Author Spotlight: Kirby Crow

Jane Bled's Author Spotlight

Guest: Kirby Crow

Author of the award-winning horror/dark fantasy novel Angels of the Deep and popular M/M romance series Scarlet and the White Wolf, Kirby Crow graces us with her presence to discuss her writing toolbox, the fate of men on a fictional female-dominated society, and sometime wonders, "Where are they hiding the gay people?"

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Kirby Crow: Artful Tension

(Interview conducted Summer 2014)

JB: Kirby, I'll be honest: I'm hardly able to contain my fangirling. Right now, I have the biggest, dumbest grin on my face. So happy you can't see me right now. (blushes)

You're one of the most promising authors I've discovered in a while. Angels of the Deep, your M/M dark fantasy novel, was a thrilling, memorable read. If you don't mind, I'd like to jump right into that book before we talk about anything else...

KC: I don't mind at all. Thank you so much! That's so sweet of you.

JB: I just call it like I read it. ;)

In one of our recent conversations, you mentioned that Angels of the Deep is a "polarizing" novel - a statement backed up by opposing reader reviews. Did you have any inkling the book would be so divisive when you first published it?

KC: I kind of knew, but then again I didn't know, you know? (laughing)

Of course I was aware of the graphic level that the story contained. But what I couldn't predict was how readers would react to it: they either love it fiercely or they loathe it. Very few in between. That's puzzling to me because I have a high pain threshold for fiction – textual fiction, that is – so maybe I'm bothered less by graphic content than the average reader. Watching the news disturbs me far worse than any novel I've ever read, simply because the news is real and the story isn't, so there's that filter of unreality keeping fiction all nice and distant for me. On the flipside, my tolerance for visual content is really low. There are some types of films I simply can't watch.

But at the same time...I kind of don't understand why AotD is polarizing. I've read difficult content at the same or more intense levels in popular mainstream novels, and there's usually no outcry over it, because those fall under that literary umbrella that the M/M genre often seems excluded from. I don't understand how problematic scenes can be bulletproof if somebody famous wrote them.

JB: Let's compare reader reactions - please share a quote from a positive review that pleases you, and one from a negative review that amuses you.

KC: There was one quote for AotD that I loved. The reviewer called it "uniquely beautiful horror". I was charmed by that because that's precisely what I shooting for. I think it was easy for readers to identify with Becket Merriday, because it's obvious from the beginning that he's broken and vulnerable in so many ways. It was much harder to get them to care about Mastema, who comes into the story as this brutal, unsympathetic force – to be lured in with the beauty of his memories and his rage and longing for what he'd lost, and at the same time be appalled by what he was capable of. Not to mention what he was capable of doing to Beck. I wanted to relate all that in a lyrical style; beautiful and horrible and alluring all at once.

Okay, now I'm embarrassed. Right! The negative quote...I think the gist of it was "less trees and more sex". The guy really had a thing against trees.

JB: LOL! Those pesky trees - how dare they get in the way of M/M sexytime!

I could be wrong, but I've noticed that the majority of M/M authors choose to make sex the focal point of their stories. Did you consciously choose to relegate sex to the background of AotD?

KC: I think in M/M and gay fiction in general, it's pretty evenly split between authors who focus on the sexual aspect of their character's relationships, and authors who focus on relationship-driven stories without the sex. You have a smaller percentage of authors who tell a good story and there just happen to be gay characters in it. To me, it's weird to read a book without a gay character. I'm like...where did they go? Where are they hiding the gay people? (laughing) Because I know they're there!

But to answer you, yes. That's definitely my decision. It's not one that's meant to oppose the value of erotica, and it's not a criticism, either. I adore erotica. I read it whenever I can, so I know what works for me and what doesn't. For me, no matter how artfully a sex scene is written, if there's been no buildup of tension between the characters and there's nothing at stake for them, that sex is going to bore me. I need to want those two to be together first. I need to care about them. If that takes 100 pages, then that's what it takes.

JB: I could not agree with you more - I'm not a fan of PWP, though I understand it serves a purpose for quite a few people...still, sex without story bores me to tears.

KC: Now, in Malachite, there's plenty of story, and there's a healthy amount of sex. More than in Scarlet and the White Wolf, because it's more a part of the society that Malachite is set in.

