A few day’s late, here is March’s author interview – Dorien Grey, interviewed by the truly inimitable Chris Smith. I hope you enjoy what Dorien has to say.
Chris Smith: Welcome all, to my interview with the inestimable Dorien Grey, author of Calico, the Dick Hardesty Series, and the Elliot Smith Series.
Hi Dorien, welcome to the SIN interview, featuring your good self! As I’ve been extremely remiss in sorting this out, I must apologise to our good viewers (caveat, good viewers excludes Charlie Cochrane and Erastes, for they are naughty ppls). In the interests of background information *leers in a dubious manner* tell us a bit about yourself!
Dorien Grey: I was born in a one-room log cabin on the Illinois prairie shortly after the South rejoined the Union, and…. Oh, wait, no, that wasn’t me. When one lives one’s entire life looking out through the windows of the eyes at all the wondrous things other people do and accomplish, one tends to think one’s own life has little excitement. At least this one thinks that. Actually, it has had its interesting moments.
I realized I was gay around the age of five, though I of course had no idea what that meant. I just knew I had no interest whatsoever in girls and a consuming interest in boys. I never grew out of it, though I lost interest in boys when men started coming along. Because I was always excruciatingly aware that I did not care for the world of my peers, I naturally turned to fantasy, which I found in books. I wrote my first poem at somewhere around five or six: a stirring epic of the old west which I dictated to my mother. Most of it is lost in the mists of history, but the last line I remember distinctly: “And the cowboys yelled ‘Whoopee’ and everything else.” How could I not have become a writer.
Most of my professional career was spent as a book and magazine editor, and I did not strike out on my own and begin writing books until 2000. Since that time, I’ve had 15 or 16 published (and still in publication); primarily the 13-book Dick Hardesty mystery series which I’ve recently begun alternating with the Elliott Smith paranormal mysteries. I also have a stand-alone Western, “Calico”, the protagonist of which, unfortunately, at no point yells “Whoopee!”
My most recent release is number 13 in the Dick Hardesty series, “The Secret Keeper“, and I’m working to finish the third book in the Elliott Smith series, “Caesar’s Fall.”
CS: I’m impressed with your use of language at age 6 — I believe around then I informed my teacher (via my copybook) that I did not enjoy my weekend because “my sister stole all the shits from me.” I can so see why you’ve become a writer!
So what changed in 2000 to make you want to write books yourself? And why doesn’t Calico’s protagonist yell “Whoopee!”?
DG: I will not ask exactly what it was your sister stole from you, or how she managed: discretion is the better part of valor, after all.
Around the end of the last century, I started writing, largely as a form of catharsis–in my career as an editor I had read such an astonishing array of dreck–along with some wonderful things, of course–that I decided I could turn my eternal battle with the real world into something useful and create my own reality in my own books. Calico Ramsay, who is the protagonist of my western, I’m sure does yell “Whoopee,” but behind his bedroom door, where most of the direct sexual activity of my books takes place. (As they say, the brain is the largest erogenous zone of the human body, and I give the reader credit for not requiring “insert tab A into slot B” directions to picture what’s going on on the other side of the door.)
CS: How easy did you find writing/getting published – did your previous industry contacts help you out? (I say as a slightly terrified architect.)
DG: I’ve always found writing extremely easy. Finding a publisher was another story entirely. Nine and a half out of ten inquiry letters were simply ignored, the other .5 letter was returned with a smudged “Not for us” stamped on it. I gave up early on trying to find an agent. Good agents don’t need you, and most of the others were located in such places as Sheepdip, Montana, far, far from where the actual publishers were. Not one agent…not one…would even give me the time of day. And then I stumbled upon GLB Publishers, a small, long-established gay publishing house out of San Francisco. Owner/publisher Bill Warner took a chance with me when no one else would, and I will be forever grateful to him for doing so.
My advice to fledgling writers is simple: never give up. Never. If you believe in yourself, you will eventually will find someone who will also believe in you, and the rest will be history.
CS: Lol – my sister stole my sheets. I was just not quite up to spelling the double “ee” at that point. I’m quite fascinated that you don’t think that insert Tab A into Slot B works (I’m all in agreement with this btw, just most people tend to look at me askance and ask for the porn-factor to be ramped up). Do you feel it is that your writing suits “fade to black” or is it something that you don’t particularly like to see in any gay fiction?
DG: Now, that’s a very good question. I have nothing against a good, raunchy, no-holds-barred, grunt-and-moan sex scene, but for far too long “gay writing” was linked to sex. I had a publisher tell me that gay men wouldn’t buy a book without a lot of explicit sex, which I find a reprehensible idea the notion that gay men can’t appreciate a good story involving gay men without its having wall-to-wall sex frankly pretty insulting. I write stories. If I want sex scenes, I’ll watch a video. My characters all have active sex lives…I just don’t feel it necessary to lay out the details the reader’s mind can as easily supply.
CS: And here’s a horribly provocative follow-up to the previous question — do you feel there is a gap between the way that known female authors write explicit gay sex, and those of known male authors?
