Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Elizabeth. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
My background as a writer? I’m a sci-fi and fantasy geek from way back, and when I got into high school and found other geeks, I got into role-playing games. (Tabletops, that is, not video games.) I was That Gamer who always had to have a detailed background story for my characters, and those background stories got more and more elaborate over time. Eventually, they became standalone stories of their own right.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
My first book was Of One Mind (http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info& products_id=2758) in 2010 from Torquere Press. I wrote it over the space of about six weeks, then forgot about it for the better part of a year. When I stumbled across it again, I thought it still had some promise, so I re-wrote what had been a painfully awkward beginning and cleaned the rest of it up, and submitted it. I got an acceptance notice about two weeks later.
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
I mentioned that I was a gamer, right? It was pretty much inevitable that I would eventually try to play a male character — and to get that character involved in romances. Trying to write from a male perspective intrigued me, and the deeper I got into it, the more of my own personality melded with my characters’ — including the conviction that guys are hot. Suddenly, I found myself writing stories from a man’s perspective which included desire for other men… and the rest is history.
I think the most interesting thing about the m/m genre is exploring the ways that men interact with each other, both outwardly and inwardly. There’s this perception that “real” men are too tough to want love, that men only put on a romantic act to please their women — but you can’t experience any enduring art, literature, or music without understanding that’s complete bullshit. Men want love as much as women do; men’s emotions run just as deep. If they’ve been culturally conditioned to hide them, then that makes the task of teasing them out that much more intriguing… and trying to get two men to open up and reveal their emotions is even more of a ride!
How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?
My first attempt at publication was in 2003 — I’d written a fantasy novel with my best friend and fellow writer, Lynn Townsend. In hindsight, it was completely unpublishable, but at the time, we were quite discouraged by all the rejections it got.
So far, I’ve published three novella/novelettes and one short story. I’ve had two more short stories accepted for inclusion in anthologies coming out this fall.
Do you write full time?
Alas, no. I love writing, but I’m slow, so it’s not sufficient to pay the bills.
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 don’t think I ever decided to become a writer so much as I wrote because otherwise all those voices and stories would still be stuck in my head. And after a lot of writing, what ended up on the page turned out to be not-too-bad. And after another lot of writing, it was turning out pretty-good and my friends were saying things like, “Have you ever submitted this?”
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Since I have a Day Job, then I have two kinds of writing days. My favorite kind of writing day is when I have a day off from the Day Job: I go to my local Panera, get a refillable mug of coffee, and lurk until I can snag my favorite comfy chair by the window. Then I get out my iPad and lose myself in another world for several hours, emerging only to refill my mug. The much more frequent sort of writing day is the one where I put my kids to bed at night, take a shower, and then lock myself in the bedroom to write while my husband watches TV downstairs. After a full day, I’m only good for about two hours of writing at a time, but when I can force myself to do those writing nights three or four nights a week, it’s surprising how fast the words can flow.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Until recently, I’ve been a revise-as-I-go sort of writer, but just recently I’ve been trying to train myself to just tag things that need to be fixed (aside from quick-and-easy typos) and move on without fixing it. I have far more difficulty getting the whole story out onto the page than I do editing a story that’s already laid down, so I’m trying to develop the discipline to get it out before I start working on making it better.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I’m mostly a “pantser” as far as plot goes, though I usually do have a general idea of what’s going to happen when I sit down to write. Often, I’ll start writing with a single scene in mind — usually near the middle or end — that I want to get to. And sometimes, the characters refuse to get there!
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
When I’m writing sci-fi or fantasy, I’m generally borrowing from existing cultures and societies, often with a twist that I then have to extrapolate forward, which is fun. (How would the existence of magic have affected our Dark Ages?) That means I often end up doing research on the cultures I’m borrowing from. For contemporary settings, I’ll research any topic that I think I might not be able to bluff my way around… or as a distraction when I ought to be writing. *embarrassed grin*
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?
There’s a fair amount of me in any character I write, but I do draw the line at characters who are obviously recognizable copies of people I already know. (Surprisingly, not everyone is thrilled at the idea of being featured in erotica!) My characters tend to emerge more or less fully developed in my brain; they talk to me and I listen as well as I can. Unfortunately, that does sometimes result in slightly uneven character descriptions, when I have one character who’s reticent and another who just won’t shut up! I’m working on ways to get my quieter characters drawn out a bit.
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?
I tend to produce a fairly readable first draft, I’ve found, though of course I can’t read anything I’ve ever written without noticing huge, glaring flaws. Some of that is probably due to the fact that I tend to revise as I go, so no first draft is really first. It’s a habit I’m trying to get out of, though, because it can interfere so dramatically with actually producing words, and my writing time is limited enough as it is.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
ALL THE TIME. It makes me crazy. The best cure, I’ve found, is to write anyway — if I can’t push forward on one story, I try to make myself work on another. I always have four or five stories in work at any given time, and I’m always looking for submission calls that might inspire me in case I get stuck elsewhere.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Well, I certainly hope they find the romances touching and the sex hot! But above and beyond that, I like to think that my stories offer a perspective into another world, a little something to make you think: how would the world change if we could read each others’ minds? What drives someone to the point of desperation, and what does it take for them to realize they’re no longer there? What assumptions and prejudices are we all making in our day-to-day lives?
