Welcome to the thirty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with male:male historical novelist Erastes. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Erastes. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Erastes: Hi! Thank you for having me, Morgen.
Morgen: You can come again. 🙂
Erastes: I’m Erastes and I’ve been writing professionally since 2003. I discovered fanfiction in that year—believe it or not I had no idea such a thing existed…
Morgen: nor did I… ’til later than that.
Erastes: …and started writing a novel immediately. However, as much fun as I had writing it, I knew that I couldn’t do anything with it, so—although I continued with “fanfiction” for a few years more—I started to write an original novel, and Standish was born.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Erastes: My main genre and what I’m best known for, is gay historical fiction. All of my longer works at least. I have dabbled with the paranormal, that is one novella of vampire fiction and a few of my short stories are science fiction, but all of my writing so far is about gay men.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Erastes: My novels so far are: Standish (Regency), Transgressions (English Civil War), Mere Mortals (Victorian) and novellas: Hard & Fast (Regency), Frost Fair (Regency) Tributary (1930s) and I have three more books coming out over the next year! I do a fair bit of marketing – I try and do as many blog tours as I can…
Morgen: blog tours… ooh, I like the sound of those.
Erastes: …and attend Yahoo Chats but living in the UK we don’t really have the same level of conferences and meetups etc. It’s so bad that we’ve had to start our own, which takes place next month. Plus, as my books are published in the USA, it’s difficult to get bookshops here to host signings, even though they are obtainable here, and are in fact in many bookshops. I don’t know how useful that would be anyway—my market is America, so I try and aim for there.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Erastes: Hmm. Hard to tell, really. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award last year (the only one I’d entered) but didn’t win. I don’t think it made any difference to my sales of Transgressions, though. I think if you win the Orange Prize or the Booker it would—but then you’d probably already be successful enough to be entered for either of those!
Morgen: I think the 2010 winner Howard Jacobson was an exception rather than a rule. And the lovely Hilary Mantel before him (who I met on the ‘Beyond Black’ book tour).
Erastes: It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I think the majority of the awards, particularly the online ones are for the authors rather than for the readers. I’d never bother for example to go and look at the IPPY or the EPIC winners to find my next good read.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Erastes: Getting an agent is HARD. It’s harder than getting published, particularly for genre fiction. Any half-decent writer can get published in gay romance, but you have to provide something different for an agent. First of all, the agent has got to think that he’s going to make money—which even for a midlist author’s 10-15% is pushing it. Or you’ve got to have a startling new idea, new approach, or a good take on the same old guff that’s already popular. I do have an agent, but it’s taken me since 2003 to get one. Obviously, having read as much advice and “how to get published” books and websites I thought that getting an agent was the first thing you did. But of course gay romance was pretty much “out there” in 2003—particularly gay historical romance. No one seemed to know what to do with a gay regency! So, once I realised that I could sell stuff on my own, I decided to just do that, even though I never stopped searching for an agent. I landed mine (Professor James Schiavone) last year and his criteria for new clients was (apart from him liking your work) that you already had a decent publishing history. I would definitely say: “Don’t stress getting an agent.” Work on your body of published works, or concentrate on getting published—but—in tandem—keep applying for agents as you go because the more of a fanbase you develop and a name you make, the more likely it is that an agent is going to look at your query. They aren’t essential, particularly for genre fiction BUT they can oil the wheels. They can get access to publishers who won’t even open your query email, they have contacts in the film business and they—if they are any good—know everyone who needs knowing.
Morgen: It’s not what you know… Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Erastes: Most of my books are available as ebooks as well as in print—the technology has been developing since I started writing—when I first started up they were almost unknown: Torquere did their anthologies on CD for example, and my only claim to fame is that I turned down Ellora’s Cave for Standish to be their first gay romance because I didn’t want the book to be ebook only… I have very mixed views on the medium. I embrace it as a necessity but tear my hair out at the pirating. You only have to go to some sites such as demonoid to find absolutely anything you desire, you need never buy a book again, and you can’t tell me that’s a good thing. It’s all right for Jim Butcher to say “I don’t mind the pirates” because he’s earning hundreds of thousands if not more and if he loses say 10,000 copies to pirates, he won’t feel the loss of £10,000. But I look at the downloads of my books and there’s a mortgage payment I could have made, or the shopping for the week. It’s relative. I agree, not every pirated copy would have been a sale, but a fair proportion would have been, and that’s lost money for me and my publisher. As to ebook sales—well, I’ve been disappointed. I know for a fact—whenever I mention this online—that most people’s ebook sales outstrip their paper ones, but it’s very much the reverse for me. I have had two “ebook only” books so far and they’ve sold practically nothing—one book made $60 royalty in three years(!!) and the other hasn’t even repaid its measly advance. HOWEVER- I have another “ebook only” novella coming out with Carina Press next month (Muffled Drum—4th July) so I hope that I’ll see a marked improvement there. I’ve just sold them a second novella, so I’m crossing my fingers that my ebook curse will be well and truly lifted.