JB: Speaking of Malachite (great title, BTW), I zoomed over to your website and read the story synopsis. A beautiful floating city only populated by men, an intriguing creation ritual, and a dangerous mission voyaged by two ex-lovers - I'm there. Tell me more about Malachite's all-male society. Have the Cwen women forced them into exile, or are they solely responsible for their own isolation?

KC: In the beginning, the men were entirely responsible for their own separation from the outside world. That was thousands of years ago in this storyline, though, so that's no longer true. But the adult males who live in Malachite in the present choose to be there and to become citizens. No one is compelled to stay. The Cwen also have no interest in Malachite, except for a place to send their exiles, orphans, criminals, and any other males their rulers find objectionable.

I think you're going to like Malachite. There are numerous books in print that explore the concept of a woman-dominated world. There are relatively few that feature societies populated only by men, and fewer still set on Earth with human characters. Malachite follows the lives and loves of several men in that world as they deal with the normal challenges we all face, including marriage and parenthood. It's a fantasy, though, with ships and pirates and spies and swashbuckling. It's going to be cool.

JB: You had me at "swashbuckling." ;)

Pirates and spies are generally portrayed as rogues - do this mean the majority of Malachites (what's the proper terminology for the men of Malachite?) embrace depravity, or have circumstances forced them to control their base impulses?

KC: I call them Malakhans. It just sounds right. And no, the men are no more violent or depraved in Malachite than they are in, say, the average sports bar. They've developed practical ways to deal with aggression and natural impulses. Public nudity is legal, for one thing. So are prostitution, public sex, and fighting, although all but the last are confined to very specific areas of the city.

The pirates are called the Starless Men and they're not Malakhans, but a completely different faction who make their living on the seas the normal way that pirates do: by raiding and plunder. They're old enemies with the Malakhans and they really look down on them. They think of Malachite –or any city– as a prison, but that doesn't stop them from coveting it as a perfect seaport. So, what we have on one hand is a beautiful, ancient city with a working society that has taken a few millennium to develop a complex set of laws, customs, and rituals that enable them to sustain a single-gender culture indefinitely, and on the other hand we have a rogue group who wants what the Malakhans have, but who really are depraved and violent and refuse to follow any rules at all. Then we have the Cwen, who are much more powerful than either of them, but they don't give a rat's ass if they destroy each other. (laughing)

JB: Haha! So the Cwen women are just sitting pretty on the mainland, watching the men destroy each other. Sounds a lot like real life. ;)

Did you draw your inspiration from historical events to portray the power struggle between the Starless Men & the Malakhans?

KC: No specific events that I'm aware of, although Malachite will be instantly recognizable to the reader as some speculative fiction version of Venice, set far in some Earth future. Hey, thousands of hot-blooded men on an island surrounded by pirates and enemies. What could possibly go wrong?

JB: The perfect recipe for a most debauched disaster. ;)

Your enthusiasm for Malachite needs no embellishment - where does it rank on the list of books you've written? Do you have a favorite?

KC: It's pretty high on the list, but I actually don't have a true favorite, although Angels of the Deep holds a special place in my heart. They're all sort of like relatives, you know? You don't want to declare for just one because they all represent a significant investment of emotion, time, and downright work from you. Well, except for Prisoner of the Raven, that was pure crack, there. I wrote it in like 28 days, just to see if I could and to see if it was financially viable for me to switch from ghostwriting to selling my own fiction. Raven didn't break down any doors, sales-wise, but the rewards convinced me that this was the path to follow.

I know the fan favorite is the Scarlet series and that's so awesome. I adore Scarlet and Liall and I love playing in that world. There are at least 2 more Scarlet novels to be published. Possibly 3, but I've only written the two for now. (laughs a little) I still don't have a title for book 5. It's giving me fits.

JB: (nods) A book without a title is a sad state of affairs. It's funny how books can become living, breathing entities of their own. Often, they don't follow our orders, as much as we might like them to behave.

Do you craft your stories sequentially, or start somewhere in the middle of the action and build the plot around it?

