Q&A with Jamie de Valen – Part 2

[WARNING: The post may contain spoilers.]

Today’s interview is an author who won the 2009 GayAuthors Reader’s Choice Awards for Best Non-GA Story. He has written stories titled Fathers and Sons, Hosanna, but is best known for his story The Scrolls of Icaria. Today’s author is Jamie de Valen. I present part 2 of 3.

Q. What do you like most about the Pet Shop Boys?

Just about everything. Obviously their music, but maybe most of all their avant garde style – both on and off stage. They’re great performers. I’m never too far from some of their music, because I often access it, and I’m really excited to see they’ve released their new album Pandemonium. (Do we use the term album anymore in the digital age?)

I enjoy when they give interviews because I like what they have to say and their philosophy.

Although I’m not only interested in gay performers it was nice that Neil Tennant came out in 1994. Chris Lowe has never declared his sexuality one way or the other, but he’s indicated that the terms gay or straight really are inadequate and constricting… so at the very least he’s open.

I never grow tired of their music. It energizes and inspires me

Q. If you could have lunch with Comicality and Emulated what you eat?

With Comicality at the table I’d certainly go for some Steak Tartare as a starter. Raw and bloody it would go well with a nice spicy and piquant Australian Shiraz.

I’d split the difference between the two boys styles with a rich Moussaka as my main plate and a nice Bordeaux selection.

And in honor of Emulated, desert would be a luscious Viennese Sacher Torte with a glass of sweet Hungarian Tokaji

To cap off the meal, I’d order all three of us a nice cappuccino spiced with Bailey’s and topped with Crème Chantilly.

Hey a boy can dream…

Q. What do you do for a living?

I work, consult and teach within the framework of the European Institutions. Beyond that there isn’t much to say.

Q. What do you think of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer?

As a writer and booklover I’m always interested in the works of other writers – any other writers – no matter if they are published or unpublished. I have come to steer away from the words amateur and professional since the term amateur often has the negative connotation of being less than skilled or less good than a professional writer. And there are many so-called amateur writers who I’ve read that I like much better then some of the so-called professionals. So I’ll continue with published and unpublished.

But that doesn’t answer your question. Ms. Meyer is someone I admire not so much for her writing, which is ok, as for the concept and her ability to succeed. She was rejected by 14 agents before one took her on, so it shows her determination. I certainly give her kudos for that.

As for the Twilight books themselves (yes I’ve read them as audio books during gym workouts) are imaginative, and she’s tapped into a concept that has proved popular. That’s a wise thing for any writer to do, especially one who wants to publish and earn a living from their writing. Again I admire that. It’s a lesson for any writer to learn.

I don’t think her writing is poor I don’t think it’s stellar either. Like JKR, she’s succeeded in understanding her audience and successfully tapping into them. That’s a feat that can’t be put down or ignored. I wish her continued success.

The books themselves… well their ok. I would have written them a bit differently… for one thing instead of a girl falling in love with a boy vampire I’d have a boy falling in love with a boy vampire… oh wait… someone by the name of Comicality is doing that!

Q. When do you feel most out of your comfort zone?

When I feel I’m not in control. The reality is I like controlled situations. That doesn’t mean I like to control people – I don’t. But I like order and routine in my life – personally and professionally. When that order is broken or that routine disrupted I become uneasy and look for a way to flee back into it.

When I write, teach, speak in public, or even play it’s somewhat controlled. That gives me immense comfort.

Q. If you could work with any author who would it be?

Although not specified in your question, I’m going to separate this question into two parts: published author and unpublished author.

And while it would be fun to chose someone no longer alive, I’d rather pick someone living. At least I’d have a better chance working with them.

A. Published Author: Hands down for me it would Orson Scott Card. I’ve read and reread the Ender series time and again. I’ve loved his other works like Lostboys, Treasure Box. Magic Street and many more. He might not want to work with me because of my politics and religious views (he’s Mormon if I’m correct), but if we could both put our ideologies aside I think we could come up with a rip-roaring story. Also he’s a contemporary of mine, we are both close to the same age and I’m sure at the very least we’d share a similar historical perspective… although we’d probably disagree on the interpretation of that perspective. We’re both strong personalities and if we could learn to work together and not kill each other we could produce something good.

B. Unpublished Author: Another easy choice – Emulated. For some of the same reasons as OSC, but also for some very different reasons. He’s super talented, I love his stories and a lot of what he writes I agree with… along with his style. So I think we could mesh on a few things. But unlike OSC we aren’t contemporaries in the least. Being young and talented, I think he would bring youthful and fresh perspective to a joint project that would be refreshing for me. Also I don’t think that he would let me push him around even through he’s younger. That’s important in collaborating in joint efforts. One can’t dominate or push the other one out of the picture. I think he’d more than hold his own against an old war-horse like me… and probably teach me a few things in the process. (Not a bad thing).

B. When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?

I’m always giving thought to that. Actually I agonize over my character names. Not one of my characters ever gets named without a lot of thought… probably far too much thought on my part.

I never just pull a name out of thin air and quickly slap it onto a character… even a minor character. I do keep a large list of names and add to it. With a story like TSOI I have lots of characters at various levels of the story. Sure, there are the main characters, but then there are secondary and tertiary characters… reaching all the way down to the occasional named servant who walks into the room and retrieves a tray… never to be seen or heard from again. I don’t want to throw what might be a good name away by using it only one time as in the above example. So I really ponder and sweat out the names.

