When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I find it easier to pinpoint when I knew I wanted to write – it was when I was in middle school, around 12 or 13 years old. I’d always been writing, jotting down random scenes and dialogue bits, making up stories to entertain myself, but that was the moment when I became aware that I was doing it. It was also the moment I realized just how much I liked it, that writing was ‘my thing’, so to speak, and that I wanted to keep doing it. It was about then that I started trying to make those random snippets in whole stories, and started thinking about having other people read them apart from myself. I never really thought about becoming a writer, I just always thought about writing the next story and then tried to figure out what to do with it. I think the moment I started actually considering the ‘writer’ side was when I started my Creative Writing degree, almost three years ago. It put the whole writing experience in a more practical, public perspective; it got me thinking seriously about the publishing world and the possibility of tackling writing as a profession.
Where and/or how do you find the greatest inspiration?
I studied Fine Arts for several years, and my sources of inspiration are always predominantly visual. I have a constantly growing collection of pictures on my laptop, and whenever I’m in need of inspiration, I just start browsing through the dozens of folders where I try and organize said collection (without much success, but still!). Need to immerse myself in steampunk landscapes? Check. Want some handsome men wearing kimonos and brandishing katanas? Check. How about a parade of half-human and half-animal creatures? Check…
This means I spend a lot of time browsing art websites, especially Deviantart and Pixiv, its Japanese equivalent. With art, I can mould my mood as I please, put myself in the right frame of mind for a determinate story or scene, I can kick-start my brain when it’s all sluggish and grey. It’s incredible how a little detail, a swirl of colour, can set off whole scenes or storylines in my head. I think it also depends on the fact that the way I build stories is largely visual as well – I see a full-color action movie in my head, and it’s only later that I try to convert what I’m seeing into words and transcribe it somewhere. If I was a good enough artist, I’d love to draw comics.
What made you chose to write gay/steampunk erotic literature in particular? And is there any other genre you’d like to write? And if so, why?
The curious thing is that I never really ‘chose’ to do it – it just happened. It all started with fanfiction, which is a really good training ground to practice writing without yet having to worry about world- and character-building. I was 13, and I was very fond of a manga. There were two male characters that had an amazing chemistry, and a deep, tangled connection that was just begging to be explored (they were Kurama and Hiei from Yuu Yuu Hakusho, in case anyone’s wondering!), and I remember thinking: ‘if they were a man and a woman, it would be blatant and obvious to everyone that there’s something romantic going on between them. Why should things be different because they’re two men? Uncool!’ So I set about correcting this…
It was years before I heard the term ‘heteronormativity’ for the first time, and I was able to realize exactly what it was that bugged me so much. I get annoyed when, in movies, the male and female leads just have to look at each other sideways and, since they have the right combination of genitals, they’re automatically destined to get involved in a love story. And that’s why I keep writing gay romance. I value the chemistry between characters, and personally I find two alpha males clashing together simply explosive. I love having the chance to explore those dynamics.
The other genre I’d love to explore further is mainstream steampunk, that is, without romantic elements. It’s the genre I’m exploring with my university final project, and although I have to say I’m still trying to find my balance without the romance thread to help guide the story, I’m having lots of fun!
Which appears first when contemplating a new project: A character, the plot and/or the title?
Definitely not the title :). Titles are anathema to me – they’re always the last thing I write, soaked in sweat and tears. I just honestly suck at titles. Except when I suddenly think of an awesome title but have absolutely no idea about what story it’s supposed to belong to (which means it will be jotted down in a notebook and languish there forever)!
The first thing that appears is usually a scene – often the big climax, sometimes just a random moment between characters, never the beginning. That one scene is full of details – scenery, colouring, the atmosphere, what the characters look like, what they’re feeling or saying… so I rush to jot it down as it literally pours out of the pen, and after I’m done, I sit down to stare at it and I begin asking myself questions. Who are those characters I saw? Where are they, and why? What strange world did I catch a glimpse of? How did they end up in that predicament, and how the heck will they get out of it? And when I start answering myself, characters and plot come out rather naturally.
What’s the hardest part of a novel for you to write: Beginning, middle and/or end? Why?
I usually hear that the end is the hardest part to write; I remember a funny article stating that ‘any monkey with a keyboard can hammer out a beginning’ but that closing the story, gathering all the loose ends and tying them in a nice ribbon is always the hardest part, and that’s where most stories end up falling flat on their faces. I’m not sure if that’s a general rule, or if it was the personal experience of the author, but I know that I tend to do the contrary. Usually, the end is the first thing I write. As soon as I start imagining the story, the end is the first bit that pops up, the whole big climax and resolution thing. And then I’m left trying to figure out how on Earth my characters ended up in that predicament, and I have to come up with a suitable beginning and journey that will take them where I need them to be for the big showdown to begin. The opening scene is always the very last one I write – I find it endlessly stressful. It has to present the characters and the world-building effectively but without info dump, it has to have a good hook right away to entice the reader or he/she’ll drop the book and move on… so much pressure on one tiny scene! I dread beginnings. Endings, on the contrary… they are my rock. Knowing where everything will inevitably converge, and seeing the events plummet inexorably toward that point, makes me feel excited.