KC: Short stories, anything under 10k, usually start with a title and a concept that gets fleshed out as I go. Full-length novels are more difficult to craft, and I need a lot more than a title and an idea to start. I've also learned through experience that I shouldn't wing it or jump in the middle of a novel without a full plot to work with. I can, but I shouldn't. Any competent writer can pull up a keyboard and begin, but beginnings are never the problem, are they? I've got a couple of dozen proto-novels on my hard drive that never made it past 30k. Finishing what you start is the truly hard work. I used to keep track of scenes with index cards and a big cork-board pinned with post-it notes, but now I use Scrivener. If I don't take the time to work on the plot first, I run the risk of either stalling in the middle or having the book cost me twice the effort it should. Patience is really hard for me, especially when writing is the fun part and plotting scenes in detail beforehand can rob you of some of that.

JB: Yeah, I'll take the fun stuff part over plotting every time.

Do you write x number of words per day/week?

KC: I have Word set so that it displays roughly 400 words a page, so I know I need about 3 pages a day. Writing with the goal of making the count doesn't work for me. I try not to get hung up on word counts because that kills my love for a story, to make the focus of creating it about everything else except the story. Like, I need X number of words today, no matter what! There's already a great deal of pressure, structure, and expectation to writing, especially writing to a genre audience. Adding more doesn't help me. It makes the process feel mechanical and a little desperate. If I allow my focus to turn to writing words to add up to a predetermined number rather than creating the right words, I'm going to be cutting most of it later.

Mentally walking through the scenes I'm going to write several times before I attempt them helps. I don't have to be sitting at my desk to do that, although I don't recommend doing it while cooking or operating heavy machinery. (laughing)

JB: Ha, I'm pretty sure I could set my house on fire if I physically reenacted some of the action sequences from your books.

I want to touch on the challenges you face "writing to a genre audience". Do expanciate.

KC: All jobs are challenging, aren't they? There's no formula, but there is a kind of format, and it's imposed by the audience, which is in turn enforced by publishing guidelines. Naturally, the publisher only wants to sign what sells, and objecting to how other people choose to risk their money is a difficult argument. The best way for an author to make that argument is to self-publish what they say won't sell and knock it out of the park.

So the challenges aren't onerous, but I can't just write whatever I want and then complain if it flops. However, even if you do follow all the rules, it might still flop. I just try to write the best book I can.

JB: Earlier you mentioned Scarlet and the White Wolf was the fan favorite - what sorts of reader requests have you received? Has anyone been like, "Can you add more buttsex?"

KC: Not as many as you might imagine. More the opposite, really. I think part of the appeal of the Scarlet novels is that there is very little sex in them. Naturally, there's some, because Scarlet and Liall are adults and they fall in love and they wind up experiencing some extraordinary opportunities for intimacy. But overall, the amount of graphic content is miniscule, so these are books you could safely recommend to almost anyone, even readers who haven't tried gay romance novels yet.

JB: While perusing reviews of Mariner's Luck (Scarlet and the White Wolf #2), and I came across one that made me LOL, because the reader was so put off by the fact that you dared to introduce a female character in gay romance who was not just "best gal-pal" of the gay main character. To my surprise, several other readers agreed - they expressed their dislike for the presence of women in M/M novels. Why all the hate?

KC: I don't think I've read that comment! (laughs) Many readers of yaoi and gay fiction feel betrayed when an author promises an M/M story and then flips the scenario on them. I don't blame them. It's not what the reader signed up for when they chose M/M. I have a few theories on why some readers reject all female presence in M/M, but they don't include "internalized misogyny", which I think is a lethargic explanation. Female sexuality is far more complicated than that.

In the case of Mariner's Luck, I introduced Liall's ex-lover, who just happened to be a woman. I knew all along that she had a big part to play much later in the story, but I didn't know when I'd get around to writing it. She's now a prominent character in Book 4.

JB: "Internalized misogyny" - that's a new one for me!

The King of Forever (Scarlet and the White Wolf #4) is coming out next month, right? Now I'm champing at the bit to read an excerpt from a scene involving Liall's ex-lover to see what all the fuss is about. ;)

KC: Late October, yes. That scene is a very short one. Her name is Jarek and she's a soldier with a rank equivalent of general. I'm not sure if that added to the dislike, because certainly there's none around Liall's ex-fiancé, Shikhoza, who has far more pages dedicated to her than Jarek. But Shikhoza is rather unlikable, whereas Jarek is personable and powerful. Liall respects Jarek.