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
First, that other authors aren’t nearly as scary as I thought they would be. I was worried, as a newcomer to the field, that I’d be seen as just another competitor, but all the other authors I’ve chatted with — bar none — have been welcoming and helpful and wonderful. Second, that there’s a lot more work that goes into publishing a book — even only in e-book format — than I’d ever guessed. I’d once toyed with the notion of self-publishing, but after seeing how much work goes into it, I’m happy letting a publishing company take on most of that burden! And third, that success is not the end. It was always a dream of mine to be published, and when it finally happened, I thought it was a dream I could mark off and put away — but it’s still there.
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?
It varies! Of One Mind named itself pretty handily right from the beginning; Safe Harbor came about naturally once I’d determined that the characters were shipbuilders (they’d started as thieves, in fact, and in-work title was Tangled Web). Assumption of Desire, on the other hand, is a title I’m still not very satisfied with, but I had to come up with something in order to submit it.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I have a wicked, sarcastic, and often inappropriate sense of humor. One of my favorite party games is Cards Against Humanity (http://www.cardsagainsthumanity.com), which probably tells more about me than it should.
What is the most frequently asked “Elizabeth L. Brooks” question?
Like probably every author, “Where do you get your ideas?” All I can say in answer is, “from my brain.” That, and I read a lot. Like every other muscle, imagination needs exercise.
What are you working on now?
My current WIP is a story tentatively titled Foxfur, a fantasy story set in a country modelled loosely on Han-dynasty China, but with magic.
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?
The best advice I’ve ever been given about writing is to listen to my editors and reviewers and readers. Every correction or improvement suggestion I get makes the next thing I write better. You can’t please everyone, of course, but if multiple people have the same complaint, then there may well be a legitimate problem — and it’s worth at least exploring whether that problem is in my writing, instead of in their heads.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
I’m not very good at promotion, I admit. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as painfully shy, but I’m definitely an introvert. That, combined with the constantly-busy schedule of the Day Job and caring for two young kids (neither of which lend themselves to protracted discussions of erotica, somehow) have
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?
For one thing, I read a lot. Reading a really well-crafted story, or particularly elegant language, fills me with a deep hunger to write. (And sometimes, it gives me ideas!) For another, my social circle is made up of a lot of talented, creative people.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I’m a big sci-fi and fantasy fan, if that wasn’t already obvious. I think it was Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn series that first introduced me to m/m romance, and my writing style probably owes more to Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (of the Liaden Universe series) than any other single influence.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
That’s a hard question to answer; I’ve been a writer my entire life, and so I can’t even imagine how different I would be without the urge to write. I like to think I would be creative in some other way — I’ve dabbled in photography and drawing, but am painfully untalented in both.
Where did you get the idea for the stories you write?
That’s a very good question — the well of ideas seems to dry up quickly if I contemplate its source too closely. Mostly, I think it’s a long, simmering stew of concepts I encounter in my “normal” life. Every once in a while, two or more ideas will glomp onto each other and form the kernel of a story. Or I’ll consider the consequences of an idea and tracing out the paths of logical extrapolation will result in something that turns into a story. (I have a minor in cultural anthropology; I love nothing more than exploring the reasons why societies do things that, from the outside, may seem completely ridiculous.)
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
As a group, I’m pretty pleased with my covers. There’s one cover for which I would have chosen a different font, but it’s a pretty minor quibble. My favorite cover, hands-down, is Assumption of Desire; I think it’s everything a cover should be — eye-catching, relevant to the story, and just enough of a tease to make the viewer want to peek inside.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love reading, and playing games with my friends. (D&D or Cards Against Humanity, anyone?) I’m an amateur photographer and an on-again, off-again scrapbooker. I spend way more time than I should playing tower defense (PvZ, Kingdom Rush) and breeding simulation (Pocket Frogs, Dragonvale) games on my iPad.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
I’ve had stories accepted by two separate anthologies from Cleis Press (Duty and Desire and Seductress: Tales of Immortal Desire), both of which will be coming out in Fall 2012. I also have a couple of stories submitted for anthologies with Torquere that I’m waiting to hear about. Those interested can always check my blog for more details!
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
1) Finish what you start. Everyone’s read a story and thought, I can do better than that! The only difference is, they finished their story and submitted it.
2) Learn to love your editor. Even when you disagree with what they’re saying — and you will — understand that they’re trying their damndest to make your story better. I think I decided I was a “real” writer not when I first saw my name in print, but when I got a story back from an editor and was disappointed she’d made so few suggestions.
