A couple weeks ago I asked my reviewers if any of them would like to take over the blog while I’m on vacation. Ivelisse stepped up and arranged two interviews and contests for your enjoyment.
Damon: Absolutely… I was raised in Texas by a VERY out lesbian and fled the moment it was possible to get my butt to NYC. I’ve done some wacky work in my day, but writing remains the core, always, probably because I’m a shameless loudmouth. I’ve been writing for a living for the past 20+ years, mostly theatre and film but pretty much anything that involves putting word on paper and in people’s mouths. LOL I’ve kind of lived all over, but I always wind up returning to Manhattan, so that’s home nowadays. My amazing boyfriend and I have been together for 10 years; he’s a federal investigator (sexy!) and my bedrock (stable!) in all things. I feel incredibly blessed in my life and beyond grateful for the opportunities and adventures I’ve had; I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
Damon: Hot Head is a contemporary firefighter romance about love (and porn) in the FDNY. It tells the story of Griff, a career fireman, who has nursed a terrible crush on his best friend (and coworker) Dante since the attacks on the World Trade Center. The book really explores the way these two average joes find their way to each other against crippling odds in one of the most hostile, homophobic environments in New York. The germ of the story came from a tragic true love story, confessed to me by a firefighter after 9/11 who lost his best friend that day, and only realized the depth of his feelings afterwards…but I’ve talked about that elsewhere. Hot Head arose out of wanting to give a happy ending to two men who deserved a chance to be together.
Hot Head is available in print and ebook pretty much anywhere books are sold including Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, Rainbow Ebooks, Barnes & Noble, and others. Due to high demand, the audio book will be coming out in the next several months.
Ive: How difficult was it for you to write the 9/11 scene in chapter 2? As a fellow New Yorker (live in Miami now but NY will always be in my heart) who lived in NY at that time of 9/11, when I was reading that particular part my tears would not stop flowing. It took me back again to that day, which speaks volumes about how well you described it all.
Damon: Thank you for saying so. All I can say is, as a NYer you know why I had to do it, and how tricky the challenge was.
Writing chapter two was simultaneously horrible and simple.
The struggle with that scene was my bone-deep need to get it RIGHT. The book was about firefighters living in Brooklyn now, so to avoid the subject would have been a cop-out. It could have gone so wrong if I’d half-assed it or gone for the clichés. I couldn’t gloss over the horror, but I also didn’t want to mire the book in the tragedy so totally that the pace and tone suffered.
In the end I used my own experiences as a New Yorker, obviously, but I also wound up doing obsessive research about the attacks and their aftermath: I walked and walked and walked the neighborhood around Ground Zero, read memoirs and interviewed first responders, visited hospitals and firehouses, gorged myself on documentaries and first-person accounts, and spent a LOT of time in FDNY hangouts buying beers and talking to people who were there. I knew a lot of guys stationed at the Pit…firemen especially, because my best friend used to only date firefighters, and cops as well, because my boyfriend worked that crime scene as a federal agent.
Damon: Well now, there’s a story there. Because I was NOT going to do a bow-chicka-bow-mow fake bone-by-numbers porno company full of Hot Studz™ of the type we see in a lot of fiction. Gack.
When I was in my early 20s, I went through a period when I dated a lot of guys who worked in porn. Not sure why, but somehow I got to know loads of folks in that business. It’s a funny reality-bubble and much less sexy than it claims/seems to be. The thing that stuck with me from that period is how ultimately disappointing and unsexy it can be and how jaded performers feel over time. Like all entertainment businesses, porn often devours and corrupts folks in search of devouring and corruption. The glamorous parts really aren’t and any fun requires hard, often unpleasant work.
Important to know: the explosion of internet porn changed the industry RADICALLY in the late 90s and the shockwaves continue. The “big” studios now scramble to turn a profit, because the smaller operations have eaten away at their profit margin. The proliferation of pro-am sites which feature “regular” guys in hardcore footage opened opportunities to all kinds of entrepreneurs with a dollar and a dildo, as it were. As porn got more mainstream and its stigma eroded, LOTS of folks became interested in getting paid to screw, natch. And it created a strange subculture of pro-am stars 80% of whom come from a very narrow group of people: guys in uniforms.