DG: I’ve noticed that an astonishing and increasing number of women write M/M fiction, many of them quite well. Women are much more open minded and not at all frightened by the idea of two men being in a sexual relationship. But as to cross-orientation eroticism, I would …could…never see myself writing a convincing heterosexual novel. Primarily because it just doesn’t interest me, secondarily because we live in so overwhelmingly heterosexual a world that one more heterosexual novel is just one more drop in the ocean, and thirdly because I honestly do not feel I could accurately describe the combination of emotional and physical responses/details involved. I really don’t understand how heterosexual women can write convincingly about gay men. I know all the arguments (“You don’t have to have been to China to write about it,” etc.). I just do not choose to write about things with which I am not comfortable….and I am not comfortable with heterosexuality.
CS: What a fantastically clear response to the previous question! I have to say that I know many people who are uncomfortable writing heterosexual sex, and so avoid it too. It’s nice to see that there is not this great chasm between us. I guess people are comfortable writing different things. So, leading on from that — how do you go about researching a book? Not the sex scenes per se (as that may well fall into the category of prurient interest) but the whole thing?
DG: I generally don’t have to do very much real “research” on my books (though, when I was writing my 1880s western, “Calico” I did do quite a bit of map consulting, finding out where rail lines ended, the population of towns of the period, etc. My Dick Hardesty series is set in a city which does not exist on any map. It, like Dick and his gang, exists in an alternate universe, but I work very hard to make the reader feel he/she knows it very well. I have used street names, stores, bars, and restaurants as a thread to tie the stories together and after 13 books I know them by heart. The Elliott Smith series is somewhat different in that it is set in current day Chicago and I try very hard to get my locations right. Elliott himself lives in an actual building and in an actual condo where in reality a good friend lives. However, I did take the liberty of adding a 40th floor to an in-reality 39 story building for an important plot element. And I find it harder to just make up place names, and addresses because sure as hell, someone’s going to call me on it if I get it wrong.
CS: How do you make your universes coherent? When I look at some authors with published series, there are plot holes wide enough to drive a small continent through (if one could drive a continent). How do you keep everything together?
DG: This pretty much overlaps the previous question. I really have very little trouble keeping things straight (no pun intended) in my books since I know them so well, though occasionally I will, if I reference something mentioned in a previous book in the series, go back to the book in which it first appeared to make sure I have it right. And having a good editor is essential, since every writer makes detail mistakes from time to time. But if you have a minor but recurring character named Joe Smithers living on Parker Street with his partner Sam in one book and then having Joe Smathers living on Perkins Street with his partner Phil in the next, you’d darned well better explain what happened to Sam, why Joe changed his name, and why he moved! Readers are sharp, and some take justifiable delight in finding those holes in logic you mentioned. If the writer doesn’t care enough to make sure he/she is consistent and as gaffe free as possible, the reader will soon wander off in search of a writer who does care.
CS: So, tell us more about Calico — what you made you set it in the 1880’s? Why a western?
DG: I have never particularly liked westerns and so, in a particularly perverse mood, I set out to write one with a typical, all American cowboy hero who just happens to be gay. I specifically aimed it at a YA audience, and to those young men and women who grow up, even today, without adequate positive gay role models. I wanted to show them, and every reader, that what unites gays and straights as human beings is far greater and more powerful than what divides us. I wasn’t out to stand on a soapbox and wave the rainbow flag, but I wanted to speak quietly and calmly to the fact that gays have always been here, and that they are every bit as brave and noble as any other citizen. I chose the 1880s arbitrarily, because to me that was the height of what we think of as the Old West.
CS: What is the thing you feel you gain most from writing?
DG: What do I gain from writing? I gain a life where I am not subject to the constraints of time and aging, where I can create worlds I wish existed, and which I hope come to life in my words. Since I have no children, I write for posterity. Words last far longer than individuals, and most people will be totally unknown to their great grandchildren. But I hope they might be able to find an old battered copy of one of my books somewhere and read the words I put there. And when they do, I’ll be alive once more.
CS: And lastly, tell us a bit more about where you hang out on the web, so our lovely denizens can stalk you in a suitably stalkish manner (yes, I know stalkish is not a word).
DG: am all over the web, and sometimes I spread myself far too thin to be able to devote the time I would like to to many of the sites to which I belong. I do have a main website, Dorien Grey’s World, at http://www.doriengrey.com; a website for my blogs, Dorien Grey and Me, at http://www.doriengreyandme.com, and Dorien Grey: a Life in Photos, which is exactly what it is, at http://doriengreyphotolife.blogspot.com (By the way, the constant repetition of Dorien Grey is not so much a matter of ego as for ease of locating.)
I also put a blog up on the blog page of www.authorsden.com, am on Twitter and Facebook and MySpace and….I think I’d better go lie down for a bit. I do hope some of your readers might want to check me out.
Oh, and anyone interested can read the first chapter of all of my books on my website (http://www.doriengrey.com for those with short memories). I’d be delighted to have you stop by.
And thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and your readers.
CS: No, thank YOU Dorien, for such a fantastic and candid interview!
(Erastes’ note: Dorien also moderates one of the best gay readers and writers email chat groups I know of – Gay Readers and Writers: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Gaywritersreaders/ so do consider joining.)