JB: I'm looking for something a little meatier to sink my teeth into...do you mind sharing a sneak peak from one of your other future releases instead?

KC: Sure! This is from Malachite - I've written 2 novels in the series so far. I don't have a firm publication date for Malachite right now, but I will soon. This excerpt is set in a lush, private room in a busy tavern, very late at night.

***

Malachite: page 68

Wine sloshed over the rim of his glass. Tris's jaw dropped. "What?" He brushed purple drops from his trousers and rested the glass on the table before he broke it.

"Does the sound not carry well in this room?" Paris's mouth curled again. "Come home with me. Lie in my bed. Make love with me. Let me give you something Marion Casterline can't."

He was amazed enough to be droll. "Oh, truly? You think Marion is incapable of making love to me?"

"It won't ever be just you he's making love to. Who does he think of when he touches you? For that matter, who do you think of?"

The enormity of accepting Marion's proposal was just beginning to make itself known to Tris. Marion had lived with Jean too long, they still had too much contact, too much in common. Jean was going to be in their lives whether he wanted Jean there or not, and he couldn't say for certain that Marion wasn't happy about it.

Paris sat up abruptly, lines of contrition furrowing his forehead. "Oh, look at your face. I'm sorry. I don't mean to hurt you."

"You did," he answered dully. "You do."

Paris took his hand. He could feel the ridges of the V-shaped branding scar on Paris's palm, a mark that Paris refused to explain.

"I'm not a very nice man, am I? But I'm honest. I want you. I like you. I'd treat you well, and unlike Marion, when I bed you, you won't be wondering if I'm comparing you to someone else."

"When you bed me? Your arrogance is tedious." He tried to tug his hand away. Paris held on. "I note that you're not falling to your knees professing undying love."

"Neither did Marion."

A hard shock went through him and he stiffened. All the years of training, the skilled tutors schooling him in discretion and perception, and he couldn't control his reaction, couldn't hide it. It hurt that damned much.

Paris's thumb caressed the back of his hand. "So it's true. Marion's never told you he loves you. What a stupid, stupid man. I care about you, Tris. You have the most astonishing mind, and you're beautiful and refined. Far too fine for Marion. I could love you. If I could love anyone, it would have to be you. Does that make sense?"

Such bare honesty took all of Tris's sarcasm away, but he understood very well. Paris had many good qualities, but little room for love. "I don't know what to say. I only know that I love Marion."

Paris scooted closer on the couch until they were rubbing shoulders. He began to toy with the silver buttons of Tris's shirt. "I want you." Paris's voice was soothing velvet to his wounded heart. "Does it matter to you that Marion doesn't return your love?"

"Of course it matters," he said miserably. Why did Kon leave him with this man? Did he know Paris would do this? He felt his barriers dropping, all the careful fences he had nailed up against Paris's advances coming apart stick by stick. He managed to push Paris's roving hand away. "Don't. Please stop."

Paris's hand returned and this time it slid lower, coming to rest on his thigh. Paris pressed his face to Tris's neck. The feel of Paris's hot breath against his skin made him shiver.

"So beautiful," Paris murmured hungrily. "You're sweet and unspoiled, and your skin is so soft." Paris caressed his thigh through his trousers in a circular motion, and Tris's eyes closed. "I could make you feel very good. I'd be gentle, too. I wouldn't do anything you didn't want, and no one has to know. Trust me."

Paris cupped Tris's chin and turned him.

A dark, dangerous voice rumbled from the doorway. "Take your hands off him."

Tris started violently. "Jean." He tried to push Paris away, but Paris resisted, calmly refusing to budge. Paris smiled lazily at Jean.

Jean glowered at them, his mouth hard. The hood of his black coat was down, the antimony badge hidden by a turn of his collar. "I said get off him, Paris. Now."

Paris took a slow measure of Jean, looking him up and down. "Is that an order, warden? What business is this of yours?"

Tris didn't think he was capable of moving. His first fear was that Jean would certainly tell Marion what he had seen. Even though he hadn't known Paris would be here, he felt entirely guilty of the accusation in Jean's eyes.