Morgen: Me too!
Erastes: I do, however, buy and read ebooks. Aleksandr Voinov recently treated me to a Kindle (bless him) because of the huge to be read pile I had for Speak Its Name (my gay historical review site) and it’s really been a boon. I’ve only had it a few months but it’s already filling up! The free books at Amazon are great! 🙂
Morgen: Presumably no-one bothers pirating those. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Erastes: My very first sale was with Torquere Press—and a short story called Bright Souls. I think I got $10 for it. It was a huge, huge thrill. Then I sold it again to a “Best Gay Erotica” anthology and got $40 for it and framed the cheque. Every single sale is a buzz, and I hope to God I never get blasé about it. I read in a magazine years ago how one author mentioned in the article always celebrated a sale in the same way, so I do too, with nice fizzy Cava (I’m not earning enough for champagne!). I think it helps to keep a sense of celebration to do that.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Erastes: LOL—that’s part of the business. I used to be hugely sensitive about being rejected, or criticised in any way, but you have to learn to suck it up in publishing. You are going to get rejected and sometimes it will be a positive rejection, such as “beautifully written and of the period but we would find it impossible to place in our catalogue” but sometimes you’ll get form rejection after form rejection where they can’t even be bothered to write your own name—and just call you “Dear Author…” And there are worse rejections than that, believe me. I was lucky that I’ve never had a gay short story rejected and I wrote a ton of those while I was trying to sell Standish. That was rejected about 30 times, if not more. I cope by whining. But always off line and to personal friends. I say “what’s the matter with these people?” and then I put on my Big Girl’s Knickers and get on with it. If there’s critique I’ll either take it on board or think they are bonkers, I’ll rewrite if necessary and then I’ll send it out again. I have dabbled in the mainstream and fantasy short story market, (although I’ve actually never mentioned this to anyone excerpt one good friend) and have been soundly rejected there. It’s a much bigger, much tougher and harder market to crack. My mother wrote a book once, and after one rejection she threw the manuscript into a drawer and vowed never to put herself through that again. I don’t recommend this.
Morgen: Me neither. If you quit too easily then you’re not mean to be a writer. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Erastes: I’m three-quarters through a gay fiction novel set in 1921 England. It’s very very loosely based on Hamlet, that is to say, it’s taken some influences from the play, but not all of them. It’s called “I Knew Him” and I don’t know how I’d categorise it. There’s a love story, definitely, and murders, but it’s not a murder mystery. I’m aiming to get that finished by September which should—hopefully—give me four months to get another novella written. I try and aim for producing two books a year. I’ve written so many bleak books over the last couple of years that I’d like to write something FUN next, a bit of a romp with no bleakness!!
Morgen: I’ve done http://nanowrimo.org (50,000 words every November) three times and certainly for the first two I wanted to do something light and wrote a lad lit 53K in 2008 (which I plan to release as an ebook), a 117K chick lit in 2009 (since down to 105K, for which I’m looking for an agent) but the third was very dark and therapeutic so is probably a WNSLOD (will never see light of day) one. Ooh and they’re doing a Camp NaNoWriMo (http://www.campnanowrimo.org) in July… eek that’s tomorrow – oh well, nothing like a challenge, and I’m on a 2-part writing course this weekend so that’s a good head start. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Erastes: I aim for writing five days a week. I’m lucky enough not to work, as I look after my father, who has Alzheimer’s, five days a week. Sometimes it works and I can reach my 1000 a day target, but sometimes I do other things, like this interview! Or simply goof off on the internet all day.
Morgen: Oh that’s alright, it’s called research. 🙂
Erastes: The only good thing about it is that the reception for the internet is patchy at best, so that helps me stop the rabid procrastination. Sometimes though, Dad is time-consuming, which is fine, that’s what I’m there for, and I get nothing done at all. I think, when I was writing Standish was my peak time. That book just poured out of me like a torrent, and I’d write 5-10k in a day without a break. I’ve never had that level of inspiration and productivity since.