What future projects do you have in the works?
I always have a million things in some partial stage of completion. I pick them up and dust them off and then drop them and forget them again. Currently, I have a couple of different stories going in the same world (but different countries) as Safe Harbor, I have notions for at least two more stories in the One Mind universe, and a couple more contemporaries floating around in my laptop’s equivalent of a bottom drawer.
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
<a href="http://EveryWorldNeedsLove.blogspot.com” target=”_blank”>http://EveryWorldNeedsLove.blogspot.com
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?
from Assumption of Desire:
“Hi! I’m Jesse!”
The pronouncement had come from Craig’s right, issued from the full lips of a perky blond twink wearing eyeliner, a shirt so tight it might have been painted on, and — God help him — a pink feather boa. The twink was grinning at him, his wide blue eyes lingering on Craig’s sculpted arms. “You’re new.”
Craig snorted. Craig had come into the Cerulean Sphere an hour earlier, following a stack of favorable online reviews and amusement at the name. In that time, he’d already been cruised by at least six men. One of them had been downright sleazy, two had been hoping for fresher meat, and the other three had failed to capture Craig’s interest. He’d turned all of them away, but he thought he’d call any one of them back (well, except the sleaze) before he hooked up with this kid. “Know every queer in town, do you?”
“All of ’em that come here,” Jesse answered. “So, are you new to town, or new to the scene?” For pity’s sake, the boy actually had a slight affected lisp. He was a walking stereotype.
“Town,” Craig admitted. “Here on business for a few weeks.”
“Perfect,” the twink said, running his fingers through his carefully-groomed, artfully-mussed, dirty-blond hair.
Craig turned pointedly back to the bar and his beer.
Jesse didn’t get the message. He turned toward Craig and leaned against the bar, his lithe body bending in ways that Craig was pretty sure a spine was not meant to allow. One hand petted that ridiculous boa. In the mirror behind the bar, Craig watched Jesse checking him out. One of the few good things about spending a lot of time on the road was having plenty of time to work out in the hotel gym. Craig was no linebacker, but he was in pretty good shape. Once Jesse had looked his fill, he caught Craig’s gaze in the mirror, Jesse’s bright blue eyes striking sparks against Craig’s dark hazel. “You wanna go in the back? You look like a man who could use a blow job.”
from Safe Harbor:
Tyver whimpered, a hungry, helpless sound that drove the last vestiges of rational thought from Rafe’s brain. They kissed like starving men at a feast, fierce and yet tender, neither willing to be the first to break contact. Rafe’s hand clenched in Tyver’s hair — it had to hurt, but Rafe was unable to let go; Tyver cradled Rafe in his arms gingerly, desperate not to spoil this chance.
When at last the need for air drove its thin wedge between them, Tyver groaned with desire and then laughed, soft and slightly hysterical. “I guess that means you’re ready to give it another try?” His dark eyes were filled suddenly with fear. “I don’t know how to– I don’t know what not to do, Rafe. You have to help me.”
“I know,” Rafe soothed. He rested his forehead against Tyver’s, breathing him in. “But I don’t always know, either. Just… trust me that I won’t blame you if I panic. All right?” He grimaced. “And… I’m sorry, but… be patient with me?”
Tyver laughed again. “I’ve been waiting for so long, already, what’s another few years?”
Rafe shuddered. “Gods, I hope not that long.” He brushed Tyver’s lips with his, marveling anew at the feel.
Tyver writhed, fighting his own urge to press his body against Rafe’s. “Touch me,” he begged. “Put your hands on me. Please, Rafe.”
Desire raced through Rafe’s veins like wildfire, leaving him breathless. He laid his hand flat against Tyver’s chest, felt the pounding of Tyver’s heart. Shaking, he opened Tyver’s shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. Years of sharing a room and even a bed had left them very little room for modesty; Rafe had seen Tyver’s body countless times, but never through a lover’s eyes. He had known Tyver was beautiful, but never fully appreciated the fact.
Rafe traced the contours of Tyver’s shoulders, outlining work-hardened muscles with his fingertips. Tyver’s eyes were closed, his breath all but held, so still that Rafe could hear the rasp of his own calloused fingers against Tyver’s skin.
Rafe watched, fascinated, as Tyver’s skin twitched and quivered with each light touch. It seemed incredible to him that he could possess such power. He dragged a fingertip across one of Tyver’s cinnamon-colored nipples; it responded instantly, drawing up into a small, hard nub. Tyver groaned softly, and the sound traveled straight to Rafe’s cock. He had to hear it again. He brushed over Tyver’s other nipple, then gently pinched them both, testing their hardness.
Tyver’s skin was irresistible. Rafe kissed the side of his neck, then dipped his tongue into the well of Tyver’s collarbone. Tyver twisted like a man in torment, but sighed like a prayer. “Rafe, oh Rafe, yes…”