Much like law enforcement and other first response jobs, porn has always drawn heavily on veterans of the armed services. The overlap (and I mean globally) is crazy! Loads of available talent: young, built, willing, and broke with constant turnover. Virtually every major online pornsite (straight or gay) operates within a thirty minute drive of a military base! Fact. Small wonder that porn online features armies of young dudes with dogtags and camo and eight packs carved while defending their country.
So how does that relate, right?
Hot Head was about firefighters. And as fate would have it, the fireman whose buried feelings for his friend inspired the book tried for several years to launch a pro-am site featuring only FDNY guys in hardcore scenes with willing ladies. Now, the fellas I know in the FDNY consume VAST quantities of porn, love porn, discuss porn… and all joke about doing porn. That last makes sense actually. They can’t survive on their wages so they ALL have part-time jobs as bouncers and builders (much like soldiers and sailors actually). Plus, like military work, fire service requires these guys to be in shape and to have a certain ballsy arrogance. Porn almost seems a no-brainer, except for the morals clause in their manual.
Go look up Michael Biserta and his 9-inch fatty: the FDNY calendar shut down because of his cock-slinging. And my friend’s never-realized dream of a fireman porno studio echoed the same hot-guys/low-pay/no-shame logic. … It occurred to me that the perfect pro-am porno website for a gay romance would be a NYC-based studio that paid dudes in uniform to show their junk for cash: firemen, cops, coast guards, soldiers, paramedics. Besides, ALL of those jobs are staples of cheeseball porn plots because they’re virile and heroic. And what kind of public servants would risk that kind of exposure? The sexy, crazy cocksmen with bills to pay and no hangups. Hot heads all the way, baby!
From there it was a single step to HotHead.com…
Alek Vaklanov, the book’s Russian pornbroker came out of the HotHead.com production demands because I treated it like a real business from the ground up: logo, branding, mission, facility, even payscale. LOL I knew the website would shoot in a large warehouse with limited foot traffic (‘cause I know people that run pro-am sites away from their homes). The building needed to be somewhere cheap, and it wasn’t high-end, so it had to be in the outer boroughs that had industrial areas (Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn). And then I realized! Avenue X. That HAD to be the address for my imaginary porno warehouse, right?! I knew that neighborhood a little because I used to hang out with a bunch of crazy Russian strippers who loved a club called Rasputin way out in Sheepshead Bay. There’s a massive émigré population out there on the edge of Brooklyn and vast ramshackle buildings. So who would travel from Avenue X to Red Hook?
At that moment, Alek appeared as if by magic: he would be a smooth Russian in the jizz-biz trying to earn his piece of the American Pie… not a scumbag, but scrupulous. Like any smart talent scout, he would troll the blue-collar hangouts in Brooklyn and Queens, going right to the source. And if he happened to pick the wrong guy at the wrong bar on the wrong night, he’d get the shit kicked right out of him… which of course gave me the start of Hot Head. LOL
Damon: PLOT. I’m really pushy about it actually with my colleagues and students. Not only am I a rabid plotter, I’m equally adamant about the foolishness of seat-of-your-pantsing your way through a manuscript. (I can hear knives sharpening now!) “Pantsing” remains a painfully inefficient way to work.
Actually, I don’t believe in pantsers. Stories require a framework. I believe that some people write these massive, unwieldy, overstuffed outlines that they call rough drafts. But inevitably once that’s done they have to go back and restructure all the mess and actually write the book. You can work that way, but you can also build a beach by banging rocks together for a really long time. Any writing involves an outline, however informal or internal. Genre itself provides outlines because they are forms. I know everyone’s works differently, but flailing around not knowing where a story was headed seems masochistic to me. WRITING IS STRUCTURE.
