mass of tangled mahogany curls ornamented his bare back down to the base of his shoulder blades. Why he’d been stripped to the waist and why his jeans were down to his crack, Jackson had no idea; he’d gotten there late.
The view—probably not intended to be sexy, but sexy nonetheless—immediately touched off an unsettling sensation in Jackson’s lower abdomen. His reaction startled him, although it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. Cutter was twenty-three and had a nice body. Spring-loaded muscles, taut and solid. Wasn’t bad looking, either, although his temperament left a lot to be desired. He was a cocky shit. Jackson had never before seen him thus displayed. A t-shirt with cut-off sleeves had always been his most extreme state of undress.
Jackson sauntered forward and stood in front of him.
Cutter turned up his large brown eyes. “Why am I here, Supe?”
“You know why.”
“But you’re always fucking somebody else’s old lady. What the hell did I do that was so different?”
Jackson dropped to a squat, the better to face him. “What you did, cowboy, was fuck Moira in the ass while she was passed out, and you did it without Jersey’s permission. You know how he is.” Jersey was also the club’s president. Cutter didn’t need to be reminded of that.
“But he’s the one who showed me her ass while she was passed out! I figured—”
“You figured wrong, my man.” Jackson rose. The whole situation made him uncomfortable.
Cutter’s face twisted. “How do you get away with so much crap? Jesus, you split up Hemp and Anna. Pud even broke Pauline’s jaw because of you, and now he’s sitting—”
“Shut up.” Jackson didn’t appreciate being reminded. At twenty-five, he already felt too old for this shit. “You’re supposed to suck me off, not recite a list of my conquests.”
Jackson eyed Cutter’s smooth chest. There was nary a hair in sight. He had a carefully executed if garish tat right over his sternum—some goat-headed demon, its horns spreading out over a well defined pair of pecs. A rivulet of sweat trickled down the goat’s leering face. Higher up Cutter’s torso, the puckered, pale thread of a scar ran at an angle just below one shoulder.
Balance began deserting Jackson. The effects of weed and whiskey, he told himself. The explanation didn’t quite stick. Maybe something else had upset his equilibrium. Maybe a desire to run his hands over that chest and feel the nubs of those nipples had given him a tilt. Curbing the urge, he looked for something to sit on, saw a folding chair off to his right, and went to get it. He felt Cutter’s gaze on him.
“Supe, I got a confession to make.”
Jackson stationed the chair in front of the prisoner. “Save it. I’m not a priest.” After taking off his jacket, he sat, forearms on parted thighs, in front of Cutter’s damp face. He hoped his loosely linked hands and the room’s dimness concealed his crotch, for his cock had become restless.
Cutter rotated his wrists within the cuffs. His muscles delicately flexed. The chains rattled, making Jackson think of Marley’s ghost. “You gonna take it out?”
“Take what out?”
“Your dick. I gotta tell ya, man”—Cutter laughed tightly—”yours is the only one I actually kind of…looked forward to.”
Jackson gaped at him. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, I ain’t.” Cutter’s eyes shone like round and gleaming pools within the rough terrain of his face. He had acne scars, other scars. More scars than a guy his age should carry. They lent his once-cute face a roguish maturity he certainly didn’t deserve. He also had lips more full than thin. When he licked them, they glistened faintly.
Jackson’s cock nudged its tight casing of denim. An urge to press the heel of one hand against his incipient hard-on made him shift in the chair. Its metal frame creaked.
As if that were a cue, Cutter inched forward. The chains to which his wrist restraints were attached gave him some room to move. “Take my hands out of the cuffs, man. I want to grab you while I do you. I want to pump it while I suck it.”
Jackson flopped against the chair back. “Oh, come on. I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” His little soldier, however, could believe it.
“Hey, whose old lady gives the best head? Toot’s, right? Shelley does it best. Didn’t Toot let you have her on your birthday?”
“Yeah, all day. She’s good. So what are you getting at?” Jackson hadn’t had a superior blowjob in a while. At the moment, he was all too aware of it.
“I’m better,” Cutter declared. “I shit you not, Supe, I’m way better. I been wanting to do you for three years. You’re hung, man. Makes my mouth water.” Again, his tongue came out and skated over his lips.
“Oh, Christ,” Jackson groaned. Curling forward, he dropped his forehead to his hand and scratched at it. “Why are you talking like that? I know you’re not queer.”
“I just think you got a great cock. Nothing wrong with that. I wanna feel it. I wanna taste it. Just once. That don’t make me a closet fag.” Cutter seemed to smile, or try to.
Jackson’s fingertips pressed, cool and dry, against his forehead. “Fuck.” Doca’s assessment echoed in his mind. He ain’t bad. I think he’s done it before.
Against his better judgment, Jackson got up, walked around the shackled man, and pulled a key ring off a nail in the wall. As he leaned over to unlock the cuffs, he heard Cutter’s coarse breathing abrade the air beside his face. The words pump and suck, feel and taste seemed to ride each exhalation. Jackson was well on his way to a boner, and he wanted a strong hand to throttle it and firm, succulent lips to slide up and down its length.
Makes my mouth water…
A broad bolt of pain made his stomach curl in on itself. Another cracked into the ledge of his cheek. Stunned, Jackson crumpled.
“I think you’re the closet fag, Superstar. Fucking hotshot ho-dog chump.”
Rolling up his eyes, all Jackson could see through his lashes was a tense-muscled predator within star-studded darkness. He knew he had to fight off both. Teetering, he suppressed his pain and summoned his fury, something he’d done often enough before, and cannon-balled into the predator’s midsection.
