Jeffrey Ballam’s first novel, Out of the Past, is out and already garnering favorable reviews. I took a few moments to ask him some some questions so fans of M/M romance could get to know him.
How did Out of the Past come about?
Out of the Past came about because of a dream. I woke up remembering this dream, and I hardly ever remember my dreams, and I was thinking what a great story it would make. It had great characters, a good plot, and sex! By the time I finished the first draft, Out of the Past no longer resembled the dream!
Paul, the main character in Out of the Past, is a teacher, which is what you do for a living; how close to Paul are you?
We are very close. In fact, my now ex-husband couldn’t read the book because he felt I didn’t separate myself enough from Paul.
How much research did you have to do to write Out of the Past?
Very little. It seems once I began writing the dam burst. Paul is a fourth grade teacher, and I was teaching fourth grade at the time, and I had recently served jury duty at the same courthouse in my story when I began writing it. They say writers should write what they know so, that’s what I did.
Yes, I did. I spoke with a friend who is an attorney to ask about the legal procedures and how an attorney might approach a case like the one in the book. I did call on personal experience for the other parts. My first partner was indeed in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested on those same charges. After his death, I was later called for a jury panel on a similar case. I was able to get excused because I couldn’t be impartial because of the prior experience.
Out of the Past touches on some interracial issues, which is nice to see in gay romance. is that something that touches you, or that has played a part in your life?
I’ve never understood prejudice so I try to be color blind when meeting people. My stepfather was very prejudiced but my mother taught us not to be. When I first came out in the 80’s it seems I was aware of more interracial gay or lesbian couples than straight ones. People are people and we fall in love with whomever we fall in love with. I haven’t had an interracial relationship, and if it happens, it happens. love is love.
Because Paul is white, some of the Latinos in the story assume he can’t speak English. This is a stereotype that other cultures have about white people and was nice to see touched upon in your novel. How often has this happened to you?
It happens frequently. Many of my students’ parents are Spanish speaking and often come for a conference with their own translator and are quite surprised, and pleased!, when we can communicate directly. I get a kick out of it. I also like to play the card myself and just start speaking Spanish when I’m in a Hispanic market or restaurant. it might get me better service, I don’t know. I just like seeing the surprised look on the other persons face.
Why did you write a romance? Do you consider yourself a romantic person?
As I’d said, Out of the Past was based on a dream, which wasn’t a true romantic dream. And, yes, I’m a romantic person. I like to be wined and dined. And perhaps even that chance encounter which may lead to something special.
When you’re working on a new project, how often do you write? Do you have a schedule you adhere to?
No, I don’t, unfortunately. I try to write when I can. Teaching takes up so much time with grading and recording the grades, and then planning lessons that I don’t have much time left over for writing. Or much of anything else.
Do you have a group of writers you can talk to about the business and craft of writing?
YES! I have stumbled onto an amazing support group who have been a tremendous help and I am deeply grateful for everything they’ve shared with me: Eric Arvin and Rick R. Reed were among the first writers I connected with when I began Out of the Past a few years ago. I have also had great help and support more recently from Gregory G. Allen, Arthur Wooten, Carey Parrish, Kergan Edwards-Stout, Drake Braxton, Brandon Shire and you, my publisher, Ken Harrison.
Out of the Past is your first published work, did you find the experience to be what you expected?
Not knowing what to expect, it’s hard to answer. I remember movies and tv shows with writers struggling to make deadlines, and in that sense I’d have to say no. But, I tried to return edits and revisions in a timely manner, but never feeling pressured to do so by a certain time. it was frustrating at times trying to fix a scene and get it just right.
Tell us a little about what you like to read and how that influences what you write.
I like to read a variety of books on many different levels. I try to read something for my students, and then something for myself. But, like writing, finding time to read is also difficult. I sometimes read fantasy, some mystery (Agatha Christie!), it all depends on my mood at the time. I’m just now discovering gay fiction, having read some of the authors I’ve mentioned above. When I read I like to see how the author handles a certain scene, how the writer sets the tone or mood or how they describe a character so I can see how to develop my style.
Tell us a little about Jeffrey Ballam, the person.
I think I am a stereotypical teacher, not that I correct other people’s grammar—I just cringe—but we spend most of our lives taking care of others (our students and families) that we often neglect ourselves. And I think that showed up with Paul in not wanting to move forward in his life. I am a quiet person by nature, but sometimes I have those moments where I really open up and become a bit more outgoing.