Morgen: That’s a shame, you’d have been the perfect NaNo candidate. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Erastes: No, I’m very rarely blocked. Not if you define it as not being able to write anything, and you stare at a sheet of blank paper in desperation. But I do get periods of feeling completely averse to wanting to write anything—usually if I’m in a patch of a book where I don’t want to deal with something. “I Knew Him” is a good example, I started it in June last year, didn’t get it finished by the end of the year, and knew I had to do several complicated things with the plot. So I put it aside. Then I had two months of massive edits for two books that came out this year, so I used that as an excuse not to write them, then I just didn’t write anything for another two months. I get around it by setting myself small writing targets. Write a short story for an anthology, write targets of 300 words a day, then 500 and so on, and eventually the plot will start coming back. And TALKING to people about it really helps, brainstorming. If I mull it over in my own head I get nowhere, but if I talk out loud about it—to my Dad who can’t remember the beginning of the conversation when you get to the end—the solution can suddenly come to me.
Morgen: Ahhh… Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Erastes: I’m a dreadful pantser and make most of it up as I go along. I start with a general idea—the theme, or a character or “set in the English Civil War”. I have a general idea how to start, e.g. with Standish I knew I wanted to do a sort of homage to the regency romance, so I knew I wanted a blond rather delicate hero who would be repulsed by the uber-alpha hero but of course falls in love with him. I knew I wanted a cinematic beginning, pulling in to the blond hero sitting at a desk, but further than that, I had no idea. Once I set the scene, I let the characters and the conversation lead the way.
Morgen: As they do.
Erastes: Actually, the ends of my books are the hardest to write, because by then I know what’s going to happen, and once I know, I find it difficult to write down and wish someone else would do it.
Morgen: I’ll have a go. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Erastes: Not original, no. I have just sold the last malingering novel that I thought would never sell, as it’s a tragedy. I was trying to get the agent to sell it to a major publisher but although they uniformly liked it, no-one was prepared to take on such a bleak subject. But happily he’s now found a home for it, and I don’t have anything in “stock” as it were.
Morgen: You’re lucky I have over 100 short stories that are ‘in progress’ (so old they’re positively cryptic).
Erastes: I would love to publish a fanfic I wrote called “Shoulders of Giants” because I think it’s one of the better things I wrote back then, but the work involved in converting it to original fiction would be more than I could bear to do, as it would entail creating a whole new universe for it so it wouldn’t be recognisable as fanfic.
Morgen: Would that be a bad thing? What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Erastes: My favourite two things are 1. Finishing something. I get a “mad-dog-super-waggy-tail” feeling and want to rush round in circles. This lasts usually one—two days and then I get THE GLOOM of “God I have to start something else.”
Erastes: My other favourite thing is something happening you were completely not expecting, such as in Standish where a character had only been introduced to die a few chapters later in mistaken identity circumstances, promptly refused to be killed and took over the whole last half of the book!
Morgen: Apparently that’s what happened with JK Rowling and The Deathly Hallows.
Erastes: Least favourite. Being uncomfortable with sitting. I have swollen legs and it can be very painful to sit for long periods.
Morgen: Presumably you’ve tried the putting your feet up thing. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Erastes: Fanmail! If you had told me, in 2003 that people would be finding my email address and emailing me and telling me how much they liked my work I’d have laughed at you. Reader’s letters are the Best Thing Ever. It has spurred me into always writing to authors, no matter how mighty they are, because I’m sure they still must get a kick out of it.
Morgen: Not thought of that, although it does make sense. It’s like learner drivers, we all started somewhere. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Erastes: Be professional. It might not seem important, especially now as you are just starting out but it’s never too early to be professional. Get a website. Not a weebly or a freeserve thing—it doesn’t cost much to get that domain registered and pay yearly for space. Keep it updated and include your blog on it. It’s never too early to start building “platform” even if you haven’t sold anything yet. Don’t bitch about people, or rejections, or publishers on a public forum (and this includes so called private yahoo groups, because people will always share bad behaviour). Don’t insult other professionals on Facebook or Twitter, because you’ll be the one who looks like a twit.
Morgen: I like that.