Jean leaned his shoulder against the wall. "Well, he's marrying my best friend soon, and I don't think a dirty bastard like you should be pawing at him first. I don't think Marion would like that."

Paris cocked his head. "Speaking of dear Marion, what are you doing here? Tonight is Aequora. Aren't all wardens required to attend?"

Jean's eyes flickered over Tris. "Are you all right?"

***

JB: I'd say that was a nice chunk of meat, though of course I'm hungry for more. You're well-versed in the art of temptation. ;)

Your male characters sound pretty hot. Do you have detailed mental images of what your characters look like, or do you keep a visual outline of their physical traits?

KC: Both, really. I do write it down, because keeping track of an entire cast of characters in your head is...hard. "Oh does he have hazel eyes or green? Gotta look that up." It's important to get those broad strokes across in the first chapter they appear in, but after that it's not necessary to keep describing characters in detail throughout. I try not to relate an excessive amount of physical details, anyway. I think it interferes with the reader's mental image, which may differ from mine.

Malachite has a rather large cast, and because of that, I've begun using software to keep my character details straight. It's a big improvement over index cards!

JB: Index cards? LOL. For some reason, I'm picturing flash cards like the ones kids use to memorize words...

What's your favorite writing software? Depending upon the project, do you use different programs for different tasks?

KC: I use multiple programs all at once, kind of like a tool set. A few years ago, when I hurt my wrist gardening, I integrated Dragon Naturally Speaking with a wireless headset. This lets me dictate as I'm doing other things, or just being a potato in my window chair. Speech-to-text software takes some getting used to, though. Then a few months ago I got an iPad Air, which has Siri voice recognition. Now that Word is on iPad, I often dictate drafts straight into that and then shoot it over to my desktop for polishing. For word processing, I've used Microsoft Word exclusively for years. Word is the industry standard. I know a lot of writers still use freeware RTF software, but when you get to the editing and formatting stage, freeware becomes progressively less compatible with Word. It's just wishing for a migraine.

JB: And stiff fingers. ;)

KC: But I would say my favorite software right now is Scrivener. With Word I also used index cards, notebooks, and sticky notes on a poster board to keep track of everything, but last year I purchased Scrivener solely on the strength of its corkboard feature. You know, with the little cards you can pin and arrange? God, I love that. My plot timelines give me great difficulty, like knowing left from right. I know that sounds easy, but telling my left hand from my right hand takes me a few seconds. Even then, I can get it wrong and then I'll feel like wow... how did you manage to screw that up? Imaginary timelines may occupy the same area of the brain as the order of real events, which dyslexics tend to confuse, so retaining all that on the fly is a challenge. I have to be able to see the timeline all at once as a complete whole, and Scrivener lets me do that.

JB: Fantastic sales pitch for Scrivener! XD

KC: I don't work for Scrivener, I swear! (laughing)

JB: Seriously, though - I'm putting it on my wish list.

So I can imagine being dyslexic would be challenging for anyone, let alone a writer. How long have you known you were dyslexic?

KC: I was in 7th grade before I had a name for it, but I knew something was wrong long before that. I just became very adept at hiding the things I couldn't do and avoiding situations where I couldn't hide them. If a student has good grades in some subjects and there are no behavior problems, dyslexia can go unrecognized for a long time. Most days I don't notice it, but there are good days and bad days, which is typical of dyslexia.

JB: Well, kudos for not letting it stop you. I can hardly imagine a world without the literal evidence of your imagination. :)

Let's talk about Hammer and Bone, your upcoming collection of "dark, wicked speculative fiction". Given the excerpt I read (amazing preview of a book I can't wait to read), you're not kidding around when you say this fiction is dark. Can we expect any stories like Angels, or should we brace ourselves for the unknown? When is the release date? Are all the stories in this collection M/M?

KC: Most of the stories are M/M, yes, though there's also F/F and one that may defy description.

And you should definitely brace yourself. If you've read Angels and liked it, you'll enjoy Hammer and Bone, I hope, and read it by candlelight with a bottle of red wine. Three of the stories are heavily Southern Gothic, but there's also fantasy and lovers and post-apocalyptic landscapes. All in a very dark package, of course.