I’ll go even further… Plot is character! Character is plot! They cannot be separated, ever. Dracula MUST come to London on the Demeter. Othello cannot just snuggle with Desdemona and get a pedicure. In no universe can Roald Dahl’s Charlie miss out on Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Plot/character merely offer two lenses for discussing a story. If you tell a story you have plot/character and THAT means an outline exists, even if you want to ignore it or avoid it or build it upside-down and backwards while standing in a tank of armadillo vomit. Why on earth would you pretend you didn’t have a structure? Who are you fooling? An outline needn’t be a prison, and a great outline feels more like a ladder or a trellis or a bridge. It extends your grasp to the impossible.
Now for me it would be preposterous to imagine a world where I could work without outlines. In film and theatre, I don’t get paid without outlines. LOL Actually, I often get hired just to write treatments or synopses or outlines. Working professionals in the entertainment business must be able to outline, full stop. If I seem adamant (and a little bolshy) about the subject, it’s because I’ve watched so many talented people self-immolate because of the pantser pose. It sounds sexy and all, but it’s bananas.
I can tell you this, any working writer who builds a long-term career learns to outline and to respect the importance of structure. Don’t believe me? Go read the interviews and advice from authors on the New York Times lists…98% of the folks who started out as “pantsers” get over that quick. It’s comical how quickly they lose the “I just wing it” approach when deadlines and contracts prove them wrong.
An outline isn’t a strait-jacket, but it is essential. Climbing roses need a trellis otherwise they get nowhere.
Whew! Sorry to get so ranty, but I feel like no-outline fiction the biggest myths in genre writing and one that bears ruthless scrutiny and zero slack.
Dmaon: I can’t imagine not writing. I write every day, sometimes for up to 18 hour a day. Telling stories, articulating voices and building a three-dimensional world that readers can inhabit seems like the most wonderful job in the world. You know what we remember about ancient cultures? Their stories. Not their squabbles or their fashions or their politics or their athletic events. Stories want to get loose and roam our imaginations and I want to help populate the jungle. I want to explore and dig and hack my way into the interior.
The thing is, ideas pour out of me like sweat and it’s all I can do to frantically get things down so I can move on to the next thing that’s inspiring me. Maybe this represents another layer of my insanity cake. I never understand how people claim to “run out” of ideas because it seems as if ideas swarm around us, pregnant with stories that need telling. Then again, how do people decide an idea or a choice is “good enough” and just stop? I’m always tweaking and polishing and replacing placeholders with better placeholders and revising-revising-revising.
Damon: Genre is only a designation of structure and for me every story starts with structure. I’d happily write in ANY genre. Actually, I can’t think of many genres in which I haven’t written if you count my film/theatre scriptwork. The story comes to me with the genre dictated by the plot/characters. At the moment I’m writing this florid, phantasmagorical steampunk fairytale called Spring Eternal. When I started writing it, I didn’t even know it was steampunk: but after about a half page I did. The characters/plot made that clear right quick! So any and all genres sound great to me.
Damon: To answer this I’ll build on my answer to the previous question. If the story I need to tell centers on a heterosexual relationship, then hell yeah. I write M/F style romance every day for film/theatre. No reason why I couldn’t do it for a book. But for now, I love the freedom in gay romance to explore relationships and situations that don’t get much play in the larger world of mass entertainment. But one of these days…. LOL
I mean, I use emotional moments and lessons I’ve learned that resonated deeply. I’ve taken feelings or snippets of character from observations and real folks. Incidents I’ve lived or witnessed inspire stories sometimes. Projects often reflect issues or themes about which I’m thinking, but never directly and never literally. I can’t abide most memoir. Seriously. I have zero interest in creative nonfiction unless the prose is so exceptional that it transcends memoir and verges on history. What I find so powerful about fiction is the absolute latitude and responsibility that falls to the author.
Having said that, I think fiction winds up being blisteringly personal. Even if I’m not documenting my literal, actual day-to-day shenanigans, my writing is replete with me and my perspective. How can it not be? LOL All art reflects the viewpoint of the creator. My appetites and interests and experiences filter through everything I write. The me-ness comes through. In the same way it does during interviews like this one. I’m there in the book figuratively, even if the book doesn’t fictionalize anecdotes from my life.
