Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, H.J. Raine, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a ex-electrical and computer engineer, I’ve also done technical marketing, creating specifications from customer negotiations. I retired five years ago at age 43. I am bi-sexual and have a partner and a child now, and am very content.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
The first book Kelly and I got published was Hearts Under Fire and it took us three weeks to write it the first time, but then took us another four months to edit it into good enough shape for Torquere to accept it.
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
I started in 1989, for soc.motss and the old Usenet bondage groups. Part of the reason was because I had a lot of gay male friends that liked what I wrote back then, and it was cool to find out that they wanted romances, too. Stories about finding someone to love and be loved by was so universal, and it didn’t hurt to have hot sex as well, but they weren’t finding stuff in their genre that they liked. So I just wrote in my spare time back then. My career took off, and I stopped writing, and I picked it up again in 2008, under the guise of fanfiction to begin with, but then Kelly recruited me and we started playing around and figured out we had a book.
How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?
I guess… this go around, it took three years in a way for me to get up enough courage to submit something for publication. It was easier with Kelly as a partner, but it took that long to think I was good enough to submit something. We’ve now written and published the two books, there’s another book we’ve written together that we’ll be submitting later this year. And three books in the plotting/planning stages that we’ll get to as our lives permit, and which came from one “book” that both of us have realized just wouldn’t work as written. I have one book in the works of my own, but it’s not entirely written, yet.
If I count one novel-length fanfiction, then that would be five books I’ve written from start to end.
Do you write full time?
Part time, really, as I’m a parent, too, and that’s a lot of work. A lot of good, joyful, fulfilling work, but it takes time from the writing.
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’ve always written. I have journals from when I was six… just barely able to create letters, and I was writing stories. I have an online journal that spans back to the mid-80’s, and I had a following from that of several hundred readers even before blogging was a word. So in a way I suspect writing had always chosen me. I just had to balance priorities until I had the time to pay it enough attention.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
My home partner gets up at 7 to get the child going and makes the lunch and gets things going. I get up around 7:30 to walk with them to the bus stop and greet the neighbors and other kids. Then we walk back home after the child is off. I then sit down, and usually get online, on headsets with Kelly, and we talk about the plan for the day and get going. The tasks vary, but usually we write until about 1 or 2pm Mountain time, and then go off to do something physical to offset the computer time. My partner and I then get the child at about 4, do homework, dinner, and evening time together, and after the child’s in bed, I often work on something or talk with Kelly and we work on something together.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Both, now. With Kelly we edit as we go. I prefer doing a first draft completely and then going back to revise, unless I get stuck due to a plot point or characterization gone wrong. I usually figure out I did something wrong when I feel ANGRY about the writing, and if I go back and fix it, everything smooths itself out. I find that it’s much easier to keep going if I fix a major plot flaw.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I like having compass headings for a plot. Usually the major points are laid down and the freedom comes in figuring out how to get “there”. Every scene has to have a point, a solid transition for the character and where the whole plot is headed; but the precise imagery, symbols, actions, or setting is something that happens while we write it.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
I try to minimize my research beforehand. Research is one of my pitfalls, in that I can get so immersed in the research that I lose why I’m doing it, and just revel in the mounds of information I’m getting. It’s one of my delay tactics to say, “Oh, I’ll start this AFTER I understand this mountain of stuff…” So I try, now, to delay the research until I have something specific that I know I don’t know and want to know better. Like in “Swing Shift”, I suddenly realized I had no idea as to the exact sorts of hours people on a swing shift or night shift actually had, so when I needed to know when Anthony or Ed’s shifts were over, I did the research then. I think the real gift is knowing what I don’t know, and then I look into it.
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?
Strictly speaking, none of my characters would exist without me. So they’re all a manifestation of me, my blind spots, my tendencies, my views of the world. I try, however, to make them each themselves. None of the characters in the books has been an actual engineer, yet, and certainly no one has been someone on a Director’s Staff trying to manage projects with hundreds of engineers involved. *laughs* It would make for a boring romance, really, as there would be no time. But I’ll admit that I borrow mannerisms from friends, family, and myself, here and there. I take details from my life to fill in the gaps, usually.
Kelly and I do a full on character sheet to start, usually with major elements of history, their physical characteristics, and some of their characterizations. We start with that, and usually write some sort of sex scene between the two major characters as a way of discovering them in motion. Every human being approaches sex differently, with different hangups, different likes, dislikes, experiences, and communication styles. In the intimacy of the bedroom, everyone is stripped down in more than one sense, emotionally as well as physically, and down to their most primitive means of decision making. We do our best to discover each individual characters’ ways and means towards life through those little experiments. Few of those are publishable, but the exploration makes us both happier with who it is we have.