JB: Dark packages have a certain allure, especially when paired with my favorite Cabernet. Anticipation is a poor substitute for possession - when are you releasing Hammer and Bone?

KC: Hammer and Bone will be published by Riptide on March 2, 2015 . It's available for pre-order now, but there will be a lot of publicity for it in the genre before that date. Don't worry, I won't let you miss it!

JB: I'll hold you to that.

Judging from the contents of AotD & the Hammer and Bone excerpt, your characters don't shy away from using violence as a viable solution to their problems.

KC: That's so not true! Sometimes sex is their solution. :)

JB: That, too!

KC: My characters don't shy away from much. It would be nice if I could claim they were only ever forced into situations (okay, by ME) where they decided that violence was their last alternative, but that's not true, either. To be honest, I don't give a lot of thought to "Is this action too graphic?" when I'm writing, because whatever the character does is going to be exactly as violent or placid or erotic or non-erotic as it needs to be.

JB: Which of your characters would you pit against each other in a battle to the death? Who would emerge the victor?

KC: Battle to the death? If it's a fair fight with evenly-matched combatants, I'd probably go with Tamiel and Mastema. They've only been feuding for a few thousand years, so they could use the closure. The odds would be on Mastema, but Tamiel is the thinker and he would uncover some fatal flaw in Mastema's strategy.

JB: Ah, so beware the intellectual foe over the brute...

Kirby, it's been thrilling. After our conversation, I'm even more of a fan. Thank you for letting me pick your sexy brain!

In parting, I'll ask you this: which fictional characters (from your own books or another author's) would you kill/f**k/marry?

KC: Oh god...um...I don't even want to start on my list of characters from other amazing authors. We'd be here all night! I'd marry Liall, f**k Sean, and kill Vladei. With Liall I'd be a queen. Bonus! Sean has a real appreciation for women, so I think that would be a fun night. And Vladei just needs to trip and fall off a cliff.

This was so much fun! Thank you for having me, Jane. :)

JB: My pleasure. :)

***

Interview conducted by Jane Bled, award-winning author of LGBT-slanted speculative fiction. Feel free to read my review of Kirby Crow's Angels of the Deep. Browse my Goodreads blog for more Author Spotlight interviews.

Giveaway

The first five people to leave a comment will receive a free PDF copy of one of the following:

The Pedlar and the Bandit King (Scarlet and the White Wolf #1)
Mariner's Luck (Scarlet and the White Wolf #2)
The Land of Night (Scarlet and the White Wolf #3)
Angels of the Deep
Prisoner of the Raven

Let me know which book you prefer & I'll hook you up. Note: I will need your email address - I promise not to redistribute it. ;)

***

About the Author

KC
Kirby Crow worked as an entertainment editor and ghostwriter for several years before happily giving it up to bake brownies, read yaoi, play video games, and write her own novels. Whenever she isn't slaying Orcs or flying a battleship for the glory of the Amarr Empire, she can be found in the kitchen, her vegetable garden, or at the keyboard, tapping away at her next book.

Kirby is a winner of the Epic Award and the Rainbow Award for her published works in fiction. She is the author of the bestselling "Scarlet and the White Wolf" series of fantasy novels.

For more details about Kirby's author news, WIP's, & story excerpts, please visit http://kirbycrow.com/

Browse her titles on Amazon: http://amzn.to/ZJsblz

***

Hope you enjoyed my chat with Kirby as much I as did. :)

Until we meet again,
Jane
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message 1: by Rob (new)

Rob Fox Have been waiting for Scarlet and the White Wolf Book 4 for years, so majorly excited this will out soon!


message 2: by Kirby (last edited Sep 27, 2014 12:39PM) (new)

Kirby Crow Rob wrote: "Have been waiting for Scarlet and the White Wolf Book 4 for years, so majorly excited this will out soon!"

Aww! Thank you so much, and sorry for making you wait so long! :) I'm experiencing some mild performance anxiety about it (LOL) but it will happen.


message 3: by Rob (new)

Rob Fox Thanks Jane. I don't know a great deal about Kirby's other books but based on the 'blurb' available I would like to request a copy of Prisoner of the Raven please (although I dare say I'll end up reading both, now that they have been bought to my attention!)
I will attempt to send you a direct message with my email address. Thanks again! x


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