Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hey! Delighted to be here. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m Robin Reardon, and I love doing interviews. It’s all about me, right? (In case you can’t tell, I’m ignoring the question about my age. Let’s just say I’m old enough to know very well what I’m writing about.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Sometimes I suspect my last life was in some druidic order in the British Isles, or maybe I was a hermit living in a stone hut on one of those little islands off the west coast of Ireland. Or maybe I was a troubadour in medieval France. Anyway, I’ve lived up and down the U.S. east coast, Florida to New Hampshire, and I’m not sure there’s a better answer to this question.
Fiona: A little about your self (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I had three brothers and no sisters, and as a child I was a real tomboy. So that might have been what set me up for writing from inside a teenage boy’s mind. With a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in business communication, I’ve had jobs ranging from computer management to project management to communications management. As long as no one asked me to manage people, I was fine. But all through it, my favorite part of any effort was writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’m just about to re-release a book originally published in 2008 by Kensington. As an author working with traditional publishers, I had limited input to the titles and cover images of my books. I published six books with Kensington, and for the most part they did a great job establishing a visual brand for me. But I never liked the title given to my fifth book. It was The Revelations of Jude Connor.
My original title for it was And If I Fall. The “fall” would be from grace, as Jude is struggling to follow in the footsteps of the charismatic, hellfire-and-brimstone preacher who practically runs the small Idaho town where Jude lives. Trouble is, of course, Jude is gay, and the preacher has his own demons nipping at his heels. It’s one of my more substantial works, and I wanted it out in the world the way I’d conceived it. Also, I didn’t have legal rights to use the same cover photo, so I found one I like better.
And If I Fall will be released on January 12, 2018, in print and digital formats, through the standard outlets: Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble (print only), Smashwords (digital only), and Ingram Spark/Lightning Source.
But I’d also like to highlight the novel I published last June, 2017: Waiting for Walker. I took a huge risk (for me) in making the gay main character’s love interest be intersex. Most people don’t know what that is, and my own knowledge was sketchy enough that I worked with an intersex subject matter expert to make sure I didn’t misrepresent Walker. The phenomenon is much more common than most people realize, and people who are intersex can face the most overwhelming challenges. I wanted to stand up for them, and I wanted them to know there’s a story out there that treats them with respect and hopefulness. The story also includes sailing on Long Island Sound, shark attacks, a smidgeon of information about Islam, and a three-legged dog.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I think I started writing as soon as I could hold a pen. I write because I must, and because I love it. When I was maybe thirteen, my classmates were always clambering for the next instalment of my series of stories I called, “Oh, That Taylor Girl!” in which a teenage girl in Canada, in the 1800s, would get into all kinds of scrapes—kidnapped by fur traders for releasing animals from traps, lost in the snow while searching for a missing dog, that kind of thing—and mostly got herself out of trouble again on her own, though she did occasionally have help from her boyfriend.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think there’s a distinction to be made, here. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always written. I think that makes me a writer. But I believe the act, the writing, must precede the label. To say, “I want to be a writer” isn’t very convincing; maybe the speaker has a particular idea of what it means to “be a writer” that has not enough in common with actually writing to be credible. So I think you must write first, and maybe one day you will be a writer. The other distinction is that of author. I wrote all my life, but the term “author” didn’t reasonably apply to me until I had works out in the public domain that people were willing to buy and read.
But to answer your question… I guess I was always a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
When I decided to try my hand at a novel, back in 2004, I had been working hard at learning to write short stories, which I had mistakenly thought would be fairly easy. Turns out if you can write a good short story, you can write anything. That work taught me to write clear, concise, and evocative prose. It also taught me that my best fiction voice is that of a teenage boy. Go figure….
Anyway, I got fairly good at short stories, but they’re pretty impossible to publish; not many people want to read them, and most standard magazines no longer include short stories. Plus, as I said, they’re hard to write. So, I thought, let’s see if I can write a novel. I loved track when I was in high school, so I used that as a starting point, and the rest of it wrote itself. And after I had written it, I realized it was pretty good. So then I decided to see if I could get it published. Now I have eight published novels, a novella, a short story, and an essay. So I guess it worked.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Do you mean the title of that first book, A Secret Edge? Well, there are several “edges” represented in the story, literally and metaphorically. There’s the switchblade Jason Peele (the main character) carries; there’s the quote about a sword by Mahatma Gandhi, whom Jason’s love interest idolizes. But the secret edge… I’ll let readers find that one.