I think the line is the definition of the character. Who are they? What makes them up? If there’s something that can be borrowed from my life to make them more solid in the ways they interact, then they get it.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
Now it takes Kelly and I about two months from the moment we actually start putting words down for a book and when we finish the last editing pass. This isn’t counting everywhere from two weeks to two years of thinking or talking about plot bones and characters while we’re contemplating a book. We revise as we go, especially when something isn’t “going right” or one of us gets frustrated with the book, it’s usually a sign that we did something wrong, so we have to fix that before we can keep going.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Yes. Usually it’s because I’m too wrung out from other things to be able to put two words together anymore. I rest. Take it easy for a while, go into what I call “input mode” and start reading other things that I want to read. There’s usually a pile from when we’re working so hard. I also paint, and it’s nice to go completely nonverbal for a while. Or if there’s a deadline involved and I have to write anyway, I will go for a walk around the neighborhood, and when I come back I just put one word after the other, and get through it that way.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
“Romance is for everyone.” I hope they get hope from it and an understanding that even when it’s rough or tough or seems impossible, that working out a good relationship with another human being is always doable. That’s the core of it. Other things I’d consider icing would be someone learning a bit more about BDSM that was afraid of it, or “courage is going ahead and doing it even if you are afraid”, or “your ethics and choices matter”.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
1. Editors are there to make the writing more itself, to sharpen the words and the story until they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. They’re the best ally you can get.
2. Understand why you want to publish before you do, so you know when it’s done if you did what you really wanted to do with the work and time and effort you put into your book. And there are so many options now on publishing that it’s important to understand the business of it before you take your manuscript somewhere.
3. Write some every day, even when you don’t feel like it. A little progress every day is the only way to get to the end of the book.
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?
Usually it’s near the beginning, as a book has to have a purpose, a goal at the start, or else I never know when I’m done. I can’t get “there” unless I know where “there” is, so I usually have a title to start.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I have a horrible time laughing at other people or their misfortunes. I am, however, good with absurdity and where the boundaries go sideways, and I laugh in joy at courage rewarded. I love puns, riddles, Monty Python, One Piece, Robin Williams, Ku-fu Panda, Jackie Chan, and Terry Pratchett.
What is the most frequently asked H.J. Raine question?
How do you work with someone else when writing a novel?
What are you working on now?
Joe and Asher, the next book in the New Amsterdam series and two more books in the New Amsterdam series plus the Clark and Daniel short story. A three-book series with completely different characters with Kelly in my SF world of the near-future, along with five in-progress short stories in that world. My own book in that world. *eyes all that* Uhm. Right.
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?
Ignore anyone that says you can’t create until you’ve found yourself. You’ll find yourself in the creating. And I think that every time I write a story I learn more about myself and about what it is that makes me tick. Includes writing Shea and thinking that his pain and confusion over past Scenes gone wrong was just him, as a character, and suddenly unearthing some long-buried emotions from my past, real anger and hurt that I had to deal with in some other way.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
I’m doing this! *laughs* I’ve hosted Torquere’s blogs, created blogs, opened a Facebook account, and done my best to connect with other authors. I’m writing, now and again, for Crystal’s Picture Thursdays, and will probably do more of that.
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?
It is a lifestyle. Even when I’m not at the keyboard, I’m always thinking about the characters or their stories and how they might be better, or more solid, or more them. One of the things I consciously do is Get Out, away from the desk, live a little, to feed the writing. Everything from going out putt-putt golfing to skydiving to working construction in the Gulf, all seems to feed the ideas and experiences I can bring to readers.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like ones that have resolved endings. Happy or sad, tragic or comic, they have to be complete. Be they mysteries, science fiction, war stories, romances, manga, science journals, young adult fiction, fantasy, action adventure, or any other genre. I’m not into despair, really.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
*laughs* I still think of myself as an engineer, really, and have a on-going consulting business more geared toward helping the computer-phobic to deal with their fears. I have also been making money at painting, fiber arts (mostly spinning and knitting), gardening, and mild construction work (finishing, roofing, etc).
Where did you get the idea for the stories you write?
Everywhere. A song on the elevator, a dream, a meeting with the “Safe Schools Coalition”, my child’s stories for the day, my partner’s musings on the world, and, of course, my co-author comes up with lovely sparkling new ideas every single day. The two of us, when we just talk about things, come up with a fountain of ideas and the hard part is figuring out which of them will work.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I love Torquere’s cover process, they send us this lovely long list of questions and we fill them all out and they come up with something, visually, that fits the information! The more we can give them the closer, I think, they can get to what we wanted. I’m amused that the only thing I ever felt was wrong with a cover was Daniel having a mustache on Hearts Under Fire… *laughs* His build, expression, and even body language was *perfect*… so it was such a minor thing.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Reading, gardening (mostly for food), fencing (both European and Kendo), spinning, knitting (especially color work and cables and lace and socks!), traveling, construction (usually rebuilding houses destroyed by the elements, but I love caulking and finishing work as well as, of all things, roof work), learning from the child, cooking, and I’m in the midst of the throes of preparing a bee hive.
I just did a skydiving tandem jump, and am still debating if I want to do it any more than I do river rafting (which I like, but do like once ever two or three years). I love doing a lot of things once in a while…
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
Winter’s Knight just came out on April 11th. We’ll be doing more short stories and novels soon. There’s a lovely short story where Daniel keeps his promise to Clark, the hard way, coming soon.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Just keep writing. I’ve now gone through more than a million and a half words, and it’s only getting better. Someone once asked Neil Gaiman if they should be writing 1000 or 2000 words a day or if 200 might be enough, and he said that Coraline took twelve years to write, which ended up being seven words a day. The other piece of advice is that there never is enough time: you have to make the time if you want to write.
What future projects do you have in the works?
We have three more books in the New Amsterdam series set up and ready to go. We have three books in a new series that we really want to get to, and there are plotlines for most of those.
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
I’m most active on the livejournal, and it mirrors to Facebook pretty solidly.
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?