Erastes: Nowadays the first place a publisher or an agent will go is online to find out about you after he gets a query he’s interested in. If he reads nothing but bile and bitchery—however amusing that might be to the people you blog to, or how much notoriety you might be enjoying because of it—he might think twice about working with you. (Unless of course, you intend to publish a Louella Parsons style of caustic humour!)
Morgen: Er… ah, American gossip columnist of the 1940s / 1950s – thanks Wikipedia.
Erastes: Always reply to readers and others such as publishers, even if they are being critical, with a calm “thank you for reading” and never bang on about how they are too dense to understand your genius. Don’t argue with reviewers, or post rants about them in public. Sit on your hands before firing off comments on some controversial subject—believe me, it’ll be better in the long run!
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Erastes: Oh, anything! I’ll read the instructions on bleach if I’m stuck in the loo for any length of time.
Morgen: I keep pens/paper and usually a dip-into book; currently a ‘Quick Read’ about true work experiences edited by Val McDermid.
Erastes: I read huge amounts of gay historical fiction for reviewing, but I’m partial to a bit of well-written fantasy for my comfort reads. Things like Tolkein and George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb. I never throw a book away (apart from the Wraethlu which I sent packing via Bookcrossing.com) and I re-read all the time. I love classic children’s books like Ballet Shoes, and The Treasure Seekers and the Borrowers and the Narnia books. But I also love good sci-fi that’s not too sci-focussed, like Heinlein. And Agatha Christie. I own everything she ever wrote. So, yeah. I can be found with almost anything in my hand.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Erastes: Well, as a historical writer research is foremost in my mind when I’m working, so I always have etymology online open in my tabs. Similarly the Oxford English Dictionary which UK library cardholders can access free (probably in other countries too?) which I’ll double check the etymology online reference, but the latter is more accessible, to be honest. As for books, I can’t really say I’ve read any “how to” ones, as I get just about everything online! But here are a few very useful ones: (not strictly writing-related, but very useful)
- Debretts – forms of address
- wages and money
- Measuring Worth – Measures of worth, inflation rates, saving calculator, relative value, worth of a dollar, worth of a pound, purchasing power, gold prices, GDP, history of wages, average wage
- And because everyone deserves a game to procrastinate with and solitare is so last century, here’s my current favourite waste of time. Miami Shark
Morgen: Mine’s ‘Drop Words’, one of the few games on my mobile. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Erastes: LOL- I’m on everything, I think, although I don’t use half of them. I find Twitter very handy, after months of saying “I don’t get it.”
Morgen: You’re not alone. I’ve grown very fond of it after a few months of not really doing much with it.
Erastes: Now I do, because I use Tweetdeck and each message is updated as it comes in, you don’t have to use the website. It’s invaluable for getting your news out fast, although you may have to repeat it every couple of hours—but it’s also fantastic for a quick research resource: “hey does anyone know a drug that would make someone hallucinate?” or “What’s the German for unnatural?” and questions like that.
Morgen: Unmoeglich is the first thing that springs to mind but my brother (who lives in Zurich) and German friend (and Google) would probably correct me. Ah, of course, it’s unnatuerlich (doh, natural = natuerlich). I’m so rusty. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Erastes: Everything you need to know is on my website at www.erastes.com. Some of the graphics might be invisible with some browsers, I’m in the process of having a new one made. (I do have a Wiki page, too, but I don’t know who created that, so I don’t know how up to date that is)
Morgen: Ooh, I’d love one of those but then I need to have done something. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Erastes: Oh, the future’s pretty bright. People will always want to read, however the medium to do that changes, and with independent publishers springing up all the time, and with self-publishing now cheap and easy, it’s very easy to get into print. It all depends on how much you want from it, and how hard you are prepared to work.
Morgen: Yes, you definitely get more out the more you put in. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Erastes: 1. Find good Beta readers. 2. Read read read – especially in the genre you want to write in. 3. And write write write, even if it’s not great yet. You’ll only get better by practice. Don’t go saying “one day I’ll write that book.” Start it today, it won’t get published in your head. 4. Expect everything to take TIME, publishing isn’t a quick business. I’ll shut up now.
Morgen: Please don’t, it’s been fun. Thank you.
Erastes is the penname of a female author who lives on the Norfolk Broads in England. She writes gay historical fiction and reviews it on Speak Its Name. She used to work in the legal profession but found that it gave Wolfram & Hart and bad name. She likes cheese and cats but only one of those is any good with toast.
MB: If you pick off the hairs. 🙂
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