Sometimes the title of a book is beyond question. Thinking Straight, Educating Simon, Throwing Stones—these are examples of titles that couldn’t be anything else. For others, I tend to search for key words from my stories on Amazon to see what other titles are out there, because I prefer not to use a title already in print by someone else. Twice, Kensington altered titles: The Evolution of Ethan Poe, and The Revelations of Jude Connor.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
My style in general is extremely conversational, casual, personal, even intimate. All my storiesare in first person from the point of view of a gay teen. Some are present tense, some are standard narration past tense, depending on how it seemed to me a given character wanted to speak. My style is realism in the extreme. My boys are real boys (A Secret Edge opens with a wet dream), and they think and speak pretty convincingly (according to most critics) as teens. They’re melodramatic—one minute believing that they know everything important and life and parents know nothing, the next minute seeing themselves as stupid and lame and hopeless. One minute they feel passionately about something, and then next it’s “whatever.”
Writing about teens, I realized very quickly that one challenge was going to be technology. Not only does technology change quickly, but also teens tend to be early adopters, becoming dependent on new devices and features almost immediately. When I published through Kensington, the process took at least two years, often three. Now that I’m indie, I can get stories out much sooner after I’ve finished them. But I still have to keep technology use to a minimum to avoid the trap of thinking I’m writing something very cutting edge, when by the time the book is released it will be far behind teens.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
There’s something of me in every book. Here’s a smattering: I ran track (A Secret Edge); I became quite familiar with very strict Christian fundamentalist practices (Thinking Straight; And If I fall); I know quite a bit about dog behavior (A Question of Manhood); I have just a touch of synaesthesia, I’m good with cats, and I’ve travelled in Great Britain (Educating Simon); I’ve walked innumerable labyrinths, which are very different from mazes (Educating Simon, Throwing Stones); I’m fascinated by the concept of spirit animals and also by science (The Evolution of Ethan Poe); I love watching The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” every summer (Waiting for Walker); I’m fascinated by Paganism (Throwing Stones) and comparative religion in general (name any of my books). But I couldn’t point to any one character and say that anyone in my life inspired a particular character. That said, the character Gregory Hart in And If I Fall was inspired by a Cheryl Wheeler song, “His Hometown.”
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Thanks to the internet and Google Earth, I don’t have to travel at all. These tools helped me in one way or another for nearly every book. I could virtually travel to Maine for The Evolution of Ethan Poe; I went to Idaho for And If I Fall; I found the very house in St. John’s Wood, London, where Simon Fitzroy-Hunt grew up (Educating Simon) and was able to stroll through the cemetery where his father is buried and the park where he would go to sulk; southeastern Oklahoma came to life for me in Throwing Stones; I could sail all along the Connecticut seacoast and around the islands near it for Waiting for Walker.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m all about realism. I want to be able to plant my readers right into the footsteps of the main character, to see what he sees, to feel what he feels, very realistically. And I do this virtual traveling as the story unfolds, because what happens in these stories can be as surprising to me as it is to the characters.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My first six novels were designed by Kensington Publishing. I loved the visual brand they had set up for me, so as I began to publish on my own I sought images that fit in with that brand, which meant I had to purchase rights from photographers. Because here we are again: realism. The covers need to depict a real person in a way that’s evocative of the story. And for my own publishing, I hire someone to work the photo into a cover design; I’m not good at that sort of thing at all.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not only is there a message, but also it’s a kind of mission for me. It has inspired all my writing, although my stories now contain characters to are not only gay but also bisexual, gender queer, trans, and intersex. So my message fits my earlier books best, but I think it’s perfectly fitting for all my work: The only thing wrong with being gay is how some people treat you when they find out.
You may quote me.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
In the MM genre, I love the work of Brent Hartinger and his husband, Michael Jensen. Cody Kennedy writes enthralling stories of hope for abused LGBT teens. Thomas Conner just started publishing, and I loved his first novel. David Lister has about twelve different writing voices, all convincing. Edmond Manning’s work is realistic fantasy, or maybe fantastic realism; not sure, but it’s great. But in terms of influence on me, I’d have to say David Levithan. I heard an interview he did just after publishing Boy Meets Boy, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I could do that!”