Has your own life influenced your novels? And if so, how?
My instinctive reply would be no – I never directly take inspiration from my life for the plots of my novels. But of course, everything I’ve ever written has been influenced by my life experience. For example, my love for random characters and nonsense humor and silly irony comes from the stories that my dad used to tell me. My fondness for stories about underdogs fighting against an unfair society comes from the fact that my mother always worked and volunteered in social services (rehab centres, prisons libraries, so on), and I’ve always been very aware of social inequality issues. My love for escapism and complex made-up worlds comes from being an only child and spending endless hours just reading and imagining things… I think there’s a million other ways in which my life is influencing my taste in stories, but pinpointing and connecting them is hard. I never really thought about it before.
Writing sex/romantic scenes can be a challenge for some authors. Do you find it difficult? If yes, how do you compensate? If no, from where do you draw your inspiration?
Not really, to be honest. When the sex scene is the next natural step of the story, it usually also flows out seamlessly. The tone, the dynamics… they kind of come with the characters, they spring from their personality, their current mood. I think it’s easy to see when a sex scene has been written on the side and then added later – it’s detached from the rest of the story, with a different tone and pacing and mood, and if it was removed the story wouldn’t be impacted. It’s just easier to let the story take the lead!
I’m not really sure about the inspiration. I look at pictures of handsome characters and then I just let them play around my head. Also, and this is probably a whole lot of TMI, on a couple of occasions my boyfriend found me taking notes after sex – he was smug about it for a week :)!
Do you have a method you use to write the sensual parts? Do you prefer the sex to be open and bold? Or left to the imagination?
I don’t really have a method – I just sit in front of the computer, let the scene unfold in my head and spy on my characters as they get all hot and bothered. I just try to write as quickly as possible to keep up with the scene as it flows, and afterward I go back and polish the prose, craft sentences and paragraphs out of the stream of prose.
As for the bold or not, it really depends on the story. I usually prefer bold, I like to have every detail described in detail so that I might visualize it. But then again, when the story calls for it, a couple of well-placed sentences can be sexier than five pages of detailed anatomical descriptions.
Tell us about your newest release!
My newest release is a short story, ‘Bounty Hunter’, that I wrote for Storm Moon Press’ gun-themed anthology. I really enjoy writing for anthologies – all the awesome prompts never fail to spark all sorts of interesting ideas. Plus I work better if I have a deadline looming over me, it prevents me from spending endless time tinkering with the story and never getting around to submitting!
So when I started thinking about guns, I couldn’t help but picture the Wild West, scorching sun, dry earth, endless sky, dust and worn leather and creaking wood. And lately I have a fondness for messed up love stories, where the characters actively fight against the attraction between them, making things so much harder for each other, where there’s no guarantee a traditional happy ending. I love it when the characters love each other fiercely, and yet their beliefs, their choices, their lives yank them in opposite directions – I love to watch the characters struggle and fight against it all, sometimes against themselves, to try and come together. So I pictured two strong, fierce, independent men, armed with guns, clashing together in the most explosive way. And that’s how ‘Bounty Hunter’ was born…
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Everyone knows that guns are dangerous; they have long been a subject surrounded by controversy. Combine them with sex and you have a subject that is virtually taboo, but smoking hot. This anthology explores the intersection of these two worlds, and the sensual possibilities they inspire.
In Bounty Hunter, William Hunt is hot on the trail of lover-turned-outlaw James Campbell. But when William finally catches up with James, bringing him to justice is the last thing on his mind. Changing the Guard introduces Tomi Vuorela, working security in a frozen off-world outpost. When Andile Harper intrudes on his seclusion, Tomi must determine if the interloper is a harmless workman or a dangerous terrorist. Tyler Maxwell from In the Pines, a former New York cop now working a desk job in Alaska, buys a gun as a present and begins to dream about the mysterious and beautiful Flynn. But Flynn is more than a dream, and Tyler must find the truth before he loses his mind. In Compromised Judgment, Rózsa Ignác is working to uncover a gunrunning operation supplying arms to his enemies. He's certain that Cistalan Konrád is involved, but his attraction to the other man puts himself and the entire investigation in danger. Finally, Avery Belfour is The Machinist, kidnapped by a rival colony in need of his services. But the dark and deadly Harrow may have other plans for Avery first.