Also I don’t want to repeat names. Funny how in real life there are lots of people who share our same first name, (even in our own families) but in writing that’s a bit of a no-no since you don’t want to confuse your readers. I’m close to that in the Charlie/Charles names in TSOI, but I liked both names and decided to go with them.

Some names are from real people I know, but I don’t chose a person’s name because of who they are… I’m not naming the character after them. I choose their name more for the name itself and the way it sounds, the way it strikes me, and what meaning it might have to me or a reader. Other times I see an ad, watch a TV show or read a magazine and a name pops out. Because I sometimes use last names I also have to come up with them too. I’m always on the hunt for names. For example, there are over 100 Gahdar alone in the story… so… over 100 different names just for them.

For me a good name has to be catchy and interesting. People have to be able to pronounce it or at least pronounce it their own way so that they are comfortable with using it (even if that’s in their heads) – Hippolito for example. I’ve heard people pronounce it different ways, but the bottom line is they can pronounce it in a way that is comfortable to them.

Long involved or really strange names that are difficult for readers to say or understand can be bad. I sometimes see this in stories and advise against it. New writers often try and come up with some really weird names thinking they are being clever, but those names can be confusing. Even my names of the Ghröum like, Ga’tann, Am’am, Ta’vrun have a similar pattern. If the reader recognizes the pattern new Ghröum names are easier to pronounce and relate to since they recognize the pattern. Like the recently named Sak’ki – Niklas Ghröum teacher.

Sometimes a name needs to sound romantic or cute, like Cody & Lancelot who make a nice couple. Other times a bit exotic and interesting, like Miro who is truly unique among the Gahdar.

Q. How did it feel to win the 2009 Gay Authors Reader’s Choice Award for Best Non-GA Story?

Humbled, surprised, thankful, amazed, gobsmacked… etc.

I’m not the kind of person who’s known for their luck in winning things. It’s one reason I don’t gamble… I’d be penniless and out on the street.

First, I was surprised to know that I’d been nominated, that alone was a thrill. When I read the list of nominees I was sure I wouldn’t win. There were some fantastically good writers in the category… writers I’ve read and admire… a lot. Also the category of a story not posted on GA is a pretty broad one and can include just about any story in any genre. Science Fiction/Fantasy is only one category, and not every genre is everyone’s cup of tea. I recognize that. So I wasn’t sure where that would place my chances.

When I was informed I won… well I admit to doing a little Jamie dance… but then it caused me to pause and realize how many people take the story seriously and support it, and it’s a sobering thought for sure. When posting on line it’s hard to know just how many people read your work and follow it… 0? 1? 10? 100? 1,000? You can’t even begin to guess unless everyone reading it sends you a mail and you keep a running list. And that’s impossible. So I was a bit clueless.

Nevertheless I am very honored and sincerely thank everyone who voted for me. As a member of GA while I honestly could have voted for myself I didn’t. For some reason I didn’t think it would have been cricket… but that’s just me. I’m sure Obama and McCain each voted for themselves in the last US election, no?

Q. Do you have any little quirks when you are writing?

Lol… Where do you want me to start J… I think the list would take pages and pages.

But just a few:

a. I do my best new work in the morning… often very early in the morning when most people are still asleep.

b. I do my best revisions and rewrites in the afternoon or early evening.

c. I never write in the night… or after 8 p.m. my brain just can’t do it.

d. I write in absolute silence… no music… no TV… no distractions. I can’t have anything compete with the voices in my head… scary huh?

e. Sometimes I stand up from my desk and act out a scene… that’s when I have to look over my shoulder to make sure no one is around because they’d declare me certifiable and have me committed.

f. Good light is a must. I recently got a new apt. which I designed myself. I purposely designed a writing area. It gets perfect northern light all day. Not too hard on the eyes or the computer screen.

g. I always read my words back to myself out loud… again one of those things that would probably get me committed.

h. When I write something that I think is particularly good I jump up and do a Jamie dance… when I write something particularly bad I call myself an idiot. The goal at the end of the day is to have done more dances then to have called myself an idiot… but that doesn’t always happen.

i. I always use some type of Apple product to write on. I can’t write long hand and never do.

j. I try to make sure I write every day… which means no matter where I am in the world I’m writing… maybe a little, maybe a lot… but at least something.

k. I always wear my lucky sox… just kidding on that one!

See what I mean about quirks…

Q. Were you always good at writing?

Uhm I’m sure there are a few of people out there who would argue that I’ve never gotten any good at writing J! My writing teacher when I was in high school thought I was hopeless. She’d probably be horrified to read a copy of TSOI! Angel boys! I can just hear her reaction.

Writing is like a lot of other things we do in life, there is both talent and skill involved. Talent isn’t always something you can just infuse in someone. There are tons of things I have no talent at, and no matter how much I tried and practiced, at the end of the day I wouldn’t gain a smidge more.

I don’t think it’s big headed of me to say that I do think I have some talent. Ask any singer, dancer, actor etc. and they will admit to some talent. That’s not being proud or boastful as long as you don’t act like a stuck-up prig about it.

But talent alone means nothing if you don’t work at it.

I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years (lots of them) and will continue to… just ask my editor AJ! Hopefully I make less or at least not the same ones over and over.

The idea is to try and learn from them and to practice, practice, and practice some more. I have stories that I’ve written over the years that are absolutely awful and will never see the light of day… or a digital screen.

I’m still learning. After a rough draft sometimes I’ll look at what I’ve written and be appalled at how poorly it sounds. I hope I can always learn, both from my own mistakes and through the help and suggestions of others who genuinely want to advance the craft.