The impact emptied Cutter’s lungs with a cough of surprise as much as expelled air. Jackson fell on top of him and held him down. He knew the punk had a glass jaw. Clamping a hand around Cutter’s neck, Jackson snarled, “Fuck you, asshole,” and delivered a swift, jabbing punch to the weak spot. The blow immediately put Cutter out. As soon as he went slack, Jackson got to his feet and kicked Cutter in the nuts. Not hard enough to bring him around, just hard enough to give him something to think about when he revived.
Jackson leaned over, hands braced on knees. “Think you can turn on me, motherfucker? Huh? You’re not good enough to suck my dick, you ignorant pants-pisser.”
With no forewarning, his stomach clenched. An upsurge of vomit scalded his throat. He let it splash onto Cutter’s chest. Drawing back one booted foot, he kicked the inert body again. He didn’t know where, and where didn’t matter. Because in this ugly room with its bug-spotted, low-watt bulb and its shabby, cast-off furniture and its dank odor of new sweat and old piss and urban river, a man he’d considered a comrade had rubbed his nose in multiple piles of his own shit.
Jackson didn’t need it. Those poorly buried memories, like a corpse whose fingers poke out of a shallow grave, were reminders enough. Of broken bones and broken hearts, broken promises and broken friendships. All that ego- and hormone-driven destruction. And now, on top of it all, a humiliating revelation of secret desires, used against him.
Reaching down, he grabbed Cutter’s ankles, dragged him back to the radiators, and resecured the handcuffs. The volume of music, guffawing, and profanity-laced drunktalk ramped up in the adjacent room. Two women shrieked in laughter. They must have just arrived. The clinking roll of an empty bottle stopped at the backroom’s door. Jackson stared at its form, a hollow ghost in a slice of jaundiced light.
He couldn’t bring himself to go in there. He decided to exit through the backdoor, descend the concrete steps to the narrow walkway along the river, ascend to street level at the next building, and then head for the lot where his bike was parked.
He lifted his jacket off the back of the chair. It felt slick and heavy. Humidity greased the leather. Heat coaxed out the smell of the animal from which the hide had been peeled. Jackson didn’t want to put it on, but he slipped into it out of habit and necessity. Riding without protection wasn’t wise.
Feeling a little weak but considerably more sober, he slipped out the building’s rear door. The dark river, licking along its channel, had a sinister, opaque sheen. Occasional drops of light danced on it surface. Somewhere in the near distance, the water made lewd lapping sounds, soft and sly. Jackson imagined a wet tongue slithering up from the depths, wrapping around his ankle, and pulling him under.
Despite the night’s sticky warmth, he shivered inside his jacket. The river gave him the terrors. He knew he’d freak out if he fell into it, like Pip in Moby-Dick after he’d tumbled into the ocean.
Still, Jackson continued to stride along the narrow strip, boot heels clacking on the pavement. Cutter’s words kept up their relentless taunt in his mind. Jackson wondered if he was tempting fate, maybe asking for some penance or punishment for every ugly thing he’d ever done or wanted to do. But no monstrous hand swept him into the sluggish water. No liquid tongue twined around his leg.
After finally mounting another stairway to get back to safer ground, he paused to get his bearings. The parking lot and his bike were still a couple of blocks away. Traffic droned steadily down the street but few pedestrians were on the sidewalks. Not many people walked around the city at night, unless some event like Summerfest was taking place. Then they moved in herds. There was safety in numbers.
Jackson didn’t like herds. Packs were more his style. Maybe, after tonight, he’d find the solitary life preferable to both.
Very faintly, he heard a male voice calling his name as he turned into the parking lot. One of the guys must have come here looking for him. Yeah, there was definitely a tallish figure standing beside his Roadster, which looked like a jewel in the sodium arc light that spilled over it.
“Jackson. Over here.”
He frowned. No member of the Black Saints would be calling him Jackson. He wondered who the dude was. Footsteps slowing, he warily approached the man. His hand instinctively went to the knife sheath on his belt.
Jackson had never seen the guy before. He was maybe six-one, trim and toned and extremely goodlooking. A pretty-boy.
“Jackson,” he said gently, “can you see me?”
“Of course I can see you. But who the fuck are you?”
The man kept peering in his direction, as if a fog bank lay between them and he was struggling to see through it.
Everything changed then. The city began crumbling, each building and lamppost and stretch of pavement turning into flaking bone. Chalky fragments powdered the air like scurf. People and traffic froze and faded. Dimming lights bled into the white cloud.
The musty smell of mold overwhelmed the odors of hot asphalt and humid brick, AC and vehicle exhaust. Even Lake Michigan’s weedy, fishy tang was lost to the scent of decay.
“My bike,” Jackson whispered…and felt a cold clutch of fear, as if his beloved Roadie had become a more threatening force than the smear of black river.
“Jackson, come on. Hold out your hand.”
The disintegrating city dissolved into a confused mist.
* * *
Jackson was breathing through his nostrils, hard, like a horse, when a strong pair of arms came around him. Dropping his cheek to Adin’s shoulder, he mashed his face against his lover’s neck. Every other exhalation carried a feeble sound, like a whimper. Fisting his hands against Adin’s back, he felt the soothing passes of a caring hand over his hair.
“You’re sweating like crazy,” Adin whispered, resting his head against Jackson’s. “Wherever you were, was it difficult for you?”
“Yeah. Just like the first time.” It was an incident he’d pushed far back in his mind and coated with memory-goo to obscure the details. Jackson knew there were plenty more where that one came from. Goddamn.
The pulse in Adin’s neck was strong and regular. Jackson wanted to kiss it, but Cutter’s words scuttled between his mouth and Adin’s skin like a foul-smelling crab.
He lifted his head. They were once again in that albino bubble with the crawling lines on its skin. “Where were you the whole time?” he asked Adin.
“There was no ‘whole time’. We were here and all of a sudden you weren’t here and then I was standing over a motorcycle.”