The man walked in the saloon, the wooden doors swinging heavily behind him. Gravel crackled under his boots as he was welcomed by the reek of cheap alcohol and gin sweat. The handful of drunken men barely spared him a glance. Someone was singing a crooked, out of tune, love song. Worn out cards slapped on wooden tabletops, the tired clinking of glass against glass as someone poured a drink.
William Hunt didn't pay attention to any of it.
He had the best part of a whiskey flask in him, a gun heavy at his side, the stubble of four days on his face, and a sure lead. A lead he might have dragged out of a whimpering man, pressing the barrel of his gun hard into his cheek and wondering out loud whether at this particular angle the man's eye would explode as the bullet tore through it before it blew up his brain. The man couldn't speak fast enough to tell William what he wanted to know.
William hadn't shot the man, of course. He hadn't even intended to. He was just good at knowing what it would take to make a man talk; it came with the job after all. This one you could scare into spilling, that one you had to beat up, that one would crack after you broke a couple of fingers.
Whatever it took to get information.
William knew where James Campbell was holed up, and that was all he needed.
Just for fun–What is your favourite colour(s)?
My friends affectionately mock me because I tend to always wear brown, and colours that go well with brown, like cream, pale pink, green, dove grey, mustard. Clothes-wise, that’s definitely my favourite colour. But my favourite color per se… I think green. It makes me feel peaceful, makes me think of trees, the woods that surround my hometown in Italy, it makes me think of spring and growth and sunshine on grass.
Which do you prefer a great hero or a great villain?
I do love me a great villain – it can make or break a story – but a great villain without a great hero to match will damn a story just the same. I’ve read several good stories in which there was no definite enemy, and the heroes were fighting against a warped system or prejudice. So I think a story can survive without a great villain. I think a great hero is someone who’s flawed, who messes up, but who in the end manages to overcome his own flaws and fears: sometimes the greatest villain the hero can face is himself. That’s why I need a complex, great hero to make me care, make me passionate about the story.
What is your favourite movie? And why?
Definitely ‘Angels in America’. It’s technically a miniseries of 3 episodes, but I watch it as a 6 hours long movie. ( Throughout high school, I used to put it on as background noise as I studied!). The cast is amazing, including Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. It’s set in America, in 1985, and it weaves together the stories of several characters, who cross each other’s paths in a myriad of ways (including in valium-induced hallucinations!) forming an amazing tapestry of lives. Roy Cohn is a successful, cruel lawyer, dying of AIDS; Prior Walker has just discovered he’s sick, and he has to deal with his deteriorating health and a bullying angel who wants him to be a prophet; Prior’s partner Louis can’t face Prior’s illness and is torn and guilty about his lack of courage; Joe Pitt is a young handsome lawyer, a devout Mormon struggling with his latent homosexuality; his chronically depressed wife, with a tendency to hallucinate; Belize, flamboyant gay nurse; a sex-starved angel; a vengeful ghost… it’s hard to pinpoint one single plot or one single topic to give as an example. It’s mixed genre fiction, wonderful, variegated, the stories coming together inevitably and forcefully like colliding galaxies. I love this movie – I’ll never stop recommending it.
If you could be anyone in the world who would it be? And why?
To be honest, I’m pretty content with being myself – I wouldn’t swap my life with anyone else’s. There are some details I’d change – I had to emigrate because I have no job options in my country and me and my boyfriend now live in different countries, and I’ll admit that’s a little inconvenient! But I love my life. I love my family, my boyfriend and my friends – I love what I’m building and I’m very much excited about the future.
Where do you see your writing career in the next five to ten years?
At the moment, I’m in my final semester of uni, and I’m busy stressing about exams, and the final project that I should be working on but I’m not. I’m not really sure what I’ll be doing with my life next February, after handing in the project, finally no longer a student after nearly 20 years in school, from the age of three onward – I honestly haven’t got a clue where I’ll be in a few years. But where I’d like to be… I don’t know if I’d like to be a full-time writer (in fact, I think I’d like to get an MFA and eventually teach creative writing), but of course I hope my job will leave me enough free time to keep writing. I hope I’ll have published a few novels, exploring the steampunk genre to my heart’s content. And I hope the m/m genre will be much more well-known and accepted – I hope there will be a GLBT romance section in every bookshop, or better yet, I hope GLBT romance will no longer need a warning label and will be shelved in the romance section. And we’ll all be considered pioneers!
Cornelia Grey: http://corneliagrey.blogspot.com/
What an awesome interview, Cornelia! Thanks so much. I wish you the best for the years ahead.