Outside this genre, I’d say Jeffrey Eugenides, Anita Diamont, Yann Martel, Marilynne Robinson, Margaret Atwood, David Guterson—how many can I name?
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I had a boss at one point in the communications management part of my career who, when I asked to temporarily to reduced hours so I could take an eight-week writing course and give it enough time to make the effort worth it, said, “Just take the time off. A day a week? How’s that?” My salary didn’t change, and when the course was over I went back to my regular hours. But by then I knew I’d go forward with writing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I see writing as a life. Not a way of life, not a career that one might begin or stop. A life.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Waiting for Walker…. I’m torn, really. Because it was crucial to my goal to depict a realistic intersex character, not just for the story but also for intersex teens. There are almost no stories out there that feature intersex characters, so I wanted to be right up front about Walker being intersex. So I included it in the synopsis that appears on booksellers’ sites and even on the back of the book cover. But, even though the reviews have been unbelievably positive and encouraging, the book is not selling well, and I can’t help wondering if some readers are reluctant to commit to a book with an important character they don’t think they’ll understand, or that they won’t understand without effort. I can’t help wondering what the sales would be like if I’d kept the intersex characteristic a secret, but I wouldn’t call it a regret.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learn many things with every new book. Because my characters are the true authors of their stories, they can surprise me. I didn’t know Simon’s stepsister (Educating Simon) was going to be autistic, and I knew almost nothing about autism, so I had to do quite a bit of research. A minute ago I mentioned some rather esoteric topics that have found their way into my novels. Sometimes I have to use a subject matter expert, and for Waiting for Walker I needed two of them: one for the topic of intersex, and one for the topic of sailing. So I learned a lot about both those subjects.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
My main characters are teens, and I’m woefully ignorant about who in that age group is acting these days. I’d leave that decision up to the experts.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Yes. Read your writing aloud. More than once. And as though there is someone listening to every word. It’s so discouraging when I buy a book I can’t read because the poor construction, awkward voicing, unlikely dialog, or any of several other stumbling blocks make it impossible for me to get involved in the story. Many of these barriers will reveal themselves if the prose is read aloud to an imaginary audience—or a real one, of someone is willing!
And, as you’re reading, if you come across a spot that feels awkward or that you find yourself reading fast to get through, don’t ignore it. Either it’s improbable, or it’s out of place in some way, or it’s just plain boring. Fix it.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Maybe this: As much fun as romance and sex might be to read, don’t forget to read more substantial works as well. They’ll stay with you longer, and you might just learn something about yourself in the process.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley. I was intrigued by the premise of what happens to people before and after a catastrophic event.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
By no means.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
If I’m surprised (suddenness implied) by something that’s completely absurd, I’m likely to be incapable of speech and to roll around on the floor for several minutes. I cry at sad stuff, of course, but also at profound beauty.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I always kind of wanted to meet John Lennon. I was also always terrified at the idea of meeting John Lennon.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Too many. Sometimes they keep me from writing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love a lot of the epic British things. “The Crown,” “Downton Abbey,” that sort of thing. But I also like shows such as “Criminal Minds,” “NYPD Blue,” “NCIS,” and sometimes I get ideas from them. In The Evolution of Ethan Poe, Ethan’s brother has a condition known as BIID, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder. I learned about that on an episode of “CSI New York.”
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Really good crème brûlée. Really good crème brûlée. REALLY good. The color spring green. I like many different kinds of music, but maybe medieval would top the list.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Sing. Photograph. Study comparative religion to a deeper level than I already have. Learn to throw pots.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Maybe this quote from the poet James Montgomery: “Tis not the whole of life to live, nor all of death to die.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
There are lots of ways to reach me. And I love to hear from readers!
Twitter: @ https://twitter.com/therobinreardon
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Robin-Reardon/e/B002BMDB6K/
AND IF I FALL (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/andififall )
WAITING FOR WALKER (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/waitingforwalker )
THROWING STONES (http://www.robinreardon.com/throwingstones )
EDUCATING SIMON (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/educatingsimon )
THE EVOLUTION OF ETHAN POE (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/evolutionofethanpoe )
THINKING STRAIGHT (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/thinkingstraight )
A SECRET EDGE (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/secretedge )
A LINE IN THE SAND (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/alineinthesand )
GIUSEPPE AND ME (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/giuseppeandme )
THE CASE FOR ACCEPTANCE (http://www.robinreardon.com/books/caseforacceptance )