So I guess the best answer would be: my fiction contains little of my life but all of my living.
Damon: No. Though again, in a sense ALL of my characters are slivers of me. My heartbeat knocks behind their ribs. I tend to have a strong authorial voice; readers can usually tell I’ve written a script or a novel within a half-page. My stuff has always been that way. And as a “language” writer, I know that my writing always winds up stuffed with a lot of my idiosyncratic rhythms and metaphors and slang.
The thing is, I can see splinters of myself in every character I write. I have to or otherwise I’d never get under their skin. It’s a bit like acting. When I was still performing, I wanted to embody the text, get under the skin, live and give voice to a fictional construct. Writing a character for a story is no different, except that instead of only controlling what the character does or says, I build every detail around them: the environs, other people, the weather, the pacing…everything. So often I have the feeling that my head is a stage and I’m acting all the parts in turn, trying to embody (and do justice to) each one.
Damon: Free time? LOL That’s high-lar-ious, as my boyfriend would say. No, I know what you mean. What do I think of doing when I can steal some time?
For fun, I read. I collect bad movies and host screening nights with my friends. Board game nights when we can swing it. I travel a lot for work, and I always enjoy exploring a city when I’m able. I go two-stepping religiously because it keeps me from getting stuck in my head. I used to rodeo all the time, but can’t get away anymore. I love to ski as well, but again scheduling has become impossible because of the way the NY theatre season and the film festival circuit runs. But free time keeps getting harder to come by.
Damon: GayRomLit in NewOrleans in a couple weeks! I’m so excited I have to peel myself off the ceiling when I think about it. I cannot WAIT to hang out with folks and put faces to names after all this time. So much groovy stuff planned. I even got trading cards for Hot Head. For any folks headed to GayRomLit, I have a bit of a game (and prize) planned; anyone interested in playing should contact me through my website so I can mail one their way in advance.
On October 30th my sci-fi novella Grown Men is being released by Riptide as part of their First Wave. It’s the second “transmission” from my HardCell Universe, which imagines a future in which massive conglomerates have replaced governments and religion, when employees dream of corporate citizenship, and genetic design has exaggerated humans to superhuman abilities. Grown Men tells the story of an offworld colonist marooned alone on a planetary farm trying not to starve; for a year and a half his employers have promised him a clone-wife. Instead they send a gigantic hitman to kill him who (fortunately) doesn’t follow anyone’s rules. Lots of paranoia and angst and FEELTHY intimacy. Well, let’s face it: the souped-up DNA, the sex is gonna get crazy and the feelings much larger than life.
Writingwise, I have a novel which I’ll be wrapping in the next month or so… I’m finishing Spring Eternal, this big greasy steampunk adventure set in Gilded Age Manhattan featuring dashing rogues, perverse inventions, and ingenious skullduggery on a grand scale. Very different from my first two M/M books, but very much me! LOL I think my readers will be pleased.
Then after that I want to get to work on Hard Head, the Hot Head sequel which tells Tommy’s story. Fans keep nudging me politely while Tommy bangs around wanting us to get busy; I’m already chipping away. As soon as I can finish the steampunk and put a couple of scripts to bed (from my other work), I’ll be Hard Head-ing like there’s no mañana. So Griff and Dante and all the Hot Hookers are headed back your way.
Damon: All over. LOL But if you want to get in touch, the best options are:
Damon: LOTS, but I’ll pick one:
What are the things you aren’t seeing in gay romance that deserves more attention from publishers and authors?
Don’t be shy and aim high!
Damon: You won’t get shyness from me! I wear briefs for day-to-day: Calvins or 2xist most often. If I don’t, then I’m always sitting on my junk and racking myself in production meetings. Yeah, no thanks. LOL Unless I’m wearing a kilt and then I’m air-conditioned by the gods, baby!
In my house or when I’m working alone, I’m pretty much naked or in boxers loose enough that I might as well be. My boyfriend says I have a deep nudist streak in me and he would know.